While the fourth Thursday of November brings culinary tradition to many families’ tables, Thanksgiving has also become a common reference among rappers. From the late ’80s to modern-day, MCs have taken it upon themselves to concoct metaphors for all types of turkey-adjacent activity. The raps display a range from wholesome and pure to explicit and nasty.
Aside from that, the holiday has become an opportunity for fun and togetherness as well as gratitude and warmth. Many of the best bars about Thanksgiving provide an opportunity to laugh at their cleverness and take joy in rappers’ wit. Below are the best rap lyrics that the holiday has inspired.
1. What Goes Around by Nas: “They call it Thanksgiving, I call your holiday ‘h**l-day’ / ‘Cause I’m from poverty, neglected by the wealthy.”
On this Stillmatic album cut, Nas dissects the wealth gap in America and how it causes different classes to view holidays. In the lines before this one, he shows himself to be one of the few rappers who are historically conscious about the holiday with the bars, “The Indians saved the Pilgrim / And in return the Pilgrim killed ‘em.” Nas shows a deft hand at interconnecting the Native American struggle with the Black one in America. He rhymes about how European settlers colonized the land and had a reverberating effect on all ethnicities that occupied it thereafter, linking it to the celebration of those atrocities today.
2. Dear Mama by Tupac: “You just workin’ with the scraps you was given / And mama made miracles every Thanksgivin’.”
Pac’s 95 ode to his mother, activist Afeni Shakur, is one of the greatest mama songs ever created. One of the main through-lines of the song is Pac’s expression of gratitude for his mother’s ability to create support and sustenance in her raising of him with limited resources. That culminates in this special line about Thanksgiving. Pac is truly in awe of Afeni in this core second verse and this is one of the lines that shows that most prominently.
3. Wrist Game by Migos: “Naked b**ches in the kitchen sniffin’ off of dishes / Got them Thanksgiving turkeys, Quavo sellin’ whole chickens.”
Migos catapulted their run in the early/mid-2010s when “Versace” took over the airwaves. However, there were a plethora of other mixtape cuts that stood the test of time, and “Wrist Game” is one of them. In the song on his standout verse, Quavo uses Thanksgiving turkeys to add to the imagery of the drug sales he is rapping about. The delivery of this line is key. Within it, Quavo uses elements of the triplet flow that Migos would come to be known and loved for.
4. Born Loser by DMX: “Times are hard in the ghetto, I gotta steal for a living / Eating turkey-flavored Now and Laters for Thanksgiving.”
DMX, for the entirety of his career, painted a unique picture of the hood where he was raised in Yonkers. This Thanksgiving line is an extension of that expression. Do turkey-flavored Now and Laters actually exist? No. Could one surmise that in his youth when others were having feasts, all DMX had were Now and Laters, and when he ate them he was imagining biting into a large piece of turkey smothered in gravy? Possibly. Here he spurred a cinematic imagination in one line.
5. Another Victory by Big Daddy Kane: “So how we livin’ / Like a turkey on Thanksgiving or like Robin Givens?”
This line by Kane is not necessarily that obvious to decipher. You need to have a real understanding of what the perception of actress Robin Givens was in 1989. The actress divorced Mike Tyson in 1988, citing domestic violence by the boxer. Tyson did not make her sign a prenup before their marriage and she got a very large settlement. In the bar, Kane is asking generally if you are gonna eat, like Givens, or be eaten, like a turkey.
6. Miracle by Gucci Mane feat. Young Thug: “My bedroom is the chicken room / I’m eating like it’s Thanksgiving fool.”
Gucci Mane is the master of the chicken drug metaphor. His 2006 mixtape Chicken Talk is a certified classic. It was only natural that Guwop would eventually link chicken to Thanksgiving and turkey. Here, he is eating off the product like every day is a feast. The food references didn’t end there. Later in the verse Gucci raps, “God take my breath now if I’m scared of you / I turn your best friend to a f**kin’ vegetable.”
