Stefan recently asked me had that new Big Sean “Finally Famous Vol 3” mixtape dropped. It hadn’t, it missed its reported leak date, but seemingly zero fanfare was made about this pushback. Haven’t heard any “When is this tape gonna drop? Why hasn’t it dropped”, which is weird when compared to that of his XXL peers Wale & Wiz Khalifa with their recent mixtape releases. It made me wonder just where I would place Big Sean on a ranking of artists to have received the XXL blessing of being named the top 10 for that year.
I had only started paying attention during the 2nd running of the list. There was a list created in 2008, and I was surprised a lot of those artists have managed to carve themselves a foothold in the rap game. Anyways, I figured I would rank them where I saw fit based on ARTISTRY. This is not a “who can outrap who” kind of list. This is about which artists do I find more enjoyable.
This list encompasses all 3 lists, but will only feature the top 20. The ten disqualified artists are Saigon, Papoose, Gorilla Zoe, Young Dro, Charles Hamilton, Mickey Factz, Cory Gunz, Donnis, Jay Rock & Fashawn. I either have heard material from this person and wouldn’t consider them one of my favorite artists, or I haven’t heard much material from that person. The material I have heard never left me like “Oh my gosh, I need to download everything they’ve ever done”. Like for example, I have yet to hear anything good from Donnis & Jay Rock. Yeah.
Anyways, let’s get this started.
Dude is obviously very multitalented. He can sing, rap, play guitar, everything. Except make cohesive bodies of work. I would love to hear him stick to a lane or at least create transitions when he decides to jump around back and forth. But he doesn’t. So he has to be #20 on the list, although he’s probably one of the most talented people on the list.
19. OJ Da Juiceman
OJ has a very clearly defined lane, crunk/hype music, and he does it very well. He uses his voice less as a vessel for his rhymes and more as an instrument. Every second of dead space on a song, OJ says something just to keep the track motoring on. Hence the abundance of ad-libs.
18. Ace Hood
I laughed Ace Hood off the face of the earth until I heard this freestyle. This left me intrigued as to his lyrical ability, so while I was at the Target buying The Game’s “L.A.X.” album I spent the $8 needed to buy his debut album. Very surprising, very cohesive body of work. He attacks he track with tenacity. Haven’t heard the 2nd album, and quite frankly I have no desire too. Sometimes you just have to leave good enough be.
17. Asher Roth
Dude has above average rap skills. Obviously, he’s assisted by the whole being white thing, and rapping about college student subject matter, but when push comes to shove, he can rap and occasionally make some good songs. If he keeps up his consistency, he should go far.
16. Rich Boy
Very very very solid debut album. He was definitely assisted by the stellar production from Polow Da Don, but he doesn’t embarrass himself on any tracks. Some of his follow up stuff has been up to par with where he set the bar initially, but the majority of it hasn’t. But he still has time on his side.
15. Crooked I & 14. Joell Ortiz
I put these two together not only because they are in the same rap group together, but because they’re pretty much in the same predicament. Both are superior wordsmiths, having you wanting to break your rewind button, but neither can make a cohesive song to save their life. It says something about an artist when the best songs in your catalog never have a hook on them. Maybe they should work on that before they end up being this guy.
13. Lil Boosie
Boosie is no wordsmith, but he brings his pain directly to the listeners in a certain “I’m so serious about the shit that I’m rapping about” kind of way. Whether Boosie is angry on a song, or love struck, you can tell it and his emotion takes the track from being another repeat of routine subject matter to a totally different experience. Sucks that we’ve probably heard the last Boosie new material we will get with him having current legal troubles.
12. Big Sean
Dude can rap his ass off with the punchline rap. He’s like a less violent version of Cassidy mixed with Loon’s swagger, if that makes sense. He should have the easiest route to stardom being signed to Kane West’s “GOOD Music” label but until he can put together consistent song output to match his lyrical tenacity, he will have an uphill battle.
