Playing with language is a long-standing tradition in hip-hop, with artists employing slang, allegory, hyperbole, double entendre, idioms, metaphors and all manner of other assorted wordplay to get a point across. Whether commenting on society, lifestyle, relationships or culture, food and drink are frequently used as lyrical substitutes for sex, drugs, money, power and self-image, among other topics. In honor of CL’s Food Issue, I’ve compiled some favorites along with an accompanying playlist featuring nine bonus tracks.
“Flava in Ya Ear (Remix),” Craig Mack feat. Biggie, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes and Rampage. The ‘flava’ is the track’s fresh sound, and of course it’s Uncle L who appeals to the ladies with his food-sex references: “Hee-shee, uh blowticious / Skeevee, delicious / Gimme couscous, love me good / Um damn, Hollis to Hollywood, but is he good? / I guess like the jeans / uh, flavor like Praline, sick daddy nah’mean?” To make couscous – a dish so nice it’s been named twice – you pound the wheat until it’s fine; "couscous" is also Arabic slang for female genitalia. Pralines are made with nuts and sugar, and the best ones are covered in chocolate.
“Kookies”; “Beef Rap,” M.F. DOOM. The entirety of M.F. DOOM’s debut, Mm..Food, is fodder-themed. These two tracks are particularly clever. “Beef Rap” discusses rappers who make a living off starting fights, or beefs, with other rappers (“I suggest you change your diet / It can lead to high blood pressure if you fry it”), while in “Kookies,” the title alludes to both the edible and web browser varieties, as DOOM surfs the web for the perfect porn – and no white chicks will do (“He don’t mess with the Ritz Bits, Wheat Thins, Saltines, or Triscuits Matzos, or Cheez-Its / Catch sugar fits every time that he sees / Chips Ahoy, double chocolate chunk / Something with the bubble and the junk in the trunk”).
“Ice Cream,” Raekwon feat. Capadonna, Ghostface Killah and Method Man. In this gem off the Wu Tang rapper’s solo debut, "ice cream" takes the place of women and “The ice cream man is coming.” It’s Meth, however, who asserts his expansive taste: “Watch these rap niggas get all up in your guts / French-vanilla, butter-pecan, chocolate-deluxe / Even caramel sundaes is getting touched / And scooped in my ice cream truck, who tears it up.”
“Atliens,” Outkast. Atlanta’s beloved rap duo sums up the Dirty South rap ethos while engaging all those who love it as well via the classic southern-fried dish mentioned in the refrain: “Now throw your hands in the air / and wave ‘em like you just don’t care / And if you like fish and grits and all that pimp shit / Everybody let me hear you say, ‘O-Yea-yer’.”
“Rainbow in the Dark,” Das Racist. A food referential track made the cheeky alt hip hop duo famous (“Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”). In this higher quality cut, they reflect on being less broke than usual but still eating at White Castle, running up credit card debt and rocking the second-hand Versace, and use the customary money-cheese metaphor more creatively than usual. Heems: “Catch me drinking lean in Italy like I was Pisa / We could eat the flyest cave-aged cheese for sheez, ma.” Kool AD: “Yeah, we could eat Gruyère, as if we care / We could eat Roquefort, or we could just kick it like Rockports.”
“Juice,” Chance the Rapper. Here, "juice" represents power, influence and its lure ala the 1992 film of the same name starring 2Pac: “And then everybody wanna sip / Til the juice spill / everybody want a bib / And then everybody wanna dip”; “Merge the mixture with the purest and the fruits / And the thirst, just the worst, it’s the curse of the juice!”
“Truffle Butter,” Nicki Minaj feat. Drake and Lil Wayne. Minaj is the new queen of nasty, and here, joined by two rappers she claims she’d let “eat my ass like a cupcake” in “Only,” she goes full-out with a song title that not only refers to the luxury condiment and having the money to afford it (Drake: “Whoop! Talkin’ filets with the truffle butter”), but the dirty slang term for the creamy build-up that happens during sex when a dude is jumping between ass and vag. Yum.
“Trap Queen,” Fetty Wap. “Married to the money, introduced her to my stove / Showed her how to whip it, now she remixin’ for low,” Fetty Wap chants about the woman he loves so much he lets her bake for him: “I be in the kitchen cookin’ pies with my baby, yeaaahhh.” ‘How sweet!’ you think to yourself, until you realize that “pie” is slang for a ki of coke. She’s cooking drugs, yo.
“Paragraph President,” Blackalicious. Cheese makes another gooey appearance, this time in an idiom that isn’t referencing money, but Gift of Gab’s stank-ass rhymes: “Hit you with the funk, it’s like, ‘Who cut the provolone?’”
“King Kunta,” Kendrick Lamar. In this track, Lamar uses yams to rep the money, power and prestige he’s achieved at the release of his latest album (“The yam is the power that be / You can smell it when I’m walking down the street”). He also alludes to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (the smell of yams triggers memories of the narrator’s Southern hometown) and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (where the yearly yam yield is a sign of social status), while also commenting on how ‘the yams’ can corrupt: “The yam brought it out of Richard Pryor / Manipulated Bill Clinton with desires.”
“Brunch,” Action Bronson. The rapper with chef roots tends to employ food allusions in abundance and in this break-up ode, he’s depressed enough to get violent, or to eat, or to ski: “Just let me sharpen my knives, thrown on the apron / X’s mark the steak and the salad crumbled with bacon / And bleu cheese, caramel complexion’s on two knees / Or two skis, carving up the Alps is what this dude needs”).