Finding the GOAT: Pick The Final Legendary Wild Card For Round 2?
As we continue the ultimate battle for the title of the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time), we are asking you to help us rank who is the greatest MC to pick up a mic. We will take over 35 years of Hip-Hop into consideration, pairing special match-ups in a sequence not unlike March Madness. For the next several months, we will roll out battles, starting with artists from similar eras paired against one another, until one undisputed King or Queen of the microphone reigns supreme.
In an effort to have Ambrosia For Heads readers decide the final candidates for GOAT, we are featuring 21 additional nominees, pulling from the late 1970s and 1980s. Today’s finale ballot stems from reigning (and ringing) in much of the decade. At the bottom of the page, vote on your pick after sampling their finest, and reading about their cases for Greatness:
In Hip-Hop’s talent-dense years of 1989 and 1990, few artists had the gift of gab like Special Ed. Brooklyn, New Yorker Edward Archer made two tremendous albums, especially debut Youngest In Charge. With one of Rap’s most versatile cadences, the Profile Records star advanced the commonplace flow of the culture with liquid-like flow that would influence many of the ’90s MCs. The original Crooklyn Dodger remains active today, always willing to experiment with sound and content, and refusing to be pigeonholed to his era or geography. Although Special Ed’s reign lasted less than 24 months, the artist’s impact on the field of rapping appears immortal.
Although he may be remembered as simply “kooky” in the history books, Kool Keith is first and foremost one of Hip-Hop’s most innovative, and uncompromising lyricists. Starting with Ultramagnetic MC’s Critical Beatdown, Keith took the mid-’80s style of rapping and began playing with delivery, flow, and overhauling the vocabulary masters of ceremony used. Keith was the equivalent of the electric guitar to the tradition of MC’ing, and the Bronx, New Yorker opted to be different at every bend in the road. In a series of albums since the Ultra Mag days, Keith has continuously worked to advance the craft, and challenge the status-quo of Hip-Hop.
An original Geto Boy, Willie D had all the trimmings of an East (and West) Coast-respected MC, with a Southerner’s drawl. The Houston, Texas native has been rapping for nearly 30 years, still filled with fire in his belly in speaking for the voiceless, whether they are the uncounted heads, the impoverished, or his fellow men (and women) in the ghettos of the USA. It was William Dennis who would become one of Rap-A-Lot Records’ first breakout stars, heard in solo albums like 1989’s Controversy and 1992’s I’m Goin’ Out Lika Soldier. A social commentator with a battle rapper’s aesthetic, “Willie Hands” combined Gangsta Rap flare with pointed criticism of the White House, DEA, and his fellow rappers.
Often dismissed as one of Hip-Hop’s first cross-over stars, Young MC had lyrics to go. Not only responsible for his own handful of Delicious Vinyl Records hits, Marvin Young’s pen-game gave the “funk” to Tone-Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina” and others. London, England-born and Queens, New York-raised, Young MC’s Stone Cold Rhymin’ was a Top 10 dart in the charts. Additionally, for the same saccharine style he is regularly criticized for, the “Know How” MC employed to expand Rap’s audience, with safe lyrics, slick displays, and undeniable catchyness.
As Hip-Hop lyrics are debated as whether admissible by law, it was Luther “Luke” Campbell who challenged the first amendment. Through 2 Live Crew, the Miami, Florida based rapper was a tremendous writer, producer, and marketer in showing Hip-Hop’s risque side. Before “O.P.P.,” “Lollipop,” or “No Hands,” Luke and his cohorts made hit records about female anatomy, the act of procreation, and the joy of using foul language. Although more technical and lyrical MCs might get the credit from the era, it can be argued that looking at Rap’s current trends, subject matters, and bends, Uncle Luke fathered much of the style.
