The JLV’s Top 5 Greatest vs. Top 5 Favorite MCs of All Time

Jose Vilson Jose

Hip-Hop MC

Hip-Hop MC

On Facebook, I came across a slight problem that most hip-hop heads come across whenever a major hip-hop event happens (i.e. the release of Notorious, the movie): how do we qualify our short-list of greatest MCs and favorite MCs? I put up my thoughts to the masses and got a good 30+ responses, ranging from super-duper-stars to underground All-Stars. I tried my best to hold my lip about the topic because it’s rather controversial, but unlike the 90s when things got hostile, it’s now become a rather fun conversation where we all get to share our favorite moments in hip hop.

“Yo, son, you remember when Illmatic dropped?”

“I still can’t decide between the Wop and the Smurf!”

or how about,

“There’s no doubt Hip-Hop as we know it was born in the South-South BRONX!”

But by and large, this is the best conversation anyone can ever bring up. It’s usually the rambling you hear before or during a cipher, or the conversations we hear at roundtables somewhere in corporate offices with magazine editors. With that said, I naturally have to contribute my own lists. You’re all gonna look at me crazy, but I don’t care much.

Criteria: Much like Blaze’s ill-fated top 50 MCs of all time, I use the thought that “Greatest” MC includes cultural impact, lyricism, records (critical and popular success), and influence. Now that we have that rubric down, check my steez:



Top 5 Greatest:

1. Rakim
2. 2Pac
3. Jay-Z
4. Biggie
5. KRS-One

1) That was a tough pill to swallow. #1 will always be #1 to me, strictly because of his ability to take rap lyricism light years above where it was. It was no longer simple a-b-a-b: with Rakim on the mic, the rhyme could have been placed anywhere in the lyric, and yet, it was always perfectly placed. He had commercial success, had songs for the party and for the purist, ate every MC he came across with one line, and he paved the way for at least a third of the MCs out there. And even when he could really lyrically embarrass his contemporaries, he never overdid it, and that’s where his magic lies.

2) 2Pac gets HUGE points now for still being alive even when he’s no longer alive. When you rank on lists that include John Lennon and Elvis Presley, you deserve it. Lyrically, he was alright, but what he actually said and how he was one of the most sincere rappers, if not the most sincere, clearly put him above and beyond.

3) Jay-Z’s been the most consistent rapper of the last decade, and his longevity surpasses LL’s because LL hasn’t been relevant since 2003 … maybe. Despite a large portion of his lyrics being borrowed from other sources (and I use the word nicely), we also know that, without them, as he so thoroughly explains in “What More Can I Say?”, he’d still be better than 1/2 of the MCs out there. Plus, he didn’t get with the trends: he stayed one step in front of them and made them every step of the way. Oh yeah, and there’s also the fact that his christening of the South with his “Ha (remix)” with Juvenile and “Big Pimpin'” with UGK turned a lot of the East’s eyes towards our Southern brethren.

4) Biggie may have ranked higher when he was alive, but unfortunately, his untimely passing cut off his potential that much more. I don’t rank on potential; I rank on action, and Biggie doesn’t pass that litmus test. He may still have a huge following all across the nation, but like I said, he doesn’t have enough material for him to go any higher, no matter how much emotion we want to go with.

5) KRS-One, while not my in my favorite list, had a tremendous impact on Hip-Hop. He was its evangelist, and also its symbol: bombastic, witty, contradictory, rugged, snarky, awesome, and super-lyrical. Woo!

But then there’s this funny little list for my Favorite, and while 4 out of 5 of these men on this list occupy my Favorites list (sorry, KRS), I also have a couple more that I have some emotional / hip-hop attachment towards:

A Reasonable Favorites List

Ghostface Killah, On Stage

Ghostface Killah, On Stage

1. Talib Kweli
2. Ghostface Killah
3. Eminem
4. Kanye West
5. Common

honorable mentions:

6. Redman, 7. Joe Budden, 8. Andre 3000

I know that list sounds like a Who’s Who of “underground to mainstream love”, but honestly, these are my favorites. I lean heavily on these gentlemen for most of my rap music. I have Kanye’s, Eminem’s and Talib’s whole discographies at this point, and am working towards the other gentlemen’s discographies, too. I’ll have to get into each and all of these men at some point, but suffice it to say that when we talk about the greatest, I don’t think any of these men crack the top 10. Honestly. At least not yet.

Jose, who wonders how many haters I’ll have to add to my list after this barnburner …

p.s. – My favorite femcee is Lauryn Hill. Yep. That felt good to say. Favorite group? A Tribe Called Quest.