Verse of the Year Contender: Roc Marciano “Scarface Ni99a”

If you’ve spent more than 15 minutes around me this year, there’s a great chance I’d either talk to you in 5% Raekwon-lite slang or I would try to sell you on the idea that Roc Marciano is the most thrilling emcee in these times.  His album Marcberg is easily the best hip hop album of 2010, as I stumped for quite joyously at Passion of the Weiss back in May. 

Marci now belongs in the discussion of The Best Emcees Working Today because he’s the first guy to really truly embrace his niche and do everything possible (produce his solo debut by himself, anyone?) to connect to that base only. There’s no well-timed cosigns or cross promotional schemes behind his output.  I doubt he even knew the response would be this strong considering the folding of Fat Beats and the complete absence of hardcore east coast rap in the national consciousness.

When you listen to Marcberg, and consequently every guest spot and random one-off he’s dropped this year, you can’t even tell it’s 2010–he references athletes from the 70’s and 80’s over beats containg no synths or 808 clap.  You’d swear the crack era in New York is ongoing.  

It’s amazing how disciplined he is in playing only to his strengths.  It took Raekwon 14 years to come to that realization between his two Cuban Link voyages — you really sound great on THIS type of beat.  In this regard, Marciano is the Anti-Nas, only giving the loyalists what they want because apparently that’s all that he wants too. He’s like the Raja Bell of rap–casual fans and superstar seekers don’t know him, but Questlove, Madlib, Just Blaze, Q-Tip, and Alchemist do, the same way Raja Bell will never sell a sneaker…but Kobe Bryant fears him.  Like Raja Bell, Marci is a specialist, and specialists will always have a job.

And now Roc decided to drop one of the best songs of the year, with little build-up or promo, just execution.  “Scarface Ni99a” is supposed to end up on Marcberg Reloaded but if you never listened to Marciano before or forget to grab the next LP, this track tightly packages all that is of the man who can reference Paul Orndorff and Pete Maravich without a hint of irony or “high five for vintage stuff, guys!”.  Over a beat that Mobb Deep would reward their fans with in ’96, Marci slides through a jeweler’s row of elegance and cold hard criminology. 

Download and listen to “Scarface Ni99a”

What I scribble in the pad is magic
Flesh is tatted, lessons are added
To the tablet in Arabic, my narrative
Smoother than Pistol Pete Maravich
You’re just an embarrassment to rap
For that you deserve a javelin in your back
Bum ass n****a you know the business
My glow won’t diminish, not a bit-id
My flow hard to mimic like Yiddish
Still one of the best spitters, ad-mit it
Sex symbol, I’m like what Brad Pitt is to bitches
Songs play out like motion pictures
Making a movie out here
OG, I feel like Big Tookie out here
I’m the dookie out here, you booty out here
Smoked out, looking like Pookie out here
White gold flooded Virgin Mary
Mercenary, burn nary, turn a canary
Dirty Harry swerving in the Caddy
Serving that Marion Barry to Cat Daddy
Bally on, my bitch is a stalli-on
Black medalli-ons similar to caviar
To carry arms in the tarot cards
My vacaron got more karats than a salad bar


Verse of the Year Contender: El-P “Sit Down, Man”

Between sharing mic duties with Bigg Juss in Company Flow and RZArecting the Def Jux monolith with production pipebombs the past decade plus, it’s interesting how underrated El-P has become as an emcee.  For better or worse, we usually equate El-P Rapper with El-P Producer/Innovator/Indie Rap Benchmarker.  There hasn’t been much seperation, but with good cause. 

The Def Jux culture was similar to the early Wu-Tang matrix: insular as hell with astounding results.  El-P preferred ruminating in the scary hours of Brooklyn bedlam rather than running up in all the industry showcases, hobknobbing for beat placements or mixtape vacancies to flex his rhetoric.  The Jukies more or less followed suite; outside appearances from anyone on the roster in its heyday was an event.

Now that Def Jux has halted production, Jukies old and new have been left with a whole lot of time on their hands to give new bad touch examples of word murdering.  Aesop’s contributions to records from Greenhouse, Hail Mary Mallon, and Tobacco have kept the fanboys on tilt with new molar cannons from Sir Bazooka Tooth, Esquire.  Murs has been almost too prolific on his own (as always), but he’s branched out to lace tracks for Naledge, Nocando, and an upcoming punk album.  And El-Producto has dished out beats like flu shots in Rowanda to Kidz in the Hall, Adult Swim, and his own WeAreAllGoingToBurnInHellMeggamixx 3.

