“Niggas wanna get up and rap and rap and rap and rap, man, fuck that!” - Ol’ Dirty Bastard
A note to rappers: Buy a stopwatch. Unless you’re Too $hort croaking a prostitute with a load of sperm, nobody wants to hear you rap for more than three minutes. The true indicator of good music is the rewind button. While revisiting Ras Kass’ “Nature of the Threat,” a thought occurred to me: Valiant effort, superior concept, but how and why the hell does the 5-plus minute rap song (sans the extended posse cut) even exist? If you can’t say it in under four minutes, break it up into parts or turn it into a movie. Nobody’s taking a sax solo, there’s no vamp - it’s just beats, rhymes, choruses and (rarely) cuts. Now that we know the length of the rap listener’s attention span is akin to Greg Oden’s NBA spotlight, it’s a safe bet to proclaim that it’s time to strictly enforce the 3:00 rule on rap records.
Throughout history, some artists have been kind enough to be stringent with their boundaries - and that artistic restraint resulted in some of the most potent rap records of all time. From a young Jay-Z, to Quasimoto; to Compton’s Most Wanted; to The Roots; to The Beatnuts; to lesser-known or regional artists like Dice - some artists were able to get to the point in 2:00 or less. Here are my 20 personal favorite examples of “half short, twice strong” (copyright GZA). A lot of candidates (e.g. Nas’ “Rewind” and Ice Cube’s “Man’s Best Friend”) missed the cut by a few seconds, but that’s what rappers get for giving shout outs and spending 20 seconds saying “Yeah...word up...knawmsayin’...unh” before they start doing anything.
Note: Freestyles, St. Ides commercials, skits, mixtape-only joints, etc. were excluded from this list. Real songs, skillet.
Oh and a late pass (10.27.12): Shout to M.F. Dibella, who gave love to the short and sweet for URB Magazine a few years back. Missed this somehow, but he beat me to it and it's on point: Check it here.
CLICK THE THUMBNAILS ABOVE TO PEEP THE COUNTDOWN
20. Cypress Hill — “Tres Equis” (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1991)
I contemplated putting Public Enemy’s “Meet The G That Killed Me” or Cappadonna’s “Splish Splash” here, but Cypress gets points for an all-Spanish scorcher on an American major label LP that fits the list - and one of the meanest loops a producer can find. This song inspired me to maintain a C average in Spanish class. Prior to its release, I was holding down a D. Thanks, Sen Dog, for securing me on the path to high school graduation.
19. The Roots — “Panic!!!!!” (Geffen, 1996)
I expect backlash for saying this, but “Clones” was the song that never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ended. The television run of Gunsmoke had nothing on that song. The serene Quincy Jones sample was the perfect set-up for the vicious beat down of that drum break, but after about 90 seconds... And like most songs everyone freestyled to the instrumental version of in the '90s, listening to too much college radio would make you feel okay with never hearing them ever again. But the underrated “Panic!” (from the same album) sees Black Thought in full beast mode over a berserk drum pattern and in 1:23, the crew from Philly has you reaching for the rewind button.
18. A Tribe Called Quest – “Crew” (Jive, 1996)
Barely making the cut at about 1:57, “Crew” is a candidate for the best song on Beats, Rhymes and Life. One triflin’ girlfriend plus one grimy compadre was a recipe for disaster in a twisted story that Q-Tip told with brevity. Being a two pump chump may lead to an adulterous situation like this in real life, but if you can emulate your sexual performance times in the studio, you’ll probably make good-ass records.
17. Dice — “Smoketown U.S.A.” (Raw Dogg Records, 1992)
A Detroit rap pioneer, Dice didn’t see much accolades outside of the Midwest. But a superior rapping voice and hard, chaotic, grimy production work in unison to make this brief chest-thumper sound like a leftover from AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (in a good way). Dice only needs 8 bars to be the baddest nigga on the planet, then he lets his DJ handle the rest.
