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Whose Rap Flow Was the Sickest?

To honor the 10th anniversary of ‘Tha Carter III,’ we’re finding instances of rappers using one of Lil Wayne’s favorite metaphors—“flow so sick”—and determining who really is ill

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Here’s how this went: “Ooh. The 10-year anniversary of Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III is coming up. That’s a great album. I think I’ll listen to it for the next few days.” → “Aw, man. I forgot how good Wayne used to be. This was such a fun time. Wayne’s run from 2006 through 2008 was truly meaningful and influential and musically beautiful.” → “I really like the way Wayne says, ‘Flow so sick, make you wanna throw your food up’ on ‘Phone Home.’ It’s cute.” → “Wait. It feels like Wayne has used the ‘Flow so sick … ’ thing a bunch in his career.” → “Yeah, he definitely has. He also used it on ‘Gossip’ and ‘I’m Raw’ and ‘I Told Y’all’ and ‘Live From 504’ and ‘One Way Trip.’” → “I’ll bet there are a bunch of rappers who have used that same setup as a way to describe their rapping abilities.” → “You know what would be fun, though? Looking through a bunch of times rappers described their flows with ‘Flow so sick … ’ and then figuring out which one was the sickest, as in literally sick, as in the symptoms they were presenting indicated serious illness.” → “Let’s do that.”

My flow so sick, motherfuckers wanna clone me
“Niggas in Africa” by Freeway

A thing that often happens in movies where, say, a zombie virus spreads across the planet or a plague begins killing mountains of people, is there’s always one person who, for one reason or another, is immune to whatever it is that’s wiping everyone out. And when other people find out that said person is immune, someone will usually say something like, “We have to get [IMMUNE PERSON] to [MEDICAL PLACE],” and the reason they say that is because they believe if they can get [IMMUNE PERSON] to [MEDICAL PLACE], then the people there will be able to use the immune person’s blood to reverse-engineer a cure for the thing that’s killing everyone. Anyway, I mention it because: It does not sound like Freeway is very sick here. It sounds like the opposite of that. It sounds like he is of such good health that other people want to clone him, or at least use the pathogens in his blood to do something good or create a cure for something. Nobody ever clones very sick people.

With a flow so sick like Twista
“Shawty Get Loose” by Lil’ Mama

Twista is an important, crucial rapper from Chicago. There is no information in the news right now about him being sick, nor has there been in the past. Thus: Lil’ Mama is likely in good health as well (but not in better health than Freeway, given that nobody wants to clone her).

The flow so sick, my nose runnin’
“Stop It 5” by Cam’ron and Vado

A runny nose could mean any number of things. For example, perhaps it’s pollen season, and perhaps Vado (the one who delivers this line) has a pollen allergy, and so perhaps Vado is only as sick as a minor allergic reaction, which is to say not very sick at all. Or maybe it’s the beginnings of a common cold. Or maybe there’s somebody nearby smoking and so it’s a reaction to that. Or maybe it’s just that the air is too dry, or there’s something stuck in his nose for some reason, or he has a deviated septum. I don’t know. Either way, his condition certainly is not critical. He is not very sick.

’Cause my flow’s so sick, and I’m a lunatic
“Roman Holiday” by Nicki Minaj

In the line before this one, Nicki raps that she is “colder than a blister.” That’s how sick she is. She is as sick as a cold blister. Assuming she is using the phrase “cold blister” to mean “cold sore” or “fever blister,” then I feel confident in saying that she is sicker than Vado and his runny nose, but not so sick that anything needs to be done about it beyond just waiting.

Flow so sick that it hurts
“Remember Me” by Tyga

An aching body can mean any number of things, including but not limited to being overstressed, being dehydrated, having the flu, having mono, having pneumonia, having lupus, or having Lyme disease. If Tyga had listed a few other symptoms, it might be a little more concerning. But since he only felt compelled to mention that he “hurts,” I’m going to guess that it’s something non-fatal. Like, probably he has something like chronic fatigue syndrome, which is ironic because I always feel like I have chronic fatigue syndrome if I hear more than two Tyga songs in a row.

Flow so sick, make you wanna throw your food up
“Phone Home” by Lil Wayne

Throwing up is truly the worst, but also kind of the best. (Best in that, if you’re lucky, you instantly feel something like 80 percent better after you throw up.) (A gross story: One time, a stomach bug tore through my house. First it made our smallest kid sick, and then the twins, and then my wife, and then me. When it got to me, I felt like I’d come up with this incredible plan: My idea was that when my body began to tell me that it was time to throw up, I was going to go outside and do so in the backyard. My thought was that all of the airborne toxins were what was making everyone in the house sick, and so if I threw up outside, then they wouldn’t infect anybody else because they would float off into the atmosphere and dissipate. [Denzel tried a similar thing in this movie called Fallen where he was battling a demon spirit that was bouncing around from person to person.] I don’t want to get into all of the ways that this ended up being a bad idea, but I will say that, should you ever fall under the assumption that throwing up in your backyard is a better and cleaner and safer alternative than throwing up in your bathroom, I can tell you with great certainty that it is not.)

Flow so sick you cough and hurl
“I Told Y’all” by Lil Wayne

This version of Wayne is sicker than the “Phone Home” version of Wayne because the “Phone Home” version of Wayne is only thinking like he wanted to throw up. The “I Told Y’all” version of Wayne is actually throwing up (and coughing as well).

