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The 2010s: The 25 Best Rap Verses of the Decade

The 2010s: The 25 Best Rap Verses of the Decade

what-were-the-best-rap-verses-of-2010s-decade
Graphic: Evanka Williamson
what-were-the-best-rap-verses-of-2010s-decade
Graphic: Evanka Williamson

There are star-making verses from up-and-comers at the time; poignant, soul-baring confessionals; and verses that hold resonance for reasons beyond the music. Here are the 25 best rap verses of the 2010s.

Crafting a verse of the year list is daunting. But making a list of just 25 verses from the past ten years is even more arduous. Nevertheless, we’ve done our best with this list. These verses were selected for various reasons. The criteria isn’t limited to pure technical lyricism; otherwise a select few artists would have dominated it. 

READ: Jay Electronica’s Career Is The Biggest “What If” Of The 2010s

This list showcases the full spectrum of what’s been going on in the rap game this decade. There are some star-making verses from then-up-and-comers. There are some poignant, soul-baring confessionals, and other verses that hold resonance for reasons beyond the music. And yes, there is some genre-bending crooning going on too. 

READ: The 2010s: The Evolution of Cloud R&B In 18 Mixtapes

If you didn’t see your favorite verse, know we probably considered it, but it just couldn’t fit. Here are the best 25 rap verses of the decade, featuring contributions from JAY-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Black Thought, Noname, and more. 

25. Cardi B’s verse on G-Eazy & A$AP Rocky’s “No Limit” (2017)

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Photo Credit: Rich Fury/Getty Images for Fashion Nova


While “Bodak Yellow” is undeniably Cardi B’s defining moment, her appearance on G-Eazy’s “No Limit” is her best individual verse. The Bronx rapper is a prime target for hip-hop traditionalists who shame her for — gasp — affirming her own sexual volition. 

But if male rappers get to take pride in tricking off, then her “fuck him them I get some money” mantra is just the flipside of that dynamic. 

After her subtle subversion, she delves into a double-time verse full of slick lines like, “Can you stop with all the subs? Bitch, I ain’t Jared” and “Put a white boy on Sazón, I might turn G-Eazy out.” Critics can say what they want about whether she’s actually writing all of her verses but her ability to sell her bars in a compelling fashion is on full display here. 

24. Lil Reese’s verse on Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” (2012)

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Photo Credit: Johnny Nunez/WireImage


Chief Keef isn’t the only influential rapper in his circle. Lil Reese finished off Keef’s iconic “I Don’t Like” with the most impactful verse on the song. Reese’s lyrical fare didn’t veer far from the Chicago Drill scene’s ethos of us over everything, oral sex over actual intercourse, and the canonizing “Fredo in the cut, that’s a scary sight.” But the “stutter flow” he used at the end of his bars was heavily borrowed in the year following his initial rise. 

Artists like JAY-Z, Nicki Minaj, Wiz Khalifa, and the late L’A Capone employed the flow on various songs. Drake and Rick Ross giddily bit the flow on “Us” with Reese, which isn’t as bad as “borrowing” on another song. A lot of industry people jumped to borrow his flow, but few of them had much to say publicly after Reese’s recent, near-fatal shooting

23. Rapsody’s verse on Kendrick Lamar’s “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” (2015)

Rapsody Performs at Summer Spirit 2018
Photo Credit: Vickey Ford of Sneakshot Photography


Colorism is one of the world’s biggest social scourges, especially in the Black community. On “Complexion,“ Rapsody followed up Kendrick Lamar’s ode to dark skin with her own empowering verse. She started the verse by rhetorically asking, “Keep your head up, when did you stop loving thy,” before rhyming about her own journey toward loving her skin. “Twelve years of age, thinkin’ my shade too dark,” she reflected, before noting “I love myself, I no longer need Cupid.  The autobiographical, vulnerable verse was an ideal accompaniment to Kendrick. 

