Continuing our new Original Content series "Hip-Hop's Best Verses," Big Pun's opening verse on "Twinz" proved that one deftly delivered bar can be immortalized in rap history.
Introducing our new series Hip-Hop's Best Verses -- self-explanatory, really. The aim is to take a deep dive into some of the rap game's best verses of all time, exploring the bars, the flows, the cadences, and everything that makes them withstand the test of time. Less of a ranking, more of a celebration of lyrical greatness. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments, and enjoy.
II. BIG PUN - TWINZ
Sometimes, a few select bars are all it takes to immortalize a verse in the annals of history. For a rapper like Big Pun, who left behind a pair of studio albums following his death on February 7th, 2000, those bars have become familiar to the majority of well-studied hip-hop heads. It’s impossible to single out the Punisher’s best verse without taking a slight detour to Little Italy. Though “Twinz” is technically composed of several fragmented verses, being that the Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg homage is structured as a back-and-forth between Pun and Fat Joe, the technical mastery Pun exhibits throughout deserves to be celebrated in detail.
Like many inclusions in the “best verse” conversation, Big Pun’s tour-de-force performance on “Twinz” is fueled by a narrative throughline. Arriving at the height of the mafioso rap movement, Pun wasted little time in setting the scene, establishing his mission and plotting with his partner in crime. “Ready for war, Joe, how you wanna blow they spot?” asks Pun, setting up a ridiculous multisyllabic rhyme scheme. “I know these dirty cops that'll get us in if we murder some w*p.” Aside from being a technically brilliant bit of rhyming, it showcases the nuance in Pun’s storytelling, establishing himself as well connected to both criminal enterprises and law enforcement.
Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
“Hop in your Hummer, the Punisher's ready,” he spits. “Meet me at Vito's with Noodles, we'll do this dude while he's slurpin' spaghetti.” A simple plan, prime for brute force and a no-nonsense attitude -- the Punisher’s ready indeed. Where Ghostface Killah’s heist on “Shakey Dog” was meticulously mapped out, Pun prefers to muscle his way through, welcoming the explosive arrival of violence. Case in point, his next request. “Everybody kiss the fuckin' floor, Joey Crack, buck 'em all,” he raps, bursting into Vito’s with purpose. “If they move – Noodles, shoot that fuckin' whore!” The ever-reliable Noodles seems more than down for the task, and before long the bullets find themselves introduced to the bodies. Unfortunately for the antiheroes in question, the targets were not quite who they were supposed to be -- but rather middlemen who didn’t do diddly.
At this point, it goes without saying that Pun’s multi-riddled couplet is one of the most celebrated rhymes in hip-hop history. Comprising thirty-one syllables, Pun jams his final two lines with internal rhyming in a beautiful display of linguistic mastery. “Dead in the middle of Little Italy, little did we know that we riddled two middlemen who didn't do diddly,” he raps, a scheme that likely blew the minds of many an audience during Pun’s touring days. And to think, the rap legend was initially hesitant to include it at all.
Fat Joe, Brandy and Big Pun at the Lady of Soul Awards in Los Angeles, 1998 - Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images
In a Complex interview from 2011, Fat Joe revealed that Pun used to practice his flow by uttering tongue twisters. “These were like jokes to him,” reflects Joe. “I had to argue with him to put ‘Dead in the middle of Little Italy’ in the song. I was like, ‘That’s the hardest shit on earth.’ He was like, ‘Are you crazy? That’s a fuckin’ joke. Ni**as will laugh at me. Are you serious?’ Then he did it, and it was the illest shit.” Though the idea that Big Pun feared coming off as Ned Flanders-esque is amusing, it’s hard to imagine a world where he didn’t incorporate the dexterous climax, as it almost single-handedly rendered “Twinz” a high point in the rapper’s catalog -- a catalog that includes the entirety of Capital Punishment, a classic lined with plenty of “Best Verse” contenders.
While the beloved scheme brought Pun’s crime spree to a premature end -- it’s likely that he could have woven a long-running narrative were he so inclined -- Pun’s powerhouse performance continues throughout the remainder of “Twinz,” culminating what can only be described as a masterclass in multis. Though “dead in the middle'' is one of the most iconic bars in rap history, that doesn’t make his ridiculously clever “Keep your eyes open, sharp reflexes / Three TECs in the Jeep Lexus, just in case police test us” bar any less potent. It’s almost tempting to string together each of his verses and analyze them as one, but is it necessary?
Brief though it may be, his opening verse remains the benchmark, the one that Pun fans use as a means of introducing his talents to those unfamiliar. At the very least, Pun’s “Little Italy” has endured as the rapper’s most iconic lyric, as evidenced by any given comment section even remotely related to “Twinz.” For a rapper as meticulous with the schemes as Big Punisher, it’s nice to see his memory so frequently celebrated through a shared love of his most technically complex lines.
For more like this, check out the first of our "Best Verses" series, Ghostface Killah's "Shakey Dog."