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From Jay-Z to J. Cole, The RefinedHype Rap Power Rankings

Posted by Nathan S. on 07/15/13 | Filed under Top Stories, Opinion, Debates, Rankings

Because my two loves in life are booze and booty sports and hip-hop, it's been my dream for years to start a Rap Fantasy League. Unfortuantely though, it turns out that it's impossible to figure out a scoring system that really make sense. (Believe me, I've tried.) However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe I could pull off a Rap Power Rankings list that I updated throughout the year, just like ESPN does for the NBA/NFL/etc. So fuck it, let's give this thing a shot.

First, some ground rules:

1) I'm talking rappers only. Dr. Dre may be one of the most powerful men in hip-hop, but come on, he's a full-time headphones salesman and occasional producer, not a rapper. The same goes for Diddy. I'm talking people who have rapped, for an extended amount of time, into a microphone.
2) I'm really weighing four factors here. One, cultural influence; how much do they influence other rappers, and American culture at large. Two, commercial success; money still matters. Three, how respected are they as an artist. And four, who else are they putting on? This is about whose the dopest or best rapper, this is purely about who has the power.

Before we get started with the actual rankings, I have one last crucial point. Just like sports, these rankings are about RIGHT NOW and could shift from week to week. I'm weighing everything with an eye on most recent success, and essentially ignoring anything over a year old (last "season", so to speak).

I know there will be a lot of people that don't both to read that entire intro section and just yell at me because Kanye's a better rapper than Lil Wayne, but for the rest of you, that'll be the basis of our intelligent discussion. I've done my due diligence.

#1 Jay-Z:


Jay-Z' the clear number one, and it's not even particularly close. He is/was the face of a NBA franchise, is doing deals with some of the biggest corporations in the world (Samsung, Budweiser), started a sports agency that's already signed Kevin Durant, is married to the most powerful woman in pop/R&B Beyonce, and is running Roc Nation nation at the very least reasonably well (if he gets Jay Elec to drop an album, that'll really be a power).

On the musical tip, he's no longer in his prime as an emcee, but any "Best Rapper Alive" conversation isn't valid unless his name is at least mentioned, and "Magna Carta Holy Grail" will almost assuredly be one of the best selling albums of the year. Right now Hova's just in his own league, that man could make or break a career like none other. There's a big gap abysss between him and the number two.




#2 Lil Wayne:


Full disclosure, as a rap fan it's almost painful to see Wayne come in this high, but I can't let me emotions get in the way of the facts. Even with Mountain Dew running from him like...he just....made an Emmitt Till joke, the man's still selling more than 500K first week with mediocre music like "I Am Not a Human Being II", and is selling out the kind of arenas usually reserved for rock and pop stars.

Throw in the fact that he's got at least a couple joints on "Dedication 4" that were legit dope AND, more importantly, he's got two pretty goddamn powerful rappers in their own right, Lil Twist and Gudda Gudda Drake and Nicki Minaj on his roster, and I don't think I have any choice but to place him this high.





#3 Kanye West:


I flipped Kanye and Weezy at two and three about forty-million times, but I think Kanye's at the right spot here. First the obvious; even though "Yeezus" was polarizing, he's a better emcee and artist than Lil Wayne. But his decision to push "Yeezus" into such outlier status ultimately him in terms of influence and commercial success.

And then there's Factor that G.O.O.D. Music vs. Young Money. While, again, on the whole GOOD's got the better artists, his biggest players over the last year, Big Sean and 2 Chainz Drake, just can't fuck with Drake and Nicki Minaj.

I'm willing to stand by Kanye at number three behind Wayne, but know that if Kanye were to drop even one amazing new song, and Weezy one terrible one (both likely), I might have to switch them. It's that close.

(Yes, I'm aware that Ye will no longer let me talk to anyone, ever, who's ever talked, for writing this.)





#4 Rick Ross:


Another pick that would prompt a riot if this was a best rapper list, but we're talking power here, and Senor Man Titties just straight up has the power.

Whether it's because he's gotten better, or because we've just gotten more used to him, Ross' respect as an artist is at an all-time high. Only the most literal and jaded are still hung up on the fake gangster angle. What's real is that he's deeply influential, is dropping albums like "God Forgives, I Don't" that are more complex than many want to give him credit for, is selling half-a-milli of that aforementioned album, and has an increasingly large and successful army under him (Wale, Meek Mill, that guy who used to be in B2K). Bawse.