22. Ka’s first verse on  “30 Keys” (2016) 

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Photo Credit: Ka


On “30 Keys,” Brownsville’s Ka explores the emotional toll of drug dealing in brilliant fashion. Drug dealers and others in the hood receive rancor for “destroying their communities,” but anyone with a cogent understanding of systemic inequality knows that crime often comes from the desperation of poverty. Ka understands that, and demonstrates his empathy with jewels like, “fuck your family, someone got rich off mine,” which highlights both the dog-eat-dog climate of the streets and the top-down consequences of capitalism. It’s not just other drug dealers who took advantage of Ka and his family, but the wealthy who subsist on Brownsville’s poverty. 

This verse could make the most ardent conservative rethink their biases. 

21. J Cole’s verse on Kanye West, Pusha-T, Big Sean, and Cyhi the Prynce’s “Looking For Trouble” (2010)

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Photo Credit: Vickey Ford for Okayplayer.com


J. Cole has made us more cognizant of his collaborations, or lack thereof, than any other rapper. We know 2014 Forest Hill Drive went triple platinum with no features. 

But his best appearance, and most important singular verse, came before all the feature fixation. The year 2010 was a simpler time, and Cole was just trying to find a spot in the deluge of, then, new school rappers.

He got in the fray with a pack of hyenas on “Looking For Trouble” and asserted himself as “the chosen one” with a show-stealing verse. Cole is beloved for his humility, but he had a massive chip on his shoulder on “Looking For Trouble.” At the time, he was a fledgling artist still looking to build an identity and foundation. Having a standout verse on one of Kanye West’s Good Friday songs was a hell of a way to turn heads. 

He proclaimed himself “the rap Moses.” Decreed, “Never say I’m better than Hov, but I’m the closest one.” And backed those with a verse full of quotables like, “They say you are what you eat, and I still ain’t pussy.” Cole has had more heartfelt verses, more lyrically dense verses, and more socially urgent verses. But the impact of “Looking For Trouble” was a star-making moment that helped him build momentum toward his debut album — and eventual rap superstardom. 

20. Mozzy’s first verse on “Sleep Walkin” (2017)

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Photo Credit Mozzy

Mozzy, the man known as 1 Up Top Ahk is one of the decade’s most prolific standard-bearers for pain rap, and “Sleep Walkin” is his shining moment. He penned glimpses of the streets that sound matter of fact from his gruff voice and deliberate cadence, but are striking in their concise profundity.

He starts off the verse, “Thankful for the prostitutes, assumin’ that we soulmates,” aligning himself and his peers with sex workers just trying to get by in the same way he is. He rhymes that he’s “caught up in this style of livin’, couldn’t if I want to change,”  but also reflects “I was too broke to ever visualize the world this way,” signaling a persona evolution. That dichotomy is apparent throughout the verse. He’s “caught up,” but sees his “girly face” and knows he “traveled down the wrong way.” So even when he “gave them niggas sticks to bang,” he also “helped them niggas get them chains and showed the hood a different way.” “Sleep Walkin” is one of the best portraits of the tug of war artists like Mozzy feel when they achieve a modicum of fame, but feel too far gone to completely abandon their old life. 

19. Drake’s verse on Rick Ross & French Montana’s “Stay Schemin’” (2012)

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Photo Credit: Ian Gavan/Getty Images


Drake has spent the better part of the 2010s in pensive mode. But the best Drake is a pissed off Drake. After getting into it with Common over Serena Williams — a woman they both had some romantic ties to — Drake clapped back at Common’s halfhearted diss on “Sweet” with a full head of steam on “Stay Schemin’.”

Though he didn’t mention Common by name, it’s pretty clear who he was referring to with the backhanded “it bothers me when the gods get to actin’ like the broads,” before asking someone, “when you see me you speak up, nigga, that’s all.”

He then backed off of Common to ensure that he “might look light, but we heavy though/You think Drake will pull some shit like that? You never know!” At that point, Drake hadn’t reached his “Louie bags for body bags” depths, so his chest-out moment was a pleasant surprise. He didn’t waste a bar, equally vindictive, dismissive, boastful, and humorous. In a sea of Drake verses of all moods and tones, this is his most complete start-to-finish moment. 

18. Earl Sweatshirt’s first verse on “Grief” (2015) 

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Photo Credit: Shaughn Cooper for Okayplayer.com


Earl Sweatshirt described his “Grief” track on Twitter as “a final lament and epilogue.”

