Asmar Bouie // REVOLT
From Kanye's The Life of Pablo to Drake's Views to Gucci Mane's Everybody Looking, this year has featured the release of some of the most hyped albums in recent memory. With this comes lofty expectations for hot verses.
DJ Khaled's star-studded Major Key, which dropped July 29, is the latest. Featuring names such as Jay Z, Drake, Nas, Future, J. Cole and Nicki Minaj, Major Key is laced with more superstars than the 2016 USA Basketball team competing in Rio. Because of its dynamic lineup, this album was expected to spawn some of 2016's top verses. Let's see where they rank among this year's releases.
10. "Neva Change" (Blank Face), ScHoolboy Q
Although Kendrick has often overshadowed Black Hippy, there are reasons TDE is collectively the most talented in the game. ScHoolboy Q is one of them. Known for both truthful, personal bars and rugged anthems, the South Central L.A. native is one of today’s most dynamic emcees. ScHoolboy goes for the former on this one, identifying vicious cycles and questioning whether things will ever change for the better in his second verse.
Standout lines: "You see them lights get behind us / They won't freeze 'fore they fire / You say that footage a liar"
9. "Holy Key" (Major Key), Big Sean
In this star-studded lineup, Sean is one of few high-profile rappers who exceeded expectations with his verse. The Detroit rapper never gets the respect he deserves, but he’s now prepared to take it. This is a different Big Sean — a more militant one. After Kendrick Lamar hijacked his 2013 “Control” track to break the internet and challenge the top rappers in the game, Sean’s verse became irrelevant. He’s made certain that won’t happen this time.
Standout lines: "No wonder I'm on fire, I done been to hell and back," "(I'm) Dr. King meets Dr. Dre except this doctor lost all his patience"
8. "War Pain" (4/4 Part 2), Meek Mill
Remember that Drake-Meek beef from last summer? The one where Drake released two devastating dis songs we won’t speak of, back to back, before getting a lukewarm response from Meek? Well the Philly rapper released a track in January that could’ve made the feud a real competition — about six months too late. This extended verse is Meek at his best, returning to the bravado and crushing delivery he’s known for. Writer’s block is no laughing matter, unless the entire hip-hop world is watching.
Standout lines: "...be talkin' out they face. But soon as you body somethin' they be singing like they Drake"
7. "Don't Ever Play Yourself" (Major Key), Kent Jones
Kent Jones is much more than just DJ Khaled’s protégé. His multilingual hit “Don’t Mind” just topped the Billboard Hot 100, but he’s also more than just a pop artist. This dude can spit — really well. On a verse that also features the likes of Fabolous, Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes, Kent was supposed to get bodied. Not only did he hold his own, he may have come out on top against three of New York’s best lyricists.
Standout lines: "I'm an organ donor, I'm alive with no heart in me / So never say my name in vain / 'Cause there's no arteries"
6. "untitled 05 l 09.21.2014" (untitled unmastered), Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick’s untitled unmastered is composed of cuts too dark even for To Pimp a Butterfly — and the fifth track is undoubtedly the most raw. The Compton rapper gives you a peek into the least optimistic and most vulnerable corners of his mind, similar to the self-destructive “u.” The chaotic instrumentation is accompanied by haunting vocals for nearly two minutes before he spits, but his words are worth the wait.
Standout lines: "Justice ain't free / therefore justice ain't me / so I justify his name on obituary"
5. "4PM in Calabasas" (single), Drake
Toronto’s “golden child” comes through with the fourth installment of this time-city series. Instead of the chariot on which he surged through his monumental “Lord Knows” verse on Take Care, Drake seems to deliver "4PM in Calabasas" from a rooftop suite overlooking the city — only accompanied by his thoughts. The change in scenery doesn’t affect him. In fact, Drizzy is feeling so confident that he name drops and references mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs’s classic debut No Way Out. While Drake doesn’t surpass the greatness of "5AM in Toronto," he comes dangerously close to it with this one.
Standout lines: "We movin' militant, but somehow you the ones tankin'," "No Way Out 'cause I'm already in it."
4. "Holy Key" (Major Key), Kendrick Lamar
Although “Holy Key” is a competitive sparring match with Big Sean, K Dot ultimately gains the edge. There’s a reason Khaled teased that this would be the most talked about verse of the year. Kendrick seamlessly moves through different subject matters, changing his flow up at least four times. As he delivers his last few bars through cracked vocals, you realize you’ve heard something special. This won’t land among his top verses, which says a lot about his catalog.
Standout lines: "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 rebuilding this Rubik's cube"
3. "Drug Dealer's Anonymous" (King Push), Jay Z
Jay’s verse is preceded by a snippet of conservative reporter Tomi Lahren interviewing Beyoncé about her husband who “was a drug dealer for 14 years.” He’s glad she asked. This hypnotic beat, reminiscent of 2013’s “Nosestalgia," is the perfect backdrop for one of Pusha T’s frequent drug dealing confessionals. Seizing the mic after Push, Jay’s flow tightens at the seams as the verse continues. With his signature double entendres and one-liners, Hov makes listeners feel silly for questioning if he still has it.
Standout lines: "Drug dealer's anonymous / Ya'll think Uber's the future, our cars been autonomous," "Nothing real can be threatened / nothing unreal exists"
2. "Ultralight Beam" (The Life of Pablo), Chance the Rapper
The Life of Pablo isn’t Kanye’s best album, let alone the best of all time as he originally claimed, but its intro track may have convinced you otherwise. Chance the Rapper is mostly responsible for its brilliance. Even following him since his 10 Day mixtape wouldn’t have prepared you for this display of dexterous flow and wordplay. He put us all on notice that the positivity in his life had inspired him. As he later solidified with the critically acclaimed Coloring Book, hip-hop is in good hands with Chance.
Standout lines: "Tryna snap photos of familia / My daughter look just like Sia, you can't see her"
1. "Nas Album Done" (Major Key), Nas
Nas’s last album, the critically acclaimed Life Is Good, featured a return to form he hasn’t displayed since Stillmatic. The Queensbridge poet’s technical skills with the pen still cannot be touched. Over a dope sample of The Fugees' classic “Fu-Gee-La,” Nas forms complex rhyme schemes and vivid imagery. This mix of braggadocio and introspection can only come from a visionary who’s come of age. If this verse is any indication of what’s to come for the next project, life is getting better still.
Standout lines: "Spend it at they stores, puttin' they kids through college / We need balance / So we can lease and own deeds in our projects / So I'm askin' G's to go in their pockets / The racial economic inequality, let's try to solve it"
Honorable mention: "THat Part" (Blank Face LP), Kanye West