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The Beat #16

Topics: Favorite Hip-Hop Lyrics, Rakim, Nipsey Hussle, Big Pun, Jay-Z

Illustrations by Edwin Shea Montero at simplyedwin

Favorite Hip-Hop Lyrics

This week’s guest illustrator, Edwin Montero, chose hip-hop lyrics that have inspired and motivated him over the years, and he created gorgeous typographic treatments of them.

Eric B. & Rakim, Paid in Full

A lot of people consider Rakim to be the father of modern hip-hop lyric style. His complex rhyme schemes and quick shifts in phrasing stood out in the 1980s rap pack, and this classic 1987 Eric B. & Rakim track is proof. It starts out feeling like a typical ’80s rap track, but as Rakim folds the flow in on itself and packs the lines with internal rhyme, the song comes to life. It’s short and it packs a punch. It’s all about getting paid in full, but it’s also about looking back on where you’ve come from, and planning out not just the next step, but the next ten.

Nipsey Hussle, Top Down

We lost Nipsey Hussle way too soon. He was the mixtape master with a laid-back west coast flow that seemed always just about to fall behind the track, but that always held on.This track from his debut is stripped-down and solid, and this line reinforces the record title The Marathon, it’s all about the head-down grind and steady progress. “Class is in session, rap till I’m restless / ‘cause constant repetition is the path to progression.”

Big Pun, Capital Punishment

The title track off Big Pun’s 1998 debut is as strong today as it was the day it dropped. Big Punisher, aka Big Pun, was the first Latino rapper to go platinum, and the way he spits fast rhymes over this laid-back track proves why. His message is important. You simply won’t go far with a negative mindset. Living positively doesn’t mean you have to ignore your issues, problems or reality, focus on the good in any given situation. With the world in its current state, we need to put our minds together now in efforts to eliminate hate, violence and social injustice.

Jay-Z, Can’t Knock the Hustle

Reasonable Doubtwas one of the most notable debut records in hip-hop history, in no small part to this track.“Can’t Knock the Hustle”gives us Jay-Z the Brooklyn hustler before he became Jay-Z the rap legend. He’s rough, ambitious and cocky. He reminds us you can’t judge a person who is trying to better themselves, who is working hard for a goal. Mary J. Blige was right at the edge of her own career breakout when she sang the chorus on this track, and her voice floats perfectly over Jay-Z as he extols the virtues of the hustle that would take him from the Marcy Houses projects to becoming the first billionaire rapper.


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