 But for many listeners, the track could be perceived as a compelling new chapter in the young artist’s winding career. The song’s first verse, in particular, showed his burgeoning mastery of craft. It wasn’t just that he was still stacking multi-syllabics like Jenga blocks, but life experience had infused that lyricism with bars like, “Lately, I’ve been panicking a lot/feeling like I’m stranded in a mob, scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop,” demonstrating a gripping, admirable vulnerability while reflected on the anxieties and pitfalls of fame. 

17. Young Thug on Rich Gang & Birdman’s “Givenchy” (2014)

Young Thug at the The Anthem in Washington, DC
Photo Credit: Vickey Ford/Sneakshot for Okayplayer


When Young Thug’s then-manager Rip
told FADER in 2014 that he “eats no real food” and survives off of monthly nutrient injections, I knew he was different. Thugger must have been deep into his malnourished netherworld when he crafted “Givenchy,” a lengthy verse that shows his sinewy flow ripping in every direction in brilliant fashion. Thug was lauded for “post-verbal brilliance” in 2015, but every line of “Givenchy” is coherent. He crooned, “I put my heart inside yo’ pocket, you can’t break it,” but in true scatterbrained fashion was letting us know “me and sharpshooters sponsored by FOX.”

Thug isn’t often given credit as an actual MC, but the run he went on during the second half of the verse, in particular, is one of the most impressive displays of rapping you’ll hear anywhere. His Lil Wayne influence was rarely more apparent than on “Givenchy.” And not just because of Birdman’s opulent monologue to start the song. Thugger delivered a Drought 3, No Ceilings display here. 

16. Chance the Rapper on Kanye West & Kirk Franklin’s “Ultralight Beam” (2016)

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Photo Credit: Lorne Thomson/Getty Images

There’s an occasional quarrel between Chance The Rapper and Kanye West stans about who inspired who to lean into gospel-tinged rap around the mid-2010s. But the answer doesn’t matter on “Ultralight Beam,” a The Life Of Pablo standout that was one of Kanye’s last truly great moments. Chance has long received flack from detractors who, for whatever reason, believe that his devotion to Jesus is a ruse. He’s indeed worked hard to maintain a spotless image since the Acid Rap era, but his “Ultralight Beam” offering proves he’s just as human as anyone else. 

Chance finished off the “God dream” with his best verse, ever, affirming  that “when they come for you, I will shield your name/I will field their questions, I will feel your pain,” and teasing a collaboration with Kanye that’s “so free and the bars so hard/that there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet.” But even as he gives God the glory, he spitefully noted that “I bet that my ex looking back like a pillar of salt.” Every Christian should understand that sometimes people fall short — but rarely is it on one of the best tracks of the decade. 

15. Jay Rock’s verse on Kendrick Lamar’s “Money Trees” (2012)

Jay Rock National Symphony Orchestra Vickey Ford
Photo Credit: Victoria Ford for Okayplayer


Jay Rock
told Complex that when Kendrick Lamar asked him to jump on “Money Trees”, he “took his time.” That care is evident throughout the fiery verse in which he followed up Kendrick’s waxing on the treacherous pursuit of a dollar with his own tale of “bakin’ soda, yola whippin/’ain’t no turkey on Thanksgivin.’” Rock tore the verse with intensity, rapping questions like “what else is a thug to do/when you eatin’ cheese from the government?” into a flow that had the momentum of an 18-wheeler speeding downhill. 

If Good Kid M.A.A.D City was the veritable sequel to West Coast cinema standards like Menace 2 Society and Boyz N The Hood, then Jay Rock got himself a classic scene in the proceedings. 

