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Who’s the Greatest New York City Rapper of All-Time?

Posted by Nathan S. on 01/15/14 | Filed under Top Stories, Opinion, Debates, RH Nation Answers, City Series

First off, let's all acknowledge that this is one of those questions that has no right answer and exists solely for the purpose of debate, which is why I usually steer away from questions like it. Plus, it usually just leads to a lot of angry emails from local rappers. But....

...after Buzzfeed did a version of the question, and then Noisey completely trolled/avoided it, I felt like if RefinedHype didn't step up and become the home for absurdly complex rap-related debates, who would? So with that in mind I'm kicking off the new "City Series" debates as the ongoing "Question of the Week", and we're starting with, of course, the birthplace of hip-hop, New York City.

So here's the deal. Over the course of the following eleventy billion comments, we're going to try to determine who the greatest NYC rapper to ever live is, and here are the guidelines for defining "Greatest From That City": 

Inherent Dopeness: In a vacuum where record sales and influence don't matter, how purely/rawly dope are they? If you could only listen to one rapper from that city until the day you died, who would you pick? If there's a national rap battle, best song wins, who are you picking to represent that city? 

Influence: When they did something, did the rest of their city follow? And by extension, did the rest of the country follow? Have they proven they can have multiple generations of influence? 

City Association: The two above are pretty standard criteria for any RefinedHype debate, but this is the x-factor in the "City Series" - how closely is that rapper linked to his/her city? For example, if I say "Toronto hip-hop" a lot of people's strongest assocation is going to be with Drake. (It's an example, relax, we'll get to the Toronto-specific debate in due time.) By contrast, while Tupac's roots are Bay Area, he also has some really strong associations with L.A. (Again, we'll get there.) Point it, the greatest rapper from that city has to really embody and represent that city. 

Got it? There's still a lot of grey area in between those guidelines, but at least it'll give us some common ground to talk. Allright, let's get into the specifics. 

Right off the bat, it might be easier to figure out who isn't in this conversation than who is, so I'm eliminating Mims. Sorry Mims. More seriously, I'm also eliminating Diddy. His influence and city association are huge, but his inherent dopeness score is just too low. On the flipside...fuck, this is where it starts getting painful. I think I'm also going to have to knock off Big L, who has a huge inherent dopeness scores and was influential, but I don't know if he was truly influential enough on a large scale. Rakim though...he did essentially usher in the very concept of lyrical rap, that's pretty damn influential, but influential enough? Also, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys were essentially the first successful commercial hip-hop acts ever, that has to count for something a lot. 

I'll take arguments for any of the names above (except Mims and Diddy), and there's obviously about 100 worthy names I haven't brought up yet, but I think ultimately it comes down to three names: Wu-Tang Clan, Jay Z and Biggie. Things to consider for all three: 

Wu-Tang Clan: For the record, I'm only counting Wu-Tang as work they did as a group, not factoring their respective solo careers. If we added solo work from RZA, Ghost, Rae, Method Man etc. to the Clan's work, I think they're the clear winners, no question. 

Biggie: As with any conversation about Biggie, the question really becomes how much you credit/discredit his death. Yes, there's no question that his murder vaulted him to an almost transcendent level in the hip-hop pantheon he likely wouldn't have reached if he was still alive. But his murder is also what has continued to make him so influential even years beyond his death, and associate him so strongly with NYC. 

Jay Z: Almost the opposite of the Biggie scenario. He's been around long enough to make some mis-steps, but over the course of his career he's been inarguably dope, influential and associated with the city. He helped bring a fucking STADIUM to Brooklyn - come on now. 

So there you go, those are my top three; ready to throw something at your computer in anger? Good news, you can add your own answers to the poll below, and berate me in the comments. We'll do a new city every week until we've gotten to Davenport, Iowa. Have at it people. 

Who's the Greatest NYC Rapper of All-Time?

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