***REAL HIP-HOP HEADS ONLY*** Who Are The Top 10 MCs/Rappers of All-Time?
Let’s get right to it. I’m kind of tired of hearing and reading a bunch of nonsense from people who are not from the Golden Era of Hip-Hop emoting stroke-inducing blither such as “Jay-Z is the best rapper ever” and “Eminem influenced the whole industry” and the worst yet: “Weezy is the best ever. PERIOD.”
First of all, Jay-Z changes his whole style and compromises his art (which is the essence of Hip-Hop, coming from the heart, the struggle, the soul — not selling the game) all in the name of remaining relevant in the public’s conscious. And before anyone mentions anything about “11 #1 albums”, first off, album sales are only a SIDE NOTE in this discussion amongst REAL Hip-Hop heads, not to be the centerpiece of ANYONE’S assertions here. Secondly, that fact is more attributable to who Jay-Z aligned himself with, while simultaneously “shittin” on the guys who held him down when he was merely a runner in the drug game, and the others who helped him build Roc-a-Fella Records to the heights that it reached (including Damon Dash, DeHaven, Jaz-O, Sauce Money, Beanie Sigel, Cam’ron and the Diplomats, amongst many others). Look at who Jay-Z’s networking partners have been since 1999 and get back to me.
And while irrational people will read all this and claim that because I am not bowing down and genuflecting in Jay-Z’s presence or at the mere mention of his name, it is anything but. I was the biggest Jay-Z fan when he was truly HIP-HOP (i.e. 1991-1999), but not now.
The fact of the matter is, the owners of distribution companies, the label heads (not going to allow for the “Illuminati” talk, although the Music Industry is HIGHLY fraternal and the few shot-callers that exist cannot be disputed — and those are who Jay-Z commiserates with and has “rigged” the game — thereby disputing the “11 #1 albums!” talk, as Soundscan can be easily manipulated with the aforementioned scenario in place.
But for those who will just look at the rankings and fuss without reading any of this — and there will inevitably be some poor student who has ADHD who does so — well, that’s that.
While record sales DO matter, and longevity (without compromising your artistic integrity) definitely ranks highly in my criterion, it is not the ONLY basis by which I rate these guys.
TRUE HIP-HOP CONSISTS OF:
4. Graffiti/Spreading Knowledge Through Words and Craft.
“Swagger” is to never be spoken of, and if the entire basis of your existence in the “game” is speaking about “swag” 7-15 times in an LP, regardless of how long you’ve been in the game, you lose points in my eyes.
Style, originality, lyricism, comedy, punchlines, wordplay, multis and double-entendre usage, consistency in content, versatility in flow (without copying someone else’s style all the time — a la The Game) and staying true to one’s ORIGINAL AUDIENCE in some form are what these following Top 10 is rated upon.
I couldn’t care less if they are only shipping 50,000 units or if they’re shipping 5 million and going Soundscan Platinum first week, if your original audience has been alienated, it will be depicted in these ratings. Your original audience can be displeased because you’ve “grown”, “changed” or only rapping about what is relative to you now, versus 10-15+ years ago — and that’s everyone — but Hip-Hop is Hip-Hop, and if you are truly connected to your core — aka THE STREETS, THOSE IN THE STRUGGLE, THE UNDERREPRESENTED AND THOSE WITHOUT A VOICE — you can never truly alienate them.
If you are bragging about esoteric mentions of control of the game, and other things that Hip-Hip is not about, then you lose points.
IN MY RANKINGS, THIS IS NOT UP FOR DISCUSSION.
So with all this in mind —
ELITE STATUS/TOP TIER:
The best ever. PERIOD. He’s been in the game for 20 years (since “Live at the BBQ” in 1991) and has not compromised his artistic craft one bit. The only time that anyone can assert that he has done so was his second LP, It Was Written, where Sony/Columbia saw that the Mafioso/Shiny Suit phase of 1995-1998 that had enveloped Hip-Hop — forced NaS to make a less-gritty and more commercially-appealing album. Even still, his fulfillment of all of the aforementioned criteria, while appealing to the masses and NOT alienating his original fanbase (ask them; some will say they were worried and somewhat disappointed — other huge fans, like myself, said they loved It Was Written as much as they did Illmatic, which is a Top 5 LP of all-time).
Most importantly, NaS has influenced everyone who has entered the game since 1995. And anyone of note in the game who says they weren’t influenced by him are LYING.
No one had broken into the game with the complex wordplay, multis, metaphors and rapid-fire delivery, all socially-conscious, but still gritty and in-your-face. The embodiment of Hip-Hop.
The only reason he has been knocked from #1 is because he has had two very long stretches without releasing new material (1993-1997, 2002-2008). Record sales do not matter to me. If you had lost the ability and record sales, then you fall. Rakim didn’t.
