The Best Rap Verses of 2016

From Jay Z and Nas to Chance the Rapper and Young Thug, these were the bars that caught everyone's attention this year.

Image via Complex Original

It's been well documented that 2016 was a good year for rap. Damn near every major star in the game dropped a project, newcomers burst onto the scene en masse, and much of the output was excellent in quality. Hip-hop was vibrant, which means one simple thing: there was some really, really good rapping. We kept track of the best verses of every month, and now it's time to look back at what lasted. These are the best verses of 2016. 

Noname, "Shadow Man"

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Verse: 1

Best line: When I die there's 27 rappers at my funeral/Moses wrote my name in gold and Kanye did the eulogy"

In fairness, any verse from Noname's debut mixtape Telefone could be included on this list. The young Chicagoan has quickly proved herself to be one of the best in the game, boasting a unique flow and a penchant for deeply felt storytelling. "Shadow Man," though, a song about facing down death, may be her brightest moment. —Brendan Klinkenberg

Black Thought, 'Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon' Verse

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Verse: 1

Best Line: "And I'm just trying to get it on 'til I die/Am I wrong if I'm living like the laws don't apply?"

After all these years, and a steady gig on late night T.V., Black Thought's still got it. He dropped this loosie back in April, and the long, dense verse has stayed with us since. It's the kind of verse that you can keep going back to, because there's always something new to notice. —Brendan Klinkenberg


Ka, "Conflicted"

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Verse: 1

Best Line: "Finally eatin', reapin', it's just dessert/It's just, so trust my work from dusk to dirt"

Is Ka the most underrated? Probably. This man creates masterpieces as a labor of love and it shows in everything he puts out. Everything from the words to the samples to his visuals are picked with the meticulous precision of an old watchmaker. He's old NYC in the flesh. His shit sounds like a dope needle getting stepped on by a john on Forty Deuce. —Angel Diaz

Joey Purp, "Godbody"

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Verse: 1

Best Line: "Double cup sippin' paint dropping off the Caddy frame/Two-tone whip change colors, I call it Charlemagne."

Thelonious Martin snapped on the boards and caused Joey to burn the booth down to ash. "Muhammad with the stick and move/The Godbody only speak the truth/I'm popping like Polo tags in '98/Six shipments, six addresses/I charge 'em to the game/Double cup sippin' paint dropping off the Caddy frame/Two-tone whip change colors, I call it Charlemagne." *Picks up brains up from the backseat of the Chevy Nova* —Angel Diaz

Tyler, The Creator, "WHAT THE FUCK RIGHT NOW"

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Verse: 1

Best Line: "Oh you wearing Vans and Supreme this season?/Stop lying to yourself, n***a, me the reason"

Tyler with some game for the knuckleheads. The OFWGKTA captain never tells a lie in the first verse. Guys like him, Rocky, and Chance prove that you can win in this industry by doing things on your own terms—we would definitely fuck with a Odd Future x ASAP Mob tape. Also, cats are biting Tyler's fashion sense and that's a no-no. Please don't bite in 2K17. —Angel Diaz

Earl Sweatshirt, Really Doe

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Verse: 4

Best line: "Your hate palpable, your jaw full of dust/You gon' keep talkin' or are we lockin' it up?"

Earl Sweatshirt had a quiet 2016, scattering loosies across the calendar like a sloppy bodega transaction. (Of those songs, “Balance” is a personal favorite.) There’s no sleeping on his verse from Danny Brown’s “Really Doe,” though. His flow is difficult to pin down and his lines are on point: “I was a liar as a kid so now I'm honest as fuck.” He alludes to his 2015 project I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, flipping the reference to make it sound like his 2017 will be nothing if not in your face: “I wake up early on 'em, gettin' out the house is a must.” —Ross Scarano

J. Cole, "4 Your Eyez Only"

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Verse: 4

Best Line: He said, "Listen, I got no time to dive into descriptions/But I've been having premonitions/Just call it visions from the other side/I got a feeling I won't see tomorrow, like the time I'm living on is borrowed" 

There are so many good men in these streets risking their freedom to provide for their loved ones because they weren't afforded the same opportunities as others. Hustling isn't always a selfish act and Cole tries to explain this notion as best he can in the last verse of the title track off 4 Your Eyez Only. This verse hit a little too close to home. —Angel Diaz

Danny Brown, "Lost"

danny brown

Verse: 1

Best Line: I'm like Kubrick, with two bricks, and hoes on the strip/Off a two piece a toothpick I flick, and I preach"

This song is unsettling. The beat is constructed, junkyard-style, from pieces that simply don't match—the samples are queazy, the drums muted—it's a marvel that anyone can rap to this at all. But that's what Danny Brown does: he finds his pocket in the most inhospitable environments, and makes them his own. He's not easy to listen to, but you're always glad you did. —Brendan Klinkenberg