16. Ghostface Killah — “Stroke of Death” (Razor Sharp Records/Epic,2000)
A/k/a "that annoying beat on Supreme Clientele" that nobody liked except me. But when Wu goes annoying, they're always in a class by themselves. And it's like Ghost, RZA and Solomon Childs all saved some of their best rhymes for this - every bar counts when you've got 40 seconds.
15. LL Cool J — “Fast Peg” (Def Jam, 1989))
Disagree all you want, but Walking With A Panther is one of LL’s best albums. While the rest of the rap world was trying to build ships to return to The Motherland or haggling with a Korean vendor to get a discount on an Africa medallion, LL was bending pregnant groupies over sinks in fur coats and likely saying “cancel that bitch, I’ll buy another” while dousing their heads with Moet. He also showed some serious skills on that underrated album, and “Fast Peg” is a prime example. The tale of the girlfriend of a dude in a life of organized crime, the boldly placed (it’s third in the album sequence), bare-bones track gives us a glimpse of Mr. Smith as a ghetto narrator, something we rarely saw - and he did it in 1:39.
14. AMG — “P-Funk” (Select Records, 1991)
No, it isn’t a nod to George Clinton. More like a bizarre, combo nod to Bell, Biv, Devoe and a musical genre that has zero likes in the hood: Polka. A funky freestyle - if AMG wrote this, I’d be very surprised - over the first and only polka sample I’m aware of, “P-Funk” dangerously walks the fine line between skit and half-baked brain fart of a song. But if more rappers had the balls to do shit like this today, the Internet would surely get them crossover success in unlikely genres - or at least a show in the Czech Republic.
13. 415 — “Tic Tac (Nic Nac)” (Big League Records, 1990)
The slept on Bay Area crew give victims of cold-blooded one night stands something for oral hygiene, but not much else. And they do it in less than a minute of actual rapping, because real pimps have to “get up out the cock and go handle some biiiiiiiiiiiiizness.”
12. Audio Two — “Build Up, Back Up” (First Priority, 1990)
Sometimes nothing beats a quickie. Audio Two’s Milk Dee needed a quick piece of ass, and just as quickly as he secured an ugly, big butt girl to ease the libido from an undisclosed and unofficial prostitution ring, the song is over. This is how they did it before Craigslist.
11. Master P — “Psycho Rhymes” (No Limit, 1992)
"For a dead bitch, huh, you give some good head."
"I take your life, shake your arms and cut the bitches off, and play a bloody muthafuckin' game of golf."
"Dig in your fuckin' stomach, pull me out a piece of tuna."
"That big round ass could make some good luncheon meat."
The No Limit tank rolls its way onto this list with style. Mama's Bad Boy is without a doubt the most poorly sequenced, mixed, and mastered album of all time. I have this on cassette, and songs don't always correspond with titles on the j-card insert. The entire project was a highly entertaining and perplexing clusterfuck. I have no idea where songs end and begin, so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt for length. All I can say for sure is this is a "booming album."
10. Baritone TipLove — “Baritone’s Celebrity Skins Game” ( Easy Street Records, 1991)
The high-pitch voiced alter-ego of Philly’s own world renowned beat-supplier, Phill the Soul Man (a/k/a Phill Most Chill), Baritone was Quasimoto and Chief Chinchilla's great grandfather and the son of Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk. Woefully overlooked for its sampling pizazz and sequencing, Baritone’s tape-only album was also home to the “Dreams of Fuckin’ An R&B Bitch” concept a good three years before Biggie made it household. Our character opens his Rolodex and calls every notable, fuckable female singer of the time, before coming up empty and doing the traditional grip shuffle. And at 1:12, dull moments can't possibly exist.
9. Compton’s Most Wanted — “Who’s XXXin’ Who?” (Orpheus Records, 1992)
Tim Dog mania here at egotripland must be put on pause for a minute, as I prop CMW for completely thrashing the Bronx's finest dating site grifter in about 113 seconds. Even more vicious than MC Eiht’s rhymes are the sample collages that utilize Tim Dog’s own quotes to ether him. But nothing’s more ruthless than basically saying, “Yeah, I’ll diss you, but you get less than two minutes of airtime on my album.” Well, maybe when Eiht shot that dying guy in the burger stand parking lot in Menace II Society, but that’s another ball of (A-)Wax.
