Monday, December 16, 2013

Top 10 Verses of 2013

Bringing lyrical ability, entertaining replay value, catchy one liners, direct flow, and clever lines together to form one of the best verses of the year is a difficult task to say the least. But these 10 rappers, through one form or another, or multiple, accomplished such a task. It was nearly impossible to match the legendary verses from last year, including Kendrick Lamar's 'm.A.A.d city' verse, Gunplay's 'Cartoon & Cereals,' Jay Rock's 'Money Trees,' Earl Sweatshirt's 'Oldie', and Andre 3000's 'Pink Matter.' We as Hip-Hop fans were grateful last year for the level of talent we received when it came to these verses. This year is much more subdued, excluding one fated rhyme. None-the-less the top 10 verses of the year still resonate well as impeccable forms of rapping literature and you're about to get a crash course on why.

10. Shad - Stylin' (2nd & 3rd)

Canadian MC Shad has caught the eyes of very few in the rap game in comparison to many others, but the ones who he has know very well the lyrical ability of the famed 'Old Prince' rapper. Easily his strongest suite, Shad has the ability to invent creative verses with such fluidity, something many rappers fail to do in this day and age. His diction and vocal clarity make his rhymes that much more of an impact. Case in point take first single from his excellent Flying Colours 'Stylin.' While the chorus and beat leave something to be desired, Shad's second and third verses bring the listener in, allowing for an easy listen. I couldn't choose which one I prefer, especially with the third's three acronym shtick working flawlessly. While the second one doesn't wow in the lyrical cleverness scale, his flow and pronunciation is what breathes fresh air into the verse, mainly during his ranting about his home country of Africa and white Hip-Hop fans, both incredibly true statements that he makes to those speaking to him. The third verse, as many know, is littered with acronyms following his bar. It's a clearly inventive style of rhyming, one that substitutes the often overused 'like' style of clever rhyme-scheme for acronyms that associate with his previous line.  

9. Captain Murphy - Between Villains

Prior to Duality, Flying Lotus was one of my favorite artists and then Captain Murphy, with his mystery, dark vocal manipulations, and witty lyrics, came through and solidified my love for FlyLo. This year's randomly mysterious single featuring MF DOOM as his alter ego Viktor Vaughn and Earl Sweatshirt easily became my most hyped up release of the year. And while DOOM and Sweatshirt respectively killed their verses it was Murphy's that took the cake as the most delicate. Many of his lines featured inter-syllabicate rhyming where words such as "inwards" and "n-words" occur on the same bar. This makes for a rather interesting verse that boasts an enjoyable listen each and every time. As many have come to expect from Murphy the verse is nothing more than baseless boasts and overtly sexual overtones, lyrical dexterity isn't something many listen to Murphy for. It is in fact his vocal delivery, manipulating voice, alter-ego like character, and clever rhymes that make listeners return to him time and time again.

8. Tyler, The Creator - Rusty

Tyler, The Creator's Wolf was one of my favorite releases of the year, there's not denying it. I'm a sucker for story-telling throughout an album, someone I can remotely relate too, and ambitious rapping to go along with a care free attitude. Wolf was right up my alley and delivered flawlessly. While Rusty, featuring fellow rapper kingpins of Odd Future Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt, wasn't one of my favorite tracks on the album, it was easily the one filled with the greatest lyrical contributions. Tyler's full face, 2 minute long, tour de force of a verse that serves as the centerpiece to the song and easily deserves its place on this list. It doesn't have any of the corny lines, or clever lyrics Tyler and many other rappers boast in today's age, instead, the foul-mouthed 22 year old decries foul for 42 bars about his come up in the rap game, the rap game itself, and who exactly Tyler, The Creator is. This isn't your run of the mill 'this is who I am' verse, for Tyler throws any and all suggestive lines and work around lyrics out the window and directly addresses his fans discussing everything from his portrayal as the kid who hates woman but loves kittens, to the fact that his suicidal lyrics have actually saved some poor kids. It's true the verse trudges along and isn't much of a good listen once the track's hypes settles down but that doesn't deny this verse from being one of Tyler's best.

