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Boxing in a rap fan is futile. Some love deep cuts with even deeper messaging. Others revel in the massive rhymes most capable of reaching mass appeal. Half is what you say, half is the style. If a verse is dropped and never reaches earshot of where most people can hear it, does it make an MC worthy? If skills sold, truth be told, there would be a gaggle more entries on the list of greatest to ever do its. But regardless of reasoning, rap fans are rap fans first, and few things are more powerful than how a poet connects with your personal circumstances—whether that’s forever or right now is the only distinction of value in this Terrible Terra Belle. The year 2019’s best verses embrace both, with an edge given to the idea that music is only as valuable as how many different places you can use it.
Check out REVOLT TV’s 9 top rap verses of 2019 below.
9. Mozzy: “Carmen Electra”
Maybe it’s the ease that Mozzy floats over Game’s re-appropriation of the D’Angelo classic. Maybe it’s the way the EMPIRE artist’s voice cuts through the track like a fiend in need of a Popeyes chicken sandwich. Maybe it’s hearing a born storyteller at the moment when he feels so confident in his craft, he’s crossing out all oncomers. “Can’t nobody save us, stay dangerous, it’s on the gang… Pissing on they grave and wackin’ out what they bang.” This Mozzy verse simultaneously represents for gangland and MCs world wide web wide.
8. YBN Cordae: “Thousand Words”
Instagram often feels like the cool table in the lunchroom. Everyone is clamoring for likes, this era’s most immediate currency, which makes YBN Cordae’s second verse on “Thousand Words” resonate so deeply. “Living in this false reality that’s in this picture gallery. Based on a nigga’s profile we guessing salary,” he delivers. “The lifestyle you advertised was quite strategized… these niggas cappin’ with lies how they strategize.” But before he gets too finger-pointy, the 22-year-old sage turns the camera back on himself. “Now I’m a new man, even got a new ‘Gram. So let me take a picture with this money by my new ‘Lam.” Whether awesome or awful, in this Industry of cool, few advance without posting about every step.
7. Fabolous: “BOMBS”
Fabolous deserves more credit for keeping his punchlines heavy-handed over his near two-decade career. Over the 1990s Chicago Bulls’ classic intro soundtrack, the Brooklyn lyricist spends this song’s second verse flipping six-time championship extended metaphors. “I’m that bull in the hood. New ‘Lamb truck got the bull in the hood. Black and red looking like the Bulls in the hood. 23s on it, got the bulls sitting good. This game six. This can’t miss. Shootin’ my shot. Wrist hang. Swish.” Punchline rap often feels lost in an era of emo leaning InstaStory rhymes. Who better than Fab to toss back to when MCs simply flip styles for the fun of it?
6. Pusha T: “Palmolive”
Pusha T narrates a beautiful timelapse in his verse on “Palmolive” off Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s Bandana. Halfway through his stanza he kicks: “Way more chemical than political. PTSD from what I weighed on the digital. It was snowfall, Reagan gave me the visual. Obama opened his doors knowing I was a criminal.” It’s doubtful the Clipse member ever imagined he’d transcend coke sales and land White House invitations. This verse is a resolute example of going global while staying true to the local.
5. Rapsody: “Nina”
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more nuanced, more disarming opening bar than on Rapsody’s “Nina” off her latest album, EVE. “Emit light, rap or Emmett Till,” she delivers eloquently, capturing the responsibility of representing a better tomorrow or falling victim to a tragic demise.” She continues the allusion with “I drew a line without showing my body, that’s a skill. Bad to the bone and the grill. You’d be dead wrong if looks killed,” harkening back to the 1955 lynching of the teenager. Few ensnared the trappings of artistic duality in 2019 better than Rapsody does on EVE’s opening verse.
4. Nipsey Hussle: “Racks In The Middle” (third verse)
In a sense, Nipsey Hussle’s third verse on “Racks In The Middle” encapsulates the lasting example of the slain legend’s most unwavering advice. “Bleed music, invest, take lucrative steps… Learn the game. You a student at best.” Put on for your family (“Seen my granny on the jet. Some shit I’ll never forget”). All things at the core of who Nip was as a man, and as a business, man.
3. Westside Gunn: “Dr. Birds”
Westside Gunn isn’t Griselda’s most gifted wordsmith by any means, but his ability to craft vividly entertaining stanzas remains exceptional. Littered with gun shot sounds and seemingly omnipresent “DOOO DOOO DOOOs,” his verse on “Dr. Birds” off WWCD colorfully captures the cultures fascination with crime, drugs, and high fashion. He’s in the fashion district fictionally shooting up Bergdorf’s. He’s rocking Fear of God joggers and he doesn’t even jog. Then, he delivers perhaps the most appropo bar of 2019: “Tell Virgil write ‘Brick’ on my brick,’ shouting out both the era’s addiction to cocaine and Virgil Abloh’s Off-White brand. And when Abloh hit The Gram and did exactly that, Griselda’s rugged brand of vintage of coke rap went luxury.
2. Black Thought: “Crown For Kings”
Black Thought’s verse on “Crown For Kings” is a powerful example of rousing storytelling and lyrical exercise. “Real niggas made an industry out of intuition, facing the darkest outcomes, sprinting to outrun the reaper,” he kicks with the wisdom of a Jedi Master. “Trying not to be food in the mouth of the beast. For whom the bell tolls. Crown Kings in adidas suits and shell toes.” The most ubiquitous examples of tragedy turned triumph flow like a fountain full of words connecting backpacks and traps across generations, bridging gaps while never tiptoeing towards preachy. It’s a reminder that fly rhymes grow finer despite time.
1. J. Cole: “A Lot”
J. Cole’s verse on “A Lot” has the makeup of all the reasons people love Andre 3000 verses. Open with a critique of the culture (“How many faking their streams? Getting plays from machines? I can see behind the smoke and mirrors. Niggas ain’t big as they seem… some niggas make millions. Other niggas make memes.”) — Check. Remind people of your humility (“I’ve been playing it back from a lack of promotion. I was never one for the bragging and boasting.”) — Check. Switch flows and extol your own greatness (“I’m batting a thousand. It’s gotten to the point that these rappers don’t even like rapping with me.”) — Check. Toss in a few positive words for the latest targets of mob justice (“Tekashi 6ix 9ine, Markell Fultz, respectively) — Check. The result is a masterful commentary on this era, effortlessly weaving through the macro and the micro, the public and the personal in a way reminiscent of the all-time greats. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.