Hip Hop Culture and What Makes the "Best" Rapper
Photo obtained from AARP
In past decades, rap culture has evolved greatly as it became more prevalent in mainstream media. From the most recent emergence of drill music, originating in London and being popularized by the late Pop Smoke, to old school boom bap, to trap, the genre of hip hop/rap widely encompasses many different styles of music and performances. With these regional and generational differences in rap culture, most people tend to have different ideas of what makes a great rapper. Is it the complexity of wordplay or the ability to make top-charting hits?
One factor of rap music is the amount of wordplay a rapper can incorporate into his or her lines. This element of rap was particularly valued in the 90s during what is now considered the “old school” era of rap music. Rappers like Busta Rhymes and Anderson Paak explain in interviews that “showing off” was a very popular component of rapping. The level of creativity in their bars determined how much respect they would receive as artists. One rapper that is notorious for incredible wordplay is Andre 3000, once half of the 90s hip hop duo, “Outkast.” Many attest to the fact that his wordplay is unmatched, but would that be enough to classify him as the best rapper? Some might argue that other factors are in play.
Photo obtained from The Mcgill Daily
Mainstream music has seemingly been overtaken by rap music, especially in 2021. Rappers that make hits are widely adorned by their large fan bases. Rappers like Drake, Lil Wayne, Cardi B, and Megan Thee Stallion have all made their names by continuously writing catchy songs that give life to any party and are not shy to the tops of the world’s biggest music charts.
However, attributing the title of “best rapper” to the most popular is not very effective. That reasoning excludes rappers like Kendrick Lamar, who does not fit into any specific box and focuses intently on the quality of his message over the amount of radio plays. Mikai Grier claims that Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper because “he is a lyrical advocate for the black community.” On the other hand, Tatianna Bartee states, “I personally love Meg the stallion, Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B. Their lyrics are super empowering and they break the stigma of women’s bodies. Some people may see songs like wap as disgusting, but it’s teaching women to love themselves and to talk about these things.” Her perspective seems to value the catchiness and societal value of rap music to determine which can be titled the best.
In a world where rap is so multifaceted and undefined, assigning a specific formula to determine the best rapper may simply take away beauty from the art itself. Rappers often pride themselves in being great at what they do, whether it be conforming language into incredible wordplay and rhyme schemes or conveying an important message to the world.