Before materialism engulfed the genre, lyricism was at the forefront of Hip-Hop and high standards created competition amongst the artists. As a result of MCs consistently looking to raise that bar, the art of back-and-forth bars between rappers sharing a song became a prime example of how one outfit could outdo another. Since catching on, this give and go style has been adapted by notable stars and underground upstarts alike, often resulting in classic tracks that set the standard for lyricists along the way.
In honor of this tendency to teeter-totter rhymes in Hip-Hop, we’ve compiled a list of 25 shining examples of back & forth raps, which is bound to make old heads harp on the good old days and youngbloods wonder what the hell happened.
1. GemStones (a.k.a. Gemini) Feat. Lupe Fiasco – “We On”
Before GemStones went gospel and directly after Lupe’s Food & Liquor debut received critical acclaim from the masses, the Chi-Town homies from the South and West sides traded every other line in rapid-fire style for this empowering dedication to their city and themselves. And, just like they said, rappers still try to be the ‘07 them to this day.
2. Beanie Sigel & Scarface – “Mac & Brad”
Upon getting an opportunity to work with the Geto Boys chief on his 2000 debut The Truth, Beans decided against provocative and instead got the Houston OG to bring out the rawness for this bare-bones back-and-forth assault. Maybe one day their album will actually come out.
3. Eminem Feat. Dr. Dre – “Guilty Conscious”
After “Hi, My Name Is” put Eminem on the map for most of middle America, Dr. Dre and his Aftermath imprint decided to let the Detroit bad boy’s alter-ego run wild in the spotlight. The second single from The Slim Shady LP found Em playing devil to the N.W.A. founder’s angel, encouraging the song’s fictional characters to do everything from take advantage of underage girls to cutting the heads off their cheating girlfriends.
4. Smoothe Da Hustla Feat. Trigga Da Gambler – “Broken Language”
Equally brutal and intellectually sound, this serving of gritty hood horrorcore from 1995 found the Brownsville, NY native and his little brother Trig trading wickedly explicit rhymes on what would end up being Smoothe’s only real taste of mainstream success.
5. Jadakiss Feat. Styles P – “Shoot Outs”
At arguably the height of their careers, the Lox’ top audible assassins targeted producer Elite’s tribal whistles and wailing electric guitars for this epic Kiss Of Death cut, which found the two brothers from another finishing each others’ sentences as if they shared the same brain.
6. Smif-N-Wessun – “Let’s Git It On”
The B-Side to their breakthrough “Bucktown” single, this inconspicuous boom-bap classic from the Cocoa Brovaz’ debut Dah Shinin finds Tek & Steele casually passing the mic around like a Backwood, provoking any and all inferior MCs along the way.
7. E-40 Feat. B-Legit & Mac Shaun – “Sideways”
On Forty Water’s 1995 sophomore album In A Major Way, the ballatician and his partner in rhyme from The Click exchanged slang for this extra-slapping precursor to the sideshow movement that would occur over the next 15 years in The Bay Area.
8. Jay-Z Feat. Notorious BIG – “Brooklyn’s Finest”
What happens when two of the best to ever rock a mic attempt to one-up each other over Clark Kent’s piano-based, mafioso-inspired masterpiece? You sh*t your draws, that’s what.
9. Hot Boys – “My Section”
Despite having broken up and gone their separate ways by the time their final release Let ‘Em Burn came out in 2003, fans still got to hear Cash Money’s squad of stars compare their different New Orleans neighborhoods on this intricate and previously unreleased stand-out from five years prior.
10. Ghostface & Raekwon – “MGM”
On this Wu-Tang Forever classic, the two most respected Shaolin members turned out a detail-oriented story about a coked-out stroll in Sin City’s casino staple, which finds them rolling up in the middle of a Cesar Chavez fight with better seats than Deion Sanders.
11. Binary Star – “Masters Of The Universe”
A track many would consider the crown jewel of the former Michigan duo’s resume, this underground anthem features One Be Lo and Senim Silla styling all over producer Decompoze’s mid-tempo neckbreaker.
