“Less is more” is a beautiful mantra, but sometimes an artist needs a sizable canvas to illustrate their grand vision. In rap, large-scale creations have always been prevalent, often manifesting in sprawling tracks brimming with many sonic and lyrical constructs.
With many rising talents placing emphasis on brevity, songs which clock in at 10 minutes or longer might seem out of place in a post-SoundCloud era—the data says songs are, in fact, getting shorter—but even as bite-sized tracks seemingly rule airwaves and playlists, there remains both newcomers and veteran acts who are more than comfortable crafting expansive soundscapes.
At their best, lengthy rap records create unique and compelling narratives, losing none of their potency even as they reach the runtime of an entire EP. Whether through surprising beat changes, rapid switches between vocalists, or unique nonmusical moments, these records keep our interest until the last notes fade out.
So, in honor of the long, long days of summer, you will find below the ten best rap records, ordered by length, that took their sweet time and didn't waste a second.
"Oldie," by Odd Future
When Odd Future released The OF Tape Vol. 2 in 2012, the Los Angeles collective had already established themselves as one of the most talked-about hip-hop acts on the internet. While members were frequently popping up on each other's critically acclaimed releases, it was “Oldie” which showcased their combined strength.
"Oldie" thus gleams with the joy of getting the crew back together, as members intersperse their verses with nods of appreciation to one another. Left Brain's verse, for instance, envisions the group as cross-faded gangbangers, while conveying the giddy excitement of reuniting with close friends.
The track's constant vibe of fraternity and uniformity is also evident in the recurring Wolf Gang tropes, like horrorcore mini-narratives and skating imagery. Tyler perfectly summarizes this familial tone in his closing verse, referring to his colleagues as brothers and dedicates the track to the outcasts and weirdos who, like him and his co-creators, can turn to Odd Future for a sense of belonging.
"Third Eye Shit / Suspect," by Joey Bada$$
"Suspect" features Pro Era leader Joey Bada$$ plus nine other members, delivering tight verses filled with wordplay and a menacing hook lifted from Nas. There's a fair amount of gun talk and weed references, but the main throughline here seems to be spirituality, and more specifically the Chakra system professed by the late Capital STEEZ.
A mere six months before his career would be tragically cut short, STEEZ opens the track with his life philosophy, combining smoke-induced meditation and heightened alertness to his often dangerous surroundings. STEEZ's contributions leave a legacy for the rest of the Pros on this track, who similarly elevate and keep an open mind about their collective futures, with some herbal assistance.
"Mortal Man," by Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar is no stranger to the long-form rap record, having included the 12-minute "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" on good kid, m.A.A.d city. At the conclusion of his GRAMMY-winning third album, To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick provides another lengthy multi-part track, which ties together all of the album's themes.
In the first section of "Mortal Man," Kendrick posits himself as the ideological heir to Nelson Mandela. Inspired by his 2014 trip to South Africa, the evocation of the late anti-apartheid leader lends historical gravitas to Kendrick's fight against institutional racism in the US and his ruminations upon loyalty and forgiveness.
Next, Kendrick recites the monologue strewn across the album, which reveals itself to be part of a dialogue with another late icon of Black resistance: Tupac Shakur. Taken from a 1994 interview, 2Pac's stories of struggle and prophecies of rage feel particularly urgent given the album's stark political tone.
Pac's voice provides a heartrending plot twist to the album, invoking the same deep longing for his presence as his posthumous recordings. By positioning him in this convergence of past and present, "Mortal Man" also reinvigorates Pac's message of a courageous fight for justice, which is carried on by his student, Kendrick. When he reads a second socially conscious poem, and Pac disappears, Kendrick leaves us with a sense of frustration that demands conversion into meaningful action.
"B-Boy Bouillabaisse," by Beastie Boys
As the track's name suggests, the Beastie Boys and their producers, the Dust Brothers, serve a simmering mix of mini-songs epitomizing the album's sampledelic patchwork. The nine sections that comprise "B-Boy Bouillabaisse" don't feel arbitrarily adjoined, though, as they share a common flavor. The record takes listeners on a thrilling journey through New York City, from the Beasties' old Chinatown apartment, aboard the D train to Coney Island, then to Brooklyn and Greenwich Village.
By localizing their rhymes, the Beasties downplay their frat boy personas. There's still crude misogynistic humor throughout the record, but it's counterbalanced by noteworthy social observations, like the Subway riders sharing a daily trip without ever knowing each other. This delicate balance marks the band's transition from rowdy punks in the '80s to inventive alt-rappers in the '90s and beyond.
"Last Call," by Kanye West
Kanye West chose to end his debut album, The College Dropout, by recapping his career up to that point. Throughout the two verses on "Last Call," Kanye replies to all the naysayers who've disregarded his rapping skills, pays his respects to Roc-A-Fella, and celebrates the material excess he can now afford.
Kanye's standard rags-to-riches story then turns into a saga, with an extended spoken outro describing his journey in greater detail. Starting with his first production work for the Roc, Kanye shares his frustrated attempts at recognition as a rapper, and name-checks all the people who stood by him. Several of those people—including JAY-Z, Damon Dash, and Kanye's mother—actually show up on the track to recite their parts in this story.
