Ranking Hip-Hop Hotness: The Unthinkable Task?


Holding up a yardstick against Hip-Hop has always been monumentally difficult.

One of the best things about Rap as the relatively youngest, significant musical genre to date has been its organic development into more diverse sounds, flavors, themes, and colors than we ever considered imaginable some 30+ years ago.

Therefore, ranking greatness or hotness among rappers, producers, DJs, and the like is nearly impossible and, perhaps, annoyingly unfair. Especially to people like me, a certified Hip-Hop head who loves the culture and its many brilliant offerings.

Last night (February 19), MTV hosted its sixth installment of the “Hottest MCs In the Game,” where they survey the rap scene and attempt to place rappers in some sort of hierarchy of influence and dopeness. I say impossible. But, Rick Ross topped the list, and while some of you were surprised and some were angry, many of you were likely nodding in sheer agreement.

I learned my lesson about ranking hotness the hard way recently, as I helped to select AllHipHop.com’s Top 40 Albums of 2011 list.

2011 was an above average year for eclecticism among MCs – there was conscience and rebellion and bravado and artistry and some ratchetness, too. And, the field had also evolved beyond our imaginations to include seasoned rappers, newbies, other cultures, and even a former correctional officer such as Ricky Rozay. And, though there was next to no female presence (to my dismay), I thought it was a good list.

Ultimately, we settled on Watch The Throne as album of the year. OK. Cool. But soon after, a super-respected-in-the-industry friend of mine surveyed the list and said, “You know you’ve let down Hip-Hop, right?” His angst was with our placing The Roots’ Undun album in the number two spot, just below the gigantic pairing of Jay-Z and Kanye West.

Sheesh! Had I let down the entire culture with one decision in a ranked list? Surely, no one could argue that “The Throne” was THE force to be reckoned with last year. But then again, he had a point – The Roots have been catapulted by some of the best lyrics ever spit over unforgettable, live instrumentation consistently for like 20 years.

The decision was impossible, but ultimately, it may be The Throne’s “hotness” that won the day. And, whether we like it or not, factors like their massive marketing budget, gazillion Twitter followers, ability to tap into the youth market, and willingness to take endless shots from the critics helped out, too.

That seems to be the way of the industry in this day and age – being great and being on top don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Certainly Jay-Z is one of the dopest ever – but is he doper than Black Thought? Sure, Kanye West will say whatever on a track, but is he more outrageously brilliant than, say, an Immortal Technique? And yes, Rick Ross is flossing on ‘em like nobody’s business, but can he outshine Big K.R.I.T. lyrically when you’re talking about over-obsession with candy-painted cars and rims?

There are countless comparisons to be made in the industry, and frankly, those calls are a matter of taste, life experience, and plain ol’ media persuasion. And, they’re not necessarily representative of the talents of thousands of brilliant MCs that infest our local neighborhoods, or even those lucky few who make it to the limelight.

At AllHipHop.com, our early days were wise ones – it was then that we created our signature “Top 5 Rappers Dead or Alive” list to allow the industry to rank itself in terms of who is best. After all, I mentioned that ranking greatness (or hotness) is a job that no one on my side of the desk ever really wants.

So, no matter what the critics say about MTV’s list, Rick Ross (and his Maybach Music Group empire) has indelibly changed the current Rap game – from cornering the market to garnering the respect of his peers. By some standards, that makes him the “hottest MC in the game.”

But hottest compared to who?

Seandra Sims is AllHipHop.com’s Editor-At-Large. Follow her on Twitter (@seandrasims).