Depending on who you ask, there are countless criteria for what constitutes a great emcee. One nearly universal, indisputable quality of an emcee's dominance, however, is wordplay. An emcee’s ability to bend language to their will has always been and will always be the mark of a great emcee.
While artists like Tech N9ne and Eminem have based their entire careers on lyrical complexities, there are certain cases in which an artist takes the concept of linguistics and runs with it. I’m a sucker for these concept records, especially those that center around alliteration.
For those that napped through English class, alliteration is defined as, “the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables (such as wild and woolly, threatening throngs).”
After hearing Raekwon’s “M&N,” from his newly released album The Wild, I was reminded of other moments of concept record greatness built around alliteration, and with that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of the best alliterative concept records in order of their greatness.
Aside from one or two exceptions, all of these records are conceptually centered around alliteration for brevity’s sake. If we were just doing dope instances of alliteration, I’d be glued to this keyboard for days covering Pharoahe Monch and Royce Da 5’9” verses.
10. J-Live - "MCee"
Justice Allah, better known as J-Live, was a no-brainer selection for this list. After all, he was an 8th grade English teacher for four years, so he’s no stranger to the concept of alliteration.
While the first verse of "MCee" doesn’t abide by the alliterative angle of the “emcee” concept, the second and third verses are jam-packed with witty wordplay (see what I did there?) all keeping with the “M” and “C” motif. Hell, on the song's third verse, he bases every line off a sample of “M” or “C."
Seriously, peep the third verse. Outrageous.
"More Concentration on My Cadence Might Cloud your mind / Controlling your Movements Capaciously / My Capacity to Massacre Crumbs / And Motivate Change Most Certainly Makes you Consider me / Champion, Microphone is Consistently Modeling Candor of Magnificence / See My Conduct is Mute to Cajolery"
9. 2Pac - "If I Die Tonight"
Full disclosure, I’m cheating by including this Pac track.
Yes, there are more tightly-bound alliterative concept records I could’ve chosen, but something about Pac’s voice coupled with hyper-potent alliterations is so intoxicating, I couldn’t not include this jam from Me Against The World. Each verse starts with the use of alliteration and Pac’s verses are packed with miniature alliterative acrobatics, so I’m counting it.
To quote a large number of this track’s YouTube comments, “And they say Pac not lyrical. SMH.”
"They say pussy and paper is poetry, power and pistols / Plotting on murdering motherfuckers 'fore they get you / Picturing pitiful punk niggas copping pleas / Puffing weed as I position myself to clock Gs"
8. Jay Rock - "M.O.N.E.Y."
A year prior to Rock providing one of the best moments on good kid, m.A.A.d city with his “Money Trees” verse, the TDE veteran released his full-length debut Follow Me Home, which included the standout track "M.O.N.E.Y."
The concept is simple—money is the root of all evil—and Rock’s execution of that premise through strategically placed alliterations following along with the acronym of “M.O.N.E.Y.” is captivating and one of his most underappreciated lyrical flexes.
"The negatives are normal when you knee deep / When nice sins get stabbed with a knife in or shot with a nine / The neediest the nosiest, they always trying to be friends / And if you naive you should notice all the signs"
7. Saigon - "The Letter P" ft. Kool G Rap
Back in 2005, when a lot of us still had hopes of Saigon being the next greatest emcee in the game, Da Yard Father released a mixtape titled Abandoned Nation that featured this alliterative gem.
Throughout the track, Saigon and the legendary Kool G Rap come up with a staggering amount of excuses to use words that start with the letter “P,” which by the third or fourth line had my mind absolutely blown. That’s the point of these records, after all—to display an utter dominance of the English language.
"I pause for you people to peep the letter P / Poetically put in a paragraph so perfectly / No I ain't a P-I-M-P, but I do got a pistol in my pocket, perpetrate and I'll pop it / Prince my pitbull, go ahead try and pet it / See if you don’t leave this place with paramedics"
6. Raekwon - "M&N" ft. P.U.R.E.
Ah yes, the track that kicked off my trip down this alliterative wormhole.
This standout from Raekwon’s new album The Wild features The Chef and a rapper named P.U.R.E.—who I’ve admittedly never heard of—trading absolutely filthy bars marked by alliterations of, you guessed it, “M” and “N.”
The alliterations themselves are of remarkable caliber, and the way they’re delivered back and forth only adds to their potency. Well over two decades in the game and Raekwon’s still got it.
