Friday, August 18, 2006

My List

When My Will came out in 2005, there was hope that a Lost Tapes II would soon follow. The song, although leaked last year and with ad-libs from Nas regarding his marriage and honeymoon, is really an unreleased track from the time of God's Son. To note this, just look at the nod to Ja Rule and them and remember that, for a moment back in 2002, Nas was rumored to be in the business with the Gotti brothers, "how could Murder Inc. not wanna fuck with the top hustler, Roc crusher." Also, as further proof, some media outlets were shipped early versions of that aforementioned '02 LP, and, accordingly, within these publications, there was indeed reference to My Will. Concerning the line where Nas demands, "never put me in the top 10", one such publication, Murder Dog, even asked Nas specifically about it. Clarifying himself, Nas responded, "A lot of people get caught up in being the best nigga, the best rapper nigga. You know, everybody's the best at what they do. I'm the best at what I do. And I'm happy about that." Despite how, at that particular moment, Nas might have argued himself on a top ten list, many would still insist otherwise.

It's almost become cliché, especially on the Internet, to construct a top ten list of the greatest rappers of all-time. And the arguments that follow are usually just as typical. However, I'm a fan of a good cliché, but we will switch it up a little for today. The following is a list of ten rappers who are, and have been over a significant stretch of years, my favorite ten. This is not an attempt to come up with a universal all-time roster, something that everyone can agree upon. It reflects my biases, my age, my location, what I've heard, when I heard it, personal connections with the music, and is no way meant as a proposal to say, "point blank period, these are the ten greatest, no others accepted." Also, just as another copout, I've decided to list them alphabetically. And, sorry, Nas, you made it. (If you all have similar lists of your own, g'head.)


The Rebel To America Oh-So-Subjective Ten Favorite Rappers Of All-Time List

Boots Riley (Fat Cats, Bigga Fish)
If you first recognize the name, Boots Riley, of The Coup, you're likely to picture a political rapper. And while it's true that Boots is activist-minded, don't think of him as shallow as some guy yelling at CNN or yelling simply because it's trendy. There's a real depth to his lyrics, a challenge, a militancy even, to the mission he's been on for over a decade now. What's more, with a distinct voice he can mold any number of ways, from downtrodden to funky, Boots draws the listener in on both a substance and style tip. As a writer, he's known to inject humor into his politics, intricate details into his stories, and, more so recently, some grown man steez into his growl.

"The street light reflects off the piss on the ground / Which reflects off the hamburger sign that turns round / Which reflects off the chrome of the BMW / Which reflects off the fact that I'm broke / Now what the fuck is new?"

Devin the Dude (Do What You Wanna Do)
For a guy whose material often revolves around weed and girls, Devin the Dude's music is some of the most level-headed Hip-Hop out there. And although his long-term relationship with Rap-A-Lot has stifled his popularity and he came up before Houston really achieved its mainstream exposure, Devin's everyman persona, almost conversational voice and delivery, and open, often self-effacing lyrics have won him lifelong fans over the years. Then, because what he says is often rooted in a Just Tryin' Ta Live, honest, blue collar reality, every line becomes even more identifiable, especially memorable.

"The dollar you earn is the dollar you spend / Go get something for ya kids or buy a bottle of gin / Is it a sin? I don't know / We're X and O's in this game / Tryin' ta survive"

Ghostface Killah (Cobra Clutch)
Though his opening verse on Bring Da Ruckus was impressive, if you had told people back in '93 that, in 2006, Ghostface would be the one member of Wu-Tang to have maintained a consistent catalog and fan base, you would have been looked at strangely. However, with his patented surreal style now holding it down over a span of five solo albums, that's the case. Ghost's world is a frenetic cross between blaxploitation and comic adventure, where a hype verse or a heartfelt number both resonate just as well. He has the creativity for not only abstract imagery, but also enough to put him arguably amongst the top five storytellers of all-time.

"We dazzle off this, bloody version of Glaciers / Slang shot threw a gem in his mouth, swallowed his razor / Say no more, my back be parked against the wall / Trooper square holding, 'Face don't give a fuck about the law"

Ice Cube (We Had to Tear This Motherfucka Up)
With his mic replacing the sickle, for a time, Ice Cube was almost like Hip-Hop's own version of the grim reaper, plucking off anyone who marginalized his brand of blackness or rap music in general. Political and often brash, Cube articulated the anger of an entire city that grew to symbolize a generation. Responsible for at least three non-argument classic LPs, a flow that could switch between casual or intense with nothing lost, one of the most infamous diss records (No Vaseline), and one of the great guest verses of all-time (Grand Finale), Ice Cube changed the way people rapped, in a way only rivaled by Rakim.

