Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Best Rapper Alive Since The Best Rapper Retired

For the past few months I’ve been subjected to verbal castigation by my peers for a previous post in which I ranked Lil’ Wayne amongst the best rappers alive. I revisit this polemic today after some serious reflection and again assert with conviction that this young man’s mastery of delivery and word choice places him at the apex with hip-hop’s top MCs. When it comes to his craft the brother is astute. I extend to you the very same invitation I extended to Brother Spotless several weeks ago in hopes that you too will recognize that which I have witnessed with eye and ear: purchase Tha Carter and Tha Carter II and familiarize yourself with this debut and sophomore album. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Black Cinema, the Carter project was where cocaine was manufactured in the movie, New Jack City. Both aforementioned albums are littered with references to the distribution and production of yayo and the violence associated with that particular hustle. But if you’re a true fan of hip hop, you’ll admire him for the relief he provides in an industry where most artists sound the same. His southern accent is foreign to most hip-hop ears and the exotic pronunciation of common words makes for a more complex and entertaining rhyme scheme.

Rap has become predictable to the point where one can anticipate the last word of a rapper’s rhyming couplet. Rhymes that adhere to a strict rhyme scheme have the potential to be as fierce and piercing as any other rhyme, but the decision of a rapper to divert from a rhyme scheme that can be easily replicated is an act of true defiance. It’s yet another method of rebellion in hip-hop that is so intrinsic to the culture. In many ways the suspense of not knowing what will come next is exciting to the listener. That’s why Jay-Z switches up his flow as often as he does. And in a world where hip-hop music is more about “selling soul” (copyright Cee-Lo Green) rather than sharing it, mass production of the art form has rendered the flow monotonous. So in listening to Lil’ Wayne, we have the privilege of relief from this monotony by the fire his unpredictable flow and vernacular bring to a stagnant industry.

I’ve listened to Lil’ Wayne’s most recent mix tape only to be reassured that my initial critique of his skill was ahead of its time. He is, in my eyes, the best rapper in the South (yes, Brother Spotless, better than Luda himself) and one of the better rappers in the country. I could write on and on, but the more I write, the more others may be less inclined to critique. So get at me brothers (and sisters) as I’d be most interested in hearing your own opinions on the matter.


qwerty said...

Why does it feel like lately there's been a big ol' push from rap/hip-hop fans to name the greatest rapper/rap group of "blanketty-blank-blank?" As though there exists some mathematical equation or universally agreed upon empirical law to arrive at such a conclusion.

It's like y'all still tryin' to find the next Jordan or something like that... but in rap music.

He can't possibly be amongst the greats when he's using the same gimmick and shtick as the rest of the others: Tha South, drugs, and hustlin'. Who doesn't know about yayo?

Or is there a certain nuance in his music that I'm missing?

If he hasn't changed the game he's not great. He's just the hot rapper du jour.

"But if you’re a true fan of hip hop, you’ll admire him for the relief he provides in an industry where most artists sound the same."

Come on now... So, either you admire him and are a true fan of hip hop or you don't and you're not a true fan of hip hop? WOMP! WOMP!

Brother Smartness said...

Well to answer your first question, the desire to rank the greats amongst MC’s is a common pastime. It’s nothing new, but I believe my decision to discuss the matter was prompted by many factors, namely, Wayne’s self proclamation as the best rapper alive and the previous post I had written about the greatest MC that was prompted by an MTV special. But we, as a society, have always pleasantly occupied our spare time by arguing over who is at the pinnacle of their craft, be it acting, basketball, football, or politics. It seems only fitting that as an aficionado of hip-hop music, I’d ask the same question of a form of expression with which myself and my peers are most familiar.

Like all pursuits of truth, many of which never actually culminate, it is the path that makes the journey. There isn’t any perfect equation that will indubitably determine the “God MC” but I think that we can all agree upon certain determining factors that can lead us to something close enough to the truth, i.e. the best MC out there.
That aside, you’ve raised an excellent point by questioning Wayne’s creativity.

“He can't possibly be amongst the greats when he's using the same gimmick…as the rest”

But while he is writing about the same things he rapped about before, he is doing it in a much more effective way than he did prior to releasing Tha Carter. What is remarkable is that he studied himself, and discovered what he as an artist needed to change about his music/flow in order to be a more effective MC. The end result? Tha Carter and Tha Carter II have had remarkable success, leaving room for Tha Carter III to be one of the most anticipated albums of 2006. Furthermore, no art is unique in that it does not draw from something that existed before it. Consider this: There are a lot of mob/criminal movies that attempt to make us, as viewers, sympathize with characters whose morals are not the same as our. Many suck, few are great. Lil’ Wayne is like the 4th season of the Sopranos or the 4th Season of the Wire. He is successful at doing the same “gimmick” because he is doing something that the others aren’t. And that, for me, places him amongst the greats.

The criteria you set for greatness, however, (changing the game) is a difficult one for me to accept. Changing the game puts you up there in terms of influence in the culture, but it doesn’t solidify your place amongst the greats.

Again, I fear that what I write today is ahead of its time. But the young man is vicious when he steps up to the podium. He is one of the few artists in the mainstream who have commented on the injustices faced by poor Americans during Hurricane Katrina, and (I believe) the second to castigate George Bush specifically (the first was Kanye).

