When you think of Naughty by Nature, you think of hip-hop anthems with huge singalong choruses (a tactic that made them popular but then proved to be their downfall). However, what gets lost sometimes when you hear “O.P.P.” or “Hip -Hop Hooray” is that Treach could rhyme his ass off. Versatile as all fuck, able to speed-rap DAS-EFX style or go for a more simplified flow, able to appease hardrocks, pop audiences and women equally, this cat was an emcee’s emcee. Hard to imagine in light of NBN’s multi-platinum success in the Nineties, but might Treach actually be underrated?
Representing: California (although he lived most of his life in Baltimore)
Much like his homeboy Treach, ‘Pac was full of charisma. It’s part of what made him a good actor. There was something about him that made peoples’ eyes and ears gravitate towards whatever he was doing. Unlike his homeboy Treach, however, ‘Pac was not a textbook emcee. His flow was often pretty clunky. If freestyle battles were like basketball games in the park, ‘Pac would in all likelihood have been chosen last each and every time. He made up for it, though, with not only the aforementioned charisma but by putting insane levels of emotion into everything he did. Whether it was anger, sadness, regret, or wanton joy, you felt everything 2Pac said. While he’s certainly far from the best rapper on this list, he’s arguably the most influential rapper of all time. Unfortunately for him, influence doesn’t factor as much as actual skills do on this list.
28. Big Boi
All of the rewards and none of the pressure. It must be good to be the Andrew Ridgeley or the John Oates of a group. And I’m sure lots of casual hip-hop fans view Big Boi in tat light, as the much lesser half of OutKast, basking in the blinding rays of Andre 3000. However, it could much more convincingly be argued that Three Stacks’ prominence has unfairly caused the public to not give the fair amount of props to Big Boi. Let’s face it: in just about any other group, Big would be the Alpha Dog, and if his solo turns on Speakerboxx/The Love Below and Idlewild didn’t convince you of that fact, I’d imagine his brilliant solo effort: Sir Lucious Leftfoot: Son of Chico Dusty, did.
If I’d posted this list five years ago, Common would probably be ten spots higher. Back then, the Chicago MC was at the top of his game following the excellent Kanye West-helmed album Be. Since then, he’s released one somewhat faded facsimile of that effort (Finding Forever) as well as the craptastic sellout move Universal Mind Control. To me, that album was proof that the former Common Sense had either lost his mind in the chase for pop radio success or that he’d fallen victim to the acting bug and the art of rapping had been put on the back burner. Fingers are crossed that he’ll be able to refocus on his next album and give us that mix of battle-ready punchlines and emotional, thoughtful messages that we’ve grown accustomed to over the years.
26. Mos Def
Starting out as a child actor (Drake wasn’t the first, y’all), the man of many nicknames soon became a Native Tongues affiliate. A few short years later, he was the flag-waver for underground hip-hop following the success of his first solo album Black on Both Sides as well as the Black Star collaboration with fellow Brooklyn emcee Talib Kweli. In the years since, he’s occasionally fallen victim to lack of focus-putting his rap career on the back burner to sing (with his rock band Black Jack Johnson) and act on TV and in films. Occasional reunions with Kweli and guest spots on others albums prove that he’s still got it (when he wants it) and his most recent solo album, The Ecstatic, was his most focused since his debut. Mighty Mos is one of those guys who’s capable of making your head spin with his rhyming ability. I think the guy has a few more classic albums in him.
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