Hip-Hop’s Finest: 30 Great Rap Lyrics

We asked three hip-hop tastemakers to name their top 10 favorite lyrics of all time.

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best-rap-lyrics
Kendrick Lamar; Jay Z; Chuck D

Jemal Countess/Getty Images; Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; Rob Kim/Getty Images

Some MCs give us fun turns of phrases, others rap words that we live by to this day. We use lyrics to get pumped up, to remind ourselves everything is going to be OK or simply to write captions on Instagram. Lyrics, some would say, are not always what makes a song great. Some rappers say too much, others too little. But whether it’s the way the artist said it or the actual content, lyrics that stay with us long after the song is over are some of the best ways to determine their greatness.

In honor of African-American Music Appreciation Month, we asked three tastemakers—all of whom have long relationships with hip-hop, both as fans and as people who have made their careers working in the culture—a simple but challenging question: What are your 10 favorite lyrics of all time? Some of the rhymes were couplets, others were whole verses. Some were even straightforward one-liners. Read their responses and then let us know your favorite rhymes.

HARRY ALLEN
Twitter: @harryallen
Allen is a hip-hop activist and “media assassin” who publishes the blog Media Assassin at harryallen.info. He writes about race, politics and culture, and has been doing so for more than 25 years. Currently, he is touring colleges and universities presenting “Shooting the Enemy,” a multimedia lecture featuring photos he shot of Public Enemy’s members in the early 1980s.

ARTIST: Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
SONG: “Superappin’” (1979)
LYRICS:
“Italian, Caucasian, Japanese,
Spanish, Indian, Negro, Vietnamese
MCs, disc jockeys,
To all the fly kids and the young ladies ...”

ARTIST Brother J, X Clan
SONG: “Heed the Word of the Brother”  (1990)
LYRIC:
“Funk is a force I exert ..."

ARTIST: Chuck D, Public Enemy
SONG: “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” (1990)
LYRICS:
“In 1995, you'll twist to this
As you raise your fist to the music
United we stand, yes, divided we fall
Together we can stand tall”

ARTIST: Jay Z
SONG: “Brooklyn’s Finest” (1996)
LYRIC:
“I’m from Marcy, I’m varsity, chump, you’re JV
(Jigga) Jay Z”

ARTIST: Grand Puba, Brand Nubian
SONG: “Brand Nubian” (1989)
LYRICS:
“Now if this falls short I’ll try harder
A wisdom to me is someone like Assata
I’d like to say peace to Bambaata
Tasa Kuma, Achmed, and Kenyatta
Brothers that’ll fight for the cause
And they live in the boundaries of the righteous laws
To put it exact dominant means black
But some have a hard time trying to swallow that
Now we have some that are fake
Wearing blue eyes and green eyes, come on gimme a break
Brand Nubian here to wake up
Take off the makeup cause all it’ll do is cake up
Just be real that’s how I feel
Brand Nubian”

ARTIST: Big Daddy Kane
SONG: “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’” (1988)
LYRICS:
“Rappers stepping to me, they want to get some
But I’m the Kane, so yo, you know the outcome”

ARTIST: Pep Love, Hieroglyphics
SONG: “Miles to the Sun” (1998)
LYRICS:
“Mine’s just beginning and I’m intending to infinitely exist like this
Taking it to another dimension
Discovering I got style with a twist consistently
Distant from the brother uttering other nonsenses
We gotta keep ya brain cells fluttering …”

ARTIST: Guru, Gang Starr
SONG: “You Know My Steez” (1998)
LYRICS:
“The rejected stone is now the cornerstone
Sort of like the master builder when I make my way home”

ARTIST: Rakim
SONG: “Know the Ledge” (1992)
LYRICS:
"Shells lay around on the battleground
Dead bodies are found throughout the town
Tried to put shame in my game to make a name
I’mma put it on a bullet, put it in your brain”

ARTIST: Saafir
SONG: “3 Card Molly” (by Xzibit, 1998)
LYRICS:
“Keep tryin’ to go gold
But all you’re gettin’ is a golden shower”

DATWON THOMAS
Twitter: @Daydog
Instagram: @Datwon
Datwon Thomas is the founder of King Magazine, former editor-in-chief of XXL magazine, former executive editor for Vibe and currently heads up Respect magazine. He loves hip-hop and found this assignment to be harder than it seemed when he accepted the challenge. His favorite debut verse is Nas’ “Live at the Barbeque.”

