2016 was one of the best years for hip-hop in recent memory. There was also a lot to sift through. In a year with so many great projects, so many great tracks and, granted, a few duds, here are 2016’s best verses:
- Jay Electronica – “How Great”
Jay Elec’s yearly emergence from his cryogenic chamber delivered another classic featured verse, the best verse on The Voice’s best album this year. The consistent quality of his verses almost makes it okay that he drops a verse so rarely that a fake twitter account was created to imitate him. Oh wait, no it doesn’t.
Quotable: “I spit on the Tidal it’s tidal waves/I spit on the Apple and kill a worm/A fire in Cali will swallow a valley for every African village burned”
- Kendrick Lamar – “Holy Key”
For an album that fell so flat musically, DJ Khaled’s Major Key had some incredible performances by its featured artists. “Holy Key” is the latest in what is now a trilogy of hijacked Big Sean songs by Kendrick, in which Sean delivers an incredibly solid verse and then proceeds to get bodied, like he did on 2012’s “100” and 2013”s “Control”. Kendrick ends his verse by extending a disgusting 13-syllable rhyme scheme over 12 bars, reminding the listener why he’s their favorite rapper.
Quotable: “Uncle Bobby and Paul June is lost again/The underworld and the fourth dimension, my family’s in/The big money, the fast cars, my life produced/The blocks I connected while re-building this Rubik’s cube”
- Kendrick Lamar – “Wat’s Wrong”
If anybody deserves consecutive spots on a verse of the year list, it’s Kendrick. If “Holy Key” was an clinic in multi-syllable rhyming and punchlines, “Wat’s Wrong” is a showcase in cadence and charisma. The smooth timbre with which Kendrick delivers the verse makes his shift into his alter-ego near the end of the verse even more jarring.
Quotable: “Might stay in the Trump Tower for one week/Spray paint all the walls and smoke weed/Fuck them and fuck y’all and fuck me/I proceed my last check in proceeds/To all the kids, the hood, the bricks, the books/To fix the blocks we on to right[write] my wrongs”
- Jadakiss – “Groovy Tony”
If this song’s beat doesn’t already make your face screw up like you just smelled a fart, Jadakiss’ verse sure will. This is probably the nastiest song and verse to drop this year. The way Kiss interacts with the song’s vocal sample “blank face” is something not done enough in hip-hop, and it adds a lot to the ominous nature of the song.
Quotable: “Running with the rebels/It’s a three-man weave with the Lord and the devil/Really all I need is a pitchfork and a shovel/If I can’t proceed then I resort to the metal”
- Kanye West – “No More Parties in LA”
When I heard this song as a snippet at the end of “Real Friends”, I expected greatness. What I didn’t expect is for Kanye to outdo the greatest rapper alive on a track. Kanye brought everything for this verse, and, as good as it was, it’s a shame he didn’t go this hard on the rest of the album.
Quotable: “I know some fans thought I wouldn’t rap like this again/But the writer’s block is over, emcees cancel your plans/A 38-year-old 8-year-old with rich n**** problems/Tell my wife that I hate the Rolls so I don’t never drive it”
- Nas – “Nas Album Done”
This was the other all-time performance from an all-time rapper that Major Key blessed us with. Like no one else can, Nas hops back and forth between flexing on you and preaching to you, all the while showing us he still hasn’t lost it. If the album really is done, we’re in for a treat.
Quotable: “I’m assistin’ to push the culture forward/To all my ghost supporters, go support us/Like a local black-owned grocery store/‘Cause in the hood shit ain’t passed down through blood/It’s a dub on that, we get government aid/Spend it at they stores, puttin’ they kids through college/We need balance/So we can lease and own deeds in our projects”
- Jay-Z – “Drug Dealers Anonymous”
First, a Tomi Lahren sample, and then: “Bitch I been brackin’ since the ‘80s/Google me baby, you crazy/’89 in London pull the Benz up/Type it in, Google’s your friend bruh”
Holy shit. Jay-Z is the GOAT.
Quotable: “Daaaaaaaamn Daniel/FBI keep bringing them all white vans through”
- Earl Sweatshirt – “Really Doe”
While Jay Electronica had the best verse on The Voice’s favorite album this year, Earl Sweatshirt had the best verse on my favorite album this year, so that counts more. Earl absolutely murders a dark, haunting beat from underrated Detroit producer Black Milk. Also, Kendrick Lamar has now been featured on four of the ten songs on this list.
Quotable: “Well it’s the left-handed shooter, Kyle Lowry the pump/I’m at your house like, “Why you got your couch on my Chucks?”
- Chance the Rapper – “Ultralight Beam”
I remember going to the theatre on February 11th to listen to The Life of Pablo, and when Chance finished this verse, the theatre actually applauded. I’ve never felt somebody becoming a star in real time like that. Music fans will be looking back at this verse twenty years from now as the moment Chance earned his big break.
Quotable: “You can feel the lyrics, the spirit coming in braille/Tubman of the underground, come and follow the trail/I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to hell/I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail/He said let’s do a good ass job with Chance three/I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy/Let’s make it so free and the bars so hard/That there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet/This is my part, nobody else speak”
- Andre 3000 – “Solo (Reprise)”
There was never really any doubt for me on this one. While going more than a decade without dropping a project of any kind, 3 Stacks has managed to become the best feature artist of our generation. The switching flows, frantic rhyme schemes and poetic lyrics make this the year’s best verse by a mile.
Quotable: The entire verse
Spotify playlist (with some bonus honorable mentions):