A Journey That Helped Mold My Catalog As An Avid Fan Of Hip-Hop
From every Top 5 list to the GOAT convos, Hip-Hop remains one of the most polarizing barber shop conversations. Even though I’ve personally been ready to die at the sword of my own opinion through this topic, I must admit it is a subjective conversation that has many variables that are not considered when taking part in a heated debate.
In reality, I’ve noticed that even my opinion and taste in sound changes day to day, but isn’t that the essence of the genre? Aren’t we supposed to push the standards of music as a fan base with controversial hot takes and out of the box perspectives? Hip-Hop grew into one of the most recognized genres on the back of artists who weren’t afraid to voice their thoughts, artists who dressed and carried themselves in a manner that was against societies “norms”.
Hip-Hop is a staple in music, it started off with 3 major components which were Djing, Emceeing & Graffiti. Throughout time, those components still stand strong, but have evolved beyond that. Producers today remain to elevate Hip-Hop and artists have found a way to incorporate new melodic vocals to their tracks and performances. Looking at Hip-Hop today, people might think that Graffiti has faded away, but in my opinion it has evolved into an art that is clear in front of our very eyes. With all the murals of legends that have been plastered across cities, with all the Instagram artists who show us what they can do with a can of spray paint, I feel like the ones we overlook are the designers of album & track covers. Many of them use a lens that is unique to Hip-Hop artistry.
I bring up the evolution of these elements because as I grow, my playlist grows. Even though I don’t remember the first Hip-Hop song I ever listened to, but ‘Know the Ledge’ & ‘Relax with Pep’ are embedded in my memory till I was about 6 or 7 years old. Another early memory of the genre was ‘The Low End Theory‘, a legendary album past down from a family member had me hooked on A Tribe Called Quest. As time went on I grew up through the prime of DMX, Nas, Jay Z and many more.
I started slowly categorizing my favorite rappers and albums in my mental and found myself relating to lyrics that stuck with me to this day. Hip-Hop was a way of self therapy considering I never really liked talking about my emotions and opening up to others. Even though my Top 5 lists changes occasionally there are categories that are locked down for certain artists in my books. Everything from this sentence on is going to be subjective and welcoming to any debates, so don’t hesitate to reach out and argue with me!
A good place to start would be the artist who I think has the best flow. Method Man has the most captivating flow when you hear him stringing his words together. He also has a little inhale between lines that adds another element to his delivery, but the best part is his sound remains timeless. Whether you listen to ‘Wu Tang Forever’ by Logic or hearing him go off on ‘Grand Prix’ his sound is still cemented. Lets not forget he also made one of the dopest commercials for Sour Patch Kids.
Method Man also belongs to a one of my favorite groups Wu Tang Clan, one of Hip-Hop’s most notorious groups and leaders of the culture. Even though there has been many groups before and few after, Wu Tang still remains as a symbol of infinity. “Wu Tang Forever” is a living embodiment to how timeless the group is. Groups through out Hip-Hop have always had a role in providing anthems and flag to their fans.
Whether we go back to Run DMC, The Lox, Terror Squad, Ruff Ryders & beyond, this form of artistry is still alive and well today. Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies, A$AP MOB are just a few stand out ones. How every with groups there is always a sense of heartbreak since most of them breakup. Even though they tend to regroup occasionally, we tend to see a lot of them fall apart.
Odd Future was a huge one that split up in my lifetime, with speculations and false reports, we can never really know why they split up. Tribe splitting up was the roughest for me, but seeing them deliver one more master piece including the late, great Phife Dawg was something I can for ever cherish. The Top 5 list for my favorite rap groups might be controversial but it holds components from different eras.
- The Flatbush Zombies
- A Tribe Called Quest
- Wu Tang
- Pro Era
Now I know I mentioned OutKast very nonchalantly, but that’s because they were trend setters. Like Tribe was before them and L.L. was before them. OutKast opened up the door to future trend setters, they face a lot of stick being from the ATL, but through their music they opened up doors for many artists. Till this day we see Atlanta providing artists that break charts, and if we touch on groups, Migos are one of the most recognized groups today.
The south has a different flavour, but when it comes to setting trends Future was one of the biggest ones I can recall. With a flow more melodic than lyrical, has been categorized as mumble rap, but truly offers a more zoned out type of music to enjoy. Of course with rappers like T.I., Jeezy & others represented the ATL very well, but I couldn’t tie melodic sounding flows when it comes to lyrics to anyone else from Atlanta before Future.
That being said, even though it wasn’t considered “Mummble Rap” I could tie it to one of the largest trends setters in my life time, Lil Wayne. Weezy had a unique sound that made his radio hits break through to places Hip-Hop hasn’t been able to reach. Whether it’s the doors he’s opened for artists like Drake or even Nicki Minaj, he has been someone who was loved by his generation of fans and idolized by generations to come.
Bringing up Nicki she set a style that many artists are replicating today, and of course with many female rappers before her, it’s her colourful style that we are noticing today. Female rappers have each done a great job in differentiating their sounds though, it’s hard to hear their influences through their tracks.
