The best posts on this site are the ones that piss people off. At least those are the ones that I find the most interesting, and that tend to have longevity in terms of drawing readers and comments. Like my “Best Indie Albums Ever” post that still pisses off hundreds of readers a week. That post was a poll–I asked you all to vote and published the results. This post is not, but I’d love to read your comments. I’m sure many people will say Jay-Z is overrated, but i just can’t agree. Dude has mad variety in flow and lyrical content, is able to mix college-level political theory with street-level slang, and has sustained a career for decades. The criteria for an overrated rapper have to be that the guy is famous, respected (i.e., people put him on top 10 lists, etc.), has been around for more than a few years, and has a tight following. In other words, they have to actually be rated well. This means that the artists on this list do have skill–I’m not throwing artists like Nelly up here because all they did was make pop for a few years and then fade away. None of these folks should be ashamed of who they are.
They’re all very talented.
They’re just not as talented as everyone says they are.
They’re just not as good as everyone says.
Why do I make these excuses? Because I asked about a dozen rap bloggers to contribute to this post, and most were too scared sign on. Only two agreed, and their contributions are included below.
The bottom rung of this ladder is occupied by two producers. Is that a copout? Maybe a little. But these producers are collectively responsible for about 75% of the irresponsibly saccharine hip hop that has diluted the art form and changed it from a refuge for street poets into an echo chamber. Or, even worse, a sideshow. Pussycat Dolls, Nelly Furtado, Tweet, Brandy, Stefani, Timberlake . . . All projects that used rap as little more than a way to give the featured artists some sort of credibility. Timbaland is a master at selling the hip hop art form for far less than its true value, just to make another dollar he probably doesn’t even need. And if any of you have heard the leaked Jay-Z tracks from his coming album, you’re probably as worried as I am that Timba found a way to slay Hova. The beats are weak as hell. As for Akon, his latest album merged hip hop with pop to completely rape both genres, taking only their most stereotypical, cypher-like qualities. It was too offensive for the 12-year-olds it was marketed to, and too infantile for anyone with more than a grade school education. I’m not a t00-serious humbug or a killjoy, either. Any regular reader of this blog knows I dig lighthearted pop, and I’m not easily offended. But an art form should make up its mind what it wants to say–it should have a message and a meaning. And although they’ve worked well with rappers in the past (Timba’s Missy Elliott work is brilliant), Timba was also responsible for “Ayo Technology”–possibly the worst 50 Cent hit in history. And Akon’s “Smack That” marks the precise point in time when Eminem completely fell off. Timbaland and Akon, whether working solo or with other artists, are pure formula: This worked before, so we’ll do the same damn thing again, without any thought or consideration about what a particular artist might need. A good producer is willing to hang in the back and let the artist shine–but to Timba and Akon, the artist is irrelevant. And both started strong, too. Akon’s first album, written while he was in prison, was a great example of how rap and R&B can merge effectively, cohesively, and create a powerful work of art. Timbaland’s early work with Missy E is nothing short of stupendous, because he let her do what nobody but her has been able to do with him since: Take center stage and rock the mic. He’s never been that good again.
9. Wale. Wale has been called the greatest rapper since Jay-Z, but I have yet to hear understand what all the hubub is about. The guy has a decent flow the first few times you hear him, until you realize that that’s all he can do. His rhymes aren’t creative or interesting, and the Seinfeld gimmick “Mixtape About Nothing” was aptly named. It was thin and boring. Every other artist on this list has proven himself to me on more than one occasion, but Wale has yet to bring it. I think people really want him to be a big underground success story, and he’s riding the crest of a wave of expectation, but if he can’t put a single album together, and he hasn’t yet, then I have to ask: What’s the big deal about Wale? Oh, and just who is it that called him the greatest since Hova? That unparalleled hip hop tastemaker, GQ Magazine. I rest my case.
8. Method Man. Here’s another one I just don’t get. Method Man crossed over into bad movies and bad T.V., but what has he done since 1993? In fact, what has he done since he did his best work, which was also his first real work? Was anything on “Tical” anywhere near as good as M.E.T.H.O.D. Man off of “Enter the Wu: 36 chambers?” And was Method Man even the best part of Wu? Like Nas, Method Man is still riding off his initial brilliance, never since showing improved skills, versatility or breaking new ground. And MM’s inability to live up to his legend is made all the more obvious when you compare his post-36 Chambers work to that of so many other Wu Tangers who went on to make amazing solo album and who continued, for years or even decades, to move hip hop forward: Ghostface (Supreme Clientele, Fishscale), RZA (producing every good Wu solo album from the 1990s) ,GZA (liquid swords), Raekwon (Cuban Links) . . . even ODB continued to grow creatively. Method Man even took a pretty skilled artist, Redman, teamed up with him, and basically ruined him. I defy any of you to listen to “Blackout” straight through. Method man is waaaaay overrated. In fact, if more people respected him, he’d be a lot higher on this list. As it is, too many people revere him. I wonder if they ever actually listened to any of his albums more than once.