ARTIST: Kendrick Lamar
SONG: “Cut You Off (To Grow Closer)” (2010)
LYRICS:
See what I was taught, family is all I need
But indeed, them too can run me right up a tree
Constantly talking s--t ‘bout the next relative
Wanting me to take sides, but I’d never give in
Ever since grandma died everyone parted ways
Argue on holidays, left my uncle in prison
For 15 years, no one paid him attention but moms
Yeah, my momma as loyal as any sister would come
Come to my house just to yap about your own people
Dang, and if your blood wasn’t running through my veins
I would probably cut y’all off, too, yep”

ARTIST: Phonte, Little Brother
SONG: “Whatever You Say” (2003)
LYRICS:
I usually play the background, you know clean cut
Soft spoken well dressed dipped out straight chillin
When I’m in the club yo, sipping the Sprite with the
Ill lemon mixed in it sippin’ on it I was just chillin’
Til I saw you, that’s when my heart stopped knees gave
Head sweating jaws locked I was sweating you
Like g--damn girl you got a n--ga going buck wild
Mesmerized star struck I was thinking maybe
We can go out like to the movies or the Applebee’s
Blockbuster, state fair but you looked at me and
Said f--k that you just a herb with no money and
No Jeep and no condo and I thought that Little Brother
Had a record deal, OK I see where you going now
Want a sweat a n--ga when you think he got a cash advance
And some personal time but f--k that
I got your head still bobbin’ and my verse didn’t rhyme
So it’s whatever girl”

ARTIST: Nas
SONG: “Rewind” (2001)
LYRICS:
“The bullet goes back in the gun
The bullet hole’s closing this chest of a n--ga
Now he back to square one
Screaming, ‘Shoot, don’t please’
I put my fifth back on my hip
It’s like a VCR rewinding a hit
He put his hands back on his b--ch
My caravan doors open up
I jumped back in the van and closed it shut
Going reverse, slowly prepared
My n--ga Jungle utters out something crazy like, "Go, he there"
Sitting in back of this chair, we hitting the roach
The smoke goes back in the blunt, the blunt gets bigger in growth
Jungle unrolls it, put his weed back in the jar
The blunt turns back into a cigar
We listen to Stevie, it sounded like heavy metal fans
Spinning records backwards of AC/DC
I give my n--gas dap, jump out the van back first…”

ARTIST: LL Cool J
SONG:: “Rampage”  (by EPMD, 1990)
LYRICS:
“The Ripper, the master, the overlordian
Playing MCs like a old accordion
I get the inspiration from unnecessary station
Them sayin’ I was vacationin’
You can't quote with your weaker throat
Tryin to sneak a peek at how I freak the notes
Major MCs become minor B-flats
So retire the mic, get your chains and your bats
Here’s your chance to advance, get in your stance
I shoot the holster off your cowboy pants
Pure entertainment, tonight’s your arraignment
You’re guilty—face down on the pavement!”

ARTIST: Ice Cube
SONG: “Color Blind” (1991)
LYRICS:
“Here’s another day at the stoplight
I'm lookin’ in my mirror so I can see who can see me
South Central is puttin’ Ice Cube to the test
With four brothas in the SS
I can’t go around and can’t back up
So I gotta peep game layin in the cut
Is this a jack or a kidnap?
Since I’m never ever slippin’ fully strapped
I grab my gat out the glove
Do these fools got a problem with me?
Or do they got love?
So when the light turns green, I don’t bone out
I wanna see what these black men are all about
Cuz if it’s my time, I'm just short
If not, I'm pluggin’ they Super Sport
First they get behind my ride ...
Then they switch lanes to the left side
I’m scopin’ out the one smokin’ indo
Comin’ up fast, rollin’ down his window
He threw up a sign, I put away my nine
Fool, cuz I’m color blind.”

ARTIST: Gang Starr
SONG: “Moment of Truth” (1998)
LYRICS:
They say it's lonely at the top, in whatever you do
You always gotta watch motherf--kers around you
Nobody’s invincible, no plan is foolproof
We all must meet our moment of truth.

ARTIST: Big Daddy Kane
SONG: “The Symphony” (by Marley Marl, 1988)
LYRICS:
“And battlin’ me is hazardous to health,
so put a quarter in your ass, cuz ya played yourself
Like a game in the arcade. You need a far aid.
I’m walkin’ the path that Allah made”

ARTIST: Jay Electronica
SONG:  “Exhibit C” (2009)
LYRICS:
They call me Jay Electronica—f--k that.
Call me Jay ElecHannukah, Jay ElecYarmulke
Jay ElecRamadaan
Muhammad A’salaamaleikum

RasoulAllah Subhanahu wa ta’ala through your monitor
My Uzi still weighs a ton check the barometer
I’m hotter than the muthaf--kin’ sun; check the thermometer
I’m bringing ancient mathematics back to modern man.”

