Finding the GOAT: Pick Yet Another ’90s Great Wild Card 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 additional nominees for 1990s inclusion. Today’s list 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:

Jeru The Damaja

The “perverted monk” Jeru The Damaja had a strong beginning in the mid-1990s, with two amazing solo efforts in The Sun Rises In The East and the follow-up, Wrath Of The Math. The Brooklyn, New Yorker carries keen wisdom for survival tactics in life and in Hip-Hop, with plenty of insights. Pulling greatly for martial eyes, ‘Roo knows the pressure points in a track—especially those by DJ Premier to flip ill essays, and make syncopated verbal deliveries. It is with that drummer-like vocal style and mahogany cadence that the Dirty Rotten Scoundrel pulled his meanest musical maneuvers.

Wyclef Jean

Decades ahead of his time, Wyclef Jean blended genres, deliveries, and styles frequently on songs, whether with The Fugees, his many pupils, or alone. Tied to Croix des Bouquets, Haiti, Newark, New Jersey, and Brooklyn, New York, ‘Clef is a gestalt of experiences that lends itself to some of the most dynamic records in Hip-Hop. With wit, melody, and a lot of astute MC tools, Jean awakens the tracks. Beyond the massive success of his, Lauryn Hill, and Pras together as The Fugees, “the preacher’s son” has achieved multi-platinum success on his own. With top-notch range, a smooth verbal style, and a mastery of catchy, pithy phrases, ‘Clef is a GOAT-worthy beacon of versatility.

King T

Bustin’ it off for Compton, King T was a West Coast MC who rocked Heads in the East, whether being Marley Marl’s for cross-coast connection, or helping inspire the booming, melodic delivery of The Notorious B.I.G. Roger McBride brought out an intoxicated style, who transmitted expertly, always in the pocket of funky tracks by DJ Pooh, E-Swift, and Dr. Dre. King Tipsy has a commanding mic presence, even if his verses typically dealt with drinking alcohol, candy-colored cars, and the ills of Hub City. One of South Central’s first major label MCs, King T continues to inspire, motivate, and great make records almost 30 years in.

Imani

Part of The Pharcyde’s charm has been that no one MC eclipsed the group. Perhaps that is why, with a splitting rift in the Los Angeles, California, it still seems to be one-for-all or nothing. Emandu Rashaan had a nasal, versatile style that fits in nicely with his brethren. Imani frequently dropped fresh-for-’90s musings, more raucous than some of his band-mates, but essential to the Delicious Vinyl artists securing hits. The Humboldt Beginnings MC maintains this cache today, alongside Bootie Brown in the faction still rockin’ The Pharcyde name.

Brother J

The mouth-piece of the X-Clan combined a funky style with bundles of lessons over the course of four group albums, and some solo’s to follow. Jason Hunter maintains the perfect balance of education and entertainment, and had the charm, vision, and skill to carry an entourage with him, featuring J’s rhymes at center. The rhyme patterns and cool demeanor of Brother J made his group’s message reach the masses without feeling heavy, preachy, or contrived. Today, still waving the Red Black and Green flag, J remains the Grand Verbalizer.

Tash

Tha Alkaholiks’ Tash has one of the most bendable flows in Hip-Hop. Raspy, nasal, and always talkin’ slick, Rico Smith brought the ice cold 40 ounce party to record throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Able to rhyme fast as well as slow, the witty MC is blessed with keen abilities in figurative language, especially similes and a sharp cadence. The Ohio native, who found fame in Los Angeles, is also a master of compound rhymes and advanced pacing of his words, when  he isn’t blessing the E-Swift tracks with burps to remind you what he’s really about.

Gift Of Gab

Blackalicious’ Gift Of Gab is a proven master at putting words together. The “Alphabet Aerobics” athlete cut his teeth making laid back Everyman raps with Chief Xcel, DJ Shadow, and Lyrics Born. However, Timothy Parker brought multinational attention to Sacramento and Solesides alike through his ability to snap on a track, playing with words, and still coming out with something poignant to say. After three solo LPs, three group albums, along with two touted EPs, Gift Of Gab has lived up to his name as well as anyone in Rap.

