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This isn’t us being contrary for the sake of it, but FACT’s office has been in a state of bemusement this week.

Kendrick Lamar dropped a verse on a Big Sean track that a) didn’t really call out anybody, b) was a throwdown so polite that it may as well have come with a pre-emptive apology letter, and c) wasn’t even a show-stealing verse by Kendrick’s standards (have we forgotten ‘Collard Greens’ and ‘Power Circle’ already?).

The hip-hop world, naturally, went mad. The world’s corniest rappers (Lupe Fiasco, Fred the Godson, B.o.B., Papoose) all knocked out response tracks within 48 hours, Twitter imploded, and more bad think-pieces were inspired than by Grimes’ Boiler Room set. Granted, it was nice to find out which rappers have a little perspective – Pusha T responded well, as did Wale (at least until he started declaring himself the best rapper in the world again) – but overall it was a total storm in a teacup.

Now granted, 2013 hasn’t been a vintage year for heart-stopping guest spots – we’ve not yet had a Gunplay on ‘Cartoon and Cereal’ or Nicki Minaj on ‘Monster’ moment – but there have been some real killer verses around; ones that deserve as much – if not more – attention than Kendrick’s spot on ‘Control’. Over the next 10 pages, we’ve detailed some of our favourites.

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Ciara feat. Nicki Minaj – ‘I’m Out’
(Verse 1, Nicki Minaj) 

Nicki Minaj stealing the show on other people’s tracks shouldn’t be a surprise at this point – she’s been doing it since the start, and even nicked the limelight on Kanye West’s grandest album to date (‘Monster’, on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). Still, for those who – wrongly – think Nicki’s just an electro-pop doll on the basis of chart-topping singles ‘Starships’ and ‘Ring the Alarm’, Minaj hit back with the opening verse on Ciara’s self-titled new album, throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of the rap world in a manner that’s become second nature to her.

F-f-f-fuck these petty niggas is a bitch motto
If I say it on wax, every bitch follow
If I’m sipping in the club, Myx Moscato
I got a big fat ass, big dicks follow
Hit them with the back shots, hit them with the ass shots
Take them to the bank then I hit them with the cash drops
I do it big, I hit them with the caps lock
I’m gonna ball, I hit them with the mascot
No, I never been there, but I like to Bangkok
Big fat titties when they hanging out my tank top
You gon’ play me, on Instagram niggas trying to shade me
But your bitch at home trying to play me, I’m Nicki M Weezy F, baby
Man, fuck you and your lady, gun butt you, cause you shady
Now which bitch want it, cause that bitch get it
I gave him to you, bitch, don’t fucking forget it

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Run the Jewels – ‘Run the Jewels’
(Verse 5 & 6, El-P & Killer Mike)

If you’re going to claim King of New York, you best not forget the back alleys El-P lurks in – that’s where you’ll get taken down when you least suspect it. El’s recent partnership with Killer Mike, one of the south’s best lyricists, has given us a combo of rap elders that are still as hungry as today’s young bucks, refusing to rest on their laurels or become the businessmen of hip-hop as others have done.

El-P: With the pull of a pin a grenade get a crowd to they feet and a soul to its options
I’m a fool for the win I been made to be loud while these other cats drowning in softness
In a urn or the dirt get tossed in
With a grin or a smirk get accosted
I’m a sin on the verse like a kid in a hearse or a nun in a cum shot (stop it)

Killer Mike: Big beast in a cage with a heart full of rage, it seems I can’t behave
You couldn’t try till you die, oh well you failed, it seems the world can’t be saved
These streets is full with the wolves that starve for the week so they after the weak
In a land full of lambs I am and I’ll be damned if I don’t show my teeth

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Lil Durk – ‘Dis Ain’t What U Want’
(Verse 1, Lil Durk)

Chicago’s drillers aren’t a set of rappers that are well known for their lyrical prowess (see also Chief Keef’s ‘Macaroni Time’), but Lil’ Durk’s crushing ‘Dis Ain’t What U Want’ still sports maybe one of the year’s most affecting verses. The city’s struggle with guns and poverty has been widely publicized, but rarely so shockingly and plainly as right here. When Durk explains “I can’t get no shows cause I terrify my city” it’s poignant and truthful, especially in light of his recent arrest. In a few lines he’s able to sum up what the news networks just can’t – the hopelessness of the situation, and the fact that nobody’s doing shit to help. When Chuck D called rap “CNN for black people,” this was exactly what he was talking about.

