A lot goes into making a good rapper. You’ve got to have a great flow and delivery. You need to be confident, charismatic and a born performer. But you’ve also got to write great bars -- a rapper is nothing without a story to tell and the wit it takes to engage an audience.
Nowhere is a rapper’s songwriting ability put to the test like the bars format. A verse is normally 16 bars, so in something like Red Bull TV’s 64 Bars, inductees have to rap for what usually amounts to almost three straight minutes. There’s no choruses, no hooks, no bells or whistles -- just their skill in the spotlight. It’s a format you can only pull off if you’ve got both raw talent and something to say.
In 2021, 64 Bars will welcome a new cast of rappers into the fold. But while we wait for this year’s videos to arrive, we asked some of the 64 Bars alumni to tell us their favourite bars of all time -- the rap verses or lines that have inspired or excited them over the years. Here’s what they picked out.
As picked by: Genesis Owusu...
Yasiin Bey's (fka Mos Def) verse on 'Thieves in the Night'
One of my favourite rap verses of all time is Yasiin Bey's (fka Mos Def) verse on 'Thieves in the Night' by Black Star. I remember hearing it at some point in early high school and it being a pretty pivotal moment for me, just as a human being.
I was a good in school, but I feel like digesting this verse was more beneficial for me than a lot of the classes I was doing in school. So many truths packed into one verse that truly did alter my perspective on the topics of perception vs reality, relationships with authority and the status quo, where we stand as people (black or otherwise) in a domineering capitalist society, and so much more. All in one verse. I actually did a whole assignment on this track in school - got an A.
As picked by: Baker Boy...
J. Cole's verse on 'Tribe'
J.Cole is my favourite rapper, his flow is like nothing else. I particularly love this verse from 'Tribe' with Bas because for some reason I can relate to it. I'm obviously not on J.Cole's level, but I connect to these bars because of my rise up out of community, especially 'Is it true what they say? The higher you go, the longer you fall' just really hits home, because I worked really hard to get where I am, but you know the work never stops, you gotta keep pushing and pushing.
As picked by: Tasman Keith...
Andre 3000's verse on 'Sixteen'
I remember playing this repeatedly when it dropped, the way he floats on the production and how in pocket he is with every different flow on this verse is impeccable. The half ending a sentence on one bar and finishing it after the pause on the next works far too well. The 2Pac line and the guitar solo with the Rick Ross ad libs are just two of the standout moments.
Kendrick Lamar's verse on 'Control'
This came out when I was still in a small room rapping and recording for no one but myself and a very limited amount of cousins. For myself, rap has always been competitive. And watching Kendrick put the whole scene on notice while the world watched in disbelief was a moment. When he claimed king of both coasts you knew it was over, and at that point he didn’t even name drop. The tone he kept, and the bar he set was and is second to none.
Rick Ross' verse on 'Devil In A New Dress'
You could easily pick a lot of Rick Ross verses to put into a list, but this one is perfect. The classic Rick Ross flow over a Kanye joint is unmatched.
Nas' first verse on 'NY State Of Mind'
I honestly don’t have to write about this, everybody knows.
The Notorious B.I.G's verse on 'Notorious Thugs'
Biggie has the best flow in hip-hop, effortless wordplay that sits right in the pocket and is the slickest to ever do it. But on this joint in particular there is a certain rhythm he taps into and doesn’t sacrifice his classic lines.
2Pac on 'Letter 2 My Unborn'
The story, the way he tells it in the first verse and introduces it. I grew up with my older cousins just rapping 2PAC verses, everyone of his joints have always stuck with me.
Nicki Minaj's verse on 'Monster'
Again, I don’t have to write about this. Everyone knows this verse.
J.Cole's verse on 'Knock The Hustle' (Remix)
This is one of those verses that is just hard and speaking on some real shit. This moment right here…
“My flesh and blood, hauled off to the cell
I search for heaven as I see him getting lost in this hell
Headed for coffin or jail, to never try is the ultimate fail
But love is wanting more for someone than they want for themselves
Deep, I guess I love a lot
Because the more I do my thang the more I feel the guilt
And shame that my brother's not”
As picked by: Sophiya...
Lil Kim on 'Queen Bitch'
This is the energy I'm inspired to bring to my bars in 2021. I listen to Kim pretty much everyday. I'm addicted to her infectious and empowering persona. Boss, mafia, female gangster vibes.
As picked by: Carmouflage Rose...
Drake's first verse on 'Headlines'
To be honest, I’ve been bumping the Take Care album in my car for most of this last year and my fav song and verse is the first verse on 'Headlines'. It’s just honest and confident.
The melodic progression Drake does with his verses just keeps you on your toes. Every word connects and paints a perfect picture for me. Plus I relate to the lyrics, so that just makes it even better. Would love to do this on Like a Version one day too... just put it out there.
As picked by: Dallas Woods...
Sugar Hill Gang on 'Rapper's Delight'
This was my introduction to hip-hop. The melody and rhythm randomly pops into my head all the time and I'll always find myself rapping this in my head or dancing to it. Good, fun, simple and reminds me of the good times.