Note: For a quick run-down of the definition and history of ad-libs, hit up this post.
Ad-libs are a staple of today’s rap scene. Every major rapper today uses them – Migos, Lil Pump, Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, A$AP Rocky and even Kendrick Lamar. The general idea of a commercially viable song is to be catchy, and what easier way to do this than through the repetitive use of sounds that don’t even count as words anymore.
Still, working earworm-like ad-libs into tracks require a significant amount of skill. The technique has been a staple since the 80s with hype men like Public Enemy’s Flava Flav popping up as background vocals to provide the song with some much-needed energy. From then on, it has evolved into the unstoppable beast that stalks the rap scene today.
Now as we reach peak ad-lib culture, it got me thinking about the most iconic ad-libs of hip-hop’s 30-year history. Also, I thought to rank them cause why not?
(P.S. It’s impossible to rank these objectively so it’s more like a favorites list tbh)
(P.P.S Please don’t take this list too seriously)
Honorable Mention: Big Shaq – “Man’s Not Hot”
“Man’s Not Hot” doesn’t contain any traditional ad-libs, but Big Shaq’s (real name Michael Dapaah) viral hit serves as a hilarious parody of rap’s ad-lib heavy leanings. The now iconic ‘The ting goes skrrrahh’ refrain has been etched into the minds of so many of us (too many if you ask me), that it is a testament to the fact that you don’t need bars to be memorable, just some dumb sounds that sound fiery over a dope beat.
10. Swerve (Big Sean)
Big Sean speeds in on a Lambo and he suddenly skids to a stop. As the smoke dissipates from the tires, he steps out of the car in a fresh mink fur coat, removes his $5000 Gucci shades and flashes you the goofiest grin you’ve seen in your life. That’s the kind of picture ‘swerve’ paints for me.
Unfortunately, this would probably be higher up on the list if Big Sean’s career didn’t start tanking since he dropped a dud with Metro Boomin’ plus his notable lack of ‘swerves’ recently. Still, every time his verse on “Mercy” comes on, I prepare myself for the plethora of booty puns while I wait for the cherry on top where he drops the ad-lib throughout the sampled hook. Excellent launching hype for an incredible track.
9. Gangsta Grizzilzz!/DJ DRAMA! (DJ Drama)
Legendary DJ – DJ Drama is proud father to one of the most legendarily annoying ad-libs but for good reason. His run of the Gangsta Grillz mixtape series with nearly every rapper ever (Lil Wayne, Jeezy, French Montana, Jadakiss, Childish Gambino etc) solidifies him as one of hip-hop’s essential elder-statesmen and he wants to make sure you remember it.
As he shouts and declares his way through every song on every mixtape he’s on, one can’t help but wonder if he has transcended the status of a hypeman and became an unwelcome guest on tracks instead. But still, shout out to all the unforgettable work he’s done for today’s biggest rap artists.
8. G-g-g-g-g-unit (50 Cent)
This ad-lib was inescapable back in 2004-2006 when 50 Cent was back in his prime. Standing strong as the biggest rapper in the world at the time, Curtis Jackson made sure to place his crew on the map. Many people still quote the ad-lib today, though mostly ironically or as a joke now. Plus most people can’t name any other of G-Unit’s members, soooo job half done?
On the bright side, it’s a great ad-lib to whisper to yourself as you shoot terrorists in the head with an oversized, diamond encrusted gun as you’re playing one of the most underrated video games of the last decade.
7. DJ KHALED! (DJ Khaled)
Whatever it is DJ Khaled does to earn his place in hip-hop culture (seriously, I have no idea), you can’t deny that he’s forced himself into our collective consciousness through sheer force of will. Now known more for his Snapchat escapades than his music, DJ Khaled knows he needs to keep the focus on if he wants to stay relevant in today’s music scene.
Hence, he shouts his name over and over on EVERY SINGLE SONG so we won’t ever forget him. Ever.
6. Haaaan (French Montana, Kanye West)
Can I just say that this ad-lib is goofy as hell and should be repeated by everyone in the immediate vicinity when it comes on in a song? When either artist drops it, it feels brash and audacious, as if they’re challenging you to look away as they’re about to deliver their verses.
