The Art Of Storytelling's Epilogue: 10 More Stories Told Through Rap Songs

Following this summer's initial list, J-23 returns with some clarification and 10 more Hip Hop stories told in verses by the likes of Ice Cube, Aesop Rock, The Coup, Big L and Nas.

A few days after The Art of Storytelling was posted I got an angry phone call from a friend of mine who demanded to know why I didn’t include Nas’ “Rewind” in my editorial. Besides that this wasn’t a Top 10 list, just merely some of my favorites, Nas’ outstanding track wasn’t exactly the type of track I was looking for. My boy proved my point when I asked him what “Rewind” was about and he couldn’t tell me anything but “the shit was backwards!” No question, Nas’ concept and execution was brilliant, but as I said in part 1 “I’m talking about it that real, vivid, cinematic type shit.”

This list could be a hundred deep and it wouldn’t cover everything that deserves mention. Great storytellers like Guru, MC Eiht, Scarface, Andre 3000, Redman, Blueprint, Cage, Tupac, etc are nowhere to be found. Others who are listed here deserve entire editorials for themselves. Not to mention those who have made entire albums weaving a story together like Masta Ace’s Disposable Arts, Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves or Sticky Fingaz’ Black Trash. There has been no shortage of incredible storytelling over the past 30 years or so, let’s take a look at another ten great one’s.

Ice Cube - Alive On Arrival

(1991, Priority)

Characters: Ice Cube, J-Dee, the homies, rival gang, police, nurse
Setting: South Central Los Angeles
Plot: Cube receives less than stellar care at the county hospital after getting shot in the back
Excerpt:Yo nurse, I’m gettin’ kinda warm / Bitch still made me fill out the fuckin’ form

Lesson: Don’t fall down

Ice Cube is in the upper echelon of all-time great storytellers. In fact, you could easily make a list like this just for O’Shea. Just check the resume; “Once Upon A Time In The Projects,” “A Gangsta’s Fairytale,” “Gangsta’s Fairytale 2,” “My Summer Vacation,” “Today Was A Good Day,” “Who Got The Camera,” “Extradition.” I could go on and on. I had to give the nod to the Death Certificate classic because Cube’s storytelling is so vivid. Listen to the song, you can picture every moment of it perfectly as he narrates. Even still, I feel kind of guilty for not picking “Today Was A Good Day.”

The Notorious B.I.G. - I Got A Story To Tell

(1997, Bad Boy)

Characters: The Notorious B.I.G., woman, New York Knick
Setting: New York City
Plot: Big has to get creative when he’s nearly caught with another man’s woman and gets an unexpected payday
Excerpt:We fucked in his bed, quite dangerous / I’m in his ass while he play against the Utah Jazz

Lesson: Always keep some rope handy when sleeping with a taken woman

Biggie has no shortage of candidates here; “Warning,” “Niggaz Bleed,” and “Me & My Bitch” to name a few. “I Got A Story To Tell” has long been my favorite though. From The Notorious B.I.G.’s always effortless delivery of the creative story to the recap to his boys as Buckwild’s classic runs on, it all clicks.

De La Soul - Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa

(1991, Tommy Boy)

Characters: Millie, Dillon, De La Soul
Setting: New York City
Plot: Millie takes revenge on her sexually abusive father
Excerpt:As I'm jettin', Millie floats in like a zombie / I ask her what's her problem, all she says is ‘Where is he?’ / I give a point, she pulls a pistol, people screamin' / She shouts to Dill he's off to hell 'cause he's a demon

Lesson: Nothin' silly.

One of De La Soul's greatest strengths is their ability to tell a serious story in the third person over a beat that would never sound as such to somebody not paying attention to the lyrics. De La Soul Is Dead is a nice balance of the serious, the whimsical and the autobiographical. "Millie" is a benchmark song in rappers profiling the abuse against women, and one of the keystone tracks on one of De La's several classic albums. Hopefully the trio's reunion with producer Prince Paul brings more of these tracks back to the forefront.