7. Vince Staples - Hive

Seemingly out of left field Vince Staples verse at the back-end of the grimy Hive off of Doris took many by surprise. With his relatively high pitched voice, matching up with not only Earl's monotone delivery but the beat that drives it seemed a nearly impossible task. Staples not only competed with Earl's two verses but put them to shame. With his introductory line "Quit with all that tough talk, bruh, we know you niggas ain't about shit. Come around, we gun em' down, bodies piled, Auschwitz" you knew you were in for something dark and sinister. The removal of the beat, with Staples only being backed by a ominous sound-scape of vocal haunting, proves that the production team themselves knew of the verse Vince was about to lay down. Directly shouting down those that stand beneath him on the streets, Vince's voice, no matter how light, echoes darkly throughout the corridors of the alleyways in which I imagine him reciting these lines. Not only does he succeed in painting a vivid picture, Vince throws in clever lines like "Tools hit like pool sticks, the way I cue shit." It's really his flow, hitting his points directly off high hits in the beat that makes this verse one enjoyable listen. His cadence, the slang he uses, bodes well for himself and the track. It's an amazing sendoff to one of the grittier tracks of the year.

6. Childish Gambino - I. The Party

Taken from one of the most experimental Hip-Hop albums of the year, The Party, plays as the centerpiece of Because The Internet, Childish Gambino's magnum opus, in relative terms to the 72 page screenplay Glover has written for it. Clocking in at 1:30 with his single verse taking up the final third of that, The Party's sole lyrical display is masterpiece in the realm of flow and speed. The way Gambino executes his craft on this track is simply flawless. None of his clever lines exist, nothing thought-provoking, nothing even to separate it from the limitless braggadocios rhyming of the mainstream when simply read. It's his lighting fast delivery and subtle transitioning of flows with a careening ending proclaiming his distaste for his own party that makes the ~25 second verse so noteworthy. This, along with another verse later on in the list, is a perfect example of staying the exact length of time before boredom or repetition sets in. The rhymes themselves aren't anything special, as I've mentioned, just Gambino finally snapping as his isolation and depression whilst attending his own party reaches unforeseen heights and his vast claims of richness cries fowl to the guests whom he abruptly kicks out. It's in stark contrast to the rest of the album, which is in stark contrast to itself.

5. Big K.R.I.T - 1 Train

It seemed as if 1 Train, the instant legendary A$AP Rocky track that featured all of the most prominent up-and-comers of the year, came out ages ago when it reality it was this January. Many felt there would be no way the track could surpass the incredible hype that it was bestowed with when it's guest list appeared, and yet, with a Hit-Boy produced beat to back, arguably every rapper succeeded in throwing down gritty verses for the train that Rocky led. And to be the caboose meant having the honors of greatest verse, defeating out the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, and Action Bronson. This is exactly what Big K.R.I.T did, and he performed greatly. Starting his verse off in a stylish fashion, proclaiming that he's about to "spit like my last breath; casket rap, six deep" is a bold assumption to make. K.R.I.T's flow and voice is often his strongest suite, and while both those things are on full effect here, the Atlanta-born rapper throws down some of his most elegant rhymes he's ever spit. Lines such as "Walk the plank or break the bank, I've been in the business of sinkin' ships/Chokin niggas out with the anchor that they anchor with/Resurrections cost the label, I'm taxing if you want a hit" come off with such determination and ferocity, two things K.R.I.T. has never been known for, that really allows this verse to sink in. It's Big K.R.I.T. at his best, and rightfully so.

4. Kanye West - New Slaves

What is left to say about the most talked about album of the year. Yeezus threw convention out the window and spit on it on the way down. It started endless debated over whether or not it was good, and whether or not the creator meant for it to be good. Because the one thing Yeezus was not was lyrical. Many don't doubt that this is Kanye's worst work lyrically. There isn't any denying that fact. But for all the cheesy one-liners, eyeroll-inducing bars, and scratch your head moments, the one shining light through all of it was the second verse on New Slaves, the lead track off the album. Made clear even by Kanye on the following track when the first thing he utters is "Bitch I'm back out my coma." For it is the second verse on New Slaves where Kanye's proclaims that he can't be held back by the corporations comes out in force, making grand statements about the state of not just Hip-Hop, but his latest fortes into fashion as well. Don't make a mistake, his corny lines are still here, it's just that his boasts about the problems that surrounds him and his over-abundance of fame take the forefront of Kanye being the 'new slave.' While he does make interesting points, the brunt of discussion lies on the fact that the listeners, at least the overwhelming majority of them, can not associate with him and do not know what it's like to be in Kanye's situation. One of the things that make this verse amazing is his increased anger whilst spitting along, as if he's simply talking to these reporters whom he hates so much and is becoming more and more visibly frustrated with them. It's a remarkable insight into a man's troubled mind and really shows just how close Kanye is to being on the brink of destruction, if he isn't already there.

