Now I hate making a stagnant list for something as dynamic as Hip Hop. But I feel this is a proper list to create instead of the tired “Top 5 emcees of all time”. There is way too much to consider in terms of scrunching the many acts in Hip Hop into a top 5, or 10 or 100 dead or alive…so I’m not gonna waste my writing power into doing that shit. This will be a continuing list, cause there’s A LOT of material to cover. I will concentrate on the ones I feel people NEED to listen to. I want to make sure history smiles on these individuals.
Masta Ace –
One of the legendary members of the Juice Crew…if you don’t know the Juice Crew, then you are missing a PIVOTAL MOMENT in Hip Hop history. You cannot possibly call yourself a hip hop head WITHOUT KNOWING THE JUICE CREW. All caps aside, Masta Ace is definitely one of the most underrated emcees and should rightly start off this list. For one, he was rhyming since the 80s and is still going strong…how MANY can attest to that. He was “sitting on chrome” for a “long hot summer”, discussing “disposable arts” with “slaughtahouse inc.”, all ya should check up on those quoted text for real.
He was one of the emcees that inspired up and coming artists, like Eminem, to see how a real emcee spits. With incredible story-telling ability, a strong cadence, easy to understand flow, a dope usage of multies and a great adherence to Hip Hop principles, Ace is definitely an emcee’s emcee’s emcee. During these many years, he has not tarnished his integrity or loosened his lyrical skills. In fact, his skills have gotten better over the years. But despite his grizzled years of emceeing and upholding Hip Hop, countless people STILL do not know who Masta Ace is. He is mad consistent after all these years. If Hip Hop was mythology, Ace would be on the pantheons of emcees. “You only got one delivery/One dimensional rappers is dead as chivalry”, gotta throw this in too “Four score and um seven years in the lab and/I know rap like Mike Tyson knows booty grabbin'”
A prodigious reader in his youth, it’s no wonder this dude has a motherfucking RAZORSHARP silver tongue. A combination of verbal viciousness and savage eloquence all wrapped in one person. His first album, Soul On Ice, is a Hip Hop staple. He is also one of the most knowledgeable heads in Hip Hop along with Chuck D and KRS-One. Just listen to his first album…LISTEN! If he didn’t get in to too much drama, the dude could have brought several dope albums on the table by now.
Ras has got a jagged, almost stabbing, kind of flow going on, which is one of his key traits. Coupled with witty punchlines, wordplay and rhyme schemes, the waterproof emcee is a force to be reckoned with. When you talk about complex lyricism and content, you NEED to mention Ras Kass. He spent 6 months researching history to write his famed 7-minute piece “Nature of the Threat”! HOW MANY artists nowadays put that kind of effort into their songs??? Yea, so and so has a 1000 songs, but motherfuckers nowadays are on that Seinfeld tip… Ras kass may not be in his prime, but he still comes fresher than the cannon fodder you hear in today’s industry. “If Hip Hop fags were the latest in fad, you’d find a lot of hardcore niggas in drag!”
Rhyme supreme. Possibly has one of the GREATEST breathe control of any emcee I’ve ever heard. Suffering from asthma at a young age, Pharoahe would take that curse and turn it to his advantage by becoming one of the most talented emcees in Hip Hop. His smooth malleable flow and intense multi-syllabic rhyming is what sets him apart from the rest. His delivery is flawless and his rhyme schemes are ingenious. His only work with Prince Poetry, was truly awe-inspiring, just check the track “Bring it On”.
He may not have many albums under his belt, but his presence on the mic is definitely a must-hear and see. Pharoahe is definitely on his own tip when constructing rhymes. This isn’t just make as many songs as you can, there’s an ART to it, and Pharoahe is the Johannes Vermeer of this rap shit. The use of internal rhymes and multies in his songs are fucking incredible. Not to mention his strategic use of punches and hooks is definitely a blessing in terms of being an overall rounded emcee. Pharoahe is actually coming out with a new album, hopefully by the end of this year called W.A.R., so look out for that. “I even be getting more graphic than a neo geo/thirty-two bit computer chip be slipped between my lips and then I’ll spit”
Just MAD NICE. Formerly an elementary school teacher, J’s been schooling heads on the mic for some time now. With an everyman flow, smooth delivery and well thought up rhyme schemes, J can definitely hold his own against the more complex emcees on the list here. What he lacks in complexity, he comes up with in overall mic presence. J can definitely move a crowd, and when he speaks, you just got to listen. He’s also a DJ and how many emcees can you say that he/she can rap while being on the turntables at the same time???
Conscience. Eloquence. Skills. J-Live is one righteous dude. When you hear him speak, you can’t help but learn something from him. He’s also a BIG Hip Hop head, a True school b-boy who reps the culture to the fullest. Almost suffering the same misfortune as Ras Kass, record label troubles have almost tarnished his career, but the teacher perseveres. With a clear voice, articulate flow and a mighty stage presence, J is MAD NICE. “My rhymes are buried too deep to measure by the sands of the hourglass, In otherwords built to last”
Definitely a dope poet. Dude is sincere and talented. His vivid street tales showcase his magnificent lyrical abilities and his rhyme structuring is phenomenal. There’s something about Queensbridge that breeds dope emcees. Along with Pharoahe (a Queens native), ‘Mega illustrates what a true lyricist is. Formerly a famed drug dealer, ‘Mega now supplies the streets with dope rhymes. One of the reasons why I like ‘Mega is that he doesn’t glorify his past like the many imposters and charlatans that saturate the market. When he rhymes, you can feel the sincerity and struggle in it.
And that’s a key thing. Sincerity is severely lacking when it comes to emcees, when most fabricate their past and get big money with it. ‘Mega’s got that classic vibe, reminiscent of Big Daddy Kane, KRS-ONE and PMD. Poignant narratives, great rhyme structures, a steady flow and solid mic presence, Cormega should not be slept on at all. “I’m an emotional chameleon, see how I adapt to pain? Before we enjoy the sun, we must first get past the rain. A lyricist, similar to Donny Hathaway, clearly superior to many, all I really lacked was fame…”
Up next: AZ, Canibus, Aceyalone, Royce da 5’9, Black Thought, Keith Murray, OC, Apathy, Brother Ali, Sage Francis, Sean Price, GZA, Louis Logic, Inspectah Deck, Percee P, Reks, etc.