The fun continues! Our first round had its share of tight match-ups but it’s in the Round of 32 that things begin to heat up. Does the Wu-Tang Clan have the weapons to take down Run-DMC? Will it be Big Daddy Kane or Big Pun that moves on the to the Sweet 16? Read up and Lime On.
(5) Busta Rhymes defeats (4) Will Smith
The Round of 64 featured Busta Rhymes cutting DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince out of our tournament rather decisively. In a strange twist, the Round of 32 brings Busta in a head-to-head contest against Will Smith the solo artist. One of the tougher battles of our second round features a combined total of 15 Grammy nominations and an astonishing 29 MTV Video Movie Award Nominations. Both performers emerged on the scene around 1989, the year that Will would win the first ever Rap Grammy for “Parents Just Don’t Understand” while began recording with Leaders of the New School. In 1992, Will further cemented his place in hip-hop history with the Grammy-winning “Summertime” and Busta first entered rap fans memories when LONS appeared on the A Tribe Called Quest track “Scenario”. Will’s early iconic status while Busta was still finding his signature flow might seem to give Will the advantage. In addition, of the 15 Grammy nominations mentioned above, all four of the victories belong to Will Smith; Busta has 11 nominations but no trophies. A closer look, though, reveals Busta’s impact in two key areas: consistency and uniqueness. From the moment he broke out with 1995’s “Woo Hah!! (Got You All in Check)”, which would take his solo debut The Coming platinum, we all learned that there was no one quite like Busta Rhymes. This was due in equal parts to his visual style, forever engrained in our memories when he paired with Hype Williams for the “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” video, as well as his unreplicated lyrical flow known for its quickened pace and internal rhyming. Busta would go on to receive a Grammy nomination every year from 1997-2001 (with 3 in 2000), shaping his identity as a consistent hit-producer, and he continues today to be one of rap’s more sought-after feature artists. While Will’s comeback in the late 90’s was again filled with accolades and hit records, when it comes to stage presence, lyrical prowess and overall image Busta’s impact on both fans and artists narrowly gives him the victory over Big Willie.
(5) Big Daddy Kane defeats (4) Big Punisher
In one of our most anticipated match ups to date, we have the legendary Big Pun going up against one of the illest to ever do it himself in Big Daddy Kane. This battle of wits, talent, tenacity and pure skills went down to the absolute wire as you could imagine. The titans went at it and well, it might not of gone down like you think. Kane stepped onto the scene displaying his verbal mastery and agility on the 1987 underground hit “Raw,” which set the stage for his debut album Long Live the Kane and the smash hit, “Ain’t no Half Steppin”. Widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of the fast rhyming technique, Kane’s verbal prowess and awesome performances made him one of the most highly regarded and feared emcees for generations. Kane’s second album, It’s a Big Daddy Thing, went on to be his best seller and broke ground with R&B experimentation as the hit, “I Get the Job Done” hit the R&B top 40 at the end of the 80’s. Kane has also contributed his smooth tactics on several guest appearances including Patti LaBelle, his own Juice Crew, A Tribe Called Quest, Tupac, Mc Hammer, and Joell Ortiz to name a few. The collaborative effort with Quincy Jones led to a Grammy Award for the song “Back on the Block.” Kane’s impact on the game is immense; he is widely known to have helped Jay-Z enter the game, allowing him to be his ‘hype man’ from time to time. Even recent generational juggernaut Eminem contributes a large portion of his style and technique to the verbal wizardry unveiled by Big Daddy Kane. Now, by no means did we say this was going to be easy since we’re still talking about the late and great Christopher Rios in a battle! No one could ever downplay Big Pun’s insane rise to multiplatinum chart topper and his immediate impact on the game. Big Pun had the voice, personality, and the Skills!! We also can’t forget to mention his iconic spot in the rap game as the first solo Latino rapper to go platinum with his debut classic Capital Punishment. Legendary feats such as this are the true mark of what makes you an icon in the music industry. Big Pun was able to keep the hits coming with this sophomore effort Yeeeah Baby also going platinum and creating such hits as “It’s So Hard” and “100%”. His ferocious style was known for great melody and an automatic rapid fire delivery that always hit its intended target. Pun even wowed his critics with his ability to maneuver smoothly, even as a big man, and go effortlessly from gangster to thug gentleman on tracks alike. This battle was long and intense as both respected heavyweights brought their formidable A game to the competition. The match was tight from the start with Big Pun taking an early lead on sheer force, high achievement, technical skills and generational influence. However, Big Daddy Kane just shows and proves with his Grammy Award, more influential associations and accreditations to his character and style. King Asiatic Nobody’s Equal lets us know the style is still raw and moves on to the next round.
