The past week has been all about Odd Future Wolf Gang’s song “Oldie,” the ten minute long jam featuring almost all of the Odd Future crew. And it got me thinking about how it fits in with some of the other great All-Star Rap Jams, the hip hop songs which combine and feature artists from the same crews or labels. Here is the criteria I used for such an arbitrary listing:
- Over 4 minutes (otherwise it’s not a jam).
- Over 3 rappers who are notable by their individual merits (otherwise it’s not an all-star showing).
- There must be some element of competition between the rappers in their verses (I expect some sort of awareness signaled by lyrics that this song is more than a song—that it is almost a rap battle), or a recognition of the songs all-star grouping (in lyrics or song construction). Therefore the constantly guesting “Nicki Minaj’s” of the rap world, who are often worked into a song seamlessly, do not always merit consideration.
That’s it. These are just the songs that you think about with your friends and argue who rapped better. I put these 13 together based on year released—it makes my contemporary bias all the more evident. If you have any more suggestions, leave them in the suggestions box. This is by no means comprehensive. The likely soon-to-be updated Spotify playlist can be found here.
1988: Straight Outta Compton—N.W.A.
At the time of its release, certainly none of the members of N.W.A. were all stars, but most have gone on to great things. A proto-All-star showing by Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Easy-E (produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella), this song is credited with ushering in the gangster era of hip hop and in no small part its due to the spitting of some of the most famous verses in rap.
1992: Protect Ya Neck—Wu-Tang Clan
If “Straight Outta Compton” helped introduce gangster rap, the first single off Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) likely solidified it. Featuring Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Method Man, U-God, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, the RZA, and the GZA, it is a strong showing of some artists who will go on to prove themselves as the most technically gifted rappers of the decade. Favorite line: Ghostface’s “For crying out loud my style is wild so book me/Not long is how long that this rhyme took me,” though RZA is at his best here. Also worth considering: Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ off the same album. U-God and Ol’ Dirty kill it.
1992: Scenario—A Tribe Called Quest Ft. Busta Rhymes, Charlie Brown, and Dinco D
This song—famous on its own merits without consideration of the star power behind it—combines the Native Tongue’s group A Tribe Called Quest with the affiliated Leaders of the New School. The New Tongues generally overlap quite a bit—J Dilla producing so-and-so song and Mos Def or Common guesting along with De La Soul, for instance—but this track truly stands out. Even the music video has guest appearances (though no rapping) from stars like Spike Lee. Some of the lines have proven to be a constant point of reference for Afro-centric and alt-rappers up to today, and even in the Barenaked Ladies song “One Week.”
1994: Flava in Ya Ear (remix)—Craig Mack Ft. Notorious B.I.G., Rampage, LL Cool J, and Busta Rhymes with Puff Daddy and Mary J. Blige
Diddy and Bad Boys Records utilized its label’s rappers, and to much success with “Flava in Ya Ear.” It has almost become the prototypical all-star rap jam, with a simple beat highlighting verses from an established star (LL Cool J), several up-and-comers, and the one crazy standout (Busta Rhymes).
1997: Triumph—Wu-Tang Clan Ft. Cappadona
By now a hip-hop supergroup, the Wu-Tang Clan makes it second of three appearances here with the single “Triumph” off Wu-Tang Forever. Watch the odd video below, and pay particular attention to Inspectah Deck’s opening lines, praised as his best, if not one of the best in hip hop. But even if it weren’t good, putting ODB, Inspectah Deck, Method Man, Cappadonna, U-God, RZA, GZA, Masta Killa, Ghostface Killah, and Raekwon on one track in 1997—near the height of their game—is too all-star to pass up.
