I’ve had this Lil Uzi Vert song stuck in my head for a couple weeks, and that’s a terrible thing. There’s a run-of-the-mill annoyance we all feel when we have a song stuck in our head that we can’t get rid of. I have an additional annoyance that makes this song especially troubling to have stuck. When I have a song stuck in my head, I usually latch onto one word or phrase from the song and repeat it endlessly. When Niggas in Paris was huge, I’d find myself saying over and over, out loud, “Fish filet…” None of the words that preceded it or came afterwards. Just “Fish fillet.” With XO Tour Lif3, there’s a chorus that feels especially bleak and urgent that I can’t stop repeating: “Push me to the edge. All my friends are dead.”
You can’t just walk around saying either “Push me to the edge” or “All my friends are dead” without eliciting undesired attention. “Hey man, you ok? Sorry to hear about your friends. You didn’t… no, of course you didn’t. It’s just a coincidence, haha. You’re not gonna shoot up the office are you, haha? Cool talk, man.”
I think the thing that makes that phrase stick out to me is the performance. It’s just so emo, which isn’t something you get a lot in hip hop. I love it.
All this has made me think about other rap vocal performances I love.
Through the Wire – By allowing us to hear him struggling to rap “through the wire,” Kanye kicked his career off with a level of transparency and authenticity that would come to define his career.
Lose Yourself – Eminem really has two masterpiece performances, Rap God and Lose Yourself. I love the Lose Yourself performance, though, because it’s one where everything comes together – musical and lyrical composition, meaning, and feeling. This deserved its Oscar.
Hit ‘Em Up – Tupac is pure venom and rage on this song. It’s as though you can hear every muscle in his body tensed as he drops his verses.
Rock Box – There are at least four other songs ahead of this one that people think of when they think of Run DMC, but I think this song set the standard for what a pop vocal in hip hop could be.
Shoop – I love Salt-N-Pepa. Growing up, they were probably my favorite rap group. I have deep cuts of theirs that I love, but I can’t deny that their biggest single is also their best performance. There’s just a feeling of freedom and fun that they exhibit in this song that their earlier songs lacked.
Mama Said Knock You Out – This performance is swagger personified. It’s Ali at his best. It’s confidence and triumph, distilled. I love when LL gets to “Ohhhhh… listen to the way I slay your crew. DAMAGE! DAMAGE! DAMAGE! DAMAGE!” I remember reading that Jay and Kanye were performing Niggas in Paris a dozen times in a row – I would watch LL perform this song a hundred times in a row.
That’s enough for now. Are there any rap vocal performances that you feel are just top notch? Drop it in the comments. If you’re curious about the Tour Lif3 song, the annotated lyrics are embedded below.