Let’s give props where props are due.
The mighty Prince Paul deserves praise for his role in elevating and popularizing the hip-hop album skit in with his work on De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising in 1989.
“Rap records always had some dialogue in them, like, ‘Hey, man, I’m gonna smack you in the face,’ or, ‘Yo… let’s get it!’ but they weren’t sketches with a whole vibe to them,” Paul explained to the Red Bull Academy. “We did it to fill that void, to give our album some structure. It was just something we tried out and it evolved. We never thought it would become a rap album staple.”
Oh, boy, did it ever. Just ask Dr. Trevis, Ken Kaniff or Pain In Da Ass. OK, I’m reloaded!
While the 1990s undeniably ushered in the golden age of the hip-hop skit, as the majority of artists slipped into the format and strived to eat up all the 80 minutes available on a compact disc, the new millennium has also brought its fair share of memorable interludes.
Whether serving to push a narrative forward, giving us a breather from the beats, giving us a peek into the artist’s personality or simply making us laugh out loud, the rap skit still holds value. It may not be as prevalent a tool as it once was, but a good sketch can hold replay value and enhance the full-length experience.
Here’s a sampling of some of the best skits from this century. Don’t be so quick to hit that fast-forward button. —Luke Fox
“Public Service Announcement 2000”Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
An early go-to producer for Eminem, Jeff Bass is given a rare turn on the other side of the microphone to deliver a lewd and crude “Public Service Announcement” on The Slim Shady LP and its follow-up, The Marshall Mathers LP. “Little did you know, upon purchasing this album, you have just kissed his ass,” Bass warns at the outset of the latter, setting up the tornado that is “Kill You,” and giving a tongue-in-cheek heads-up that we should stop taking everything Eminem says—and ourselves, for that matter—so seriously.
“Woodrow the Basehead”Ghostface Killah, Supreme Clientele (2000)
The Wu has always had a knack for feeding you and feeding you original and raw-sounding album skits. Ghost continues that proud and loud tradition on Supreme Clientele. A fiend named Woodrow, voiced by rapper Superb, comes around harassing our hero as what appears to be a source of comic relief, before things escalate and we’re reminded of the volatility of the drug game.
“Kim & Cookie (Interlude)”OutKast, Stankonia (2000)
Rap songs have probably spent enough time pointing out the flaws of unnamed women, so it’s refreshing to hear “Kim” and “Cookie” flip the script on this Stankonia interlude, which sets up the plate for the super-fun, Gangsta Boo–laced “I’ll Call Before I Come.”
Kim and Cookie rip into “a minute man” who got his rocks off and left Kim hanging. The twist? Kim robs the dude’s wallet as retribution and considers stealing his pistol—“but I ain’t know how many muthafuckin’ bodies he had on that muthafucka.”
“Rape’n U Records”The Lox, We Are the Streets (2000)
The well-publicized ordeal Jadakiss, Sheek Louch and Styles P went through to extricate themselves from shiny-suit straightjackets of Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records at the turn of the century is spoofed on the trio’s hard-edged sophomore LP, We Are the Streets. Yes, there was a time—prior to Soundcloud—when major labels held all the power, gave their artists scraps, and artists like The Lox felt they were getting shafted. This memorable sketch thinly veils that discomfort.
“We really changed the game by doing that,” Styles would later say about the group’s aggressive tactics to free themselves from Bad Boy. “It might take years from now, but other people are gonna do it. We made it so they don't have to be scared to speak up.”
“Greatest Hits”Ludacris, Word of Mouf (2001)
Luda’s greatest hits like “Southern Hospitality" and “What’s Your Fantasy?” get awkwardly remade “by random White people” in this hilarious fake advertisement for a bad-karaoke compilation. “It’s random White people! Unkut! Uncensored! And off-beat as fuck!” Smart, short, wonderful.
“The Kiss”Eminem, The Eminem Show (2002)
In the classic style of Dr. Dre, who executive produced The Eminem Show, “The Kiss” gives audiences a cinematic buildup to album cut “Soldier.” In this tension-filled sketch, which has its roots in a real-life incident, Marshall Mathers watches bouncer John Guerrera kiss love-of-his-life Kim, prompting the MC to assault Guerrera.
The sketch, and the lyrics to the impassioned “Soldier,” ring all the more chilling with our knowledge that the nightclub incident resulted in an actual arrest. Once again, Em masters the blurring of art and life.
“Ja Rule Skit #1”G-Unit, Automatic Gunfire (2003)
At the height of the G Unit/Murder Inc. beef, 50 Cent does an excellent job of mocking his nemesis, Ja Rule, on this sketch from 2003’s Automatic Gunfire mixtape. Promoting the phony Ja Rule Duets 2 album, a fake Ja impersonator does a horrible job dueting with Enrique Iglesias. Savage stuff.
“T Baggin”Ludacris, Chicken & Beer (2003)
Aside from his elastic flow and ear for anthemic beats, what separated Ludacris from the other Atlanta MCs breaking through in the early 2000s was his undeniable sense of humor, dosed liberally via punchlines and in his oft-superior skits. Chicken & Beer’s “T Baggin,” a phony answering machine message for Disturbing the Peace Records, begins innocently enough as a spoof on industry hangers-on, then suddenly and raunchily flips to a critique of frat-boy antics.