1997: It’s All About the Benjamin’s—Puff Daddy Ft. The Notorious B.I.G., the LOX, and Lil’ Kim
This might be the worst track on the list, suffering from Puffy’s weak rapping that ties the song together. Nevertheless, the guests shine, particularly Lil’ Kim, who always struck me as one of those artists who does better in a group—whether Junior M.A.F.I.A. or on “Lady Marmalade.“
2004: Victory 2004—P. Diddy Ft. The Notorious B.I.G., Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent, and Lloyd Banks
A rather odd re-release that splices up verses recorded for “Victory” while Biggie was alive with new guest appearances, “Victory 2004” is the third of the Bad Boys’ all-star songs.
2006: 9 Milli Bros.—Ghostface Kill ft. Wu-Tang Clan
This song is one of the last pieces of Wu-Tang Clan music completed with the full clan (plus Cappadonna), as ODB died in 2004. With production credit to MF DOOM, this track incorporates everyone into a coherent song. Hardly a rap battle, but still an excellent song focusing on the lyrical abilities of its many guest stars over the beat itself.
2010: Monster—Kanye West Ft. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Justin Vernon, and Nicki Minaj
This is the rare cross-over all-star piece, bringing in Grammy-winning indie musician Justin Vernon along with the rap excellence of Yeezy, Jay-Z, and particularly Nicki Minaj. Minaj and Jay-Z feature on songs all the time—in fact they’re experts at it—but here their verses challenge the hip hop world and turn it into a battle of lyricism. Minaj clearly comes out with the win.
Several unfinished cuts leaked online, but the complete version is viewable at Kanye West’s site here. It’s among the best of Yeezy’s many great videos, and it’s worth viewing despite its misogyny.
2011: Look At Me Now—Chris Brown Ft. Lil’ Wayne and Busta Rhymes
Boy, Busta has got a lot of appearances on this list, but this one he is at his best, spitting at high speed and showing up Chris Brown. When Lil’ Wayne follows shortly after, he tries to match it but it’s simply too much. Now, this is likely the weakest on the list because Brown is not known primarily as a rapper and Lil’ Wayne makes guest appearances like crazy, but the emphasis on the rap battle between the stars (whether hip hop or R&B, all three are undoubtedly stars), turns it into an all-star rap jam in my opinion.
2011: Say Wassup—Jay Rock Ft. Ab Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and ScHoolboy Q
The Black Hippy Squad is all together here. They are on the verge of becoming all-stars—its arguable whether they quite are just yet. Nevertheless, they certainly will be, with great solo albums either out or in production. Increasingly overlapping with the A$AP Crew (who have yet to have a jam featuring all of them), certainly more such all-star tracks are in their near-future.
2011: The Last Huzzah!—Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire ft. Despot, Das Racist, Danny Brown, and EL-P
The introduction to the song is a direct reference to the Godfather of all-star rap jams, “Flava in Ya Ear (Remix).” This song itself is a remix, taking a song from the album proper and adding some of underground rapping’s biggest stars (stars big enough that they break through the underground), and then has the “the crazy one” (Danny Brown) taking the place of Flava’s Busta. I’m partial to Despot’s style here, but El-P here has arguably the best verse of 2011, let alone the song. It’s…just amazing. This is the jam to beat.
2012: Oldie—Odd Future Wolf Gang
Odd Future Wolf Gang is the preeminent hip hop crew right now, and anyone who thinks otherwise probably hasn’t been on the internet the last 16 months. Since “Goblin” dropped, their hype has been huge, but they have had trouble escaping their immaturity, with people criticizing their rapping game—I’ve heard several attribute their success to hype and thematics over ability. But if they keep making tracks like “Oldie,” with verses as great in their solo work, there’s no doubt they can prove themselves. The video below was improvised, yet they show what altogether pros they are. Winner: Earl Sweatshirt, reappearing and showing up all his older crew members—internal rhyming? Yes, Earl wins.
The comments box would be the place to groan about me leaving out anything Young Money or including Chris Brown, at which point I will kindly respond to your criticism by either updating the playlist with your song suggestion or explaining how almost none of We Are Young Money functions on the star power of its rapper, therefore invalidating it under rule #3.
The Spotify playlist can be found by following this link.
Image Credit: TKTK Media through a still from “The Last Huzzah!”