Last Friday’s release of the “Catch the Thrones” mixtape, a Game of Thrones tie-in commissioned by HBO in advance of the show’s April 6 fourth-season premiere, got us excited to hear artists like Big Boi and Common getting their George R.R. Martin on. But by signing up for the album, the ten artists who contributed tracks effectively announced that they were fans of the hugely popular adaptation of Martin’s sprawling "A Song of Ice and Fire" book series. This makes us wonder: Which of these rappers knows the most about Game of Thrones? Vulture analyzed each track’s lyrical content to determine who is down with Westeros and who merely had an assistant skim through the DVR. And because hierarchy is central to Game of Thrones land, we ranked the contributors by how "ASoIaF"-informed their lyrics seem to be.
KING OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS
Dominik Omega, “Arya’s Prayer”
Arya Stark, the fiercely resourceful fan favorite, isn’t so much a tomboy as a tom-samurai. This track is so specific to her story line that it wouldn’t make sense to someone who doesn’t watch the show, although the lyrics’ catchy fatalism might still appeal: “My word is my bond and my bond is my word / Valar Dohaeris, all men must serve / See as a raven flies and time slips by / Valar Morghulis, all men must die.” (Raps employing High Valyrian are the best raps.) Arya’s outsize fury, her determination to stay alive, and her thirst for revenge are captured perfectly throughout the song (e.g., “Middle child of five, but I'm wilder and smarter / Quick like a snake and calm as still water”); nearly every line refers back to the show or the text, and in deeply informed ways (“If I had been maybe a child of Pyke / I'd gladly pay the iron price”). Like all true GoT readers, Omega is down with the younger Stark daughter.
GRRM Score: 10 out of 10. Anyone who references both Jory and Lommy is clearly an unabashed fan.
THE HAND OF THE KING
Common, “The Ladder”
“We all want it with our eyes on the summit / Chaos is a ladder and some fall from it.” Take one well-written verse and one catchy refrain, set them between two great pieces of dialogue from the show, and voilà! … the best song on the mixtape. You can enjoy it even if you’ve never heard of the Westeros and you’ll enjoy it all the more if you have.
GRRM Score: 9. The lyrics trade on a show-only concept: Littlefinger’s disclosure to Lord Varys about the true nature of the realm. Common’s contribution is a nuanced and essential piece of the series’ core meaning, making “The Ladder” a well-thought-out homage to the world George R. R. Martin created.
LORD COMMANDER OF THE KINGSGUARD
Big Boi, “Mother of Dragons”
The hook is an ominous voice saying “Dungeons, dragons, kings, and queens,” which is a little off target, as it brings to mind images of nerds in basements rolling many-sided dice. But once the song gets going, Big Boi uses the example of Daenerys to wax philosophical about birth and fate. Bonus points for quoting Hamlet and for ending with “fuck the Lannisters,” which, after three seasons, nicely sums up viewer sentiment.
GRRM score: 8. Big Boi isn’t merely regurgitating familiar plot points when he name-checks the Red Wedding and Jon Snow; he’s using them to make larger points about life. George R. R. Martin would be proud.
MASTER OF COIN
Daddy Yankee, “Born to Rule”
Great hook, strong beat, and a lead-in by Varys, the eunuch advisor to the king, who doesn’t need balls of his own when he’s got everyone else’s balls in his pocket (“Power resides where men believe it resides”). He definitely knows the value of a faithful advisor.
GRRM score: 6. He spits out a few Game of Thrones–isms with “winter’s coming” and “what was dead may never die.” But his “got chosen / reason why they put me here” is problematic; kings who sit on the Iron Throne are royal by birth or take power by force, not appointment.
Snow tha Product, “Fire”
No messing around with refrains or hooks here. This one is straightforward fury, very much in the spirit of Daenerys (though even she takes a breath once in a while to hang out with her dragons). Sophisticated, intense, and a little exhausting, the lyrics capture the fierceness and intelligence of the mother of dragons, without being over the top.
GRRM score: 5. It’s more of a tone poem than a deep-dive into Khaleesi-land.
MAN OF THE NIGHT’S WATCH
Wale, “King Slayer”
It was a bold choice to use the show’s eerily resonant theme music as a backdrop, but it makes for so much going on that the song can be overwhelming. Some of the lyrics are downright bizarre: Does he really say, “Your ass is curtains”? I mean, the Game of Thrones scenery is quite lush ... Wale is rapping from the perspective of the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister, and he gets the arrogance and family pride right. (“Family over monetary any day … Never carry weight, my name carry weight.”) But that’s mostly surface-level stuff from the first book, especially since Jaime becomes a more complex and even sympathetic character as the series goes on.
GRRM score: 5. But “your ass is curtains” makes up for any lack of research.
MASTER OF WHISPERERS
Dee Goodz, “The Parallel”
A mostly uninspired entry (“This life is a like a game of thrones / You can live or you die” — yup, we got it!). There is some fun vocal stuff here and there. Points for mentioning “greensight" (a kind of psychic power that turns young Northern prince Bran Stark into the Susan Miller of the Seven Kingdoms) and for the line “The entire Western world are still at war / 'Cause when you have it all you still want more,” which sums up the Lannisters nicely. Goodz also throws in references to the Kingslayer and Khaleesi, although the latter only “spits fire” metaphorically, or when she gets her dragons to speak for her.
GRRM score: 4. Maybe he watched the show on fast-forward.
HOSTAGE AND WARD
Bodega Bamz, “Win or Die”
Solid entry with vivid lyrics, but unfortunately kind of forgettable. It's nicely stuffed with specific details from the books, like to the Kingsroad, and to the great scene when Arya Stark receives a sword from her half-brother Jon Snow and is told to use the “pointy end.” Bamz mentions that “white walkers can never be trusted,” which, since the white walkers are zombie-killing machines, is good advice.
GRRM score: 3. Like a middle school book report, this one shows only a surface-level understanding of the text (“Game of Thrones is all about war” — hmmm ... ).
BUT A SQUIRE
Kilo Kish, “Magical Reality”
A monologue inspired by Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled daughter of a king killed by traitors, who has every right to be royally pissed. Yet the song is the most mellow and abstract on the album. You could enjoy it even with no knowledge of Game of Thrones, but it is so low-energy that you could also easily stop listening and go do something more fun, like, you know, read.
GRRM score: 2. A few GoT buzzwords — fire, kingdoms — help create the correct atmosphere but don’t speak much to the Khaleesi’s complex, occasionally tortured inner life. Daenerys might be mellow and abstract when she sleeps, but it’s doubtful.
Magazeen, “Iron Throne”
At first this song seems like it would be fun to dance to, but then the beat shifts and you find yourself listening to the desultorily literal lyrics (“Kill, kill, let blood spill / Kill, kill, the word of the kingdom”) and it’s kind of a downer to hear the word “murder” over and over. What is this, Game of Thrones?
GRRM score: 1. Well, Magazeen knows that there’s a “kingdom” involved. That’s a start. He also references the “iron throne,” which in the books makes literal Shakespeare’s idea that “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” The iron throne is made of thousands of swords forged together to make one hell of an uneasy chair, because a king should never sit comfortably. But an intern might have told him that. Based on the song, we’re guessing he didn’t even read the SparkNotes, let alone watch the show.