The ad-lib is a quintessential power move in hip-hop. With just enough flavor, it can level a song up from mid to masterpiece. And in some occasions, the extra punch-in can play a huge part in defining an artist for the extension of their career.
Honestly, there’s something empowering about 21 Savage’s magazine of ad-libs. As evidenced in the Savage Mode 2 cut “Runnin,” the words “Skraight up,” “21,” “On God” and “Pussy” are effective jabs that make the verses go way harder.
Hailing from the same SoundCloud roots are artists like Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert. Over the last half decade, they’ve proven that if done right, adding a simple “What?” or “Yeah!” to a song is a cheat code for adding to a hit. The proof is in Carti’s Whole Lotta Red album standout “Stop Breathing“ and the Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World 2 favorite “Myron.”
Young Thug’s sound effects are elite as well. Most people got wind of how special his ad-libs were when he dragged the word “Skrt” on his 2015 song “Halftime” for 12 seconds. But these days, on songs like Travis Scott’s Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 loosie “Franchise,” Thugger can be identified by the term “Slatt,” which is easily one of the most used terms and ad-libs on songs across the entire rap game.
Like "Slatt," certain terminology can truly live with artists forever. It’s only been a few years since DaBaby has arrived into the mainstream spotlight, but already, his signature “Let’s go,” heard on the Future-assisted “Lightskin Shit,” off DaBaby's Blame It on Baby album, is an impromptu addition that likely won't fade. Considering the longevity of Rick Ross’ grunt, people probably won’t get tired of it either.
Those mentions barely scratch the surface. With the popularity of their use, XXL dug through many artists' tracks to highlight 20 of the best ad-libs in hip-hop right now. Peep the ad-libs for yourself below.
"Skraight up," "21," "On God" and "Pussy!"21 Savage
21 Savage’s ad-libs are so iconic that they don’t really need a description. Simply put, they’re efficient enough that the Atlanta rapper could drop a song full of them and people would eat it up. Those who randomly get the catchy expressions "Skraight up," "21," "On God" and "Pussy!" stuck in their head can attest to this.
The ad-lib “Slatt” is used by so many rappers now, from Lil Yachty to YoungBoy Never Broke Again to Lil Uzi Vert and everyone in between. The credit can be given to Young Thug though, who drops off the term in nearly every verse he hops on. Shoutout to YSL for popularizing it even more and creating the umbrella of rappers who are unified by using it.
DaBaby hypes himself with his “Let’s go” ad-lib. The words either come at the top of a verse or mid-way through one. But either way, the effectiveness of the punch-in is like collecting an item box in Mario Kart for the North Carolina rapper. It just adds more juice to the ride.
The “Brrrr” ad-lib is far from new in rap music. It’s been heard before through the mouths of Birdman and Gucci Mane, but the latest to carry the freezing torch is Memphis’ rising rapper Pooh Shiesty. His voice is perfect to do so.
"Ahhh"Megan Thee Stallion
When Megan Thee Stallion isn’t layering the background of her verses with the tag “Real hot girl shit,” she’s sticking her tongue out and hitting the “Ahhh.” It’s fitting, considering how it only arrives after she just spit out some straight fire as usual.
"Straight up," "Yeah!" and "It's lit!"Travis Scott
Travis Scott’s ad-libs are in the god tier of rap music. Whether he’s punching in "Straight up," "Yeah!” or "It's lit!,” his signature terms are infectious. Stacked up, they’re the perfect additional layer to his Auto-Tune-filled verses.
Offset has a number of notable ad-libs, but perhaps one of the best is “Hey!,” and the echoing ambiance it’s delivered with. As it should, this ad-lib is bound to snatch your attention. Which Migos ad-lib doesn't?
"Aye, aye, aye!," "Gllttt" and "Bow!"Fivio Foreign
Fivio Foreign is always rapping about catching his opps slipping. With the 2020 XXL Freshman’s distinctive “Bow!,” it’s apparent that there’s no cap when it comes to his familiarity with straps. Though he raps about drilling, his music is light and swaggy though, too, so the “Aye, aye, aye!” is perfect for the "get lit" music he dabbles in as well.
