Illest Motherfuckers Alive: Crowning the Rappers Who Say "Motherfucker" the Best (By Region)

Who is the "motherfucker" champion?
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There are only a handful of truly perfect words in this dim and discouraging world of ours; words that paint illustrious pictures in our heads in a few short syllables. Perfect words transcend context, purpose, or appropriate situations, making the universe a tiny bit brighter every time they're uttered into existence. Think of words like “serenity,” “palindrome,” or “buffet.”

This short list includes most curse words, simply because these words are all pretty great to say. Nothing, though, beats "motherfucker." Motherfucker is the Swiss Army knife of words. It rolls off the tongue. In the blink of an eye, it captures just the right amount of pathos and catchiness, all while remaining one of the most neutral bad words to ever grace the English language. You’re never truly offended by it, but that doesn’t mean you want to slip up and end up on the receiving end.

The effectiveness of a word like "motherfucker" is rooted primarily in those who attempt to unsheathe its sword from the stone. Our greatest motherfucker orators, those like Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, George Carlin, and Bernie Mac, each delivered the word in such individually special ways that they made you forget about its incestuous meaning. Next thing you knew, you were calling everyone a motherfucker. 

Hip-hop, like Hollywood, has its fair share of otherworldly "motherfucker" users, each with a very specific take on the word. The relationship between hip-hop and "motherfucker" matters because it captures the visceral nature of the music and the rebelliousness of the genre at its core. We call each other motherfuckers as a slight as much as we do in admiration of others. We use it to invoke anger, energy, levity, and cleverness; all concepts that reside in the deepest layers of our favorite rap music. "Motherfucker" is less a word, and more of a bridge to an even bigger idea in hip-hop, and the importance in how each MC interprets the word can’t be stated enough.

Therefore, it is only right that we establish a short list of the very best MCs to ever utter the word on wax, crowning a champion—or co-champions—for each region of the United States based on their specific interpretation of "motherfucker." We divided the country into five regions—West, Midwest, South, Southeast, and Northeast—in order to give proper shine to each champion, and so that I don’t have to deal with five times the number of angry rap fans on Twitter, yelling at me for trying to crown one person as an overall champion. Deal with it.

West Regional Champion: Kurupt

I know what you’re thinking: the obvious champion of the West region should be 2Pac. After all, the legendary “Hit 'Em Up” wouldn't feel nearly as potent without Pac’s disdainful use of “motherfucker” aimed at Biggie. If you fall in love all over again upon hearing his gruff but sharp pronunciation of the word, I totally get it.

However, the West Coast Motherfucker King is and has always been Kurupt. No MC has ever put more time and care into perfecting the timing of each syllable in "motherfucker" quite like the veteran member of Tha Dogg Pound. Kurupt puts such an emphasis on the “fuck” syllable, that each “mothaFUcka” feels like the equivalent of a curb stomp to the ears. "Motherfucker" resonates so forcefully out of Kurupt’s mouth, it should be spelled with six Fs and nine Us in order to fully and properly contextualize the audible experience.

Kurupt's technical mastery of syllables, along with perfect timing, trickles down into not only the abrasiveness of his music but its lasting appeal. On a micro level, this practice is what makes Kurupt's most popular solo work (see “C-Walk,” “We Can Freak It”) still enjoyable today. On a macro level, it’s hard to imagine songs like Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode” feeling as boundless with energy without Kurupt’s triumphant “You know who’s back up in this mothafuckaaaaa” laying the quotable groundwork first. The West Coast has bred better, more skilled rappers, but there are none who could lasso the virility of '90s hip-hop in one word quite like Kurupt.

Midwest Regional Champion: Eminem

People shit on Eminem quite a bit these days, and understandably so. He’s a 45-year-old MC who still uses homophobic slurs for comebacks, dresses like he’s in a movie that requires a role for “Back Alley Hooligan No. 3,” and seems intent on only making music that kids named Brent and Derek would enjoy. Yet, what we can never take away from Marshall is his astounding, otherworldly ability to make words like "motherfucker" feel as mean as they were intended to be.

Eminem’s entire artistry is based on the premise he can and will make you uncomfortable. Whether it’s songs like “Guilty Conscience” and “Kim” pushing the boundaries of horrorcore storytelling in rap, or hearing someone try to rhyme 87 things with “discombobulate,” Eminem has always proven to fans that his discomforting word choices are meant to get you riled up. This is why when he uses a word like "motherfucker," the weight of the lyric feels so much more intense. "Motherfucker," for Eminem, isn’t just an abstract euphemism for someone he doesn’t like; it’s an intentional prod to incite a reaction from the listener.

On “Sing for the Moment,” Em laments, “I guess words are a motherfucker, they can be great, or they can teach hate,” which ironically describes his exact use of the word. It's both aesthetically pleasing, as the syllables feel sleekly mumbled and ran together, and puncturing in the anger they inspire. For years, that pent-up energy felt strangely engaging and edgy, but as we've come to learn over his last two full-length albums, Em, like most humans, has way less control of that anger than we had ever thought.

