Even in our single-driven society, the truth is that most rappers can still reel in listeners influentially by simply reciting the honest realities observed through their rearview mirror. The irony in keeping rap one hundred, however, is that the realness is killing one of it’s building blocks;
The Da Art of Storytelling. For the most part, our preoccupied society has become so enthralled by artists’ personas and reputations that listeners are more likely to appreciate the ‘truth’ in a cheesy block star anthem than a storyteller’s well-crafted depiction of intricacies. For instance, why check Slick Rick’s timeless – yet, artificial – narratives of youth demise, when Gucci Mane – the chicken-movin’ ATLien who’s seen more dirt than an earthworm – is telling selling everyday stories from his stoop that would drop the jaws of any anchorwoman not broadcasting from Baghdad?
Despite the prolonged demise of perhaps the most imaginative aspect of emceeing, not all is lost.
Scattered sparsely through the past decade, a select few inspired artists went ahead and crafted concoctions of creativity whether people wanted to hear them or not. Some capitalized on the gamble and became worldwide icons, while others got buried in a niche and couldn’t dumb it down enough to dig themselves out. No matter how their fables unfolded though, these perceptive pen poets were full of enough dusty details, foreshadowing and character-driven plot twists to enable them to open up the box, step right out and deliver the best storytelling songs of the past ten years.
After all, anybody can rap. Very few can tell a good story.
1. Ghostface Killah Feat. Raekwon – “The Hilton” from Bulletproof Wallets (2001)
We think a bad hotel experience is a foul smell and an absent mint on our pillow. Raekwon and Starks, on the other hand, can fend off a double-glock-wielding bell-hop and still find the time to iron their outfits. After choas popped off at “The MGM,” you’d think these Wu dudes would stick to the bed and breakfasts.
2. Mark Ronson Feat. Saigon – “Diduntdidunt” from Here Comes The Fuzz (2003)
Back when The Yardfather was still one of the more promising rappers in the game, son was dropping so much quality material that a knee-slappin’ street satire like the phonetically pronounced “Di-dun-di-dunt” became a forgotten treasure just months after release. This Mark Ronson-produced ditty takes it back to the playground, where we find young Saigiddy schooling some bum knuckleheads with some knuckles to the head. Lil’ Ray never saw it comin.’
3. Ludacris – “Runaway Love” from Release Therapy (2006)
I could’ve very easily slid “90210” in this slot. But considering this type of lil-girl-lost song scenario will never be topped, it’s difficult to choose which dismal portrayal of deprived feminism is tops. Until you factor in the that Luda’s laceration got him to #2 on Billboard and put a Grammy on his mantle. Better luck next time Olubowale.
4. Obie Trice Feat. Nate Dogg – “The Set Up” from Cheers (2003)
On his debut album, Mr. Real Name No Gimmicks used his obligatory Aftermath-related Nate Dogg appearance rather wisely. Rather than doing the typical single jingle, Obie had Nate hum the hook to a fabricated account of a trifling female who gets what she has coming to her after turning the whole hood against one other. And, unlike most of the songs on this list, “The Set Up” still had plenty of success on the airwaves, despite it’s lyrical lean. Oh, and a Dr. Dre beat always helps, too.
5. Brother Ali – “Dorian” from Shadows On The Sun (2003)
Ever tried to stop domestic violence and caught a case a result? Well, that sucks. At least you’ll appreciate “Dorian,” my Brother Ali’s self-guided and nonfictional trip down memory lane from his beloved debut, Shadows On The Sun, which was completely produced by Atmosphere boardsman ANT. That whiteboy doesn’t look like much of a scrapper, but I bet he’d whoop your ass.
6. Young Jeezy – “Bury Me A G” from The Inspiration (2006)
Yeah, I know. Jeezy is the absolute last person you’d expect to see on a list complimenting rapper’s lyrics (actually, the third from last), but on Da Snowman’s second lick he picked up a shovel and scooped up some honest-to-Gosh creativity for “Bury Me A G,” a riveting portrayal of his hypothetical assassination. Not only do Jeezy’s words get deeper than his pockets, but when the video dropped, fans were stunned to find out Weebay and Omar were the ones behind the trigger all along. Not you, Omar. Not you…
7. Wax & EOM – “The Adventures Of Larry & Tina” from Liquid Courage (2008)
There’s about a 50% chance you’ve never even heard of nomadic rapper Wax, but when MySpace Cool Kids-ed him and producer EOM, the finished goods became their somber tale of Larry; a divorced 39-year-old who falls in love with a stripper half his age, finds an online video stream of her being raped and gets beat up trying to save her. Not the most uplifting track, but probably as structurally sound as any the list, with a transcendental video that could’ve vied for video of the year had it’s captain been more renown.
