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Rap Madness – Sweet Sixteen

The Sweet Sixteen is upon us!  Many fierce competitors have already fallen, some to public disapproval.  Some upsets, some fan favorites, plenty of nail-biting, down-to-the-wire games – these are what make Rap Madness the event of March.  The Sweet Sixteen was no disappointment with our tightest battles yet.  Who makes a greater Impact as hip-hop’s King, LL Cool J or Jay-Z?  Do the Beastie Boys have enough in their tank to take down Snoop Lion?  For these showdowns and more, read on.  Lime on.

(3) Beastie Boys defeat (2) Snoop Dogg

Our Sweet Sixteen round is truly full of juggernaut match-ups, and this one is no exception.  The Boys from Brooklyn are among the foundational members of hip-hop’s New Age and have had one of the longest runs of success of anyone in our tournament.  Snoop is… well, he’s Snoop D O double G.  For the era of hip-hop that begins with The Chronic, whatever you’d like to call that era, Snoop carved out a lane that was all his own and continues to be the brightest example of turning oneself into a tried-and-true brand.  Who emerges victorious?
Sitting courtside for this one, it was difficult for us to not hold an inherent bias towards Snoop.  A fan favorite, Snoop’s work on The Chronic and Doggystyle earned him his spot as a hip-hop icon, a status he has continued to build on through today.  And while it’s true that Dre’s most influential work may not have been as successful without Snoop’s contribution, it is slightly more likely that Snoop’s particular brand and flow may not have caught on had he not linked up with hip-hop’s best producer.  While he would see some success later on with The Doggfather and the No Limit releases, notably Tha Last Meal, his musical height was definitely his solo debut.
In contrast, the Beastie Boys have seven platinum (or better) albums between 1986-2004.  In addition to being hits, each of their releases strives to move in different directions musically, a trait akin to Outkast’s run of successes.  Their sophomore release, Paul’s Boutique, has been described as the genre’s Pet Sounds (the groundbreaking album from the Beach Boys) and is a landmark for the issue of sampling in hip-hop.  The Beasties’ run of hits and ability to remain relevant would continue over the next decade, re-emerging stronger than ever with 1998’s double Grammy-winning Hello Nasty.  In 2012, they became rap’s third group in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (behind Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Run-DMC).  With MCA’s passing last year it is probably safe to say the Beastie Boys’ run may be at its end but it was a run that was one of the longest and most successful in hip-hop history.
In discussing the Beasties, we could factor in their influence as one of the cornerstones of hip-hop’s first biggest label, Def Jam.  We could talk about the fact that without Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, we have no idea what hip-hop groups might look like today.  We could talk about them breaking a color barrier, and perhaps we will in the next round.  But in this discussion, these factors aren’t really necessary.  The Beastie Boys’ successful, Impactful run eclipses, both before and after, Snoop’s artistic pinnacle.  Beyond the music, Snoop has grown himself into a brand like no one else, in hip-hop and probably otherwise.  He is rap’s greatest feature artist, always instantly recognizable.  His influence on weed’s acceptability is tangible.  And for the hip-hop generation that starts at The Chronic no one is a bigger, more respected and well-liked figure that Snoop.  But when it comes to Impact and influence on this artform of ours, the Boys from Brooklyn can’t, won’t and don’t stop.  Beasties win, 109-98.

 

