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The Rare Breed's Top 10 MCs of All Time

The Top 10 MCs of All Time is a controversial topic that very few seem to even come close to the realm of getting correct. Most times the individuals doing the judging aren’t even qualified to make the selection while seldom providing a criteria or solid explanation of the analysis. And when they do provide a criteria it usually looks something like this:

-The judging was determined by a criteria which included body of work/achievements (charted singles/albums), cultural impact/influence, longevity, lyrics and flow.

Fact of the matter is when you’re engaged in the trenches of where Hip Hop originated, which is the urban streets whose actions truly influence the culture and determine the trajectory, not the other way around; the above criteria are the last things considered when choosing a playlist of the Top 10 for a daily soundtrack . Being that I’m from that and lived in many hoods across the country politicking with rare breeds of a certain pedigree, I’ll provide an alternative criteria of my Top 10 MCs of all time. But before we start, allow me to lay down a little foundational groundwork.

Build with me for a moment and let’s address this topic in relative terms of cultural significance first and foremost and I'll do it metaphorically. In Christianity, the Christian faith/culture, there is no greater figure than Jesus Christ. During Jesus’s physical time on this planet, he didn't receive any visible rewards or benefits of this world in relation to his works. In fact, his sacrifice was solely for the welfare of everyone else to receive the benefit of paradise. This dynamic doesn't exclude him from not only being the originator of the gospel, but the greatest and most relevant figure in the culture. Unquestionably, all that preached after him in accordance with his gospel, were second generation interpretations of the original Message, presented by the creator of that perspective in that particular culture. It doesn’t matter if other charismatic preachers, who came subsequent Jesus, whether true believers or charlatans were able to benefit and financially profit from their spin off, interpretation or so called evolution of his original Message. Those material gains, influence and notoriety amongst the masses, no matter how abundant makes none of them greater than the gospel creator Jesus and Jesus didn’t sell no Bibles.

In Islam, no matter how amazing the Imam or the teacher there is always an acknowledgement of the prophet Muhammad, even within the prayers, as the messenger who brought forth the word. When the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan speaks prophetically he always acknowledges his source, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad paid constant homage to Master Fard Muhammad when he taught. None of the aforementioned that followed the one who came before tried to make themselves greater than the source that the teachings came from.

So, if Hip Hop is truly a culture why doesn’t the same rules and principals apply? The source of that knowledge which created the culture should be held in the highest esteem, regardless if they never reached the level of popularity of those that followed. Is this culture or ego we're dealing with? In addition there is a point of origin that must be returned to, often referred to as a pilgrimage, like to Israel to Jews or Mecca to Muslims; acknowledging one’s alignment to the core principals of that culture or faith. Now that we have a starting point, lets move on.

The point of origin of Hip Hop is the urban streets and the originator of all classic and modernized styles as we know it today is Melle Mel. Therefor everything that’s been done by the so-called greatest MCs of all time, displayed on the numerous pseudo Hip Hop Top 10 list are according to the gospel of Melle Mel. There is no story telling observant commentary of the circumstantial condition and environmental happenings without Mel. Everything following is a spin-off of the original Message, no matter how charismatic or evolved, the Message is the source template. This makes Melle Mel the greatest and most relevant individual in Hip Hop culture, like Jesus is to Christianity and Muhammad to Islam, being the dominant focal points of their cultures by default due to the original Message that was brought forth from which all later practitioners derived their style or form.

Are we clear?

The rest of my rankings are based on the following criteria:

1. Orthodox Cultural Impact/Influence – a significant impact made in alignment with the original principles and origin. Who is it that makes up and coming MCs in the hood want to copy they style.

2. Lyricism – an extensive and proper use of vocabulary

3. Coded Language – Hip Hop is soul music that came out of an adverse condition, like other soul genres before and coded language was an instrument of disseminating information, or hidden jewels to those possessing the knowledge to decode. This dates all the way back to the indigenous use of the drum.

4. Articulation and Clarity

5. Flow – the cadence of the delivery

6. Originality

7. How It’s Felt In The Hood By Rare Breeds/Street Scholars

8. Consistency

9. Ability to Send MCs Back To The Lab

10. Memorable Verses – There’s only a few MC’s verses that I would even want to recite back.

11. Ability To Make A Listener Rewind To Catch The Intricacy Of The Message – Only a few MCs make you have to repeat and rewind to catch the revealing of a gem

12. Style – The unique flavor in your overall presentation

13. Ability to Get A Sale From Rare Breeds

The reasons why I excluded Stage Presence/Performance, Charted Singles/Albums, Longevity, Versatility or Voice:

Sure stage presence and performance is great for fans, but most Rare Breeds are usually doing their own thing, stars in their own right and can care less about attending another man’s concert.

