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Every once in a while, I get an idea for a new rap-based blog post. This has been on my mind for a long time. Back when I was a prolific social media user, I’d find myself subconsciously storing rap lyrics concerning ages. In this blog post, I’ll cover the best reference for reach year of human age.
I am aware that the folks at RapGenius wrote a similar blog post a few years ago. It’s been so long since I’ve seen it that I don’t feel I’m at risk of plagiarizing them. I feel I must have at least a few unique takes.
Depending on when you are reading this post, it may have a few years missing or a few incomplete descriptions. I decided to publish it once it was worthwhile to read rather than waiting another week or two before I could have something comprehensive.
I get to be subjective here. When I provide my take on what’s the “best” sometimes it’ll be while admitting that there are no other candidates. What goes into a lyric being the “best” will depend on how I’ve enjoyed the lyric over the years, the entire song, the artist, and maybe even how it relates to my own life. Any lyric that explicitly mentions a certain age (for example “I turned sixteen today, hip-hip hooray!”) is eligible. Any lyric that implies age as a specific point in time (“Five years prior [to the age I just spoke about], things were looking dire”) is also eligible but only in extreme cases where the implication is too good to pass over.
How the References Were Found
Most of these have been pulled from my memory. It’s really hard to google search to find lyrics matching various numbers. I am proud to say that most of these are sourced from songs I’ve listened to many times over the years, which perhaps lends me some additional credibility.
The Best Reference for Each Age
1970 something, nigga I don’t sweat the dateBiggie Smalls – Respect (1994)
My moms is late so I had to plan my escape
Out the skins, in this world of fly girls
Tanqueray and Hennessy until I call hurl
Ten months in this gut, what the fuck?
I wish moms would hurry up so I could get buck
Wild juvenile ripping mics and shit
New York, New York, ready for the likes of this
Then came the worst date, May 21st
2:19, that’s when my mama water burst
No spouse in the house so she rode for self
To the hospital, to see if she could get a little help
Umbilical cord’s wrapped around my neck
I’m seeing my death and I ain’t even took my first step
I made it out, I’m bringing mad joy
The doctor looked and said, “He’s going to be a bad boy”
Was this the first time someone rapped about being born? Maybe. Is this the most significant verse about the topic? Absolutely. It’s iconic, it’s the Book of Genesis. Respect is a slept-on song that takes you through Biggie’s life. More so than Juicy or other hits, this is the song I would use to introduce an alien to Christopher Wallace.
When we talk about excellence in lyrical brevity, could it get any better? If you had a team of writers trying to capture the essence of Biggie Smalls while telling a similar story, would we ever arrive here? I don’t think so. It’s a raw verse that cycles through many human emotions, ending with a humorous Bad Boy reference. Each time this verse finishes, it makes me want to pause the song so I can stop, reflect, and pay my own respects
2 Years Old / 87 Years Old
Hol’ Up has got to be in my top 20 rap songs of all time. Such a hungry, stylish, and unconventionally deep track from Section.80. I remember listening to this on repeat back in college while studying, riding around with my college girlfriend just blasting this song, playing it whenever I got the aux cord at parties even when most people weren’t feeling it or weren’t hyped about Kendrick. It’s a pump-up, it’s a chill song, it’s a song that demands introspection.
In these three bars, we have Kendrick straddling the human lifespan. The 20s are seen as the decade in which you more-or-less become the person you’re going to be for the rest of your life. Kendrick suggests he grew up fast, having made these decisions and gained this life experience as a two-year-old. His wisdom and composure speak for themselves here even on a song that, on the surface, seems shallow and braggadocious.
In the last bar here, Kendrick, who was born in 1987, claims to be 87 years old. Hearing this line when this track dropped would have been one thing, but hearing this line after playing through GKMC? It would take on a completely different meaning. You’d be tempted to shout “Of course!”
6 Years Old
If you didn’t want to talk to me outside your concert, you didn’t have toEminem – Stan (2000)
But you coulda signed an autograph for Matthew
That’s my little brother, man, he’s only six years old
We waited in the blisterin’ cold
For you, for four hours, and you just said no
I was quite precocious as a child but I definitely wasn’t enlightened enough to have been listened to Eminem back in the year 2000. If I was, hearing Stan would have changed a lot for a 6-year-old Tim O’Hearn. I ask myself now if I could have recognized Eminem’s genius as a child; I wonder how most adults missed it. This song transcends hip hop. The concept is just so good that I’m not aware of any artists really in any genre or any media who have done justice to this same theme.
