The G.O.A.T. In Hip Hop...Who Decides?

The G.O.A.T… We’ve often heard LL Cool J refer to himself as this, and we often hear it used loosely in boastful conversations within everyday life. But what exactly makes you the Greatest Of All Time? You would think this would be a subjective question especially when it comes to music, but the fact is that this question has been a part of Hip Hop conversation since its inception. The question of who is considered the greatest MC of all time remains, but the answer depends not only on the times but on who is asking the question and what they’re basing it off of. The Hip Hop genre has always been a competitive genre in that its nature simply thrives off of who is better. Who has the better flow. Which song is better. Who has better style. One of the most prevalent parts of Hip Hop is battle rap – a sport in its own right where there must be a winner. There are many ways to approach this but dissecting exactly what it means to be great in Hip Hop is necessary. Hip Hop purists would argue that the only measurement of greatness when it comes to a rapper is bars. Straight lyrics and nothing more. But what exactly is being measured pertaining to the lyrics? If we’re talking about lyrical content we’re talking about the depth or substance of the lyrics. KRS-One is considered to be the greatest to many for this very reason. The message he conveyed within his music has resonated with Hip Hop listeners for generations. He shared knowledge, and that’s powerful. If you travel a bit further into the future Tupac is one of the greatest argued G.O.A.T.s because of how conscious his lyrics were. He made you think. Take it a step further and maybe it’s not based solely on lyrical content but on cadences. How an MC flows, their delivery, and what makes them stand out when they rap. There are numerous rappers that are considered legends based solely off of how they rapped rather than what they rapped about. Even if their lyrics weren’t the most profound they delivered music in a way that only they could. Past that, maybe it’s based on a natural gift that you can’t learn or acquire. Is the fact that an MC can freestyle and go “off the head” or the fact that they don’t have to write their lyrics down a factor as well? Some would say so. If we can get past all of that we have another important element to consider when discussing greatness. The music itself. Many would ask what good is it if you can rap but can’t make good music? This ultimately puts the success of an MC in someone else’s hands…often the producer. Some people believe that production can make or break you. Throughout Hip Hop history the importance of the producer or many times the DJ has been so important that they would often become duos. The MC often trusted the producer to create something magical for them to rap over and to develop a sound that people would grow to recognize and love. Together MCs and producers could make history – and they often did. Lastly, when it comes to success within the music industry what you don’t ever want to be labeled is a one hit wonder. Not everyone is capable of lasting throughout the decades and remaining still standing as the game changes. The question then becomes can you transcend with the times? If you make a classic album one year can you recreate something just as great two decades later and still have it be the same caliber of music? When an MC is able to consistently deliver dope lyrics alongside dope production it’s typically hard to top that. This is why so many people place Jay Z at the top. With this argument being based on track records Biggie and Tupac would most certainly be counted out. Even considering all of these factors there are some that still say the title of the greatest should be awarded based off of hits. How many records a rapper sells, whether they went platinum, etc. In this argument how great an MC is is determined by how successful they are in the music industry and nothing else. This is usually the part where things become tricky due to popularity and trends that come into play moving the focus further and further away from the true talent itself. But one can also argue that perhaps that’s an element of Hip Hop as well…the ability of MCs to influence and get people hype and excited about what they’re talking about. So wouldn’t it be that whoever does that best, wins? The question ultimately becomes is it possible for an artist to have it all? Lyrical substance, one of a kind delivery, longevity and versatility, and commercial success? Many would argue yes, but if it were possible for an artist to have it all that artist would in fact be undoubtedly the G.O.A.T. But since that has generally never been the case, whether you favor lyrics, amazing production, or an artist that stands the test of time that will ultimately determine who you consider the G.O.A.T.

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