Originally posted: May 28, 2013
Updated: December 28, 2016
One of the greatest things about hip hop is its ability to put itself into someone else’s shoes and tell their story. It’s what makes the genre so relatable, not to mention it’s one of the best ways for a lyricist to showcase his abilities. Some of rap’s greatest moments come during tracks like these when MC’s tackle an issue or tell a story through someone (or something) else’s eyes.
So without further ado…the top 10 songs where rappers rap as someone/something else.
- 1 10. “ER (feat. Kid Vishis)” – Royce da 5’9″
- 2 9. “U.S. History” – Flipsyde
- 3 8. “Handlebars” – Flobots
- 4 7. “Bullet” – Hollywood Undead
- 5 6. “Lost Ones” – J. Cole
- 6 5. “Sing About Me” – Kendrick Lamar
- 7 4. “Little Weapon (feat. Bishop G)” – Lupe Fiasco
- 8 3. “Baltimore Love Thing” – 50 Cent
- 9 2. “I Gave You Power” – Nas
- 10 1. “Stan” – Eminem
10. “ER (feat. Kid Vishis)” – Royce da 5’9″
Album: “Success Is Certain” (2011)
Written as: Surgeon (Royce), Patient (Vishis)
Anyone who picked up “Success Is Certain” and gave it a listen were pleasantly surprised by the short yet epic narrative on track five. Both Royce and Vishis take up personas on opposing sides of an operation involving hip hop. Royce operates on it, while Vishis is operated on by hip hop, waking up mid-surgery and taking the game by storm. It’s one of those tracks that makes you think up your own concept of a music video within seconds, and the ‘security to the E.R.’ voice-over the hospital’s P.A. system in the beginning is a nice touch.
9. “U.S. History” – Flipsyde
Album: “We The People” (2005)
Written as: America
During Flipsyde’s very brief 15 seconds of fame, perhaps the group’s rawest track was U.S. History. Piper, the group’s lead MC, gives us a history of the U.S as the U.S:
“Hustlin’s in my blood. /
My father’s name was Britain, /
His history consisted of robbery, killin’ and pimpin’.”
Throughout the song, the U.S. introduces us to the other relatives of his dysfunctional family: racist son (the South), the uncles (Italy, France, Russia), grandparents (Africa), and even nephew (Israel). The track closes out with the protagonist’s family on the brink of collapse.
8. “Handlebars” – Flobots
Album: “Fight with Tools” (2007)
Written As: Two friends on separate paths
Flobots has always been known for its political undertones, and this song is seeping in it. Watch the music video and it’s easy to tell. 2 friends, one who follows a road of helping others and living to make the world a better place. The other…is all about self-interest. Eventually their paths cross as the former confronts the latter.
7. “Bullet” – Hollywood Undead
Album: “American Tragedy” (2010)
Written as: Suicidal teen
While Hollywood Undead is known for leaning more towards the rock side of rap-rock, their second LP “American Tragedy” had its share of heavy hip hop influence, especially during the acclaimed “Bullet.” Acoustic guitars replace the heavy metal riffs as a troubled teen explains his life story and buys a suit before his final goodbye.
“I’ve never bought a suit before in my life, /
But when you go to see God you wanna look nice”
6. “Lost Ones” – J. Cole
Album: “Cole World: The Sideline Story” (2011)
Written as: Teen couple dealing with unexpected pregnancy
Easily one of J. Cole’s best tracks, “Lost Ones” is seen from the perspective of two kids, a boyfriend and a girlfriend. The first verse, rapped by the boyfriend, tries explaining to his pregnant girlfriend that maybe having this kid and raising him or her isn’t the best idea. The girl comes back defensively, berating him for even suggesting an abortion and telling him he’s going to end up just like his dad, who abandoned the boy at a young age and is hated by the boy for it.
5. “Sing About Me” – Kendrick Lamar
Album: “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (2012)
Written as: deceased friends of Kendrick
If you follow the storyline of “GKMC,” you know that Kendrick’s friend Dave is killed in the shootout following the hit single, “Swimming Pools (Drank)”. This song is written from Dave’s brother’s perspective, blaming Dave’s death on Kendrick. The 2nd verse is given as Keisha’s (remember her from “Section.80”?) sister, bashing Kendrick for the way he portrayed her in “Section.80.”
4. “Little Weapon (feat. Bishop G)” – Lupe Fiasco
Album: “Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool” (2007)
Written as: African Child Soldier (Lupe); Teen Gamer (Bishop G)
Lupe and Bishop G tackle childhood violence on this track that puts them in the shoes of 12-year-old kids on different sides of the globe. Lupe is an African teen forced into some sort of rebel militia and forced to kill until he no longer feels compassion for the ones he is killing. G is an American teen, who spends all his free time in front of a TV screen, shooting and killing bad guys. Little does he know, he’s becoming just as desensitized to killing as that child rebel soldier.
3. “Baltimore Love Thing” – 50 Cent
Album: “The Massacre” (2005)
Written as: Heroin
Fiddy’s never been known for being much of a lyricist, and his 2nd album definitely didn’t help with that image. But if you get past the “Just a Lil Bit”s and the “Disco Inferno”s, you come across “Baltimore Love Story”…maybe one of 50’s best moments with the pen. He compares a junkie’s relationship to heroin to an abusive relationship and it works. Perfectly.
“Your friends talk bad about my bitch, /
You sit there and listen to them. /
Over and over you hurt me; /
My love is unconditional. /
They talk to you when you up, when you down /
Then they got nothin’ to say, /
But when you call up, I come runnin’ /
I always take the pain away.”
Reading that for the first time, its impossible to tell whether he’s talking about heroin or an abusive relationship.
2. “I Gave You Power” – Nas
Album: “It Was Written” (1996)
Written as: A gun
Despite a stellar chart performance, Nas’s sophomore album received generally lukewarm reviews. Much like 50’s “The Massacre,” it was harshly judged for being too pop and mainstream. Also like 50’s second LP, the high point of the album came at a point where Nas rapped from a perspective other than his own. This perspective came from the staple of violence in ghettos all across America: the gun of a gang-banger. Honestly, who thinks of that? Well, Nas does and it’s why he’s considered one of the greats.
1. “Stan” – Eminem
Album: “The Marshall Mathers LP” (2000)
Written as: Crazed Fan
Arguably one of the high points of Eminem’s career and very possibly the history of hip hop come on the critically acclaimed “Stan.” The Chilling Dido sample and pencil scratches in the instrumental (props to The 45 King) make for a perfect backdrop to a creepy, stalker-esque story about a fan of Eminem who idolizes the rapper. As the song progresses, the fan named Stan gets progressively more insane. Angered by Marshall’s refusal to write him back, Stan eventually goes over the edge (literally).
The best part about this song is that Eminem writing from Stan’s perspective perfectly sets up a 4th verse where Eminem plays himself replying to a message from Stan. He basically becomes a cameo on his own song and, more importantly, sets the song up for the chilling reveal at the end.