Contrary to mass consensus, lyricism was alive and well in 2017.
These days, it’s not uncommon to hear longstanding hip-hop fans lamenting the perceived death of hip-hop. It wouldn’t be the first time. In 2006, Nas proclaimed hip-hop was dead, channeling his inner gumshoe on the voice-acting extravaganza “Who Killed It.” In 2009, Jay-Z ushered in the “Death Of Autotune,” waging war against a phenom that had become ubiquitous in hip-hop music. Now, the “old heads” and the “mumble rappers” seem more divided than ever.
Picture a dystopian musical landscape, where older hip-hop fans screaming as “lyricism” is burned in effigy by a mob of lean-fuelled, ad-lib screaming youths. Is this a reality we’ve come to experience, where “energy” is valued more than penmanship? Many would echo the sentiment, and proclaim with the certainty of any veteran mortician that lyricism as we know it is indeed dead. Yet, the conclusion feels somehow lazy, as if those reaching it are merely echoing the narrative perpetuated by memes of Lil Yachty and Joe Budden. In reality, lyricism is alive and well. In fact, it’s actually looking healthy.
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Think of your favorite verse. What makes it so memorable? Is it the flow, or the subject matter, or the sheer swagger with which it was delivered? In truth, there are several factors that can elevate a verse to a near-transcendental level, and value should be placed on all of them. A good verse can reflect wisdom or hunger in equal measure. It can marvel you with sheer technical prowess, or bring you closer into another person’s psyche. Sometimes, it can make you want to spend hundreds of dollars on utter nonsense. Either way, the power of a good verse is still alive today.
On that note, here are some of the year’s best.
While the following didn't quite make it into the top twelve, each one certainly fought valiantly.
20. ScHoolboy Q - "Rockabye Baby" (Verse 2)
19. Joyner Lucas - "I'm Not Racist" (Verse 1)
18. CyHi The Prynce - "Breakfast Club Freestyle" (Full Verse)
17. Lil Dicky - "How Can U Sleep" (Verse 3)
16. J.I.D. - "D/Vision" (Verse 1)
15. Royce Da 5’9” - "Mask Off Freestyle" (Full Verse)
14. Jay-Z - "Kill Jay-Z" (Full Verse)
13. Kendrick Lamar "DNA" (Verse 2)