ARTIST: Jay Z and the Notorious B.I.G.
SONG: “Brooklyn’s Finest” (1996)
LYRICS:
Jay Z
“Peep the style and the way the cops sweat us (uh-huh)
The number one question is can the feds get us (uh-huh)
I got vendettas in dice games against ass betters (uh-huh)
and n--gas who pump wheels and drive Jettas
Take that with ya”

Notorious B.I.G
“Hit ya, back split ya
F--k fist fights and lame scuffles
Pillowcase to your face, make the shell muffle
Shoot your daughter in the calf muscle
F--k a tussle, nickel-plated
Sprinkle coke on the floor, make it drug related
Most hated”

Jay Z
“Can’t fade it
While y’all pump Willie, I run up in stunts silly
Scared, so you sent your little mans to come kill me
But on the contrilli, I packs the mack-milli
Squeezed off on him, left them paramedics breathin’ soft on him
What’s ya name?”

Notorious B.I.G.
“Who shot ya? Mob ties like Sinatra
Peruvians tried to do me in, I ain’t paid them yet
Tryin to push 700’s, they ain’t made them yet
Rolex and bracelets is frostbit; rings too
N--gas ’round the way call me Igloo—Stick who?
Motherf--ker!”

ARTIST: Lupe Fiasco
SONG: “Little Weapon” (2007)
LYRICS:
“Now little Terry got a gun he got from the store
He bought it with the money he got from his chores
He robbed a candy shop, told her ‘Lay down on the floor
Put the cookies in the bag, take the pennies out the drawer’
Lil’ Khalil got a gun he got from the rebels
to kill the infidels and the American devils
A bomb on his waist, a mask on his face
Prays five times a day and listens to heavy metal
Little Alex got a gun he took from his dad
that he snuck in the school is his black book bag
His black nail polish, black boots, and black hat
He gon blow away the bully that just pushed his ass ...”

CHUCK CREEKMUR
Twitter: @ChuckCreekmur
Instagram: @ChuckCreekmur AllHipHop.com co-founder and co-chief excutive, Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur is a cultural critic and pundit who has been featured in Vibe, the Source, Complex and Giant and has been seen and heard on NPR, BET, TVOne, VH1, the E! Channel, MTV, The O’Reilly Factor and New York’s Hot 97 FM.

ARTIST: Jay Z
SONG: “U Don’t Know” (2001)
LYRICS:
“That’s another difference that’s between me and them
I smarten up, open the market up
One million, two million, three million, four
In 18 months, 80 million more
Now add that number up with the one I said before
You are now lookin’ at one smart black boy
Momma ain’t raised no fool
Put me anywhere on God’s green earth, I’ll triple my worth
Motherf--ker—I, will, not, lose”

ARTIST: Redman
SONG: “Time 4 Sum Aksion” (1993)
LYRICS:
“To show you what type of stuff I’m on
You can’t puff or sniff it
Because I was born with it”

ARTIST: Chuck D, Public Enemy
SONG: “Rebel Without A Pause” (1988)
LYRICS:
“Smooth—not what I am
Rough—‘cause I’m a man”

ARTIST: Eminem
SONG: “Remember Me?” (2000)
LYRICS:
“Sick, sick dreams of picnic scenes
Two kids, 16 with M-16’s and 10 clips each
And them s--ts reach through six kids each”

ARTIST: DMC, Run-D.M.C.
SONG: “Raising Hell” (1986)
LYRICS:
“The unbelieving receiving prophecy so true
I cut the head off the devil and I throw it at you.”

ARTIST: Big Pun
SONG: “Twinz (Deep Cover ‘98)” (1998)
LYRICS:
"Dead in the middle of Little Italy
Little did we know that we riddled
some middleman who didn’t do diddly"

ARTIST: Onyx, featuring Biohazard
SONG: “Judgment Night” (1993)
LYRICS:
“Capture the rapture, come blackness after!
I swear to f--kin’ God I’ll raise hell and make the white man call me master.”

ARTIST: Kool G Rap
SONG: “Men at Work” (1989)
LYRICS:
“I’m alone but my tone is a sharp tune
Developing pictures in your brain like a darkroom
Rappers are captured and tortured with rapture
In 3-D is a G coming at you”

ARTIST: Nas
SONG: “Live at the Barbecue” (by Main Source, 1991)
LYRICS:
“Verbal assassin, my architect pleases
When I was 12, I went to hell for snuffing Jesus
Nasty Nas is a rebel to America
Police murderer, I’m causing hysteria”

ARTIST: The Notorious B.I.G.
SONG: “Me & My B--ch” (1994)
LYRICS:
“And then we lie together, cry together
I swear to God, I hope we f--kin’ die together”

Jozen Cummings is a writer living in Harlem, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter and read his blog, UntilIgetmarried.com.

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