Hip-Hop’s Finest: 30 Great Rap Lyrics

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

Kendrick Lamar; Jay Z; Chuck D
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.

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)
“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)
“Funk is a force I exert …”

ARTIST: Chuck D, Public Enemy
SONG: “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” (1990)
“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”

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

ARTIST: Grand Puba, Brand Nubian
SONG: “Brand Nubian” (1989)
“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”