“Black Thought is the greatest rapper of all time,” R-Son said.
This was not a statement to be taken lightly. R-Son has a resume as a rapper that most people can’t match. Still I violently disagreed with him. Although I admire Black Thought, to me there are several qualities in which he is severely lacking. I made my argument. I don’t know that it was a superior case, but it was funnier, and we were in a public forum.
“So who do you think is the best,” he asked derisively. “Biggie?”
Reflexively, I looked around the store to see who was there. Its blasphemy to even suggest that BIG isn’t the greatest ever, as far as I know. This conversation had taken an ugly turn.
But I agreed with him.
Biggie was one of the greatest, but I wouldn’t put him at number one. Coming up, the hip-hop pantheon was Tupac, Biggie, Jay-z, Nas and Big Pun, in hotly debated order, but that’s just not true anymore, if it ever was. Biggie and Pun had three albums released in their lifetimes, and Jay-z’s evil alter ego Lay-z has ruined his reputation.
So who is the greatest? If you ask me there are three answers, and that’s part of the problem. My head says KRS-1, but for all his greatness, I don’t listen to a lot of KRS-1, in fact a lot of people don’t, but we acknowledge him as the greatest. That doesn’t make sense. We aren’t compelled to listen to him. Isn’t that an important quality to have?
I would say Chuck D, because he’s my favorite, but just because he’s my favorite, doesn’t mean he’s the best. It’s an emotional decision. I would say Kool G Rap, because everyone you could name as great either directly or indirectly imitates his style, and because he’s one of the few old-school rappers that sounds incredibly relevant even now. But how many people out there really know about the greatness of G Rap? What about anyone under 30?
“I hate the be the guy that says Rocky Marciano here,” said a white guy in a baseball cap. “But what about Eminem?”
We did not seriously consider it, which is not fair to the man, because I will freely admit that 99.99% of the people that Eminem is on the track with he destroys utterly, so to the casual fan wouldn’t he be better than everyone else?
But he isn’t.
I know he isn’t, but the explanation intrigued me. But its an insane idea. You can’t really make a list of the greatest rappers. It’s subjective and unfair. After all, I haven’t listened to everybody out there. I have bias, and preferences. But if we did it, how would we do it?
First of all, we created a list of categories that we thought were important in rappers. Then we attached numerical scores to the categories. The ultimate score was one hundred, but you had to be talented to even reach the seventies. By honestly grading by the numbers, it reduced the impact of our personal preferences.
Then we expanded the sample size. A lot of people were asked to participate and there was a lot of feedback involved in the process. I won’t lie, I wanted more input from people, but every little bit helps. .
Personally I reviewed about 1,400 rappers and pared the list down to 150 that I thought were competitive. Jay-Z did not make the top ten, let’s get that out of the way. He was #11, but he wasn’t even the most asked about omission. It was Pharoahe Monch, who was #12, and if this list was based on how I feel, he would have in the top five.
Tom and Tom are about the do the impossible, and probably the stupidest thing we’ve ever done. We’re going to rank the 10 greatest MCs of all time. And the next article is going to show you how we did it.