Finding the GOAT: Who is Your Wildcard Pick for Round 2?

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Hi. We recently created AFH TV, Ambrosia For Heads’ streaming video service, because we believe real Hip-Hop deserves its own dedicated TV home. But, there are doubters, so, we need your help. If you have enjoyed anything on AFH over the last 7 years, we are asking you to subscribe to AFH TV. It is only $1.99/month or $12/year, and already features some amazing content, but the best is yet to come. Thank you for all of your support.

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 nominees for inclusion. Today’s list stems from reigning (and ringing) in much of the first decade of the 2000s. At the bottom of the page, vote on your pick after sampling their finest, and reading about their cases for Greatness:

Tech N9ne

He’s a self-proclaimed “mental giant,” but Tech N9ne is also Hip-Hop’s David, who has rivaled Goliath. The Kansas City, Missouri veteran MC carried the total package: precise, rapid-fire raps, strong metaphors, heartfelt revelations, and a second to none stage presence. However, as the King of Darkness, some say that Aaron Yates pigeonholed himself in a Pop-savvy market. Since the early 2000s, with his own Strange Music operation in tow, Tech made music exactly as he wanted, topped the charts and sales sheets, and established a label oasis for like-minded skillful peers.

Canibus

In terms of didactic deliveries, Canibus may be unrivaled. A disciple of the Lost Boyz’ LB Fam as well as The Fugees’ Refugee Camp All-Stars, ‘Bis entered Hip-Hop with a strong appreciation for song structure, although he favored hard, non-stop bars. After his Universal beginnings, Canibus spent the 2000s and 2010s largely on his own reclusive terms, presenting straightforward cult-championed albums that tackled big ideas, and big industry opponents. Once at the epicenter of the industry, Canibus limited his video output, his collaborations, and focused his lens on the attributes that made him a GOAT candidate for more than 15 years.

El-P

Rooted in the early 1990s emerging New York City underground, Brooklyn’s El-Producto found his stride as a solo artist in the 2000s. The Company Flow alum had made a host of celebrated records, combining a love of Hip-Hop’s elements with nihilism, urban symphony, and strong current event commentary. Outside of strong acclaim with Co Flow and currently with Run The Jewels, Jamie Meline has lauded three vocal albums, that pack punch, dense lyricism, and a ton of grit.

Black Rob

Following the devastating murder of The Notorious B.I.G. and the exodus of The LOX, Black Rob would become the enforcer at Bad Boy Records’ roster. The Harlem, New York native combined street-savvy rhymes with heartfelt interior monologue, an anti-star on the Pop-driven label. Breakthrough album, Life Story would be a Top 3 debut on the shoulders of “Whoa,” bringing Rob’s rugged thesis into the mainstream. Five years later, the Black Rob Report follow-up would garner critical support for this straightforward street MC, who still makes works today with the tried and true formula.

Jean Grae

Another product of the 1990s NYC underground, Natural Resource’s Jean Grae shined 10 times brighter on her own in the 2000s. Beginning with the low-budget release of 2002’s Attack Of The Attacking Things, Tsidi Ibrahim proved, extremely quickly, that all she needed was one mic. In the years that followed, Jean’s album-making was consistent in quality and evolved in subject matter. Deeply personal, witty, quirky, and imaginative, Grae’s works displayed a wide range of possibility as she favored beats across Hip-Hop’s board. Garnering interest and support from peers Talib Kweli and 9th Wonder, Jeanie remains a bright source of skill, thought, and the kind of verses that Heads cannot find elsewhere.

Sheek Louch

Sometimes wrongfully dismissed as “the third member of The LOX,” Sheek Louch has proven sharpness on the microphone for more than 20 years. Outside of competing with Styles P and Jadakiss in his D-Block ventures, Sheek has made five, highly-consistent albums. Perhaps better than some of his band mates, Sean Jacobs has been able to hedge his albums with not only hard-nosed lyrical and street tracks, but records that tinge on love, depth, and personal experience. He’s had Top 10 solo offerings, the devoted fan-base and creative output to necessitate such active artistry.

Chamillionaire

Hailing from the SwishaHouse as the duo Paul Wall & Chamillionaire, both artists found massive solo success in the mid-2000s. Especially in the case of Chamillionaire, the Houston, Texas MC proved that contemporary rappers from his region could tackle concept, exercise fast-paced flows, and make acclaimed, enduring albums. 2005’s Sound of Revenge achieved all of those things, as did 2007’s Ultimate Victory. Wrapped in a ringtone package, Hakeem Seriki also brought commentary nuggets into mainstream airplay, while escorting esteemed veterans (in the case of Krayzie Bone and Slick Rick) with him. Since leaving the major label system, Chamillionaire has marketed material directly (almost exclusively) to his core, but this H-Town MC is highly-respected, while decorated as platinum plus.

