For all of rap’s braggadocio—hip-hop’s fifth element—names rarely ever drop when shots ring out. On “5AM In Toronto,” one of Drake’s hardest songs, the MC astutely suggests he could “load every gun with bullets that fire backwards" and that "you probably wouldn’t lose a single rapper,” before launching subliminal digs that left fans questioning his own temerity, guessing who his targets were with vague claims such as “some nobody started feeling himself / a couple somebodies started killing themselves / a couple albums dropped, those are still on the shelf.”
That type of fleeting commitment to calling out wackness—that shaky energy that leads to awkward radio interviews and ducked questions—was absent on season one of BET’s Rate The Bars, a digital web series wherein rap’s most respected lyricists (Royce Da 5'9", Raekwon, The LOX, etc.) were asked to read anonymous bars and rate them on a scale of 1-5. Perhaps more shocking than BET convincing rappers to break their silence and grade specific rhymes spit by notable peers (Drake, Meek Mill, André 3000, etc.) is the fact that no one noticed.
For some reason, all 12 episodes of the series flew under the radar, despite fans’ usual dogged persistence in finding out what rappers think of other rappers. Perhaps due to some runoff clicks from Complex’s Everyday Struggle, the only episode of Rate The Bars to crack a million views on YouTube was their very first edition, which featured rapper-turned-reality-star-turned-internet-sensation, Joe Budden.
As we await season two of this overlooked gem, coming January 2018, here is a definitive list of the 10 most interesting opinions expressed on the show thus far, ranked from mildly surprising to grounds to slapbox.
10. The LOX disagreeing on the quality of J. Cole and Big Sean lyrics. (Ep. 3)
Whether they make NyQuil jokes about his music or not, most people who are familiar with J. Cole’s “Too Deep For The Intro” won’t argue that the North Carolina rapper’s best bars are: “Partially functional / Half of me is comfortable / The other half is close to the cliff like Mrs. Huxtable / These boys got them holsters and clip they pack like Lunchables.”
Jadakiss, however, is apparently not most people. While Styles P and Sheek Louch both rated those bars a 5 out of 5, Kiss scored them a modest 3.
Given their somewhat hegemonic style of rapping, and their cohesiveness as a clique, one could have previously assumed The LOX all had the same taste in rap. But Cole’s lyrics weren’t the only rhymes they disagreed on.
Big Sean’s “Back, back, back, back up, nigga, I’ma need like 10 feet / Or get stomped out with 10 feet / I’ma always lose my temper, you cannot count to 10 me” garnered a 5 from Sheek, a 2.7 from P, who thought himself generous in that moment, and a nice, round 0 from Kiss.
9. Safaree, of all people, claiming André 3000’s bars don’t make sense. (Ep. 12)
For context, some of Safaree’s own bars include “I left and I don’t want it back, the proof is right here / Thank God I’m free my nigga, shit felt like a lightyear” and “I thought I left her so she could move on to better things / Maybe a ball player, maybe a soccer player / Maybe a billionaire like Mariah Care / But nigga I don’t care, I really do not care,” in addition to whatever lyrics he claims to have penned for Nicki Minaj throughout her career.
For even more context, (a) lightyears are measurements of distance, not time, (b) this man very clearly and deeply cares despite expressing the opposite, and (c) Nicki Minaj’s bars are notably inconsistent, so claiming them so vehemently is a questionable decision—one that could perhaps only be made by someone with such poor taste in lyrics that he sleeps on André 3000.
When presented with lines from Three Stacks’ most iconic verse—“I hate to see y’all frown but I’d rather see her smilin’ / Wetness all around me, true, but I’m no island / Peninsula maybe, makes no sense, I know, crazy”—Safaree responded with a scoff, asserting “ya damn right it makes no sense,” before giving the OutKast MC a 1 out of 5.
8. Fat Joe loving him some JAY-Z and 50 Cent. (Ep. 5)
Unbeknownst to Joe, BET, being as messy as ever, had him evaluate the lyrics of his former rivals JAY-Z and 50 Cent.
Maybe the most unfortunate byproduct of New York rap beef is the estrangement of artists who otherwise respect and admire each other’s lyrical prowess, given their shared sensibilities. Now that most early 2000s beef has been squashed, those who once sparred with one another have been allowed to unlace their gloves and give applause.
Of Hov’s bars, “When I spit with murderous intentions, everybody goes, everybody knows / The weapons I possess they not for show / And you put dresses on your weapons when you walk out the door,” Joe settled on a respectable 4.