(I can neither confirm nor deny that I gave him secret bonus points for being the subject of my favorite GIF).





#5 Tech N9ne


If I wrote this even two weeks later, after his "Something Else" album dropped on July 30, Tech might be even higher. (I fully expect that album to go number one).

While he might not be a household name, all of that "most under-rated" talk should be dead and buried by now for anyone who knows hip-hop. Tech is the Jay-Z of independent hip-hop, no questions asked. The man is hugely respected as an emcee, literally sells more tickets per year than any other rapper alive, "mainstream" or not, and has helped turned Strange Music into a company that routinely out performs it's major label opponents.

If there's any controversy about placing him this high up, let me put it this way; I'm confident enough that the comments to come will be in praise of Tech that I'm willing to predict it ahead of time. Even more than J. Cole, or Lupe, or any huge rapper, I've never seen a fan base as dedicated as Tech's, and that's some real power.





#6 Kendrick Lamar


At first I wasn't sure if Kendrick would crack the top ten, but the more I thought about it, and the more I looked at the landscape, the more he started climbing up the top ten. Kendrick is hands down the most heralded new rapper to come along in years; aside from the "Kendrick is over-rated" guys who just say that shit to be different, Kendrick's rap-approval rate is higher than nearly anyone's.

But we're not just talking rap nerdery here. Add in the fact that his last album, "GKMC", is considered a modern classic AND has gone platinum, and the man's got some legit power as well. But what really caused my to bump him up this high is TDE. While TDE isn't literally his label, Kendrick is Jay Rock/Ab-Soul/ScHoolboy's unquestioned leader; factor even a bit of their power into his rating, and Kendrick's crushing a lot of older heads.





#7 T.I.:


He apparently shouldn't be, but TIP's the biggest surprise to me here. On gut instinct alone I was prepared to leave him just out of the top ten. But then I started to do the research and I remembered "Trouble Man" came out in the last year, and that was a pretty dope album. In fact, I'd argue that his raps on that album were are good as they've even been. Oh, and "Trouble Man" did nearly 200K first week - far from T.I.'s prime, but still pretty goddamn good. And then I remembered that while Grand Hustle can't really step to MMG or Young Money right now, he does have Killer Mike, B.o.B. and Iggy Azalea, three rappers (in Iggy's case "rapper") that have some legit power of their own.

Well goddamn then, I was clearly sleeping on T.I. a little bit. Considering I have Rick Ross three spots above him I don't think we can still call him the King of the South, but he's still pretty high up there.

(Oh, and as long as we're here, do you realize that TIP's also now the most famous indie rapper in the world. That's right, I said indie. Strange times we live in indeed.)





#8 Nas


Not to start negative, but the real strike against God's Son is that he's only a solo act. Nasir isn't putting anyone on but himself - but if that's what he needs to do to concentrate, focus and drop albums like "Life Is Good", then he can ride solo solo till the day he dies.

At this point in his career, while he obviously hasn't achieved the same level of stature as Jay, who was once at the very least one of his peers, I think Nas is hands down the most respected emcee in this top ten. And yes, I'm willing to admit that maybe I'm being a little bias here and giving him more rap nerd points than he deserves, but the fact that young emcees are writing songs like "Let Nas Down" is proof that his legacy is alive and well.

Plus, it's not like the man can't move weight. While "Life Is Good" didn't exactly light the charts on fire, it did debut at number one. Nas isn't just the old guy the world doesn't care about, the man's still very much a force of nature.





#9 Drake


Honestly, I struggled with where to place Drake more than any other artist on this list. I had him as high as number four at one point, and as long as off the top ten completely at one point. Like Tech N9ne*, I think this list will look dramatically different after Drizzy's "Nothing Was the Same" album drops and almost assuredly goes number one. If it even does as well as "Take Care', and it might do better, he'll be looking at over 500K sales first week.

On top of his personal influence, he put on The Weeknd, is growing OVO, gave Kendrick his biggest placement before "GKMC" dropped, took A$AP Rocky out on tour, and is paying the bills when he and J. Cole go shopping together.

