Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Greatest MCs of All Time

I was listening to my West Coast Rap station on Pandora the other day and got to thinking about who the greatest rap lyricists of all-time would be. I grew up on hip hop music (especially west coast Death Row label artists) and while I don't listen to much Lil' Wayne or Young Jeezy these days, rap music (from the 90's in particular) will always be on my iPod playlists. The following list ranks the top ten MCs in terms of sheer lyrical ability. I'm not ranking them on who was most influential or who sold the most records. I'm looking solely at rapping ability, cadence of voice and overall delivery skills. Think of it as a giant rap battle.

10. Q-Tip

The best part of A Tribe Called Quest, Tip is one of the smoothest MCs of all time. His delivery was mellow (definitely the most laid-back rapper on this list) but he could string some solid rhymes together. Some of his solo hits stand the test of time as well.

9. Chuck D.

The front man for Public Enemy, Chuck has a killer low voice and comes through very powerfully when delivering his verses. Flavor Flav gets all the attention from P.E. but Chuck is the driving force behind that group.

8. Diddy aka Puff Daddy aka Sean Combs

Now a lot of people hate on Diddy saying he just samples other people's music and mashes it up to make it "his own." I've always thought that besides being a solid producer and business man, Diddy has a gift for rapping as well. Some of the tracks on No Way Out, Life After Death and other Bad Boy albums benefited from Sean's brash lyric delivery. He would be higher on this list if he didn't add so many "uh huh... yeahs" to his rhymes.

7. Tupac Shakur

Gunned down in the prime of his life, Tupac is probably the angriest MC on this list (well #3 may be angrier). Tupac excelled at cursing up a storm (mostly at the police) in his songs but also kept things a little mellow in some of his slower songs (Dear Mama, Changes). I bet he'd still be topping the charts if he was alive today.

6. Jay Z

I still remember going to the "Puff Daddy and the Family World Tour" concert at the MCI Center with my brother in 1998., One of the opening acts was Jay Z. Nate knew who he was, I did not. At that time I never thought he would blow up as much as he has. He's one of the legends of the rap game and is an outstanding lyricist who can make any track smooth. I just think there are 5 more talented artists in terms of delivering verses.

5. Dr. Dre

If Dr. Dre never put out The Chronic he would not be on this list. That album may be the best rap album of all time. Dre was the perfect compliment to Snoop Dogg on the Death Row tracks. His low register and powerful delivery made him stand out amongst the other members of NWA. I even thought The Aftermath is better than the dud that most people claim it is.

4. The Notorious B.I.G.

Biggie Smalls was another talent that was murdered in the prime of his career. Ready To Die was very good and allowed Biggie to burst onto the scene with a slightly lazy delivery that was cutthroat and bold at the same time. Life After Death is his masterpiece though and his guest appearances after his death on other records cemented his legacy. His distinct voice will always be the hallmark of a powerful rap song.

3. Eminem

Marshall Mathers is probably the most creative MC on this list. His songwriting ability is second to none. His delivery is usually blunt and ruthless as well. The only reason he is not #1 on the list is his recent decline in ability. After growing as an artist and reaching his peak with The Eminem Show, Slim Shady dropped two sub-par albums in Encore and Relapse. Both albums have a few hits, but overall Eminem's tone of his delivery has changed. He raps with a more goofy and juvenile tone that is too playful and ultimately ruins the track. At first I thought he was using that voice as a brief change of pace in Encore, but you can hear it throughout Relapse as well. It's annoying and does not evoke the lyrical brilliance of songs like White America, Lose Yourself and Til I Collapse. I'm hoping Relapse 2 (due in 2010) is a return to form for Eminem.

2. Method Man

This is probably the shocker of the list to most hip hop fans. I've always been a fan of Method Man. He has the ability to slice through any track with powerful bold rhymes that completely lift the quality of the music. A good example of this is The 36 Chambers album. On all the hit tracks from that album, as soon as Meth takes the stage he owns the song. His voice stands out the most amongst the other members of Wu Tang. His solo work is very good too as are his occasional dalliances with Redman. I wish he was utilized more by Wu Tang but for what we did hear, he definitely has the unique style to land him in this spot on the list. For evidence of Method's skills check out this guest appearance on Tupac's album (go to 3:11 to hear Meth's verse).

1. Snoop Dogg

D-O-Double-G is the top Dogg of the rap game as far as I'm concerned. Snoop's last few albums have been lackluster for sure but when you look at the entire body of work he really is the best rap lyricist of all-time. Doggystyle was the pinnacle of his excellence but he sustained his level of rhyming on several follow-up albums (including the underrated Tha Doggfather) and on guest spots for other artists. He had the perfect mix of laid back cool and bold bravado in his music. The extremely unique delivery he put into his verses allowed him to carry the Death Row label until it's ultimate demise. I can always cue up a Death Row Snoop song on my iPod for an instant jam. Snoop's music will continue to be timeless. 20 years from now the hip hop fans of my generation will still be putting tracks from Doggystyle into mixes.

There you have it. Those of my readers who are into hip hop may disagree with these rankings. Let me know what you would change and why? Some artists like Kanye, Nas and others are great musicians in their own right but their rhyme delivery skills just aren't good enough to make my list.


Mommy, Esq. said...

I don't have much to say about rap artists but did want to complain about Pandora's limit. When I work a lot of hours I always hit it and then I have to search for something comparable on another free radio. Annoying. Plus my work computer doesn't let me download software so it has to be something that doesn't need downloads. Double-annoying. Also, my captcha is "hickies". Heee!

Anonymous said...

Two issues with this list:

- Jay-Z should be MUCH higher.
- Tupac is not dead

hross said...

Some of your selections I agree with... particularly Eminem, Jay Z, and Method Man. I think Snoop is *highly* overrated (thug with a voice).. his lyrics aren't overly creative and Doggystyle's awesomeness (by far his best album) can be directly attributed to Dre's production.

Also... as far as creativity of lyrics and versatility go, Nas outshines at least half of this list. I kind of agree with your "dark horse" Diddy selection, but unfortunately there is no way he is as good a rapper, nor has he the depth of creative work that Nas has.

Kanye relies more on awesome production, but then I think the same thing about Snoop and Diddy.

I think there are lot of less known MC's with amazing talent who just don't have the hype machine to compete with the 90's gangsta west coast stuff, but who are probably better... A couple of my favorites are: Brother Ali, Rhymefest and Dilated Peoples/Evidence. Check 'em out if you get a chance.