All boys must become men. This is a fact of both science and society. Justin Bieber was once a boy, one who grew up in public and sang soulful songs full of youth and innocence and lost girlfriends and shit, and now he is a swaggy adult bro, which means he now makes with Big Sean, who in addition to being an adult, is also a sentient penis. To complete Justin Bieber’s evolution into a fully-developed adult, he is now rapping. Not only that, he’s rapping really well. Whenever I realize he’s about to start flowing, I kinda-sorta maybe go “Fuck yeah” to myself, which is something I probably should never admit.
Bieber’s flow manages to transcend the normal “R&B Dude Rapping” archetype, which was pretty much started by R. Kelly once he dropped the New Jack flow and started incorporating some of Tupac’s cadence in his sing-rapping. This lives today in Chris Brown whenever he raps, which tends to still place the power of the voice as a musical instrument over what he’s actually saying (which is fine, because Chris Brown has an illustrious history of being the worst). Anyways, Justin Bieber will probably never stop rapping. The most you can do is educate yourself with this complete history of Justin Bieber’s rap career.
TIM WESTWOOD FREESTYLE (CIRCA MARCH 2010)
Bieber broke into rap inauspiciously, dropping about 40 seconds of freestyle, including the cringe-inducing line, “I’m a young white rapper and I don’t get high.”
“SPEAKING IN TONGUES” FREESTYLE (CIRCA OCTOBER 2010)
This is where it all started. The Biebs tackled one of the hottest beats of 2010, back when he had those dumb swoopy bangs and it seemed like he’d never grow up ever. But then he was rapping about “getting dome” and also said the word “Yellowbone,” and we all wondered if he was actually about that life (and a little racially insensitive), or he was just doing the cute-kid-saying-shit-he-doesn’t-fully-understand-because-he-wants-to-be-an-adult thing. We’ll never know, but this did appear in Never Say Never, the documentary about Bieber's life.
KANYE WEST FREAKS THE FUCK OUT ABOUT JUSTIN BIEBER ON TWITTER THEN MAKES A “RUNAWAY LOVE” REMIX APPEAR OUT OF THIN AIR IN A PROBABLY-COCAINE-INDUCED RAGE, AUGUST 2010
It kinda sucks that Kanye West deleted all of his tweets, because we lost a beautiful Internet Rant where he talked about listening to Bieber’s “Runaway Love” like fifteen times in a row, and then decided that he needed Raekwon to recreate the “Get On Up” remix, with Yeezy subbing in for Ghostface and Bieber playing the Jodeci parts. There are two versions of the remix: this one, where they do their thing over a loop from “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ to Fuck Wit,” and then the above version, which ended up appearing on the Never Say Never: The Remixes collection, which also includes a The Band Perry collaboration. While the rant was deleted and therefore is only accessible in the Library of Congress, here’s Bieber’s measured, humbled response. It doesn't feature Bieber rapping, but this was probably an important step in Bieber's acceptance within the hip-hop community.
“DRUMMER BOY (FEAT. BUSTA RHYMES)” FEAT. BUSTA RHYMES, CIRCA SUMMER 2011
As Blur once put it, this is a low. One thing the universe never asked for was Justin Bieber and Busta Rhymes turning “Little Drummer Boy” into a rap song, but then again the universe is a strange, unforgiving place.
JUSTIN BIEBER RAPS ON CHRIS BROWN’S “LADIES LOVE ME,” CIRCA SUMMER 2011
I guarantee you David Banner never thought he’d produce a beat that Justin Bieber—er, Shawty Mane—would rap over whenever he made “Like a Pimp.”
POWER 106 FREESTYLE, CIRCA NOVEMBER 2011
The thing about Christmas music is it’s never recorded during actual Christmastime. Thankfully, the Biebs worked out the combined kinks from the Shawty Mane era as well as whatever was going through his head during the “Drummer Boy (Featuring Busta Rhymes)” sessions. This is when Bieber came into his own as a rapper, which is a sentence I will stand by no matter how absurd that statement it is.
HOT 97 FREESTYLE, CIRCA NOVEMBER 2011
If Bieber freestyled on Power 106, there’s no way he wasn’t gonna show up to spit some more bars on New York’s other main rap radio station, Hot 97. This one’s a little bit better than his Power 106 freestyle, mainly because he ends the thing with a Ferris Bueller reference and raps, “People in their basement say I didn’t even write this,” which like a Jeff Foxworthy joke, is funny because it’s true.
THE ACTUAL FREESTYLE IN LAS VEGAS, CIRCA DECEMBER 2011
At some point, it was pretty obvious that Bieber was gonna try to freestyle off the dome, rather than pre-writing his raps and reciting them over someone else’s beat, which is kinda what the idea of “freestyle” has boiled down to in these troubled times. This is the result, and though he flounders a little bit around the 26-second mark, he makes up for it by doing the cooking dance at the end.
“BOYFRIEND,” CIRCA SUMMER 2012
If we’re measuring Bieber’s career against Justin Timberlake’s (and make no bones about it, we should be) his album Believe is basically his Justified—both are their first forays into “Adult Pop,” and both kinda interpret the singer’s name for the album title.
“FAIRYTALE (FEAT. JAYDEN SMITH),” CIRCA “BOYFRIEND”
Justin Bieber’s best friend might be YMCMB’s Lil Twist, but his de facto partner-in-rhyme is Jayden Smith, the son of Will Smith, and someone who we once went skateboarding with.
"LOLLY,” CIRCA THIS WEEK
And, now we’re at “Lolly,” which is a song that uses the word “Lolly” as a metaphor for “Penis.” Bieber’s bragging about popping bottles of San Pellegrino, having loud speakers, and watching Netflix with your girlfriend. But hey! Justin Bieber is a man, and so he is allowed to rap about Man Things, as long as he’s really oblique about shit. Which is why they threw Juicy J, who is basically a human drug reference, on here, so he could clear up any doubts that Justin Bieber is rapping about popping bottles of alcohol, smoking loud weed and having sex with your girlfriend (while watching Netflix with her).
Drew Millard is on the Justin Bieber beat for perpetuity. You should follow him on Twitter here - @drewmillard