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Over the month and a half it took us to put together the list, it really made me look at the careers of certain rappers who have consistently gotten a raw deal. At a certain point, getting slept on becomes part of your identity, because you’ve got find some way to stay motivated when you keep making great music, and its just not received the way it should be.

Ill Bill

I slept on Ill Bill because my introduction to him was through Circle of Tyrants and his brother Necro’s production and flow is flashier and more attention getting. I kept hearing him on mixtapes, but it didn’t really hit me until his 2010 album with Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs Kill Devil Hills. Wow.

I tend to work backwards once I hear something good. His 2004 album What’s Wrong With Bill, let me know he had been around this whole time. Mentally I had pigeonholed him into death rap when Ill Bill was way deeper then anyone knew, and I started to appreciate his rugged delivery and flow.

The problem with hip-hop is that real hip-hop artists can’t actually make it. No one will figure out how good Ill Bill actually is. And it’s a shame. I would make a point here about how there are good white rappers out there and that usually the only person anyone can easily name is Eminem, but the next person on the list obliterates that point.

R.A. the Rugged Man

R.A. the Rugged Man is somebody who had been around the industry for decades really. He made albums that never came out, and the stuff he released was a mixed bag. Some of it was pretty juvenile frankly, and I think its one reason he’s been underestimated.

All that changed with his verse on Jedi Mind Tricks track, Uncommon Valor. Verses have been ripped before, but this one was devastated, and with it, R.A. switched up his style, bringing a more mature, tighter flow, and proving that he’s this generation’s Kool G Rap. Since this point, no one has been better in hip-hop.

No one.

Yeah I said it. It’s a strong statement.

I listen to a lot of hip-hop. No one has been consistently better since this song, but no one is listening to R.A. the way they should be, and no one knows how nice he is. R.A. has been utterly merciless on anyone collaborating on songs with him. This is guy that BIG acknowledged as the illest and he’s better than he ever was.

AZ

When I mention AZ, usually the response I get is a wrinkled forehead and then someone eventually going, “oh yeah, the guy from The Firm?” which makes me want to punch them in the heart.

AZ was cursed with moderate success with his debut, but after The Firm underperformed and so did Belly, he’s been relegated to same misery that most rappers deal with, labels reshuffling, disorganization, half-hearted promotion. But pretty much the entire time AZ has been utterly brilliant even during the woeful 9 Lives album. In fact, since he’s been on fire since the Aziatic album. Which came out in 2002. That’s right, he’s on an 11 year hot streak.

It’s hard to explain how Nas and AZ are basically the Ken and Ryu of hip-hop, but Nas went onto become an absolute household name and AZ got completely. It’s hard to explain how AZ could put out this many great songs in a row and no one noticed. It’s hard to explain why Motown thought they could get into the rap game.

Inspectah Deck

Its got to be hard of probably the greatest hip-hop group/collective of them all. You get exposure, but not necessarily an identity. The Wu-Tang Clan has launched some members to into super-stardom. (Sidebar – RZA ended up directing a major motion picture kung fu movie… and it was awesome.) Its not going to happen for Deck.

What will happen is that every Wu-Tang album you’ll wait for his verse because he’s going to be the one to drop some of the densest, purest hip-hop in the group. No one namechecks Inspectah Deck. And its a shame. Also, its nearly impossible to mention him and not address his verse in “Triumph,” because even though it might not be fair, that will be his legacy. Its better than most people’s.

Thirstin Howl III

Thirstin Howl III is really unique in that its hard to pigeonhole him. Very few rappers have his sense of humor and cleverness, but balance it with a very intimidating presence. He’s energetic, goofy, but street, and at all times he keeps things fresh by switching between English and Spanish.

Hip-hop has a tendency to not appreciate people who don’t take themselves completely seriously, and Howl doesn’t have a huge audience, but he should have a larger audience than he has. And he is not the person you want to freestyle with or battle rap.

Chali 2na

Its probably the name.

Most conscious rappers haven’t mastered a good flow, and spend time trying to cram their thoughts into their lines. Chali split his time for a while between Jurassic 5 and the eclectic group Ozomotli, and held both down quite impressively.

Sadly, his career has had no support from the radio (back when that really mattered) pretty much like everyone on this list. As a West Coast MC, he has little penetration here, which is also a shame. But he’s made our small tip of the hat to slept on MCs.

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