For years, we’ve been having a prolonged debate about the “Top 5 Dead Or Alive” emcees, without a clear barometer on how to determine an honest list. Most of us, include on our list, artists whose careers flourished in the ‘80s & ‘90s. And unfortunately, most of those artists haven’t released any or enough new quality music that allows them to be viewed as formidable opponents of masters of ceremonies of today. Allow me to explain myself.
The God Emcee Rakim Allah is on my Top 5 DOA list. But he’s on my list for what he did more than three decades ago. So most young Hip-Hop “historians” that I would engage today in a Top 5 conversation do not have a clue why “The 18th Letter” is unarguably, indisputably, irreffutably MC royalty. Younger fans don’t know the feeling of being in an unfinished basement of someone’s home, at the neighborhood house party and hearing, “make em make em make em clap to this” blaring through the speakers. They don’t know the nostalgic feeling associated to the Dapper Dan outfits adorned by The R, the dookie rope chains, four-finger rings, and star & crescent medallions. Then the lyrical onslaught infused with knowledge from the Five Percent Nation of God’s and Earth’s solidified who Rakim is and will forever be to Hip-Hop. But how would he compare against today’s top emcees? How could we honestly compare Rakim lyrical attributes to Lil Wayne’s if all we have from The God Emcee are memories and nostalgia?
Or consider this: most people of a certain age group and demographic will definitely and rightfully so include Tupac and/or Biggie in their Top 5. But again, what are we comparing besides memories and nostalgia? It’s damn near blasphemous to exclude one of the three aforementioned lyricists from a person’s list of masters of ceremonies, even though, due to their untimely demise, we haven’t heard any new music or lyrics from them in over twenty years. Should they still be mentioned? Is there anything that we can do to solidify that the greats then, whether living or not, are still the greats of today? Is there a vehicle that can be used today to finally have a resolution in determining the greatest emcees ever?
Welp, I believe there is.
I feel the Swizz Beatz & Timbaland-created Verzuz can be used as a platform to finally solidify who belongs in the conversation of Top 5 emcee or GOAT emcees. I think The LOX vs Dip Set battle gave us confirmation of such.
Though all participants deserve a healthy round of applause for their participation in an epic showdown, that night Jadakiss boldly confirmed his position as a Top 5 emcee dead or alive. And that was just off of two Verzuz performances (Sorry Fab!), not just one LP. It worked because we got to witness the true craftsmanship of an emcee and all that emceeing embodies during a live performance. Thanks to Verzuz, we didn’t have to create a narrative in our minds to compare the artists either. The Verzuz platform lends way to all that true emceeing embodies such as being a wordsmith, stage presence, crowd control, lyricism, and everything else that a master of ceremony must possess to be considered the best. You can’t have a “bad night” in this arena. We’ve observed Verzuz be many things in its short existence. We’ve seen friends celebrate one another musically, having a kumbaya moment. We’ve seen artists compete song for song. We’ve even seen artist have their own concert. Now, it’s obvious to me that Verzuz can be used as a tool in Hip-Hop to help finally clarify the ongoing conversation about the GOAT emcees, Top 5 dead or alive.
What does that look like? This is what I propose. First, let us acknowledge on the birthday of Hip-Hop (August 11, 1973) that it’s been in existence for 48 years. And in 48 years, our culture has given birth to thousands of emcees. Some artists, unfortunately, will be Negro Leagued (baseball reference) out of the history books of Hip-Hop. Some people work didn’t stand the test of time to still be considered relevant in the halls of Hip-Hop, again, unfortunately. But for those who have, I think that it would be great for Swizz Beatz and Timbaland to partner with the Universal Hip-Hop Museum to create a classic Verzuz battle stage between artists to finally determine “who’s the best emcee? Biggie, Jay Z or Nas?” We need the visual combativeness on stage and the historical documentation of the account stored in the archives. Verzuz can provide the visual combativeness and the Universal Hip Hop Museum could document the historical account forever concealed in the tombs of Hip-Hop. And the way I see it, in some cases we’ll have a clear-cut winner, suggesting that the loser should not be mentioned in the same breath as…their competitor.
And in other cases, we will have confirmation that both wordsmiths deserve to be forever draped in gold. Now we all know that in a span of 48 years, we will have and should have more than 5 emcees solidified as the GOAT. We should have a Hall of Fame of emcees. And as in any HOF, some of the busts will just metaphorically shine differently than others.
So let’s get a Nas Verzuz Jay Z to clearly determine who belongs to be mentioned in the GOAT conversation, if not both. Let’s get a Rakim Verzuz Big Daddy Kane to clearly determine who belongs to be mentioned in the GOAT conversation, if not both. Let’s get an LL Cool J vs KRS-One, Drake vs Yeezy, J. Cole vs Kendrick and a Lil Kim vs Nicki Minaj battle (Sorry Foxy!) to determine who deserves to be mentioned in the GOAT conversation. (Clearly they all do). Can we get a Tupac vs Biggie holographic performance? OK, maybe now. Eminem is always named in the same breath as the great emcees, but how does he measure up in such an environment?
The point that I’m attempting to make is that I’m convinced that Verzuz has created the optimal platform that will finally allow us to compare artists and dispel our personal beliefs of who belongs in the conversation of Greatest of All Time. We need not speculate any longer, as the people will determine greatness based on performances and material for all to witness and judge. There should be no exceptions or no excuses (besides medical and health reasons) from any artist identified as a GOAT (self-proclaimed or other) to be excluded from this challenge.
And anyone who wants to take the challenge should be afforded the opportunity. This is, what Hip Hop is, correct?