"Multimillion dollar mansions manufactured melanin mud, through this metropolis / Millimeters are met with the mufflers / My method is meditative musical medicine / With sergeant mentality mechanisms"
5. Aesop Rock - "The Greatest Pac-Man Victory In History"
Yet another exception in my ranking. While not entirely centered around alliteration, the second verse in Aesop’s Bazooka Tooth standout is a dizzying lyrical feat that makes more sense than it should.
The track is an ode to Aesop’s youthful days spent taking acid and playing Pac-Man, and when the second verse comes around you quickly realize there’s a theme: L.S.D.
Shorthand for lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD is the proper name for acid, and Aesop takes listeners on a brief but incredibly intense alliterative trip using words starting with those three letters.
"Lump summed damage / Load sample, delete / Late Show Dave Letterman, shitty diner lip-slide dutch / Low self-discipline leaders see dead lung self-destruct / Life sucks dickhead / Lost summers display laminate showcasing divinity live / System definitive / Liturgy soaked, depict lowly spectacular delight / Why, what kind of L.S.D. you like?"
4. Mick Jenkins - "P's & Q's"
This. This is lyrical mastery.
On this Wave[s] standout, Mick bounces back and forth between “P” and “Q” alliterations that not only remain conceptually consistent, the lyrics are so practical and fit so well that if you’re not paying attention the entire time you’ll forget he’s actually sticking to those two letters.
It also doesn’t hurt that the song title itself is a double entendre and that the video is incredibly dope.
"Watch him paint, ain't it quaint? / All that presence in his pen, he be pearlin' all that wisdom, all that pressure be to sin / A pearlescent silver lining through the questions I been quilting together / Niggas quiver in the cold, are you equipped for the weather? / When there's polar and it's piercing through your sweater to your chest / How you persevere and press on through the quest?"
3. Blackalicious - "Alphabet Aerobics"
If you’re not already familiar with Gift of Gab’s lyrical abilities, it’s time to pull up Google and get to class. As one-half of Blackalicious and as a solo artist, Gift of Gab has long been one of hip-hop’s most underappreciated lyricists.
Again, this song’s concept is fairly simple—write bars using words that start with each letter of the alphabet—but it was a concept built for an emcee with Gab’s vocabulary. Not only does he pack his rhymes with outside-the-box alliterations, the BPM count increases as the song progresses, so by the end, he’s doing this shit double- and triple-time. That’s a whole new level of impressive, and it’s a damn shame that Harry Potter’s rendition of this classic has more YouTube hits than the original.
"My mind makes marvelous moves, masses / Marvel and move, many mock what I've mastered / Niggas nap knowing I'm nice, naturally / Knack, never lack, make noise nationally / Operation, opposition, off, not optional / Out of sight, out of mind, wide beaming opticals"
2. Lowkey & Faith SFX - "Alphabet Assassin"
I’ll admit, I wasn’t personally familiar with this track before today. But, when I asked around for alliterative concept records, this one came up more than anything else, so I had to peep.
On "Alphabet Assassin," London-based rapper Lowkey takes the alphabet concept and cranks it up to another level over a beat created by beatboxing, which, yes, means this record is about as textbook hip-hop as the genre gets.
Lowkey’s performance might lack a bit of charisma, but his ridiculous display of lyricism more than makes up for his monotonous delivery. Also, Faith SFX’s beat gets increasingly better throughout the track.
"Poisonous poets, poised at the pulpit / Pulverise poachers and pointless posers / With potently poignant poems, practically panic / Paparazzi passive passengers planning to pack P's and prang / patchy pampering pansies"
1. Papoose - "Alphabetical Slaughter (Pt. 1 & 2)"
Papoose has always been nice, but these two records leave no question as to his lyrical abilities.
Not only does Pap cram an incredible number of syllables into a song—and keeps up with the alphabet motif the entire way— he did that shit TWICE. And he did them eight years apart just to let you know he’s still got it.
Oh yeah, and Pt. 2 was backward, from "Z" to "A." AND for those that said he was just throwing out words on the first one, he even dabbles in storytelling on part two. What?!
"Dominating devoted dealer devastatin' / Determination, demonstratin', divine dedication / Debatin' drug deals, demandin' dough distributed / Definitely dividin' double-digit dollar dividends / Drama declarin' demolishin' domain dozer / Directing dumb-dumbs doin' dummies dirty disarming dojos"
"Ten o'clock Tuesday, Tahoe traveling through traffic / Two thieving teenagers, tailgating, talking tragic / Tough talk turned to tragedy, two teflons thrown / They trying to take the TVs, the touch-tone telephone"
Photo Credits: Instagram