This guy isn’t going to rap your socks off per say, but he does mix Boosie’s emotion with an ability to tell tales of hustling and drug dealing with glorifying the acts or looking for sympathy. His kind of “This is the environment I see around me and I wish I could change it but I can’t” helplessness pulls at the listener to where you can visualize the trap goin ham. You just never want to step foot in the trap, but you can picture it.
10. Nipsey Hussle
Nipsey Hussle can rap amongst a variety of styles but still bring street authenticity to the track. But rather than your just run of the mill street rapper, he has witty punchilnes and an ability to lyrically manhandle a track. His blunt/straightforward bars will have you nodding your head into hypnosis, just vibing out to someone attack a song.
Probably the most unpopular pick on this list, but it’s my list. Yeah. Plies, while not exactly having bulletproof street cred, puts together cohesive songs and albums. He mixes in enough nignorance with “oldhead trying to get out the game” wisdom that makes each album an intriguing listen. Plies’ intelligence comes across in his interviews, but in order to put food on the table, he has to do what he has to do. Can’t fault him for realizing that.
8. J. Cole
One of a few on this list that actually is an above average producer as well, J. Cole has a certain introspective twist to his bars that make you look at life differently. He has songs that make you go “Damn, someone else is feeling the same way that I’ve felt at one point or another”. That gift is something that not a lot of artists possess, so the fact that he has that skill so early in his rap career is only going to help him.
This is one of those polarizing artists where either you love him or you don’t (pause). Curren$y is a weedhead. There’s no other way of putting it. But somehow, he’s able to make tracks that are kind of like stream of consciousness talking over tracks. He never seems to be pressed while rapping, and very rarely breaks from his signature monotone, but his usage of words is something to be amazed by. This rating takes into account that dismal “Pilot Talk” album. Not every step can be a forward one.
This guy has managed to perfect everyman rap in a way that’s not preachy sounding. He talks about everyday stuff that people go through in a way that helps you get through your day and look forward to the next. All the while packing enough swagger, braggadocio and wordplay to make it work.
5. Freddie Gibbs
Freddie is one of my favorites for just “I know I’m better than you, I know I’m realer than you and if you disagree I will fuck you up” style. He represents a kind of cold reality in his raps that makes you want to stay as far away from Gary Indiana as possible. And the art of double time rapping is a lost art, but it’s something that Freddie has perfected with his Midwest upbringing.
4. Lupe Fiasco
Basically a replica of Blu but without 2 major label releases under his belt. The only reason he’s not higher on the list is because he is holding back material from the fans. If you have quality product, you have to supply. That’s how business works. But it’s hard to deny such high quality work he’s put out so far.
3. Kid Cudi
Cudi does by far the least rapping out of anyone on this list, but it’s not about rapping. It’s about being an artist, and he’s one of the best artists out here nowadays. Cudi has a type of openness of his songs where he’s able to channel whatever emotions that he has into song format. Combine that with his grasp of melodies and he makes some of the most cohesive projects out. Cudi will be around for awhile.
2. Wiz Khalifa
In terms of punchline rap or deep introspective tracks, Wiz lacks sorely in that area. But, Wiz sells a lifestyle in his music. The “Party Life”. That’s all he raps about, that’s all he claims to rap about. He doesn’t fool anyone. As I saw once, all of Wiz’s music is either about smoking weed, hanging out with girls or smoking weed with girls – probably your girl. But the music is infections, and has been for awhile now. Wiz is a major movement in music by selling this lifestyle.
Wale is a polarizing figure after his debut album. He tried to be too many things to too many people a la B.o.B and failed miserably. However, whenever he puts out other material, the lyrical ability he has is undeniable. "The Mixtape About Nothing” and “More About Nothing” mixtapes have enough introspective tracks to rival a Common, as well as lyricism you would expect a Big Boi. Very few artists could put a record like “Ambitious Girl” on their project and have it make sense. Once Wale is comfortable with his identity and not falling victim to the Lady Gaga’s of the world, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
And P.S., I would take any of the top 5 I named over this guy:
But not necessarily this guy.