When El feels like rhyming on someone else’s record, it is an event.  In 2005, at the height of Ghostface’s powers, Lazerface won the Duel of the Brooklyn Iron Mic Melters on Prefuse 73’s “Hide Ya Face”.  His couplets on Kidz in the Hall’s “Driving Down the Block Remix” was a worthy sequel to “Drive” from I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead.  Going back in time, his Eric Cartman reference on 2000’s posset cut “Seven” from NYC subterranean cats Masterminds gave him the belt over a very sharp J-Live.  And he held his own with Del (before he went crazy) on their collabo “Offspring” in 1999. 

El-P has recently stated that he only makes full length albums when it’s time to unload a brick of thoughts and ideas that have been festering in his cranial cavern for inordinate amounts of time.  When El jumps on a record to just straight up rap, we a glimpse of what exactly is irking the Walt Disney/Keyser Soze hybrid at that moment.  Like past contracted hits, his verse on Das Rascist’s “Sit Down, Man” is terrifyingly on the money.  It’s jampacked with surreal city freak outs.  It’s wordy without being Kwelian.  Brutishly slick references to  Lost, Stephen Colbert and “Watchmen” give us a hint of what’s been in El’s Netflix and DVR this year.  And the BDP-by-way-of-Psycho Realm production from Scoop DeVille makes it a trunk rattler that the hardest trucker hat Jux jocker in ’03 would never be able to front on. 

Behold quite possibly the best verse of 2010*:

Gangster computer god, mind sluts my pseudonym
Fuck anyone giddily giggle simply misery
Fiddlers whittle bitch pitches but wear the duecy tag
First’ll always be the grit truthy Brooklyn elusive brand
Harbinger of the bum rush plus uzi that way a ton or more
Buddy cops kiss each other, pederast priests fuck whores
Go set the moral compass to something a little sacrilege
I’ll pirate jenny this whole town, black freighter your maggotness
Nobody sleeps tonight, 50 car alarm evening
Perpetual garbage truck annoying ice cream truck jingling
Hey young world,your clock just got donkey punched by aristocrats Maniac brainiac fist fucked in a dunce cap
Looking at it from space you can see the race is just one lap
Your tranquillity now is just future anarchy unhatched
I want a new drug plus alternate reality
Some dimensional shiftiness hidden from all the cowardly 
Gypsies read the palm and then, vomit and, gimmee back my dollar Hollering “Oh god get out you monster”
From a local where disarmaments a running joke
More commonly for commoners its grey matter converted in to runny yoke
I’m not in the mood (stop), a lot more than rude (wrong) 
Hot rod of intoxicants (vroom), gobble ya food (gone)
Bop to the truthiness, truly I’m a lost boy
Half man, half smoke no joke got it on Locke boy
Take your little sad poopy pants to the corner toy 
I been the brain blazed bleeder burn a bridge burner boy
Sit down

*Transcribed from El-P’s blog I’m Going to Stab You

El-P’s other outstanding guest shots:

Prefuse 73 f/ Ghostface & El-P “Hide Ya Face (El-P Remix)”

Kidz in the Hall f/ El-P “Driving Down the Block (El-P Remix)”

Masterminds “Seven” f/ El-P, J-Live, J Treds, Shabaam Sahdeeq and Mr. Complex

Del f/ El-P “Offspring”

Verse of the Year Contenders: Royce & Elzhi “Deadly Medley”

Flip a coin, really.  I’m about to start a separate wing in the Verse of the Year section on this blog just for Elzhi.  Already had him for “Motown 25” and Slum’s “In Da Night”.  And Royce was a previous nominee for his “Royal Flush” freestyle off Bar Exam 2.  In reality, Detroit should run away with this honor every year.

Verse of the Year Contender: Inspectah Deck “The Champion”

I’ve been raving about Inspectah Deck’s verses on “The Champion” for a solid week to my fellow rapper friends and Wu diehards.  Deck was my favorite Clansmen until his disappointing LP Uncontrolled Substance came out 2 years late (blame Loud Records and the lift of RZA’s five year dictatorship on Wu-Tang’s recorded output).  What’s so remarkable about this song is that Deck unleashed a new rhyme scheme that is challenging to follow as a listener.  It’s vintage INS for sure, but also forward-thinking.  Deck has never been obtuse with his writtens–he comes from the GZA school of vivid, concise, and descriptive verses dating back to his breakout narrative on “CREAM”.  “The Champion” is a bit Supreme Clientele-era Ghostface with a seemingly stream of concious flow, but once you read it on paper, it follows a very clinical pattern that is true to Deck’s style.

