Top 10 Rappers of the 21st Century

BET is not in my favor this week.

Before I get into this, I wanna let you know there are SPOILERS, so if you haven’t seen it, watch it first so you can get whatever little suspense the show can give you.

Also, before anyone asks “Well if you didn’t like it so much, why did you watch it?”  My response is:

Shut up.  I do what I want to do, whether it agonizes me or not.

Now, on to the program.

Top 10 Rappers of the 21st Century

Let’s discuss this title.  We are 10 years in the 21st Century.  Why not call it “Top 10 Rappers of the Decade”?  Prolly wasn’t sell-able enough.   After all, “century” is much more grand than decade.  And for the most part, this decade sucked.  So to draw us in, they’re gonna say century.  Great marketing there.

They started with 15 Emcees.  All solo artists who all dropped in 1999 and afterward.   As I understand it, something like 300k people voted (I doubt that) and the top 15 were:

50 Cent, Drake, Eminem, Eve, Fabolous, Game, Gucci Mane, Jadakiss, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, Nelly, Rick Ross, T.I., Young Jeezy.

Only 1 woman made the list.  Quite sad.  This means that within the past decade there’s been only 1 woman of note, aside from Nicki Minaj.  It makes Nicki’s rise all the more understandable, since she fulfills the thirst of an under-served market.

Anyhow, we start with those 15.  The one that made my jaw drop the most was Nelly.  It makes me think people didn’t actually vote on this.  Because I mean really…NELLY!?  What was his last hit!?

There’s no Lupe Fiasco.

The show was set up in a way that was biased to begin with.  You have Boi-1da, who was the producer on most of Drake’s tracks.  Jermaine Dupri who produced for Nelly.  You’ve got a panel of DJs and so forth who are probably all good friends with, worked with, and promote everybody on the list and panel.  These weren’t regular people or even other emcees.  These are all basically industry cats, none of whom I would trust to be real, lest their political connects get offended.  There should have been some old school vet emcees, some other unbiased cultural critics, some people off the street, maybe even people from different music genres that debate this.  This whole thing was set up as being a “courtroom”.  If I were on trial, and these were the jury, I could buy them all off.  Easily.

Now what criteria were these artists picked based on?  From the actual site

Now, our “Hip-Hop Supreme Court” is convening to vote on the final Top Ten, based on a rapper’s: flow, lyrics, subject matter, cultural impact, dough, and as needed in the arsenal of a 21st Century rapper –digital skills (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, their own website, etc.).

You know how when you watch TV shows and they show a real out of touch older person that uses lingo or some kind of way of addressing people to “be on their level”?  That’s what this sounds like.  “Dough”!?  As for the “digital skills” as they say here, on the show they called it “digital swagger”.  I swear there’s a panel of middle aged corporate execs that coin these terms.

As the site continues…

In their technologically tricked-out courtroom, the Court is led by the Justice – Big Tigger, who takes them through the debates and discussions about each of their own Top 10 rankings.

The “technologically tricked-out courtroom” actually resembled some crap off Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, including the lights dimming during voting, lit up tables, iPads, and a screen that looked like a cross between Fantasy Football and a ranking chart out a 1980s Sci-Fi movie.

The fact that most of the debates between people centered on album sales and “digital swagger” made me understand that in this new century, it’s not as MUCH on cultural impact and writing skill as it is about how much that person has obtained.  But a panel such as this should know just how much The Industry Machine can control and manipulate sales and online presence.  But hey, can’t offend those political connects!

By these standards I’m surprised Soulja Boy wasn’t in the ranking.  He has a high internet following, sold millions, and started the new trend of “Swag Music”.  So why not?

The precedent being set here is not a good look for future artists who are going to boast more on first week sales and twitter following than their performance skills, impacting songs, or innovating new styles.

I’m not gonna go into the ridiculous debates had on the show.  The most annoying debate was when it got to the top 3 : #3 Kanye West, #2 Lil Wayne, & #1 Eminem.