"I told you it would happen and you heard it, read it / But all you can call me was anti-Semitic / Regret it? Nope, said it? Yep / Listen to my big black boots as I step"

Jay-Z (This Life Forever)
Jay-Z's greatest strength is his ability to sound at home in multiple arenas. Whether in a straightforward flow or doing double time, on stage or in the corporate board room, on a club-friendly track or bubbling over some dark Primo keys, he's found success again and again. As the modern archetype for a rap career, unfortunately those who have followed in Jay's path most often don't possess half his energy, an ounce of his wordplay, or a hint of the smarts that took him to hall of fame status. He's slayed MCs in a single line, elevated the status of producers, and maintained a work ethic that ensured that a deep catalog would be the best kind of self-promotion.

"I blind with the bezel / I'm in line with the ghetto /What y'all niggas afraid of: my mind or the metal?"

Kool G Rap (Men at Work)
Sometimes with older MCs you may get caught up on what they used to be able to do, but Kool G Rap is perhaps the one old school rapper who can still do it today just as yesterday and put fear into any up-and-comer with a new mixtape. And while back in the day he did set standards for thug stories and sex raps, literally etching out the blueprint of a dozen important 90's rappers, that he's been able to outlast any number of trends is truly evidence of his gift. G Rap's rapid delivery, unique voice, dark belly of the beast scenes, and unapologetic and unrelentless approach to lyrics have seen him brutalize tracks for two decades now, and he's not done yet.

"I'm alone but my tone is a sharp tune / Developing pictures in your brain like a darkroom / Rappers are captured and tortured with rapture / In 3-D, it's a G coming at'cha"

Kurupt (New York, New York)
An important piece of both The Chronic and Doggystyle, although it took Kurupt until 1998 to officially release his solo debut, the ballsy, bi-costal double album Kuruption! proved to be one of the few 2xLP to really justify its extra-long length. As the consummate gangster scholar, behind Kurupt's eye glasses and skinny frame lurk a glaring charisma and a flow that was even neighboring Snoop's for a second. The Philadelphia-born MC combines an East Coast style with a West Coast sensibility, equally able to attack a song and do it laid back just as easily. Moreover, his work on the first Dogg Pound album best showcases the smooth, sniper-like lyrical focus he brings to the mic.

"I'm all ready to put work in / Take ten steps then turn to shoot the first nigga smirkin' / Give a fuck what's your name, what you claim / Or why you came, motherfucker, don't explain"

Nas (My Will)
While Illmatic is religion to some, that Nas flipped the script and flow with two classics out the gate served notice that he was not a one-album rapper. In the mid-90's, he advanced the use of polysyllabic rhymes and added a very visual sense to lyrics that captured details with clarity. As Nas' career progressed, although his ability to produce cohesive albums became less certain, his unreleased material became especially noteworthy. Additionally, distinct periods of musical growth have demonstrated a maturation in sound, showing that Hip-Hop can grow successfully into its third decade. Overall, Nas' catalog remains one of the most extensive in terms of range of subject matter.

"Similar to anybody you know / Oh, I created, cremated, bodied that flow / Anyone you thinks fucking with me better be vets"

Pharoahe Monch (Thirteen)
As one half of the severely slept-on Organized Konfusion duo, though his partner was no slouch by any means, that Pharoahe Monch routinely overshadowed Prince Poetry is testament to Pharoahe's otherworldly ability. His soulful, pulpit-authoritative voice seems to simply bend over tracks, finding not only new rhymes but inventing new rhythms along the way. Monch can make a club song with verbal flips, a love song a tongue-twister, and his delivery come off like it's possessed. In this way, he's one of the most conceptually challenging MCs, not only regarding what he says but how he makes it sound.

"You can't steer it / Face the bass; crumb you run when you hear it / It's the most incredible rap individual style / Piles up - like drug cases in Queens Country Criminal Court"

Rakim (In The Ghetto)
To trace Rakim's influence is really to look at all of Hip-Hop after he first came on the scene. With a great four-album stretch, from the 80's until the early 90's, primarily, Ra was the blueprint of flow, responsible for the most important lyrical shift in rap music, literally making legends go back to the lab. Bringing an almost scientific complexity to his rhymes, he became the quintessential poetic rapper, forcing listeners to get involved with lyrics. Next, his aggressive, I Ain't No Joke persona established a new mold for the game. A strong vocal presence, effortless delivery, and verses that are as long as they are quotable give further reason why many refer to Rakim simply as The God MC.

"I learn to relax in my room and escape from New York / And return through the womb of the world as a thought / Thinking how hard it was to be born / Me being cream with no physical form"

Nas: My Will
Rebel To America: Two Through Ten


Blogger Fletch said...

The songs noted next to the other nine rappers have been packaged and uploaded for you. To download, you will need WINRAR.