As he stated in today’s outstanding interview at HipHopDX, a must-read for Wu fans, “each back-end of the word rhymes with the next word comin’…I just don’t think the public is ready for them yet, ’cause they’re so trained.”  Here’s where he is wrong — the public is trained to his brand verbal construction.  People are enchanted with unorthodox bar trickery from like the likes of MF Doom, De La Soul, Ghostface, Raekwon, Camp Lo, Aesop Rock, etc.  Guys like that have a basis for going off track, tickling us with abstract dada-ism, fly slanguistics, odd bar counts, and so on.  Deck has played the straight man brilliantly for almost 20 years; anything beyond styles he mastered (and we memorized) a la “Cold World”, “CREAM”, “Above the Clouds”, etc are shocking. 

I’ve been geeking off “The Champion” because it signals a willingness to explore and search for new approaches from a guy who can realistically mail it in and still have a career touring and tacking his name to Wu projects (see: the benefits of writing “Triumph”).  I’d expect verses like this from Elzhi or even Papoose, guys who make a living off being a conceptual word magician.  It’s good to see Deck drop the lunch pale and unleash some hardbottom, Bob Bachlin, science splitter rap.

“I scream machine gun funk trunk slayer
Major pain game hunter, summertime shine
Mind controller, hold a crowd still, hilltop dweller
Sell the Garden out, housegame chain
Cuban link blink blues shoes you could never wear
Stare hard, God rise above love/hate, make your choice
Voice like Luther, future hall of famer
Came a long way, stay fly, I Soldier
Ayatollah, air bender, send a chill, drill sarge
Hard bottom got em hooked
Took my time, grind heavy, Ready
For the World, girl please ease to experience
Been a don ever long size wise do it
Do it like Nike type gritty city boy, ‘noid never
Better recognize, eyes of the tiger
The fire breather, heed the truth son
The champion

This is Ruger rap, clap clips strips buzzing cousin
Got the spider blade shade grips, this how I’m stylin’
Island of Stat, black hawk, walk with me
50 Cal flow, blow the roof, few learned, burn unit
Truest popping watch him work, purp smoking, choke your rabbit
Catch a tidal wave, slave to the rhythm, give ‘em hell
Bell ringer, Springer show, throw a chair, air it out
Doubt Deck, check your pulse folks, with this history,
Rewriting this script, switch it on ‘em, taught ‘em how,
Now’s a new day, say what, clutch shoot em
Through the storm calm bomb arm dangerous
Spit game, flame thrower, Cobra commander
Pandemonium, it’s only him, swim with the sharks
Spark light, night breeze see planet camera flash
Cash only homie, your knot jam till the band done
The champion”

Verse of the Year Contender: Elzhi “Da Night”

Technically, this would qualify as a contender in 2009 since the recently released and hella brillaint Slum Village EP Villa Manifesto dropped in December–it was easily the best $6 I spent outside of 1 can of Strongbow. 

The thing I like most about Elzhi on this track is that he outlines a gaggle of familiar buzzwords we (longtime hip hop geeks) are trained to respond to: bitches, guns, money, crack, jail, etc.  His delivery though isn’t nihilistic like old Mobb Deep or celebratory like Jeezy, Gucci Mane, or Jim Jones.  It’s almost like a reporter being planted in the middle of a Detroit slum for 24 hours and asked to just jot down what he sees.  In this case, the reporter is more GZA than Anderson Cooper. 

Don’t laugh at it, cause every household can have addicts
I observed, the curb is where I learned my mathematics
So what’s the science? Slanging rock to gain clients
What you know about heating your house with the appliances?
Really raw, just caught a weed charge, a silly law
Feel me? Naw–the fuck, you probably never stuck to
The good, the bad, the ugly ass shit
Money’s the root of evil, you can see it in the cash print
Landlord’s trippin cause you was late on your last rent
Bitches hiding crack in they ass slit 
Get blasted when cats scheme, busting out to clap heat on cramped streets
Some ain’t wrote a rhyme in they life, but got a rap sheet
All they know is bars and measures up in a jail cell
Dream about cars and leathers, cigars and pleasures
I failed twelfth grade, had to make it up in summer school
In fact, I couldn’t have been a dumber fool
Now shorties drinking EJ, your chick ain’t had her period in three days
Crackheads offer BJ’s below the freeways
Then it’s the winters spitting venoms on others wearing
Hundred dollar denims, wishing they was in them
Ducking the law, be unseen
Can’t be spraying your glock or still staying on the block like sunscreen
Whether the morning or noon count, balloon drought
It’s easier to take the goon route while the moon’s out


Just know that if Elzhi came out in ’98, his face would be on the $20 dollar bill by now.