14. Future’s first verse on “My Savages” (2014)

Meadows Festival 2017: Gorillaz, LL Cool J, Future & More Provide The Surprises [Recap]
Photo Credit: Victoria Ford of Sneakshot for Okayplayer

Hip-hop traditionalists would tell you that Future is a scourge to hip-hop who “promotes” drug use to the youth. Maybe some of that has merit. But in other ways, he’s just a bluesman with some 808s and a great engineer. He caught flack for admitting that he doesn’t drink lean as much as his music would suggest, but vulnerable verses like the opener to “My Savages” underscore why we fully believed him. The unabashed nihilism of a “Codeine Crazy” is explained by the stress he unloads on “My Savages” from Monster

He sets off everything with the context that, “I grew up in a ruthless ass environment,” before going on a distressed stream of consciousness. Future is one of the best at structuring hit songs, but he’s at his most compelling when he eschews form to toss random laments and observations toward us at 100 mph, with regretful wails like “how we let these bitches get between us?” sticking to your psyche.

The deeply personal verse references his late “granddad Quick,” the mother of one of his children India who “held me down when I was broke,” and a dead friend who had him “dumping ashes on your obituary, I know you feeling me.” The verse ends with Future regretting how much his fame has impacted his relationships, noting “if Esco didn’t love me, would’ve been done jumped ship.” Future has offered plenty of despondent, reflective verses over the past decade, but “My Savages” is his most gripping.

13. André 3000’s verse on T.I.’s “Sorry” (2012)

Andre 3000 Lends His Vivid Storytelling To Divine Council's "Decemba"
Photo of André 3000 taken by Vickey Ford of Sneakshot for Okayplayer.


André 3000 still has the world waiting on a followup to
The Love Below. He’s been sprinkling glimpses of his still otherworldy lyricism on guest verses all decade, but none more spectacularly than on T.I.’s “Sorry.” André has bashfully said that he can’t “keep up” with artists like Young Thug and Lil Wayne, but his tongue-twisting verse — kicked off by the meta gem “I don’t even like rapping fast, but that’s how the world come to me” — proves he’s still melting just about anyone bar-for-bar. 

He rode “Sorry’s” evocative piano with precision, packing every space with a rhythmic cadence laden with the kind of wisdom and maturity that only comes through life experience.”I’ve learned that apartment is way more exciting than a big ass house on a hill,” he rhymes, before candidly lamenting his role in Outkast’s demise, pondering, “why do we try so hard to be stars, just to dodge comments?,” and rhyming about the guilt of making love to your ex off a pill and telling dopamine lies. It’s a revelatory verse that offers insight into why he hasn’t pursued the “typical” solo artist career, even when he’s clearly capable of rhyming with the best of them. 

12. Noname on ”Casket Pretty” (2016)

From Me to You: My Musical Love Letter to Noname
Photo Credit: Vickey Ford for Okayplayer


Chicago has been at the fore of so many social and political conversations throughout the 2010s. So much of the rhetoric has come from an opportunistic place, from politicians scapegoating the city to journalists and activists exploiting their issues as a springboard to higher relevance. 

For all the fingerpointing and stumping, there’s too little attention paid to how Chicagoans are coping with all the death around them. Chief Keef spoke to Vice’s The Therapist about “hiding pain with silence.” Noname fully expressed herself on “Casket Pretty,” but her verse explores a similar despondency “when niggas is dying and dying.”

She starts off the verse rhyming about “searching for God in the bottle he gave me,” which may seem like her only recourse when everyone else is in just as much pain as her, and she is “afraid of the dark, blue and the white/ badges and pistols rejoice in the night.”

Noname’s verse is focused on  police brutality, though some could interpret it as an overall lament on premature Black death. The beat samples the blissful laughter of a baby, making her “too many babies in suits” strike that much harder. She told The Fader that, “for whatever reason, I tend to find melancholy in instrumentals that people think are innately happy.” Similarly, it’s a shame that such beautiful lyricism had to be crafted as catharsis for such a brutal reality. 

11. Pusha-T’s first verse on “Exodus 23:1” (2012)

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Photo Credit: Pusha-T


For all the sting of “Story Of Adidon’s” exposal of
Drake’s child, “Exodus 23:1” is a more haunting diss. The shock of Pusha’s “you are hiding a child” (and the Blackface album art) is unforgettable, but it’s just a memory at this point. The truth ingrained in Pusha’s surgical attack soon came to light through contractual mishaps that almost robbed Wayne of his final chapter as an MC.

