BY ELI KABERON
I would argue – and have, with friends, several times – that writing a great verse can be tougher than writing a great song. Sure, a verse is part of a song, but a verse is really just about the words. It’s line after line of interesting, funny, though-provoking, truth-telling lyrics. A great song can have so-so verses if it has a terrific beat or a catchy hook (see: Every Drake song). A great verse has no chance for a letdown. It has to be strong from start to finish.
Because rappers often appear on other artists’ songs, a great verse can come out of nowhere. Sometimes it’s by a respected artist who is giving a younger act in the game a favor by appearing on their song. Other times it’s the opposite, with a youngster shining brightly on a respected rappers track. Maybe it’s an MC that just hasn’t been heard from in a while. Great verses seem to just pop up sometimes, which is what makes the genre so great to listen to.
On Word is Bond, we’ll break down some of our favorite verses in rap songs. Not necessarily the best verses, because it’s kind of difficult to say which 16 bars are the best when rap songs vary so much. But these are the ones that have stuck with us over the years, the ones you pay closer attention to when they come on, and the ones you instantly rewind to hear again just to make sure you catch everything. They aren’t always by the best rappers or on the best songs. However the verses that will be reviewed in this series all have one thing in common – they’re worth hearing over and over.
Below is the verse in discussion, followed by the author’s breakdown of why it’s so great.
Song: “What’s the Difference”
Artist: Dr. Dre featuring Xzibit and Eminem
Verse: Second (Xzibit)
Yo I stay with it, while you try to perpetrate and play with it
Never knew about the next level until Dre did it (YEAH)
I stay committed while you motherfuckers babysit it
I smash you critics like an overhand right from Riddick (YEAH!)
Come and get it, shitted on villains by the millions
I be catching bitches while bitches be catching feelings
So what the fuck am I supposed to do?
I pop bottles and hot hollow-points at each and all of you (C’MON!)
A heartless bastard, high and plastered
My style is like the reaction from too much acid
Never come down! Pass it around if you can’t handle it
Hang Hollywood niggas by they Soul Train laminates
What’s the difference between me and you? (What?)
Until my death, I’m Bangladesh
I suggest you hold yo’ breath ’til ain’t none left
Yo that’s the difference
I chose this for Volume I because it proves exactly what I mean about that anyone can have a great verse. Xzibit isn’t one of the best 50 rappers of all-time – hell, he probably isn’t in the top 100. He’s most famous for a car show on MTV and a film career that went nowhere quickly. Picking Xzibit on a song when he’s rapping in-between Dr. Dre and Eminem would be like a basketball coach saying the key to beating the Miami Heat is stopping Joel Anthony.
But damn, listen to that verse again. He just destroys it. Obviously the topic of the song is the difference between those on stage and those who wish they were on stage, and Xzibit differentiates the two groups as well as anyone. First off he clarifies – Dr. Dre has been doing music on a different level than anyone else for years, so don’t even try and hate. Xzibit himself may not belong on that level, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to him here. The Riddick Bowe line crack me up every time, as does the one about catching bitches (getting new girls) while bitches be catching feelings (falling in love Xzibit).
The best part of the verse, in my opinion, is the end. The question is asked simply, with no raise in volume or increase in intensity, what’s the difference between Xzibit and the listener? He of course rattles them off in terms of bank accounts, ounces and vehicles, but the real difference is the confidence, swagger and skills to do what Xzibit does on this song. To rap on the same song as two first-ballot Hip-Hop Hall-of-Famers and not only go toe-to-toe with them, but to surpass them, is extraordinary. His punctuation at the end, “Yo that’s the difference” isn’t just a segue into the chorus. It’s a warning to all those who want to be on the stage. You may think you can do this. But a great amount of talent is needed to grab a mike and rip off a verse as legendary as the one Xzibit lays down on this song. And most people just can’t do it.