Ok, so I’ve spent some time thinking about this. It’s pretty easy to spit names out and people could easily make a list of awesome rappers. But I’m gonna try to follow a criteria and some sort of semblance of reasoning behind it. So I will grade each artist on delivery, content, and beats; 1 being getting booed off Showtime at the Apollo, and 10 meaning that you are on repeat on everyone’s iPod. I Include “beats” as part the criteria because the producer you tie yourself to should be an extension of yourself and plays a role in your identity as a hip-hop artist.
So without further ado, here is a list of my top 5 hip-hop artists:
5. Kanye West
Kanye’s songs bang. No doubt about that. He’s also grown substantially since his debut album, The College Dropout. As of 2012, West has won a total of eighteen Grammy Awards, making him one of the most awarded artists of all time. All albums have been very commercially successful, with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy becoming his fourth consecutive No.1 album in the U.S. upon release. Commercial success is great, but I still believe that Kanye can delve into some more substance in his rap. It’s not like he lacks the creativity, he has some real creative and hilarious lines, he just needs to get past his ego. When your deepest song is “Runaway” and it’s about douche bags and a**holes, then…well that’s a pretty relatable problem because we all got haters. But in comparison to other rappers, his content and flow/delivery lack in comparison and to become legendary he should get better at adapting to any kind of beat. However, it’s almost impossible for me to think of Kanye West without imagining this.
Few can touch Eminem in terms of lyrical genius and ability to adapt their delivery to different beats. Eminem is one of the best-selling artists in the world and is the best-selling artist of the 2000s. He has been listed and ranked as one of the greatest artists of all time by many magazines including the Rolling Stone magazine which has ranked him 82nd on its list of The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Including his work with D12 and Bad Meets Evil, Eminem has achieved ten number-one albums on the Billboard 200. He has sold more than 42 million tracks and 41 million albums in the United States, and 86 million albums worldwide. Eminem studied all the great MC’s, which makes him one of the greats. His debut album, Infinite, is the early stages of his career sounds like Nas, Mos Def, and AZ quite a lot on various tracks. However, since then he has created his own style from the influences and is noted for his varied and humorous subject matter, connecting with his audience, carrying a concept over a series of albums, complex rhyme schemes, his ability to bend words so that they rhyme, his use of multisyllabic rhymes, fitting many rhymes in each bar, complex rhythms, clear enunciation, use of melody, and syncopation. He is also known to write the majority of his lyrics down on paper, as documented in his book, The Way I Am, as well as taking a few days or a week to craft lyrics, being a “workaholic”, and “stacking” vocals. Discounting his Relapse album following his hiatus, every album of his has showcased his skills and continues to set the bar high for other rappers today.
3. Notorious B.I.G.
Defining the 90’s east coast rap game, there is not much for me to say here. B.I.G. is a legend in his game and his unfortunate death left us with one less icon to influence the next generation of artists. He became a central figure in the East Coast hip-hop scene and increased New York’s visibility at a time when West Coast artists were more common in the mainstream. His loose, easy flow, dark semi-autobiographical lyrics and storytelling abilities are a staple of his style that many have tried to emulate. Having been called “the master of flow” and having mastered “all the hemispheres of music” is an understatement as Allmusic described Biggie Smalls as having “a loose, easy flow” with “a talent for piling multiple rhymes on top of one another in quick succession”.Time magazine wrote Wallace rapped with an ability to “make multi-syllabic rhymes sound… smooth.”
With Biggie defining 90’s east coast, Tupac Shakur was the unrivaled leader of the west coast. Shakur has sold over 75 million albums worldwide as of 2007, making him one of the best-selling music artists in the world. Rolling Stone Magazine named him the 86th Greatest Artist of All Time. Shakur was also an actor. The themes of most of Tupac’s songs are the violence and hardship in inner cities, racism, social problems, and conflicts with other rappers during the East Coast–West Coast hip hop rivalry. With the famous Dr. Dre producing the majority of his beats for him, his songs had an amazing backtrack to go with his deep lyrics. Tupac did not shy away from controversy and sought to attack problems through his music. Like Biggie, he was taken from the world too early, but left a series of works for future generations to listen to.
Once a protegé of the Notorious B.I.G., Shawn Carter has become one of the most financially successful hip hop artists and entrepreneurs in America, having a net worth of over $450 million as of 2010. He has sold approximately 50 million albums worldwide, while receiving thirteen Grammy Awards for his musical work, and numerous additional nominations. He is consistently ranked as one of the greatest rappers of all-time. His debut album Reasonable Doubt was an instant classic on its release, setting the tone for the rest of his career. He’s number one to me because of his ability to transcend generations and make changes with every album release that ends up setting what the style will be that year. He shared the street background that Biggie and Tupac had, yet is as cultured and political as other rappers. Also, being one of the best MC’s ever comes with the perk of having the best producers come to your door to present you with the best beats. Can’t Knock his Hustle…
This was an almost impossible list to make, I wanted to include everyone. Honorable mentions include Mos Def, Ludacris, Wu-Tang, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One, Snoop Dogg, Outkast, and many more. I don’t even know why I list honorable mentions, it’s way too long.
Obviously this list is up for debate, this is just my opinion but I would be interested to hear what other’s people’s top 5 would look like as well. Who would make your list?