(1) Eminem over (5) Big Daddy Kane

In a battle of supreme lyricists in this round of sixteen, we have a gargantuan contest being waged between Eminem and Big Daddy Kane.  This is a match-up of true professionals and masters of their era and the game with a crazy generational twist.  Both artists are considered the cream of the crop within their respective eras and beyond. Big Daddy Kane came up and showed he was raw during the Golden Age of hip-hop, whereas Eminem is definitely a king of the new generation who, while adapting certain styles of previous rappers into his own, has definitely made his individual mark on the game.  Both artists are known for their ability to spit rapid fire rounds at anybody and concerning any topic. Furthermore, both artists have used their notoriety and platform to pull people up and to improve the music industry as a whole. So the question remains… Who wins this battle of the verbal juggernauts?  Is it the king from Bed-Stuy, or the sick white dude from Detroit?
Both artists over time have shown a tremendous ability to adapt to their surrounding soundscape as well as to push the boundaries with their music.  Kane is known for being one of the pioneers of the double time rhyming technique. Lets not forget this is in the late 80’s when many artists held to a certain style or pattern within their bars of the song.  Big Daddy Kane was able to improve upon the pace and technique with such ease and comfort that he scared many would-be competitors away.  For his part, Eminem respectably gives praise and credit to Kane for influencing his sharp and quick witted delivery.  Eminem also gives fair respect to his craft by absolutely shredding the competition when it comes to his multisyllabic rhyme schemes and his continued ability to grow as a artist. Take one listen to Eminem’s “Despicable” and you soon realize he is in a class all by himself.
When speaking of Impact on the game, Kane’s ability and character are revered by the greatest of all time.  Kane worked with an array of talented artists and helped them to succeed in their craft.  He worked with his own highly influential Juice Crew members as well as top artists in R&B, and even venturing out to the more trip hop and pop sounds of Morcheeba.  Kane’s style was versatile and strong as he went on to set many of the trends that pervaded hip-hop well into the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  High top fades, four finger rings and velour suits were all Kane, not to mention his smooth maneuvering with the ladies and the mac persona that oozes from many hip-hop participants. And while he rarely lays claim to being any type of mac, Marshall has definitely done his portion to differentiate himself from the masses.  Yes, Mr. Mathews made it more than acceptable to be a white rapper.  But more so than that, he brought respectability and conversation to a place where hitherto there was not much.  Nowadays, skin color is a thing of the past and we are finally able to hear someone for what they are saying and not what they look like.    Eminem was also hugely important for bringing major issues to light with his dark sense of humor, often displayng his own personal triumphs and failures up close for our listening pleasure. Eminem made it better to talk about spousal issues, dependency issues, familial strife, racial concerns and even the cost of fame via his silly depictions and gritty portrayals. “Stan” still remains a wonderfully told narrative about the dangers of obsessive behaviors and the fine line between fan appreciation and fanatic.
For their sizable contributions to hip-hop as a whole, both Eminem and Big Daddy Kane deserve much worthy respect. As far as differentiating the two, the matter is still hard if we are to give Kane his total props as a complete emcee. And since Kane is still working, with a release scheduled for March of this year, we have to say the man has given his life to his craft.  It’s a hard fought battle, but this is one time where a student supersedes the teacher.  Eminem has become an American and international mainstay, becoming the best selling artist of the entire 2000’s. With streams of videos in the millions, 3 Rap Album Of The Year Grammys, his own personal label imprint Shady Records, not to mention his stellar relationship with Dr. Dre and a host of other rap elites, Eminem is not going anywhere for a while.  It’s hard to surpass the greats and many never reach the echelon where they actually achieve more than a legend.  However, in this case, thanks to raw determination, genius skills, and a couple of power relationships that are sure to bolster any future projects, Eminem proves he’s still a Renegade to be reckoned with.  Mr. Mathers gives a sportsmanlike handshake to Kane as he moves on to the Elite 8.

 