Niggas claim that they’re after me, but this ain’t what they want
Cause I hopped into this industry, this ain’t what they want
See this rap shit ain’t shit to me, this ain’t what they want
I got the police all into me, this ain’t what they want
In my own city they hate on me, put weight on me
Fuck TMZ, fuck Breaking News and ABC
I can’t do no shows cause I terrify my city, they say I terrify my city
Niggas get slumped, you’re the first to get blamed
A nigga try us, you’re the first one to get changed
They say you snitch, tryna put dirt on my name
They rat on me ask is Lil Durk my name

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Ka – ‘Peace Akhi’
(Verse 2, Ka)

The Night’s Gambit, by Brownsville rapper Ka, is one of the best albums of 2013 so far (read Maya Kalev’s 5/5 review here), and centrepiece ‘Peace Akhi’ feels like the album distilled to its very essence: Ka setting out his stall calmly and quietly over a beat so threatening that you honestly couldn’t imagine anyone else touching it. Usually a first verse this potent (“I’m pain in the spoken form / This new strain came from where hope is gone”) would be enough to make a list like this on merit, but when Ka steps up a gear on verse two, it’s game over for everybody.

My heart is never the question
I write hard, phonetic aggression 
My art is parked in the medicine section
Stay sharp, each word carves letter perfection
I got full bars, you need better reception
Did I mention I pay attention instead of protection?
Peace to my bredrin in the depths of correction
True lives survive death and deception
A few cry for my effortless sketching
New rise, ____ (?) but the record reflecting
I’m too fly, choose Ka, excellent selection
I play chess but my past is chequered 
The mic and I like staff and shepherd 

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Tree – ‘Most Successful’
(Verse 1, Tree)

Tree is a rare rapper whose distinctive voice is just as impressive as the lyrics themselves, and the loosely aggrandizing ‘Most Successful’ shows these two features off with aplomb. While a cursory listen might simply highlight Tree’s boastful claims to be “the most successful nigga made it out my class,” a deeper look uncovers a deeply melancholy reflection on family, expectation and pride. It’s the way Tree actually spits that elevates the verse though, and through a throaty growl he manages to hit an emotional chord without resorting to Drake-ian whines or emo-rap internalizing.

I’m prolly not the grandchild that my grandma raised
But I’m something like the son my momma had in mind
I don’t be listening niggas, these niggas be weak these days
You realest people feel me say that he ain’t lyin’
I’m prolly half as hard my oldest brother is
But that don’t mean I ain’t the one to lay it down
Way stronger than them drinks them umbrellas in
You gotta stand your ground, anyway he ain’t around
Different trips I’m taking, taking trips I’m buckled up
In my all white jeans so don’t scuff ’em up
Talking shit when shit was talking then you knuckled up
Crash bars on all my cars you know I fucks ’em up
We drinking anything I seen, takes away all that
Standing in the same places, old faces ball that
Looking down the street, back to the wall flat
Without a ballcap, now what you call that?

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Pusha T – ‘Numbers on the Boards’
(Verse 1, Pusha T)

Clipse’s Pusha T still has a way with street-smart metaphors like few others, but since joining G.O.O.D. Music he’s sometimes seemed out of place. The key with Push, as anyone who’s listened to the We Got It For Cheap tapes will vouch, is just to give him a mad beat and let him rap the fuck out of it, and on ‘Numbers on the Boards’ he gets to do just that. No hooks, no dumb trance synths for distractions (hello ‘Mercy’), just straight heat from the first bar – and honestly, it’s a miracle that he still has coke metaphors left in the bank at this point.

It’s only one God, and it’s only one crown
So it’s only one king that can stand on this mound
King Push, kingpin, overlord
Coast Guard come a hundred goin’ overboard
I got money with the best of ’em
Go blow for blow with any Mexican
Don’t let your side bitches settle in
Might have to headbutt your Evelyn
Ballers, I put numbers on the boards
Hard to get a handle on this double-edged sword
Whether rappin’ or I’m rappin’ to a whore
Might reach back and relapse to wrappin’ up this raw
Givenchy fittin’ like it’s gym clothes
We really gymstars, I’m like D. Rose
No D-league, I’m like these clothes
’88 Jordan, leaping from the free throw

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Mr Muthafuckin’ eXquire – Chains
(Verse 1, Mr Muthafuckin’ eXquire)

Kendrick’s claim to be the King of New York has hardly been disputed by anyone with any real claim on the city’s rich rap heritage. Honestly, it’s a city experiencing a dire identity crisis; it’s biggest recent breakout A$AP Rocky could have easily emerged from Houston, Miami or Atlanta rather than Harlem.

That’s not a criticism you could level at Brooklyn’s Mr Muthafuckin eXquire, whose rich, distinctive rhymes characterize a new era of New York rap. On ‘Chains’ the rapper doesn’t lose sight of where he’s from; Broadway Junction is one of east Brooklyn’s most visible hubs, connecting a slew of struggling neighborhoods, and his line “Drunk, walkin’ on the platform of Broadway Junction” is a swift reminder of the city and its importance. This comes rapidly after a reference to Nelson Mandela, and precedes a brief reflection on a woman’s acceptance eXquire’s mental state, and roots his often psychedelic, dexterous musings in reality for a second. It’s this ability to toss and turn through rap’s new and old, surreal and real that gives eXquire an edge, and makes ‘Chains’ so damned crucial.

