Part of why they pay me Jay Z Memphis Bleek money is to think up original, engaging ideas for feature content, but on the real it's much easier when y'all just do my job for me. Case in point, loyal DJBooth nation member, Frankly White. Three weeks ago, Frank wrote the following comment on our Drake Vs. Wayne piece.
What about the one song that you had to play to people to prove that that artist could rap, and was really fucking good at it. It's not necessarily their best song but the one that show-cased their rapping skill the best. For instance would Lil Wayne's be 'A Milli'? I don't even no what Drake's song would be? Maybe this needs an article..
Great question! So great in fact, that it's been on my mind for the past three weeks. Well, now it's time to take all those thoughts from my brain and put 'em onto the internetz for a new series. In our innaugural edition, we figured that it's best to start with Kanye because... Kanye.
So, here's the hypothetical situation: Somehow, someway, there's a person out there who loves hip-hop, but has never actually heard Kanye rap, and doubts that he's actually very dope. Your job is to prove to that person with one song and one song only that Kanye is one of the dopest rappers walking the earth. Which record are you going with?
No mention of the production, the album, nothing. We're talking just rap. You have one song or guest verse to showcase Kanye's lyricism, flow, delivery, and that special X-factor that every great rapper must possess. This isn't a "best song" debate. "All Falls Down" might be your favorite, but you can't tell me that's Kanye's best rap performance; after all, that song's hook is a major part. It's so hard to put just the verses in a vacuum, but that's what you have to do. Make that hater say, "shit, I guess he can rap." Which song are you going with?
"Diamonds From Sierra Leone":
Honestly, I had totally forgotten how powerful this song is. I was tempted to go "Devil In a New Dress", but in the end, in terms of straight rapiddy raps, "Diamonds" wins. Everything here is so fucking on point. Yeah the beat knocks, but Kanye's palpable passion and energy take this epic beat and elevate it to a whole other level.
Compare it to "Devil In A New Dress". Sure, Kanye is great on "Devil", but it's hard to deny that sample. While the Diamonds beat knocks, in the end it's Kanye who still gives me goosebumps. I love the way his verses start a little more laid-back and then slowly build into this epic, verse-spewing passion. Lyrically, it doesn't get much better. Kanye has this special ability to blend socially conscious lyrics with a clever one liner that will make you laugh; he can make you think and chuckle in the same bar. I could cite, "Only playa that got robbed but kept all his jewelry," or "Cause it take more than a magazine to kill my Vibe," but I think the essence of Kanye is summed up here:
Girl ain't give me no ass, ya need to go down
My father been said I need Jesus
So he took me to church and let the water wash over my Caesar
The preacher said we need leaders
Right then my body got still like a paraplegic
That "need to go down" line is 2 Chainz-esque in its goofiness and ignorance, but then the next line makes you stop and say "Damn!" in a more profound way; seriously, it gives me goosebumps every time. The best part is that after 16 bars, where most rappers would call it quits, Kanye keeps going, taking it up another notch. This song makes me want to run through walls, and while the beat knocks, I think it's because Kanye is in rare rap form. You know what? This might be my winner.
This song is so much fun to rap along with. Every line is one of those oh-so-quotable quotables. Alec Baldwin, happy endings, South Park/fish dicks and Malcolm X references? What more do you need?!
Really, my only hesitation sits with his flow. While a Kanye fan may be fine with Kanye rapping through an airplane intercom, if you are trying to show someone the essence of Kanye, I would want them to hear his actual voice. Still in terms of lyricism, it doesn't get much better. Like on "Diamonds", I love how Kanye blends thoughtful, conscious lyrics with an aura of lavish ignorance. Nobody welds the two like Kanye and "Gorgeous" might be the most "fun" example. This song is on my workout playlist, but it is also one that I can listen to any time because its fun and puts a smile on my face. It's a great listen and it would be hard for a Kanye newbie or naysayer to not want to hear more. Also, I know he has two whole verses, but he fucking bodies Raekwon; that alone should make this one worthy of consideration.
This one is different than the others, as it has a more laid-back vibe to it, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better example of Kanye's prose prowess. Also, if I wanted someone to really know who Kanye was, and really get why I love him, this is the one. There was a time when Kanye was humble and an underdog figure, and on "Last Call", I think you could win a lot of people based on how heartfelt his raps are. They would end up rooting for Kanye, where as some of his later stuff, he is much more ostentatious and out of this world. Where you can get lost in the spectacle that is Kanye with songs "Diamonds" and "Gorgeous", the beat on "Last Call", while dope, is much more bare-bones. It's Kanye's rapping that really provides the electricity for the song; he Thomas The Tank Engines the shit out of it. Lyrically, there isn't a better effort from Mr. West. He manages to paint a picture using both heartfelt lyrics and some really vivid, creative imagery ("buzz bigger than insects in Texas" comes to mind).
This effort is proof that you don't have to rap angry or fast to "go in." Kanye manages to keep with an understated vibe while still blowing you away. To me early Kanye was (and still is) so different from anybody else, but I have never really been able to explain why. In a few bars though, he says what I have always thought:
"Though the fans want the feeling of A Tribe Called Quest / all they got left is this guy called West / that'll take Freeway, throw him on tracks with Mos Def / Call him Kwa-li or Kwe-li, I put him on songs with Jay-Z / I'm the Gap like Banana Republic and Old Navy, and oooh".
Every line on "Last Call" is dope in and of itself but it all fits into a bigger arc; you get to know who Kanye is as an artist and as a person. This might be the winner.
P.S. One of the best lines in rap history is "Mayonnaise colored Benz, I push Miracle Whips." Need I say more?
This might be a sleeper, but I have an experiment that proves "We Major" belongs as a nominee. First, listen to the original. Next, listen to track 9 on this random Kanye mixtape. While we are supposed to separate the beat from the rapping during this excercise, I think this remix/mashup shows how dope his "We Major" verse really is.
The production of "We Major" is as cushioned as a sleep number mattress made from the booty fat of Nicki Minaj, and I think it takes some of the power away from lines like, "Feelin better than some head on a Sunday afternoon/Better than a chick that say yes too soon." When you hear this verse over that Cannon beat it really brings out the strength of the verse. Also, is it just me or does this verse seem longer than it really is? It's the standard, but Kanye squeezes all he can out of the 16; these are some dense bars. Plus, a million bonus points for that KKK reference.
The Winner: "Last Call"
Fuck it. I feel like I should pick "Diamonds" because it has that blend of energy and lyrical prowess that would turn an atheist into a believer, but in the end, lyrically, "Last Call" is on another level.
What's your pick, DJBooth Nation?
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]