“Welcome to Purple Haze”Cam’ron, Purple Haze (2004)
The classic Dipset-created character Mizzle—fiend, faker, weasel—welcomes listeners to Cam’ron’s Purple Haze. There’s something immediately untrustworthy and slimy about the addict, and his impression becomes lasting enough that you can look up “mizzle” in the Urban Dictionary and find a synonym for "snitch."
“I’m a Chicken Head”Cam'ron, Purple Haze (2004)
The angry phone call from the ex has long been a staple of the rap album, but Cam’ron—and the unnamed, fierce female on the other end of the line—takes it up a notch with this heated exchange on Purple Haze. When Cam tries to dismiss his agitated caller as a chickenhead, she embraces the insult: Quack, quack, quack! “That’s a duck,” Cam fires back. “Get your sound right.”
“Rude Boy”Cam'ron, Purple Haze (2004)
Killa Cam’s series of goofy phone-call skits continues with this interaction with a Jamaican guy whose girl Cam’Ron has apparently been creeping with. Cam sloughs him off: “What’s your pum pum, dog?” But the convo spirals into threats. Finding the thin line between tension and humor, Cam’s skits inject Purple Haze with irreverent personality and keep the show moving along.
“Dating Game”Handsome Boy Modeling School, White People (2004)
If you think three minutes is too long for an album skit, then you probably need a little more Prince Paul in your life. The quirky production legend has always possessed one of the best knacks for humor in hip-hop, and on Handsome Boy Modeling School’s White People, he revisits the game-show-themed sketch that he first employed on De La Soul’s 3 Feet High & Rising. Tim Meadows hilariously plays his Ladies’ Man character, while Hines Buchanan and Neelam knock out spot-on impressions of Jay-Z and RZA as they pitch themselves to a potential date.
“Skit No. 4”Kanye West, Late Registration (2005)
The college-life theme of Kanye’s sophomore LP, Late Registration, is glued together nicely with a four-part series of Broke Phi Broke skits voiced by comedian DeRay Davis, who also handled many of the interludes on The College Dropout. Davis plays the leader of a fictional fraternity that prides itself on empty pockets. In “Skit No. 4,” he rails into Kanye for sneakily “making beats on the side” and “eating every day.” He ain’t no broke.
“Diary of a Mad Black Daddy”Little Brother, The Minstrel Show (2005)
Phonte, Big Pooh and 9th Wonder do their Native Tongues forefathers proud when it comes to carrying on the tradition of the album skit. On this gem from The Minstrel Show, a father fumes at his son, who is glued to the booty-shaking dancers on BET rap videos and neglecting his homework.
“Making Black folks look like damn fools, talking about ‘I love it’… If it was your damn timetables, would you love that? How about loving some long division, nigga?”
"Blame Game"My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Kanye tapped comedian and noted hip-hop head Chris Rock to provide a lengthy intro skit to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy highlight “Blame Game,” the John Legend–featured joint partly inspired by West’s failed relationship with Amber Rose. But Rock’s surprise setup is arguably more memorable than the song itself.
“I did that quicker than I read scripts that they offer me money to do,” Rock told The New York Times when the album dropped in 2010. “I thank [Kanye] so much, it probably freaks him out. Especially at this late date, to get on something, the album of the moment, that stuff is priceless, you can’t put a price tag on that. I felt invigorated by it. I’ve still got my fastball.”
"Ya Moms Skit"Method Man, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, Wu-Massacre (2010)
The 2010 Wu-Massacre album, by Clan all-stars Method Man, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon, is a bit of a hidden gem in the later half of the Wu canon. And the trio keeps things light by throwing back to playing the dozens on the block with an exchange of snaps. Our personal favorite comes care of Method Man: “Your mom so short, she model for trophies.”
"Van Vogue"Azealia Banks, 1991 (2012)
Filtering an unknown male’s voice through a modulator that makes it sound deep and syrupy, Azealia goes after “these bottom-ass bitches with these raggedy-ass shoes” during an extended outro rant to “Van Vogue,” a highlight from her 1991 EP. It’s arrogant and ignorant and nearly as memorable as the track that precedes it. “You stepped it up. You not in McDonald’s, you in Chipotle.” Zing.
"Sherane a.k.a Master Splinter's Daughter" (Skit)Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
The 16 skits that link the narrative of good kid, m.A.A.d city should not be overlooked for the purpose they serve in crafting a classic. The transition between the high-intensity album intro and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” for instance, wouldn’t run nearly as smooth without K-Dot’s parents bickering and wondering aloud about the whereabouts of their son, his mom's car and his dad's damn dominoes!
“New York Skit”The Game, The Documentary 2.5 (2015)
The origins of one of rap music’s most epic beefs—The Game vs. 50 Cent—gets explained in detail on The Documentary 2.5 in a set up interview with Sway. The addition of overlayed gunshot sound effects and hollering voices add effect to Game’s rehashing of the Hot 97 tale.
“I Love Kanye”Kanye West, The Life of Pablo (2016)
What if Kanye made a song about Kanye called “I Love Kanye”? Man, that would be so Kanye. Forever searching for new sounds and samples, fresh styles and collaborators, Mr. West pokes gentle fun at the segment of his fanbase who wishes he’d stick to the pink Polos and chipmunk soul snippets on this smarty-pants a cappella from the decidedly new-Kanye Life of Pablo. The beauty of Kanye releasing this verse sans music is that it allowed producers to drop the vocals atop old-Kanye-style beats, adding texture to the irony.