Counting in Hip-Hop


For the past several weeks I’ve been working on a monster write-up, and I keep hitting walls. I don’t know if it’s writer’s block or sheer laziness, but as an exercise to overcome my wordlessness I’m going to unleash a dumbass idea that I’ve had in my head for months.

This is a post about numbers. Counting specifically. Not like time signatures or recursive rhyme schemes, or anything complicated. Nope, I’m talking about Sesame Street-level counting upward by single numbers.

This is a phenomenon that I first noticed earlier this year in the explosive lead-up to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. After spotting this example, I quickly noticed other instances and it began to feel like a genre-wide happening. It became a weird trend that I’ve spotted in multiple songs this year alone. There are probably even more instances that I haven’t heard yet, and at the risk of drilling down to levels of abjectly-obscure hyper-specificity, here it is: the definitive list of 2017 hip-hop songs that employ counting as a rhyme scheme.

Migos “Slippery”

In this Gucci Mane-featuring track, the Atlanta trap trio takes turns discussing women, drugs, and the liquidity of their jewelry. After the song’s first hook, Quavo, the group’s resident crooner, jumps into his verse headfirst. Any verse that starts with an earnest delivery of the word “tater tot” deserves recognition in the first place. After a cursory mention of haters followed by a crocodilian turn of phrase, Quavo circles around to the song’s primary focal point and describes his jewelry:

Iced out watch (ice) ridin’ round, ten o'clock (ten)

While not completely out of place, the transition from his bejeweled timekeeper to a relatively mundane time of day seems a little jarring. The next line reveals the mention of 10pm to actually be a setup for a series of time-related bars that would have sounded at home coming out of the Count’s mouth:

Ridin’ round, geeked up, damn, think it’s three o'clock (three)

Four o'clock (four) five o'clock, six o'clock (five)

It’s a pretty bizarre conceit, but I guess it just serves to reinforce the fact that Quavo is riding around “geeked up” at presumably any hour of the day. It’s still a line that makes me smile after dozens of listens, and if anyone can sell a song in which you literally just list off the different times of the day, it’s Quavo. His delivery on these lines are fittingly icy, and they transfer their distorted sense of time to the listener simply by proximity.

Kendrick Lamar “The Heart Part 4”

The lead-up to Kendrick Lamar’s highly-anticipated fourth studio album was an exciting time. While we’d only experienced swirling rumors up until March, the internet’s hype hit an all-time high when Lamar dropped the surprise one-off “The Heart Part 4.” There’s a lot to digest in this song from possible disses to announcing his own arrival, but most importantly, the track served as an announcement, a message the Kendrick Lamar was officially back.

Midway through the song, there’s a beat switch, and Kendrick starts spitting a particularly venomous set of bars over an interpolated Beanie Sigel beat and a 24-Carat Black sample. He’d go on to rap over the exact same beat on the album cut “FEAR.” but for the time being, it was simply an impactful verse with some of the most braggadocious lyrics we’ve ever heard from Mr. Duckworth.

Early on in this second verse, Kendrick spits a handful of lines that only he could get away with:

Yellin’, “One, two, three, four, five

I am the greatest rapper alive!”

So damn great, motherfucker, I’ve died

What you hearin’ now is a paranormal vibe

I say only Kendrick can get away with this because it would have sounded like a lie coming from nearly anyone else. Seeing the lines written out, they still look like objectively bad lyrics, but Kendrick gets a pass because of who he is and what this song represents.


The song’s genius annotation is a hyper-linked clusterfuck of references hoping to connect all the things that Kendrick could be calling out. It’s possible he could be pulling from any one of these points, but I think this line also works because it’s so infrequent that we hear a rapper say anything like this in 2017. With younger artists releasing music that pulls more from other genres and actively distancing themselves from the “rapper” label, it’s refreshing to see some old-school “I’m the best in the game” boasting from someone who also has the technical skill to back it up.

These lines also call to mind Kendrick’s game-changing “Control” verse in which he named names and brought back an old-school rivalry to hip-hop. This verse achieves that same feeling to a lesser extent but still comes off as a good-natured challenge for his peers to better themselves.


21 Savage “Bank Account”

In this Song of the Summer contender, Atlanta-based rapper and knife enthusiast 21 Savage is pulling double duty both rapping and producing this platinum-selling cut off of his debut studio album. The single, which samples Travis Scott’s excellent “Oh My / Dis Side,” is a dark, moody, ad-lib-riddled account of 21’s wealth and an outline of how far he’s willing to go for the people he loves. When I say “account” I mean that quite literally as the song’s infectious chorus finds a joyless 21 Savage listing off the numbers in his savings account:

I got 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 Ms in my bank account, yeah (on God)

In my bank account, yeah (on God)

In my bank account, yeah (on God)

In my bank account, yeah (on God)

In my bank account, yeah (on God)

In my bank account, yeah (on God)

I got 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 shooters ready to gun you down, yeah (fast)

Ready to gun you down, yeah (on God)

Ready to gun you down, yeah (on God)

Ready to gun you down, yeah (on God)

Ready to gun you down, yeah (on God)

Ready to gun you down, yeah (on God)

It’s a repetitive series of lines that are both surprisingly catchy and personable within the context of the song. This chorus is just confident enough to serve as a chest-inflating masculine brag, but also goofy enough to be used in memes like this. I’ve already documented all of Issa Album’s food references, but lines like these are the reason that people keep returning to this song (and album) in droves. The chorus of “Bank Account” is a perfect encapsulation of 21 Savage’s appeal by highlighting his trademarked emotionless flow while walking the line between repetition and darkness that he is known for.

Lyrics like the ones above may not look like much on paper, but the point is that they all work. Whether it’s the delivery, a contextual turn of phrase, or a multi-layered double-meaning, these lyrics all work flawlessly within the context of their songs.

In fact, they’re all kinda dog shit when taken out of context like I’ve done here, but this phenomenon of literal counting is just something I noticed and felt compelled to highlight. I guess with enough skill, proficiency, and charisma, people like the artists listed above can make anything sound good.

Here’s to 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 more decades of equally-straightforward lyrics. Honestly, if you can make sequential numbers compelling, then you’re succeeding as an artist.