J-Live

For 15 years, J-Live has proven that labels made a mistake holding back the Brooklyn, New York triple-threat. MC, DJ, and producer, Justice Allah has made a handful of cohesive, thoughtful albums, that are enduring stones in the sand of the Underground Hip-Hop glory days. 2001’s long-overdue The Best Part shaped J as the latest complement to iconic production, while 2002’s All Of The Above is a mesmerizing display of range, possibility, and autobiography. With six solo albums and a handful of EPs, J-Live has been a voice of dependability and craft in Hip-Hop, making complete works, with style and sophistication.

Edan

Sometimes dismissed as a Hip-Hop outsider, the 2000s Boston-based Edan considered various elements of the past in his own music-making, whether it was the 1970s MC genesis, or the technical advancements of the late ’80s. For his self-produced albums, Edan Portnoy set these imitated styles against retro production, veering from sparse 12-second sampling Hip-Hop, to ’60s Soul and Psychedelia. In just two true studio LPs, Edan has succeeded strongly, transcending mimicry into outright originality. 2005’s Beauty & The Beat is one of the most sophisticated albums of the decade, garnering mainstream interest, as Edan not only fearlessly invented a style of production, but demanded better bars and deliveries on the mic.

Evidence

Outside of his amazing work within Dilated Peoples, Evidence has amassed an incredible solo career. “Mr. Slow Flow” draws out his verses, tapping into his love of photography to give listeners a fuller picture with words. More than that, Ev has succeeded in making a handful of LPs beyond Dilated that are based around vibe, yet insightful about the world at large and the inner-workings of Michael Perretta’s mind. Like his East Coast counterparts, Evidence’s tireless work ethic, substance, and complete vision have made him a Grammy Award-winning extension of the West Coast pinnacle of the Underground Hip-Hop glory days. From Kanye West to Diamond D, plenty of plenty are depending on “The Weatherman” for information.

Young Buck

The Southern contingency of G-Unit not only added a level of impassioned aggression to his superstar collective, Young Buck arguably made the finest solo work of 50 Cent’s disciples. A onetime Cash Money Records hopeful, this Nashville, Tennessee MC caught fire under the tutelage of Fif and Sha Money XL in the early 2000s. While 2004’s Straight Outta Cashville garnered platinum sales, it was the 2006 follow-up Buck The World that showed Buck’s strong sense of stress, urgency, and anger, perhaps making him more in common with then-label-mates M.O.P. than band mates Lloyd Banks or Tony Yayo. In the years when his contract, legal disputes, and personal struggles forced him into the margins of the industry, David Brown was able to weather the storm through maintaining his lyrical prowess even without the big budget guests and production.

Z-Ro

A member of the Screwed Up Click, Z-Ro found most of his success following the tragic death of DJ Screw. The Houston, Texas MC/singer is versatile in his delivery. Between balancing deft, fast raps with booming melodic vocals, Joseph McVey’s voice appealed to standard and screwed listens. Whatever the style and no matter the format, this Rap-A-Lot Records alum thrives on highly-personal verses that delve into depression, ambition, and a feeling of alienation from loved ones. Always independent, ‘Ro is a cult-championed figure. The self-proclaimed Mo City Don serves up his acclaimed albums almost haphazardly, with low-budget videos, artwork, and marketing. However, true to the legends of Rap, it is the contents of the music that has made this ABN survivor a GOAT-worthy MC with so much to say, and so many ways to offer it up.

Madlib

A producer/MC who emerged in the outer layer of the Likwit Crew, Madlib came to form in the 2000s. The Lootpack alum was a sureshot source for dusty, loop-driven beats that far-reached much of the competition in terms of sample sources. However, on the mic, Otis Jackson, Jr. aims to be just as obscure. Separating himself from his groups, Madlib looked to an animated character, Quasimoto, and made tremendous impact. Whether with distorted vocals or not, rocking alone or beside J Dilla, Madlib has made lasting impact beyond his stellar production, all while putting Oxnard, California on the Hip-Hop map.