7. Can I Get Witcha by The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Lil Cease: “Whatcha think I do, sling skins for a livin’? / My name ain’t November, this ain’t Thanksgivin’.”
Biggie’s wordplay is forever unmatched in how he ties different syllables and ideas together. Here, he refers and responds to a woman who he perceives to be promiscuous or enjoys being “passed around” like food on a Thanksgiving table. He uses “sling skins” to create the imagery of turkey and slickly dismisses this woman’s attempts to seduce him. As a food bar Goliath in rap, it only makes sense that his Thanksgiving lyric is one of the most distinctly delivered.
8. No Church In The Wild Freestyle by Meek Mill and Rick Ross: “When a hater sticks to you like mud on a cleat / Thanksgiving with the birds just drugs for a feast.”
On a diabolical freestyle on JAY-Z and Kanye’s Watch The Throne album opener, Philly spitter Meek Mill uses the opportunity to put his spin on Thanksgiving hustle raps. Rather than celebrate a warmth-filled holiday, Meek describes holding tight to his stash as he prepares to distribute, as well as stunt on his haters. Meek is the perfect candidate to use the holiday to his lyrical advantage as its connotation to a tough upbringing flows seamlessly.
9. My Mom by Eminem: “I ain’t giving in, you’re gonna just sit there / In one f**king place finnickin’ til next Thanksgiving / And if you still ain’t finished it, I’ll use the same s**t again.”
This bar by Slim Shady exists within a barrage of raps aimed at his mother. Particularly, in this track, he blames his drug addiction on his mother’s. In this second verse, he is hopping all over the beat with wordplay about how he is force-feeding his mother painkillers to get her back for the curse she has made him bear. It is one of the most crude usages of Thanksgiving in rap that exists, but this was part of an insane point in Eminem’s career when his actual drug addiction was at an all-time high.
10. Blowin’ Up In The World by Kool G Rap: “Back in the days was kinda crazy, kid. I started out with nothin’ / Wasn’t livin’ like Thanksgiving; I was turkey without the stuffin’.”
G Rap is one of the most underrated MCs of all time. He is one of the only rappers on this list to use two Thanksgiving food items in one line. He cleverly compares his upbringing that was lacking in sustenance to a holiday dinner that doesn’t have an essential dish to complete the table. G Rap, at this point, lifted himself out of poverty and into the conversation of pure rap royalty in NYC.
11. Tryna Get Me One by Gillie Da Kid feat. Pusha T: “I played the hand I was given / I’m a Muslim I gave turkeys out on Thanksgiving / Wasn’t to celebrate the holidays / Just didn’t want to see bunch families starve that day.”
People may forget the now-podcast sensation Gillie Da Kid was a menace behind the mic in the early 2010s. In this Thanksgiving rap, he both includes and separates himself from the holiday culturally. He displays his Muslim values by giving turkeys out to the poor but denies any association with the holiday itself. It could be said that Gillie is distancing himself from the day’s crooked history, but participating in its element of gratitude through service.
12. Money Trees by Kendrick Lamar feat. Jay Rock: “Baking soda YOLA whipping, ain’t no turkey on Thanksgiving.”
One of the most memorable Thanksgiving bars ever comes on one of the most classic feature verses in modern rap. Jay Rock holds the premiere feature on Kendrick Lamar’s classic storytelling album good kid m.A.A.d city. “Money Trees” has one of the most illustrious instrumentals and deliveries ever from Lamar and DJ Dahi, but then Jay Rock’s element of gutter seals the deal on the legendary track. This quick quip about dismissing holiday joy for the street hustle is at the essence of the verse, which paints a vivid picture of life in Compton for a young person surrounded by gang-banging.