Fatlip

Another Pharcyde alum, Fatlip had the self-deprecating personality to make Rap feel different in the brazen 1990s. The Los Angeles MC born Derrick Stewart made fun of his income, his looks, and his sex appeal, all while rapping incredibly dope. With a raspy vocal delivery and a funky style, Fatlip made one solo album, and has been a rare Rap recluse with an illustrious track record.

A.G.

The predominant MC in Showbiz & A.G., Andre The Giant towers in punchy punchlines, slick wordplay, and competition-minded lyrical displays. The Bronx, New York native Andre Barnes cuts into tracks with precision, like his D.I.T.C. band-mates Fat Joe, Big L, and O.C., with a balanced scale of style and substance. Rooted around masters of records, Andre Barnes thrives in song-making with a smoky soulful delivery, and punctuated cadence.

Wise Intelligent

The Poor Righteous Teachers’ front man is another MC who packed his verses with strong opinions, hard facts, and rugged intellect. The Trenton, New Jersey rapper presented his rhymes with flare to make the big concepts and themes succeed over the course of four 1990s albums. Timothy Grimes has also succeeded in expanding his repertoire into the solo sect, making a series of pungent, pensive, and outspoken albums on the new issues.

Boots Riley

The Coup’s Boots Riley presents Everyman rhymes with true Funk showmanship. A storyteller who preferred a low, accessible profile to Rap star grandeur succeeded in laying down edgy deliveries on researched topics that coincided with everyday struggle. Although the themes on Coup albums are typically quite real, the presentation welcomes humor, whimsicality, and silliness at times, bridging the gap between Paris and later Del. Additionally, Raymond Riley’s ability to tear down songs with coolness, grace, and charisma make The Coup not only mind-rockers but party-rockers alike.

Aceyalone

In the 2010s, the Freestyle Fellowship front man known as Aceyalone actually teaches Rap classes.  In terms of advanced Rap writing and structured technical deliveries, Edwin M. Hayes, Jr. may be one of the best to ever do it. Although Acey’ is arguably without a hit song (the “Mad Men” theme’s instrumental notwithstanding), the MC left the 1990s better than he found it, with a Jazz-inspired gift for improvisation, songs about nothing, and organizing a series of highly-skilled collectives, ranging from Haiku D’etat to Project Blowed. Like Mingus on the bass, Josh Gibson with the bat, or Jim Thorpe with the ball, Aceyalone is proof that the best sometimes transcends the stat sheets and critical rankings.

Havoc

The other half in Mobb Deep’s lyrical arsenal is often giving the bulk of his praises for far-reaching, menacing beats. However, depending on the song or the album, Havoc can be quite nice on the mic. With a rugged, punchy delivery, the Queens, New Yorker attacked the beat and helped capture the beat-down aesthetic that was the infamous Mobb Deep. With a breathy delivery, imperfected with sniffles and sloppy cadence, Hav’ maintains the image of a street tough-turned-millionaire with a lot on his mind. While solo albums have dwarfed in comparison to group effects, look no further than M-O-B-B’s Infamy and Amerikaz Nightmare tandem to grasp Kejuan Muchita’s mic skills.

MC Hammer

Before the scrutinized “ringtone rapper,” there was MC Hammer. Although a bulls-eye target for the commercialization of Rap in the early 1990s, Oakland’s Stanley Burrell proved early that a movement takes shape long before radio, video, or brands take notice. Hammer’s career, to most, begins and ends with “U Can’t Touch This,” an instructional, Rick James-ravishing hit single. But Hammer, unlike so many later Pop-Rap sensations, had hits before this. With a commanding live show, easily digestible raps, and a bridging approach from the Turf to the mainstream, this former minor league baseball player deserves some hall of fame considerations in his multi-million dollar contributions to rapping.

