Words: Dylan Murphy
While a lot has changed in rap, the appeal of the posse cut has endured. We rank the top ten of the past decade, with records from Kanye West, Freddie Gibbs, Danny Brown and more.
It goes without saying that rap is competitive. Usually, artists go head to head with their own records, diss tracks and more commonly nowadays, social media rants. On the rare occasions you have multiple artists on one beat, friendships are forgotten and rivalries are forged based on the pure proximity of their voices. Crowning a “winner” is also more convenient when a shared instrumental levels the playing field and everyone has the same 16 bars to showcase what they’ve got. Sometimes, in their attempts to out do one another, the song becomes greater than the some of its parts and if executed right, a posse cut feel like convergence of all the pieces of Exodia.
The last ten years have produced some legendary collaborative songs. From rising DIY collectives birthed on the internet to the battles between rappers at the peak of their powers, there’s no shortage of iconic examples. For the purpose of this piece, we’ll define a posse cut as a song that features verses from at least four different artists and consist of at least two different acts. So Big Sean’s ‘Control‘, for example has only three artists and doesn’t make the cut. We also make exceptions for collectives made up of artists with their own established solo careers.
An all star remix of grime’s best paying homage to the cut from Dizzee Rascal’s seminal Boy On The Corner, ‘Fekky’ syphons the energy of early 2000’s radio sets into a firestorm of reload-worthy one-liners. Feeling as though every MC on the cut had unfinished business, there’s no concessions to accessibility here, it’s all out war on the track that shows many of the pioneers still had the same hunger ten years later.
Dropping an album inspired by an era he was too young to experience whilst spitting wisdom beyond his 17 years, you’d be forgiven for thinking Joey Bada$$ was a man in a teenager’s body. 1999‘s outro ‘Third Eye Shit’ introduced Pro Era’s crew to a wider audience, showcased their spiritual leanings and distilled their collective power into 11 minutes of classic crew cut rap that pays homage to Nas’ track ‘Suspect’. Raw and free-flowing, as great as it is, it also leaves food for thought for what could’ve been for a rap collective that promised so much, sadly lost of its members and never truly lived up to its potential.
‘327‘ is getting hand-fed grapes on a deck of a yacht in the French Riviera. It’s getting your toes manicured on a Monday cause why not. More importantly, it’s a gentle reminder from rap titans that they made it on their own terms and in spite of society’s expectations. For Westside, a street vendor turned rapper, he made a song named after a New Balance sneaker he debuted in Paris Fashion week. He’d made shifting cocaine and his streetwear style glamorous. For Joey, it was getting so high “he forgot to pick up” his diploma from school to now chilling in a Maybach with Puff and Hova. Tyler meanwhile, made his millions in a genre defined hyper-masculinity whilst he painted his finger nails and kissed boys and in ‘327’ he’s toasting to his success.
If you ever wondered what the process of Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk would sound like if it was soundtracked by a rapper, look no further than Meechy Darko’s verse on ‘Piñata’. Howling like his vocal cords were pulsing viciously and ripping through his white collar shirt, the Flatbush Zombies rapper goes for broke on what is a predictably immaculate Madlib instrumental. His anti-hero, hyper-violent bars leave Freddie’s coke raps sounding innocuous and Casey Veggies sound like he’s reading a nursery rhyme aloud. And yes, I have just spent the whole time speaking about one rapper on the cut, but in a competitive sport, this was a bloodbath that left established names licking their wounds.
“Watch your blood mixed with mud and stain the gravel too
Grab and shoot, ribcage open like a parachute
Close range, switchblade, poke ’em if it’s personal
Blood stains, gold fangs, mask on, no trace
Murder one, closed case, stolen whip, no plates
Half a body in the trunk—go to prison? No way”
The artists that came to the fore in nascent era of Internet-fuelled hip hop had a special magnetism to them. BTS videos online and Tweets about what was on their mind at any given moment gave a sense of proximity that hadn’t existed before. While A$AP Rocky was very much part of that wave of forward-facing acts, having been named after the great Rakim he was never going to forget his roots. In an interview with Peter Rosenberg, Rocky said he “wanted to bring the feeling back” of the nineties on ‘1Train’. The Hit-boy produced crew cut united some of the most distinctive cadences in rap and culminated in a melting pot of voices that came to define the next decade.
