As part of what I hope will become an ongoing feature on this site, I've begun asking a few MCs, producers and bloggers what they consider to be the greatest verse of all time. This post is a little more interactive than usual, so if you're reading this through an rss feed or if you have Flash disabled, try loading the page directly from the site.
I donít know of many straight lyric geeks on the internet. Itís obvious that the game has shifted from "Whoís the nicest MC?" to "Who did that beat?" Ten years ago, that obviously wasnít the case. I talked about this over at my man Scholarís blog Souled On Music (what up!) during my analysis of Wu-Tang Forever, how it was possible in the mid-to-late 90s to sell a ton of records and get heavy radio play while still being extra, super crazy lyrical.
Now...eh not such much.
Right, Soulja Boy?
Anyway, Iím taking it back to í97 ONCE AGAIN (see a pattern developing here?) to deconstruct my favorite hip hop verse of all time. And itís by the man bloggers love to hate in 2007...Common!
The song is from Commonís rather uneven third album One Day Itíll All Make Sense. Hungry is a full-on exercise in battle raps, punchlines, double entendres, braggadocio lines, consciousness, mult-syllabic rhymes, unorthodox structure...hell, he even disses Tiger Woods.
In short, itís astounding, itís layered, itís raw and itís hands down Commonís best verse.
I walk the night in rhymin armor, bomb a nigga like a winter coat
Have him on Death Row searchin for an Interscope
The mark of a great verse is a great opening. Here, Common is visual, threatening and clever in his opening 2 bars. This is like sacking a quarterback on the first play of the game. Itís a good contrast to the beat by No ID, which is a sparse and laid back groove.
Yet I sparkle like Irene Cara
Symbolize dope, like sirens do terror
Mariel just had a baby someone else decapitated
Flashbacks of past raps make me so glad I made it
Common then follows up his first 2 bars with a line about the woman who wrote What a Feeling from the Flashdance Soundtrack. Itís like heís baiting the listener to sleep on him. He then follows that up 3 bars later ("Flashbacks to past raps") with a really slick line bigging up how ill his OLD shit is, like heís still catching up to himself.
Players is gettin traded
I drop a gem off, them who's style is jaded
My juice is grated
Shit is so bangin niggaz say it's gang related
On philosopher's rink of thought, I've skated
I really like the "shit is so banging niggaz say itís gang related" line because most cats wouldíve used that as the second bar rather than a line to start with. Most dudes wouldíve said something like "My swaggerís too hot and all yíall hated, my shit is so bangin niggaz say itís gang related." Not many cats use the punchline at the beginning, but Common is confident in the rest of his verse so he throws it out there like "What!?!"
With precision, crews is gettin split like decisions
Com will let it ride in collision
Vision like Coleco or Intelle, I battle stars in stellar...
Regions, my thought scheme was my like my offspring
Now, it's teethin
I TOLD YOU COMMON WAS MAD NICE IN í97!!! I really like how Common uses a simple play on words with the "crews is getting split like decisions" line. Itís a really subtle way to say "Iím fucking up your whole team." The next 2 bars are just...címon man! He talks about battling stars...without sounding like a sci-fi geek all the while saying mentally heís developing fast. This is like some Wu shit.
My reason of rhyme applies to season and time
Season of mind, body and regions divine
In mom's cookouts, I'm leavin the swine
Verbal vegeterian, squashed beef with Ice Cube
Came in this rap life nude
Now I'm fully clothed with flows
You tricks can't hide behind expensive cars and clothes
The rhyme scheme of the first 2 bars reminds me of Kool G Rap, even on some bohemian existential shit. Unlike G Rap though, Common changes up the rhyme and lets the listener digest. The "verbal vegetarian" line is original and he seems proud to have no more ill will towards Ice Cube. He follows it up by humbling himself with the "came in this rap life nude" line. Then he puts everyone back in their place: "You tricks canít hide behind expensive cars and clothes." Direct, raw and to the point.
