Hip-Hop isn’t a genre known for songs that extend over 6 minutes. When they do, it’s usually because the producers and/or artist smoked a bit too much of the devil’s lettuce and thought that letting the beat run for an extra 2 minutes was a good idea (it’s not, unless you’re Kanye West).
Ambitious, long-form songs aren’t just for prog rockers and metal bands (we’ll get to those). Rappers have a lot to say, and sometimes their thoughts can’t be expressed in 3-4 minutes. The Untrustworthy Source hive mind got together and used science to select the 8 best hip-hop songs over 6 minutes. If we missed one feel free to add it in the comments.
Eminem – Rap God
Eminem proves for the umpteenth time why he’s the best lyricist/rapper in the game. His signature lyrical dexterity is on display as he just won’t. stop. rapping for a full 6 minutes. He broke a god damn world record and it doesn’t even sound like he’s trying that hard. The classic debate of “Jay-Z, Biggie, and Nas” seems empty without Em’s name in the mix. Any rapper in the past who openly claimed otherwise has had their career summarily ended.
Immortal Technique – Dance with the Devil
The Oedipal, harrowing story of young William starts dark and gets darker than most minds could ever imagine. For those who haven’t yet heard it, you can probably surmise the ending from my description, but I assure you it’s much worse that you think. I shudder to think where the idea for this story came from. I’m hoping Immortal’s imagination was having a dark day instead of dealing with the possibility that this actually happened.
Kanye West – Runaway
Is it any surprise that the most self-indulgent man on the planet has 3 possible entries? All three confirm every reason people hate and love Kanye. The fact that each song, even the spoken word dissertation in “Last Call”, never gets boring is a testament to Ye’ Guevara’s skills both as a producer and rapper Runaway takes the prize because it takes the best concepts from the two other songs (Deeply personal introspection from “Last Call” and creative, inspired production from “We Major”) and synthesizes them into a dark twisted fantasy. I previously wrote about how this song is Kanye’s Magum Opus, and until “Swish” drops this is the pinnacle of his career.
Frank Ocean – Pyramids
Frank Ocean’s operatic, sprawling, time bending epic shows exactly why his upcoming album “Boys Don’t Cry” is the most anticipated follow up since Kendrick dropped his sophomore masterpiece. Clocking in at just under 10 minutes, the music guides Frank with chameleon like electro-pop synths and robotic backing vocals as he tells a love story from ancient Egypt to modern day California. Abstract yet immediately understandable, Frank Ocean knows how to convey complex emotions through song, and Pyramids shows off his prowess for doing it in ways never seen before.
Side note: Frank, stop teasing us, the R&B world needs a breath of fresh air and Miguel ain’t cutting it. Release “Boys Don’t Cry” and change the game again. Please.
Chance the Rapper – Pusha Man
On the best song off of Chance’s breakout 2013 mixtape, he brilliantly deconstructs the complex mind of a drug dealer. He goes through three distinct mind frames, childish defiance, angry paranoia, introspective depression, fully fleshing out each concept and fusing them together to create something special. Although each chapter is starkly different, as you listen you can imagine the titular character experiencing these emotions all at once. A beautiful, trippy song that gets deeper with each listen.
Wu-Tang Clan – Triumph
“I bomb atomically, Socrates’ philosophies And hypotheses can’t define how I be droppin’ these”. Cappadonna explodes out of the gate, spitting arguably the best verse of all time that incorporates both Socrates and video game character Shinobi. The rest of the clan is eclipsed by the feature act even though they all manage to deliver above average performances. A great example of Wu-Tang clan firing on all cylinders.
Odd Future (Wolf Gang Kill Them All) – Oldie
Yes I used the full name because it’s still hilariously awesome to me. Instead of coming up with a concept that stretches over 6 minutes, OF lets the entire crew get on the track, including Jasper, to fuck around and have some fun. The track perfectly encompasses the Odd Future collective for those unaware of their existence. No heavy themes or concepts, just a bunch of young dudes in their prime having a lot of fun making music. After the rampant misogyny and over the top offensiveness that pervades the OF Tape Volume 2 (don’t get me wrong, I love it), this light hearted palette cleanser is a nice ending.
Kendrick Lamar – Sing About Me
On my first listen through GKMC I put this track on repeat at least 5 times before moving on. Kendrick delivers bars on bars reflecting on his fear of irrelevance and death, past relationships, and the hardships faced by young black men in Compton, CA. The juxtaposition of his calm, calculated delivery and laid back beat against the heavy subject matter makes the message all the more powerful. Unlike the emotional rollercoaster that is TPAB, this song is a detailed reflection from a man who has seen too much and no longer has the emotion to be upset.