I’ll concede that my comment suggesting that true hip-hop fans would admire him for the relief he provides in a boring industry set up an ultimatum for people who might disagree with me. But in the words of Brother Brolicness..."ummmm...yeah."

Marc Lamont Hill said...

with all due respect:NIGGA IS U CRAZY???



Marc Lamont Hill said...

And another thing:

GILLY, from the Major Figgas writes many of Lil Wayne's rhymes. This should effectively shut down this absurd convo about Weezy being among the GOAT.

Brother Darkness said...

Gilly the Kid has a few freestyles going at Lil Wayne on I don't know if I believe that Gilly writes Wayne's rhymes but he does come at him pretty hard.

Brother Smartness said...

I see how the Doc does it. Come at a brother at 6pm on the Sabbath when he's resting? Your claims necessitate response which is sure to come as soon as I get back to my apt this evening.

Also, and I mean this in with all due respect, is it possible to be respectful and use the n-word in the same sentence? Stay tuned later this week for a post on the complexity of that word and why its important for us black intellectuals to be pioneering a movement to stop its proliferation through our own abstinence.

That aside you raise a good point about the legitimacy of Wayne that I will address in due time. Bear with me.

Brother Spotless said...

Once again, Smartness has put himself out there in a place few enjoy being: wrong. Yes, I understand that this is a completely subjective point that Smartness is making. Even with that caveat, Smartness is still wrong.

Solenique makes a good "change the game" point. To be ranked among one of the best rappers, you have to bring something that raises the bar of excellence. It doesn't have to be something new; it can be something that makes an existing element of rap even harder to top. Lil Weezy has done neither. While he is marginally better than most of today's rappers, he wouldn't get a second look if he were rapping in a different era. He hasn't changed the game, nor would there be something missing if he weren't rapping today.

This discussion does bring a question to mind: is it fair for us to compare rappers of different eras to each other? Also, is it fair to current rappers that we (ok, I) compare how they rap to the styles of rappers of yesteryear? If I can provide a sports analogy, I'd say that comparing Weezy to a rapper like Rakim is like comparing Jason Kidd to Oscar Robinson, or Peyton Manning to Dan Marino. While one may be considered better than the other by most, there is no fair way to compare the athletes from a different era. Similarly, there isn't a fair way to compare rappers from different eras because there is no common ground;the social issues that create greatness in artists aren't the same. Just a thought. Any others?

Brother Smartness said...

I've heard that rumor myself. I'll acknowledge, reluctantly, that if it is in fact true it throws a wrench in my argument. But, Gillie also claimed that Weezy kissed Baby "all in his mouth" (yeah…that’s a direct quote from one of the songs Brother Darkness alluded to). This sort of attempt to emasculate The Greatest Rapper Alive Since the Best Rapper Retired (not to be confused with the "GOAT," a claim I have not made nor one that I would given the brevity of Wayne’s supremacy) seems like a Friday Night Sissy Fight jab aimed at nothing more than soliciting a response from Weezy. And as far as I'm concerned, the same holds true for the other claims that Gillie makes on the track about being a ghostwriter for Weezy.

Brother Spotless, let’s structure this argument a little. I failed to do that earlier and for that I apologize. Like you, I find it difficult to compare a Lil’ Wayne with a KRS One. I do not believe Wayne has done enough to be mentioned in the same breath as those greats who have solidified their place in hip-hop history. I am simply claiming that Wayne is the best rapper out since Jay-Z retired.

Brother Spotless said...

Well, Smartness, with the structure you've just given...I still think you're wrong.

However, there is an argument for Lil Wayne's presence in the discussion. What's funny to me is that while I've railed against the southern rap style in the past (thumping beats that are more prevailent than the lyrics...yes Weezy, you're too simple, I must not get the basics), the top rappers since J retired are from the South.

Luda, I'd say, possesses a moderately better flow and a much better grasp of lyrical creativity ("Southern Fried Intro" and his verse in "We Got" are two of the most Magically Delicious flows since 2003). And Andre 3000 has the lyrical creativity that would put him in discussions for top 10 of all time had he been a solo act (but let's be honest, Big Boi is half of OutKast, so half of the reason we know Dre is because of him. Not to say Dre wouldn't have made it w/o Big Boi, but facts are facts...). Andre also has a flow that, while unorthodox to some, is something that I can get down with (i.e. his flow in "Elevators"... his last verse is kind good, if you're into that kinda stuff).

Brother Smartness said...


Luda's flow is better? He is precisely the type of artist with predictable flow that I alluded to in the body of my post. Yes, he's quick with the verbal gymnastics and he is quite witty with his. But his flow is a straight nursery rhyme and after a few listens I'm ready to hit the sack.

I can't even begin to discuss Big Boi, because his allegiance to the OutKast group makes it difficult to qualify him as a solo artist. The reason being, his skill is often complimented or illuminated by his juxtaposition to Big Boi.

Brother Spotless said...

I think you meant "Andre" when you said "Big Boi," but I get your point.

While I don't agree, I see your point about Luda's flow. All of this points to the overwhelming fact that being the "Best Rapper Alive Since the Best Rapper Retired" is no grand accomplishment...

Brother Smartness said...

Well said...

Brother Lightness said...

Hence, the sad contemporary state of rap.

Glad to see we've come to some level of agreement on the issue.

Brother Spotless said...

Amen to that.