Harlem World’s Spoonie Gee helped bridge the gap between the post-Disco routines of the late 1970s and the savvy song structures of the 1980s. An MC who worked with Sugar Hill, Enjoy, and Tuff City, Spoonie Spoon made songs that resonated with the breakers, the DJs, and the lovers at once. On the mic, Gabriel Jackson had a smooth, conversational style that made his clever rhymes appear off the cuff and yet rehearsed at once. Sadly, Spoonie’s pinnacle presence predates the album structure, making the mainstay a legend of singles, performances, and a fly persona.
In Hip-Hop’s first decade, Grandmaster Caz is easily the most respected MC among the following Rap generation. The Bronx, New Yorker employed many of the Rap features that are staples today, in addition to penning much of the genre’s first hit, in the form of “Rapper’s Delight.” The Cold Crush Brothers’ front man had never-ending bars that made the culture exciting, unpredictable, and deeply self-confident. This living artifact still records and performs regularly, showing that one can shape the culture, and advance within it, without ever compromising along the way.
The Gangsta Rap Godfather helped prove Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s worth and distinction early on. The West Philadelphia MC showed how Rap music could be menacing to a fatal level, decades before Freddie Gibbs, 50 Cent, and YG. Additionally, the mega-voiced Jesse B. Weaver had impeccable showmanship, with a high-energy routine. He rapped about liquor, sex, and smoking crack (not selling, smoking), but the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” narrator and theme-maker also has made powerful songs fighting for Hip-Hop legitimacy in the music marketplace, the power of Blackness, and Rap’s global appeal.
If KRS-One was the brains in The Bronx’ claim of being Hip-Hop’s birthplace, Just-Ice was the brawn. In delivery and stature, the Kurtis Mantronik protege incorporated West Indian MC stylings, bringing Rap music closer to its Reggae and Dub roots, all while being another archetypal gangsta rapper. On stage, Just-Ice would battle the crowd, battle his peers, and brought the angst, the thrill, and the proud anger of Rap to life. Joseph Williams has multiple acclaimed albums, with powerful, substantial singles. Still active, and “kool and deadly” as ever, this B.D.P. affiliate makes music fit for the “boogie down.”
Sometimes lost in Eazy E’s antics or Ice Cube’s positioning, MC Ren was a powerful lyrical force in N.W.A. The Compton villain had a great voice, which bent for a cool, yell-like cadence that never grates on the ears. On his own, Lorenzo Patterson favored his creative control in favor of the pageantry of some of his former band mates. Ren skewed rhymes towards the subjects of race, religion, and intellect, all while maintaining his love of four-letter words, street imagery, and aggressive presentation. Active as ever, this steadfast right-hand-man to Eazy has always made Rap on his terms: when, how, and what he wanted it to be.
A 1970s carry-over, Busy Bee literally mastered the ceremony of Rap into the mid-1980s. This Bronx Chief Rocker gave MCs so much of the vernacular, crowd-responsive tactics used in the form today. A live performer more than a studio MC, David Parker made Rap an event. Busy Bee Starski made the act of battling something that mattered well beyond the stage of competition, an artist who kept the party principles in Hip-Hop, and someone who had “wild style” in heavy doses, necessary to thrive well before the video era.
The Bronx’s Greg Nice helped package the routines of the first generation MCs and add on. The Nice & Smooth front man knows how to move a crowd, and make any track catchy. With a peppy, echoed delivery, Greg Mays used his beat-boxing background and voice as an instrument. Whether accentuating the track, laying down a slick and confident verse, or providing an effortless storyline, Greg remains N-I-C-E.
3rd Bass’ MC Serch challenged the conventions of what an MC, especially a white rapper, could sound like and rhyme about. Michael Berrin is a radio and television host, with his ability to relate to folks different than him—a constant gift. In the Def Jam Records trio, Serch cultivated a method for discussing racial issues—speaking about minority issues, as a white, Jewish MC from Queens, New York. On stage, Serch had tight routines, dances, catch-phrases and a whole package. In his verses, in the group and alone, Serch had lucid bars that could tell stories, provide powerful images, and etch themselves into the memory of listeners.
