It’s Friday, and that means a “Top XX Of YY.” Since it’s hip-hop week here at Music. Defined. I decided to do rappers. Please keep in mind that when I put this list together, I considered entire careers. This means that some people that had one or two good years followed by a decade of mediocrity are not on the list (I’m looking at you Snoop). Also, in doing some research on a couple guys I found that people don’t respect guys that have used ghost writers to help them. In my mind it doesn’t make any difference. Martin Scorsese doesn’t write his movies-though he has co-written some. Newer guys like Drake also didn’t make the list, as they haven’t really had the opportunity to prove themselves yet. Let’s get to it then.
15. Scarface: This spot came down to Old Dirty Bastard and Scarface. I have another Wu-Tang member on the list, so I went with Scarface. I was first introduced to him by my cousin. She had a copy of The Diary, and played it all the time. It’s weird, because generally I don’t like rap from Houston. There’s so much of it coming out that it’s hard to find the good stuff. Scarface, Bun B…these cats are few and far between. I don’t know how many times I listened to the song “I Seen A Man Die,” but it’s a bunch. After 20 years in the game, including work with The Geto Boys and the greatest use of a song in film ever wtih “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster” in Office Space, Scarface has earned his spot as rap royalty.
14. Slug (from Atmosphere): My friend Kevin turned me on to Atmosphere right before When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold came out. Based out of Minneapolis, the independent duo has a huge following and have been able to maintain for over 20 years. There are a lot of great rappers on the Rhymesayers label, including MF Doom and Brother Ali as well as Mac Lethal, but Slug is the best of the bunch.
13. Ice Cube: He traded in his rap career to be a family film millionaire, and I’ll never forgive him. The 1-2 punch of Predator and Lethal Injection is tough to match, and he never did live up to that level again. Maybe that’s why he quit rhyming for the most part and focused on something with an easier future (making formulaic dog shit movies). Still, for his work in NWA and those two records alone, he certainly belongs here.
12. Lil’ Wayne: He’s the most prolific rapper since Pac, and that’s how he keeps making hits. For every platinum-selling record he releases, there’s probably twenty or thirty songs on the cutting room floor that aren’t that great. But, he releases the right ones, and gives the rest away for free on mixtapes. I first saw him in his video for “Tha Block Is Hot,” if memory serves. I found him annoying. Now I only find him annoying sometimes, and his rhymes have become much better.
11. Common: I’ve always liked Common, and I feel like he gets overlooked by most people. Not as flashy as some, his raps are always from the heart, and he promotes positivity most of the time. Of all the guys to come out of Chicago, where I am, I think Common is the best.
10. Q-Tip: As a solo artist he’s never been as good as he was at the height of A Tribe Called Quest’s fame. That said, the biggest part of ATCQ was Tip on the mic, and he killed it every time out. He’s only released three records since Tribe disbanded in 98, but they’ve all been good. Most rappers would kill to have his career on the mic and in the booth.
9. Nas: Illmatic won over the critics, but it was his single “If I Ruled The World” featuring Lauryn Hill that alerted the masses to his talent. Even though it involves Diddy, I still think “Hate Me Now” is one of his best works. Nas ran into some trouble for a while during his fued with Jay-Z in the early 00’s, but he bounced back strong and continues to make good records.
8. KRS-One: Everyone listed above and below this spot would list KRS as an influence on their music. His music has always been intelligent, spiritual, and honest. He’s also had an impact in other genres, like on Bradley Nowell’s acoustic song about KRS’s influence.
7. Ghostface Killah: The only member of Wu-Tang who consistently puts out solid records (other than RZA, who gets credit mostly as a producer). From Ironman all the way up through Apollo Kids, none of his solo records have been bad. In fact, as far as qualityover a series of records, Ghost is one of the best.
6. OutKast: I couldn’t decide between Andre 3000 and Big Boi, so they get the only dual spot on the list. They’re both amazingly talented rappers, and I can’t wait for the next OutKast record to drop. Sir Luscious Left Foot was a damn fine solo record for Boi, but these guys work better together, and they know it.
5. Eminem: I didn’t join the hype machine that was hailing Em as the greatest thing ever back in 1999 when Slim Shady LP came out. I liked it ok, but I found it more comedic than compelling. Same goes for most of The Marshall Mathers LP. “Stan” is a good song (and using Dido was a great call that I never could have made), but it was too heavy. One reason some people love Eminem, and one reason I didn’t for a long time, is that it’s ALL out there. He holds nothing back. It’s the same reason I don’t like movies like Hostel-it’s too in your face. Especially songs like “Kim,” where it’s basically just Em yelling for five minutes. I started to turn a corner when I heard “Mosh” for the first time. Finally a rapper that was popular and would have a few million people listening at any given moment was saying something political. Unfortunately, the rest of that album sucked. Now, years later with the release of Recovery, I started to see what everyone else did at the beginning. I was actually kind of rooting for him to win all those grammys because the record opened my eyes to how good he can be when his head is on straight. Using the information that he reveals on his latest, I can look at all the old records with a different perspective. That puts him in the top 5.
4. Notorious B.I.G.: Ready To Die is one of the greatest rap debuts of all-time. Following that up with Life After Death made him hip-hop royalty. Then, like Shakur (because of Shakur?) he was killed. The only bad thing about Biggie is that it gave rise to guys like Diddy and Ma$e, not to mention Lil’ Kim and the rest of Junior Mafia.
3. Dr. Dre: Unless Detox comes out and totally bombs, which it could, I stand by this position. Dre gave us The Chronic in 1993 and The Chronic 2001 in 1999. He’s always been ahead of the game. If this list were just for producers, he may be even higher.
2. Tupac Shakur: In a world full of bad boys, Pac was the baddest. I didn’t come in on the ground floor of his music, beginning at Me Against The World. I think I wore my cd out after playing it a million times. Then I went backward through his catalogue, picking up Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. and eventually made my way to his Digital Underground work on Sex Packets. Sadly, he’s better known for his trials (literally) and tribulations away from the mic. There have been nine posthomous releases since his murder-he had five solo releases prior to it.
1. Jay-Z: It surprised me a bit that I considered Jigga this high, but for a career that inludes one of the best runs across any musical genre, it’s impossible to top him. From Reasonable Doubt to Blueprint Vol 2, he’s untouchable. I feel like since The Black Album I don’t dig him as much, but those early releases made his number one status concrete.
Alternatively, here are the ten worst rappers, in no particular order:
Juvenile, Mystikal, Black Rob, Chingy, Ja Rule, Bubba Sparxx, Fred Durst (not really a rapper, but sucks beyond compare), Shaquille O’Neal, Master P, Lil’ Kim.
As always, feel free to rip this apart in the comments, or just make your own list to share with us. We don’t judge. Unless you put Chet Haze on your list. Or Asher Roth.