Verse of the Year Contender: Mos Def “Auditorium”

When I first heard the new leak “Auditorium” from The Ecstatic featuring the The Ruler Slick Rick and produced by Madlib the Bad Kid, it felt like Mos Def walked out of the session from Black Star’s “Thieves in the Night,” hopped into the Delorean, cranked that bitch to 88mph, blazed into 2009, hit the studio with Madlib and Rick, spit some eloquent b-boy shit, then went back to his Rawkus pad in Brooklyn in 1998.  Great Scott!

Mos has always been one of my favorite MC’s.  Black on Both Sides still gets burn one a quarterly basis in the Rocca Mobile.  Hell, there’s even 3-4 great songs on Tru3 Magic.  But that passion, eloquence, and maturity found on Mos’ work from the Rawkus has been MIA this decade in favor of meddling street-based rap built on tales of struggle and strife sprinkled with mush-mouthed politics.  While it was never truly wack, it never gave you the permanent screwface either.

Mos’ opening verse on The Roots’ “The Rising Down” sounded like a return to form, or least a page from his marble notebook recovered from a Ge-ology/88 Keys session circa 1997.  “Casa Bey” and “Quiet Dog” had me very intrigued for The Ecstatic as they combined the African riddims and feel-good sentiments that were misused on The New Danger.  But nothing could prepare my ears for “Auditorium”

I don’t want to call Mos’ verse “grown man rap”–it’s “third eye lyricism” akin to Wu-Tang before U-God went Southern and Cappadonna dropped two album on Koch nobody noticed.  Even that sounds nerdy, but it’s mesmerizing and focused, touching on the uncertain times we face today.

“The world is so dangerous, there’s no need for fighting
Suckers try to hide like the struggle won’t find them”

Mos Def f/ Slick Rick “Auditorium” (prod. by Madlib) off The Ecstatic, STILL dropping next Tues. June 9th.

Verse of the Year Contender: Raekwon “Renaissance Rap Remix”

To quote my homie Barry, “Everything about this song is good.” 

I’m not sure if Busta doesn’t deserve more shine than Raekwon for my Verse of the Year nomiation, but I’m going with the Chef by a nose hair.  Their chemistry together has always been outstanding, from “Goldmine” on Busta’s The Big Bang to Raekwon’s “State of Grace (Remix)” from one of the Vatican mixtapes.  If I dig around my car long enough, I might be able to dig up this joint both cats did with Papoose that one of the most fierce lyrical romps I’ve ever heard (anyone who knows the name of that joint, feel free to shout it out). 

Before this, I’m not sure if Raekwon ever got on a Q-Tip beat and now I’m wondering what took so long.  Busta flexes his Animal Planet-themed bars in total serenity with situational fury sprinkled throughout, but he and Tip have been getting it in on beats for almost two decades now.  Rae’s flow perfectly sits in the pocket, never stumbling or veering to the side.  I thought he was a little out of place on “Royal Flush” but he makes Tip and Wayne seem like Amish farmers in Nova Scotia on this particular beat by comparison. 

The original “Renaissance Rap” from Q-Tip’s excellent The Renaissance LP (eat it Ciz!) was a quasi-interlude at the end of “Move” and it always sounded intentionally somber and dreary even though big Tribe drums were slappin’ your speakers stupid.  Raekwon’s verse meets the challenge by precisely and delicately explaining how “one line of this will have you leaning like roach spray” and his demeanor suggests nothing more than a guy sitting on his step with someone in the air. 

It’s the Tarzan cocaine clan in the area,
gorillas in Louie hats the more the merrier”

Check it out, kitko.  Happy Kwanz!

