Thursday, September 22, 2005

Lamont’s List #37
The Top 10 Rappers In The World…Right Now
September 2005

“N****’s know the champ is in here. Took it from crack to rap, now he put out 2 anthems a year. And I just wanna rock for a century. Then chase the book with the documentary”.

1. Jadakiss – “The Peoples Champion”
After years of putting in work, Jadakiss has finally climbed all the way up the ladder to claim the title of “best rapper alive”. Jada capped his steady (if somewhat jagged) rise to the top with 2004’s “Kiss Of Death”. That record was a true showcase of his lyrical gifts, most notably his “mother of pearl delivery” and his efficient, elegant rhymes. Jadakiss is the kind of rapper whom you can listen to for hours on end without ever getting bored. And because you know the 1st half of each rhyme will be absolutely nailed by an unbelievable punch line on the back end, he keeps you hanging on every word.

Best of all, Jada comes off as a peoples champion -- a slick-talkin’ street hustler who beat the odds, took on the world…and won. (Proof Positive: “Time’s Up” / “Real Hip Hop")

“And I could give a f*** what category you place me. As long as when I’m pushing up daisies and gone as long as you place me amongst one of them greats. When I hit the heavenly gates I’ll be cool beside Jay- Z”.

2. Eminem – “The Leader Of The Pack”
With an unbreakable reign of passion, skill and ingenuity, Eminem remains as one of the best rappers in the world. For evidence, I submit late 2004’s "Encore", a fantastic record where Shady does an admirable job of trying to top himself after already trouncing the competition and winning every accolade imaginable (except I suppose, the one that matters most to him…universal street cred).

Em makes up for his lack of shock value on "Encore" with a display of 30+ year old maturity while remarkably finding new insights to pull out about familiar topics (Kim, Hailie, Debbie, pop stars and his hard knock 8 Mile upbringing). He also still remembers to pack in enough verbal gymnastics, impossibly twisted punch lines and experimental delivery methods (peep the pauseless, stream of consciousness on “Mockingbird” and the circular chorus on “Big Weenie”) to keep the core fans on lock down. (Proof Positive: “Mockingbird” / “Never Enough”)

“The game need a makeover. My man retired, I’m a takeover.”

3. Common – “The Virtuoso”
Common has long been considered a God Emcee. But after a career of highs (1994’s “I Used To Love H.E.R.”, possibly the greatest rap lyrics ever written) and lows (the frustrating “Electric Circus”) the perpetually underrated underground favorite is finally getting his due in a big way. With “Be” Common has delivered his masterpiece, a mesmerizing cocktail of nuanced, scholarly, heartfelt rhymes that float lovely over beats supplied by Mr. West. It should serve him well in his quest for Greatness (probably earning him a spot on the GOAT list) and serve notice to Post Jay-Z era wanna be rap legends that the bar has been seriously raised. (Proof Positive: “The Corner” / “Chi City”)

“Knock knock. Who's there? Killa Cam. Killa who? Killa Cam, hustler? Grinder? Gorilla? True.”

4. Cam’ron – “The Critics’ Choice”
Without question Cam’ron is the most fearless and avant-garde lyricist in the game right now. Combining the charisma of Big Daddy Kane with the sick, off-kilter rhyme patterns of Kool Keith, Cam has won over commercial radio, fiendish backpackers and art house Indy rock geeks at the same time. And despite his penchant for pink and purple outfits, he still seems menacing enough to hold on to every ounce of his Harlem hood status. It’s a neat trick, but for Cam no problem at all. Those of us who are more than a little worried about the state of New York rap can breathe a little easier knowing that Cam’s future is ahead of him and his best has yet to come. (Proof Positive: “Down And Out” / “Bubble Music”)

“If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be, just as rich and famous as Jay-Z”.

5. Talib Kweli – “The Voice Of Reason”
Give Common and Kanye their props, but true hip hop scholars know that the supernaturally gifted BKMC, Talib Kweli, was the true leader of the conscious rap resurgence. He started the rally with 2003’s breakthrough hit “Just To Get By” then continued it on last year’s unforgivably slept upon “Beautiful Struggle”. On that album Talib showcased a unique blend of common sense, social awareness and battle rhyming. “I speak in schools a lot ‘cause they say that I’m intelligent. No. It’s ‘cause I’m dope, if I was wack I’d be irrelevant”, Talib opined on the title track. It’s clear with lines like that that he is a reluctant activist, but lucky for us, he just can’t help himself. (“Beautiful Struggle” / “I Try”)

“I'm never goin’ nowhere so don't try me. My music sticks in fans veins like an IV. Flows poison like Ivy, oh they grimy. Already offers on my 6th album from labels tryin' to sign me”.

6. Ludacris – “The Mouth Of The South”
Ludacris is yet another rapper on this list who has had a slow, steady rise to elite status. His boisterous, happy-go-lucky approach to emceeing is easy to over-look and it belies his boundless talent. Few rappers can flip styles and flows at the rate that Luda can, sometimes within the same song and even the same verse. His voice is always refreshing, cutting through the most dense tracks with powerful punchlines and mind-bending metaphors. And best of all, he seems to be having more fun than anyone in the industry. (Proof Positive: “#1 Spot” / “Get Back”)

"And if you can't respect that your whole perspective is wack. Maybe you'll love me when I fade to black”.

