Finding The GOAT (Round 2): J. Dilla vs. Guru…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.

Following the tightest possible margin of victory in Round 1, J. Dilla topped Pete Rock. Now, two immortal Hip-Hop artists face off (the first time this has happened in the GOAT) through Dilla now advancing to take on Gang Starr’s Guru. Both MCs and producers (to varying degrees), these men let their work glow with an unbound love of Hip-Hop that extended far beyond the walls of genre, geography, or time. Two old souls, these artists—who worked together in the living, are some of the biggest losses in all of music in the last decade. In a competitive format each man/artist would likely appreciate, we turn to the Heads to vote their pick to Round 3 (click to vote):

Voting For Round 2 is now closed. Stay up to date with the latest Finding The GOAT brackets

J. Dilla



J. Dilla (First Round Winner, Against Pete Rock 51% to 49%)


In 10 years, J. Dilla made a lasting impact on Hip-Hop. With his groups, Slum Village and JayLib, the Detroit, Michigan native had peppy, unpredictable beats. On the microphone, James Yancey was much the same. A tremendous song-maker, Dilla had the ability to take songs seemingly about nothing, and make them lasting jewels, with slick wordplay, catchy choruses, and a strong bid of self-confidence. In other moments, on the subjects of big trucks, polyamory, or strong attractions, Jay Dee thrived in concept.

Like his close collaborators Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip, Dilla adapted to groups, as well as stamped out a solo career with direction and devotion. Part of the reason Dilla’s posthumous works are so sought-after and marketable is that the onetime Delicious Vinyl Records artist rarely wasted a moment. His beats influenced some of today’s driving hit-makers, but Dilla’s rhymes may very well be the eternal essence of Detroit’s sound as well.

“Keep It On (This Beat)” (with Slum Village) (1997)
“Players” (with Slum Village) (2000)
Thelonius” (with Common & Slum Village) (2000)

Guru (First Round Winner, Against Main Source’s Large Professor 88% to 12%)


“It’s mostly the voice,” Guru once reflected about himself. With a smoky delivery, Guru stood apart since his late 1980s introduction to the Hip-Hop masses. A Boston, Massachusetts native, Guru brought his wisdom, his strong Jazz influence, and his voracious reading with him in a relocation to Brooklyn, New York (as chronicled on “The P.L.A.N.E.T.“). That unique sense of self translated beautifully into Gang Starr, the unit, that with partner, DJ Premier, created a perfect balance of street-savvy, gun-totin’ strength, with calming, righteous knowledge. On the microphone, Guru often spoke slowly and clearly, more about substance than style. However, as Gang Starr’s sounds evolved with the message, Keith Elam found a place on the Rap map that was all his own. He sprinkled in songs about authenticity, work ethic, and discipline, making the verses and meaning timeless, and worthy of repeat listens.

On the solo side, Guru continued to bridge that gap with his Jazzmatazz concept, exploring Hip-Hop and Spoken Word set against a plethora of musical styles over more than four albums. A messenger MC to the fullest, the dearly missed Guru manifested his words in more than 20 years of great music.

Other Notable Songs:

“Words I Manifest (Remix)” (with Gang Starr) (1989)
“Transit Ride” (with Branford Marsalis)
“Now You’re Mine” (1994)

So…who you got?

Related: Check Out The Finding The GOAT Round 2 Ballots & Round 2 Results