Finding The GOAT Album: Jay Z’s The Black Album vs. Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
Jay Z and Killer Mike have strong commands over their audiences through vastly different styles. For Jay, 2003’s The Black Album was the ultimate parting shot—and brought attention to each and every verse. On the flip-side, Killer Mike’s 2012 album R.A.P. Music would pivot from the MC’s commercially-dominant past to a cult-lauded champion of bully Rap. Which album stands taller (Click one then click “vote”)?
The Black Album by Jay-Z
- First Round Winner (against T.I.’s King, 75% to 25%)
In 2003, Jay Z solely occupied the pole position in Hip-Hop. The Marcy Projects native had perceptively defeated Nas in the MC battle of the 2000s. He had climbed the charts, repeatedly, and laced the walls of Roc-A-Fella Records with his own platinum and gold plaques in less than a decade. Like Eminem, The Notorious B.I.G., and Run-D.M.C. before him, Jay finally had the critics, the charts, and the hearts of the masses—all at once. Following the groundswell of The Blueprint and the quick-strike sequels, Jay wanted a statement LP. The Black Album was a truly “grand closing” of the book in Shawn Carter’s illustrious 15-year Rap career, or so Heads seemingly believed at the time. What has made The Black Album so exceptional was its detailed planning and execution. By 2003, past Jay collaborators Master P and Too Short had pump-faked retirement. In both cases, the artists not only revoked their vows, their exit music lacked gravitas—making their returns a bit blushed. In Jay’s case, however, this statement album not only amplified the attention to his lyrics (what other major album had its own accapella edition?) and music, it set the new standard for LP anticipation-and-delivery in the digital era.
The Black Album was blueprinted as the ideal farewell for Jay. Stripped of rapping or singing guests, the album unflinchingly made Hova its focal point. In tow, the MC sought out key producers from his past, and a few wish-list studio mates to deliver his magnum opus. In turn, he seemingly addressed all the things that made his career work—almost as a revue. Songs like early released “What More Can I Say?” showed that Jay felt he had fully manifested his artistic trajectory and narrative. The display was exceptional, and every bar seemed to be worthy of extensive analysis. On “Moment Of Clarity,” Jay’s openness and intimacy reached new plateaus. Shawn Carter was suddenly profound, and lucidly justifying his own legacy (and thug) through candid commentary, over-top Eminem production. For many though, deep cuts like “Public Service Announcement (Interlude)” packed his eighth album’s greatest charms. On a 170-second dust-covered Just Blaze sample chop, Jay grandstanded—his flow, his status, his swagger, and his ability to make purebred Hip-Hop from the owners box. “99 Problems” did the same, as Jay sought out Rick Rubin’s proper return to Rap. A grown man with the woman of his dreams, an uber-talented team around him, and the most in-tact legacy of an active MC, Jay used every minute of The Black Album differently than past albums. The 9th Wonder-produced “Threat” brought Jay back to wolf mode, while DJ Quik-laced “Justify My Thug” rolled out Jay’s man-code. The album was not PG-13, but balanced the antics of a former street hustler with major aspirations in the years ahead. He walked the line, and compromised none of his past or his future. The Black Album brilliantly basked in its own hype. Jay Z left the stage, and flicked off the switch—but the lighters of hungry fans illuminated the legacy he had built in real-time.
Album Number: 8 (solo)
Released: November 14, 2003
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, February 2004; certified platinum, February 2004; certified 2x platinum, February 2004)
Song Guests: Pharrell,
Song Producers: Just Blaze, Kanye West, The Neptunes (Pharrell & Chad Hugo), Timbaland, Eminem, DJ Quik, 9th Wonder, Eminem, Rick Rubin, Joe “3H” Weinberger, Aqua, The Buchanans (Wiz Buchanan & Dre Vega), Luis Resto
R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike
- First Round Winner (against Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter II, 62% to 38%)
Nine years removed from his Top 10 debut, Killer Mike made incredible artistic strides by his fifth studio album. Signed to Cartoon Network’s Williams Street record label for a one-off, the former Purple Ribbon star pupil made one animated album in R.A.P. Music. Standing for Rebellious African People, the LP revamped Killer Kill’s sound, replacing the Trap elements with El-P’s apocalyptic-meets-Golden-Era glory. With the new backdrop, Mike Bigga focused his efforts and boiled down the fat to his most cohesive, poignant effort to date. The chemistry that would ultimately pivot to Run The Jewels began on this take-by-force, heavy mental album of its own. The Killer Mike that today dines with politicians, promotes discourse on cable news channels, and stands up for issues far beyond music was delivered on this Top 100 charting LP. Those traits were always there, but for the audience that had not properly considered Mike since the Outkast days realized that his message, boisterous sound, and captivating charm were just as dominant as his stature.
With El-P on the boards and (Eyedea’s onetime partner) DJ Abilities on the tables, Killer Mike created an album to subversively show his love of the Hip-Hop genre. “Big Beast” was boom-bap gone brutal, as Mike, Bun B, and T.I. orchestrated a heist of the sound. “Go!” postulated what would happen if Mantronix spent a night at Magic City, and Rick Rubin set up shop at Stankonia. The hard 808 drums of this album were the body shots to Mike’s onslaught of verbal upper-cuts. The album dealt with encouraging masculinity and traditional core values in Hip-Hop. “Reagan” played like a Chuck D and Bomb Squad indictment. This time, Mike and El challenged the notions that the 40th US President was—as the Discovery Channel polls touted, “The greatest American.” Mike retraced the troubled America’s steps to free markets, and the most explosive days of crack cocaine. The record was ruthless in its defamation of the Neo-Conservative icon, and a fiery wake-up call to babies born during his Presidency. Similarly, “Anywhere But Here” was a dismal ride-along through three different cities as Mike looked at the decline of modern civilization, and the unchanged inadequacies between race, class, and the 1%. R.A.P. Music bridged the music of Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, and Above The Law with the elements that made Grind Time Rap Gang and Company Flow so lethal in the 2000s. Once deemed a ringtone artist upon his Columbia Records arrival, Killer Mike had gone underground to go over the top. R.A.P. was B-boys gone berzerk.
Album Number: 5 (as solo)
Released: May 15, 2012
Label: Williams Street Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #77
Song Guests: El-P, Bun B, T.I., Scar, Trouble, Emily Panic, DJ Abilities, Torbitt Schwartz
Song Producers: El-P, Wilder Zoby
So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums.