To each listener, rap is unique. There are preferred subgenres, rivalling hierarchies, and different theories and rumors that plague our favorite rappers. Hell, even the true ancestry of the genre and its musical roots are interpretable. When we put our unique perspective of the music aside, we can see a secondary separation in the genre. From generation to generation, the rap world evolves to produce newer, fresher music with harder flows and more complex beats and samples. Always in competition for the next cypher or feature, the time-honored tradition arises: the Great Debate of the Best Rappers.
Now, obviously no one calls it that, but real rap fans understand that once you begin to label someone as the best, you’ve opened the door for comments, questions, critiques, and just plain old scrutiny. Older generations will look back to Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. as their top two artists while younger generations will cling to their beliefs that XXXTentacion was the best rapper to ever grace the studios. But, to compare Dr. Dre to some newbies still deciding their beat is unfair.
It’s time we stop comparing artists from different eras of the genre.
Music, in general, is an art form which pulls from pop culture, politics, and innovation. Ice-Cube didn’t have to worry about buying a beat that Drake was eyeing the way Kanye did when he released “Lift Yourself.” These are different times and therefore we should be asking a different question.
Societally, we’ve already established some icons from the early days of rap. Of course, the list is up for debate as every artist ranking is, but to name a few: Tupac, Dr. Dre, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, and more. They’ve already passed their test of time. For modern rap, there’s a new test and it begins with an artist’s foundational repertoire. Let’s talk about storytelling in current-day rap.
The task of creating a deeper connection through life experiences in rap music is no small one. Thus, when rappers take the time to craft their words and paint such vivid pictures in their projects through stories, it doesn’t go unnoticed. In fact, that process is what builds their fanbase and musical foundation. With a new level of trust from fans, artists slowly invest themselves in the music. It doesn’t necessarily matter if the rest of the rapper’s discography is speckled with storytelling — it matters that there is an initial connection with a listener. Most rappers just tell stories through their words, forgetting the other compositional elements. But, those who do remember those small details when crafting their stories, creating a more immersive experience, are the ones who have solidified their spot in the top tiers of most, if not every rap hierarchy.
The art of immersive storytelling has become a way to solidify a rapper’s place in the ever-changing hierarchy.
While the rankings might change, the names in the top tiers will never alter. Though their storytelling may or may not be what they’re known for, it's an essential part in climbing the rap ladder. Don’t believe me? Let's take a closer look at two current rappers who have it made in this industry.