The GOAT Rapper Continued…Part 2 of 3Posted: May 14, 2015
Complex posted an article breaking down the best rapper of each year since 1979. It was a very interesting and no pun intended, complex piece. The reason I’m mentioning this is because we all have our favorite emcees and guys that resonate with us personally. When we talk about the GOAT, the arguments are slightly different. So yes there will be advocates for Ghostface, Big L, Big Pun, MF Doom, Joey Badass or whoever you believe is at the top of the game. But, “The GOAT discussion is reserved for the chosen few; no rookies or new jacks qualify. It’s strictly for the catalog artists, people who have shifted the culture in previously unmovable ways, artists whose music has permeated and resonated over an extended period of time.”
I feel like they handled a lot of my rebuttal to the hip-hop heads that put Redman and Black Thought above Biggie and Jay. This post isn’t really about the most lyrical lyricist because we would have to try to include everyone from Kool G. Rap to Lupe Fiasco.
With that said, do you include the guys with the strong track records and years in the game? Where do we place T.I., Kanye West, Rick Ross, 50 Cent, Cam’ron, Young Jeezy, Scarface, Jadakiss, DMX and Lil Wayne? Is my generation holding on to the 90s legends?
The new hall of fame class will include Drake, J. Cole, Nicki Minaj, Big Sean and Kendrick Lamar. But at what point can any of these men wear the imaginary crown?
Well we have to be honest and consistent when it comes to criteria. Album sales matter, public opinions are a factor, classics under the belt count for something, but most of all when an artist is running the game there is a feeling that we all have. We anticipate their release and when it happens, it is the most talked about project. It comes up in barbershops and ball courts. The question isn’t, “Have you heard Get Rich or Die Trying?”
The question becomes: “Do you think College Dropout is a classic?”
There are certain LPs that you can’t shun or disrespect. You can try and break down Illmatic if you want to. You can argue that there were only 9 songs and two were released early. You can make the case that some of the lyrics in 3 songs are interchangeable. But there is a feeling that you can’t deny when you listen to the album. Maybe it speaks to the youthful rap fan that witnessed a transition from rigid categories like gangsta rap, conscious rap or party rap to introspective street rhymes that were not only narratives, but they were placed in front of a variety of noteworthy producers. Nas was a pioneer in his own right. Just like Scarface was for his sound in Houston. These guys had their moments in time where they commanded the national spotlight. 50 Cent made a valiant case for being top canine but although cases can be made for the guys I listed lets simply cross them off the list.
Biggie and Pac ran out of time. But Pun left before he could even scratch the surface. This guy really had it. He followed the formula correctly. He was on the mixtape circuit destroying beats and creating quotables. Then Mr. Rios turned around and dropped “It’s So Hard” and “I’m not a Player,” and he became a commercial success. “It’s So Hard” may have seemed like your typical hit single, but it was so much more. It was clearly evident that the once polysyllabic, extra punchline, multiple rhyming pattern emcee known as The Punisher knew the formula. He had Donnell Jones singing about dudes wanting to smash his wife, he had jokes about getting jerked at the Source Awards, he even threw in some arrogant humor and then vowed to stick around after losing weight. Pun went platinum and was en route to a plaque-filled career that would not only have placed him in the conversation as the Latin king of hip-hop but Hov would not have been the obvious successor. But in one of the saddest cases to be made in an argument against someone being the ruler of the game, Big Pun left us prematurely. He was undoubtedly on his way.
Just like Big L. Some can argue that L went at it with Jay on the radio and showed similar skill and potential for greatness. There were even talks to bring the Harlem wordsmith to Roc-A-Fella before his passing. He pumped out some classic underground hits and memorable lines like being so ahead of his time that his parents hadn’t met yet. But we will never know if Big L was poised to be a mainstream star.
Also out of Harlem, Cameron Giles took off running after Mase gave him some light and let Biggie hear the youngster spit. At one point Cam was so hot that he had the choice of any major label he wanted. Cam’ron finally reached platinum status as a member of the Roc and although Hov didn’t necessarily welcome him with the most open arms, he and his Dipset crew made a name for themselves. Cam was responsible for breaking the careers of Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and Max B. The Diplomats movement was a strong staple in New York hip-hop at a time, but Cam’s pen became questionable over the years. The raw aggression and racy topics that were spewed on his debut got watered down to an elementary more comprehensible flow during his later years. Come Home With Me and Sports Drugs and Entertainment were strong releases but there was never a true reign on the charts or the streets. His cold wars with 50 and Jay finally resulted in some song battles and interview banter but if anyone had to make a choice between Jay and Cam as far as track record, Shawn Carter wins. Cam’ron isn’t the greatest but he did have a great run.