8. Lupe Fiasco – “Little Weapon” from The Cool (2007)
Oh, Lupe. Always one to complicate things. While most songs featured on this list are fairly unambiguous, Cool Lu uses this sonic gospel as a forum to vaguely vent how kids are becoming numb to war at an earlier age then ever, via three very adverse POV themes of third world poverty, war and video games. Once you’ve cracked the code, you realize it’s a great song from a great album…about a bunch of shitty topics we all fund in one way or another.
9. Tech N9ne – “Slither” from Absolute Power (2002)
Usually Tech’s songs are just super fucked up and true. This one is actually super fucked up and fictional. Over an entrancing and extremely complimentary RonnZfromBerlin beat, “Slither” finds Neezle spittin’ game to strippers in a KC MO titty joint, who happen to lure dude back to their pad and turn him into…actually, let’s not give it away. Let’s just say Tech was ahead of the curve on one of today’s prevalent fads.
10. Joe Budden – “3 Sides To A Story” from Mood Muzik 2: Can It Get Any Worse? (2006)
Hit the cupboards and grab some popcorn before “3 Sides,” because Joey’s interweaving triple-narrative about the injustices of the streets plays out like an eight-minute-long mini-movie, that ends in chaos and proves a viable point most rappers completely miss when speaking on their hood horror stories; it’s always more complicated than it seems.
11. Big L – “Casualties Of A Dice Game” from The Big Picture (2000)
No disrespect to the deceased, but upon listening to the bloodbath that is “Casualties Of A Dice Game,” it’s not surprising Big L was slain on the streets. Despite obvious lyrical embellishments for story’s sake, the eerily intricate details on display during Corleone’s posthumous portrayal of pay back and punishment are so vivid listeners are left reaching for blood money from the sky at song’s end. Imagine the the kind of stories Lamont Coleman would have told had he seen the new millennium.
12. Jay-Z – “Meet The Parents” from The Blueprint²: The Gift & the Curse (2002)
One of few hits among misses from the middle installment of Hov’s Blueprint trilogy, this depiction of a broken home brought together by tragedy (and not in a good way) is almost Tarentino-esque in that it’s beginning follows it’s ending, which has to be hard to do…when you don’t write down your raps. The former president’s storytelling in this is so dictated and complimentary to the beat, “Meet The Parents” may find it’s way onto a Jay-Z Greatest Hits album one day.
13. Immortal Technique – “Dance With The Devil” from Revolutionary Vol. 1 (2001)
The craziest part about Immortal Technique’s goosebumps-giving deliberation isn’t that it’s featured wannabe gangbanger ends up raping and killing his own mother, it’s that the reformed Harlem-raised activist/rapper says “Dance…” is a true story and that he participated in the rape. A remarkable song…but maybe one I wouldn’t have shared with the world. I’m gonna’ go cry now.
14. Nas – “Rewind” from Stillmatic (2001)
It’s pretty safe to say most people did exactly as the title suggests when they first heard “Rewind,” the completely backwards account of blunts, broads and retribution from the man who most people would say rules this run-down rap shit (“One Love,” “I Gave You Power,” “Blaze A 50,” “Fetus,” etc. etc.). Talk about talent, though, the verdict is still out on how the hell Nasir wrote this damn song. A dome-blower, to say the least.
15. Eminem Feat. Dido – “Stan” from The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
No explanation needed. “Stan” is the epitome of why storytelling songs serve a purpose. If done well enough, they can properly showcase the spectrum of talent an artist truly holds and – over the right beat and hook – leave listeners enthralled long enough to turn out a number one hit. A beautifully eerie record that will probably go down as not only Eminem’s best piece of work, but one of the greatest Hip-Hop songs of all time. That’s right, of all time.