The Best Rap Verses of 2020 (So Far)

If you’re the kind of music fan who likes putting on a pair of headphones and rewinding rap verses until you’ve caught every subtle reference and

double meaning, 2020 has been a good year. Most of us have been stuck inside with nothing to do, leaving plenty of time to obsess over tiny details in verses from our favorite lyricists. Fortunately, there has been lots of great material to pore over during our time of need. From newcomers like Stove God Cooks to legends like Jay-Z, rappers have blessed us with many standout verses over the past six months. So, at the midway point of the year, we’re counting down our favorites. These are the best rap verses of 2020 (so far).

15. Lil Uzi Vert, “Silly Watch”

Verse: 2
Key line: “I’m a hare all on my bike, bitch, I bunny hop/Hugh Hefner died, so I can’t get bunny top”

“Silly Watch” is an all-around dope record—a top 5 entry on Complex’s Best Songs of 2020 (So Far) list—making it difficult to select just one bar that stands out the most. Uzi spends most of his time bragging about his many sexual conquests (“We get money and we fucked up just on your thots”) and his designer wardrobe (“Raf Simons jeans, they good for the pocket rock”). But it’s his eye-rolling attitude and effortless delivery that are most important here. It’s best to consume this one as a whole. On the second verse, we see peak Uzi, as he shows his unapologetic and sassy side, while also making time to spit pure raps without melody. —Jessica McKinney

14. Tierra Whack, “TD”

Verse: 3
Key line: “These hoes can’t rap, they need a permanent pack/I ain’t fuckin’ with you boys, need the cervical cap”

Everyone held their own on “TD,” but Tierra Whack came out on top. Lil Yachty knew what he was doing when he recruited Whack as the anchor of this record. She polishes off “TD” with immaculate precision as she whips through vivid anecdotes and godly comparisons (“I’m God, you follow me cause I know the way”). By the end of the verse, Tierra claims she’s bored, sleepy, and tired, but we sure aren’t. There are enough quotables in her short appearance on “TD”—you’ll need to run this back a few times to catch them all. Despite continuing to drop gems like this year after year, she is still underrated. So when you think of Philly rap, make sure you mention Tierra Whack. —Jessica McKinney

13. Jay Electronica, “Ezekiel’s Wheel”

Verse: 1
Key line: “Mastered the force, made my saber, I’m in the light now/It’s the hour of chaos, the black steel is on me right now”

“They say it was gon’ never happen,” Jay Electronica raps at the beginning of “Ezekiel’s Wheel.” We waited over a decade for his debut album to arrive, and he knows it. Fully aware of the mounting expectations on his back (“Sometimes I was held down by the gravity of my pen”), Jay Cirque du Soleilica reminds us all why we waited so long for this on “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” as he moonwalks through a verse that contains some of the most self-aware bars of his career. He understands it took him too long to deliver these rhymes, but he’s hell-bent on making up for lost time. Better late than never. —Eric Skelton

12. Benny the Butcher, “Frank Lucas”

Verse: 2
Key line: “We the Yankees on a pennant run”

We need a Benny the Butcher and Alchemist tape ASAP because Benny sounds beautiful on this track. I would pay good money for a whole tape of this type of shit. The Butcher has been on one of those rare runs where every verse is a heater. His style is straight to the point, no mixer, no chaser: just a shot of 100-proof whiskey to the chest. “It was either law school or dog food,” he spits with conviction, as if he’s still in the hood, hungry and desperate to make it out. That’s what makes Benny’s raps so special; they stick to your ribs and no line is wasted. Griselda is really on a Yankees pennant run, and they’ve been on this streak since late 2018. —Angel Diaz

11. Lil Wayne, “Whats Poppin (Remix)”

Verse: 4
Key line: “I’ma bust all on the skin tone/I be masked up, ask Ken Jeong”

Somebody lit a fire under Lil Wayne. Was it Jack Harlow? Tory Lanez? DaBaby? Whoever it was, they ignited a competitive energy in Weezy that we haven’t heard in years. Taking the fourth and final verse on Jack Harlow’s “What’s Poppin” remix, Wayne reminds us that no one on the planet can come up with rhymes like him. He opens the verse by rattling off so many consecutive one-liners that you’d be excused for missing how-has-no-one-said-this-before gems like, “Same old shit, new maggots.” Then he cartwheels through the rest of the song, firing off more topical jokes like, “I be masked up, ask Ken Jeong.” Funeral was a solid album, but he wasn’t nearly as funny or energized on that record as he is here. Maybe friendly competition is the key for Wayne, now that he’s over 20 years into his career. Which superstar rapper is going to step up to the plate and convince him to do a Watch the Throne-style collab album? We’ll wait. —Eric Skelton