Every time Lil Wayne angrily lashed out at Birdman onstage for not letting him out of his contract, one couldn’t help but think, “you signed to one nigga that signed to another nigga/that’s signed to three niggas.” The mark of a great diss is leaving a stain, and the residue of “Exodus 23:1” lies on the permanently stained YMCMB movement. 

10. Rick Ross’s verse on Kanye West’s “Devil In A New Dress” (2010)

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Photo Credit: Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“Excess is just my character,” is the ultimate understatement for Rick Ross. The man has singlehandedly made hyperbolic bombast over lush production a growth industry, and his appearance on “Devil In A New Dress” was his finest moment. His bottomless voice and oft-dapper fashion sense can someone give off the vibe of an old soul singer. “Devil In A New Dress’” extended guitar solo and glorious Smokey Robinson sample were prime liftoff conditions for Ross to jump into a free-associative verse about being in a “stretch limousine sippin’ roset all alone,” “gettin’ Tupac money twice over“ and “ciphers with Yeezy before his mouth wired.”

He didn’t do much of a job sticking with Kanye’s theme of a relationship fracturing over ego, but it didn’t even matter. In hindsight, his verse has come to represent a fully outsized ego that had long rendered relationship woes irrelevant. He was in another dimension altogether, and it just worked.

9. Kendrick Lamar’s verse on Pusha-T’s “Nosetalgia” (2013)

Kendrick Lamar at Governors Ball 2013 shot by Seher Sikandar
Photo Credit: Seher Sikandar for Okayplayer.com


It’s hard to pinpoint the best verse of an MC with four albums, a Pulitzer Prize, and a verse calling out half the rap game, but the story Kendrick tells on the searing “Nosetalgia” is his most compelling individual verse of the decade. Kendrick took us right back to his
M.A.A.D City, offsetting Pusha-T’s characteristically steely depiction of “20 plus years of selling Johnson & Johnson” with a story about “smokers repeatedly buying my Sega Genesis/either that or my auntie was stealing it.”

His dire inflection hammers home the desperation of his situation and bolsters runs like, “Hit the pipe and start feeling it/ooh, wee, cut me some slack, weed never did that/this was different, geez, Louise, please help me relax.” But the verse is fully made by the reflection of a conversation with his father who, “Broke his nails misusing his pinky to treat his nose/shirt buttoned open, taco meat laying on his gold.” He has us enthralled in the conversation at this point. On the first listen, most were unsure what turn his promise to supply his father with drugs (and his admission that “your ass is washed”) would take. By the time he hit a swerve with “go figure, motherfucker, every verse is a brick/your son dope, nigga,” it felt like he had slammed home a game-winner over two defenders. 

Kendrick’s “Nosetalgia” appearance is a master class in setting a scene and telling a story with a gripping mic presence but also making sure your lyricism is top-notch while doing it. 

8. Lupe Fiasco on “Mural” (2015)

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Photo Credit: David Becker/WireImage


Lupe Fiasco is renown for his mastery of double meaning and poetic diction that paints a picture in a listener’s head. “Mural” is his most beautiful vision. The premise of the song is, in itself, a metaphor. A mural is a massive image, which inspired Lupe to craft a massive verse chockful of metaphorical imagery like, “What’s a coffin with a scratched ceiling?” His spree of wordplay serves as a commentary on his winding career, perspective on life, and a well-crafted explanation of his desire for women to “reign.” Throughout his run of wordplay, he sustains a technical precision and assonance that dazzles on its own merit. True to the nature of a “Mural,” this winding verse has gems that unveil itself every time you come back to it.

7. Bobby Shmurda on “Hot Nigga” (2014)

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Photo Credit: Mike Pont/FilmMagic


Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga” isn’t momentous just because it’s one of the most easily recitable songs of the decade. Or because of the video which showcased a superstar in the making and a hat that never came down. Watching hip-hop go on trial is now normal in a post-6ix9ine, post-Tay-K world. But we weren’t used to that in 2015. 

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“Hot Nigga” is usually blasted in a space where the last thing anyone wants to do is think critically, so lines like, “I been selling crack since like the fifth grade” and his countless shoutouts to friends who “done dropped niggas” got lost in the shuffle as standard rap fare. We were all just waiting to scream, “Mitch caught a body ‘bout a week ago” to the top of our lungs. Bobby (and Rowdy Rebel) were on their way to stardom off the strength of a record that invigorated New York City like no single had in years. 