A quadruple platinum ode to overindulgence and the first track from G.O.O.D Music’s Cruel Summer, this was the label’s version of unleashing hell on the rap game. What more fitting opening sample for Kanye to use than a literal reading about the fiery depths from the bible. Yet, for all the line by line analysis of this single you could do, ‘Mercy’ is a party record and a huge one at that. While it owes much to the iconic instrumental, having a hook that you can’t help but sing being flanked by one liners about white girls politicking like Sarah Palin is good enough for me to have a top ten spot.
It’s no surprise that Nicki Minaj heralds her verse on ‘Monster’ as her breakout moment. Context is important for this one. The Young Money artist was a relative newcomer without an album out. Coming onto a cut staffed by three artists at the peak of their powers could be seen as intimidating at best and potentially embarrassing at worst. What’s more is, it’s rare that the titans of rap will allow other artists to outshine them on songs. No one wants a Kendrick on Big Sean’s ‘Control’ situation. However, Nicki went one better and not only left Kanye for dust in his own track but took the top spot on a cut featuring two other heavy hitters in Jay-Z and Rick Ross. Granted, Jay-Z had an uncharacteristically weak verse on ‘Monster’. Whilst it sounded more like a Buzzfeed listicle for ‘things to dress up for Halloween as’, Kanye and Ross still delivered the goods, but Minaj had a point to prove and not even the best would stop her.
A remix goes harder than the original is always a win in my book, especially when the first iteration is a face scruncher that features Kanye West. In truth, the ‘THat Part’ reworking feels more like a college reunion of the game’s favourite students than a simple remix. Having come up on TDE together, ScHoolboy Q got the gang back together for a statement piece showcasing just how far they’ve come. Usually, crew cuts breed competition amongst its participants and sure, every rapper on ‘THat Part’ doesn’t want to come out last, but this a showcase of the label as a force of nature in an era of competing collectives.
Long enough to call out social media slactivism, hint at forthcoming TDE records and for Kendrick to drop one of the most technically impressive guest verses of the decade but swift enough to leave your jaw gaping, this was the Top Dawg Entertainment squad out to stake their claim as hip hop’s sharpest crew.
‘Really Doe‘ is Danny Brown calling in the cavalry for a statement piece on his demented magnum opus Atrocity Exhibition. Rapping from the deepest crevasses of the twilight zone, Kendrick’s hypnotic hook blurs the lines between fact and fiction, while Earl snapped out of his downtrodden IDLSIDGO era for his most memorable and incisive guest verses, period. Ab-soul’s verse is serviceable, but pales in comparison when measured against the others. He claims he didn’t know that Earl and Kendrick would be on the song and Danny Brown said as a result he was cut off Soul’s ‘Huey Knew THEN’. Nothing like a competitive rap cut to stir things up.
The most important collective moment of the most influential collective of the 2010s, not only is ‘Oldie’ an essential part of the DIY blueprint laid out by Odd Future – it’s an incredible crew cut. Usually, songs lasting upwards of five minutes face an upwards battle to command the attention of their listeners, but with all the familiar personalities and endless stream of one-liners, the track and video runs like final episode of the comfort tv show you’ve watched a million times. You can quote it word for word and it leaves you with a bittersweet feeling when it’s finally over. Tyler’s gruff bars are swapped out for Hodgy on his “Robin Hood Shit”, whilst Earl announced his return from Samoa and Frank accidentally-on-purpose let his sexuality slip. It’s a messy hodge-podge of disparate characters that’s brightly coloured t-shirts, cloudy shirts and camouflage hoodies were so mismatched it felt as though the only through line to their uniform and attitude was chaos.