(1) Biggie over (5) Busta Rhymes
Notorious’s road thus far in our tournament hasn’t been a cakewalk, squaring off against DMX in the Round of 32, but it’s safe to say Busta is his biggest competition yet. What form of challenge might Flipmode’s greatest put up against Big Poppa?
When we look at catalog and length of run of success, Busta gains some ground with five platinum albums and two near-platinum over eleven years. Yes, Biggie would most likely have reached or surpasses these numbers had he lived but Busta’s ability to do so and to do so while remaining one of rap’s more underrated performers shouldn’t be ignored.
Both competitors have reached the Sweet Sixteen from our original One-of-a-Kind grouping along with fellow Sixteener Snoop Dogg, speaking to the effect that carving out one’s own lane has in this artform, one of ardent individualism.
It’s difficult, though, for Busta’s efforts to carry him through the fourth and even the third quarter of this match-up. Faced with the sales statistic above, Biggie counters with the diamond-status Life After Death, matching all of Busta’s sales ever. It’s also interesting to note that these two competitors, unlike many in our tournament, are from the same era. Busta began working on his debut, The Coming, 8 months after Biggie’s Ready to Die was released. Both of their sophomore albums were released in 1997. As such, both were instrumental in the re-emergence of New York hip-hop (both Brooklyn, specifically) after several years of West Coast dominance. Notorious B.I.G., though, is… well he’s Biggie. The above mention of diamond status ignores Ready to Die ‘s quadruple-platinum numbers, giving Biggie sales with two albums that equal the combined career sales of several of your favorite rappers. He is an international icon and a cornerstone of some of the biggest moments in hip-hop history. Emulated by rappers, adored by the casual fans and hip-hop heads alike, there is simply too much Notorious for even Busta Bust to handle. Big Poppa advances handily.
(6) Ludacris defeats (7) Talib Kweli
As our battle heats up and the competition gets greater, the illest emcees in the game are going toe-to-toe . The Sweet Sixteen brings us the battle of the rapper’s rappers. Considered highly talented by most and still overlooked, Talib Kweli and Ludacris go bar for bar in this round. Ludacris was nice enough to let Kweli start because of age or maybe it’s the southern hospitality we all heard so much about.
Kweli’s claim to fame and recognition for many is his association with Mos Def and Hi -Tek and the critically acclaimed group Black Star. Black Star was impressive amidst the new sounds of the late 90’s emerging from hip-hop with its awesome consciousness and tremendous lyricism from two formidable emcees. Kweli’s star continued to rise with help from Kanye West’s production on ‘Get By’ and a memorable feature on the Kanye banger ‘Get ‘Em High’ on the wildly successful debut, College Dropout. After a couple of humanitarian projects, Kweli came back with The Beautiful Struggle attempting to claim his spot after Jay-Z cast light on his skills in ‘Moment of Clarity’. The work was solid, an attribute Kweli steadily achieves; however, to many the work came across as awkward and too contrived. Kweli’s last two releases, Gutter Rainbows and Prisoner of Conscious, while still bringing the notable Kweli heat, have failed to garner widespread critical acclaim and mass acceptance.
This is where Luda has enough with the pleasantries and claims his mark on the game. Luda once even exclaimed he was “responsible for keeping the Def Jam label afloat and relevant.” However cocky this statement proves to be, the fact is no one can lay claim to disprove it. Luda launched onto the hip-hop scene with the Neptunes-produced smash ‘Southern Hospitality’ and the wildly imaginative ‘What’s Your Fantasy’ and has never looked back. Luda’s early fame is attributed to his clever, fast, and humorous rhyming, but also his excellent choice for production mates. Teaming up with the likes of The Neptunes, Timbaland, Kanye West and the dance king David Guetta, Ludacris has been able to parlay his comedic and distinctive flow into a vast array of hits. His album Word of Mouf spawned mega hits like, “Roll Out”(nominated for a Grammy), “Saturday (Oooh Oooh)”, “Move Bitch”, and the mac inspired “Area Codes” ft. the late great Nate Dogg. Luda eventually grabbed that Grammy Award for the club banger “Yeah!” ft. Usher and Lil’ Jon and continued his reign of albums with monster hits to boot. A couple more of Luda’s playlist includes, “Get Back”, the Austin Powers themed “#1 Spot”, “Money Maker”, “One More Drink” with T-Pain, and “How Low”. He has so many more and that’s the point. Ludacris is also a crazy lyricist and not respected on a plane where he should be by most. These skills and his persona are the reason why he’s been able to work with greats and up-and-comers alike in the industry. More than music, Luda has successfully ventured into film and tv, entrepreneurial endeavors, and he continues to make strides with his philanthropic pursuits.
