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Rappers, at least in their performing personas, don’t tend to be great spellers. Maybe standard orthography is a bougie affectation, or maybe most rappers came up in school systems that the National Spelling Bee passed over. At this point it’s safe to argue that rap misspelling has been codified and crystallized into its own para-Ebonic system, such that we’re actually more likely to fuck with Xzibit or Blu or Tha Dogg Pound or Del Tha Funkee Homosapien than we would be to listen to, say, Exhibit or Blue or The Dog Pound or Del the Funky Homosapien. There’s just something so… square about spelling it right.
And yet! Some of the medium’s greatest charms rise out of an unexpectedly reverent relationship with the alphabet. If Rap Genius is devoted to sharing the joys of wordplay in rap, below are ten of our favorite examples of the even more molecular phenomenon of letterplay.
10. Notorious B.I.G. in “What’s Beef?”
Beef is when I see you
Guaranteed to be in I.C.U.
Surely the most slow-clap-worthy of all rap homophones, this nonetheless gets us into the spirit of letterplay thanks to its attention to the distinction between sound and spelling. Rumor has it that the working title for “Fuck You Tonight,” Biggie’s duet with R. Kelly on Life After Death, was “O.I.C.U.R.A.Q.T. (And As Such I’m Going To Fuck You Tonight).”
9. OneManArmy in Binary Star’s “K.G.B.”
Alphabetically, I’m coming after you like the letter V
On the surface, this is no more complex a threat than “I.C.U."—except it’s rendered much more artfully and concisely. It’s clever, but it also suggests that OneManArmy is on your tail just as surely as V follows U. Is it too much to note that the letter V is itself rather pointy, like a dagger? Probably.
8. Des in East Flatbush Project’s “Tried By 12”
Beef starts with the shove and ends with the shovel
For starters, Des would appear to be a little too thuggish to play on the similarity of two words with only narrowly related etymologies, so there’s something even more intimidating about his precision here: in the tiny little space between shove and shovel, no wider than a lowercase L, you could meet your demise. Best keep out of his way.
7. Makaveli in “To Live and Die in L.A.”
Better learn about the dress code, Bs and Cs
All them other niggas copycats; deez is Gs
Pac tells us about the dangers of unwittingly wearing gang colors in Los Angeles, lest we run afoul of the Bloods or the Crips, but he goes one step further in the next line, noting that B and C are alphabetically proximate and continuing down the alphabet by way of telling us that these gangbangers (Gs) are the real deal. (Also, if you like, you can interpret “Ds is Gs” as a gnomic pronouncement à la Radiohead’s “1=2.”)
6. Copywrite in “Hear Me Though”
Leave you in the middle of nowhere like the letter H
Another deceptively simple spelling pun: there’s nothing threatening about the letter H, except that it’s quite literally in the middle of nowhere—which here is not a concept but a “pure term,” in the use-mention sense. Gangster.
5. Young Chris in Jay-Z’s “Nigga Please”
‘Ay, y'all ain’t being like us, 'cause y'all don’t see it like us
They move the Ds when they rush
My nigga please, they must be on Es and dust
Them niggas F'in’ with pills, y'all don’t get Gs like us
As in Pac’s multi-letter run, Young Chris manages to pack seven letters into four lines, the first three through sound rather than direct reference: A, y'all ain’t B-ing like us, etc. Better yet, he keeps up the alphabetical conceit without sacrificing the continuity of the rest of his verse: that he and his associates are way better at getting cocaine-rich than you and yours.
4. Killer Mike in “A.D.I.D.A.S.”
‘Cause I don’t need that A.I.D.S.
A D. and an A. missing out my Adidas
Nobody credits Mike with coming up with the backronym “All Day I Dream About Sex” for his song’s title: his clever addition is to posit that you can’t spell Adidas without AIDS, all while asserting that no matter how many hoes he screws—excuse us, drills—he always does so with protection. Once again, form dovetails with content.
3. Bloody Mary in Bloods & Crips‘ “Piru Love”
Piru is “crip” in reverse, but the C’s on its back
From our exegesis: “Bloody Mary takes a literal approach to the visual appearance of the word Piru: backwards it’s ‘URIP,’ and the letter U is (depending on the typeface) equivalent to the letter C rotated 90 degrees to the left. This is such an effective image because here “the C” can also mean ‘the Crip'—that is, on Piru Street, a Blood stronghold, Crips get laid out on their backs.” You have to admit there’s a certain macabre ingenuity to that.
2. Fabolous in “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing”
I’m on my A game, never on that B shit
You on that B shit, you never gonna be shit
That’s how I see shit, cause I am de shit
True story like that Hollywood E! shit
I say F niggas cause I’m on some G shit
Yep, nobody seems to know how to make it to H. Still, Fabolous one-ups Young Chris with the added syntactic constraint of appending “shit” to (almost) every letter.
1. Lil Wayne in “6 Foot 7 Foot”
Real Gs move in silence like lasagna
Fabo would’ve taken the number one spot on length alone if he weren’t ripping off/paying homage to Freck Billionaire, whose original run isn’t really all that great. So—surprise, surprise—Weezy splits the vote and slides in at number one with a line both allusive (see Biggie’s “bad boys move in silence and violence”) and delayed-release (that doesn’t make any sense, lasagna doesn’t make noi—oh, use-mention again). Mañifique.
What else you got for us, G? Hit the comments section.