All of that really, really makes me think I should have him in the top five, but "Take Care" is coming up on two years old now. The fact that he hasn't dropped a new project in that long, and is still in the top ten, is maybe the best testament to his power.

I won't cop out, I've thought about it in-depth and I think this is the right spot for Drizzy right now (and these ranking are all about right now), but check back in with me after the new album drops. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Drake is up there as high as number three.





#10 J. Cole


More honestly, I'm a little shocked to find himself typing these words. When I started the list I would have pegged Cole as a "just missed the top ten" rapper. But then I thought about it, and thought about it, and here's the case.

First and foremost, if we're weighing this list to favor recent success, no one has had a better 2013 so far than J. Cole. The critical and commercial success of "Born Sinner" permanently elevated him from a wanna-be star to a legit star; by the time week two rolled around, he was looking down on even the all-mighty Kanye. Second, which he still doesn't produce a lot of "oh shit!" moments for me, I don't think there's any question that he's getting better as an emcee; his trajectory's headed up like on one else's. (If this was the NBA draft, right now would be the part where Jay Bilas says he has "tremendous upside".)

Cole's position is precarious, as the weeks go on I wouldn't be remotely surprised to see him drop out of the top ten, but for now....yeah, just don't see who's knocking him out.

Notably Absent (Heavyweights):

There are some really heavyweight names that before I started this article I assumed I would have included, but after thinking it over I just couldn't. I wanted to put Eminem in there strictly off reputation, but in keeping with the "last year" rule, it's not happening. He hasn't dropped a new album, or even really a song, in three years, and even with Yelawolf's last mixtape, the Shady Records crew has kept a lower profile as of late. Similarly, an Andre 3000 verse can still get people talking, but he's done more Gillette commercials than music over the last year, and while Big Boi's still doing the damn thing, I just couldn't pull the trigger on putting him top ten.

Lastly, 50 Cent almost strong-armed his way onto this list based on money and media exposure alone, but there's just no escaping that interest in his music is at an all-time low, and G-Unit is a dead label walking.

Notably Absent (Lighterweights):

Yes, I'll willingly admit that Nicki Minaj and 2 Chainz are pretty damn popular, especially Nicki on a mainstream America level, but they're not particularly respected (aka often outright hated) and really aren't doing anything for anyone else. Plus, Nicki hasn't put out an album that wasn't a re-titled version of the last album since the first "Pink Friday".

And while I know their fans will freak out to see them in the same section as Nicki and Chainz, although their music isn't necessarily similar, I feel like I also have to mention Wiz Khalifa, Kid Cudi, B.o.B., Big Sean and Wale. I could spend an entire other article just ranking those five alone, but ultimately they all fall in the "knocking on the door, but aren't there right now" category.

Finally, let's also address the lyrically astute elephant in the room, Lupe Fiasco. I literally started with him automatically in the top ten; the music alone should be able to get him in. But then I really marinated on it, realized he's really just a one-man show, and while I dug "F&L 2", it sold less than 90K first week; that's substantially lower than anyone else in that top ten.

Young Guns:

In order, I'd have them ASAP Rocky, Mac Miller and Meek Mill, three young guys who may very well someday be in the top ten, and are probably in the top 25 (with the Meek being the least likely to make 25), but just aren't there right now.

Coming Up:

Although coming from completely different schools, and for different reasons, I have to give Chance the Rapper and Future quick nods. Both are heavily buzzing right now, whatever the fuck buzzing means, and in Futures case he's already got some legit hits behind him, but until I see an album from them, they're not top ten. Check back with me in a year.

Live From the Underground:

I had to close things out by acknowledging Killer Mike, Freddie Gibbs and Big K.R.I.T., three rappers (and in KRIT's case a producer) who purely artistically are up there with anyone, don't have the over-arching power to make this list, but don't have that power in significant part because they've chosen not to.

UPDATE: After I finished this, I realized there's a useful "Guest Verse" corollary: who would be excited to get a guest verse from who? For example, every rapper here would be stoked to get a verse from Jay-Z. Jay, on the other hand, wouldn't necessarily be excited about a verse form anyone. Another reason he's number one.
p.s. - For all the long-time readers, this is an updated/beefed up version of my first experiment with this concept.

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