Hoe niggaz I expose like Luke does hoes in videos
With classic material, imperial and rugged like
Got mag, but my slug's a mic
You fake like a smile, like a hug, I'm tight
Skip ladies, this is rip a muthafucka night
Oracle arouse, niggaz don't even run for cover right
Iím a real big fan of unusually memorable punchlines. I donít like when cats go way out of their way to sound clever. I remember this Ras Kass line where he said "I hate black and white so much I bust shots at a panda." I love Ras Kass but that shit was corny. Commonís just at ease and smooth all the while clowning wack MCís. "You fake like a smile, like a hug Iím tight." Less is more sometimes. And the "skip ladies, this is rip a mothafucka night" is just hilarious! I think this album dropped after that Ladies Night remake with Da Brat and Left Eye. The Starbucks Common of í07 wouldnít be saying that.
Downtown interracial lovers hold hands
I breathe heavy like an old man, with a cold can of Old Style
Hold a Stone Isle profile
Mix between Malcolm X and Sef when I go wild
Hold mics like a second nut until the second comin
Hummin comin towards you with power like forwards do
Hip hop, you my bitch and like a Ford, I'm Explorin you
Some wack niggaz be cool, with them, I stay cordial
Again, he follows a hard ass punchline with a vivid picture about interracial lovers, breathing heavy and cans of beer. Thatís very poetical considering this is mainly one long battle rap, but thatís why this verse is my favorite. The power forwards line is natural and raw, and it just makes sense. The last two bars are just devastating; they sound like something Jay-Z would say while laughing in your face. And the last line ("Some wack niggaz be cool, with them I stay cordial") is dead accurate if youíre an artist...you DEFINITELY relate to that!!!
Flowin room temperature, cats is presumed miniature
Like golf, soft like Tiger Woods
At real nigga angles I've stood with ways that's geometric
Don't need to rob banks with dike broads to Set It
I levitate to the occasion, lounge like a lyricist
Rhyme wise, you a rest haven
You sat by the door spooked like I was Wes Craven
You need to do more deletin'and less savin'
A praise in hell, raisin' heaven
Like the bill on my pager leavens
What you should have known from day one
You will on day seven
Can you honestly believe this is the same dude rhyming about Reese Witherspoon and Kimora Lee Simmons?!? If you donít read those last bars and just say :GODDAMN!: to yourself, then hip hop isnít for you. I love the double entendre about the "lounge like a lyricist, rhyme wise you a rest haven." Itís another subtle way to say someone is wack without saying "You wack MCís are like water guns and Iím a tank!"
And the "You need to do more deletin' and less saving" line is so damn slick, Direct and powerful. He really couldíve ended the verse right there like "What!?" But then he goes on and ends the verse on some biblical shit ("What you should have known from day one you will on day seven"). Heís calling cats dumb and ignorant all the while coming off like "Yeah, yíall donít know anything so Iím gonna teach you when I feel like it."
Iíve listened to this track so many times in the past 10 years whenever Iím stuck and feeling uninspired. Iíve blatantly ripped off some of the rhyme schemes here and there, some of the visual alliterations every now and then. Thereís so much happening in this verse beyond a typical battle rap, and I rediscover a new line or unscramble a double entendre like the "lounge like a lyricist" rhyme constantly. I realize you canít make a full album like this, and Iím always a little disappointed that Common hasnít spit like this since One Day Itíll All Make Sense. He may throw out something like Dooinnit or Chi City or The Game but none of those joints are as raw and moving and subtle and powerful and detailed as Hungry. This was him showing other MCís post-Resurrection that he wasnít to be fucked with, and he did it.
To paraphrase Russell Simmons in the movie The Show, thereís not much else I can say about Common except Iím on his dick.
Shout out to Zilla for dropping this gem on us. For more from Beat Garden's head honcho, stop by Passion of the Weiss to read some of his guest appearances and then hit up his MySpace page to hear some of us music.
Also, for any of you who would like to contribute a guest post on this subject, feel free to hit me up (mrjones AT 33jones.com).