12. Outkast – “Spaghetti Junction”
There are really a quite a few ‘Kast tracks that could considered for this list. However, this song from the legendary ATLiens’ game-changing Stankonia LP might be the most potent use of ‘Dre and Big’s give-and-go flow. Their interchangeable chemistry provided the perfect accompaniment to Organized Noize’s futuristic funk, which brought about a nostalgic feel fans had been fiending for since Aquemini.
13. Little Brother Feat. Elzhi – “Hiding Place”
When The Minstrel Show dropped, Phonte and Pooh brought Elzhi onboard to set the record straight on everything from break-ups to bum ass rappers, seamlessly trading bars along the way that would make your favorite blush.
14. Webbie Feat. Lil’ Boosie – “Full Of Dat Shit”
Well, this list just got a whole lot more Trill, didn’t it? For the fourth track from his original Savage Life debut, Webbie brought his right-hand man on board for this turned-up exchange and apparently never came back down.
15. Masta Ace Feat. Punch & Words – “Travelocity”
Via planes, trains and the occasional bus, Masta Ace and his road dogs reminisce on all the lovely ladies they’ve met throughout their various journeys for this Long Hot Summer cut, picking up each others thoughts along the way. Quite the memory those guys have.
16. Jadakiss & Styles P – “We Gon’ Make It”
One of the aughts’ most underrated singles was a clinic in how sharing space on wax should be done. If TSS was around in 2001, best believe this would’ve gotten our “Notable Quotable” treatment.
17. A Tribe Called Quest – “Electric Relaxation”
They might not be going bar for bar, but Q-Tip & Phife Dawg delivered one of the most notable back-and-forth Hip-Hop tracks ever in 1993, with this dose of casual game-spitting from their Midnight Marauders masterpiece.
18. Kool G Rap Feat. Nas – “Fast Life”
Lacing a subtle flip of Surface’s smooth “Happy” with a toast to rags to riches, this high-class track was mutually beneficial for both NY OGs, as Nasir got to trade bars with one of his idols and Kool G turned out a catalog staple. The acting in the beginning of the accompanying video is also impeccable.
19. EPMD – “You Gots To Chill”
As two of the originators of the style, Eric Parrish and the Green Eyed Bandit set the standard for inner-verse baton-passing with joints like this early ’90s hit, which combined two of the funkiest tracks ever and elevated the creativity of the genre even further.
20. Nas & AZ – “The Essence”
You could be living in a cardboard box and this song would still make you feel fly. Thanks to producer Baby Paul’s soulful backdrop and the endearing compliments exchanged, the camaraderie displayed throughout this Grammy-Nominated Aziatic single is so genuine that it’s not hard to wonder why fans have demanded a collaborated album from these two for years.
21. Big Pun & Fat Joe – “Deep Cover ‘98”
Back when it was much more rare for rappers to snatch other artists’ beats, these two Terror Squad killers ransacked Dre & Snoop’s classic and basically made it their own by exchanging some of the most ridiculous flows ever recorded.
22. 2Pac Feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg – “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted”
The back-and-forth rhymes exchanged here between two of Death Row’s biggest names might not be as intricate as the other entries listed, but the chemistry these two cooked up during their respective primes is hard to match.
23. Camp Lo – “Coolie High”
A lot of times the back-and-forth style can come across competitively, but when Geechi and Sonny Cheeba came together as Camp Lo for this Uptown Saturday Night single the results were much more mood-driven. This forever chill track works in just about any atmosphere as a result.
24. The Throne – “Otis”
Ye-Z’s lavish (and controversial) 2011 cut was, if nothing else, a shining example of how two of the game’s most influential entities could co-exist quite amicably running their proverbial fast break. The video just made us jealous, though.
25. Eminem & Royce da 5’9″ – “Bad Meets Evil”
Twelve years before the future duo had Bruno Mars endorsing Bics, Detroit’s most explosive lyrical tandem dared listeners to pick their twisted brains on this insanely intricate Hip-Hop classic.