Jadakiss, "Groovy Tony/Eddie Kane"

Schoolboy Q

Verse: 2

Best Line: "My heart's getting colder/When I hug your mom and look over her shoulder/You notice I got the blank face"

With 2016 almost over, I feel confident in saying that “Groovy Tony” is the gnarliest, most heartless major rap single of 2016. NYC veteran Jadakiss deserves the lion’s share of the credit. Q told Complex that when he heard Jada’s verse he knew he had to record “Eddie Kane” to wrestle back control of the track. “When I hug your mom and look over her shoulder/You notice I got the blank face,” Jada raps. That’s the kind of line that keeps you up at night. —Ross Scarano

Young Thug, "Offended"

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Verse: 1

Best Line: "Put a swimming pool in the living room/How I'm living, ni**a, I ain't swimming ni**a/Only thing that me and Michael Phelps got in common is that we winning, ni**a"

I want to put Young Thug's "Offended" verse in my veins. Thugga Thugga is a magical rapping unicorn who fully hits every stride in his arsenal on Meek Mill's DC4 track. "I'm in piccadillys with ya missus, ni**a, and the weed stinkin like a chitlin, ni**a," Thug raps on the song while I elevate to a higher plane during my daily listen. A lot of people like to say Thug can't rap, but the facts are that he not only can spit, but he can do it with the best of them. —Zach Frydenlund

Jay Z, "Drug Dealers Anonymous"

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Verse: 2

Best Line: "Damn, Daniel/The FBI keep bringing them all white vans through"

Why is this old head still running laps around you young whippersnappers? At this point, Jigga is Old Otis beating some chump down at the begining of a 'Martin' episode. Shit is easy to an OG. The Uber and Damn Daniel references are the things only a legend such as Hov can pull off and not sound corny. Real ones have been waiting for a Pusha Ton x Hova collab and they didn't disappoint. This is like if Sosa and Scarface never had a falling out. —Angel Diaz

Kendrick Lamar, "untitled 02 | 06.23.2014."

Kendrick Lamar Untitled Unmastered

Verse: 3

Best Line: "Might blow the whole no whammy on Soul/Might tell Obama to be more like Punch"

Kendrick can do this in his sleep. A standout from his loosie collection untitled unmastered, this track finds him in an experimental mood, spending the first section hauntingly crooning, before snapping into focus and rapping, in a few different cadences, so well that he makes it look easy. It's essentially an ode to the TDE crew, but, like everything else Kendrick Lamar, he makes it knottier, more complicated, deeper. It's what he does. —Brendan Klinkenberg

Kanye West, "No More Parties In L.A."

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Verse: 2

Best Line: "I know some fans thought I wouldn't rap like this again/But the writer's block is over, MCs cancel your plans.” 

Kanye’s barometer may have gone wonky in 2016 but he knew he’d done the damn thing on “No More Parties in L.A.”—"I know some fans thought I wouldn't rap like this again/But the writer's block is over, MCs cancel your plans.” In a long verse that unwinds with the energy of Forrest Gump realizing he doesn’t need those leg braces, Kanye is spiteful, funny, candid, paternal, drugged out and, in one of the most vivid sex raps of 2016, lusty: “She brace herself and hold my stomach, good dick'll do that.” —Ross Scarano

Q-Tip, "Lost Somebody"

A Tribe Called Quest album cover

Verse: 1

Best Line: "The one thing I appreciate, you and I, we never pretended/Rhymes we would write it out, hard times fight it out/Gave grace face to face, made it right/And now you riding out, out, out, out, damn"

While the competition for best verse is tight, Q-Tip walks away with the most heartfelt with no challengers. His verse is a eulogy, telling the life story of Phife Dawg, from his parents' meeting, to the end of his life. It's a fitting, touching tribute, something that could be maudlin or saccharine in less practiced hands than Tip's, but doesn't shy away from nuance and, in its own way, becomes celebratory. It's a perfect goodbye. —Brendan Klinkenberg

Lil Wayne, "Mad"

solange seat at the table

Verse: 2

Best Line: "When I wear this fucking burden on my back like a motherfucking cap and gown/Then I walk up in the bank, pants sagging down/And I laugh at frowns, what they mad about?"

