Billboard dropped their big best rappers of all-time list and we couldn’t help but notice that a few notable names came up missing. No Tupac Shakur, anyone? And how did K. Dot make the list? Of course, the Notorious B.I.G. is unbelievably lauded and rightfully so. If anyone deserves to go slink into the starry rap Hall-Of-Fame it’s Mr. slow flow, but his untimely death tends to mar his career. Did he put out enough work, is what we all ask. I mean, the man didn’t really get the chance to be terrible, right?
These lists are always difficult to do and even more difficult to receive. Our favorite artist may be left off, and there really is no room between logic and desire. So it comes as no surprise that the backlash has been swift. Unfortunately, it’s also cut along racial lines. Still, did they get it right?
What Is It About This Best Rapper Ever List?
Ural: Understanding Billboard’s decision in curating their top ten list, what metric did they use? Was it commercial, critical or general popularity? Regardless, this list was going to piss off someone. Honestly, the storied publication would have been better off doing separate list reflecting different aspects that could be argued with a hint of logic.
Andre: I don’t like some of the picks, but I do like the off-the-cuff nature of the list. This is the web, and so much of this stuff are murky waters disguised as well-worn thoughts. And they did have this: “Many of our favorites — Big Daddy Kane, Drake, KRS-One — didn’t make it, and each of those omissions hurts deep down. 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.” Which isn’t a unified theory of rap or anything, but it’s a decent levee against what has been an outcry by blogs, publications, fans and artists. This stuff is deeply personal to all of us. But how could you ever even think about leaving ‘Pac off a list like this? Despite my conversation with the legendary Soren Baker on the DX Daily, I strongly disagree with the Che Guevera of rap being left off. He’s in Cuba right now, crafting a rebuttal, I’m sure.
Ural: Reflecting the democratized opinions on the internet, Pac being off the list is totally fine to a selected few. Dr. Dre, Kanye West, and even Drake represents the greatest emcees to walk this earth for some. In other circles, Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One don’t even exist. Hip Hop is damn over 30 years old and there are hundreds of legendary artist who’s released great bodies of work. Add the voices of millions due to the internet and you’d be pressed to find anyone agreeing on such a list. There are too many variables in individual taste. Speaking personally, half the list are missing my favorite emcees and that’s totally fine.
Andre: But we’re not talking about your favorite emcees. We’re talking about the best ten. And, sure, the dubious criteria casts a wide net, but it doesn’t mean that a well-articulated opinion based in fact isn’t better than what someone identifies with on a personal level. I get it. Things are relative. But there’s still room for evaluating skill and effect on culture. In that way, ‘Pac deserves to be on there. Otherwise, we should just abolish lists altogether and everyone should keep their personal favorites as well as their objective picks to themselves.
Still, how do you justify Lauryn Hill making this list? How many raps does the legendary Ms. Hill even have?
Let’s Talk About The People Who Made It
Ural: There’s a reason Lauryn Hill’s solo debut never got a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album: The Academy specifically states that at least 51 percent of an album must contain rapping. Anyway, former HipHopDX News Editor Steven J. Horowitz and Billboard Senior Editor Alex Gale helmed the list which gives the list some merit. However, these feel like more of their favorite emcees than any type of real filtering system. In fact, the list has the feeling of a heated emotional conversation at someone’s barbershop than analytical discussion.
Andre: I’m not sure I can let Billboard off the hook for that. I mean, there’s still an authoritative voice to Billboard, despite the off-the-cuff nature of the list. Lauryn doesn’t have enough material to be considered an emcee in my opinion. It’s the same reason why XXL caught all that flack for putting her on their best female emcees list from last year. It just… doesn’t make sense. Especially considering that, again, Tupac was left off the list because for some reason. Now, I also want to say that I understand that overanalyzing lists are one of the worst things about the web, but these things are really close to everybody’s hearts and minds. Veracity still has to be there, right?
Ural: Of course veracity is important, but coming to a general conclusion is difficult if there isn’t a measurement placed in the first place. I’d honestly like to know why Tupac was left off the list. Was it because he’s dead? Well, that’s hard to argue when Biggie is number one. Is it based on actual albums sold? Well, Pac sold more than Biggie before and after death. Is it solely about lyricism? Well, like Mr. Grant said, Ms. Hill doesn’t even rap enough to justify that reasoning. Better albums? Some would consider Illmatic critically more bulletproof than Ready To Die. Then there’s the question of being influential. Again, there are so many questions that could be asked on how exactly they came to that conclusion. Right now, this list really isn’t based in a reality outside of their own.
Andre: Maybe, which, I guess, is how the lone artist from this generation, Kendrick Lamar made the list?
Ural: K.Dot represents what most fans of the list want in a young emcee today anyway. Being completely honest, King Kendrick isn’t the only great rapper of this generation. He is a critical darling if the past couple of weeks have anything to say. Again, why Lamar? J. Cole went platinum without any features and Drake is single handedly the biggest selling rapper of this generation. Over a hundred hit singles have to mean something. What exactly did Billboard see in Kendrick than any other emcee of this generation? Hell, Rakim is the only artists representing the 80s.
Andre: So what? As far as lyricists go, Kendrick is the best of the bunch, but it’s a bit premature to put him on the list, I think. J. Cole and Drake, as amazing as they are, are still looking for their classic record, I think. Still, I guess someone from this generation needed to be up there. I just wish it was easier to justify him because I want to believe he’s in the top 10 all-time.
Still, I guess it’s Billboard’s opinion at the end of the day, but leaving off the likes of Tupac and LL Cool J just feels like a crime. And, I hope this doesn’t jinx Kendrick. I need one more amazing piece of work to add him to mine. What about you, man? What do you think overall?
Ural: Some could argue that Lil Wayne has yet to put out a definitive classic record. Sure, we can agree on how great Tha Carter II and Tha Carter III are, but Wayne’s prolific mixtape output really outshines actual album output. And, this is a problem with BIllboard’s list. There are too many questions for each artist represented. Regardless of how amazing Andre 3K is, he’s yet to actually release a solo project. Therefore, wouldn’t it have been better to just add Big Boi and just have OutKast? This list is general enough for the casual rap listener to understand and maybe that’s who this is for. Those thoroughly invested in Hip Hop are liable to have a variety of opinions and that’s absolutely fine.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.
Ural Garrett is a Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX’s Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.