And who really cares about how many of your songs or albums charted if the people where we from not listening to none of it. We are fully aware the 85 percent outnumber those with knowledge, wisdom and understanding, so we don’t expect what we listen to daily to appear on the charts. We also don’t can’t how many albums you made or sold, if most of them are trash rap and the few that make the cut aren’t impactful enough to inspire a Rare Breed purchase. That’s why even with one album it’s possible to make this controversial list, if that one album is greater than the twenty-trash charting nonsense that popular main stream supports. I’d rather listen to the same solid album continuously on repeat, than alter my frequency with funny style pseudo material. And as far as versatility, I respect when MCs don’t veer too far out of their lane. I look to specific individuals for that specified something that they bring to the table. I don’t need all of my meals from the same restaurant. As far as voice goes, if it’s not annoying, it’s not a deal breaker and definitely not enough to make me listen.

The Top 10 MCs Of All Time are as follows:

1. Melle Mel

He’s the originator simple and plain and all that followed are byproducts of his original Message.

2. Rakim

Ra was the evolution of the Message and took Hip Hop to another elevated level. He changed the style of flow and raised the stakes for MCs by dropping jewels with slick metaphors and superior lyrics throughout every song. He was introspective with knowledge of self and way ahead of his time. His opening bars from In The Ghetto are probably the greatest intro ever.

3. Kool G Rap

G Rap is the hands down greatest of hard-core street style mafioso rap. His lyricism and flow is unmatched and inspired many in the game plus he never spit a wack verse even till this day. He went hard since the 80’s and never fell off.

4. Nas

Nas represents the evolution of the top 3 mentioned and when you combine their masterful styles with his unique additional lyricism you get arguably the illest MC ever. I returned home from a little over a year long bid when Illmatic dropped and the CD was laying on top of the stereo when I entered the crib. Allen Iverson ran down the stairs bragging that he smashed a girl that I liked from the HU basketball team on my bed while a picture of me in fatigues holding a machete was on the wall beside it. Oblivious, I threw in the Illmatic CD and pressed play, literally sitting in a trance for hours just listening in amazement. I couldn't believe how much Hip Hop had evolved during my short absence and Nas was the new prototype. Illmatic, my first act upon release; Memorable to say the least! Though definitely one of my favorites and heavy in my playlist rotation, I can't exclude that Nas has kicked quite a few wack verses over the years, but his catalogue overrides those minor lapses.

5. KRS-1

KRS is literally the personification of Hip Hop. He’s the Teacher and if I had to wrap pure Hip Hop in a package as an MC it would be him. He’s solid across the board with iconic records, no gimmicks, the ability to rock a crowd nonstop with no music, just him outside on the mic for the length of a concert.

6. Tupac

Pac possessed the ability and depth to tap into people’s emotions through addressing different social topics that weren’t common amongst MCs. He was original, lyrical with a tight flow, started an impactful movement and had the capacity to make you feel deeply. His music was poetic and worthy of a purchase.

7. Big Pun

Pun is undoubtedly one of the greatest and it perplexes me that I don’t see him on more Top 10 lists. The fact that he didn’t make a lot of albums means absolutely nothing. He was well respected amongst the greatest MCs in the game and absolutely nobody wanted smoke with the Punisher. Bar for bar he was crushing mediocre rappers these critics pedestalize. I purchased his material on release day and would put Capital Punishment on repeat and place it up against any of those questionable greats 10 albums.

8. Raekwon

Rae is another MC I don’t see on Top 10 Lists and I can’t fathom what Hip Hop these people listening to if Chef not in the Top 10. His style, delivery, lyricism, innovativeness and flow are ridiculous. I remember where I was and what I was doing each moment I heard a fresh verse from Rae. From driving to the Black Expo in Indianapolis blasting Only Built For Cuban Links when the purple tape dropped to transporting weight and hearing that Glaciers of Ice verse on a PA radio station for the first time. He’s one of the most creative and stylish MCs ever, in a distinct class of his own. Definitely influenced a lot of up and coming MCs in the hood to connect unorthodox flows and style vocabulary in different ways.

9. Tragedy Khadafi

The Intelligent Hoodlum influenced a lot of MCs whether they admit it or not, but it can clearly be heard it in their music. He continuously had me my contemporaries rewinding throughout his career, spitting priceless jewels for days and solid. Memorable rhymes worth repeating, not too many can do it better than the Foul Mahdi. The master of I can’t believe he took it there! and OMG moments. There might not of ever been an Illmatic without his influence.

10. Prodigy

I had to include P because I and a lot of real ones that I respect keep him heavily in rotation, probably more than anybody else. He had classic albums with some of the most memorable verses ever that literally everybody recited. In his prime he was arguably the best in the game for the moment, neck and neck with Nas for a time. He dropped a lot of gems, no pun intended as a matter of fact the first time I ever heard about the illuminati was in his verse on the LL I Shot Ya Remix. It sent me to the library researching, talking about influential, not to be underestimated.

That's it for now, take it or leave it, but I hope that I provided food for thought plus an alternate perspective from a different demographic. For questions, further clarity or interest in the next 10 to complete the list of Top 20, hit me up with a Message. Peace Out!


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Mar 24, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

This top ten is important and controversial Real Fans of the culture appreciate diverse jewels thank you David f Smith for absolutely breaking down the correct criteria for the making of top ten

David F. Smith
David F. Smith
Mar 25, 2023
Replying to

Thanks for the commentary, your insight is appreciated.

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