Sorry for a bit of a break from the countdown, I was taking care of some business in my old stomping grounds and hip-hop’s birthplace. I hope you’ve been enjoying the series so far. Check out past entries that you may have missed:
15. Ghostface Killah
Representing: Staten Island
Can you name anything good that has come out of Staten Island other than the Wu-Tang Clan? Consider the fact that I lived in New York City for almost thirty years and the only event of distinction I can claim from my time in that borough is that it’s the one and only place I’ve ever been in a car that was pulled over for DWB (AKA Driving While Black). Damn-thank God for the Wu. And I bet the Wu thanks God for Ghostface. If you’re the standout member of a group that contains lyrical giants like ODB, GZA, Raekwon and Method Man (who’s one of the illest dudes on the mic when he feels like it), then you’ve obviously got something special. Ghostface can battle rhyme, he can be funny, he can tug at the heartstrings, he’s the complete package. He has yet to make a below-average album (something NO one else in the Wu can claim), and quiet as kept, Apollo Kids was one of last year’s best hip-hop albums (although Def Jam did a shitty job promoting it). All hail the Wallabee Champ-MVP of Wu-Tang.
Fuck “Fuck You” (actually, don’t…I really fucking like that song). Cee-Lo has been blessed with an overabundance of gifts. He can write a mean song (do y’all know that he wrote “Don’t ‘Cha” for the Pussycat Dolls?), he can sing his ass off, and something that may have been forgotten in light of his Gnarls Barkley and recent solo success is that the man can spit better than just about anyone else period. Not only did he sartorially and musically influence Andre 3000 (in one of those cases where the student passes the teacher, similar to Jackie Wilson vs. Michael Jackson), but it’s not hard to imagine that ‘Lo had an influence on young Andre’s rhyme style too. You don’t think Cee-Lo can rhyme? Click on the clip below and reconsider, my friend.
Representing: Brick City (Newark, NJ)
Yet another guy who doesn’t get his props as a legend. Red was easily the best rhymer to come out of the whole Def Squad/Hit Squad group (and neither K-Solo nor Keith Murray was exactly what you’d call a slouch). Much like other rappers in this group of five, he’s extremely versatile, with absolutely killer punchlines. If you looked up the Top “Oh, Shit-I Can’t Believe He Said That!” emcees, he’d probably be Top Five. He also has the ability to take things that you would normally consider average (Def Squad compilation albums, movies with Method Man, Christina Aguilera singles) and make them ten times better. I wish I knew why the hell he takes so long between albums (not sure if it’s Def Jam bullshit or all that weed he smokes), but whether he’s putting albums out at an accelerated pace or dropping a new joint every four years, Reggie Noble is still and always will be the shit.
12. Black Thought
Let’s give it up for Tariq Trotter. As a vital cog in hip-hop’s longest lasting band (hell, these days they’re hip-hop’s only band), Black Thought has put together a streak of consistency that rivals anyone in his genre’s. From the early days of The Roots (when they were doing the acid jazz thing and no one was really sure what to do with them) to now, when they rock stages as late night host Jimmy Fallon’s house band (and manage to lose not one ounce of hip-hop credibility) AND put out incredibly dope albums, Thought’s been the band’s secret weapon behind ?uestlove’s unique look and outside personality. I think of him as the guy who comes to work with his lunchbox every day, puts in 8 hours of dependable, consistent hard work. Easy to overlook but no less valuable.
Greatest white rapper, ever-no question (I mean, who’d even come second? MC Serch? Paul Barman?). Extremely gifted. SO gifted, in fact, that like many of the emcees who appear above him on this list, the fact that he squanders them so often pisses me the hell off. In addition to the half-decade long period in the wilderness, his refusal to grow up and adjust his subject matter to reflect the fact that he’s almost 40 is what kept me from putting him in the Top Ten. Truthfully, Em’s a textbook example of someone whose skills are an A+ (I don’t think there’s any rapper that’s come out since him capable of rhyming so well from a technical standpoint) but whose recorded output (regardless of how many multi-millions he’s sold) is often lacking.