"The Session (Longest Posse Cut in History, 12:43)," by The Roots
Nineteen ninety-three was a big year for jazz rap, with landmark releases by A Tribe Called Quest, Guru, and Digable Planets. Within all this richness, the Roots' self-released debut manages to stand out, in no small part thanks to "The Session," marrying the posse cut with the extended jazz composition.
"The Session" features members of Foreign Objects, a loose collective founded by The Roots which has seemingly vanished from the annals of hip-hop—which is a shame, since the rappers featured on this record (including The Roots themselves) all deliver oddly bright bars, breaking down mid-sentence and going off-beat like instrumental modal jazz soloists.
The record is tied together by The Roots de facto leader ?uestlove—then going by BROther ?uestion—who keeps the track's groove going on his kit and passes the mic between rappers on the hook. Whether or not this is indeed the most extended posse cut in rap history, it's one of the most charming, and permanent proof of the Roots' power as a band.
"Your Favorite Rap Song," by Flatbush Zombies
Flatbush Zombies, Pro Era's part-time collaborators in the Beast Coast ensemble, made their lengthy statement to cap off their debut album, 3001: A Laced Odyssey. "Your Favorite Rap Song" testifies to the Zombies' power as a unit and does so by highlighting the members' distinct personalities.
Erick Arc Elliott provides two blistering verses, where he stresses his determination to focus on his craft through life's hardships. Zombie Juice's bars are more soft-spoken, though by no means softer, as he celebrates his acclaim yet stays levelheaded and loyal to his New York origins. Meechy Darko's gravely delivery offers a gory, nihilistic vision of success, fueled by hallucinogens.
The second half of the track consists of voice messages from fans, a bold choice which doesn't come across as narcissistic. By ending their first studio recording with the people touched by their music, Flatbush Zombies express their gratitude and humility in the face of this career milestone.
"Adventures of Super Rhyme (Rap)," by Jimmy Spicer
There is no shortage of lengthy records from the early '80s, with many songs released as extended club versions. While few offered much on a lyrical level, Jimmy Spicer managed to keep a fresh perspective on the then-budding genre and deliver some unique, oddball rhymes on 1980's "Adventures of Super Rhyme (Rap)."
The record comprises two very long verses, with Jimmy taking on the role of the titular Superman spoof. There is some party jam fodder of the "hippity hop and you don't stop" variety, but most of the track exhibits rather complex storytelling. Jimmy, as Super Rhyme, recounts a performance for sportscaster Howard Cosell, during which he seamlessly moves in and out of shorter tales about Dracula and Aladdin without losing a beat.
Beyond their novelty appeal, these vignettes carry veiled social commentary. When Dracula, virtually a foreigner, is refused entrance to Studio 54, it feels very much like a critique of elitism and bigotry plaguing the late '70s club scene. It's this combination of goofy narratives, hidden messages, and inventive rhymes that makes Jimmy Spicer a true hip-hop pioneer deserving of much wider recognition.
"300 Bars & Runnin'," by The Game
In 2005, the music industry hyped The Game as one of the biggest rappers of his day, with a notorious penchant for feuding with his contemporaries. When he and 50 Cent entered into a scuffle earlier that year (resulting in his subsequent ousting from G-Unit), his short-tempered creativity went into high gear, resulting in one of the most acerbic diss records ever laid to wax.
Most of "300 Bars & Runnin'" is devoted to questioning 50's authenticity, starting with the kids in the intro looking down on G-Unit's material. The Game puts the whole crew on blast, with insults ranging from the delightfully brutal (relegating Young Buck to a stand-in for Tony Yayo) to the tasteless (mocking Olivia for allegedly being trans). His scope is even more comprehensive than that, as he seems to take on all of New York by referring to his concurrent feuds with Memphis Bleek and JAY-Z.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the record, however, is its reference to previous diss tracks, from Boogie Down Productions' "The Bridge Is Over" to Eazy-E's "Real Muthaphuckkin G's" to JAY-Z's own "Takeover." By mentioning these legendary past feuds and the feuding parties, either lyrically or through sampling, "300 Bars" becomes a sort of metatext, chronicling the history of the diss track while becoming a crucial part of that history.
"Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)," by Jay Electronica
Artists have been called "enigmatic" since the beginning of time, to the point the label has now become a cliché. But this term accurately describes Jay Electronica in 2007, when he uploaded to Myspace a 15-minute rap suite with no drums, based on the score to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
"Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)" is meant to feel cinematic, as it also samples dialogue from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and shorter snippets from The Prestige, Kurdish film Turtles Can Fly, and the MGM lion. Jay's creative decisions here are unorthodox, as is the decision to fill the first third of the track with compliments to Jay from his frequent collaborator Just Blaze and his then-partner Erykah Badu.
Marked by Jay's unique religious stance, "Unorthodox" is the perfect description for "Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)." Aspects of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and Mesoamerican mythologies all intertwine on the record, alongside UFO sightings and homages to Jay's hometown of New Orleans. Start to finish, the record is an incredibly gutsy statement. Even if this were the only piece of music Jay Electronica ever recorded, it would still secure his place in hip-hop for eternity.