The art and the lyricist. Great hip hop is felt through lyrics, descriptive verses and the power of words. The words that tell stories, paint struggles, sculpture success and give emotion and imagery through contagious beats and bars are what defines part of hip hop.
In a recent interview hosted by, The Breakfast Club Wale asked the question, ‘is the lyricists still appreciated?’ He went on to explain that for him, a good hip hop track would have him rewinding verses a number of times before he could understand and decode the messages behind the lyrics. Wale said, ‘do you think people care about entendres and word play? I come from listening to Reasonable Doubt and breaking it down for the next three years.’Who are some of the masterminds behind these gripping metaphors, clever double-entendres and vivid similes? With recent album drops from J. Cole and Wale himself; artists like Kendrick Lamar who demonstrate talent through tracks like ‘Rigamortis’ and up-and-coming lyricists like Jay Electronica, are we beginning to appreciate the beauty of a true lyricist again? After all, if you strip hip hop of its body you are left with its soul, the lyrics.
There are too many incredible and mind-blowing tracks and verses to name each one, but here, in no particular order, I look at just some of the most memorable moments of hip hop’s lyricists.
His poetry speaks for itself, a true work of art.
‘My first album had no guest appearances, the outcome, I was crowned the best lyricist’
‘Got Yourself A…’
‘Street scriptures for lost souls, in the crossroads
To the corner thugs hustlin for cars that cost dough
To the big dogs livin large, takin it light
Pushin big toys, gettin nice, enjoyin your life
Is what you make it, suicide, few try to take it
Belt tied around they neck in jail cells naked
Heaven and hell, rap legend, presence is felt
And of course N - A - S are the letters that spell . . .
‘Nas is Like’
Demonstrating the beautiful struggle through the spoken word, Talib Kweli.
‘At exactly which point do you start to realize
That life without knowledge is death in disguise?
That's why, knowledge of self is like life after death
Apply it, to your life, let destiny manifest
Different day, same confusion, we're gonna take this
hip hop sh*t and keep it movin’, shed a little light
Now y'all bloomin’ like a flower with the power of the evident
Voices and drums original instruments
In the flesh presently presentin’ my representation’
Talent and intelligence at its finest.
‘40 percent of Americans own a cell phone
so they can hear, everything that you say when you ain't home
I guess, Michael Jackson was right, "You Are Not Alone" […] Young bloods can't spell but they could rock you in PlayStation
This new math is whippin’ motherfu**ers ass
You wanna know how to rhyme you better learn how to add
Vivid imagery and powerful messages.
‘Super Nintendo, Sega Genisis
When I was dead broke, man I couldn’t picture this
50 inch screen, money green leather sofa
Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur
Phone bill about two G’s flat
No need to worry, my accountant handles that
And my whole crew is loungin’
Celebratin’ everyday, no more public housin’
‘Juicy’ (verse 3)
It’s more than just a verse; his lyrics will leave you questioning bigger things.
‘Now here's a likkle truth
Open up your eye
While you're checking out the boom-bap, check the exercise
Take the word "overseer," like a sample
Repeat it very quickly in a crew for example
Officer, Officer, Officer, Officer!
Yeah, officer from overseer
You need a little clarity?
Check the similarity!
The overseer rode around the plantation
The officer is off patrolling all the nation
The overseer could stop you what you're doing
The officer will pull you over just when he's pursuing
The overseer had the right to get ill
And if you fought back, the overseer had the right to kill
The officer has the right to arrest
And if you fight back they put a hole in your chest.’
‘Sound of da Police’
Honest and thought provoking.
‘I try ta keep my head up and still keep from getting wet up
You know it's funny when it rains it pours
They got money for wars, but can't feed the poor
Sad there aint no hope for the youth and the truth is
There aint no hope for the future
And then they wonder why we crazy
I blame my mother, for turning my brother into a crack baby
We aint meant to survive, cause it's a setup
And even though ya fed up
Ya got ta keep ya head up’
‘Keep ya Head Up’
A lyrical genius in his own right.
‘Entertainment is changin', intertwinin' with gangsta's
In the land of the killers, a sinner's mind is a sanctum
Holy or unholy, only have one homie
Only this gun, lonely cause don't anyone know me
Yet everybody just feels like they can relate, I guess words are a
Mothaf**ka they can be great’
‘Sing for the Moment’
He’s not a business man, he’s a business mannn.
‘That’s another difference that’s between me and them
I smartened up, opened the market up
One million, two million, three million, four
In eighteen months, eighteen million more
Now add that number up with the one I said before
You are now looking at one smart black boy
I sell ice in the winter, I sell fire in hell
I’m a hustler baby, I’ll sell water to a well’
‘You Don’t know’
Giving life to words, J. Cole.
‘I hate rich ni**as goddammit
cause I ain’t never had a lot dammit
Who you had to kill, who you had to rob
Who you had to f**k just to make it to the top dammit.
Or maybe that’s daddy money, escalator no ladder money
Escalading new caddy money
worst fear going broke cause I’m bad with money.
Crooked smile ni**a momma never had the money damn.’