The Rap History Superlatives

I don’t know about you guys, but I definitely would have bullied Drake in high school.

Take yourself back to high school. I know that may be tough for some of y’all, but do it for the spirit of this article. You’re back in the middle of the hall, right by your locker. You look to your right, you see the girl that you have had a crush on since middle school looking at your school’s yearbook. You look to your left, you see the prototypical group of jocks crowding around on singular yearbook. Everyone is laughing, reacting, and pantomiming. Inexplicably, they are all turned to the same section, zoned in on it like a Travis Scott album they’ve been waiting on for 3 years. That section is the superlatives, the magical pages that confirm the suspicions that they’ve had about all of their classmates for years. From most likely to succeed, to biggest flirt, to most likely work at McDonald’s, everyone’s judgements about each other are finally validated. In an odd mix of public outing and celebration, the superlative page is the place to where we are able to crown our peers with both admiration and ridicule.

Now imagine that you’re back in high school but it’s not your normal high school. Instead of the regular, annoying, snot-nosed teenagers that we used to be, the high school is inhabited by rappers. I should clarify: not just a bunch of SoundCloud rappers who DM you their garbage track and then ask you to support it. I’m talking about every rapper in history, from Kendrick Lamar, to Tupac, Too Short, Rapsody, Jay-Z, and everyone in between. You’re taking philosophy class with J. Cole, in gym class with Migos, and you eat lunch with Outkast and EPMD (I don’t know how that intersection would occur, but I want to see it happen). Just like every high school, you still get a yearbook at the end and in that yearbook, you still have the superlative page. I’m sure you’re wondering who would get what superlative in high school, because I started off the article with that title.

Before we get to the list, here are some clarifications on the superlatives: (1) every rapper alive is eligible for a superlative. In this high school, no one ever really graduates, kind of like community college (or maybe just a place where people keep coming and never grow up…like heaven). (2) An individual rapper can only win one superlative, unless they are in a group (André 3000 can have two superlatives, one on his own and the other for Outkast). (3) Pop stars and R&B artists are not include in the superlatives, mostly because of R. Kelly. He’s not allowed to participate because he doesn’t know how to act and he ruined it for his entire genre. (4) No Hoodie Allen. Okay, let’s get this going.

Most likely to never have a classic album is…

Drake. I want to preface this with the fact that I hold no ill will towards Drake. In fact, I enjoy Drake a lot. But if we as rap fans are going to be honest with ourselves and everyone else, then the one thing that we must admit that is that Drake does not have a classic album. An album that will stand the test of time. One that when the aliens finally take over and put us out of our misery and want to see the best of what we have to offer, it is handed to them on a silver platter with earbuds. An album that when people look back at the top albums ever, it is brought up effortlessly in conversation without contention. Drake just doesn’t have that.

“But… but Ritchie, what about Take Care? What about Take Care, Ritchie?” What about it?! Yes, that was probably Drake’s best album (consensus wise, I like to lean towards Nothing Was the Same). Yes, it did win the Grammy for Best Rap Album, but then again, so did Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ The Heist, so that award should not always be taken into account when discussing classic albums. I can contend that the album was really good, but when compared against other classic albums (To Pimp a Butterfly, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, The ScoreThings Fall Apart), the claim that it is a classic does not hold weight. It is a borderline R&B album that exhibited Drake at maybe his most emotional, and that was what was popular at that moment. But let’s not rewrite history and call it a paradigm shifting, classic album. It is perfectly fine to admit that Drake is a great artist, even a legend if you want to go that far, who does not have a classic album.

Most Likely to Show Up Late to Class is…

Lauryn Hill. Before I bought tickets to the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill‘s 25th anniversary tour stop in Philadelphia, my Dad only said one thing to me:

“Are you sure she’s going to show up?” The truth is that I was not sure that she would show up. For years, Lauryn Hill was known to rarely show up on time to performances, giving her a not so stellar reputation as a performer. In fact, there were multiple instances were she did not even perform a full set when she got there. She explained her tardiness in a Facebook post a couple of years ago, citing the “alignment of her energy with the show time,” and her “perfectionist tendencies.” I mean, that’s all fine and dandy, but she definitely showed up about an hour and a half after M.I.A. finished her set in Philly. If it wasn’t standing room only, probably wouldn’t have been an issue. But those extra hours really took a toll on my lower extremities.

Least Likely to Need Autotune is…

T-Pain. This might be confusing for some people. They might think that I’m talking about another T-Pain. One that did not completely change the course of music history by utilizing autotune in a way that had never been used before. Or maybe one that did not use autotune so much that he basically became known as “that guy that uses autotune” for let’s say for about, his entire peak. But trust me, I’m talking about the exact T-Pain that you are thinking of. What most people assume is that he used autotune all the time because he can’t sing. Let’s not get it twisted, he’s not Kanye. Kanye used autotune so that he could trick people into liking his voice on 808s and Heartbreaks. T-Pain just used it because he was really good at using the effect to create a metallic, almost surreal sound that was unheard of anything that we had heard before. It should be understood that he is, in fact, a top-notch singer and should be recognized as such (see his Tiny Desk if you need proof).

Most Likely to Need Autotune is…

Kanye West. Specifically because he can’t really sing. Don’t put songs like “Heartless” and “Only One” in my face. Kanye can’t sing, and that is that.

