Also, we aren't ranking the dumbest hip-hop lyrics ever. That would be like making a list of people Hitler was mean to. There have been 6 million lyrics across the brief history of rap so dumb that they should be punishable as crimes against humanity. Sometimes rap lyrics are so dumb they're ingenious, and we love those lyrics like a fat kid loves cake.
So what criteria are we using to judge these lyrics? That will be explained as we examine each of the offending phrases. For now, let's just acknowledge that there is an unspoken contract between rappers and their listeners, which boils down to this: "While I'm listening to rap, I want to feel like we are both cool and like we are both bulletproof. Don't say anything that's going to fuck up either of those illusions for me." The following lyrics from some of our favorite rappers, embedded as MP3s below (the little black bars), violated that contract in spectacular fashion.
5. "Girls, Girls, Girls"
Mami's a narcoleptic, always sleepin' on Hov',
Gotta tie the back of her head like Deuce Bigalow.
As a rapper, part of your unspoken contract states that you are only permitted to reference or show interest in three movies: Scarface, Carlito's Way and The Godfather. There is also the Wu Tang Clause that states that a certain type of East Coast rapper is permitted to quote kung fu and blaxploitation films, but that's it. All other cinema is off limits.
And this quote is a perfect example of why that law exists: as any rap video will show you, most rappers have awful taste in clothing, jewelry and cars, so in all likelihood they have bad taste in movies too.
This mouth turd, from the fourth track of what is an otherwise sparkling outing from Hov, confirms what we always feared: were it not for the incessant Pacino quoting, Jay-Z would probably be dropping quotes from Police Academy 4 and Three Men and a Little Lady (and yes, we are making the argument that Rob Schneider is the Steve Gutenberg of our decade).
Also, please note that from a song that is abhorrently misogynistic, and invokes almost every single racial stereotype in the book (literally every single one: black, white, Asian, Indian-dot, Indian-feather, stewardess-we challenge you to create a racial stereotype to which he doesn't refer), we chose a line about Deuce Bigalow. Why? Because rappers are allowed to be misogynistic racists. They're just not allowed to acknowledge that they watch Rob Schneider movies.
4. "Keep Ya Head Up"
I give a holler to my sisters on welfare,
Tupac cares, (and don't / even if) nobody else care.
There is a clause in the rapper's social contract stating that on each album, the rapper is allotted a single song that discusses feelings and emotions. Of course, he must immediately go back to bragging about murdering people, lest he end up in PM Dawn territory. Tupac was among the best in the history of rap at going from empathetic good guy to violent thug without missing a beat, and "Keep Ya Head Up" is among his most popular sensitive guy songs.
So why does this lyric make the list? Well, if you delete this line, the entire song comes off as an ultra-sincere meditation on the plight of single women. However, by claiming that he's the only man in the world who cares about single women, he stumbles into the realm of "pathetic guy saying anything to get laid." We're guessing it was written during or immediately following one of Pac's longer stints in prison, because, to borrow a phrase from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, he is clearly putting the pussy up on a pedestal. With this line he momentarily became the rap equivalent of your buddy who's willing to throw you under the bus to impress a girl he just met. Only Pac seems to be willing to throw all of his buddies, and every other guy on the face of Earth under the bus with the outlandish claim that he is the only person in the world who cares about women on welfare.
He also refers to himself in the third person, giving the whole affair an odd "Jimmy likes Elaine" vibe that's pretty tough to get over. We can just see him at the bar: "Your grandma died of stomach cancer? Tupac worked in a lab for the past 12 years trying to cure stomach cancer! The other scientists are always telling me, 'Fuck stomach cancer, it's a dead end cancer research field.' I guess you could say that Tupac's the only person in the world who cares about stomach cancer. Don't be alarmed by my erection. It's just all this talk about stomach cancer, which I care about."
3. "Jesus Walks"
I'm just trying to say the way school need teachers,
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that's the way y'all need Jesus.