Trend setting is a conversation that is based off patterns that we notice after a certain eye catching moment, this conversation may not be accurate, but it can’t be had without mentioning Kanye West & Pharell Williams. Two artists that made the gates to Hip-Hop open into a series of wide spread lanes that seem never ending. For a lack of better words they made Hip-Hop open up to a part of society that might have been to scared to voice their opinions and display their art. From clothing style to being able to produce, many followed the lanes created by Kanye & Pharrell. Till this day their style is reaching the next generation.
Now these trendsetters are still active today, it’s hard not to see people coming up who are influenced by Drake, Travis Scott, Lil Uzi etc. However the reason I didn’t list the more modern artist is because they are still cementing their own legacy and discovering new sounds.
Drake has created a legacy being able to open up doors for a whole country but his legacy is far from being cemented considering the new sounds he keeps discovering. Opening doors helps us find artists that the industry might not recognize or care for until they are vouched for. Young Thug is an artist that is praised for the doors he’s opened by signing artists. T.I. has done the same, whether we like the artists he’s put on or not, he still presented something different with Iggy Azalea.
Let’s not forget when Jay-Z opened a door for Lupe Fiasco to sign with Atlantic Records, A young dynamic lyricist from Chicago that was ahead of his time. Jay-Z has been the one to show how far Hip-Hop can get you. Becoming a mogul and showing his hunger for success, Jay-Z has taken his Platform and elevated to a point that was unimaginable. Regarded as a GOAT it’s hard to not find him listed on many Top 5 lists.
The GOAT… Who is the GOAT? This is the conversation that get’s everyone voicing their opinions, but in reality it’s subjective. We can’t go off because by sales because it favors different eras, if we base it off sound, lyrics, or flow it makes it too subjective do to the styles rappers have. It also creates the “Back In My Day”arguments.
Even though the topic is opinionated I do believe there are certain calibers of artists allowed in the discussion. Whether it was KRS – One, Rakim, Drake, Biggie, Tu-Pac, Nas, Kendrick etc. There is a higher tier of talent through out any era. These artists also have to sound timeless and have to be recognized by their piers.
I will list my Top 5 with a reason of why they are considered a GOAT, I will leave the GOAT for number one. This list is not to be mistaken by my Top 5 Artists.
#5 – Rakim ‘Tha God MC’
Rakim is my all time favorite artist, even though I never understood his music at the age I discovered him, I learned the meanings of the lyrics as I got older. He was also the one who showed me how important production was, as I’ve said before, what is Rakim with out Eric B.
#4 – Eminem
It was weird for me to include Eminem in this Top 5, because I’ve never really related to his music. I just can’t deny the legacy this man has created, not only do his peers rate him as a GOAT, but he was accepted into a culture and overcame a lot of criticism for being a rapper. The fact that is still active today extends his legacy and adds to his stature.
#3 – Jay-Z
Already discussing his stature as a mogul, Jay-Z holds an undeniable resume in Hip-Hop. Recognized as a lyrical mastermind since his come up, it was clear to see he was a GOAT because of the way OG’s accepted his sound. I still remember watching him perform with Linkin Park, giving a modern twist to a Run DMC concept. He’s collected his accolades and has been referenced plenty of times by up and coming artists.
#2 – Nas
Nas highly touted as the best story teller of all time, it was unquestionable he would be in my GOAT conversation. Up until recently he’s been my number 1 artist because of his albums and his peers. When I hear my favorite artists say “Illmatic” is in their Top 5 albums of all time, I have to take notes. You can’t go through Hip-Hop’s timeline with out taking a second and pausing at ‘Illmatic’. With a different producer on each track, Nas cultivated something beyond measure. He also might have one of the best dis tracks we’ve heard. He captured the essence of Hip-Hop and will forever have one of the brightest catalogs in the game. Though many of his caliber have found success in the music industry, Nas became someone who found success in Silicon Valley. The times he returns he always finds a way to impress lyrically.
#1 – J. Cole
Hear me out, I know we are always told we’re living in the moment but J. Cole is the GOAT by my estimation. Earning the respect of those before him such as Nas & Jay-Z though his music, paying homage to Tribe and consistently using his voice to target issues through his music. He’s sold Platinum on all 5 albums and brought tracks to the radio with meaning and lyrical substance. Went on a string of features with younger artists before teaming up with DJ Premiere to release a Gang Star track. His Dreamville team has made noise over and over again, especially when they opened the doors for other artists on ‘Revenge of the Dreamers 3’. He’s had a song where Nas acknowledged his greatness through a response in ‘Let Nas Down’. I truly think he touched the Past, Present & Future already with his career.
This is my take on Hip-Hop through out my life, I completely left the page open on types of Hip-Hop & Albums for the a future piece to follow this one. Even though I mentioned many artists I left a few off with no disrespect, but I also left a few for the end.
Hip-Hop has been a genre that has seen many artists leave us tragically at an early age. Capital Steez held potential as an artist and opened the door for Pro Era, Mac Miller was a hard one and still seems unreal to me. Nipsey Hussle united many people before and after his death, his legacy has grown globally and will never be forgotten. Lil Peep, XXXTentacion & Juice WRLD were all changing the game in their own way and were taken from us too soon. Pop Smoke‘s album was released recently and the send off was beautiful, the album goes down as on of the best projects of 2020.
We will forever remember fallen artists from the past, but something has to change to protect the future of our younger artists and their younger artists.