Who’s The G.O.A.T.?

Legendary Detroit rapper Eminem performs  at  his 2003 Anger Management Tour. Image courtesy of Scott Kinmartin, Flickr <https://www.flickr.com/photos/scottkinmartin/318321954>

Legendary Detroit rapper Eminem performs at his 2003 Anger Management Tour. Image courtesy of Scott Kinmartin, Flickr

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The greatest of all time, or G.O.A.T., is a term commonly applied to rappers. Since the genre’s surge in popularity starting in the early 80s, the debate of who is the greatest of all time has raged among hip-hop heads. From classic groups like The Sugar Hill Gang and N.W.A. to modern ones such as the Migos and single acts like Grandmaster Flash and Kendrick Lamar, there are many legendary artists that are in the conversation.

The discussion is usually divided into two parts: old school versus new school. For many old-heads, the likes of J. Cole and Young Thug simply can’t touch 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G. (AKA “Biggie Smalls”) and Nas, whereas younger listeners are enthralled by the emotion-fueled ballads of Lil Uzi Vert and Juice Wrld. The problem with this type of categorizing is that, for better or for worse, the art is evolving. The slower, simple, heavy beats of the mid 90s are being replaced as the intense, distorted bass of SoundCloud-style beats become more mainstream.

The biggest evolution of the sound and overall feel of rap is undeniably the introduction and mainstream popularity of Auto-Tune. Auto-Tune, for the uninitiated, is a tool that can distort or smooth over an artist’s voice in the post-production of a song. It is the target of countless criticism by old-heads and the weapon of choice for many new school artists like Uzi, Thugger, Future and Juice Wrld.

The final, major differentiating factor of new-school rap is the “lack of lyricism” compared to older music. This is an argument that I find weak and frankly a non-issue. While O.G. acts like Andre 3000 and Biggie Smalls are chock-full of wordplay and complex rhyme schemes, their lyrical prowess is matched by new school artists such as Earl Sweatshirt and Denzel Curry.

Lyricism in rap hasn’t disappeared at all; it’s still in the game – the thing that has changed is listener’s taste. If the old-heads are offended about a lack of lyrics in today’s songs, just listen to the old music: that’s why it was recorded. So after that dissection of what separates the new from the old, who is the G.O.A.T? After polling AAHS students and teachers, here are the top five results starting at number five.

  • XXXTentacion

The late Florida native started off on a successful SoundCloud run and became mainstream after his breakout single, “Look At Me!” and his debut album, “17.”

  • Ice Cube

Compton rapper Ice Cube was a member of the iconic group N.W.A. before breaking off on a successful solo career. His style is the birthplace of modern gangster rap, alongside the style of the late N.W.A. member Eazy-E.

  • Notorious B.I.G.

Brooklyn rapper Biggie Smalls was a masterful lyricist; his ability to make words flow to a beat was – and still is – legendary. He gained popularity off of his single, “Juicy.” Shortly after that, he released his debut album, “Ready To Die,” produced by Puff Daddy and Bad Boy Records.

  • 2Pac

Born in Harlem, 2Pac’s career took off after he relocated to Los Angeles and released his first album “2Pacalypse Now” and after he put out “California Love” with Dr. Dre. Pac was a central figure in the infamous East coast versus West coast hip-hop beef in the 90’s.

  • Eminem

The rapper that takes the title of the G.O.A.T. is the lyrical giant, the king of rap beefs (RIP MGK): Eminem. Hailing from Detroit, specifically 8 Mile Road, Marshall Mathers started his career by jotting down rhymes on scraps of paper. He graduated to performing rap battles in the Detroit underground. His introduction to the mainstream hip-hop culture started when he was signed to Dr. Dre’s label in 1998. The Slim Shady LP , which sold 480,000 copies in its first week, led to Eminem becoming the most commercially successful white rapper since the Beastie Boys. Eminem still maintains a surprising amount of relevance even in today’s hip-hop climate, with his single, “Killshot” (a response to Machine Gun Kelly’s “Rap Devil”) and his “Kamikaze” album released on August 31 of this year.

Eminem definitely deserves the G.O.A.T. title, although 50 Cent deserves a place on the list. His hooks are second to none and his massacre (get it?) of the game with his string of brutal albums in the 90s is one of the greatest solo runs of all time.