8. De La Soul — “A Little Bit Of Soap” (Tommy Boy, 1989)
The mad scientists behind brain farts, short songs, skits and general randomness, De La Soul and Prince Paul deliver this paramount PSA for body odor. PSAs are meant to be extremely brief and informative, as well as a tool to inspire the public to take preventative measures. Bull’s eye on all three.
7. Jay-Z — “Friend or Foe” (Roc-A-Fella, 1996)
Long before Jay-Z hired Gwyneth Paltrow and Warren Buffet to ghostwrite the entire Watch the Throne album or allowed NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg to executive produce “Empire State of Mind,” he was giving rival drug dealers warnings that managed to be brief, cold-blooded, sarcastic, witty, and vicious all at once. And over a vintage, mid-’90s Preemo soundscape, “Friend or Foe” is Hov at his greatest. But in 2012, 60 second jingles for the Brooklyn Nets that somehow weave in Scarface-esque tales of street pharmaceutical distro are all I want to hear from that guy.
6. Odd Squad — “Shit Pit” (Rap-A-Lot, 1994)
There have been a handful of rap songs inspired by Frank Zappa’s “Ram It Up Your Poop Chute” ethos: Slick Rick’s “Adults Only,” The Dogs’ “Dookie Shoot,” etc. But Devin the Dude does the deed with a sense of urgency as ⅓ of his first group, Odd Squad. In a mere four bars, he explains his dilemma and finds a shitty solution - literally. If only all social situations in life could cut to the chase like this.
5. Ice Cube — “Get Off My Dick and Tell Yo Bitch To Come Here” (Priority, 1990)
Aside from being the greatest and most direct song title in rap history, "GOMDATYBTCH" is equally great and direct in content. The male groupie is given walking papers and a middle finger in less than a minute; Cube wants to kill all formalities. The remix, albeit longer, is better, simply because he orates at length about the male groupie (with stories) and he blurts out a completely random and unnecessary “nigga” at the beginning of the song. It’s like you could tell he had a Jheri Curl by the way he said “nigga.” That was also how you knew you were listening to the remix, not the original, in the first two seconds of the song. Flawless.
4. The Beatnuts — “Sandwiches” (Relativity, 1994)
Locker room humor, a beautifully busted loop, and other assorted oddities in sound put “Sandwiches” at the top of the stack when it comes to nonsensical, brief musical madness. These cats are the most underrated producers in hip-hop history. Fact.
3. Gang Starr — “Street Ministry” (Chrysalis, 1990)
Gang Starr’s Step In the Arena LP turned many of us on to the effectiveness of short songs. Not so much the zany skit-song hybrid, but the one-verse-and-we-ghost type of stuff. Preemo’s funky fusion loop (won’t reveal the source; I doubt it was cleared) is the perfect backdrop for a quick dose of classic early Guru-isms. Although unheralded in the Gang Starr catalog, I always saw “Street Ministry” as the perfect example of the group’s chemistry in its Branford Marsalis era.
2. Ice-T — “Fried Chicken” (Sire/Warner Bros., 1991)
It starts with a funky beat, then a mama joke appears out of nowhere. But the concept of “Fried Chicken” is rooted in the frustration of finding a great record to sample, only to discover it skips and is wrought with static. You’re forced to give up on it or use it as is. Ice goes for the latter. A concept this great (and equally random as hell) couldn’t possibly be expanded into a song of any real length. A totally fun and ingenious moment on an otherwise grim and dark album, “Fried Chicken” is about as good as it gets for a song-skit hybrid.
1. Black Sheep — “U Mean I’m Not?” (Mercury, 1991)
There’s really nothing else that even comes close. To start their album with the greatest gangsta rap parody of all time (along with the first half of Masta Ace’s “Slaughtahouse”) was the rap sequencing move of the century. Black Sheep’s off-kilter brand of humor is cemented in Dres’ hyperbolic gangsta rampage. These 85 seconds of genius opened the doors to one of rap’s best albums and inspired other genres (Korn) to perform covers of it at live shows.