Kendrick Lamar recently laid down a gauntlet to the MC’s he considered the current best: “I heard the barbershops be in great debates all the time bout who’s the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas, Eminem, Andre 3000 […] Jermaine Cole [J Cole], Big KRIT, Wale, Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller.”
However, there were a few notable admissions…
Imma let you finish Kendrick, but these guys really should have made the list:
1. Childish Gambino
Combining pop culture references with deeply autobiographical rhymes, Gambino - aka Donald Glover - is a step ahead of the ‘rap scene’ in so many ways. His ‘Freaks and Geeks’ video was a masterpiece in minimalism and showed off his genius with lyrics such as “You get sloppy drunk, I stay whiskey neat / My clique should be cancelled: Freaks and Geeks”, and “I have worked all winter, I will not fail summer / In the back of the bush, like Gavin Rossdale’s drummer”.
Glover first took up writing hip hop to match the beats he worked on, and these beats have been reused by artists such as Tyler the Creator.
His first major label release, 2011’s ‘Camp’, has been described as ‘cartoonishly exaggerated’ in both positive and negative terms, but it set a standard for Gambino’s hip-hop that he has never dropped from.
Glover was also a key writer on 30 Rock, portrays Troy on Community and recently released the short film ‘Clapping for the Wrong Reasons’, clearly setting him apart from other one-trick ponies.
2. Kanye West
Whereas a lot of Kanye West’s competition have become too comfortable in their niche to create anything innovative (see: Jay Z), Kanye still manages to release albums that not only subvert expectations of himself, but of the whole rap/hip-hop genre. After 2007’s anthemic ‘Graduation’, Kanye took an unexpected step and released ‘808s and Heartbreaks’, a collection of mellow, stripped back songs with little to no rapping whatsoever. He followed that up with the heavy ‘My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy’ and an outrageously good double album - ‘Watch the Throne’ - with Jay Z. Criticisms of Kanye lie in his brash behaviour and recent integration into the celebrity lifestyle a la Kardashian, however, latest album ‘Yeezus’ displays Kanye is still a force to be reckoned with.
Also, it’s Kanye! How could Kendrick forget Kanye?!?
3. Mos Def - AKA Yasiin Bey
Now going by the name Yasiin Bey, Mos Def would easily feature on a list of the greatest rappers of all time, however kendrick’s statement was made in reference to modern times so with that in mind Mos Def can still stake a claim for his inclusion. A series of recent collaborations on tracks - including songs with Kanye West, The Black Keys and Gorillaz - have culminated in the resurrection of Black Star with Talib Kweli, a reunion that looks set to really make a mark on the modern hip-hop scene.
Recently, Mos Def had agreed to be filmed undergoing forced feeding in the same way Guantanamo Bay prisoners do, the resulting footage was harrowing and an amazing insight.
Def’s standards have never slipped and lyrics like “On-going saga, terminal diagnosis / Basic survival requires super heroics” on Life in Marvelous Times from 2009’s The Ecstatic demonstrate how good he can be.
4. Big Boi
While the other half of OutKast - Andre 3000 - made the list, Big Boi was a notable exception from Kendrick’s targets. Arguab;y more deserving of recognition over recent years, Big Boi has released two solo albums - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty in 2010, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors in 2012 - whereas Andre has featured on a select few tracks without releasing any songs of his own accord. Nobody is doubt Andre 3000’s supreme rapping ability and unique style, but Big Boi’s work ethic really sets him apart.
Rumoured to be appearing on UK Celebrity Big Brother 2013 (for a handsome fee of £300,000), Big Boi is currently working on his third solo album.
5. Angel Haze
Angel Haze is - simply put - fearless. She is fearless in a way that Nicki Minaj could never be, whether it’s by recording diss tracks to Azealia Banks or by releasing a series shockingly confessional mixtapes. Lamar may not have mentioned Haze due to her status as a newcomer but she definitely cannot and will not be ignored, even more so when her debut album - ‘Dirty Gold’ - is released at the start of 2014. For a taste of what to expect, check out ‘New York’ on her ‘New York EP’.
Macklemore has always been an intriguing artist and it is easy to forget his work before hitting the big time, yet even when he has achieved fame he has done so with his own record label, turning down multiple opportunities to cash in on success due to his unwillingness to accept toning down his vision and creativity. Thrift Shop may have been his pop-friendly, happy-go-lucky track to bring him to the attention of the masses, but delve a little bit deeper on tracks such as ‘Thin Line’ and the LGBT-supporting ‘Same Love’ and you’ll find an intellectual, inspiring Macklemore.
Scroobius Pip, Common, Chuck D, Talib Kweli, Frank Ocean, Iggy Azalea.
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