“Renaissance Rap Remix” Q-Tip f/ Busta Rhymes, Raekwon, Lil’ Wayne

Verse of the Year Contender: Elzhi “Motown 25”

As a young bol in the late mid-to-late 90s, the Source  was the truth, slap my hand on the Bible!  I COULD NOT WAIT to get off the bus at Broad and Tasker on the way to high school and walk past the newstand before heading down the piss-infested steps of the Broad St. Line.  Would this be the day the new issue of the Source came out?  Nope–already got the one with Lil’ Kim and Foxy on the cover.

And if you were the first dude to cop that new Source, you damn well knew that if you pulled it out any point during the school day, you’d be asked 12 times during every class if Lamont or Brian or Jeff or Malik could “hold dat” until the bell.  It gave you a sense of exclusivity and power like Morgan Freeman’s character Red in “Shawshank Redemption”–you were THE GUY who had what they so desperately wanted.  You would either say, “Nah I haven’t even read it yet.  I’ll let you hold it later” which was a TOTAL lie and they knew it; or you would succumb to the ice grillin’ and the constant cries of “C’mon man!?!” and pass it off KNOWING you’d get it back in 42 minutes with the cover all mangled and bent, pages wrinkled, spine tattered.  

**People complain about kids not reading, playing too many video games, blah blah blah–in my 4 years of high school, not a day went by when guys of all ages, races, and reading levels weren’t devouring the Daily News, Inquirer, Metro, Source, XXL, or Slam.**

The most exciting time to be an avid read of The Source was the Year End Issue.  In it, you learned what the most essential, exciting, and outstanding moments were in the past hip hop calendar year.  Don’t feed me that horseshit as to why you didn’t hear the Diamond D remix of Ras Kass’ “Soul on Ice” yet–The Source put it on the Best of Fat Tape ’97!  Find that song, I couldn’t care HOW you do it, and revere it, study it, become it.

My absolute favorite section was the Hip Hop Quotable of the Year.  Back when rappers actually gave a rat’s ass about writing great lyrics, there was no higher honor.  If you didn’t know that verse by heart already, the Source had it all written out for you–how else did I manage to memorize Ghostface’s verse on “Impossible” (Quotable of ’97) and Big Pun’s verse on “Dream Shatterer” (Quotable of ’98) in the matter of a day?  That’s how much weight the Source held not too long ago–you were forced to acknowledge lyrical greatness in a time when lyrics were the main entree. 

If you hadn’t noticed by the latest Webbie song, lyrics kinda got shitty.  And since no one reads the Source anymore, it’s hard to find a central hip hop church to worship greatness.   This blog is FAR from that.  But I wanted to do my part as a hip hop fan who still gets amped over a ferocious 16 or 24 or 48 bar beatdown.  So here’s another subsection of the blog called Verse of the Year Contender.

I started this blog too late to include Black Thought’s ungodly “75 Bars.”  Believe you me, that is making the rounds in my cerebral cortex everyday.  Today, I wanted to spotlight Elzhi’s jawdropping scamper through threats, double entendres, punchlines and “oh shit!” moments on the track “Motown 25″ featuring Royce 5’9” produced by Black Milk.  You can listen to it here:

I’m not going to transcribe the whole thing (believe me, I want to).  I do want to add a few thoughts:

  1. If you didn’t peep my last Beat Generation column at the Passion of the Weiss, scroll down to the section about rappers who rap just enough to maintain greatness and relevance.  Elzhi has NEVER come off wack, nor written anything that wasn’t punishing, clever, layered and delivered with pinpoint clarity.
  2. Doc Zeus just wrote a piece on the imporance of MCs actually writing down their lyrics.  Barry from Disco Vietnam is a strong advocate of spontaneity and rappers staying true to themselves and their lyrics by freestyling verses to capture that raw exuberance.  However, this is what happens when an MC enjoys writing lines down in front on him, tying concepts together, eliminating wasteful words, and creating lyrical beartraps for the listener to walk right into.
  3. Royce 5’9”, whose “Bar Exam” mixtape is still a clinic on lyrics, gets absolutely SPANKED on this joint.  Me and Nico listened to this at the lab last night and wondered why Royce decided to rhyme after Elzhi and why he even bothered to jump on the track.  Royce borrows Jay’s flow and inflection from “American Gangster” to no avail.  He is relegated to clean-up duty, like U-God spitting on a joint after Method Man.  Royce is one of the sharpest MCs alive and is powerless to Elzhi’s brilliance. 

I’ll be writing more posts like this whenever someone writes some mindblowing bars.  Let me know in the comments if you have any picks thus far for 2008.