Also, just so I can have ready-made answers as to why I didn't include such-and-such:

A. They'd most likely fall somewhere in the still respectable 11-25 range.
B. I appreciate the mark they've left on the game and understand their influence, but their music never particularly moved me.
C. I recognize that other people may have felt this artist, had a connection specifically with their music, but it's always missed me, for whatever reason.
D. In my estimation, they don't have enough material to make an all-time list.
E. They're wack.

now, you go . . .

August 18, 2006 3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read your '"ready-made-answers", yet I still don't see how you can not include Black Thought of the roots in your top 10. Despite his involvement in a live band, his style and delivery(being one of the Big Daddy Kane/Kool G Rap offsprings) are one to rival any rapper, even Nas. His rhyme technique seems to have a certain math to it, and he holds a level of consistancy beyond any rapper in the game.

Example:(Step into the Realm)
"Thought-less, trespass and enter Thought's fortress/
Limitless entrance, paid, to the order of the/
cypher slaughterer, my mic slappin you senseless/
Defenseless, niggaz never movin me inches/
The beat Fifth, invisi-ble in the trenches"

Whether or not you like the band element of the Roots, I find it difficult to not list him in a top 10 list that has both Nas and Kool G Rap.

August 18, 2006 6:58 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

Okay, I don't really wanna insult anyone's favorite rapper(s), so that was kinda the point of the ready-made answers. Also, it's a "favorite" list, so obviously what you and I find likeable isn't always gonna be the same.

But I'll address why no Black Thought. BT qualifies for "c", though not entirely. My criticisms of him: he stays so much in one lane that really any verse he wrote six years ago utilizes the same pattern, style and content, he's uses now. Also, there's never been much of any diversity to his subject matter: he's from Philly, the Roots are a good band, and . . .? Recently, that's changed some with more political topics, but not completely. Then you mention his technique, which I think is a good word, 'cause he is such a technician, but in the way that it's all so technical. Because even for a guy who raps about rapping, as he often does, where are the BDK-like quotables? where's that old school flair? what sticks out beyond mere technique? Listen to Big Pun on Super Lyrical, the technician got out done. Compare him to Common on UNIverse at War--does Thought even say anything? Step Into The Realm, you say? Okay, go listen to Malik B first. Malik is ever more energetic, memorable, "speakin bout corruption with no introduction . . . I'm the type of nigga that belongs in a ward / with a mic and a cord, to hold your head with a sword . . . now back to the topic of / the rap philosopher / with more drama than a soap opera / Who stops the propaganda, the hot block commander." Same thing with Game Theory, where Malik, on the title track, and Peedi, on Long Time Coming, IMO, deliver the two best verses of the whole project.

Next, as you addressed the band element, having seen The Roots in concert just recently, I'll say that within that particular setting, Black Thought is perhaps one of the best to ever do it. He interacts with the audience, has fun, controls the room, swells energy around him. Go home and listen to him on tape, I just don't hear that. An MC has to be more than just technique. I don't know where I would rank him on my list, but there'd be more names than just ten above him. And, again, I invite you to drop off your own ten.

So I'm sure you'll disagree adamantly, but the things is, if you think Black Thought is a top ten rapper, then a)we are listening for different things b)we are listening to different things. Hopwever, this is why I really wanted to rely on the ready-made answers.

All that being said, his verse on The Lesson PT 1 is probably my favorite that he's ever done. (But, really, DYWM is full of the type of animated Black Thought that first convinced me of The Roots.)

August 18, 2006 10:22 PM  
Anonymous Subculture said...

good list...Im afraid my list is a bit more cliche than yours, and although Im only 24, from the south and am a product of late 90s hip hop I also have more old school artists on my list and includes Black Thought.

10. Black Thought
9. Andre 3000
8. Ghostface Killah
7. Big Daddy Kane
6. Chuck D
5. KRS - One
4. Ice Cube
3. Jay-z
2. Nas
1. Rakim

however.....this is only how Im feeling at the time...people go up and down on this list all the time....and names drop off and other names appear (Kool G Rap for example). Next week this could be a toatally differnt list.

August 19, 2006 5:47 AM  
Anonymous Nigeria said...

Seeing as we are naming our top 10's

Method Man
Mos Def
Sticky Fingaz
Lauryn Hill

Oh. I only got a top 9.

August 20, 2006 7:05 AM  
Anonymous gl said...

i don't even remember how i came across this entry, but i love your list - get the feeling we're about the same age? (27) and glad to see G Rap and Ghostface on there.

I may as well:

1. Posdnuos
2. Ghostface
3. Nas
4. Kool G Rap
5. BIG
6. Jay-Z
7. GZA
8. Rakim
9. Mos Def
10. Pharoahe Monch

August 20, 2006 11:19 AM  
Blogger Game Theory said...

