observations, reviews and ramblings about Hip-Hop culture, sports, politics and the industry and life in general.

Friday, April 01, 2005


In continuing with my last ‘Favorite Things’ post I have a new theory I want to share with you.

[trumpets blaring]

The Most Important Hip-Hop Artists.

Not the best or wealthiest. The most important in a cultural sense. In my piece on allhiphop I alluded to how silly I thought those lists were. Your favorite rapper is your favorite rapper. A cat from Nostrand and Hancock arguing with a cat from Crenshaw about Biggie vs. Pac will get you nowhere. All opinions are relative.

I do think that in a cultural, musical evolutionary sense you can make an argument about the most important MC’s. These cats are important because they changed the game and opened up a new chamber, to use a Wu-reference.

These are outside The Trinity – Herc, Bam, and Flash who are the foundation

As usual, this is my opinion and by no means definitive and/or is always open to an intellectual debate

Grandmaster Caz
Caz actually represents Cold Crush and the revolution that he and his contemporaries ushered in. What Cold Crush, et al. brought was the original party vibe to Hip-Hop. Organized vocal arrangements, coordinated wardrobe, choreography. If you want to mark ‘Rapper’s Delight’ as the record that broke hip-hop into the mainstream then we must acknowledge Caz’s global importance as many of those rhymes we know and love were stolen from Caz.
Influenced: Nelly, Lil Jon, The Roots, Leaders Of The New School, J5

Grandmaster Melle Mel
Leader of the Furious Five and the voice for Grandmaster Flash. It’s all about “The Message.” In ’82 that song exposed Hip-Hop’s socio-political voice. I remember being asked to transcribe the lyrics for a North African woman who was just so blown away by the power of the song. Although The Furious 5 shared the showmanship of Cold Crush and the Soulsonic Force, Mel and this song inspired a new generation of activists.
Influenced: Kweli, KRS-1, Public Enemy, Dead Prez, J-Live

Kool Keith
I believe a strong argument can be made that Ultra Mag is the most important group in all of hip-hop and that is why Keith is on my list. What Keith did was introduce ‘non-linear’ writing. Keith was a Hip-Hop artist for artist’s sake. The primary goal was not social empowerment or partying. It was about the art of it all. Keith allowed his mind to float in a way that is probably today’s most copied style. He pioneered the ‘written freestyle.’ To understand the significance look at all the records prior to Ultra Mag – completely different. Combining Keith’s artistry with Ced Gee’s wizardry strengthens my case. Ced, Pete, Large Pro, Bomb Squad were the 1st to elevate drum machines and samplers to proper instruments, but that is another story. And on the business side, the MF Doom onslaught is a mirror of what Keith did in the late 90’s – aliases, different labels and all.
Posdnous once told me that after listening to Ultra Mag they knew it was ok to be bugged out.
Influenced – Black Thought, Andre 3000, De La Soul, Jay-Z, EL-P, Wu-Tang, Freestyle Fellowship, Ghostface

Of course the original god MC. Rakim is the leader of the Hip-Hop writers. Cats with volumes of rhyme books. Epic storytellers. Gone was the wardrobe of Cold Crush. In the vein if RUN DMC the outfit was the latest from Dapper Dan and a rope. If this was Rock, Ra would be the prototypical singer/songwriter. He was a rawer, more complex Melle Mel. ‘Follow The Leader’, ‘Move The Crowd’, ‘I Ain’t No Joke’ were sermons. And Ra commanded the podium (literally in the ‘Move The Crowd’ video) like a warrior. Rakim’s seriousness in his artistry as opposed to Keith’s perceived light-heartedness also elevated the stature of the culture.
Influenced: Nas, OC, Common, Dilated

This is definitely my most controversial pick. Outkast opened up Hip-Hop. They smashed the NY bubble that housed Hip-Hop. Some will say that NWA, Scarface, Ice-T already did that and I would not argue. Again this is just my two cents from my perspective. I give them the nod over the rest because they opened the door in ’94 and ten years later continue to innovate. NWA is no more (although Dre is still a monster), and I never had a taste for Face or Ice-T. The southern fried soul aesthetic, unashamed country-ness, fashion sense. It was Big Boi that put throwbacks on the map, Dre made it cool to wear a suit. Pimping and Cadilacs were things of my pops generation before Outkast. Like Keith made it cool to be bugged out. Kast made it cool, if not better, to not be from NY which when viewing history of Hip-Hop is a major accomplishment.
Influenced: Cash Money, No Limit, TI, Puffy, Biggie, Swisha House, Kanye, Mos Def

I must mention that besides leaving out the Trinity in this discussion I also left out Run DMC because of their overwhelming cultural, musical and professional significance.

Also people that could put on this list: Snoop, The Geto Boys, Wu Tang, Tupac, Biggie, KRS-1, etc.

Good night, Gracie


Blogger ian said...

Great post. I'm gonna link to it next time I do a music post and hopefully drive a little traffic your way.

Question though: even though he obviously put out far less music than Kool Keith and is much less heralded than him, don't you think T-La Rock really pioneered the whole "non-linear" rap style. Check out his classic "It's Yours" and let me know what you think.

April 04, 2005 12:43 AM

Blogger Doc Savage said...

Definitely a great post. But I question that Outkast, even though I get how they opened the door for the later onslaught of southern rap.

April 05, 2005 10:14 PM

Blogger Swifty said...

who else would you guys put on there?

April 12, 2005 10:25 AM

Blogger max said...

EPMD never get the accolades they deserve.

Big Boi did wear throwbacks at least three years before anyone else. I won't hold it against him.

April 16, 2005 10:51 PM


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