Kool G. Rap - Operation CB

(1992, Cold Chillin’)

Characters: Kool G. Rap, Sir Jinx, Debbie, little kid
Setting: New York
Plot: G. Rap gets cock blocked by Jinx and a kid
Excerpt:She jumped up in a flash and took my dick out of her mouth / The little niggas throwing a fit, talking about he’s hungry and shit

Lesson: Don’t block

Another case of an artist with a big selection to choose from, and it was coin flip between "Operation CB" and “On The Run.” Any song with G Rap getting his shins smashed with Tonka trucks and cursing out cock-blocking children has to get the nod though. One of the reigning kings of Raunch Rap.

The Coup - Fat Cats, Bigga Fish

(1994, Wild Pitch)

Characters: Boots, cashier, cousin, Mayor, CEO of Coca-Cola
Setting: The Bay
Plot: A hustler posing at a waiter looking to rob some rich folks realizes he’s the one being hustled
Excerpt:Fresh dressed like a million bucks / I be the flyest muthafucka in an afro and a tux/my arm is at a right angle up silver tray in my hand / may i interest you in some caviar ma’am/my eyes shoots round the room there and here / Noticing the diamonds in the chandelier

Lesson: There’s always a bigger player, there’s always a bigger game

Leave it to Boots Riley to take what seems to be your average hustler’s tale and turn it into a lesson. Boots plays a hustler posing as a waiter at a swanky party, plotting to make off with some goods. But when he overhears the Mayor and the CEO of Coca-Cola doing some real plotting, he’s forced to reassess his position. The video is amazing too, damn I miss Wild Pitch Records...

Aesop Rock - No Regrets

(2001, Definitive Jux)

Characters: Lucy, Joshua, Mrs. Crabtree, Bobby, Mailman, Rico, Nurse
Setting: New York City
Plot: From beginning to end, Lucy bucks social norms to live out her dreams
Excerpt:Until the day she leaned forward, grinned and pulled the nurse aside / And she said, ‘Look, I've never had a dream in my life / Because a dream is what you wanna do, but still haven't pursued / I knew what I wanted and did it till it was done / So I've been the dream that I wanted to be since day one’"

Lesson: Live your dreams

Not every great story is about sex, murder and crime. Aesop Rock's catalog gem “No Regrets” follows the life of an artistic girl named Lucy who ignores potential friends and social outings in favor of doing what she wants to do. The message is simple and inspirational; don’t spend your life chasing your dreams, live them.

Nas - Blaze A 50

(2002, Colombia)

Characters: Nas, Brazilian candy, husband, maid
Setting: San Diego, Palm Spings, Spain
Plot: Woman has Nas kill her husband to runaway with his money, or Nas’ money...
Excerpt: “Told me bout her mans life insurance policy / He stays on the golf course, wears Drakkar Sport / Evenings he drinks his wines on his private resort”

Lesson: Don’t be greedy

No one has ever accused Nas of writing simple rhymes, so it should come as no surprise that when he tells a story he leaves no detail untouched. “Blaze A 50” is best remembered for the surprise Nas has for his new chick, but it’s Nas’ painting the picture with such detail that made this song so great.

Big L - The Heist

(2000, Rawkus)

Characters: Big L Corleone, Tommy Gibbs, crew, Mike, Ben, wife, whore
Setting: New York and New Jersey
Plot: L’s revenge against his cheating wife turns out to be quite profitable
Excerpt:Now I'm in the Range, switchin lanes, doin a buck 'n change / I can't wait to touch the lames and them fuckin' dames / Reach the destination, grab the heat without no hesitation / These niggas fuckin up my reputation

Lesson: Fuck bitches, get money

Like few others, Lamont Coleman made rapping sound very easy. While “The Heist” is an ill story of revenge and triumph, L makes you feel like he could write shit like that 5 times a day. L may have been a student of Lord Finesse, but on tracks like this and “Casualties Of A Dice Game” he has always reminded me of Kool G. Rap.

Dana Dane - Nightmares

(1987, Profile)

Dana Dane, Dr. Slumber, Nurse, Anita The Beast, Doggy dog female, Denise
Setting: New York City
Plot: Dana Dane describes a series of nightmares to a doctor
Excerpt:Saw the def body with the vicious butt / How did I know she was a marvelous mutt / This lady I met was as ugly as hell / Couldn't go in the jam with this female

Lesson: There’s no escaping ugly chicks

I’m sure it is no coincidence two of Rap’s greatest storytellers came up together as part of the Kangol Crew (and both of Snoop has chosen to cover for his usual remake). Like Rick, Dana Dane was a rapper who made a generation of young men grow up and write up their own stories when they heard songs like "Nightmares" and “Cinderfella Dana Dane.”