Flo Milli is the latest face of what can be described as pretty girl rap. Using confidence as her key quality, she uses the ad-lib “Ew!” to show her disgust with the competition. She’s clearly not impressed with a lot of women and their movements out here. It's the audacity for her.
"What the fuuuck!"Duke Deuce
Most people say the phrase “What the fuck” in reaction to something that happens on a daily basis, but arguably, no one with more potency than Duke Deuce. The power of the expression provides one hell of an ad-lib, as evidenced here. It sounds even better on wax.
Ever since he came into the game in the mid-2000s, Rick Ross’ grunt has been one of the most popular ad-libs to grace the world of hip-hop. The weighty sound effect represents The Boss being in his bag. If you hear that grunt in the background, just know that he’s snapping on the mic.
Quavo is an ad-lib king himself. Most people connect him to the chanting of “Mama!,” but as heard on the Culture 2 album, plus the loosies and features he's delivered since, his new go-to is a melodic “Skrt skrt.” Don't front, it just takes a song and verse up a notch, doesn’t it?
Lil Uzi Vert’s “Yeah!” ad-lib is among the simplest on this list, but it sure does hold weight. Exemplified all throughout his Eternal Atake album and its deluxe, the addition adds gasoline to a song, just like it did in 2016 when the Philly rapper broke into the mainstream spotlight. Perhaps it’s Uzi’s distinguishable voice that makes it so powerful.
"Huh" and "Woo!"Pop Smoke
No one can deny the fact that Pop Smoke has one of the most unique voices in rap music. His ad-libs were top tier, specifically his set repping “Woo” and the use of “Huh.” His ad-libs were pivotal to the fact that his music radiated with star power. R.I.P. to the Brooklyn prophet.
"What!?" and "Yeah!"Playboi Carti
Just like his “twin” Uzi, Playboi Carti’s ad-libs are the most common words in everyone’s vocabulary. A “What!?” or “Yeah!” wouldn’t be as forceful in this case if it came from anyone other than the Atlanta rapper, but best believe Carti’s got the science of their delivery perfected. These ad-libs almost always steal the show.
"Yeahhh" and "Truuu"2 Chainz
2 Chainz’s "Truuu” ad-lib has been here since the days of early arrival of 2007's “Duffle Bag Boy” and it hasn’t gone away since. It’s used less now by the veteran rapper, but in replacement, the man formerly known as Tity Boi is good for dropping of a “Yeahhh” in his southern twang.
"Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!"Westside Gunn
One thing about Westside Gunn, he’s gonna let that chopper sing in his music. The reference comes in the form of his ad-lib known as "Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!" These punch-ins have monstrous effects when it comes to emphasizing the words of his raw rap verses. It takes you straight to the streets, if you will.
Ty Dolla $ign’s musicality runs deep, which are pushed forward by his roots in R&B. With the personal importance of the genre in mind, Ty took a page out of Jodeci’s old handbook and began using the phrase “Ooh yeah” to sauce up his lyrics. It’s a beautiful incorporation.
"Straight up" and "Woah"Big Sean
Since his debut album, Finally Famous, released back in 2011, Big Sean has been using the ad-libs “Straight up” and “Woah.” When the G.O.O.D. Music signee decided to drop his Detroit 2 LP in 2020, he kept that old flavor that fans fell in love with one decade ago. The identifiers are too good to ditch.
"Yeah hoe!" and "Shut the fuck up!"Juicy J
Some might argue that there are no ad-libs better than that of Juicy J’s “yeah hoe!.” Can you really? Give it a listen and try to. For a long time now, his have been in the top three, no matter how you rank the best in rap.
"Water," "Bitch" and "Yuh"Ski Mask The Slump God
Ski Mask The Slump God rightfully emphasizes his drip talk with the "Water" ad-lib he decorates throughout his music. In alternate pockets, he uses his raspy voice to effectively flip in the words "Bitch" and "Yuh" throughout his verses, too, allowing them to play a role in the forefront.
Found everywhere in Rod Wave's latest album, SoulFly, is the soft-spoken ad-lib "Grrraah." Don't let the somberness in his voice confuse you. The punch-in is used to highlight the rowdy stick talk on his songs.