And of 50’s “Banana clip, banana split / I be on that gangsta shit / Dump 30 here, dump 30 there, I make it hot up out this bitch / My diamonds bigger, grimy niggas / City slicker, pull the trigger / Line a nigga, it’s a stick-up / Money pick up, dust kick up,” the G-Unit honcho’s former nemesis went as far as to declare, “These [are] my kind of bars... Fat Joe loves this shit,” before also giving them a 4.
7. Big Boi and N.O.R.E. mistaking Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz lyrics for Migos lyrics. (Ep. 11 & 12)
There are a few different moments one could point to when arguing Migos’ place in Atlanta lore: the “Versace” flow pandemic of 2013-14, Donald Glover’s Golden Globes shoutout, and the four separate weeks “Bad and Boujee” spent at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this year.
A moment that could be added to that list is Atlanta’s own Big Boi mistaking Gucci Mane’s “She perfect and she got perky breasts / I just want some of that turkey neck / Trapper of the year, I’m from Bouldercrest / You snitch of the year ‘cause you told the best” for Migos bars, gleefully guessing, “I think that’s one of them Migos,” before rating the lyrics a perfect 5.
Those who rest outside of Atlanta especially have trouble disassociating the trio from the sort of spry, sophomorish wit fans find so charming in rap these days. Blown away by a mix of audaciousness and absurdity, N.O.R.E. exclaimed, “Feels like Migos bars,” upon reading “Mr. Miyagi / I like that pussy real soggy / I bought her noodles and sake / Favorite meal used to be chocolate,” when, in fact, those are 2 Chainz bars.
Unable to collect himself, he’d go on to say, "Crazy. Mr. Miyagi and pussy being soggy. I never thought you could put that together. I’m just throwing that out there. Pussy soggy with Mr. Miyagi, that’s hard. ‘Favorite meal used to be chocolate.’ Holy moly, he’s high... he’s high!”—all before rating the bars a mere 3.
6. Freeway reciting bars Cassidy aimed at him during their infamous rap battle. (Ep. 9)
In terms of grainy, archived cypher footage, ahead of JAY-Z trading bars with DMX during Backstage and Busta Rhymes freestyling alongside Ol’ Dirty Bastard at the 1994 Gavin Convention is only Freeway’s impenetrable flow clashing with Cassidy’s impeccable punchlines during their classic battle in a Philadelphia recording studio.
Rating Cassidy’s “Nigga I’ll show you how the biscuit taste / Trash bag, sticky tape, man pick a lake / I’m getting cake on the corner usually / And I put you to sleep like a boring movie” a 3.5, Free seems to know now what he knew back then when he asked the cameraman to “put a beat on,” essentially conceding defeat.
5. Raekwon not knowing what gentrification means, and clowning fellow Wu-Tang members. (Ep. 6)
One of the more hilarious moments on Rate The Bars was Raekwon, a noted wordsmith, clowning Vince Staples for rapping “We gentrified, we victimized, we fighting for survival / No hopes and dreams, just leave us be, we leanin’ on the bible / They preyin’ on us, prayin’ for a better day tomorrow / Hide the fear behind this here bravado.”
“Whose rhyme is ‘we gentrified'? I don’t even know what the fuck that was. ‘We gentrified'? Nah, I can’t get that, b. ‘We gentrified.’ I mean, I’m into words. I learned a word the other day—refurbish. One of my homeboys said that. I was like, ‘What the fuck is that, a bird?’”
Despite his confusion, Chef gave Staples a 3—one more point than he gave his Wu-Tang groupmates RZA and Method Man.
For “Not bad meaning bad, but I’m bad meaning good / Say my name three times and you knock on wood / Candyman hooks, I terrorize your hood,” Bobby Digital earned a 2 (and a chuckle), and for “Don’t get comfy, I cramp your style like a monthly / Even Demi Moore need more than Ashton Kutcher to punk me,” Tical was given the same score.
4. Royce Da 5’9" rating Joe Budden and Benzino’s disses. (Ep. 10)
Group members as lyrically respected as Wu-Tang MCs are those repping Slaughterhouse, including Royce Da 5’9", who rated his fellow supergroup member Joe Budden’s 2016 Drake diss: “So warn your damn campaign that hammers rang / I just bought a New Edition and you can’t stand the rain / Y’all say this soft nigga hard and that, I can’t explain / Y’all think he’s soul for real, I see candy rain.”
“It looks like something Joe would have said in like 2000 or some shit,” he explained, before failing to actually rate those particular bars.
