I consider myself to be one of those well-rounded Emcees who has been a fan of Hip Hop for most of his life. I grew up in West Africa as one of the few who adopted Hiphop as my culture. Later I sought a career in the business. With the many transitions that have come and gone over the years, I sat down to outline what I feel about Hip Hop today and who I see as the most significant Emcees of all time.
Q: What do I think about Hip Hop today?
A: It depends how you look at it. As an artist, you don’t want to listen to your own music all day, you want a feel for what other dope artists are doing. For a fan who is not trying to rap, DJ or produce, Hip Hop can mean something completely different from what it means to someone who is also trying to be an artist.
I think Hip Hop is the most influential culture in mainstream music. It entertains people of all lifestyles. I don’t think it has a problem in itself. I think outside influences are the problem. Bad press and negative stereotypes seem to be a massive problem for Hip Hop. If we had real media and the world gave it its full props, Hip Hop would be far more and the world’s most dominant art form.
But sadly, nowadays, it’s about money. Sometimes that can be a weakness. For example, a techno guy shows up with a lot of money and asks a guy to switch up his Kulture to match the techno person’s idea of good music. Some radio stations, TV, magazines and even music producers who try to dictate to the rap artist on how the music should sound because they want money from sponsors. That’s the problem today. How do you turn down specific sponsors when they’re waving the wrong kind of check?”
Q: Who are my top 5 Emcees dead or Alive and why?
A: I don’t have a top 5 list. Too many dope Emcees to choose from. It’s tough enough to select a top ten, but I’ll give you my top 11 closest ones, besides myself of course:
11. Uncle Luke – I was not in America when Two Live Crew came out, but I listen to all their music. When the supreme court ruled that it was legal to use profanity in rap? That was huge for Hip Hop! If you’re gonna solidify your legacy in this Kulture I think you need a sic flow, no question. You have to dress fly, and you gotta have swag. Every Emcee has to have all those qualities, but Uncle Luke was like wait up, you need to be somethin’ a pimp. A tough guy with a sic flow, slick outfit, jewelry, tricked out cars and cash is hot but he’s gotta bring the jars of honey out. Bad ones too! Uncle Luke changed the game in that aspect and today, that is a huge requirement.
10. L. L. Cool J – I think L’s image is probably the blueprint for every new rapper. He took the game from where founding fathers like Run-DMC and Curtis Blow left off. A lot of Emcees came and left over the years, but L reinvented himself several times and continued to drop classics. Till this day, his music is still relevant. His acting game is sic. L. L. broke the first mold in the stereotype of what white-collar America thought a rapper can and can’t be. Time and time and time again he paved the way for future mainstream successes in Hip Hop to be possible. He came out when guys like Big Daddy Kane and Digital Underground were out and lasted through to Eminem, Ludacris and Nelly’s era. That’s legendary. L can keep going if he wants to and he will be relevant all the way.
9. Jay Z – His is dripping with classics. You can’t deny that. I think Biggie and 2Pac set the stage for Jay to lead Hip Hop into the 21st century. He brought class and respect to the game (along with P. Diddy and Master P of course). His modified gangsta swag crushed white-collar perceptions of wealthy rappers. Jay Z also refined how business is done. His successes showed us how to partner with big corporations instead of being their puppet. In my opinion, artists having their own labels today would not be popular if Jay Z had not been successful with Rocafella Records. He has an everlasting flow that fans from all generations enjoy listening to. When it comes to being fly, Jay never disappoints. He’s been known to bring out the badest chick too. Jigga is an immortal Emcee.
8. Busta Rhymes – He’s real and true. As far as solidifying a permanent place in the history of Hip Hop? Busta Rhymes will not only be there, but he will also be remembered as one of the greatest. Busta has it all, from the distinct flow to swag to a significant stage presence to being captivating on the big screen. He tweaked his image from the long-dreaded east coast electric rapper to a clean shaved, brush cut dope boy kind of Emcee. And he did pretty well with the new Busta. Can’t say he went Hollywood either and he had the chance. Busta is one of the best Hip-Hop figures because he helped win people over to the Kulture at a time when it was going global.
7. Ice Cube – Now Ice Cube is one of the guys who defines what I consider a legend in Hip Hop. He was there from the very beginning with NWA and yet was able to hold an active career that lasted through the years. He dropped a row of classic albums, changed the game with some real controversial power moves and took black movies to a new audience. I think that while L. L. Cool J and the Tribe Called Quest was holding it down on the east end, Ice Cube single handily established the west. Every controversial Emcee is merely a rebirth of Ice Cube. And he is a great actor and screenwriter at that.