(1) Jay-Z over (4) LL Cool J

Queens goes up against Brooklyn in a truly intriguing matchup between Shawn Carter and James Todd Smith, two men with similar strengths. While Run-DMC elevated hip-hop as rap’s first crossover supergroup, LL was its first undisputed top dog in the late 80’s and early 90’s, a spot Jay would claim himself in the 2000’s. LL is credited with having the artistic range to go hard-core (I’m Bad, Radio) and mastering the rap love ballad (‘I Need Love’, ‘Hey Lover’). Jay-Z has similar range, able to rock it hard-core (’99 Problems’) and keeping the ladies grooving on the dance floor (‘I Just Want to Love You [Give It To Me]’). Both elevated the game, both boast awards and sales numbers, and both are still going strong today, with Jay having most recently released Watch The Throne in 2011 and LL due to release his 13th studio album, Authentic this year.
Both men also transcend hip-hop, with Jay having become a true mogul, dabbling in clothing and executive roles in the music industry and LL having garnered success on both the small and big screen.  He even hosted the Grammys this past year. Young LL also helped popularize the Kangol hat.  Jay-Z ‘made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.’ And having seen both in concert multiple times at different stages of their careers, this Scholar can vouch for both being excellent on stage.
So what sets one apart from the other?  Both Mr. Smith and Hova have battled famously with their contemporaries. Jay-Z most notably went up against Nas and though ‘Takeover’ and ‘Super Ugly’ were memorable, the streets proclaimed that Nas won the battle with ‘Ether’.  LL on the other hand battled with Kool Moe Dee in the 80’s and Canibus in the 90’s and won both contests with ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ and ‘The Ripper Strikes Back’ respectively.  Is that enough to give him the edge over Jay-Z?  Not quite.
At day’s end, we’re going with Jay on the strength of his superior lyricism and more importantly his 12 number one albums (a record across all musical genres, not just hip-hop) . LL is one of the most accomplished, entertaining, and groundbreaking artist rap has ever known, but whereas his story has peaks AND valleys (no Grammy wins since 1997 and no nominations since ’04, not to mention that 14 Shits To The Dome record), Jay-Z has rarely (and some would argue never) missed musically.  As such Jay-Z advances to the Elite 8 with a hard-fought and well-deserved victory over the self-proclaimed Future of the Funk and celebrates in style on a yacht with wife Beyonce while LL is left to find comfort  with the help of his Around The Way Girl who we can only presume has a Big ‘Ole Butt.

 

(3) NWA over (2) Outkast

This matchup features 2 of the most legendary groups hip-hop has ever known, Outkast representing the South and NWA holding down the West Coast. Outkast was one of the first acts to put Southern hip-hop on the map. At the 1995 Source Awards where tensions between Death Row Records and Bad Boy records bubbled and put the East Coast versus West Coast ‘rivalry’ on the forefront of the culture’s collective conscious, Andre 3000 while accepting the award for Best New Artist famously and prophetically proclaimed, “the South got something to say. That’s all I’m gonna say.” And boy was he right. Six Grammys, including Album of the Year for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, 25+ million records sold, and a creative range that spans from funky, to new age, to downright experimental make OutKast one of the most successful and unique groups of all time. ‘Players’ Ball’, ‘Elevators (Me & You)’, ‘Rosa Parks’, ‘Ms. Jackson’, ‘Hey Ya!’, ‘Roses’, etc… Big Boi and Andre have countless hits to their credit.
So how can the World’s Most Dangerous Group compete with a juggernaut like the ATLiens? At day’s end, NWA released three albums. NWA and the Posse went gold and introduced the group to the masses. Eazy Duz It was technically an Eazy E solo record that featured the group. Straight Outta Compton is the album that made them famous and their last as a complete unit as by 1991’s Niggaz4Life Ice Cube had left the group. And while they had a successful run, achieving platinum status with their latter two releases, they lack the gaudy sales and award numbers to which Outkast can lay claim. So again how can they compete in this match-up? Here’s how: Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E.
By creating Ruthless Records, Eazy drafted the blueprint for legendary hard core rap labels like Death Row and Cash Money. He, along with Ice-T, is also widely regarded as the Godfather of Gangsta Rap. And let’s not forget that he also introduced Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, another classic rap group that made our tournament, to the masses.
Ice Cube Went on to record classic, revolutionary, and socially conscious records such as Amerikkkaz Most Wanted and The Predator and birthed groups such as Da Lench Mob and West Side Connection while also becoming a mainstay on the big screen with several successful movies.  Altogether, he’s been a part of 15 albums and is still recording to date.
Dr. Dre simply changed the game. He popularized the G-Funk sound and forever altered rap’s sonic landscape with The Chronic. He is also largely responsible for the careers of Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and 50 Cent (all high seeds in our tournament) as well as The Game and most recently Kendrick Lamarr (who is well on his way to becoming a star himself). Dre’s also produced massive hits for Mary J. Blige, Blackstreet, Tupac,  Eve, and many others.
Combine their individual legacies with the fact that before NWA most rap acts played it safe with their content, a trend they are largely responsible for changing, and in terms of Impact they win a close one over Outkast to advance to the Elite Eight. Tough blow for Aquemini.

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