(2) Run-DMC defeats (7) Wu-Tang Clan
In our closet match yet (and most highly debated among our analysts), the streets of Shaolin step up against the juggernaut that is Run-DMC. Both are among the top groups in hip-hop history, both making notable and lasting Impacts on the game, though in different ways.
It’s impossible to look past Run-DMC’s historical significance. They have a slew of historic firsts to their name – first in the genre to be nominated for a Grammy, first to have a gold album (Run-D.M.C., 1984), first to have a platinum album (King of Rock, 1985), first to earn multi-platinum status (Raising Hell, 1986), first on MTV, 2nd on American Bandstand and 1st on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. They are the second group (after Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five) to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their Impact and influence reaches wide across a variety of the core aspects in hip-hop music and culture.
Wu is synonymous with the beginning of mid-90’s hip-hop. Emerging in 1992, the same year Dr. Dre’s era-defining The Chronic was released, the Wu-Tang Clan quickly became one of the single most popular groups of that era as their platinum debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) would became a hip-hop classic. Wu’s greatest Impact, though, may be in their business acumen. Wu engineered a label strategy that was unique at the time and hasn’t been repeated since but stands as a lasting example of artist control and the prevalence of clan/family mentality within the genre. While Run-DMC was a cornerstone of the greatest rap label ever, RZA pulled off an incredible deal with Loud Records to 1) allow the emcees to sign separate solo deals and 2) to pay a portion of everything to Razor Sharp Records, the Wu’s personal label. As we look further down hip-hop’s road, the concepts of business acumen and retaining control gain all kinds of focus with Wu-Tang as a unique influence.
What else can we measure by? The Wu has the RZA, their leader and one of the most impactful producers of all time, renowned for his sharp, gritty sound and a fascination with martial arts mythology as well as the business vision mentioned above. In a similar vein, though, Run-DMC has Jam Master Jay, whose influence on turntablism shouldn’t be understated. It seems a natural part of the rap landscape and perhaps even somewhat outdated given the move to cd’s and then to digital, but being sick on the 1’s and 2’s laid the foundation for the way producers and artists think about beats in hip-hop, creating the true backbone of the genre.
Run-DMC is the beginning of the modern concept of a hip-hop group. When you speak about the interaction between rapper and dj as an important part of the live performance as well as the creation process itself in hip-hop, the relationship between Jam Master Jay and his emcees is still one of the tightest synergies to date. The Wu spawned five successful and different solo rap icons and had (at least) two classic hip-hop albums. Run-DMC single-handedly altered the course of hip-hop fashion, changing from the earlier disco-influenced attire to the more street-connected, sneakers and leather jackets.
The truth is Run-DMC has grown larger than the game itself, to the point of being a symbol of something within hip-hop, an icon beyond their artistry, and their Impact is tangible and deep. If you ask any member of the Wu who would win a Run-DMC/Wu-Tang Clan battle, they’d all say Run-DMC (except ODB). Wu-Tang is one of the greatest groups in hip-hop history but when it comes to the subject of Impact on this artform, there simply was no way for us to see Wu beating Run. This one is close but Run-DMC takes it in the fourth quarter.
(5) Public Enemy defeats (4) Lil’ Wayne
Lil’ Wayne was bred to be a rapper, seeing teenage success as part of the Hot Boyz, and part of the Cash Money movement that helped bring southern rap to a wider audience. When he emerged as a solo artist with 1999’s Tha Block is Hot, his audience followed but it wasn’t until 2008’s Tha Carter III that Weezy’s wordplay hit its greatest potential. Certified triple-platinum and taking home the Grammy for Best Rap Album, III elevated Wayne to hip-hop’s top MC of the time, while posting an output level (putting out a mixtape per week during part of 2008-2009) matched by none. He is also (if only partially) responsible for the success of two other contenders in our tournament, Drizzy Drake and Nicki Minaj.
Public Enemy’s 1987 debut “Yo! Bum Rush the Show!” was a critical and commercial success but it wasn’t until 1988’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back that the group cemented themselves as the group for political activism in hip-hop. Featuring dark and dense production from The Bomb Squad, Nation of Millions… went gold in its first month and platinum within a year with the powerful hits “Bring the Noise” and “Don’t Believe the Hype”. Chuck D’s large, preacher voice and Flavor Flav as the quintessential hype man were roles often imitated but never repeated. If this were the end of PE’s legacy perhaps Weezy might stand a fighting chance but 1989’s Fear of a Black Planet puts PE way over the edge. Featuring they’re most famous track “Fight the Power” as well as “911 is a Joke” and “Welcome to the Terrordome”, Black Planet went platinum within a week and spawned a block-rocking video directed by Spike Lee. Backing their politically-charged content with a style to match, the weight of Public Enemy’s content and the lasting identity as one of the few to put their lyrical talents towards real social change simply overpowers Weezy’s insane output and quirky popularity.