Game-changers: Rappers who defined the genre

Michael Turner , Contributing Writer

Jay-Z is the only rapper in the Songwriter Hall of Fame. He is known as “Hov” amongst his biggest fans.


     If you are a hip hop fan, you have debated which emcee’s penmanship is better than everyone else. Whether it has been at the barbershop, with your friends, on social media or in that one Chris Rock movie, Top Five. On this year’s Good Friday, Kendrick Lamar has joined the conversation after dropping his fourth studio album titled “DAMN,” and the praise is real.

     Some fans are calling Kendrick the best rapper ever. Listeners are enjoying the new album and can honestly say it’s a great piece. But just because it’s a great piece doesn’t mean that Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper ever. In fact, quite a few who disagree with that statement as there have been so many great rappers throughout music history.  

     Hip Hop has been around since the late 70s & early 80s and the culture has witnessed some of the most creative and dynamic artists to ever make music. With such a wide range of rappers to play the game and a timeline of events, trends and technology that has effected the game, it is difficult to compare a rapper now, such as Kendrick, to a Rakim back when he was popular.  

     Hip hop is bigger now than it ever was back then. Kendrick has access to far more advanced technology than Rakim did. Kendrick also has the advantage of rappers like Rakim that have paved the road for him because if it was not for the pioneers, rappers like Kendrick might not exist. Because of these reasons, no one is able to crown anyone the best rapper ever. It is even difficult to give you a top five because they feel as if they are disrespecting so many others that listeners with their lyrical prowess.  

     However, I will give you a top five with a few honorable mentions. Before I give you my list, I have to set some restrictions. For one, you cannot have used ghostwriters. This is not a jab at Drake, whose legacy has been lightly stained by the use of ghost writing. He still is a great artist, also one of my favorites and has also written hits for other artists, but it is not fair to add him to a list of pure emcees.

     Kayne also is not safe from this (also one of my favorite artists) since he has used ghost writers. If I did a list of just artists rather than hip hop artists, then I could include Drake and Kayne since it is obvious they are some of the biggest names in music history in this day and age and have made some of the best songs in the 21st century, but in the culture of hip hop, you must be the only person behind your verses to join the top five conversation. As I said earlier, it is about penmanship. Imagine if Tom Brady got hit one play, his helmet flies off, and the world finds out that Tim Tebow is making all of these amazing plays and not Tom Terrific. That would not be okay!

      Another factor is respect for the time they entered the game and the impact they had when they did. Big Daddy Kane was one of the biggest rappers in his era because of his witty and smooth word play that did not exist at during his era. With that being said, if he were to get on a track today with someone like Logic, he would not be able to keep up, but it would be blasphemous to say Big Daddy Kane is not one of the greatest to ever get behind the mic.  

     I would also have to leave Biggie Smalls, Big L, Tupac and Big Pun off the list. If you are a hip hop fan, then you can’t argue on the influence Tupac has on the game even to this day. He is also one of my favorite artist so it kills me to keep him off the list, but I must be fair. I also want to believe that Big L would have been the greatest if he was able put out more work. Bar for bar, all of these have spit some of the greatest lines ever in hip hop, but because of their untimely deaths, they were not able to show us what they would have been even though we would like to assume they would have been as great as they were before they left this world. My question to back up that comment: Who else misses the old Kayne?  
All of that being said, here are my top five:  

     1. Jay Z: The most successful rapper ever in the business world and also the only rapper in the Songwriter Hall of Fame. There’s a reason they call him Hov.

     2. Nas: Every one of his albums went platinum due to his incomparable storytelling and rapid fire lyrics. Also, he dropped one of the most lethal diss tracks ever, aimed straight at Hov himself.  

     3. Eminem: The best-selling rapper and most abrasive, too. His alter ego, Slim Shady, will forever be known as the deadliest and most humorous emcee of all time.  

      4. Ice Cube: He possessed the omnipotent pen behind N.W.A, one of the greatest and rawest groups in Hip Hop history. Even without the group (who he embarrassed with a cold tracked called “No Vaseline”). His unapologetic content made for a pretty good solo career.

     5. Rakim: Known as “The God”, he is the father of true emcee’s and had world play, style and flow that could not be matched for a long time. He also rarely, if ever, used profanity which is the backbone for a lot of artist’s work.

     Honorable mentions: Big Daddy Kane, DMX, Chuck D, Lil Wayne and Kendrick Lamar, Jadakiss, Ghostface Killah and Wu-Tang clan as a whole, Redman, Andre 3000 and Scarface.