But then the NYPD came and swept up Bobby and just about everyone he mentioned in the song. Those affirmations of doing dirt weren’t just idle raps, they were essentially admissions. And while it would be simple to make “rap snitches” jokes, that’s a reductive take. We don’t know who’s telling the truth or not, but we dance regardless. Is gun violence just a bit too normalized when there are jingles about “lettin them things bark?” What does it mean that the then 20-year-old Bobby’s confession of a life spent in the streets dissolved into a beat we couldn’t stop Shmoney dancing to?  Bobby left us with something to dance to until he comes home sometime next year, but when he dropped “Hot Nigga” he probably had no idea that he was also giving us a hell of a lot to think about.

6. Gunplay on Kendrick Lamar’s “Cartoons & Cereal” (2012)

Photo Credit: Marcus Ingram/Getty Images


Gunplay has a reputation as a jovial, slightly batty underboss of MMG. But those who smile the most can be hiding great pain. Kendrick Lamar saw it. 

 When Kendrick Lamar recorded “Cartoons & Cereal,” he was surging toward the crown that he holds today as mainstream hip-hop’s most beloved lyricist. He was killing verses left and right, which makes Gunplay shining moment all the more impressive. He followed Kendrick’s verses by bemoaning the “salt all in my wounds,” before culling into the trauma that the streets have incurred upon him. His Southern Florida twang makes his “hope y’all amused!” strike a serious chord, dropping all bluster while offering, “me, no mic/No cameras, no lights, just pain.” good kid, m.A.A.d city is a story based in L.A., but Gunplay’s appearance on “Cartoons & Cereal” demonstrates that “Mama, how much trauma can I sustain” is a universal plea. 

5. JAY-Z’s verse on Meek Mill & Rick Ross’ “What’s Free?” (2018)

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Photo Credit: Brian Ach/Getty Images for Something in the Water


This time last year, JAY-Z could seemingly do no wrong, and “What’s Free” was his manifesto on navigating capitalism as independently as possible, with his integrity intact. Even if his recent NFL partnership stifled the potency of this “What’s Free” appearance is still impressive in a vacuum. 

He begins with the context of being “in the land of the free, where the blacks enslaved,” flipping the constitution’s infamous 3/5ths summation by noting that he’s “50% of D’USSÉ” and has a stake in several other profitable ventures. But even as he ascends, he’s cognizant of the obstacles he faces as a Black person, pleading for the game to not “Michael and Prince me and ‘Ye.” 

The bulk of the verse is a rebuke of the system that “stole the soul and hit niggas with 360s.” Almost every bar chides America for one of its sins, and he a nimble flow over a remake of The Notorious B.I.G.’s classic “What’s Beef.” The verse is as sonically pleasing as it is incisive and doubly impactful for those who remember that Jay and Biggie were friends who talked about ascending to the heights of wealth. 

4. Kanye West’s second verse on “New Slaves” (2013)

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Photo Credit: Scott Barbour/Getty Images


Kanye has called the second verse of “New Slaves” the best verse of all-time, which, as Kanye boasts go, may not actually mean much. But it’s
his most important verse of the 2010s. In hindsight, his fiery rebuke of the establishment, fueled by being walled off from the European high-fashion circle, feels like the last-ditch effort of a boxer swinging for a 12th round knockout against an opponent who’s way ahead on the scorecards. This was one of the last moments that Kanye stood for something that Black America stood with him on. 

The development of the verse represents everything we loved, and have come to resent, about Kanye. He’s unhinged throughout the first half, railing at corporations and joking “y’all throwin’ contracts at me/you know that niggas can’t read, throw on some Maybach keys” over a minimalist synth before poking a hole in NWO/Illuminati speculation to air out the private prison industry. His line about the DEA and CCA gave a Post-Trayvon Martin generation food for thought about white supremacy as a well-oiled machine. 