When it comes to the specific age-related lyric, at first glance it’s not particularly interesting. But then you realize that you only think that because Marshall Mathers is a genius and you take for granted that six-years-old was made to fluidly rhyme with blis-terin’-cold. Are you serious? FOUR HOURS AND YOU JUST SAID NO.
There’s a little fold in the brain of nearly every sentient human where these few bars are meant to fit.
This little detail in Stan ends up providing a story arch and song centered around a grown Matthew on MMLP2.
7 Years Old / 10 Years Old
7 years old saw my first pornoMac Miller ft. Ab Soul – Matches (2013)
Damn that fucked me up
At 10 I bust my first nut
On this older ho gut, but so what
Ab-Soul came out swinging here and managed to cover two rarely-spoken-about ages, 7 and 10. Sounds to me like he had a difficult upbringing. There are a few other ages mentioned in his verse (22 and 25), but they’re just as bad.
9 Years Old
Kendrick dropped a tape in 2009 where he mostly rapped over instrumentals from Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III. Your first reaction is probably to accuse me of having had to google this one, but since I remembered Kendrick did count from 25 all the way to 1 … there was a 100% chance that there was at least one age year.
The mixtape is good, the song is good, the bar isn’t particularly memorable but this is Kendrick (K-Dot) in his infancy and who else is talking about being nine years old?
Right, just Kendrick:
Verse one on m.A.A.d City is so… Lamaresque. I remember picking up on Kendrick’s unique flow patterns and delivery back when people were hyped off Cartoons and Cereal but this verse still sounds so ahead of its time. The rhyme scheme, even for these two bars, is crazy.
13 Years Old
Now I’m thirteen, smoking blunts, making creamBiggie Smalls – Respect (1994)
On the drug scene, fuck a football team
Risking ruptured spleens by the age of sixteen
Hearing the coach scream ain’t my lifetime dream
Back to Respect here at the top of verse 2. I will sometimes entertain debates where people assert that Tupac and Biggie are given too much credit on account of their martyrdom. You listen to the first four bars of this verse and it’s clear that Biggie was in a league of his own.
Mainly–I get the fucking picture. Dude didn’t want to play sports, he was living the street life. Has it ever sounded this good or this macho? All the rap music that attempts to emulate this sound, this struggle, this grittiness, I don’t remember hearing anything that made me feel the same way until I really started analyzing the music of 50 Cent.
This doesn’t sound like a metaphor. Biggie was in 6th or 7th grade living the street live: smoking weed and hustling. The specific reasons for not participating in organized sports are also brilliant. Coaches screaming, spleens… rupturing? Incredibly colorful and descriptive while remaining concise. I wouldn’t want to play football either.
Yes it’s me, the B.I.G1991 Block Party Freestyle
Competition ripper ever since 13
Safe to say that Biggie owns this age. These are the opening bars from his widely-viewed Block Party Freestyle. I don’t doubt that he was ripping competitions at age 13.
14 Years Old
I didn’t expect to double-dip on this song, but if we’re going to give some significance to origin stories at otherwise-inconsequential years, here you go.
15 Years Old
Man, see, I remember when I was like fifteen years oldLogic – Last Call (2018)
And my dad took me to the studio
I know this is random, I’m tryna take you guys through it, right?
And, I’ll never forget it, I had like eight rhyme books
I really just couldn’t get there for age fifteen. Nothing really came to mind aside from the lyrics concerning a fifteen-year-old girl on Eminem and Dr. Dre’s Guilty Conscience. Of course, I could just search for “fifteen rap” and dig and dig but the whole point was to recall and comment on things that were memorable.
All I’ve got here is Logic’s Last Call from YSIV. Nobody is reciting these lyrics from memory but I’ve always liked the way Logic has closed out his projects. Further, this is his “origin story” song. I enjoyed this project so much. I still listen to it top-to-bottom and end-to-end and back-to-front. Good, Logic, I’m glad your dad took you to the studio at 15. That’s all.
19 Years Old
Classic Drake introspection. He excels in adding lyrical depth while maintaining rhyme schemes and breath control. I found that a lot of schoolyard rappers back in the day would try to emulate Drake’s style, truth be told it’s really hard. It’s difficult to place all these words together, have some of them rhyme, hit the right tones with your voice, and then also be able to breath.