My only disputes would be the absence of Black Thought. I respect your view on that though, your rebuttal makes sense. However, I think he can outshine any MC in a song or cipher, despite what you say about the appearance of Malik B(come on Peedi can't outshine anyone). But maybe we all are looking for diffent things. If Lauryn Hill, had more rap material I'd drop her in a list too.

August 20, 2006 5:05 PM  
Blogger Don Carter said...

Great list, and great blog. I don't want to get too deep into this particular subject more than I want to send you props for holding down this weblog with consistently fresh material. Your knowledge of the genre is apparent with your postings. Keep it up, I'll mos def read...

Regarding Black Thought, I'd surely include him in my list of 10. I see what you say about his style...he represents an almost pure technique, and he's a very modest character. To the point that he doesn't speak for himself (the knock for lacking charisma) more than he speaks for the band...staying within that general topic zone. Even still, there are memorable lines from him, just to the point where his intelligence comes through and you're like 'did he really just say that?!' Check out his 2nd verse on "Quills" or "I Remain Calm" from DYWM?!! That's the type of ish champions are made of.

"I bayonet cassettes and chop beats with // Olympic lyricism you can't compete with..."

August 20, 2006 8:58 PM  
Anonymous Colin said...

I completely agree with Fletch on Black Thought. People who put him in top 10's are generally the type to base rappers on they'll skills as an MC rather than as an artist. He just isn't that memorable. For someone to be the main MC in as many classic records as he is, his quoteables are underwhelming. Although Game Theory is a huge step up for him.

Anyways, I'll post two top 10's. First, my GOAT list with as little objectiveness as possible, then my favs.
1 (tie) - Rakim
1 (tie) - Nas
4 - Ice Cube
5 - Scarface
6 - Chuck D
7 - Andre3000
8 - Ghostface
9 - Jay-Z
10 - GZA
runner ups: Common, Ice-T, Slick Rick

The favs:
Nas, Rakim, Mos Def, Method Man, Andre3000, Cormega, Joe Budden, Jeru the Damaja, Slick Rick, Big L

I'll gladly explain my reasoning if anyone asks.

August 20, 2006 9:36 PM  
Blogger da fr3sh princ3 said...

1. NaS
2. Jay-Z
3. 2Pac
4. The Notorious BIG
5. Common
6. Rakim
7. Ice Cube
8. Joe Budden
9. Ghostface Killah
10. AZ

August 22, 2006 8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My FAVOURITE emcees (in no particular order)

Kool G
Gift of Gab
Talib Kweli
Jeru the damaja
Chino XL

August 23, 2006 1:33 AM  
Anonymous vince said...

Hello from France,

Just to say that the song you're looking for has been released on the "Ill Will Mixtape Volume 1" (It's the first track), where Nas introduce Quan. Personnaly I didn't found the mixtape yet in France.

August 24, 2006 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Colin said...

Hey Vince, the song is on that mixtape, and many others, but that doesn't mean it's officially released. A lot of the unreleased songs Fletch posts can be found on collections such as "Death of Escobar" and Mick Boogie's "Lost Tapes 2"

August 24, 2006 1:24 PM  
Blogger MiThRaZoR said...

Oh shit, My Will is bangin'. Nice find. Beat reminds me of the beat to Live Now.

If I ever try to come up with a top something... My mind goes blank... So I'm not even gonna try.

August 27, 2006 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Tray said...


August 27, 2006 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Slick Rick
Chuck D
Snoop Dogg
Ice Cube

With much props to KRS-One, Kool G Rap, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Too Short, Eazy E, Treach, Jay-Z, Big L, Lauryn Hill, Jadakiss, TI & the entire Wu-Tang Clan, who stomp on every other group.

August 28, 2006 11:30 PM  
Blogger 44 Sports said...

I lub lists:

The Holy Trinity:

Chuck D, Rakim, GZA (no particular order)

the near-holy trinity:

4) Nas
6) Big Daddy Kane

Rounding out the top spots:

7) Boots Riley
8) Ice Cube
9) Posdnous

And the often forgotten Jersey Boy:

10) Treach

hon. mentions: Kool G Rap, Biggie Smalls, Slick Rick, Q-Tip, Redman, Rev Run, Jay-Z, Andre 3000, Ghostface, and probably 10 or 15 others that would probably be in my top 10 if I created it tomorrow

September 14, 2006 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Mr T said...

Great blog. My first time reading and hopefully will visit more regularly. keep up the good work.

top 10 MCs no particular order.

Talib Kweli
Mos def
Pharoahe Monch
Black Thought
Nototious B.I.G
Jay Z

November 26, 2006 6:33 AM  

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