Of Benzino’s race-baiting Eminem diss, “You the rap David Duke, the rap Hitler / The culture stealer, niggas ain’t with ya / I’m the rap Huey, the rap Malcolm, the rap Martin / Don’t worry, I’ma finish what we started,” Royce claimed, “It looked like [Benzino] was about to get into some powerful messaging... It’s good content—good, positive content,” and ultimately granted the lyrics a score of 4.
3. Joe Budden feeling underwhelmed by Remy Ma’s punchlines. (Ep. 1)
Throughout their one-sided war of words last year, Joe Budden maintained a respect for Drake’s artistry, claiming to still be a fan even after their feud. So it wasn’t surprising to see Budden rate Drake’s “Fuck being all buddy buddy with the opposition / It’s like the front of the plane, nigga, it’s all business / But I haven’t flown with y’all boys in a minute” a 4 (despite those lyrics being housed on the title track of the one Drake album Budden famously loathes), nor was it surprising to see him give Meek Mill’s “Mixed the Balmain with the Bape shit, I’ve been going ape shit / Finna go bananas like the K clip / Niggas talk about me, they see me they don’t say shit / Keep them suckers dippin’ and dodgin’, it’s like The Matrix” the same score.
What did come as a shock was how unimpressed the Complex company man was with Remy Ma’s “Fuckin’ a player in Milwaukee, y’all know I keep it a buck / Probably should have been a nun, y’all know I don’t give a fuck.”
Of the first line, Budden lamented, “We have to stop doing this as MCs and rappers... Milwaukee and Bucks—that has to stop. That’s like ‘enemy-Hennessy’ with Pac.” Of the second line, he declared, “This might possibly be the worst attempt at a metaphor or punchline I’ve ever fucking heard,” before rating them both a 1.
2. Rah Digga siding with Remy over Nicki. (Ep. 4)
A despairing result of the lack of women allowed to flourish at the same time in rap is legends who paved the way for those women having to pick sides once two of them collide—Rah Digga didn’t flinch when faced with that choice, though.
Of Remy’s diss to Nicki, “I’m getting money like Nicky Barnes, I’m the big homie / I responded in less than 48 hours, Nick Nolte / Getting close like Nick Jonas, grippin’ the gauge / Then blaze off, Face Off, bitch, Nicholas Cage,” Digga granted a generous 4. Of Nicki’s diss to Remy, “You can’t be Pablo if your shit ain’t sellin’ / What the fuck is this bitch inhalin’ / I would have helped you out that pit you fell in / I am the generous queen! Ask Ms. Ellen,” a thunderous 0 was given.
1. Remy Ma hating everyone’s lyrics... except for Nicki’s. (Ep. 2)
As displayed in moments both mentioned on this list and not, many rappers, when encouraged to be honest, consider the bars of their peers to generally be trash—none more frequently than Remy Ma. True to her word to keep it a Milwaukee Buck (to the disgust of Joe Budden), the Bronx MC wasn't feeling much of anything BET had her recite on camera (due to the dreadful quality of their “metaphors and punchlines”).
Lil Wayne received a 1.2 for “Man, I got summer hating on me ‘cause I’m hotter than the sun / Got spring hating on me ‘cause I ain’t never sprung / Winter hating on me ‘cause I’m colder than y’all / And I will never, I will never, I will never fall.”
French Montana was granted a 0 for “Red Ferrari, gotta crawl up out it / Got a bad bitch, too much pork around it / My bitch ass fat, you gotta walk around it,” as was Fabolous for “So the trying to do me shit, it’s time to dead it / I’m what you don’t do, even if Simon said it,” in addition to Young Thug for “We never lost it, it ain’t nothing to be found / These bitches come and go round and go round / I took the booty, nailed her like a mount / These bitches gon’ cover me, I call them gowns” and Joe Budden for “I was higher than Whitney, headed toward the top again / Everything I write crack, like it’s Bobby’s pen.”
Lil Kim was given a 2 for “Lyrically I dust ‘em off like Pledge / Hit hard like sledgehammers / Bitch with that platinum grammar / I am a diamond cluster hustler.”
All this before Remy's most recent enemy, Nicki Minaj, scored a 3.9 for “Put the top in the back of the trunk / Take off a shoe, slap a bitch with the back of the pump / I ain’t never had a problem giving bitches the business / Pop bitches in the eye like I finished my spinach,” inspiring Remy to want to know the anonymous rapper’s name at the end of the show.
Though the series may have gone largely unnoticed, two things can be surmised through Rate The Bars’ exercise upon further review: in other settings, rappers may avoid giving honest critiques of both their peers and their foes for fear having to face some hard truths about either one—and very few of them actually know what the word metaphor means.