I actually saw Drake on tour following the release of What a Time to Be Alive and I was pissed because I think he blew a kiss at my girlfriend. Anyway, I hated this album. In my household,30 for 30 Freestyle has been played 10x as many times as the rest of the songs here combined.
20 Years Old
I woke up early on my born day; I’m 20, it’s a blessin’Nas – Life’s a Bitch (1994)
The essence of adolescence leaves my body, now I’m fresh and
My physical frame is celebrated ‘cause I made it
One quarter through life, some godly-like thing created
Nas turned twenty when he was finishing up Illmatic. Life’s a Bitch has such a gritty 90’s chorus and under-produced beat that I do find it hurts the replay value, but, my god, do Nas and AZ slaughter their verses. AZ’s verse, which opens the song, is untouchable.
Nas starts off strong too but pulls back a bit. I think his cadence and conversational tone better fit the introspective, downtrodden theme of the song. For me, I really looked forward to tweeting this lyric when I turned 20. Nas captures that eternal righteous feeling of a birthday in spite of, well, life being a bitch.
Is that Olu Dara playing the trumpet at the end? *Faints*
21 Years Old
I just tell the truth and so I’m cool in every hood spotDrake ft. Lil Wayne & Jeezy – I’m Goin In (2009)
21 years and I ain’t ever met a good cop
Me and Wayne lean like Kareem doin’ hook shots
Cover me, I’m goin’ in, and buckin’ when the hook drop
Man, I love Drake in this era. There’s so much lyricism and backpacking that the game was sorely missing at this point in time.
21 years and I ain’t ever met a good cop
We’re talking about defunding the police in 2021 but back in 2009 Drake might have been able to do this singlehandedly. He’s similar to Kanye in that there are lines interspersed between other unrelated lines that are so good when combined, you literally have to rewind the song. I don’t think you’d believe me if I showed you how many times I’ve listened to I’m Goin’ In. Bonus points for this age not being about partying or getting twisted.
22 Years Old
Don’t tote no twenty-twos, Magnum cost me twenty-twoRick Ross – Hustlin (2006)
Sat it on them twenty-twos, birds go for twenty-two
Lil’ mama super thick, she say she twenty-two
She seen them twenty-twos, we in room two twenty-two
For all of the 20s, I consulted my friends who appreciated rap. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything major. These few bars from Ross on Hustlin’ were completely overlooked–to the point that I had to rap the whole verse or play the song just to get people to remember.
This song is a rap power ballad. This song is the rap power ballad. We’re here for the chorus, not for the lyrics, but these are some hilarious bars. Twenty-two is such an unwieldy number, Ross gets some hate for this but I feel that they make the song what it is.
Not toting a twenty-two means you don’t have a small .22 caliber gun. A magnum is a very powerful handgun that could potentially cost $2200. Sitting on twenty-twos means your car has low-profile 22-inch rims that end up being the focal point of most cars (see Cadillac on 22s). A “bird” is a kilogram of cocaine with a bird stamped on it indicating its country of origin. It is conceivable that the wholesale value kilogram of coke in Miami in 2006 was roughly $22,000. In all of this, the age of Rick Ross’s “Lil Mama” is the most straightforward–22 here being a desirable age for Ross. She’s impressed by … one of these things … involving the number 22, and they’re about to copulate in a hotel room which contains the number 22. Phew.
23 Years Old
Uh. I’m 23, with a money tree.
Growing more too, I just planted a hundred seeds.
It’s ironic, ’cause my mother was a florist,
And that’s how she met my pops and now my garden is enormous.
Drake – The Resistance (2010)
All this paper I been gettin’, all these models I poppedMeek Mill – Imma Boss (2011)
I done sold a hundred thousand before my album got dropped
And I’m only 23 I’m the shit now look at me
Look at me I’m a boss like my nigga Rozay
I love these bars from Drake. One of my favorite bits of imagery and accomplishment in all of rap music. Deeply descriptive and satisfying. Florist//enormous is elite rapping.
Imma Boss is in a completely different category. How many times have I shouted these lyrics while stunting at the club? How many people, including me, are still using this song for reliable shots of adrenaline? These present two competing images of 23, which has been one of the most critical ages of my life. Each of these portrayals I feel in some way applied to my life as a 23-year-old. On one side, there’s a quietly successful and reflective metaphorical gardener. On the other, there’s a brash, egotistical dude who, ultimately, isn’t well-liked.