Look, they’re both great at what they do. This is one of the times you wish you could manifest a rap battle on sight. Everyone gives Talib props. He’s a fixture and a light in the game that is much needed and continues to illuminate. Luda is a verifiable beast as well, and while he can be conscious, he just has a pulse for what makes the dance floor quake and the consumer want to buy his albums. Along with having a major hand in bringing up the south and also a huge reason for Def Jam South, we have to tip our hat this time to Ludacris for bringing undeniable firepower and legitimacy to a whole region as well as the industry. Talib, respectfully Luda says move bitch get out the way, as he’s moving on to the Elite 8.
(2) Run-DMC defeats (3) Nas
Queens, NY is at the forefront of the side profile match-up between the boys from Hollis and Queensbridge’s finest. In Nas, we have an emcee with six number one albums to his credit, including his latest release and 12th overall, 2013’s Life Is Good. The album itself and notable tracks ‘Daughters’ and ‘Cherry Wine’ received well-deserved Grammy nominations, solidifying’s Nas as a prime time player in this game today, no small feat when one considers that his classic debut record, Illmatic was released 19 years ago. That album is universally regarded as one of the best hip-hop records of all time, and in an era where West Coast acts such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Coolio reigned supreme it helped keep East Coast rap on the map. Nas’ notable moments in hip-hop are plentiful.
His rivalry with Jay-Z, a battle he won, helped revitalize not only hip-hop but his own career as well. It took place on the heels of a series of inconsistent records (when measured by his own gaudy standards). Truth be told, both I Am and Nastradamus suffered in quality due to several internet leaks of album tracks, forcing revision after revision (who remembers Napster?). Even so he took a lot of heat for those records and it wasn’t until he released Stillmatic (which featured the Jay dis track, ‘Ether’) that the streets would proclaim Nas is back. His eventual reconciliation with Jay-Z helped heal hip-hop in the wake of the Biggie and Tupac murders, providing younger generations a much-needed example of peace, unity, and maturity. His 2006 album Hip Hop Is Dead fueled debate on the state of rap music, with many New School artists taking exception to the notion that hip-hop had lost its way, while many older heads felt his message. His rift with Bill O’Reilly was certainly noteworthy, reminiscent of Tupac’s battles with Dan Quayle in that hip-hop and mainstream politics clashed. Nas’ 2008 untitled album (originally slated to be called Nigger) and his 2010 collaboration with Damien Marley, Distant Relatives, also drew heavy critical acclaim.
So where exactly does a man that most consider at worst a top-five lyricist fall short? Many argue that while lyrically he’s always stellar, his beat selection hasn’t always been the best. Some point to his 11 Grammy nominations as a plus, while others point to zero victories as a minus. And that’s the quandary with Nas. He’s widely regarded as one of the greats but as far as being on the pantheon with the likes of Tupac, Biggie and <ahem> Run-DMC, it’s about a 50-50 split. Some put him there and some don’t. Some say he’s the best, some argue he’s great but not iconic. Most will attest that when it’s all said and done he could be as great as any before or after him. But as of today his Impact, though registering high on rap’s Richter scale (‘name a rapper that I ain’t influence’ to use his own words), has not been as great as that of Run-DMC. The Kings of Rock were largely responsible for making hip-hop a pop-culture mainstay. They put hip-hop on the mainstream map. Being the first rap act to go gold, platinum, and multiplatinum, as well as the first rappers on MTV, and the first rap artists to be signed to a major endorsement deal (Adidas), they laid the groundwork for the cultural, musical, stylistic, and business enterprise phenomenon that has hip-hop has become today. And as such they advance the Elite 8 with a thrilling victory over their Queen’s counterpart. Nas, ever gracious in defeat congratulates Run, DMC, and Jam Master Jay at half-court and proclaims that even he is Down with the Kings. Imagine that.