Macklemore

Although 2012 would prove to be a breakthrough year, Seattle, Washington’s Macklemore has literal work dating back quite a ways. The DIY MC was extracting his world to record with the turn of the new millennium. As was the case with his platinum, Grammy Award-winning benchmark LP with Ryan Lewis, Mack’ made a way for himself by discussing Everyman issues and speaking for the rainy world around him. Arguably having taken himself to the top of the game, this MC is a testament to paying dues, patience, and putting the issues and opinions in record that others haven’t.

Vast Aire

This Cannibal Ox co-founder took urban poetry to new levels with his emphasized delivery. A Manhattan native who claims to have grown up around many of New York City’s boroughs, Vast Aire dramatically delivers verses filled with symbolism, imagery, and some powerful personal experiences. While his acclaimed group made one album, the ATOMS Family MC has been able to make meaningful solo works that apply his verbal paintings to a range of surfaces. Theodore Arrington, III upholds the fundamentals of MC’ing, and like his most complementary production, he thrives in transporting listeners well beyond his 14-mile island and to galaxies of color, thought, and emotion.

Rapper Big Pooh

As one-half of Little Brother’s lyrical division, Rapper Big Pooh crushed bars throughout the 2000s. The first artist in the crew to attempt a solo work, 2005’s Sleepers would prove to be a strong success for the Virginia-born delegate within the Justus League. Pooh’s ability to vibe with tracks, self-deprecate as needed, and work in a full spectrum of outer interests into his verses made LB so easy to relate to. In the last five years, Thomas Jones has owned his solo lane with a devoted core following every word.

Aesop Rock

In terms of dense, lyricism, Long Island, New Yorker Aesop Rock is one of the fiercest. Another late ’90s NYC underground carry-over, this Weathermen/Hail Mary Mallon member born Ian Bavitz delivers his rhymes in a one-of-kind booming, nasal delivery, barely stopping for breath. With acclaimed solo works, this MC/producer who is also a painter helped make imprints like Mush, Def Jux, and later, Rhymesayers vibrant sources of talent.

Chali 2na

The Jurassic 5 front-man moved Heads amidst a group that was difficult to stand out among. Cool, calm, and incredibly clever, Chali 2na applied his years of routines at the Good Life Cafe into making a colorful career of awesomely complex rhyme schemes. A native of Chicago who calls Southern California home, Charles Stewart’s style cannot be regionally pinpointed, evident in his courageous solo discography. Also a painter and graffiti artist, 2na-Fish seeks out vivid word choices in giving listeners lengthy essays on how to hang out, enjoy classic Hip-Hop, and stay positive.

Immortal Technique

Harlem, New York’s Immortal Technique laid lyrical dynamite to mine his own lane in Hip-Hop. A militant intellect, Felipe Coronel refused to conform throughout his career—whether that was signing with labels, seeking digestible sounds, or backing down from confrontational lyrics about race, class, and government. I.T.’s Revolutionary series is among the most successful indie efforts of the 2000s, while Tech’s ability to reach mainstream audiences through social media and word of mouth was incredibly grassroots. From Roc Raida to Mos Def, iconic artists have sought out this MC who prides himself on challenging old guards in many institutions, through powerfully-driven words and deeds.

Mistah FAB

Often regarded as the post-Mac Dre poster-artist for the Hyphy movement, Oakland, California’s Mistah FAB is so much more. While his Atlantic Records contract seemed to fade with the changing trends, Stanley Cox’s music focused, bringing this freestyle master closer to his influences. While 2005’s Son of a Pimp album touched upon the complexities to Fabby Davis’ style and approach, his I Found My Backpack volumes revealed an Oaktown MC upholding the traditions of Souls Of Mischief, Seagram, and Tha Luniz at once. Dangerously dope and unpredictable on stage, this versatile vocalist is still making his rounds, converting Heads to the fact that a GOAT MC has been plugging away in Northern California since the proclaimed post-2Pac “Dark Ages.”

Brother Ali

Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Brother Ali is a soulful Rhymesayer who has carried the ’80s MC bravado along with the penchant for calling change into action. With a booming, melodic voice, Ali’s stressed delivery and conversational cadence have made him a sustaining star. Along the way, the legally-blind, Albino MC has spoken out about being and looking different, akin to The Notorious B.I.G. or Eminem, making a heartfelt resonance with many in transcending tracks like “Forest Whitaker.” Unafraid to go tete a tete with Rap peers, Ali has also devoted large chunks of his catalog chasing away imitators, detractors, and those out to hold the Brother back.

So…who you got?

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Related: Check Out The Other Ambrosia For Heads “Finding The Goat” Ballots