Atmosphere - The Woman With The Tattooed Hands

(2000, Rhymesayers)

Characters: Slug, woman with the tattooed hands
Setting: Twin Cities (presumably)
Plot: Slug learns why a 43 year old woman has never been with a man
Excerpt:I didn't get turned on I just got turned / I wasn't as aroused as I was concerned / For each one of 'em I've hurt / And every time I've been burned / I've got a lot to teach but even more to learn

Lesson: Everyone will take a different lesson from this one

You could argue that Atmosphere’s Slug is Hip Hop’s greatest storyteller, but there is no arguing that he is the most prolific. I would he’s penned more than 50 songs worthy of inclusion on this list. The man has made a career out of telling stories. Whether they are stories about growing up, heartbreak, grafitti, his hometown or the simple paces of boring, everyday life, Slug has told the tale. “The Woman With The Tattooed Hands” has long stood out above the rest. Go to an Atmosphere show and listen to the crowd response when the drums signal the start of this incredible piece of fiction.

J-23 is HipHopDX's Editor-At-Large. He was a full-time member of the staff since 2001, and has was DX's longtime Music Editor and Marketing Director. J lives in London, Ontario.

RELATED: The Art Of Storytelling: 10 Great Stories Told Through Rap Songs [EDITORIAL]



  • Deetee

    Need Slick Rick, Immortal Tech(DANCE WIT THE DEVIL, YOU NEVER KNOW), Lupe (JONYLAH FOREVER, KICK PUSH, The Cool album)

  • Anonymous

    no slick rick?? that Aesop made it on the still feels incomplete without Slick thou...

  • JJ

    As The World Turns by Eminem, Ms. Fat Booty by Mos Def

  • JJ

    STAN by Eminem, THE WARNING by B.I.G., TODAY WAS A GOOD DAY by Ice Cube

  • SDK


  • Polo

    For everybody complaining they favorite song ain't on here you write a list man. Fuckin dude said this ain't a top 10.

  • Polo

    Ice Cube-Ghetto Vet is dope storytelling

  • Polo

    You most probably the best writer on this site. I liked the first edition and this one.

  • flashynx01

    Nas undying love's the best story telling song I've listened to, I gave you power's another crazy track of Nas personifying a gun as well as telling its story.....

  • Anonymous

    Dope list. Being from the West Coast, I especially like Boots' appearance on the list. "Fat Cats, Bigga Fish" was maybe one of the first songs I really had to listen to in order to see what he was doing. Masterpiece.

  • oskamadison

    THANK YOU for puttin' Millie Pulled a Pistol On Santa and Blaze a 50 in it. i would have substituted "You Can't Fade Me" for "Alive On Arrival" for Cube though. That joint was like an episode of Maury 20 years too soon. Also, on some dusted, stream of consciousness shit, Ghostface's Underwater was bugged.

  • Mike

    Ice T - The Girl Tried to Kill Me

  • asdas

    BIG is the best storyteller

  • ILLGreco167

    Ice-T is the King of Storytelling Some examples: 6 in the Morning, Drama, Hunted Child, Bitches 2 and on and on and................

  • amchri3

    I thought it was a lil sad that his friend could not tell him that its a story rewinded from nas and his crew committing a murder, him getting some head from a bitch, and him getting the phone call from his friend telling him they see the guy they need to kill.

  • yoto

    where is Lupe Fiasco? his storytelling songs are better than the half of this list and Outkast and their Art of storytellin'?


    eminem TALKS ABOUT KILLING HIMSELF and RAPING WOMEN and killing chopping up woman AND KIDS and BEING A PEDOPHILE, EMINEM is trash just like CHUCK NORRIS IS TRASH but the white population refuse's to let them go trying to make them more than what they are... All he does is goes to the studio makes songs and dissing people from his studio then cries about how people hate him because he is white...He is trash just like his label...And trust meim far from a "hata'....