(1) Tupac over (5) Public Enemy
Welcome to the terror dome! Our Sweet Sixteen match-up brings together two of the most socio-politically charged influences of our generation and probably for all time. We have the multifaceted and iconic Tupac going up against legendary and prototypical rap group Public Enemy. Public Enemy is one the first major rap groups to bring light and recognition to the ill of the Afrocentric community while also speaking on race, class, and economic issues that spoke to us all as world citizens. In the same vein, Tupac took his early upbringing with the Black Panther party, along with his voracious appetite for reading and social awareness to become a modern day anti-hero and voice for millions of people dealing with daily urban life and prejudices within our society.
Public Enemy were prototypical in the sense that they based and made their career off of their strong sociopolitical stance. This commitment to social thought and action through music definitely made the way for other acts such as A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Kool Moe Dee and Gang Starr. Their critically acclaimed album Fear of A Black Planet supplied such hits as “Welcome To The Terrordome”, “911 is a Joke”, and “Fight The Power”. To this day “Fight The Power” is regarded by many as the best hip-hop song of all time due to its message, execution, and it’s undeniable effect as a song with immense power. With such powerful lyrics and a commitment to social equality and engagement it is no wonder that P.E. also became one of the most internationally recognized and more popular rap groups of our time. We also have to mention their groundbreaking collaborations with such vaunted artists of our time as the production crew the Bomb Squad, helping to make such hits as ‘Poison’ for BellBivDevoe. The innovative production team also worked with artists such as Ice Cube, Peter Gabriel, Paula Abdul, EPMD, and Chaka Khan to name a few. Public Enemy shows no fear when blurring the genre line, even going on to help make hardcore rap metal exist with the help of the band Anthrax. It is all about the power of the people when it comes to Public Enemy and the perceived possibilities even within their own genre have expanded as they prove to us continually you must fight for what you believe.
This battle is crazy because almost no group stands up to Public Enemy, let alone one man. Yet, we have one man going against this brilliant army, and that warrior is Tupac Shakur. Most of the world has heard or seen Tupac at some point in their lives due to his ubiquitous and forceful creative nature during his short time on earth. With such a lengthy body of work, he had an unorthodox style and technique that truly made his raps poetic and many times all too prophetic. And with a catalogue so great, we encourage the reader to go embrace Tupac fully for themselves, while here we speak to the power of the individual. Fully embracing his Gemini qualities, Tupac was in a league of his own as an artist and a man able to see himself fully for the good and the bad. From his beginnings as a roadie for Digital Underground to his last days as a solo artist releasing All Eyez On Me and Makaveli /The Don Killuminati: 7 Day Theory, Tupac undeniably grew as an artist able to touch on social injustices as well as supply the hits to keep them moving. Along with his undeniable force of natural aggression, charisma, and talent, just as important to note is his unmistakeable work ethic. Tupac was hailed as a studio technician with many of his colleagues bewildered by his militant work ethic and ability to continually crank out great music with such varied tastes and perspectives. There is also no doubt that much of Tupac’s infamy is in part due to several legal disputes as well as the notorious beef and inter-coastal dispute between the Notorious B.I.G. and the whole east coast west coast rivalry that almost ruined rap. That being said, nothing will ever be able to diminish the power of this man’s words and his ultimate worth to the game. A warrior poet, sensitive and aggressive, with the intellect and fortitude to lead a nation of millions, Tupac Shakur embodies everything an emcee could hope to be. He had the delivery, the human insight, the power of innovation, strength of character and conviction and that unmistakeable voice and cadence. We definitely give props to Tupac as an actor with superb chops too, as you can see how the strength of emotion was parlayed into his songs and delivery. And we take nothing away from Public Enemy as they are truly iconic in what they bring to the maturation and expansion of hip-hop. However, when it comes to pure force of will, achievements and lasting legacy, there will never be another Tupac. In this case, it only takes one to bring down a powerful nation. 2Pac moves on to the Elite 8.