Rap relies heavily on imitation. There’s a constant cycle where the latest hot production style or go-to hook-man become ubiquitous, then fall out of favor, replaced by the next in line. It happens with every element from fashion to slang words. And flow—the rhythmic, sometimes melodic, style of delivery that makes rapping music and not poetry—is no different.
Flow is a point of pride for rappers. Who’s using whose flow? Who pioneered which style? Who switched the sound of the game? Sometimes, these questions are easily answered, as the borrowers will explicitly shout out those from whom they’re taking. Other times, it’s not quite as clear. And when that clear recognition is missing, the creators often end up feelin’ some type of way. Like when Rappin; 4-Tay recently took exception with Drake’s verse on “Who Do You Love.” Over the years, Drake has been known to use many flows initially pioneered by other rappers—from his acknowledgement of Big Sean’s “Supa Dupa” flow a few years back, to shorter riffs within his verses that serve as a hat-tip to pioneers. And he’s not the only one.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In that case, here are some very blatant instances of flattery: 10 Recent Rap Songs That Jack Flows.
Written by Adam Fleischer (@adamfleischer)
Drake "Over" (2010)
Flow It Uses: dead prez "Hip-Hop" (2000)
Before he became a worldwide star, Drake was just a kid from Toronto to underground rap acts like Little Brother and Slum Village. It was pretty cool, then, that on the lead single, "Over," from his debut album, Thank Me Later, he paid homage to another connosseur's favorite, dead prez, by using the flow from their 2000 song "Hip-Hop."
When DP dropped their Revolutionary But Gangsta Grillz mixtape later in 2010, they seemed to give the usage the stamp of approval. Using the "Over" beat, M1 rapped, "Still ahead of the pack/Ask Drake, he studied my rap/Matter of fact I give you that, 'cause at least he ain't sellin' no crack/So I take my flow right back."
A$AP Rocky "Palace" (2011)
Flow It Uses: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
A$AP Rocky has never been shy about his influences. In fact, on Live. Love. A$AP "Palace," he comes right out and says it: "Influenced by Houston/Hear it in my music." That's not the only inspiration that comes through. At around the 1:30 mark, he busts out his best Bone Thugs-N-Harmony flow, kicking quick couplets of sing-song rap lines.
The Cleveland forefathers have embraced the tributes from Rocky and his fellow A$AP Mob members, as they appeared on the song "Lord" off A$AP Ferg's Trap Lord and joined Rocky on stage at Hot 97's Summer Jam in 2013.
French Montana "Devil Want My Soul" (2013)
Flow It Uses: Chief Keef "Love Sosa" (2012)
French Montana and Chief Keef have collaborated a couple of times, so it wouldn't be outlandish to think that they're fans of one another's music. French took those feelings a step further on "Devil Wants My Soul," off of his mixtape Mac & Cheese 3. The song, which is produced by frequent Keef collaborator Young Chop, finds the Bad Boy signee delivering the end of his lines with the elongated syllables that Keef used to make "Love Sosa" sound so desperate and aggressive.
Jay Z f/ Beyoncé "Part II (On The Run)" (2013)
Flow It Uses: Juvenile "Back That Azz Up" (1999)
Juvenile's "Back That Azz Up" had a bit of a resurgence last year. Not only did 2 Chainz borrow the late-90s hit's flow on "Used 2," but Jay-Z used it on Magna Carta Holy Grail. It was just a brief moment, but Hov kicks "Push your ma'fucka wig back, I did that/I been wilding since a Juve," in his duet with Beyonce, "Part II (On the Run)." Of course, Jay and Juve have a history of collaboration, as they collaborated on the "Ha (Remix)" and "Snoopy Track" in 1998 and 1999, respectively.
