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Kool Herc, Russell Simmons, Dr. Dre & Jay-Z: Hip-Hop’s (Official) Mt. Rushmore

Posted by Nathan S. on 02/25/12 | Filed under Features
(The game looks just a little bit different today.)

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Earlier this week I asked RefinedHype Nation to name the four faces that belong on Hip-Hop's Mt. Rushmore, and after more than 50 comments I'm ready to make it official. Of course there's no right answer here, and I'm going to have some sleepless nights leaving some folks off, but I'm willing to stand by every selection.

First, a reminder of the ground rules. First, there are only four spots open, just like the real Mt. Rushmore. Second, this isn't a "Best Rapper of All-Time" list. These are the four people who were the most instrumental in making hip-hop what it is today. If these people didn't exist, hip-hop would look, sound and operate completely differently.

Got it? Ok then, here we go:

DJ Kool Herc

No one person "invented" a culture as complex as hip-hop...but Herc's about as close as it gets. It's such a an everyday part of music now we almost forget someone had to invent it in the first place, but Herc was the first person to use two turntables to extend the "breaks" of songs, essentially creating the first hip-hop "beats" from soul and disco records.

Herc's South Bronx parties were the seed that grew into B-Boy crews and Afrika Bambataa and street corner cyphers and, eventually, the global empire that is now hip-hop. The sad thing is that even a lot of hip-hop fans couldn't tell you who Herc is, but a lot of people fly who couldn't tell you who invented the airplane. Regardless, Hip-Hop's Mt. Rushmore has to begin with Herc, no question.

Russell Simmons:

Before Russell built Def Jam into the first true hip-hop label, hip-hop was considered a gimmick, a fad that would fade into the fog of music history alongside disco, never to be heard from again. But Russell, along with some serious contributions from Rick Rubin, launched The Beastie Boys and Run DMC, the first two rap groups to prove that hip-hop could both sell millions of albums and tour nationally.

Not only did Simmons helped create some of hip-hop's most classic of classic albums from the likes of LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Public Enemy, EPMD, but he proved that hip-hop could also be a business - and a very lucrative business at that. Hip-hop heads might bemoan the commercialization that came with it, but without proving that it could make money, hip-hop very well would have only stayed a NYC subculture that faded into memory, and then me and 99% of the people reading this would have never even heard of hip-hop.

Rappers always talk about playing the "game - before Simmons, there was no game.

Dr. Dre

I just don't see anyone fucking with a resume like this.

First, Dre is a seminal member of N.W.A., a group that not only introduced "gangsta" rap to the world on a larger level, but really put L.A. hip-hop on the map. As insane as it sounds, there really wasn't west coast hip-hop being played on a national level until N.W.A. broke NYC's strange hold on the game, and all the music to come out of Chicago and Atlanta since then owes Dre a debt of gratitude.

Second, the man put on not one, not two but three of the biggest rappers to ever live: Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent. Each of those rappers have had an enormous influence on hip-hop individually, and for one man to put all of them on is almost mind-blowing.

And last but not least, while "Detox" is never fucking coming up, unlike a lot of his peers he's still trying to find new talent (the next Eminem/Snoop/50), most notably putting on Kendrick Lamar, who I think we all agree is one of the best young rappers, if not the best, alive.

Also, he made a ton of money selling absurdly over-priced headphones.


First, let's all agree that Jay's one of the best rappers of all-time. Period. Forget everything else - the money, the tours, the ridiculously hot wife - the man can rap better than 99.9% of the rappers who ever touched a mic. Ever. Period. We're talking about multiple classic albums here.

But obviously Hova's become so much more than "just" a rapper, in many ways he symbolizes the apex of hip-hop success in the modern age. If Herc represents hip-hop's birth (the '70s), Russell it's breakthrough (the '80s) and Dr. Dre it's explosion into a global phenomenon (the '90s), Jay is the King of the 2000s.

While his track record as a label head, shaky at best...we can't forget that he put on Kanye, the one artist who's had more of an impact on the culture over the last decade than anyone. And while I don't think he's doing the greatest job with J. Cole, you have to give the man credit for signing Cole.

Through Jay, hip-hop's now sitting at the same table as some of the world's most powerful men. He's raised the bar for everyone, and for that he just can't be left off.

Near Misses: God it pains me not to have Rakim on here - the man essentially invented lyricism. Before Rakim it was all party rhymes, and there isn't a rapper alive who can say they're not influence by him, even if they don't know it. But he just didn't have the over-arching reach that the others on this list do. And the same goes for Eminem, who clearly belongs in the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame. But can you really put him on there ahead of Dre, the man who's primarily responsible for his career, and the careers of other huge rappers?

Regardless, this is one of those debates you could have forever, and we might have to revisit it yearly to make changes, but for now - that's my Mt. Rushmore of Hip-Hop, and I'm sticking to it.

See Also: Debating Who Belongs on Hip-Hop’s Mt. Rushmore

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