7. Jay-Z – “The Living Legend”
Starting to miss Hova yet? Despite the fact that he has managed to keep his name in the spotlight working as El Presidente at Def Jam and by pulling off the occasional cameo or mix tape banger, I’m still feeling the massive void that has been left in his wake. And as more distance is put between “The Black Album” and truly new Jigga material, it’s hard not to feel that we are all worse off with Jay-Z wearing those expensive suits and looking the part of a full-time mogul. We can only hope that his hunger to reclaim his Top Spot proves too great for him to stay away. (Proof Positive: “Dear Summer” / “Diamonds From Sierra Leone Remix”)

“I address the haters and under estimators. And ride up on 'em like they escalators. They shook up and hooked up to respirators. On they last breath talking to investigators”.

8. Fabolous – “The Franchise Player”
For all of you who will read this and continue to dismiss Fabolous a radio-friendly, R&B oriented lightweight -- thin on subject matter and long on arrogance – I say get over yourselves. I’ve said it before and I will reiterate here: with Jigga retired he’s in a class by himself when it comes to breezy, effortless wordplay. Please note his refusal to spit a simple line, his insistence on packing his lyrics G-Rap style with complex, multi-layered rhyme schemes, and his Biggie-like wit and sense of humor. And I still haven’t heard a performance in the past 12 months that can match “Breathe” for sheer flyness. I’m getting angry at still having to defend this guy. (Proof Positive: “Breathe”)

“I came, I saw, I conquered . With no big names, no fame, no celebrity sponsors. Just a game and a flow that was bonkers”.

9. T.I. – “The King Of The South”
One of the few self-made men to achieve commercial success in hip hop, T.I arrives in the Top 10 on the strength of his liquid flow, not his crew affiliations. Overlooked for years, he finally broke through with 2003’s “Rubber Band Man” from the blunt, hard-hitting “Trap Muzik”. Then he blew up with this year’s rock-solid follow up “Urban Legend”. For my money, T.I. is the south’s best emcee (at least until Andre decides to take up rapping again) and he has enough game to silence even the most stubborn NY centric rap fans who say the dirty dirty only cares about crunk and does nothing to advance the art of rhythm and poetry. (Proof Positive: “Tha King” / “U Don’t Know Me”)

“I've been through it from Ewings to Buicks, to body viewings. Car chases to court cases, to fly vacations. From wanting it all, to being the object of your admiration”.

10. Nas – “The Street’s Disciple”
It’s obvious that Nas has begun a steady decline into retirement and marital bliss. But who can blame him if he’s slowed down a bit. He’s 30 plus years old, his place on the GOAT list is firmly secured, and well, have you seen Kelis? Nonetheless, as he proved a couple of summers ago when he more than held his own in the battle of the century against THE Living Legend …Nas is not to be f’d with. So if you’re an aspiring Top 10 rapper looking to make a name for yourself, I suggest you let sleeping dogs lie or else Nas could easily rise up to reclaim his glory…”ask Hov’, you don’t want it with Nas…no”. (Proof Positive: “Thief’s Theme” / “Street’s Disciple”)

The 10 Who Got Next
11. Styles P – Maybe my favorite rapper, but lacking new material and “one hit away” from being a perennial Top 5.

12. Royce Da 5’9” – Bananas Detroit lyricist still has the chops, just needs a big breakthrough.

13. Kanye West – Dramatically improved on Album #2. Love that he’s not seeking just to make records but to make history.

14. The Streets – Best story teller since Biggie. A genius wordsmith with a wicked accent. Could easily be Top 5.

15. Juelz Santana – Along with Cam, represents the brightest light for the future of NYC lyricism.

16. M.I.A. – Who would have thought we’d have to go all the way to Sri Lanka to find another female emcee that we could get excited about.

17. Dizzee Rascal – Grime has arrived in the states and Dizzee is the poster child.

18. Gift Of Gab – The Blackalicious front man has so many rhymes you think his head is going to explode.

19. Saigon – You heard him on Entourage and yes he’s got the gift.

20. J-Live – This underground hero still gives me hope for True School straight-forward New York rap.

Lamont’s Lists
A Reminder of the ground rules:

You must have released new material or made a cameo within the past 12 months. This list is about the here and now, like an AP College Football poll.

No dead guys (I love Biggie and Pac but you have to be alive to be on the list of the current list of best rappers). Please refer to the GOAT List (Greatest Rappers Of All Time) for my thoughts on Biggie and Pac’s respective places in history.

This is not a popularity contest, record sales and airplay do not factor into Top 10 List placement.

The criteria for judging should be based on the same four metrics as always:
1. Lyrics On Paper (40%) – Are the words themselves great, even if you were just reading them from a book of rhymes?
2. Flow (25%) – Are you drawn to the rapper’s voice, rhythm and/or style of delivery?
3. Concepts (20%) – Does this person have something interesting to say? Are his/her stories compelling?
4. Charisma (15%) – Does this rapper possess showmanship? Does he/she draw you in with his presence?