Finding The GOAT (Round 2): Big Pun vs. RZA…Who You Got?
We have reached the second round in 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 “playoffs style.” Since Fall 2014, and 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 the 1990s, Big Pun and RZA ran in many of the same circles. Five years after Loud Records made a monstrous splash with Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers debut, they released another catalog jewel in Pun’s debut, Capital Punishment. Label-mates, Pun recruited RZA’s production for his platinum LP—the only album the MC would release in his short life. RZA has more than 25 years in the game, notably as a producer—but always as an MC. While Pun was fast, accurate, and relentless on the mic, RZA has been slow, free-form, and unconventional. With vastly opposing styles, Pun and RZA both favor creating unique microcosms for their lyrics, all about texture. These men each served as the antithesis to sugary presentations from New York’s Rap community, brothers in arms who now must face off (click on one to vote).
Voting For Round 2 is now closed. Stay up to date with the latest Finding The GOAT brackets
Big Pun (First Round Bye)
In essentially less than three years, Big Pun made a giant-sized impact on Hip-Hop. Beyond the racial implications of Rap’s first Latino soloist to garner a platinum plaque, Christopher Rios may be the genre’s most skilled MC. On the microphone, for an MC who weighed 698 pounds at the time of his 2000 death, Punisher rhymed with speed and agility. Although he would find himself breathless in speech, when delivering obliterating, intense verses, Pun seemed to avoid the need to breathe. Instead, the Bronx, New Yorker simply fired off clever nouns, verbs, and compound rhymes like a Thompson machine gun.
The original Terror Squad front man had crossover appeal, given his ability to bring precise, witty lyricism to polished, mainstream-tinged production. However, at heart, and before his Loud Records days, Big Punisher was a Horrorcore MC, who enjoyed occult imagery, dark themes, and grimy subject matters. Pun’s adaptable style made him distinguished in his ability to rhyme alongside Big L, Mr. Serv-On, Cam’ron, and KRS-One with style and grace. An artist with a lot of grit, Pun was an Everyman—who at the pinnacle of the shiny suit era—may have dressed flashy, but rhymed true-school, with a classic, dynamic debut in Capital Punishment. When the 28 year-old died from a heart-attack, he not only left a void in the hearts and ears of Heads, he left a massive emptiness in a culture excited by his skill, drive, and joy in presenting his verses.
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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 progression 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 or the confines of even the Clan’s mainstream perimeters. 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.
Largely an orchestrator in today’s context, RZA’s most universally-celebrated verses dropped in the mid-1990s, sometime between his cleaner-cut Tommy Boy Records beginnings, and his eventual Bobby Digitial-ization. It is in this era, that RZA grabbed the microphone with fury in crowded studios, and whether with Wu or Gravediggaz, shined amidst the extensive talent. The Abbott’s disregard for convention melded with a tried and true old school sensibility made his work truly unique. While his more lyrically-devoted brethren may get much more credit, RZA’s words and delivery were as raw as his distorted samples, raw drums, and unpredictable basslines.
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So…who you got?