10. Armani Caesar, “Lil Cease”

Verse: 2
Key line: “Armani here to stay, you bitches fast fashion”

Hailing from Buffalo, Armani has the same edge to her raps as her labelmates, making her a welcome addition to what they’re building over there at Griselda. She sounds like a polished vet as she shit-talks her way into our hearts and minds over a ridiculous JR Swiftz beat. The cadence, the flow, the bars; they’re all there at her disposal. Playing the Kim to Gunn’s B.I.G. on this record, she holds her own and establishes herself as Griselda’s first lady. —Angel Diaz

9. Noname, “Song 33”

Verse: 1
Best Line: “Yo, but little did I know all my readin’ would be a bother/It’s trans women bein’ murdered and this is all he can offer?”

“Song 33” is only 70 seconds song, but Noname still managed to disrupt the industry with a necessary statement. The entire track was recorded in response to J. Cole’s “Snow on tha Bluff,” but the end of the song is where Noname is the most direct (for the purposes of this list, we’re counting the whole song as one verse). “It’s trans women bein’ murdered and this is all he can offer?” she questions. While fans came for the suspected disses toward J. Cole, Noname made it a point to shower them with information about the repeated killings of members of marginalized communities. Her final lines are a call to action for everyone to do better and focus on the things that really matter. It’s an informative and important message with a subtle jab. It doesn’t get better than that. —Jessica McKinney

8. Stove God Cooks, “Jose Canseco”

Verse: 2
Key line: “I follow the bricks, I seen the wizard behind the curtain”

Cooks was a star on Westside Gunn’s latest offering, Flygod Is an Awesome God 2. He shines the brightest on “Jose Canseco,” though. The Stove God raps on this song like he’s just talking with you, delivering line after line of ugly face raps. You know, those raps that are so filthy, you can’t help but make a face? “These fake boss n****s is really workers/I follow the bricks, I seen the wizard behind the curtain” is a bar. “They talk big till we catch ’em in person/They talk big till we shoot they Suburban” is a bar. And “Me and Emeril Lagasse should be the next Verzuz/Two stoves side by side, I bet I work him” is, you guessed it, a bar. Cooks hits this feature out of the park like Oakland A’s-era Canseco as he continues to build momentum after dropping his debut album, Reasonable Drought. Stove God Cooks isn’t a fluke, and his mentors are Busta Rhymes and Roc Marciano, so it’s best to keep paying attention to him. —Angel Diaz

7. Tyler, the Creator, “327”

Verse: 3
Key line: “My health good, my mama good, my n****s too/And they only wanna have good times like Josh Safdie”

If you hadn’t noticed, Tyler likes rapping again. For years, he told anyone who would listen that he was bored with writing rhymes, even going out of his way to warn everyone not to expect a rap album before IGOR dropped. Well, something changed recently. Between loosies like “GROUP B” and a string of guest verses on songs with artists like Freddie Gibbs and Westside Gunn, it looks like he’s fallen back in love with the art form. His verse on “327” is so effective because he isn’t afraid to show us how much fun he’s having in the booth again. Effortlessly flowing over a soulful piano loop from Camoflauge Monk, he brags about his glowing skin and waxes poetic about riding around town blasting “Frontin’” by his idol Pharrell. “Yes, I’m is, I’m so happy,” he clarifies, in case you hadn’t picked up on his incredibly good mood. In fact, Tyler is feeling so good here, he manages to pull a reference of the Safdie brothers’ Good Time out of thin air. If Tyler’s spirits stay this high, we might just get another rap album from him soon. —Eric Skelton

6. Royce da 5’9,” “You Gon Learn”

Verse: 1
Key line: “I’m walkin’ across a suicidal tightrope intentionally/While the demons comin’ out of me”

“I’m a product of properly hoppin’ up out of that poverty,” Royce da 5’9” spits on “You Gon Learn,” which is a testimony of perseverance in spite of life’s many obstacles. On the first verse, Royce outlines some of the struggles he has overcome, including poverty, the weight of fame, addiction, and other demons. He previously revealed the record was originally created for his album, but ended up on Eminem’s Music to Be Murdered By instead. Whatever the case, Royce accomplishes the difficult task of outshining Em on his own record with a refreshingly honest verse over a chilling sample of Billy Preston and Syreeta’s “With You I’m Born Again.” —Jessica McKinney