7. Buck 65 and Aesop Rock. Buck and Aesop don’t suck, but once you’ve heard one of their albums, you never need to listen to another one. There are better white rappers out there (Beasties, Eminem, MC Serch). There are even better underground white rappers out there (Slug, Eyedea, El-P). There are even better Canadian rappers out there (K-Os, Abdominal, Kardinal Offishall). Aesop is intelligent and crafty, but he doesn’t move the crowd, and that goes double for Buck 65 who is more of a beat poet than a rapper. I get that they’ve both made some good singles and Aesop even made a couple pretty good albums, but do they really belong in discussions about the best rappers around today? No, they don’t. And yet, I frequently find them the subjects of such discussions. They are overrated.
6. M.I.A. Okay, Paper Planes and Galang are hot as fire, but is M.I.A. really to blame for that? The beats are hot as fuck. I think Bob Dylan could read the phone book over those beats and still have a hit. And can anyone with a penis listen to an entire M.I.A. album without gagging? This is hip hop for chicks. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it also doesn’t make it good. It also doesn’t make M.I.A. a rap star. There’s lots of talented female MCs out there, and M.I.A. doesn’t even come close. BET named her the best femal rapper of 2009? Please. Lauryn Hill’s lame cheese from the “Surf’s Up” soundtrack was more hip hop than Kala. Not to mention Remy Ma, Rah Digga, Jean Grae . . . M.I.A. is a pop star who has managed to convince everyone that she’s a rapper. As a pop star, she’s great. (But arguably not as great as Santigold.) As a rap star, she’s, say it with me now, overrated! (And Santigold is a better rapper, too.)
5. Lil’ Wayne. First off, I give props to Weezy’s work ethic and his wilingness to release tons of shit for free. Mad props for that. But if you have better-than-average skills (which he does) and an offbeat imagination (ditto), and you throw enough crap at a microphone, you’re bound to strike gold sometimes. But can any of you name a solid Lil’ Wayne solo album? You can’t, can you? (And don’t say Carter III, you’ll only expose yourself as an ignoramus.) Lil’ Wayne makes singels, but outperforms his own studio work with his own mixtapes. And overexposes himself to boot. While I appreciate free music on mixtapes, and I enjoy me a good “Prostitute Flange” now and then, I recognize that he’s not nearly as good as many other artists out there who control their output and only release a record when they’ve really got something to say. Wayne talks too much. He should lay off the sizzurp and get some focus.
4. Snoop Doggy Dogg. Snoop’s creeping, sneaky, brimming-with-danger delivery is a major reason why The Chronic is one of the greatest albums of all time, and why Doggystyle is probably in the top 50 as well. Not to mention Snoop’s debut track, Deep Cover, which may be one of my top ten all-time favorite rap singles.
But since then, he has had absolutely nothing on his mind except smoking weed and making money, and that’s commercialism, not art. He’s not a great rapper, he’s a great product. Dre found Calvin when he got out of prison, wearing a backpack and blue jeans, and Dr. Dre turned the lanky pothead into a superstar. To paraphrase Jay-Z, he’s not a businessman, he’s a business, man! With 20-something records under his belt, he averages one or two good songs per album (even less, lately). That just does not make him a great rapper. His stuff is weak, lazy, and formulaic. Plus, he’s responsible for The Eastsidaz AND the Dogg Pound. Shame on you, Snoop! You’ve been around as long as just about anyone who is recording today, and you have a grand total of one good album. The rest of them all suck, every one. There may be a few decent club bangers here and there, but not a single good album. You are vastly overrated.
And I’m not the only one who feels this way. One of the two rappers brave enough to take a stand in this post says . . .
“As much as I love snoop for his personality and song ideas- as a rapper’s rapper– I don’t need to hear more rhymes about Lincoln Continentals.”
Haldan of Palms Out.
3. Gucci Mane. I’m gonna let my buddy Jeff do the talking here:
“Let’s be clear: I don’t hate Gucci Mane. In small doses, Radric Davis is perfectly tolerable, even occasionally enjoyable. Gucci Mane stretched over an entire mixtape or album? It’s the aural equivalent of trying to eat pizza three meals a day. At first, it’s awesome but by the 22nd time, you feel bloated, indolent and suspect that you might be too old for these sort of harebrained schemes.
