Hip-hop one-liners demonstrate how rappers can capture our imagination with just a few syllables and make catchphrases that are repeated long after they’re first spoken. Here are 20 of the best quick hits from some of the greatest voices in the game.
In 2011, Lil Wayne, the self-proclaimed greatest rapper alive, had just confounded expectations with his rock album Rebirth, leading everyone to wonder what he'd do next. He answered with "6 Foot 7 Foot," a track that proved he still had plenty of punchlines. It was one of six Top 40 smashes that made his The Carter IV a double-platinum success.
When Jay Z, a Brooklyn rapper who had lingered around the music industry for the better part of a decade, finally released his debut, Reasonable Doubt, in 1996, it was widely greeted with critical acclaim. It's now considered one of the best debut albums of all time, and this track is one of its highlights.
Kanye West was two albums deep in 2006, but his depth of introspection was already in place. The song also featured the debut of a young Chicago rapper named Lupe Fiasco.
When the Notorious B.I.G. was killed on March 9th, 1997, many considered him one of the greatest rappers of all time. So it's no surprise that fans continue to clamor for material from Biggie Smalls. This track, a pairing with Virginia duo Clipse, was a highlight of 2005's posthumous release.
Big L may have passed in 1998 before he could achieve stardom, but he's still fondly remembered as one of the most talented rhymers in hip-hop. This track is the title cut to the Harlem rapper's only full-length album.
In 2013, Eminem released the sequel to his 10-times-platinum 2000 classic, an insightful meditation on how he had changed in the years since. Though some things never change.
During a three-decade career that ended with his death in 2015, Sean Price was considered a king of the punchline, and celebrated for his rough demeanor and roguish wit. This track, a B-side to a 2005 12-inch, "Boom Bye Yeah," is considered one of his highlights.
Drake's 2010 full-length debut certified him as a hip-hop megastar. This collaboration with T.I. and Swizz Beats was one of four Top 40 hits from that platinum album.
By his third album, Taste of Chocolate, Big Daddy Kane was a burgeoning sex symbol that had successfully crossed over from the rap underground to the R&B mainstream. Amidst photo shoots with Madonna and pinup features for Playgirl magazine, he dropped this reassertion of his greatness as one of the best in the game.
Common has been a notable conscience of the hip-hop community, whether via hit albums or his work on the 2015 Martin Luther King biographical film Selma. This song, the lead single from his 2000 gold-certified album, is a highlight of a career that continues to flourish.
Recorded during a 1995 episode of college radio program The Stretch & Bobbito Show, Big L's rhyme session with Jay Z is considered one of the best freestyle ciphers ever. It may have never been officially released, but thanks to its widespread transmission via mixtapes and the Internet, many rap fans can quote lyrics such as this one by heart.
For rap aficionados, Lil Wayne's 2006 mixtape is a masterpiece of lyrical virtuosity. This track was not only one of its best moments, it was virtually prescient: Lil Wayne would become a frequent guest commentator on ESPN's sports programs in the years to come.
Jay Z's guest verse on Kanye West's "Diamonds Are Forever (Remix)" remains one of his most widely quoted performances. It's a hallmark of a man who has become as famed for his business prowess as for his platinum-laden recording career.
J. Cole is one of the decade's biggest new stars, with a string of platinum-certified albums to his credit. He announced his arrival on "Looking for Trouble," a track that was part of Kanye West's pioneering 2010 Internet-only series "G.O.O.D. Fridays."
Big Daddy Kane is one of the original greats with a career in the late Eighties and early Nineties that influenced a generation of rappers. His seminal 1988 debut is an essential listen that spawned verbal highlights like this incredible track.
The Beastie Boys were not only three of hip-hop's greatest goofballs, but also some of the genre's most profound sonic explorers. Ad-Rock's words on the trio's Gold-certified 2004 single are a perfect example: a bit of rap braggadocio over a block-rocking, horn-blaring beat.
True to his name, Ladies Love Cool James specializes in romancing the opposite sex. The Eighties rap superstar turned this song into the signature hit of his 1989 album.
2Pac is an icon because he spoke truth to power. This track, released a year after his death on September 13th, 1996, was a Top 30 breakout smash from his quadruple-platinum posthumous album.
Even though she had yet to release an album in 2010, Nicki Minaj's career was on a sharp incline. Her brilliant cameo on Kanye West's "Monster," which many rap fans considered the verse of the year, certified her status as one of the most talented voices of her generation.
Since the late Nineties, Rob Sonic has flourished as an innovator in the hip-hop underground. His standout line is part of Aesop Rock's "Dark Heart News" from the latter's critically acclaimed 2006 album.