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Separating The Good From The Great: What Makes A G.O.A.T?



Those who are avid followers of hip-hop news and culture or those who just happened to be perusing the internet at the right time may have seen Lil Durk’s questionable and fairly controversial ‘Top 50 Greatest Rappers Of All Time’ list over the last day, as well as the opinions that it provoked. What this post did, apart from angering die-hard rap fans everywhere and giving the likes of The Breakfast Club and Joe Budden the type of content that they live for, is draw attention to something that we often forget: anyone can have an opinion.

The structure of music culture is one that is complex and almost functionalistic in its nature, being that it is made up of various sub-groups that allow it to work the way it does. The listeners, appearing in the form of your humble fan that listen on the way to work or school to your syndicated radio hosts, all the way to your record label A&Rs and executives are just some of the people that can impact the culture and who will be crowned as ‘the greatest’ of our generation and even, all time. But every once in a while, there is an artist who makes an outlandish statement, perhaps via social media or in an interview, about who is dominating the field and as expected, a lot of people have something to say.


Something about this list screams marketing tactic and feels a bit too premeditated, however, the fact that it has sparked discussion is a positive thing and encourages us as collective to think about what it means to be the greatest of all time. So, I have attempted to break it down. Using reason, deduction and most importantly, my opinion, I have compiled a list of what a rapper needs to be the G.O.A.T.


A Good Discography – A variety of projects, mixtapes, albums that span over a period and demonstrate the artist’s ability to withstand the test of time. A discography can allow an audience to see whether an artist has chosen to or had to adapt to the demands of the consumer or whether they have maintained their style despite changes in preference.


Think OutKast, KRS-One and Mos Def.


A Classic Project – Like a good discography, this classic project will withstand the test of time. A project that is quintessentially representative of the artist, their ability and what they are about. Like seasons, people change so the artist may not necessarily be the same person that they were when creating their classic project, however, it will be a good example of who they were at the time of its creation and reflective of the climate (historical, political, social) in which it was created.


Think Nas, Kanye and 50 Cent.


Impact On The Culture And The Genre – How has this artist impacted music culture and created progress within their genre? Have they started a label which has allowed for the discovery of new talent? The first or one of the first to receive an accolade for their contribution to the genre? Or perhaps being an artist that introduced a previously underrated genre to mainstream media, consequently paving the way for future generations.


Think Tupac, Biggie and Jay Z.


Commercial Success – A rapper that is arguably one of the greatest of all time will be someone who has successfully managed to garner mainstream success. They are not only recognised by the subculture but have gained recognition from various agencies within pop culture. The way in which we measure success has evolved over the years and can cause friction when comparing rappers from different generations. ‘Core’ hip-hop fans often find themselves defending the positions of rappers whose careers took place in an age without social media or streaming. If some of the rappers that we consider to be the greats were to have existed in this era, would they still be as successful?


Think Drake, Eminem and Nelly.



Ability – Probably one of the most subjective and controversial aspects of a discussion that involves ranking rappers is ability. Arguably, it should be the most important but there are so many other factors that come into play that ability is often neglected. Personally, this can include the artist’s lyricism, flow, their storytelling capabilities and even how they would perform in a cypher/freestyle setting, which is some argue is the true measure of a rapper.


Think Kendrick, J. Cole and Pusha T.


An integral part about hip-hop and its culture is that history has shown that it is constantly evolving and that it is for everyone to participate in and for everyone to enjoy. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to forecast who the next generation may regard as the greatest of all time and what their opinions may be based upon. More importantly, does this impact the motivations behind the rappers pursuing their craft. Rap no longer serves exclusively as a way out for the disenfranchised or as a mode of storytelling for those without a voice. Now more than ever, we see that anyone can be a rapper and the competition to be considered the greatest is at an all-time high.


Who is your G.O.A.T? Comment below!

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