6. Snoop Dogg – Snoop is not only the Doggfather he is the Godfather of West Coast Hip-Hop. Like Jay Z, Snoop was able to come out of an intense period of time at the top of his game. How he made that transition from Death Row Records to where he is now is a miracle. To me all Snoops albums are classics. Snoop has the most distinct style ever. He brought Dr. Dre’s G funk to new heights, but then he spun off with No Limit Records and redefined Down South Hip Hop without forgetting his roots where he came from. Snoop Dogg is the Duke of Hip Hop. Even as new rappers like Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, and Young Jeezy are distinct, Snoop Dogg still stands out among them. You can copy any Emcee’s swag and flow, but you can’t jack Snoops style. It’s just too unique.
5. Tupac – What I respect the most about Tupac is his courage. He stood up to the test of time and allowed destiny to decide his fate. I admire the fact that he did not cower when challenges came. He made classic music that touched millions – a fan of Hip Hop or not. He had everyone’s attention. To me, 2Pac could influence people just like Michael Jackson could. His movies are classics too. You can’t do a top anything in Hip Hop and not mention 2Pac.
The fact that he was cool with Treach (of Naughty by Nature), who was my biggest idol when I was growing up, gives him an extra special place on my list of great Emcees. He changed the sound of Hip Hop music and elevated its traditions that were already there. His political consciousness was enlightening to fans who lived outside of the country. I think we all get tatted now because 2Pac was tatted and we value Hennessy because that was his drink. His work ethic is second to none. Tupac had the best vocals I’ve ever heard from a male rap artist, and he was prophetic in some ways.
4. The Notorious B.I.G. – Biggie is still the best Emcee to ever step on stage. He had more odds against him than anyone I know, but he pulled it off with his charisma. He knew he was going to die, and it’s sad, but B.I.G solidified rap as not only a genre of its own but also one that other styles should not underrate. I think Hip-Hop was hot in the mid 90’s because of Biggie. He made other rappers better. You heard a Biggie rhyme, and if you were an Emcee, you knew it was time to step your game up. He’s the legend who taught this generation that a dream can come through for anyone who believes in it. I respect B.I.G mostly for his loyalty to his friends and his ability to charm women even though he did not come off as a stud.
3. Nas – He is a legend in my eyes because of the knowledge he put to and from the streets through his music. He respects Africa in a way that no Emcee did before. I think he was a critical supporting figure for Hip Hop that held his own while other legends like Ice Cube, LL Cool J, 2Pac, and Biggie were changing the game. And he came out of that era with the same spark he always had. He has a few classics of his own, and he is not afraid to show his heart. In my opinion, Nas is one of those guys who has a natural career. His swag is so unique you can’t say that Nas didn’t influence you in the game.
2. Big Daddy Kane – Back in the days when Ice T, Kool Moe Dee, Rakim, Biz Markie, KRS 1 and Tupac were making headlines, before Lords of the Underground, Das FX, Naughty by Nature, Nice – N – Smooth and Onyx were it, when the flat top was the flat top, B.D. Kane was it! The definition of lyricism, flow and all of the above. No one had girls like Uncle Luke, but Kane held his own there too. B. D. Kane’s image is also a blueprint for rappers today. I don’t know of a rapper who does not charge some part of their game to the Big Daddy. I think Kane had the juice to back up his swag and at the end of the day it boils down to the flow. He rocked the party!
1. Dr. Dre – He does not only have a successful career, but he also made others successful – Snoop and Eminem (and they are both legends). Anyone who has any doubts that Dre is the Godfather’s Grandfather Emcee needs to go back to their old collection and play the Chronic album. When I put my NWA CD in, who is the reason why I listen again and again? MC Ran weighs in heavy with Easy E and Ice Cube, but Dre made NWA hot. That’s saying the hottest shit on wax, setting trends and flowing like hell.
I think the fact that he is such a great producer and DJ overshadows his Emcee skills. Even Tupac’s career reached new heights when he teamed up with Dr. Dre… remember California Love? The Chronic is still a classic today. I think the Doggie Style is a classic because it feels like a disc two of the Chronic album. Chronic 2001 is also an undisputed classic. Who engineered ‘Get Rich Or Die Trying’? Each of Eminem’s classics? Dr. Dre is the KING of Hip Hop. When Dre has something to do with your music you automatically become a star.