Southern Regional Champion: Scarface

Part of what makes "motherfucker" such a powerful word in hip-hop is the intention with which it surfaces. The preciousness of the word exists based on those who use it having the ability to keep it from feeling unnecessary, and integral to the song. This is where Scarface, arguably the national, if not international, champion of using "motherfucker," arrives.

One only needs to press play Scarface’s The Diary to understand how invaluable the perfect use of "motherfucker" can feel. It’s all tied to his style; a hiccupy, but slightly lagging staccato cadence, a baritone voice that intentionally hangs on the edges of hard As and double Os to the point of strangling the words with his bare hands, and a microphone presence that feels like the Grim Reaper describing Houston hood tales.

Littered throughout The Diary, each Scarface "motherfucker" feels as puncturing as the death and paranoia that looms over the album. On tracks like “No Tears,” “Jesse James,” or the eponymous title track, "motherfucker" is so booming because Scarface understood that less is often more when it comes to the finest lyricism, and words like "motherfucker" could serve as all-encompassing tools to fill the darkest thoughts of a traumatized mind on display. Scarface made you believe in the word’s power so heavily, you even felt that maybe you, the listener, might be a motherfucker yourself.

Southeastern Regional Champion: Lil Wayne

There were plenty of contenders for the top spot in the Southeastern region, brimming with about as many unique versions of "motherfucker" as humanly possible. From Lil Boosie’s raspy, high-pitched take to the low-octave, more sinister renditions of those like Juicy J and MJG, to Rick Ross’ hoarse and muffled interpretations, there was an argument to be made for roughly 30 different rappers from this region. However, Lil Wayne is the champion because he’s the only emcee who utilized more than one version of the word.

Although "motherfucker" was never Lil Wayne’s favorite word to use (that would be "pussy," which may need its own article), "motherfucker" was arguably the most effective in encapsulating Wayne’s versatility as one of the greatest rappers in history. There’s the silky, almost flippant "motherfucker," present on songs like “A Milli” and Drake’s “Miss Me.” There’s the formless "motherfucker," with the “th” sound removed and seemingly replaced with three more Us, on “Pop Bottles.” There is even the “muddafucka” interpretation on tracks like Drake’s “I’m Goin' In.” Neither of these versions is primarily the most effective, but their existence together is what makes it so effective in Wayne’s arsenal.

Those of us who hold Lil Wayne's run from the mid to late 2000s so close to heart remember it because of small moments like these—picture-perfect timing and swagger, gripping words and phrases by the throat and morphing them into something that felt like they belonged solely to Wayne. He did this with freestyles and guest features for years, treating others’ music as a host for him to infect until it eventually became part of who we would remember him as. "Motherfucker" was just another host body that Lil Wayne manipulated and reverse engineered into his own little creation, and there may never be another rapper with such a capability.

Eastern Regional Co-Champions: Lil' Kim and Sticky Fingaz

Another nearly impossible category to choose, the East Coast feels synonymous with "motherfucker." Whether it’s the traditional Black Thought version, the iconic JAY-Z or Notorious B.I.G. renditions from tracks like “Juicy” or “A Million and One / Rhyme No More,” or even Jeru the Damaja’s more subdued, yet serene version, the Eastern region is so stacked with perfect uses of "motherfucker" that our co-champions were decided based on whose "motherfucker" felt the most unique within the East Coast scene.

Sticky Fingaz, of the rap group Onyx, takes one-half of our crown because, despite the better rappers and bigger icons in New York rap history, it’s hard to think of an MC with a more viciously unnerving delivery than Sticky. In fact, Sticky Fingaz’ "motherfucker" wins primarily by default because there’s a good chance anything he’s ever said is one of the best interpretations of that word in history. If he had rapped about “puppies,” and then this article was crowning which rappers were the best at saying the word “puppies,” he still would have won. What made Sticky Fingaz’ gravelly, version of "motherfucker" so effective is, unlike most, he made the word "motherfucker" sound as evil and degrading as it was intended to be.

Similarly, Lil' Kim takes the other half of this crown for much of the same reason. All of the very best "motherfucker" orators knew, beyond the ways in which "motherfucker" could be used as either a compliment or an attack, its most effective version was always the most degrading. It doesn’t take more than listening to tracks like “Scheamin'," even as she’s playing a role in a skit talking about Biggie, that the superiority and command that Lil' Kim imposes in her music and how she looks down on anyone in her way is never more evident than when she says "motherfucker." For a good stretch, Lil' Kim was the queen of hip-hop, and it is in words like "motherfucker" that one can physically sense the respect that she demanded as an MC. She could lyrically seduce you and then cut your throat with just one simple word. 

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