5. Lil Baby, “The Bigger Picture”

Verse: 2
Key line: “We ain’t takin’ no more, let us go from them chains/God bless they souls, every one of them names”

“The Bigger Picture” arrived right on time, as many artists shared records that commented on the political uprising unfolding across the country. But Lil Baby separated himself from others with a strikingly personal account of how police brutality and racism have affected him and those close to him. “Corrupted police been the problem where I’m from,” he raps. Understanding his place as one of the most popular young rappers in the game, he takes on a sense of responsibility in this current moment. Throughout the verse, he acknowledges that he isn’t perfect and that he also feels helpless at times, but he still wants to use his power and influence to create change (“I got power, now I gotta say somethin’”). Reflecting an important moment in history with vivid detail, Lil Baby rose to the occasion with one of the best verses of his career. —Jessica McKinney

4. Killer Mike, “Walking in the Snow”

Verse: 2
Key line: And every day on the evening news, they feed you fear for free/And you so numb, you watch the cops choke out a man like me/Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe’”

Run the Jewels received widespread acclaim for their latest project, RTJ4, which arrived in the wake of police killings of several Black men and women across the country. And Killer Mike’s verse on “Walking in the Snow” features the most pointed social commentary on the album, capturing the anger and grief that many people are facing right now. Killer Mike is critical of institutions, like the education and prison systems, as well as the media’s coverage of police brutality and racism. His most striking line comes towards the end of his verse, where he cites the final words of Eric Garner before he was killed in 2014. Unbeknownst to him when he first wrote this verse, those same words would later apply to the recent killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. While Killer Mike recognizes the tragedy of his lyrics continuing to be relevant, his ability to document an ongoing issue with such visceral detail is what makes this verse so powerful. —Jessica McKinney

3. Jay-Z, “Flux Capacitor”

Verse: 1
Key line: “You backstabbers gon’ turn me back to the old Jay/He’s not who you wanna see, he’s not as sweet as the old Ye”

Jay Electronica and Jay-Z have always been great duet partners, whether sharing wax or a stage. Something about Jay Elec’s thoughtful, Nation of Islam-inspired persona brings out the best in Young H-O. So it only makes sense that A Written Testimony would inspire some of Shawn Carter’s best post-retirement performances. The best of the best is “Flux Capacitor.” Biblical references (“Hov here to deliver ye like Moses”) rub up against boasts about having “a watch like a Saudi prince.” A relatively weak defense of his NFL ties is bolstered by a seemingly endless stream of football-related wordplay. And then there’s the now-famous “backstabbers” line: an actual, honest-to-goodness triple entendre. Don’t even ask him how. —Shawn Setaro

2. Roc Marciano, “Sins of the Father”

Verse: 2
Key line: “Cain killed Abel in prison, while upstate on a visit”

Roc came down from the top of rap’s mountain like Moses to bless us with some tablets. While Marci usually raps elegantly about the spoils of living the life of an underworld kingpin, his turn on Ka’s “Sins of the Father” speaks to the push and pull one experiences while living that type of lifestyle. Marci raps, “Cain killed Abel in prison, while upstate on a visit/They so quick to trade and hate on a n***a/Nothin’ my radar couldn’t pick up,” as he touches on the jealousy that resides in some folks as they watch others become more successful. Roc has always done a good job of not only glorifying but also turning the coin and shedding light on the pain that comes with life on the streets. This verse is no exception. —Angel Diaz

1. Freddie Gibbs, “1985”

Verse: 1
Key line: “Geekers beamin’ up to Scotty in my crack lobby, I can smell the ’caine burnin’/Michael Jordan 1985, bitch, I travel with a cocaine circus”

When I first listened to “1985,” it was two days after The Last Dance finished airing, and only five weeks after the final installment of Tiger King. So to hear a completed song with punchlines about both of those series seemed impossible—like Freddie Gibbs and Alchemist had created the song right in front of my eyes. But even months afterwards, Gibbs’ verse still sounds fresh, funny, energetic, and virtuosic. Even beyond the TV show references, the Assata Shakur shoutout and the attendant fuck-the-police sentiment make it still feel eerily timely. Gibbs’ rhythm and phrasing are, just like he told Complex, God-level. It’s heavy on triplets, but he moves in and out of the rhythm masterfully. Nearly every phrase spills over into the next bar, as a way to keep things moving and keep us guessing what’s next. The writing is vivid from the word go: funny, tough, and boastful, with a hint of sadness underneath everything Gibbs has seen to get to this point in his career. It’s an absolutely perfect way to start off one of the best albums of 2020. —Shawn Setaro

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