3. Killer Mike - Sea Legs

Run The Jewels, the experimental collaboration between El-P and Killer Mike, was everything I hoped it could be and more. Lyrically the album was a monster. Straight gut-throat rhymes that were not only boasted but also backed up. This wasn't your soft-rapper trying to be hard's album. This was two men who knew their place and made damn well sure we did too. Case in point, Killer Mike's verse on Sea Legs. Attacking any and all men who believe they're better than the ones they consider beneath them. He's aiming straight for the jewels and it don't matter who you are. The hard-nosed grittiness hits its peak towards the middle of the verse when Mike, without any form of second hand gestures and undercover call outs, directly references Kanye West and Jay-Z for the sellouts and the 'parrots' that they are. Aggression is something the Atlanta-based rapper has in droves, the way his speech pattern hardens when he mouths "I stand on the towers like Eiffel, I rifle down all your idols, woo. Niggas will perish in Paris" lays claim that he isn't fucking around, he means it. It's a bold claim and one that shouldn't be taken lightly coming from the fierce lyrical power that Killer Mike is. To finish out his dominant verse, Mike illustrates his other note-worthy skills on the mic, with his finale "And I think I like the freedom, cannibal, animal, rappers I eat em'" switching up flows and dropping the hammer with the help of El-P at the end solidifies this as the definitive verse off Run The Jewels.

2. Earl Sweatshirt - Uncle Al

After his dominating, earth-shattering verse on Oldie after his return from Somoa, Earl was likely poised for another spot on the greatest verses list the following year, and here we stand today. Coming off Doris, his solid debut album, Uncle Al stands alone as a unique piece of work, even for Earl's standards. Taking his old style of short songs with one verse to new heights Uncle Al clocks in at :53 seconds, just leaving enough room for you to be salivating for more. It's a single 16-bar verse packed with extensive wordplay and descriptive storytelling, something Earl is far familiar with. It may be the case however that the reason this verse lands him at 2nd on our list is for the insane production that slams behind him. Fluctuating between two different beats, both bangers in their respective sense, for four bars each allows for the entertainment and replay value of the track to sore through the roof. It's thee most aggressive song on Doris, even competing with Hive. Earl's vocal wordplay, perfectly sprawling itself over the drum loops and swirling synths shows Earl's exciting side, something many critique him for not having. Lines like "Pucker up, kiss of death. Tell your men to hit the deck or hit the dirt" fracture the sub-woofer that comes in behind it halfway through. It's aggressive, in your face, taunting. All of this aforementioned praise are things Earl is typically not known for, which makes Uncle Al all the more impressive when realization sets in that his typical double-meanings and hard to decipher lyrical wordplay are all the more present here on the track. Uncle Al plays like a kid snapping out of reality, going H.A.M, for a split of time before returning to the drawl that is Doris and the next track Guild.

1. Kendrick Lamar - Control

There's no denying the impact Kendrick Lamar's Control verse has had on the culture of Hip-Hop since its release in late August. Everywhere from forums to tumblr to mainstream radio lit up when news broke of Lamar's detrimental annihilation of the entire rap game. Reiteration hardly needs to occur but for the sake of the grandness that is his verse I shall. He proclaimed his rein over both coasts, boasted that he was the King of New York, and called out 11 rappers from all walks of life to step their game up. Throw onto that the fact that he compared himself to Andre 3000, Eminem, Nas, and Jay-Z makes the Control verse easily the number one verse of the year, and it wasn't even close. For what it accomplished in the rap game, shaking things up when collaborations and too-friendly rappers were becoming commonplace, Lamar attempted to make enemies, to push the rappers, many of which he has worked with, to try harder and attempt to reach his level. Many became outraged, many took their mention as a compliment, and some immediately took to the drawing boards to perfect their craft. Speaking of craft, the Control verse has it all. Excluding the obvious call-outs, the verse itself is a masterpiece in how to go hard. Beginning with his often used alter 'alien' voice to release the inner demons and ending with an elongated metaphor exclaiming that any who even attempt to come close to his level of talent are bound to fail, the Control verse has everything anyone could ever want wrapped in one. It even has the hilarious ad-libs, "I don't smoke crack mothafucka I sell it!" heightens the replay value of a potentially dragging verse. But none-the-less there's no denying that Control was the verse of the year, even from the moment it was released.

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