He sounded like he was at a breaking point. Listening back in 2019, we can hear cracks in his veneer of militancy that hinted at what he’s become today. He conceded “I know that we the new slaves” multiple times, and his actionable retort to the system was “I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse.” Instead, he essentially ended up marrying one and assimilating into the power structure he was previously again. His career has become a quintessential example of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” But he really had us going here. 

3. Black Thought’s Funkmaster Flex Freestyle (2017)

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Photo Credit: Vickey Ford for Okayplayer.com


This is the only actual freestyle on the list, and for good reason. As of the date this piece was published, Funkmaster Flex has done 139 freestyles, and none have met the standard of Black Thought’s 10-minute blackout in 2017. but he wasn’t just free riffing about his lyrical supremacy; the freestyle could have been split into an EP and been one of the year’s most thought-provoking projects. Thought reflected on not forgetting where he came from with lines like, “Them brothers said, ‘don’t go from written bars filled with rage/to primetime television and your gilded cage.’”

He “rapped on a doctrine level” about going “from Similac and Enfamil/to the Internet and Fentanyl/when all consent was still against the will.” Seemingly every 8 to 12 bars veered toward new subject matter as he ate through Mobb Deep’s “Burn” instrumental like a ravenous lion. On Twitter, Black Thought understated that the “verse was just what I had to say at the moment.” What a moment. 

2. Nicki Minaj’s verse on Kanye West, JAY-Z, Rick Ross, & Bon Iver’s “Monster” (2010)

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Photo Credt: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images


If you look up the definition of “breakout,” in 10 different dictionaries, you should see pictures of Nicki Minaj making 10 different expressions. It’s almost become a cliche to discuss how powerful her “Monster” moment was, but now is no better time for context: as a mere up-and-comer with “no album out,” she stole the show from JAY-Z and Kanye West, who was at his peak as a rapper.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is widely regarded as Kanye’s opus, and she has the best bars on the whole project. The “Monster” appearance was her chance to solidify herself as a star, and she knocked it out of the park with a verse that meshed battle bars with a winding delivery that made you want to hear the verse go on forever. 

Nicki delivered everything one could want on a song called “Monster.” She delves into cinematic vocal inflections that verge from a sarcastically ditzy Barbie to dungeon beast — shoutout to Kanye for suggesting more of the monster voice according to Nicki — at times within the span of a single bar. And she roars all over the track without sacrificing her lyricism or sounding offbeat. She had precision, animation, and quotables, and set a bar for feature verses for the decade. 

1. Meek Mill on ”Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)” (2012)

Meek Mill Performing
Photo Credit: Vickey Ford of Sneakshot Photography


Meek Mill has long made it apparent that “making it” out of the trenches of Philly as a signed artist is his victory, and everything else that comes is basically a bonus. That’s why it’s fitting that the intro to his debut studio album is still his most resounding moment. “Dreams And Nightmares” isn’t the first track that gradually builds to a crescendo, but Meek’s chill-inducing conviction makes it the new standard of the format. 

From ruing “time I spent on some locked-up shit” and expressing astonishment that “I did shit with Mariah,” to clarifying that he’s still “the same nigga from Berks Street with them nappy braids that lock,” he poured his life into the extended verse which serves as the quintessential “ashy to classy” testimony of the 2010s.

So much of the discourse around 2010s rap focused on “vibes.” That discussion so often centers around crooners like Travis Scott or Young Thug, but “Dreams And Nightmares’” raw lucidity is one of the best examples of a song seizing listeners. 

There aren’t many people that can directly identify with Meek’s industry highs or carceral lows, but his passion is palpable. We’ve all prayed for better times. We’ve all had to incredulously tell a motherfucker, “hold up wait a minute, y’all thought I was finished?” whether verbally or otherwise. That surge of energy is why his native Philadelphia Eagles used the track on their run to a Super Bowl, and why demonstrators rapped it at pro-Meek rallies. The intro is urgent. It’s triumphant. And it’s one of the decade’s most unforgettable moments. 

 

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Andre Gee is a New York-based freelance writer with work at Uproxx Music, Impose Magazine, and Cypher League. Feel free to follow his obvious Twitter musings that seemed brilliant at the moment @andrejgee.

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