Ranking the Verses on Kanye West’s ‘Monster,’ Five Years Later
Five years ago today, Kanye West unleashed one of rap’s most epic lineups — Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Jay Z, and Nicki Minaj — on the unsuspecting masses when he dropped his G.O.O.D. Friday track “Monster,” an unrelenting beast of a single that’d see its official release that November on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It spanned the gaps between the old guard and new, incorporating indie rock vocals into murky Mike Dean trap beats, and it cemented Minaj’s status as a force to be reckoned with. To celebrate the epic posse cut’s fifth birthday, Bighistorymusic ranked each contributor’s respective verse to see how they stand up all these years later.
5. Jay Z
This was a major turning point for the New York City stalwart, marking his clear descent from “voice of the streets” to “rapper your dad knows.” Jay spends way too long naming mythical monsters (does a ghoul even count as a monster?) before ominously threatening to “Rape and pillage a village / Women and children.” Gross.
4. Rick Ross
Rozay’s barely on this song long enough to make an impact — a smooth ten-second verse is all he’s afforded — but he’s charmingly self-effacing (“Fat motherf–ker / Now look who’s in trouble”) and his rumbling, husky baritone suits the swampy track’s melody and flow fairly well. Is there another unreleased Ross eight-bar sitting on a cutting room floor somewhere? It’s probably best not to know.
3. Kanye West
Obviously fans have ‘Ye to thank for the whole thing, but his rhymes fall squarely in the middle of the pack. At times he’s charming and hashtaggy (like the AIM Away Message-ready “My presence is a present / Kiss my ass”), but then you get lines like “I put the pussy in a sarcophagus” which — five years later — is still majorly slimy. Still, props to getting Nicki on an airplane to Hawaii to record her verse: the knockout supporting ensemble on MBDTF showed off West’s ever-improving ear for curating, and helped the album feel that much more cinematic.
2. Bon Iver (and Charlie Wilson)
A sleeper pick, maybe, but Justin Vernon injects every second of his intro and coda with howling, scratchy soul. The Wisconsin-based beardo stretches the world “whoa” into a multisyllabic passion play, and Uncle Charlie joins in on the end for a stormy conclusion, the two intoning “And I’ll / I’ll / Let God decide.” That alone is scarier than any of the monsters Jay Z lists off. Remember, too, that this was two years before the underground favorite Bon Iver improbably took home the Best New Artist Grammy; a massive Kanye cosign (followed by an appearance at ‘Ye’s headlining Coachella set during “Monster”) early on surely sent thousands of new fans flocking his way.
1. Nicki Minaj
You saw this coming, but it’s true — Minaj’s career-altering “Monster” verse stands the test of time as the single best verse of the 2010s. Last month, when the rapper brought her Pinkprint tour to New York City, more than 17,000 fans screamed each and every tongue-twisting rhyme back to the Queens MC as she stood proudly onstage, knowing exactly the carnage she’d left in her wake five years ago.
Minaj’s lyrics still burst with vibrancy, her imagery fresh and cutting, her AABB rhyme scheme quickly unfurling, laying waste to expectations as she allows her genius to take hold. “50K for a verse / No album out” is one of the biggest “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours” brags of the century. She takes aims at haters with candy-sweet intonation (“Forget Barbie / F–k Nicki / Sh-she’s fake”), works in references to her roots (“Tony Matterhorn / Dutty whine it / Whine it”), and breaks down hip-hop’s gender divide (“You can be the King / But watch the Queen conquer”) in what seems like one inconceivably extended breath of air.
At the time, Minaj had just come off a pretty hot summer on urban radio. Her whisper-thin “Your Love” dominated airwaves in major hip-hop markets with its Annie Lennox-sampling, saccharine sweet melodies. A month before “Monster” touched down, the rapper made a spotlight-stealing turn on Trey Songz’ “Bottoms Up,” a verse most fans consider canon now. But nothing truly touched the Kanye masterpiece in terms of what it did for Minaj. Immediately, Hot 97 DJs — who’d already jumped onboard the Minaj train during her Young Money “Bedrock” days — started trumpeting her as an untouchable force. West himself admitted he almost deleted her verse from the track because he “knew people would say that was the best verse on the best Hip Hop album of all time.”
“Monster” was Minaj’s moment, and still is. Five years later, it stands tall as a tentpole in her career, a marker of the exact second she skyrocketed from featured guest to rap titan. No other rapper — male or female — has scraped the greatness of that verse since. This is what we still live for: she’s a motherf–king monster.