The years Mandela sat in that cell
And couldn’t get no justice
The bougiest of bitches be the quickest to suck dick
Southern comfort
Articulate ruffian
Drunk walkin’ on the platform of Broadway junction, nuts
Self-destructive vacuum I’m stuck in
Wonder if my woman know the baggage I come with
Demons in my past are fucking disgusting
One look in they eye and she would fucking vomit
Ill, I’m running from my destiny
Terrified when people see the best in me
Same shit I obsessed to be
I guess I’m sorta afraid to be
My insecurities are changing me
Down to my reality is breaking me
I can’t take the pressure, can’t take the pain

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Metabeats – ‘The Median’ (feat. Zeroh)
(Verse 2, Zeroh)

Since the Good Life Cafe days, there’s been a side to L.A’s rap underground that has continuously provided us with rappers who are seemingly more interested in bending rap into unrecognisable shapes than catering to the cliches of life under the sun. Zeroh is the latest in a long line of weirdo rappers – see Busdriver and Subtitle before him – who can ride beats that would scare most and lace them with the sort of stream of consciousness raps that are total marmite to fans’ ears. Like it or not, these kids are not going anywhere and shouldn’t be discounted just because they operate on the sidelines of the wider, mainstream rap sphere.

Hero comedian juice and a mic in 
Live in a fire like rockin in flight 
Gravitas blast from a bright yo, I can speak nice and neat to shallow sheep 
Shamelessly I blame less creep, criminal cackling  
Long Beach nigga what’s happening? Mad stature 
Half ass rapping y’all ain’t saying nothing
My lips flapping, gab rambling, time gambling 
Rollin sevens every second I’m in heaven nesting

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Earl Sweatshirt feat. Tyler, the Creator – ‘Whoa’
(Verse 2, Earl Sweatshirt)

Packed off to a Samoan boarding school while his Odd Future buddies were touring the world and making “a quarter million off of socks”, Earl has had valuable extra time to polish his craft before his making his official debut with Doris, released next week. The second verse of ‘Whoa’ showcases the Californian teen at his most foggy and abstruse, packing in dense wordplay and complex internal rhymes to build an air of intellectual menace that few other rappers can match, let alone any who’ve not yet reached their 20th birthday. References to Rick Ross, Harry Potter, manga comics, mental hospitals and a typical dose of toilet humour are are all put to work in the traditional hip-hop exercise of bigging oneself up to an absurd degree.

Yeah, the misadventures of a shit-talker
Pissed as Rick Ross’s fifth sip off his sixth lager
Known to sit and wash the sins off at the pitch alter
Hat never backwards like the print off legit manga
Get it? Like a blue pill, make ya stick longer
Or a swift fist off your chin from his wrist launcher
Chick, chronic thrift shopper, thick like the Knicks roster
Stormed off and came straight back like pigs’ posture
Pen? Naw, probably written with some used syringes
From out the rubbish bin at your local loony clinic
Watching movies in a room full of goons he rented
On the hunt for clues, more food, and some floozy women
Bruising gimmicks with the broom he usually use for Quidditch
Gooey writtens, scoot ’em to a ditch, chewed and booty scented
Too pretentious, do pretend like he could lose with spitting
Steaming tubes of poop and twisted doobies full of euphemisms
Stupid, thought it up, jot it quick, thaw it out
Toss it right back like a vodka fifth
Spot him on a rocket swapping dollars in for pocket lint
Then lob a wad of chicken at a copper on some Flocka shit]

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Chance The Rapper – ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’
(Verse, Chance the Rapper)

Almost any verse from the astounding Acid Rap mixtape could be eligible for this list, but the opening bars of ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’ condense Chance The Rapper’s potent wordplay, rapidfire skills, streetwise charm and endearing idiosyncracies into all of 45 seconds. The track is set up as a remorseful apology for the chain-smoking young man he’s grown into (“I just opened up the pack / In an hour I’ll ash my lucky”), with Chance reminiscing about a happy childhood watching Rugrats before he had to start “putting Visine inside my eyes so my grandma would fucking hug me”. Revving his melodious sing-rap style towards a ragged, breathless finish, he goes out in style (“BLAM!”) and then daringly adds two stellar guest verses – from his Save Money homie Vic Mensa and the king of rapidfire, Twista – which on anyone else’s track would be classed as “pulling a Kendrick”.

Okey dokey alky, keep it low key like Thor lil bro
Or he’ll go blow the loudy, saudy of sour Saudi
Wiley up off peyote, wiling like that coyote
If I sip any Henny, my belly just might be outtie
Pull up inside a huggy, Starsky & Hutch a dougie
I just opened up the pack in an hour I’ll ash my lucky
Tonight she just yelling “Fuck me”, two weeks she’ll be yelling fuck me
Used to like orange cassette tapes with Timmy, Tommy and Chuckie
And Chuck E. Cheese’s pizzas, Jesus pieces, sing Jesus love me
Put Visine inside my eyes so my grandma would fucking hug me
Oh generation above me, I know you still remember me
My afro look just like daddy’s, y’all taught me how to go hunting, BLAM!

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