3. Big Daddy Kane.
Kane was the Brooklyn version of Rakim (Rakim was from Wyandanch, Long Island), and debuted a year later. He took the game to a new level, and being a pioneer for a particular style always earns tons of points. He made a bad move with his Taste of Chocolate LP in 1990, but from 1987-1990, his wordplay, rapid-fire delivery, and his pioneer move: BRINGING UNPARALLELED SWAGGER to Hip-Hop, was what earned him this ranking. He willfully retired from music over a decade ago, although he still performs. His effect on an entire generation of up-and-coming MCs cannot be disputed.
He’s been in the game and relevant for over 25 years now. He’s created a group, Boogie Down Productions, a movement (Stop the Violence, after his manager, and later his group mate, Scott La Rock were murdered, along with acts of violence toward and by the police, etc.) and has been the vocal conscious of the culture of Hip-Hop since the early 1980s. When he speaks even in 2011, people listen.
5. The Notorious B.I.G.
Citing the fact that he only had two “true” LPs (and only one while living — Life After Death was altered and tarnished by Puff Daddy to the point of disgust, although fans were so hungry for Biggie’s second album that it didn’t matter, certified Soundscan DIAMOND eventually).
His comedic style, effortless flow, delivery, metaphors, story-telling ability, perfect description while painting pictures of scenarios (real or not), versatility, ability to ride a beat, work with almost anyone and make it rock, and the charisma of President Obama — while actually backing it up with his catalogue — all land him here. His imprint on the game is indelible and the truest sign of this fact is the way so many artists use song titles by Biggie and punchlines that he used in their songs even in 2011.
Or completely steal his style, as Jay-Z did.
6. Big Pun.
The First Latin to Go Platinum, as he proudly said, and with good reason. He is the Puerto Rican Big Daddy Kane in every facet, and even more so, as a comedian on the mic, which is HUGE in Hip-Hop, especially when almost everything you say is quotable, as was the case with Pun.
His influence cannot be quantified. His catalogue of both finished and unfinished tracks is on par with all-time great PRINCE. And that’s saying something. He was too profound for some people, and many wannabe gangsters and rebellious teens from broken homes took his lyrics too literally, but his paranoia and taking the bait by the FBI and CIA by fueling and inciting the ridiculous East-West beef, accusing The Notorious B.I.G. — and the subsequent actions, which contradicted everything he professed to stand for — mars his ranking a bit.
8. Big L.
I love that people in the past 5-6 years know who Big L. is, and have picked up his music, taken it home and studied it — while acting like they were actually listening to him in 1994 and 1995 when he dropped his debut LP, or when his group, Children of the Corn, featuring Mase, Herb McGruff, Bloodshed and Cam’ron — are rather sickening. You can tell who were really fans in the late 90s and who just picked up his music via downloads. If you bought those LPs by Big L., or the COC mixtape in Harlem or Albee Square Mall, then you understand the fact that Big L. impacted and helped propel the careers of Harlem legends Mase and Cam’ron. Since his life was snuffed out on his home block (139th St. & Lenox Avenue), and didn’t realize his full potential, he can’t be ranked Top 5.
See above in the introductory paragraph for a summary.
But talentwise, the guy so good that he could hang with Big L. as a freestyler on radio (no writtens). Jay-Z’s ability is unquestioned. He’s a Top 5 lyricist in ability, but it’s what he does off the mic that has just as much to do with his current standing in the eyes of people — particularly those who are not true Hip-Hop heads — as it does in the eyes of his detractors, who cannot overlook those facts; which are the very thing his most ardent fans repeatedly cite as their rationale in stating that he’s supposedly the “G.O.A.T.”
15 years in the game, versatile style, copied by by Enimem and Drag-On, a Harlem legend — in fact the current King of Harlem, and is swagger/swag personified. Influenced an entire nation to use Harlem slang, which Cam’ron made famous (but almost never gets credit for, while being used by the very people who will say he doesn’t deserve his ranking).
Again, foolishness like Jay-Z “stans”.
But along with the slang, style, versatility, influencing a nation to “odee” on the color pink, Jeff Hamilton jackets and creative wordplay that cannot be disputed, he created an entire movement, while actually doing what Jay-Z didn’t — HELP HIS HOMIES WHO HELD HIM DOWN WHEN HE WAS STARVING AND JUST A SIDE NIGGA.
Cam put his boys on, even those who don’t have much talent, and fed them, put them in position to all be millionaires (which everyone in Dipset were at one point), everyone who was around Jay-Z (other than Memphis Bleek), is nowhere to be found in the industry, and is back in the hood, where Jay-Z was along with them 25 years ago.
That’s the truest test of someone in the Hip-Hop game when they have power and influence. Also, being a decent actor (Paid in Full, 2002), Cam’ron is a legend. His admitted laziness over the past few years knocks his ranking; although he has made a stellar comeback since 2009, regardless of record sales.
When a trending topic of quotables from your catalogue can last for nearly a week and so many people, even admitted detractors, can quote you left and right, you’ve made a serious impact. That’s what Hip-Hop is about; giving a voice to those who do not have a public voice, yet can relate to what you say.