Eminem being #1 isn’t surprising.  And I can’t debate anyone that would say that he is the most all around impacting artist of the decade.  How much the panel tried to bring up the subject of him being white made my eyes roll so far they almost fell out my head.  But Kanye should AT LEAST be #2.  The thing about Lil Wayne is that he was one of few rappers in the past few years that people got excited about.  He dropped a lot of mixtape heat and stepped his bars way up to the point where people

were crowding around Carter 3.

But aside from that…I don’t know many people who have ever called any of Lil Wayne’s work classic.  Top 10 this decade maybe, but in the top 3?!   Kanye outsold one of the people on the list in a direct rivalry, 50 Cent, people have mimicked his production AND rap style, his style of dress, his lingo, his body language on stage, and cadence.  Remember how prevalent those venetian blind glasses were?  His first hit was about his car accident and mouth being wired shut.  His risk taking and innovation has far surpassed just about everyone on the list.  For him to not be #2 seems strange.  But hey, they did premiere the new Lil Wayne video with Gudda Gudda at the end of the show, one of the top songs out right now is Eminem featuring Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj (signed to Wayne’s label) is gonna come out soon.  Coincidental?  Y’all can debate that.

I’m really tired of comparisons.  XXL, MTV, Vibe, The Source, and hundreds of YouTube videos have done it already.  No one was really doing so much barber shop talk of “who’s better?” until the direct rivalry with Biggie and Tupac.  Tupac forced people to take sides by going after the next greatest and respected person at the time, and calling out all the other rappers people respected.  And other rappers were going to have to battle their way through his attacks, or take it to the streets.  We see how that ended.

Half of the debates stem from how many rappers claim themselves to be the best.  To run the town.  Have the number 1 record.  To be the best alive.   We had a good number of years with disses, beefs, and battles. Just today I’ve seen a bunch of “Who’s better?”  “Who’s on your top 10?”

The amount of ego, bragging, and comparing isn’t making better music right now.

People want to say that Hip Hop has always been competitive.  This is true, but not to the extreme people put it.  Battling happened to directly challenge a person and take their spot.  Otherwise, trying to destroy careers wasn’t just the thing to do.  Being number 1 is something you aspire for, but you do that through the love of the fans first, and then surpass the next emcee through cultural impact and skill.  It all boils down to preference for the most part anyway.

Trying to be better than everyone else means you have to be conscious of what everyone else is doing, which is half the reason why we have so many copycats.  Competitive spirit is one thing, but competing with someone hardly allows you to be inspired by them.  I listened to emcees that inspired me to be better at what I did, not make me want to just be better than them.

Hip Hop has many different styles and flavors.  You can’t compare spicy with sour, or sweet with bitter.  They are completely different.  Instead of us celebrating different styles, we immediately compare and categorize, which doesn’t serve to make the music go further.

Let’s make some good music first.

A lot of stuff out right now sucks.

P.S. Shout out to Evan B.  Guess I’m not the only one!



  • Well-stated. I’ll take Kanye above Wayne as well considering both have pretty much influenced where fans are musically and stylewise.

    My biggest beef was them not considering rappers who made music in the 21st century that didn’t debut in 1999. Easily Jay-Z/Nas would make this list considering they’ve done some of their best work while still maintaining popular support.

    As for Nelly. Last hit was in 2006. 21 million sold, had everybody speaking country slang before Lil Jon and crunk and from 2000-2004 was the only person moving units besides Em and Jay. Not the greatest rapper but definitely Top 5 of the decade for impact, sales, fashion, hits.

    BET’s criteria looks even sillier than I thought. Dough and digital skills? I guess that falls under impact but that’s weak. I tried to do a rebuttal on my site and I enjoyed reading yours.

  • 10/16/2010 at 6:46 pm //

    thank you for this.

    and this is where the nail went in the coffin,
    “Hip Hop has many different styles and flavors. You can’t compare spicy with sour, or sweet with bitter. They are completely different. Instead of us celebrating different styles, we immediately compare and categorize, which doesn’t serve to make the music go further.
    Let’s make some good music first.
    A lot of stuff out right now sucks.”

    thank you, again!

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