Kanye is not a traditional rapper in many senses. He dresses like he's being photographed for GQ (even on the rare occasion when he's not being photographed for GQ) and he's one of the few rappers that openly admits to having attended a college other than the school of hard knocks, which under normal circumstances, is a clear violation of the rapper's social contract. He's able to get away with violating the college clause because a) he's pretty damn good, and b) his first two albums were almost entirely about how much he hated college (rappers aren't stupid, they know about the contract). But mostly, he gets away with it because he's an extremely gifted musician. And "Jesus Walks" is a great song. Which is strange, because ever since MC Hammer's ham assed "Pray," religious rap has made us throw up a little bit in our mouths. With "Jesus Walks," Kanye made it work again, which makes the Kathy Lee and Regis reference that much more profoundly upsetting. The line is so bad that it defines the way one experiences the entire song. There's the part before, marked by a vague sense of doom that comes with the knowledge that he's about to compare Jesus to Regis Philbin. Then there's the part after, marked by you cringing and looking around you to see if anyone else noticed how profoundly retarded that line really is.
The only excuse we can come up with is that this is Kanye's point. As he says in the song, "they say you can rap about anything except for Jesus." By the time he raps that line, he's already proven them wrong on both points. You can rap about Jesus and make it cool. But you can't rap about anything because you sure as shit can't rap about Kathy Lee Gifford.
2. "What's Beef?"
Don't they know my nigga Gutter fuckin' kidnap kids?
Fuck 'em in the ass, throw 'em over the bridge.
Ummm ... What?
Did you just say...
When we first heard this line, we reacted like Chris Parnell upon hearing Ron Burgundy tell San Diegans to go fuck themselves: 'Why Biggie? Why!? You were our hero and now you have to go and ruin it with your poop mouth!'
Don't get us wrong, violence in rap is, for the most part, acceptable across the board. Whether you're talking about slapping a woman (Eazy E, "Boyz N Da Hood"), shooting a cop (Ice T, "Cop Killah'") or cutting off and mailing someone's body parts to them (Jay Z, Nas, Biggie-All The Time) we're all for it. The violence is all part of trying to get ahead in the game, and that, for some reason, is okay.
But bragging that you hang out with people who rape children? Well, that crosses just about every line that rap has been tip-toeing up to this point in time. Saying you're friends with Pablo Escobar? Bad ass. Saying you're friends with the Atlanta Child Strangler? Ummm, not cool, really in any circles. Firing off shots in a crowded lobby (Nas, "NY State of Mind") is great, we just don't want to hear how you like fucking hitch hikers with a buzz-saw before turning them into a skin suit (Biggie, "The Album He Probably Would Have Made Were He Still Alive").
1. "Rapper's Delight"
The Chicken Verse (too long, too much badness, just listen to the damn thing)
A non rap fan attempting to rap is one of the most embarrassing things most hip hop fans will ever have to endure. More often than not, it will start with a parent or a republican friend making the argument that all rap sounds the same and that rhyming a bunch of words together would be easy. They'll inevitably begin their impromptu free-style with a ridiculous approximation of beatboxing that sounds something like an asthmatic cartoon character. Things get worse with the verse, which will go something like, "Yo I went to the store, the store was a bore, yo G I'm hard core." They'll probably end the performance with their arms crossed in an exaggerated b-boy stance that they saw on the cover of a Run DMC album in the late '80s.
Why do we tell this story when talking about "Rappers Delight"? Because the song that is often credited with launching the entire art form also houses one of the genre's darkest secrets: its longest verse was written by your mother. There's really no other excuse for the rambling, fourth grade poetry project cluster of words that is the Chicken Verse. It spends about a minute and a half criticizing the rapper's friend's mother's homemade chicken dinner. We know we're in trouble right off the bat with the opening line, 'have you ever been over your friend's house to eat, and the food just ain't no good?' You half expect him to follow that up by blowing into the mic and saying, 'This thing on? Anyone? C'mon people work with me here.' Instead, he goes into a detailed account of what exactly is wrong with the food (the macaroni's soggy, the peas are all mushed and the chicken, well, it tastes like wood, in case you're scoring at home).
Thank Christ hip hop took its cues from an earlier verse of the song, where one of the rappers spits cool sounding gibberish and brags about having fucked Lois Lane. Just think: rather than the driving cultural force it is today, rap could have been a long forgotten avant-garde offshoot of professional food criticism.