The defense is that the streets want Gucci. That’s fine–the streets also want Coldplay, Kings of Leon, and Nickelback. It just depends what street you’re on. Don’t try to tell me that he’s a thesaurus wizard because he compared a jewel to a tomato. That doesn’t mean he’s a genius, it means he walked into a supermarket. Here are several other similes that you could compare a jewel to: a radish, a red hot, Satan’s ass. See, it’s really not that hard. It’s fine if you like Gucci–more power to you–but trying to turn him into the second coming of Nas is absurd. I say we compromise: is a poor man’s Juvenile. Ha.”
Jeff of Passion of the Weiss.
2. 50 Cent. Fiddy rose on the strength of one song: How to Rob an Industry Nigga. It was pure genius, and it was coldly calculated to move units. In it, he namedropped every pop and hip hop star in the top 40, the diss record equivalent of a gonzo porn film: All cum shots and blow jobs. After that, he took beats that Dr. Dre was too lazy to use for himself and Eminem didn’t need, and used them to augment fairly weak lyrics on a hit album. And then, after that, he got worse with every release. There’s one thing 50 does great: Hooks and banter. “Go shorty, it’s your birthday!” “G-g-g-gee Unit!” “I’m a muthafuckin’ P-I-M-P!” All cool as shit. But what about the lyrics: “She dances for dollas. She got a thing for that Gucci, that Fendi, that Prada.” “This town’s one big pussy, waitin’ to get fucked.” It’s all crude and obvious lines. 50 makes hooks, not songs, and he makes singles, not albums. On top of that, the only things he can rap about are getting drunk, getting rich, and robbing people. Is that really all that’s on his mind? Doesn’t he love his children? Has he ever regretted anything? Can he just drop one honest bar? Just one, I’m not greedy. Rap is supposed to have elements of self-revelation and exploration–all the best do it: Jay-Z has his “Song Cry,” Nas mixes in politics and empowerment, and Eminem skins himself alive every time he hits the mic (except on his last album). I’m not trying to discount the volume of sales 50 Cent has generated: The man is a monster, no doubt. But there’s no way he deserves to be considered a great rapper. He’s a caricature. An action figure. A corporate shill. There’s more to good rap than a chorus.
1. Tupac. Makiavelli is a brilliant record, from start to end, and “2pacalypse Now” doesn’t suck, either. And the man knew how to make rap hits–real rap, too, not crap watered down for the radio. Plus, to be fair, after he died they released every rough draft, piece of shit, and phlegmy cough the man ever did on mic, making him the only person dead or alive who is more prolific than Lil’ Weezy. But even if we limit this to an examination of his five official albums, he just doesn’t measure up to the title of “Greatest of All Time,” which he is so often given. Other than Don Killuminati, there are at least a half dozen better records that came out at the same time each of his studio platters dropped. Take 2Pacalypse now, for example. That same year, 1991, also brought us the nothing-short-of-brilliant Ice Cube album, Death Certificate, and his cousin Del’s ingenious I Wish My Brother George Was Here, as well as Step Into the Arena, Effil4Zaggin, De La Soul is Dead, Ice T’s magnum opus O.G., Cypress Hill and Naughty By Nature’s eponymous debuts, and Apocalypse ’91. All better records. Of course, 1991 was a watershed year for hip hop. So let’s check out 1993, when Pac brought Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. Can that record, track for track, even compete with Midnight Marauders, Enter the Wu Tang, Doggystyle, Enta Da Stage, Masta Ace’s Slaughtahouse, or even Ice Cube’s Lethal Injection? If you were a fan of 1995’s Me Against the World, you should have been listening to Liquid Swords, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, The Infamous, or Da Shining. And even if Pac wins the 1995 contest, and I admit that one is close, his 1996 All Eyez on Me pales in comparison to The Fugees’ debut album, Hova’s Reasonable Doubt, and OutKast’s ATLiens, not to mention the competition from Ironman, Here to Save You All (by the vastly underrated Chino XL), It Was Written, Illadelph Halflife . . . Tupac was a very good rapper, but he was an even better folk hero. Let’s not let the legend overeclipse his talent. If Pac hadn’t been shot, most folks wouldn’t put him in their top 10s. Top 20, maybe, because he had such a dynamic personality, but he’s outclassed in flow by Jay-Z, Eminem, Chuck D., Bun-B, Biggie, Q-Tip, and even Obie Trice and Project Pat. He’s outclassed lyrically by KRS-One, Masta Ace, Biggie (again), Talib, Mos Def, Eminem (again), and MF Doom. And he’s outclassed as a gangsta storyteller by Vinnie Paz, Mobb Deep, Nas, Slick Rick, Ice Cube, and Jay-Z. And those are just the folks I can name off the top of my head.
Pac was good, but the greatest of all time? No. As a rapper, he was, that’s right, overrated. And given the legendary status he’s managed to attain, he is inarguably the most overrated rapper of all time.