Drake "Worst Behavior" (2013)
Flow It Uses: Ma$e "Mo Money Mo Problems" (1997)
Drake is liberal with his borrowing of flows. From Bay Area greats to underground legends, his influences frequently shine through in his raps. On the Nothing Was The Same standout "Worst Behavior," the Toronto native switches his delivery midway through, interpolating Ma$e's memorable "Mo' Money Mo' Problems" verse—at times, nearly word for word. Just another sign of Ma$e's enduring influence.
2 Chainz "Used 2" (2013)
Flow It Uses: Juvenile "Back That Azz Up" (1999)
It may not seem like it when you look at their eras of prevelance, but 2 Chainz and Juvenile are actually contemporaries—born just two years apart. Still, it came as a bit of a surprise when Chainz used Juvie's 1998 "Back That Azz Up" flow—mimicking the cadence and adding "Yeah" to the end of each line-on his 2013 single, "Used 2."
This one felt like pure tribute though. For starters, Mannie Fresh produced both songs. Furthermore, the video was shot in New Orleans with 2 Chainz rocking a "Free B.G." shirt. And to top it off, Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Turk, Mannie Fresh and Birdman all appeared in the video, making it a reunion for the late '90s Cash Money Roster. This is fully owning the borrowed flow.
Pusha T f/ Kelly Rowland "Let Me Love You" (2013)
Flow It Uses: Ma$e f/ Puff Daddy "Lookin' At Me" (1998)
2013 was a big year for Ma$e's flow, too. In addition to Drake's "Worst Behavior" moment, Pusha T got in on the fun. On "Let Me Love You," from his debut solo album My Name Is My Name, Pusha grabs the delivery from Mase's "Lookin' At Me," from 1998. The second verse offers an imitation so striking that it's sure to make Jay Pharoah jealous.
Push not only kicks his rhymes with Ma$e's patented laid-back, nonchalant sound, he even employs the accents that were used on the original. In an interview, Pusha said he hoped fans would learn something new about him. "I went ahead and I took the Ma$e flow because that's something else people don't know," he said. "And I did this sort of in the same vain as B.I.G. would rhyme as Too $hort."
Eminem "Rap God" (2013)
Flow It Uses: Hotstylz f/ Young Joc "Lookin Boy" (2007)
Remember Hotstylz? No? Well, apparently Eminem does. The Chicago trio scored a hit in 2007 with the infectious Yung Joc-assisted "Lookin' Boy." On his recent hit "Rap God," as the beat switches to a snap-happy sound for a brief moment a little less than halfway into the song, Em uses the "Lookin' Boy" flow—ending his next few bars with those two words.
In this instance, the originators didn't take very kindly to the borrowing. Soon after "Rap God" was released, Hotstylz put out a diss song aimed at Em entitled "Rap Fraud." In an interview, the crew said they were insulted because he neither publicly acknowledged them nor gave them an album credit.
J. Cole on Justin Timberlake's "TKO (Black Friday Remix)" f/ J. Cole, A$AP Rocky and Pusha T (2013)
Flow It Uses: Migos "Versace" (2013)
The "Migos flow" became popular in 2013, but less because of Migos than because of Drake. Drake brought the Atlanta trio to national acclaim when he spit a verse over their "Versace" mimicking their distinctive cadence. He'd go on to use it again on "The Language" later in the year.
Drake wasn't the only one. J. Cole, the spotlight shining as he added a verse to Justin Timberlake's "TKO (Remix)," borrowed the Migos flow as he addressed Kendrick Lamar's "Control" verse for the first time.
Que "O.G. Bobby Johnson" (2013)
Flow It Uses: Future "Sh!t" (2013)
Much of Future's success over the last few years can be credited to his inventive Autotuned flows. And many other artists have taken to imitation. Making a guest appearance on the remix to "Karate Chop," Lil Wayne copied his host's delivery like a myna bird. More recently, Atlanta newcomer Que, on his hit "OG Bobby Johnson," appropriates the shout-rap style Future used on this summer's "Sh!t" As of yet, there's been no word as to Future's feeling about this. Chances are he doesn't mind—he must be used to it by now.