This week saw the release of Ice-T’s documentary Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, an event that had lyric geeks everywhere drooling. We could have filled up this whole list just with contributions from the film, which includes amazing raps by a who’s-who of legendary emcees. In addition to the movie, the hip-hop world moved on as usual, with an unusually strong array of lines. This week, Supa Emcee protects Dilla’s legacy, Fabolous jams to some new jack swing, Rakim shows he’s still got it, Fred The Godson gets a new ride, and Soul Khan, well, we’ll explain that when we get there. Below, the Lines of the Week:
5. “Y’all want to bite his sampling/Screaming, ‘I got tracks by Dilla’, ni**a — Charles Hamilton” — Supa Emcee, ‘Dillatroit’ lyrics
This week saw the release of producer James “J. Dilla” Yancey’s posthumous album Rebirth of Detroit. The lyricists who appear on it obviously include plenty of nods to Dilla’s legacy, but it’s not all sad and mournful. Here, Supa makes a light-hearted reference to a 2009 incident where rapper Charles Hamilton listed Dilla as an “executive producer” on one of his albums, without consent or knowledge of the producer’s estate, family, or seemingly anyone else in the world. Hamilton then falsely claimed to have Dilla’s mother’s approval, to which she famously responded, “The only Hamilton I’ve ever heard of was on the bill”. While this lyric doesn’t quite live up to Ma Dukes’ classic retort, it’s still great, and thus makes our list.
4. “And it’s going down like elevators to where the lobby is/And tonight, I’m on that brown like Bobby is/It’s my prerogative, I could show you how to live/Every little step you take’ll be in shoes Guiseppe makes/My tenderoni, the one and only/F*ck me two times in case the first one get lonely” — Fabolous, ‘Ahh S**t’ lyrics
Bobby Brown, despite having his last big hit back when the first George Bush was President, continues to be grist for rap references and jokes. Here, Fab cleverly works the titles of the singer’s biggest hits (“My Prerogative”, “Every Little Step”, “Roni”) into one long pick-up line. And yes, we still remember how to spell “prerogative”, something we freely admit to learning only when Bobby’s song became an inescapable grammar-school sensation.
3. “Turn on me? Be in a mental infirmary/Determinedly advance technology better than Germany” — Rakim, ‘The Art of Rap Freestyle’ lyrics
Ice-T’s superb new documentary Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap features a capellas and freestyles by dozens of top-tier artists. But even in a crowded field that includes Eminem, Kanye West, Lord Finesse, Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, and lots more, Rakim Allah stands alone. The pioneer’s short freestyle reminds us that he expanded the realm of what was possible in this art form, and that, despite the rarity of his creative output in recent years, he’s still on top of his game.
2. “He spit bars, son, rarely/This MTV — I’m in a different car, son, daily” — Fred The Godson, ‘MTV RapFix Live Freestyle’ lyrics
There is a long tradition of radio and TV show freestyles that use the host’s name. MTV’s Sway has been the recipient of a fair number of those himself, dating from his days as a radio DJ with King Tech on The Wakeup Show (Eminem’s “Spraying wreck with my man Sway and Tech” remains one of our favorites). But this must have come as a surprise even to him. While on MTV’s RapFix program, Fred not only works in the name of former network host Carson Daly, but does it as a crazy, mind-bending pun.
1. “Let me elevate how the modern dude raps/All I need is one bar like ‘Allahu ak-‘” — Soul Khan, ‘Soulstice 4’ lyrics
Soul Khan is one of our absolute favorites. He’s opinionated, smart, funny, and gives great interviews. Oh yeah, and he can rap, too. These closing lines of his newest release admittedly flew over our heads at first. “Allahu Akbar” is a common Arabic phrase that means “God is great”, and the “one bar” here refers to both the letters B-A-R in that statement — missing when Soul says it — and the one “bar” of music he needs to rap over in order to change the game. Once our head stopped spinning, we clearly anointed this line the best of the week.