24 Years Old
24, how could I ask for more?Meek Mill – The Ride (2012)
This is a humbled follow-up to Meek Mill’s Ima Boss lyrics concerning age 23. There’s a tone of appreciation for what he has in life. Overall, The Ride is one of the most mellow and reflective songs in Meek Mill’s catalogue. I really enjoy it. This said, the beat and the theme were indeed lifted from Drake’s song of the same name.
It’s likely that better lyrics exist for this age and I’m on the lookout for them.
25 Years Old
We wasn’t supposed to make it past 25, jokes on you we still aliveKanye West, We Don’t Care, 2004
Laughing in the face of the statisticians and newscasters who predict life expectancy for kids growing up in the ghetto. That’s impressively socially conscious for 2004. Kanye will never get the credit he deserves for how well he melded social and cultural issues with humor and bravado. This chorus is a shining example. It makes you think–you don’t pick up on it immediately. There are surviving forum posts out there where people were trying to figure out what he meant by this.
26 Years Old / 36 Years Old
Now who the hell is thisKanye West ft Common & Talib Kweli – Get Em High (2004)
Emailing me at 11:26
Telling me that she thirty-six, twenty-six plus double-d?
You know how girls on Black Planet be when they get bubbly
Some people will recall this line when thinking about age 26. However, 36/26 is just a measurement of bust/waist size. I wasn’t on Black Planet back in the day, but even when I was a kid trawling the early internet, I can confirm that people were sharing all types of measurements on their profiles. This ain’t it.
I can’t think of a good actual lyric for age 26. Will fill this one in later.
27 Years Old
I had a few Drake lyrics queued up for 27 (namely a few memorable bars from 0 to 100 Freestyle). There is only one selection fitting for age 27. Mac Miller’s death hurt and each time I hear him rap these words there’s this awful feeling. Not to be crass but why were his drugs still being mixed with bullshit years after he asked nicely? At least they caught the dealers selling counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl but this does speak to a larger issue. I just heard of a friend of a friend dying last week for this same reason.
I remember hearing when he died, before anyone even knew it was an overdose, this was the first thing that came to mind. That’s what it means for a lyric to be memorable. Mac Miller was one of my favorite artists. His lyrical ability mixed with themes other popular rappers would never touch made for some really special bars. It’s a shame that a line that was probably funny at the time ended up being a stark reminder of his demons and the larger issue of drug abse.
30 Years Old
Jay Z – 30 Something (2006)
A lot of Jay Z’s prime stuff came at an odd time for me. I wasn’t really into rap in 2006, I rarely enjoyed full playthroughs of his projects. No disrespect! But due to how gradually I was introduced to his work, I have way less Jay lines memorized than Yeezy or Drake lines.
The song tracks along the lines of what the saying means. Jay Z had career, lifetime accomplishments during his twenties. He did it all. Turning 30 still marks a moment of reflection, especially if the rapper is still relevant.
I really don’t like this song. The lyrics are simplistic. Jay Z’s delivery annoys me especially on this beat. He does mention age 21 and 22 here but they aren’t memorable lines. Kingdom Come was a mediocre album. It makes you appreciate how fearful Jay would have been about the budding careers of Kanye West and even Lupe Fiasco at this time.
On my 30th birthday, I will not recite or even recall this reference.
66 Years Old / 70 Years Old
You a flower child, beautiful child, I’m in your zoneDrake – From Time (2013)
Looking like you came from the seventies on your own
My mother is sixty-six and her favorite line to hit me with is
“Who the fuck wants to be seventy and alone?”
From Time is one of the best songs from Nothing was the Same. The whole piece is comprised of spoken-word flows that pack a lot of emotion. These bars touch on lost love from when Drake was younger before a quick switch to his mother’s perspective. This is something only Drake could do. The juxtaposition between wallowing over a relationship that didn’t work out when you’re still in your prime and being lonely as someone advanced in age begs reflection.
Now, my mother doesn’t ever hit me with this line, but she’s 66 as I write this and over the last few years there have been frequent reminders of the value of not being lonely at 70 and how rare it is to achieve.
Some lyrics about age are iconic. Others are less notable but mean a lot to me. Then, some gaps need to be filled with bars that simply fill the gaps. Rap doesn’t really get talked about the way I want to talk about it, so I write blog posts like this one. Thanks for reading.