No Medicare, but the flow’s so sick
“Intro” by Danny Brown

We’re talking about a sickness here that’s serious enough that when you tell someone else about it, they ask if you have healthcare, but not a sickness so severe that it’d require any sort of coverage greater than what a standard Medicare plan provides, were it available.

Flow so sick, ain’t feeling better
“Bout That Life” by Rich Homie Quan →

My flow so sick, I should go get checked up
“Ain’t Gonna Happen” by Cassidy →

So sick, I need a healer
“Itty Bitty Piggy” by Nicki Minaj →

Flow sick, so sick, need a doc, yes
“Live From 504” by Lil Wayne →

Flow so sick they should admit me
“Admit It” by Young Thug

These five all get bunched together here because of how clearly the progression in sickness is from person to person. Rich Homie Quan says that he’s been feeling sick and is not getting better. Cassidy says that he feels sick enough that he should go meet with a doctor or a nurse. Nicki says that she’s sick and that she needs a healer and then Wayne comes behind her and says that he needs a doctor. (The difference between asking for a “healer” and asking for a “doctor” is you ask for a healer when you’re feeling under the weather but aren’t sick enough that you feel nervous about it. You ask for a doctor when whatever homemade remedy it was the healer gave you ends up not working.) And Young Thug says that he’s so sick that, beyond just meeting with a doctor, he needs to be admitted to the hospital, which is a thing that hospitals only do when you are significantly sick.

Flow so sick, somebody give me a flu shot
“Cheerz” by Redman

The way that you can tell Redman is sick enough here that he’s scared is he’s willing to accept medical help from literally anyone. (He says “somebody give me a flu shot,” not “somebody get a doctor to give me a flu shot.”) The more jammed up you are in a situation, the more willing you are to accept help from someone who probably has no idea how to actually help you. It’s why it made sense in Cast Away when Tom Hanks used an ice skate and a rock to remove an infected tooth he had when he was stranded on that island. He’s definitely not doing that shit if he’s within driving distance to an actual dentist, you know what I’m saying?

With a flow so sick, my high temperature’ll body the flu
“Blue Armor” by Ghostface Killah

Ghostface is so sick here that the sickness in him is strong enough that it’d make the flu get sick, and so every entry from here going forward can be considered serious and real.

And the flow so sick, you pop in the disk and get chlamydi—
“Intro” by Chamillionaire →

Oh shit, flow so sicker than chlamydia
“Cocaina” by Busta Rhymes

These two get bundled together on account of how they’re connected by chlamydia, and I’m willing to bet that that’s the first time that sentence has ever been written about Chamillionaire and Busta Rhymes together. Chamillionaire says he’s sick enough that if you listen to one of his albums then you’ll get chlamydia,* and Busta Rhymes is so sick that his sickness can only be described as “sicker than chlamydia.”**

*This, to the best of my knowledge, is not how chlamydia is passed from one person to another.

**It’s funny to me to imagine Busta Rhymes as a doctor who works in a hospital and the only diagnoses he ever gives to anyone are “Less sick than chlamydia,” “Exactly as sick as chlamydia,” or “Sicker than chlamydia” because it sounds like what a character from Seinfeld would do.***

***“Yeah, he’s great,” says Elaine, talking about some guy that she met at the gym. “He’s handsome and tall and he has a great head of hair and he’s a doctor. The only problem is … ” “What?” asks Jerry. “He compares everything to chlamydia,” she says. “Like, we went to dinner and he ordered the fish and he took one bite and said it was worse than chlamydia.” “Well that must’ve been some fish,” says Jerry.

Oh shit, flow’s so sick, don’t you swallow it
“Institutionalized” by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick clarifies in the next line that the reason you should not swallow his sick flow is because you’ll get salmonella poisoning from it if you do. Salmonella poisoning is mostly not a life-threatening thing if you’re a healthy adult when you contract it, but if things go sideways it can get very bad very seriously (especially if you’re a child or an old person).

My flow sick, so sick, it’s like my shit is dying
“Gossip” by Lil Wayne →

’Cause my flow so sick I should’ve died in the first verse
“One Way Trip” by Lil Wayne

There’s not enough evidence here to know if Wayne is being truthful or dramatic here, and so the only safe option is to assume that in each of these instances Wayne is sicker than the above entry (salmonella poisoning) but not as sick as the below entries (HIV; cancer; and a profound grossness).

Flow sick, put a straitjacket on my words.
“I’m Raw,” Lil Wayne

This is the trickiest one to place because a straitjacket is a typically only used in the most serious of circumstances, but also we’ve seen Lil Wayne in straitjackets plenty of times before and everything seemed OK. Best to place it as more threatening than the conjecture of the entry above this one but not quite as threatening as the entries below it.

Flow so sick, I spit AIDS
“Why They Hatin Tho” by Supa Peach →

Flow is so sick, like I’m spittin’ cancer
“Wayne Gretzky” by Bali Baby featuring Billboard Benji

This article is getting less and less fun. :(

Flow so sick, doctors wanna throw up
“Never Look Back” by Wade

If you walk into a hospital and the doctors—doctors who have gone to medical school and studied all manner of illnesses and worked on all manner of illnesses; doctors who have cut people open and scooped around the insides of people’s bodies; doctors who have seen the worst of what the human body can suffer through; doctors who deal daily in death and work to always remain objective and calm no matter what they are looking at or dealing with—if you walk into a hospital and those doctors begin to gag like they’re going to throw up, then that’s how you know you’re fucked. That’s how you know you are extremely sick. That’s how you know you’re the sickest of all.