3 Peas in a Pod are…

De La Soul. This superlative is a play on the phrase “two peas in a pod,” often used to describe a similar, inseparable pair of people. I made it three peas in a pod because it is my article and I can do what I want. I was hovering between De La Soul and Migos, but obviously decided to go with the former. Too many times do we see them featuring on other projects alone, wandering away from the pack. With De La Soul, we have been gifted with almost 30 years of togetherness. Each time with see a track featuring the entire group, we understand that we are about to receive a sermon of classic hip hop that has been consistent since 1987. The fact that we almost always seem them together makes them the perfect recipient of this superlative.

Least Likely to Become a Movie Star that Became a Movie Star is…

Ice Cube. There are plenty of rappers who believe that they rapping talent can translate to their big screen. Due to this, we have a wide range of rapper performances in movies, from the good (Tupac in ‘Juice’, Will Smith all the time, any Queen Latifah appearance), to the bad (Nicki Minaj in ‘Barbershop: The Next Cut’), to the funny (T.I. in ‘Ant Man’), to the serious (Common in ‘Selma’). We have definitely gotten iconic movie roles from an ever broadening scope of artists, but when it comes to someone who created a respectable film career out of the blue, no one compares to Ice Cube. With Tupac and Will Smith, we could see an acting career arising from them. But with Ice Cube, his surprise legendary performances in ‘Boyz n the Hood’ and ‘Friday’ opened the door for him in Hollywood, and he never looked back. He has been a part of a wide range of movies, from comedies (‘Are We There Yet?’) to action movies (‘Anaconda’) to more comedy movies (’21 Jump Street’), giving himself a very respectable movie career.

Least Changed Since Freshman Year is…

Migos. Listen…I enjoy Migos as much as the next person. Been listening to them since Back to the Bando and have loved every second of it. But what we need to recognize as Migos fans is that there is little to no variety between any of their albums since Young Rich N*ggas. Don’t get me wrong, the quality has undoubtedly progressed with each work, save for the bridge between Culture and Culture II. But sonically and stylistically, there has been no real change in their sound, cadence, and formula for success. Maybe that is something to admire. Personally, I’m not mad at it all. But it is important to understand that the only difference between Migos in 2011 and Migos in 2018 is the clothes that they wear, and one of them is married.

Most Likely to Make the Best Banana Bread is…

Aminé. This is a mantle that I hold very near and dear to my heart. As an avid fan banana bread (check out my various banana bread reviews on my Twitter page), I can appreciate those who display the same type of love for a top-notch pastry. Aminé has name dropped banana bread multiple times, specifically on his album Good for You. He even has a full video of himself making a pretty delectable looking banana bread, so he easily wins this superlative. In fact, he may be the only rapper who qualified for this one.

Least Likely to Wear a Shirt is…

Petey Pablo. Maybe the most iconic line of his entire career put him in the legendary status of hip hop with, “Take your shirt off, twist it ’round your hand / Spin it like a helicopter.” He definitely wins just off the strength of that alone.

Most Good Looking is…

A$AP Rocky. It’s not even close.

Most Likely to Own a Reclining Chair Company is…

Terror Squad. There are a couple songs that I consider “flashbulb songs,” ones that were integral to my development as a music listener: 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” N.E.R.D.’s “Rock Star,” to name a few. But possibly my first foray into rap music (my entire music history is blurry, I just know there was a lot of Ludacris and Michael Jackson) is due to Terror Squad’s “Lean Back.” There is absolutely no harder song in existence. Ever. At age 6 they had me feeling as though I could enter the club with the confidence of 2004 Remy Ma, which is just an obscene level of confidence. Any way, the hook, flooded with Lean Backs inspired my first attempts at creating dance moves. In fact, because of this song, 2004 Terror squad could convince me of anything, even buying reclining chairs. I could definitely imagine walking into their flagship store, with “Lean Back” on repeat as I browse their finest selection of massage chairs and ottomans. Their salesmanship would probably be unmatched.

Best Class is…

1996. The class of 1996 of Hip Hop High (I just made that up) was probably the coolest class in history. They were the most creative, most lyrically gifted, and produced the highest percentage of classics out of any year in rap history*.

*2016 was a close second for this superlative. In contained one of the most fun summers in all of hip hop, and featured numerous returns from rap legends and fun arrivals from newcomers. Personal favorites from 2016 were Konnichiwa by Skepta, The Sun’s Tirade by Isaiah Rashad, ColleGrove from 2Chainz, Blank Face LP from Schoolboy Q, Untitled Unmastered by Kendrick Lamar, and De La Soul’s and A Tribe Called Quest’s return.

But back to 1996. That year saw not one, but two album releases from Tupac (one of them was All Eyez on Me, probably his best album), the Fugees’ legendary second album The Score, and the underrated and misunderstood A Tribe Called Quest’s Beats, Rhymes, and Life. In addition to these albums, we got Nas’ It Was Written, which had my favorite Nas song, “If I Ruled the World,” Jay-Z’s debut album Reasonable Doubt (legendary), and Busta Rhymes’ The Coming. If that wasn’t enough, we were also treated to Outkast’s ATLiens, UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty, and Mobb Deep’s Hell on Earth. But wait, it gets even better with The Roots’ Illadelph Halflife and De La Soul’s Stakes is High. If there is a class that deserves to relive their glory days in high school, it would be the class of 1996, without a doubt. They were unmatched in their rap ability, their artistry, and their legendary status.

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