Five Great Violent Hip-Hop Songs (for Lupe Fiasco)
Photo by Marco Torres
Lupe Fiasco used to be a talented, socially conscious rapper known for putting out really good hip-hop albums.
Since he hasn't done one of those in a while, he's more well known these days for criticizing President Obama and espousing conspiracy theories about 9/11. Recently he was back in the news, this time to criticize hip-hop songs for being too violent.
In his rant, Fiasco admitted that he's made violent music in the past, but criticized those who still make such songs as guilty of contributing to inner-city crime and violence. I'm not going to call Fiasco wrong for making a stand against inner-city violence, but at the same time I think he's exaggerating quite a bit by blaming hip-hop for it.
Hip-hop is no more to blame for crime than heavy metal is, and like heavy metal it never would have been so great without the violent aesthetic. So just for Fiasco's pleasure, here's a few of the best violent hip-hop songs ever made, all of which beat the hell out of listening to "Words I Never Said" jammed out for 30 minutes.
5. Eminem, "Kim" Eminem shocked listeners everywhere with not only the revealing personal nature of his lyrics, but the extreme violence portrayed in his stories. It was the kind of violence only previously heard in the horrocore subgenre, something that had yet to really take off into the mainstream before Eminem. With Em's ascent to the top of the charts, it made everyone aware of the graphic depictions of murder that existed in the confines of hip-hop.
Yet there was a reason Marshall Mathers made such a bigger splash than his horrocore contemporaries. He displayed a tremendous amount of talent right out of the gate, and his violent lyrics served to convey a twisted, mangled inner-psyche that was struggling to cope with the harsh realities of life and difficult relationships. "Kim" works because, while the violence may all be inside of Em's head, the emotions on full display are real.
4. Jay-Z, "Come and Get Me" One of Jay-Z's most underrated deep cuts is also one of his most violent, hard-hitting flows. "Come and Get Me" is a stark response to haters who in 1999 were already saying he had sold out after shifting away from the mafioso themes of his first record, Reasonable Doubt. Jay responds challenging them to come and get him; he'll be waiting for them with a glock.
It's also a reflection on how he got to where he was at the time. Not many rappers have worked as hard to get to the top as Jay-Z, nor have they represented as much for other upcoming rappers, and he makes a point of that here. It's a common theme in his music these days, but it was just developing at the time when he still could have turned out to be a flash-in-the-pan success.
3. The Notorious B.I.G., "Warning" The Notorious B.I.G. Is and was considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. Certainly his music has had a continuing influence on every rapper that has came since. He was also one of the most violent rappers of all time. I really could have picked out any number of his classic tracks for this one ("Gimme the Loot," "Somebody's Gotta Die," "Kick in the Door") but something about "Warning" has always struck me.
"Warning" features an exceptionally funky beat with one of the best basslines in hip-hop history. It's not one of Biggie's most marketable songs despite that. It's a street single if anything. There's no chorus, just one long, amazing verse from Biggie telling a story.
It's impressive on a conceptual level, beginning as a phone call between Big and, erm, himself, discussing some guys who are out to take Biggie down since he's gotten famous. Then it proceeds into the real "warning," a detailed description of exactly how he plans to kill those guys if they really decide to come for him. It's hip-hop storytelling at its finest.
2. 2Pac feat. the Outlawz, "Hit 'Em Up" "Hit 'Em Up" is widely considered the greatest dis track ever made, and that's a hard argument to argue with. 2Pac decided to come out as hard as he could against Biggie and Bad Boy Records, so he gathered up his group the Outlawz and just spit the nastiest burns they all could come up with. It's hard to imagine many other rappers having the balls to even record a track like this, much less to make a video for it and release it as a single.
It's such a good track though, featuring one of Pac's best verses and career-best performances from his less-talented cohorts, that even after the subject matter of the track has long since ceased to be relevant, it still stands as a favorite among hip-hop fans. That's a testament to the fact that people's enjoyment of the track is based on the song itself, not on the glorification of violence.
1. Nas, "NY State of Mind" As realistic and powerful as any depiction of inner-city violence ever made, "NY State of Mind" is a graphic portrayal of the real life of New York's crime-filled underworld. I must admit a certain bias: this is my favorite hip-hop song. I imagine a lot of people would say the same. Nas captures the mood perfectly with his tongue-twisting flows set over DJ Premier's droning piano beat.
But Nas -- a clear influence on Lupe Fiasco, incidentally -- spits intelligent rhymes, examining this criminal life like an investigative journalist, or maybe an undercover cop caught up in the world himself, rather than simply glorifying it. There is a certain glory to it mentioned ("I dream I can sit back and lamp like Capone") but he also wishes he could just live a "legal luxury life" and finds himself increasingly disturbed by the children following him down this path.
In the league of socially conscious rap, Nas is the undisputed king. "NY State of Mind," the first song on his first album (aside from the intro), is his mission statement and testament. It captures and conveys the heart of the streets and, yes, it brings up and even glamorizes violence, but it tackles it in a way that maybe even Fiasco could appreciate.
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