13. No Church In The Wild by JAY-Z and Kanye West: “Lies on the lips of a priest / Thanksgiving disguised as a feast.”
Hov laces the opening verse of his behemoth collab album with West with precise poetic imagery that is equal parts crystalized and contemplative. These third and fourth lines follow the first two where he raps, “Tears on the mausoleum floor / Blood stains the Coliseum doors.” Here, he enters with sleek historical highlighting and propels off it into pointing out hypocrisy with the church and the holiday of Thanksgiving. JAY-Z is often minimalist within his bars, but these read way more like poetry than hard-hitting raps. He lets your imagination and brain processing do some of the deciphering like a master craftsman at work.
14. Lupe Back by Lupe Fiasco: “Rest in peace to men, women and the children / And middle fingers to the Pilgrims that killed ‘em / Friend of the People, happy Thanksgiving.”
This is the most blatant critique of the Thanksgiving holiday itself by any rapper on this list. Lupe leaves nothing up to interpretation as he flips the bird to the colonizers from Europe who took over Native land. While doing this, however, Lupe is preaching unity. This means that those who ride with the message of freedom against oppression should roll with him and continue speaking truth to power against injustice.
15. Ignorant by Mac Miller feat. Cam’ron: “Brand new crib I’m paintin’ it, half a mil just paid for it / No Thanksgiving paradin’ this, but we marchin’ like the Saints came in.”
Pittsburgh’s Mac Miller begins this set of bars with a flex. He, then, uses that flex to dismiss the corniness of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and compare his style of strut to a New Orleans Bourbon Street stride. There isn’t too much depth here in the wordplay, yet the clever sequencing and style sticks out. This song was made in an era when Mac was still mostly focused on having fun rather than being contemplative about the meaning of life, which would soon follow.
16. Airplanes (Freestyle) by Royce Da 5’9”: “By the time it could harm me, I’ll prolly die by a trigger / So I’m only goin’ cold turkey right after Thanksgivin’.”
This bar is from a freestyle over a pop rap song by B.O.B. that was everywhere in 2010. Interestingly enough, Royce Da 5’9”, the elite MC from Detroit, used the canvas of the beat as an opportunity to dive into his alcoholism. Before the bars above, he raps, “I’m thinking if I ain’t binge-drinking, then I ain’t living / Somebody told me I’m prolly dying, but I ain’t listen.” So, he uses the holiday in the timeline of the year as an excuse to delay his sobriety.
17. Freestyle Conversation by Snoop Dogg: “Yeah, we’re in drought season / N**gas lookin’ for a reason / It’s like Thanksgiving without the feast / Yeah the truth hurts, we’re scared to go to church.”
This bar exists on a spoken interlude mid-song on this ‘96 heater. Snoop used the holiday as a metaphor for everyone’s desire to eat. Yet, without much to take in because they were in a drought, with pressure and anxiety at an all-time high. Snoop suggests a calling to a higher power in times like this, but deduces that fear is the reason for lack of faith. Snoop invokes an intricate set of words and a very poetic way to insert the holiday into a representation of poverty.
18. untitled 08 | 09.06.2014. by Kendrick Lamar: “See a nine to five was so jive turkey / But when Thanksgiving came that check didn’t hurt me.”
Kendrick snuck a slick Thanksgiving bar in his leftovers from To Pimp A Butterfly project, untitled unmastered. As leftovers are a key part of Thanksgiving week, this feels only right. He uses the term jive turkey first to explain that a nine-to-five job was never in the cards for the character whose perspective he raps from in the song. Even though he does admit that street activity was more lucrative for that character, for this bar those full-time checks did help them sustain.
19. Look Back At Me by Trina feat. Killer Mike: “Put this p**sy in your jaws now smack / Like it’s Thanksgiving and it ain’t coming back / Collard greens neck-bones n**ga, chew this a**.”
Trina isn’t beating around the bush here. The self-proclaimed “baddest” demands that her partner oblige her desires and treat it like a feast on Thanksgiving. Trina is one of the originators of this explicit style, especially when it comes to women unabashedly expressing their sexuality on wax. If there was anyone to use a Thanksgiving metaphor in a rap about this kind of thing, it makes the most sense that it was her.