The first legitimate White rapper, who lived the struggle and helped mainstream the music part of Hip-Hop to a broader audience more than anyone had previous to his 1999 debut album. Although by sheer fact and construct, even the poorest of poor and ghetto of ghetto White person cannot truly identify with the struggle in this nation as a Black or Hispanic person in the struggle that is the essence of Hip-Hop, which negates any argument for his ranking to be higher.
That, and his initial foray into the game was on the back of a style that was already done by Cam’ron, who had done the “crazy nigga” flow on his debut LP, “Confessions of Fire” in 1998 — the year before Slim Shady debuted.
He was excellent in his first 7 years, but since 2000, he has really become a corporate schill. His 1990s impact is still felt today, however.
Hard to tell who Ice Cube is nowadays. He sold out to Hollywood after Common ended his rap career with the song “H.E.R.”, but he is a prolific movie-maker and TV producer. His impact in the late 1980s and early 1990s is indelible and he had sterling Soundscan numbers. Sellouts lose points in my mind, however.
GROUPS (Considered Separate):
1. Public Enemy.
They were so powerful in the late 1980s that everyone used their music to make a social point. Not just a music point, but SOCIALLY. Social consciousness was the name of their game. Before the “powers-that-be” sacked them and had the group tone down their intelligence and informing people what the government and other powers were doing — which was their niche. They faded away in the 1990s and became schills as well (except Professor Griff, who has had his house burned recently because he continues to expose the powers-that-be).
2. Wu-Tang Clan.
Words cannot express their business plan, perfectly executed and leaving such a mark on Hip-Hop that they should actually be the GOLD STANDARD of what a Hip-Hop group should represent.
Eight solid members, and a constant affiliate in Cappadonna, several other spur affiliates, a host of in-house producers, led by seminal pioneer, RZA — who fine-tuned the style of sampling soul and R&B songs and fusing them into discordant beats, crafting the “Wu Sound”.
I get headaches trying to quantify their effect in words. Even individuals in the group have had 10+ year solo careers (Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, etc.)
Funky, clever, one of the very first on the cutting edge flow, and set the tone for the rest of the 1980s and early 1990s. They will never be lower than Top 3.
4. A Tribe Called Quest.
They epitomized the 1990s. Two words that exemplify the thing I think about them most: THE JAZZY SOUND.
Simply put, they got California on the Hip-Hop map, when New York birthed Hip-Hop. They can be credited (or blamed) for putting the anti-social/anti-police sentiment into the game. Although the need was there — bringing attention to what the cops and other institutions were doing to the oppressed, they did just as much harm as good to the game.
However, they were pioneers even in the positive regard — they gave birth to the careers of 2Pac, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and others.
Gave the South respectability by being TRUE Hip-Hop and not unintelligible gibberish that no one outside of the south could understand. And they’ve been in the game over 18 years now.
7. The Roots.
Oh-so-soulful. Neo-soul cum Hip-Hop, cum fusion and the voice of that mellow, smooth Philly style that has exemplified what Philadelphia is about musically.
8. Bone Thugs -n- Harmony.
Bone did the same for the Midwest (specifically Cleveland) that OutKast did for Atlanta and the South. Many people quoted them 1995-1998 and still do to this day. They even did a song with the Notorious B.I.G. and influenced him to use THEIR style in doing so.
9. Naughty By Nature.
Often overlooked by many, but they held it down for New Jersey throughout the 1990s, from 1991-1998. They’ve been underrated for years, although they had nearly a dozen solid hits. They were all over TV and movies during the 1990s as well.
10. Mobb Deep.
I swear Mobb Deep’s beats (by producer/group member Havoc) made me wanna fight, or made me felt like I was navigating a jungle in Vietnam in the 1970s while being chased by the Vietcong in 85% humidity and 100 degree heat. Especially songs like “Shook Ones, Pt. II” and others with that M*A*S*H* sound. They helped bring the “gangster” aspect to New York in 1993/1994.
Pioneered an entire generation’s worth of slang, style of dress, and epitomized an entire period of time in Hip-Hop (2001-2007).
Pivotal group, seminal in every regard and held their own in a time where Hip-Hop was defined by gangster talk and willful ignorance and recklessness.
Boot Camp Clik.
MASSIVE conglomerate, including Black Moon, Heltah Skeltah, Smif-n-Wessun, Originoo Gun Clappaz, all of whom either contributed to the group as a whole or had solo or spur-group multiple-LP careers.
They EPITOMIZE what Brooklyn is all about when you think “What is Brooklyn? How do I perceive Brooklyn?”
They put Texas on the map (permanently, where Geto Boys only did it for a blip in the early 1990s) and did it for a very long time — and would still be going if Pimp C. had not been snuffed out by people who did not like the fact that he was exposing the dark underside of the music industry in his final 18 months living. R.I.P. Chad.
They made Virginia relevant for more than R&B acts and superior producers. And everyone in the game respects and works with them.
They had a niche between 1994-1997, but the typical issues that plague groups (the royalty splits between producers, 50% of all of the “take” and 50% split by any vocals, including sometimes the producer, in this case — Praswell — caused the group to split). They didn’t do it long enough, although they certainly left their stamp.