The only difference is when Kanye does it, you’re in for a wild ride where you expect the unexpected. When French does it, you’re in for a skippable 30 seconds.
5. Mama (Migos, Kendrick Lamar)
I LOVE IT WHEN THE MOMMA AD-LIBS COME ON ANY RAP SONG I DONT CARE HOW BAD THE SONG IS I JUST LOSE MY SHIT WHEN A MOMMA/MUMMY/MOTHER AD-LIB SHOWS ITSELF AND I WILL CONTINUE TO FEEL THIS WAY TILL MY DYING BREATH THATS WHY IM PUTTING IT AT NUMBER 5 BITCH.
That is all.
4. Young Mula Baby/Young Money (Lil Wayne)
Like 50 Cent, Lil Wayne has infinite love for his crew and for good reason too. What other label can boast about having both Nicki Minaj and Drake under its wing? If I was Wayne I would shout them out all the time too.
Yet unlike 50 Cent’s laid-back announcement of the G-Unit name, Lil Wayne does it with an absolute passion that just makes it incredibly endearing. His often wild, nearly manic, proclamation can instantly fill the listener with gusto and gratification before he even starts a verse. If that isn’t iconic, I don’t know what is.
3. YEAH! (Lil Jon, Jeezy)
‘Yeah’ is the quintessential word used around the world that is used to exhibit joy and excitement. All of us know how to celebrate and we all know how to use the word ‘yeah’. But we can never come close to high octane energy of the Gods of Yeah that are Lil Jon and Jeezy.
Any rapper since the dawn of time have willingly or unknowingly used a ‘yeah’ ad-lib but often it’s just nothing more than a placeholder for the next bar. For these two rappers though, ‘yeah’ is a channel for them to let loose primal howls of aggression that signal the impending doom that they will bring as they destroy the beat they’re on.
Just kidding, it’s just hype as fuck.
2. Desiigner (More ad-lib than man)
Human jackrabbit Desiigner is a professional ad-libber that blew up in 2016 off his debut single “Panda”. Since then, he has ‘grrraa’ and ‘yeah’ and ‘git’ his way into our hearts. Keeping his head high as he stands atop the corpse of the English language, I can only pray that our lord and savior Desiigner has a bright future ahead of him.
All jokes aside though, when rappers feature you for ad-libs instead of an actual verse, it’s time for you to start reevaluating your career.
1. Ayy (Any rapper under the sun)
Ayy, this shit way too crazy, ayy, you do not amaze me, ayy
I blew cool from AC, ayy, Obama just paged me, ayy
I don’t fabricate it, ayy, most of y’all be fakin’, ayy
– Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”
Free shmoke, free shmoke, ayy!
Free shmoke, free shmoke, ayy!
Free shmoke, free shmoke, ayy!
– Drake, “Free Smoke”
17, we ain’t playin’, ayy
15 car garage, ayy
Shit still ain’t enough, ayy
Bank account got the most, ayy
I saved bread from the start, ayy
Show money for 15, ayy
Now shit changed a lot, ayy
Six houses 20 cars, ayy
– Fetty Wap, “Aye”
I’m like “Bitch, who is your mans?” ayy
Can’t keep my dick in my pants, ayy
My bitch don’t love me no mo’, ayy
She kick me out, I’m like vro, ayy
That bitch don’t wanna be friends, ayy
I gave her dick, she “amen,” ayy
She put her tongue on my dick, ayy
Look at my wrist, about ten, ayy
Just got a pound of the boof, ayy
Brought that shit straight to the booth, ayy
Tommy my Hilfiger voots, ayy
She said, “wan’ fuck?” Bitch, I do, ayy
You put a gun on my mans, ayy
I put a hole in your parents, ayy
I just got lean on my ksubis, ayy
– XXXTentacion, “Look At Me”
Rappers will continue to use ‘ayy’ till the world freezes over and we will continue to love their use of it till the end of time, ayy.