I’m not often one to critique lists of rappers; personal opinion needs to be respected and maintained within the music business. HOWEVER, there are some times when I think it is entirely necessary to correct some mistakes and question the sheer absurdity of some decisions.
Which brings me to Billboard’s list of the 10 Greatest Rappers of All Time, a list which claims to rank the definitive rappers to have ever graced the planet. As a disclaimer, the list proclaims;
“We also have to note: we’re ranking rappers, not rap artists. That’s why Dr. Dre and Kanye West, for example, two legendary producer-artists who don’t match the mic skills of those listed here, were left out.”
Fair enough. You’re ranking rap ability and rap sales, I can deal with that. If we delve a little further, we can see the list in its entirety, which is as follows:
First of all, I am well aware how hard it is to narrow down the plethora of hip-hop talent down to a mere ten, but I think it’s necessary for me to discuss some glaring omissions, and bring into question the order of which these rappers appears.
1: Hov should not be this high.
I’m not going to sit here and question one of the most influential figures of hip-hop, but to have Jay-Z this high on a list solely dedicated to rapping ability seems a bit off to me. The reasoning behind this decision is also baffling;
“But nearly every year since, the Brooklyn rapper developed his craft, improving with each album by tightening his flows and developing his wordplay. Since then, he’s developed a remarkable discography with rhymes that continuously wow, delivering several classics along the way.”
Have Billboard listened to Magna Carta Holy Grail? Even Watch the Throne? It is clearly evident that Hov has not continued to improve his rapping ability with each release – and there’s certainly no more Blueprints on the horizon; I would argue that it is the opposite. Jay-Z raps are now ad-lib heavy, with MCHG consisting of so many non-lyrical “Uhhhhh” moments, that the tracks are fairly unbearable on that level alone.
2 Where is ‘Pac?
Now Tupac is far from the greatest spitter, but to discount his rapping ability entirely is just absurd. There is no question that Tupac displays the rapping talent and lyrical ability that deserves a spot amongst the upper echelon. Of course we can sit here and argue his social and cultural importance; he is still as famous of a figure as he was in his prime, but for a list that ranks rapping ability, to be devoid of Tupac Shakur seems a travesty. Songs such as Changes demonstrate the ability and sheer talent of the man.
Has Kendrick done enough to earn his spot?
Now, as my own little disclaimer, I am as big a Kendrick fan as they come. But I feel that I need to retain some impartiality here, particularly for such a contentious topic. I don’t believe that Kendrick has done enough yet to establish a spot here; yes, he is a socially and culturally polarising figure, and he has showcased a wide array of flows and musical styles, but his discography is not large enough to be in this discussion in my opinion. To even be mentioned among these names however, speaks to the euphoric and astronomical rise of K.Dot, and cements him as the greatest of the new generation.
Now, that being said, if he releases this track from the following Beats commercial, I might change my mind.
Where on earth is Talib Kweli?
This is where I start to chop and change a little. Talib Kweli is one of the most talented rappers of all time, and his lyrical ability is second to none. This is a rapper who has been publicly lauded by the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye West for his own lyrical talent, and the fact that he is grossly underrated by the hip-hop community at large. As Jay himself proclaims on Moment of Clarity:
“Truth be told, if skills sold, I’d be lyrically Talib Kweli.”
If our criteria is solely based on rapping ability, I think it’s criminal to not include Mr “Talib lyrics stick to ‘ya rib.” Sure, he’s not the most mainstream artist by any stretch of the imagination, but his music speaks for itself, and he is still producing fantastic tracks to date.
Wake up Mr. West!
“I’m so Chi’ (shy) that you thought I was bashful”
Kanye West is one of those artists that produces music that delivers surprises with each new listen. Upon every replay, there is a lyric that surprises you, or a double entendre that rears its head. The talent that this man possesses on a rapping and lyrical basis cannot be argued with. This is a rapper who has made classic tracks with his mouth wired shut, and has experimented with genres, sounds and is ever evolving as an artist. Grammy’s and mainstream recognition and success aside, in my opinion it would be amiss not to include Yeezy on such an esteemed list; he has truly proven his talents and demonstrated a wide array of rap techniques.
Of course, being a chart, the Billboard chart numbers were most likely the reason that these artists have been ranked as such – more so than based on say, industry respect, lyrical density and so on. it also explains why people like Kweli were left out. However, perhaps this list should have been more accurately framed as “the 10 most charted rappers” or the “10 rappers with the most Billboard hits” or something to that affect, rather than the ten GOAT.
Sure, perhaps our suggestions and tweaks to the list will be critiqued and lambasted too, but at the end of the day that is what is so brilliant about hip-hop as a genre, there is an eclectic mix of styles, genres and talent on display, and it’s only natural that we will be drawn to make our own conclusions.