  • SDK



    Story-telling in rap is extremely overrated, and demonstrates absolutely no lyrical abilities what-so-ever. I mean really, save that shit for the movies. 2pac was the best because he had message in his music, not silly fictitious mafioso stories. Nas's illmatic is the most overrated rap album in history, no message contained at all. Biggie was also the most overrated rapper, but people pretend he was the greatest with 2 rap albums in his catalog. Don't get me wrong though, I think Biggie and Nas would have made great movie directors, and I also think Nas is a great film actor. Atmosphere, Dane Dane, Aesop Rock, De La Soul, idk who these guys are but someone needs to tell them to actually have meaning in their raps, because that's what hip-hop is lacking. Damn what the hell has happened to hip-hop? Rest In Peace 2pac Shakur.

    • Anonymous

      The only reason that people say that 2Pac is the greatest is because he died. But no one was saying that when he was still alive. Same goes for Biggie Smalls. Don't get me wrong, they were good artists, but how is it that when they died all of a sudden people say that they are the best? People just need to wake up, and get in tune with reality

    • Anonymous

      "and demonstrates no lyrical ability", no reason to keep reading after that.

    • jack johnson

      wow this 2pac fan just started listening to hip hop, watched the 8 mile movie and now he's an expert lol he doesn't even know who de la soul and atmosphere are

    • Response to Retard

      its unfortunate that people who are ignorant still want to voice their opinions - in your own comment you stated you don't know who Aesop rock and atmosphere are then said that their lyrics and music don't have meaning, i.e. you acknowledged you dont know anything about them, then made a judgement about what they don't have Atmosphere and Aesop rock have an extreme amount of meaning behind their lyrics, very much comparable to 2pac, and you think all 2pacs songs had profound meaning? what about california love, ambitions as a ridah, hit em' up, can't see me - even 2 of amerikaz most wanted states it 'ain't nothin' but a gangster party' man cure yourself of your ignorance and bias before you even contemplate opening your mouth on any subject

    • fijasoijf

      mmm yawn. grow beyond yourself. open your head and learn. clown. RIP 2pac one of the best to ever do it a huge inspiration on many people. but u can't be serious. expand your mind not your dumb asshole, faggot.

  • Anonymous

    Eminem's Stan Royce's Part of me or Murder with On the Run(same story) Coolio Gangster's Paradise Immortal Technique's Dance With the Devil Biggie's Suicidal Thoughts Gravediggaz Diary Of a Madman those are my fav...

    • OH YEAH!

      Royce da 5'9" s Part Of me song is beast one of my favorites along with Talib Kweli's Reflection Eternal track Expansion outro and how can't your bring up Immortal Technique Dance with the Devil that song makes you feel something after listening to it.

  • Anonymous

    So you made this article because the last one has 300 comments why you' left out nas

  • Lil Loc

    Eve - Love Is Blind Ice Cube - Doing Dumb Shit Ice-T - 6 In The Morning 2Pac - Brenda's Got A Baby Scarface - Now I Feel Ya Spice 1 - 187 Pure Notorious B.I.G. - Warning Eminem - Brain Damage EPMD - Please Listen To My Demo Compton's Most Wanted - Hood Took Me Under

  • Wisdom Body

    Just because the writers friend couldnt tell him what Rewind was about doesnt mean its not a dope story and by the way Rewind is a revenge story about hunting down an enemy Nas is the best story teller hands down along with Big and Slick Rick These are some of the best stories ever told: One Love I Gave You Power The Set Up Black Girl Lost Fetus Small World Undying Love Blaze a 50 The Rise and the Fall 2nd Childhood Rewind Get Down Last Real Nigga Alive

  • clm83

    Scarface - No Tears Beastie Boys - Paul Revere Sticky Fingaz - Why GangStarr - Just to get a rep Geto Boys - Minds playin' tricks on me BDP - Loves gonna get'cha Mos Def - Miss Fat Booty Prince Paul - A Prince Among Thieves

  • HipHopHead

    Some of my favorites Jeru The Damaja - Cant Stop the Prophet, Atmosphere -Yesterday, Eyedea And Abilities - Birth of a Fish, and Eyedea - Bottle Dreams

  • Anonymous

    No Brenda's Got A Baby? smfh

  • Anonymous

    If you do another list throw in Apathy "School" there. "spotrushers" too.

  • vinny

    how is joe budden's three sides to a story not on here

  • Anonymous

    Jay-Z - Where I'm From is so authentic plus that beat pure fyiah

  • skizzle bizzle

    four with the devil