This verse makes a lukewarm Wayne fan such as myself yearn for Carter 5. He opens up with a vulnerability seldom heard from the rap veteran. He exorcized his demons and put his recent struggles in a 16 for us to vibe and relate to. We often forget that Weezy has been in the game for nearly two decades since winning our hearts as little bro of the Cash Money crew. If 2016 has taught us anything, it's to give our idols flowers while they're still here. —Angel Diaz

Nas, "Nas Album Done"

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Verse: 1

Best Line: “Everywhere all I see is Pablo, Esco/Last time I checked I was still breathin'”

With a cigar in one hand and the elixir of life (read: Henny) in another, Nas brought that old feeling back on “Nas Album Done,” a standout cut off Khaled’s Major Key that doubles as a warning shot for those who may have forgotten how deadly he is with the pen. The first verse in particular captures this ferocity, which is reinforced by a nasty flip of Fugees’ “Fu-Gee-La.” Despite the title, Nas’ album technically isn’t done, but make no mistake; Escobar Season is on the horizon. When that time comes, neck meet foot. —Edwin Ortiz

2 Chainz, "Champions"

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Verse: 5

Best Line: "I got gold on my neck—looking like I got a Super Bowl on my neck"

What is it about G.O.O.D. Music posse cuts that charges 2 Chainz up so much? At 5-and-half minutes, with 8 featured rappers, "Champions" is a blockbuster, the sequel to "Mercy" that we've been waiting for since 2012. How fitting then, that while everyone else dutifully turned in popcorn verses, Danny Tity Ocean came through and stole the show once again. How can someone even possibly top Kanye jubilantly announcing that he's "fresh out of debt IN THIS MOTHERFUCKER"? Well, rapping about wearing PJs in Ruth's Chris steakhouses then launching into a madcap double-time flow midway will do the trick.

"New bitch gon pull me x3 see that is a snowball effect/I got gold on my neck—looking like I got a Super Bowl on my neck"... the flow is so urgent and seamless it almost sounds like a freestyle. When someone says 2016 was trash all around, remind them 2 Chainz brandished a wad of money while rapping along to his own verse—one of many that saw him out-rhyme your fave this year—on a live stream broadcast to millions. Long live Tity Boi. —Frazier Tharpe

Drake, "4PM In Calabasas"

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Verse: N/A

Best Line: "See Kris Jenner, I beep twice and I wave/the rest of you boys, I blow keysh right in ya face" 

The true test of greatness isn't just maintaining a streak, but also how one weathers adversity. Or so they say. Drake just dropped an album dedicated to his birthplace, but he retreated back to his new home as the reviews crying mediocrity poured in. Imagine a hazy, typical sun hanging over the YOLO Estate as Drake glowers, sullen but charged up that almost a full year since settling the Meek Mill beef, he once again has to lay pen to paper to combat fresh criticism.

"4PM in Calabasas" isn't the warning-shot of "5AM in Toronto," and it certainly doesn't have the calm ambition of "6PM in New York," nor the something-to-prove attitude of "9AM in Dallas." This is something totally different, a reminder wrapped in a sneer—does Drake have an equally disrespectful flex as hilarious as "See Kris Jenner, I beep twice and I wave/the rest of you boys, I blow keysh right in ya face" elsewhere in his catalog? Amidst all the talk, across the reviews, thinkpieces, and even podcasts, here's Drake laid up like Juelz Santana with one leg out the Phantom, fixing his best mean mug in the center of Hollywood's suburb, dropping it only for neighborly respect. You won't find any testosterone-fueled proclamations that you underestimated greatly here, just a perfectly dry laugh. You thought Drizzy would be vulnerable? He sounds more insolent than ever. The day's waning and we got him started. Scary hours are rolling in, a haha ha. —Frazier Tharpe

Andre 3000, "Solo (Reprise)"

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Verse: N/A

Best Line: I'm humming and whistling to those not deserving/I've stumbled and lived every word/Was I working just way too hard?

A mission statement from a reclusive genius on the album of another, "Solo (Reprise)" is a reminder that Three Stacks can do this effortlessly. It's one 2016's purest displays of talent, a drumless, piano-led track that's startling in its concision, and straightforwardly fun to hear someone rap this well. It's a verse that's equally thrilling and melancholy—Andre sounds world-weary, somehow touching on misogyny, racism, and his place in the world in under a minute and a half. Can someone make the claim of best rapper alive on the strength of a single verse? He makes the case here. —Brendan Klinkenberg

Chance The Rapper, "Ultralight Beam"

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Verse: 2

Best Line: "Tryna snap photos of familia/My daughter look just like Sia you can't see her"

“This is my part, nobody else speak.”

It’s literal, Chance’s wresting of the spotlight. The music, the bombast and the choir of voices, all quiet all quiet and, suddenly, it’s Chance’s show, not Kanye’s. His verse is dexterous and forceful—but plenty of rappers have skill and conviction—where Chance shines, and where he’s shined all year, is in the heartfelt notes. He’s a humanist, protecting his daughter and you from harm and deftly slinging lines with enough emotional heft—”I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail” chief among them—to reliably conjure goosebumps, ten months later. This verse is more than a star turn, it’s the kind of performances legacies are built on. —Brendan Klinkenberg

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