Myka 9

Another alum of the Freestyle Fellowship, Myka 9 is by many opinions—the best lyricist of the 1990s. Michael Troy has many spellings of his name, and many under-publicized albums under those names. However, those in the know understand that Myka was the A-student of The Good Life Cafe, even if those accolades sent him down a path that lacked the prestige and sustainability of some of his peers. In pure MC abilities, the Magic Heart Genies member needs no wishes, only microphones to wax his complex, combustible poetic. Myka later admitted to ghostwriting two early N.W.A. tracks, all while openly influencing the likes of Busta Rhymes, and others.

Everlast

Long before he was a Pop-Folk singer, Everlast carried the reigns of House Of Pain. A Rhyme Syndicate from the ’80s, under the tutelage of Ice-T, Erik Schrody thrives in the details, whether that was the brawling Irish brawling vibe of H.O.P., or the Metal-tinged take-by-force Hip-Hop in La Coka Nostra. A 25-year veteran, Everlast is a true hardcore showman, that seems to find ways to transmit authentically no matter the tone, genre, or subject matter. Ev’ is someone to relate to, who tells a story and makes a story that anybody can buy into.

Puff Daddy

In the late-1990s, Puff Daddy stepped from a producer and hype-man’s role into the spotlight. Sean Combs knew the formula for hit records, and enjoyed tapping into the backbone of existing hits, whether from Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five or David Bowie. Not a precision rapper, Diddy (as he was later known) was a master at song structure, giving people mood music, and coloring his Bad Boy movement with flyness. While Pharoahe Monch, Royce Da 5’9″ and others have penned Diddy’s rhymes, he is a master of ceremonies, and a true entertainer.

RZA

Among the first Wu-Tang Clan artists signed for their solo efforts, RZA was a DJ, then a producer, then an MC. Unlike some of Robert Diggs’ peers, that never showed too frequently. The Abbott of the Wu kicked rugged, witty, skillful rhymes that fit on the level with his Clansmen. If anything, RZA’s solo pursuits have been highly conceptual, often living beyond fans’ expectations. Still, without a classic solo set, the Brooklyn, New Yorker has plenty of verses etched in the face of Hip-Hop, embodiments of the raw movement he charged.

Dres

The Black Sheep front man Dres has a skillful style, that brings the lifestyle of old world New York City to a jazzy, improvisational style. Over the course of two Black Sheep albums, Andres Titus carried the weight and waxed slick rhymes, colorful imagery, and innovative presentation that made Native Tongues an expanded super-group. Now signed as a soloist to Tommy Boy Records, Dres’ has functioned beyond the album format, with strong MC skills, commentary, and always something dope to say.

Del The Funky Homosapien

The Hieroglyphics’ front man came into the game as Ice Cube’s cousin, and invented a whole other galaxy. Del The Funky Homosapien’s career follows the guideposts of Hip-Hop, from the Oakland, California MC’s true school beginnings, into some highly abstract, inventive works. Del is highly competitive, fueled by creativity, and tasked with taking Hip-Hop to new plateaus. Never with an album in the Top 100, Del has maintained a career on his own terms, veering between recluse and tremendous output. With a quirky, musical style, Teren Jones is another example proving that determination outweighs concession.

Sean Price

Although Sean Price was a wicked lyricist in his days known as Ruck, one-half of Heltah Skeltah, the 2000s would prove to be monumental for the Brooklyn MC. Switching his name to his government, Sean made a seeming last-ditch, self-deprecating album in 2005’s Monkey Barz. Met with overwhelming support by cult fans and media, the Duck Down Records MC received new life, and gained confidence, all while being an Everyman spitter. From his family to his pockets, from Wale to Bruno, nothing is safe or sacred in Sean P’s rhymes. With compounding couplets, constant wit, and hard-nosed delivery, few careers saw 2000s renaissance as much as this Boot Camp Clik bully.

So…who you got?

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