T La Rock
From Hip-Hop’s formative early 1980s, T La Rock bottled the energy, pride, and excitement of the streets in the form of what may be the genre’s greatest single, “It’s Yours.” Clarence Keaton mastered the tight routines of Rap’s first class of MCs, in addition to laying down verbose verses, showcasing a cutting-edge display. The earliest Def Jam breakout succeeded in making songs about Hip-Hop that had more to say and inspire than many of their predecessors. The Bronx, New York is another artist who maximized the singles format, while still releasing relevant, cult-received albums later in his career.
In capturing the Beastie Boys’ Punk-meets-B-Boys aesthetic, Ad-Rock had the ultimate sound and style. Adam Horovitz brought the raucous in his career, with a shrieking cadence, following bars rooted in hijinks, vice, and early 1980s New York City grit. The son of a famed playwright, Ad-Rock is drama free on the mic, distinguishing his presence on tracks, generally keeping things light and easy. On the Beasties’ breakthrough, Licensed To Ill, Ad-Rock may have played the most critical role of all, on an album that would seal the group’s future, and sustain Def Jam Records through some challenging times in the early 1990s.
While A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul garnered the fanfare, the Jungle Brothers made some of the finest music in the early Native Tongues movement. Nathaniel Hall took on the name Afrika Baby Bam honoring one of Hip-Hop’s godfathers, Afrika Bambaataa, which showed early Heads just what he was about. Throughout the JBeez’ run, Baby Bam upheld the tenants of the culture with conscious, art-centered lyrics that hinted at Rap’s future, while crutching its past 15 years in. All of the Jungle Brothers’ members had skill and impact, but B.A.M.—who is no longer with the collective has always fought to elevate Heads’ happiness, understanding, and knowledge.
Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O fronted Hip-Hop’s first band—as they say. With that, the Brooklyn, New Yorker born Glenn Bolton utilized a ton of charisma, style, and a flow that fit a variety of songs. With his crew, Daddy-O was able to be both joy-free and cocky on the mic, serving as a storyteller, party-rocker, and cultural commentator at different places. The Tommy Boy Records star thrived in the confines of his collective, before becoming a producer. This man is another product of giving his group all he had, for the sake of the song.
One half of Hip-Hop’s famed duo, Salt is peppy and a deft crowd-rocker. Through the decades, Cheryl James is a skilled MC, singer, and more. For more than 30 years, the Queens mainstay was able to give the world anthems about sultriness, finding perfect mates, and overcoming the taboos of the bedroom. In versatility, charm, and records reaching far beyond the inner-circle, Salt spices things up.
Another versatile Beastie Boys, Michael Diamond played the role of comic foil for many of the crew’s early records. High-pointed, energetic, and laced with all the ill catch-phrases, Mike D was the perfect complement to Ad-Rock and MCA. The Brooklyn, New York MC would prove in the 1990s that he had plenty on his mind, and a style that pulled from Rock, Disco, and the contemporary Rap movements all at once.
Like her partner, Pepa brought the perfect balance to the Rap palette. The Queens, New York MC born Sandra Denton had a punchy delivery, the perfect off-set to her teammate. With every step of the group, Pepa advanced for the times, one of the most versatile and dynamic voices that chose to make the trio (with the combined incarnations of Spinderella) bigger than herself.
Though his partner-in-rhyme, Melle Mel, was the most heralded of the group, Cowboy was an equally formidable MC. Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins was an early architect of the now commonplace call and response technique in Hip-Hop (“throw your hands in the air”) and was said to be the backbone of The Furious Five by Melle Mel. In fact, Cowboy was the first MC to accompany Grandmaster Flash’s brilliance on the wheels of steel. Sadly, his life was cut short in 1989 at the age of 29 due to drug abuse. His legacy live on in his music.
So…who you got?
Voting For Round 1 is now closed. Stay up to date with the latest Finding The GOAT brackets
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