Just like DMX.
Dark Man X was in total control of music around 1998. When a man can drop two chart-topping LPs in one year he’s on a roll. When a rapper can go against the flashy era where platinum chains were the standard and 80s samples ruled the airwaves, and he can rock dog chains and recite prayers over haunting instrumentals, he is a threat to the throne. DMX must’ve known he couldn’t resist the world of narcotics long enough to remain on top or maybe he really believed that his former cohort becoming the head of his label would help his career. Either way, Earl Simmons began to fade as a commercial mainstay. We still loved his authenticity and passion, but the sound of music got a tad bit lighter as 50 and Ja began crooning hard edged singles and flashiness made a return to the visuals of rap.
50 endured a short reign when he withstood Jay’s summer jam jab, nine shots from a gun and what seemed to be black balling from the industry. He set off his career with a classic album on Shady/Aftermath and made the “mixtape” the standard tool for any artist that was signed or unsigned. He canceled Ja Rule’s credibility and introduced his own G-Unit brand. Curtis captivated the masses with his triumphant story and harmonic hard hip-hop. But once again, longevity was the Achilles heel for another artist. 50’s arrogance and thirst for relevance backfired when he challenged Kanye West to a first week battle back in 2009. Kanye not only won but he embarrassed him and signified a change in the times. Gone were the days of street cred, drug tales, and death threats to ensure record sales. A feud with Rick Ross years prior would have led to career assassination for “Officer Ricky.”
But we all know Rick would not go away and as he kept dropping hit after hit it made 50 lose leverage until Curtis had to concede to a movement bigger than him. To this day, 50 may feel like he has a throne, but his raps haven’t been up for debate as legendary since his first go round.
The man that knocked him off was clearly on his way to be one of the top artists our generation. When Kanye West first popped up on a mixtape rapping people thought it was a passing phase. But Ye exhibited staying power after a near fatal car crash and then he released the beloved College Dropout.
He followed it up with two more really well put together albums and began to expand his palate with 808s and Heartbreaks. Doubters may ponder what if Kanye never signed with the Roc? Would he have been relevant? Probably not.
Which is why we have to now point out that there is a recurring theme when it comes to each analysis of potential GOATs. Jay-Z gave Kanye his shot by using his production and then he co-signed him as an artist allowing the public to embrace him and accept his doses of consciousness and self-reflection while he still admitted his desire for wealth.
But when you fast forward to him achieving the success he chased for years, you find a man with a chip on his shoulder the size of a boulder that continues to grow. Ye chose a Kardashian, began to do cryptic interviews, became obsessed with fashion, dropped Yeezus as an apparent negation of Jesus Walks, lost his mother, admitted the sale of his soul and took the title as the most unpredictable artist whenever the cameras go live.
The award show antagonist, the quintessential man child, the dark twisted beautiful mind that used to be driven by ill verses and groundbreaking songs has been replaced by an egomaniac on ego e-pills that would rather drop an apocalyptic clothing line over another classic LP.
This generation can look to his lines and innovative visuals and see a genius that is also a lyrical beast. Or we all may just sit back and marvel at what Yeezy once was and how he morphed into a fame hog that is consumed by his own celebrity whilst simultaneously being oblivious to it. Kanye West should not be condemned for his current struggle rap or better yet struggle fashionista rap persona. But we have to admit that it stabs at his legendary status that was solidified after Graduation. Oh well.
What about the others? Can Rick Ross be this generation’s Biggie Smalls? It’s easy to say no because Rick doesn’t captivate with stories, his lines don’t contain depth and his albums sound like ballers anonymous confessions over trap beats. Ricky Rozay has money, he’s a bawse, he has a successful roster, he made millions off of cocaine (supposedly), and he knows Noriega…the real Noriega.
But it’s safe to say he isn’t the best of all time.
Does any of this apply to Wayne? With every Carter disc that drops, the 30 and above hip-hop heads give Wayne another chance with the hopes that he will come with some substance, lose the DUI voice, and discontinue the chopper talk. But most of us, even after protesting his vile content are bopping our heads and making faces at a mean line or two. Lil Wayne worked his ass off to become a revered emcee. His flows switch, his cadences are wondrous and he has set quite a few trends with his style (or lack thereof).
For some reason, Dwayne is not at full potential, he hasn’t reached his peak and no one seems to care. His fans are loyal and the haters can’t say they hate him in public. Maybe this next Carter LP will be the one.
Next Up: Part 3, breaking down Weezy, Drizzy and the new regime…