Finding The GOAT: What We’ve Learned So Far & Why No MC is Safe

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Ambrosia For Heads’ Finding The GOAT series, the search for the Greatest Of All Time MC (as determined by you), began in September, 2014 and is soon down to its final 21 contestants. The MC who wins by the biggest margin in Round 3 will get a bye in Round 4. At 11:59pm EST on Saturday April 11, Round 3 polls will close, and Round 4 will kick off on Monday, April 13. But prior to finalizing this round and unveiling the next match-ups, a lot remains to be determined and, based on recurring feedback, explained.

Before recapping what has been a whirlwind Round 3, here’s a look at how we got here, from the beginning. Prior to Round 1, over 250 MCs were considered based on several criteria including impact, influence, sales, longevity, acclaim, originality, flow, wordplay, storytelling, substance, wit, punchlines, followings…and a host of other variables people use in their calculus for what makes a great MC. Because there are so many factors at play, and each of those considerations holds different levels of importance for every Head, we wanted to cast the net far and wide to be inclusive of as many MCs as possible, without self-selecting. As a result, more than 200 artists were included in Round 1. If more than 100 Heads in the land believed an MC was worthy of the GOAT title (or even of being considered in the GOAT conversation), chances are that MC was a participant in Round 1.

Once the MCs were selected, they were separated into different brackets, NCAA Tournament-style, to compete amongst one another intra-bracket. Because Hip-Hop is now a 40-year old culturefilled with many eras that each have defining styles, characteristics, MCs and fan bases–the brackets were determined in line with those eras. We specifically looked at 1978-1983, 1984-1988, 1989-1992, 1993-1999, 2000-2006 and 2007-present. These years were calculated with specific eras and MC lines of demarcation in mind. That’s why Eminem did not compete against Slick Rick, or Chuck D against The Notorious B.I.G, in the first 3 rounds. Within the brackets, MCs were seeded so as to avoid first round match ups like Rakim vs KRS-One or Nas vs Jay Z, and participants were paired based on similar factors such as region, style, being members of crews, etc. In addition to MCs’ bios and music, in each battle there also has been a paragraph detailing the pairing, including similarities and contrasts.

From there, the determination of the results of each battle was completely in your hands. For each match there has been an enormous amount of comments on Facebook, in sidebars, over emails and elsewhere, but, in order to have a standardized and fully-accountable system for tallying votes, only the results from the actual polls in the posts have been used to determine the winner of each battle. We’ve kept tabs on the discussions on other platforms, and the results have seemed to align, but, it’s important that you actually vote using the polls if you want your voice to be fully heard.

Reaching 21 MCs out of more than 35 years of Rap and Hip-Hop music is no easy task—indicative of the more than six months this process has taken thus far. Along the way, there have been plenty of surprises, but none more concentrated than in Round 3. Naturally, anything can change between now and the closing minutes of April 11, but here are some of the iconic MCs who appear to not be moving forward:

Jay Z, Big Pun, Ice Cube, DMC, Q-Tip, Chuck D, Snoop Dogg, Slick Rick, Ghostface Killah, and Kanye West. All of these artists are GOATs to some Hip-Hop Heads, and all—save for a ballot-box bum-rush, are about to be defeated.

Within this is a very unique battle that call for lots of debate on its own.

MF DOOM (who, is known to some as just DOOM, and a few others as Zev Love X) is on the cusp of defeating Jay Z. These two MCs, both of whom started in the industry nearing the close of the 1980s, have largely operated in different circles. While Jay was an under-study to Brooklyn’s Jaz-O and Big Daddy Kane, DOOM (as Zev Love X) rolled with 3rd Bass and Brand Nubian. DOOM’s then-group, KMD would release Mr. Hood on Elektra Records five years before Jay’s debut, Reasonable Doubt, to some cult praises. By the arrival of Jay, DOOM’s career and life were falling apart. After the death of his twin brother, DOOM vanished from the industry, and in real life battled alcohol, homelessness, and deep depression. Upon his masked return (taking on the name we use now), MF DOOM’s stance in Rap was almost the anti-Jay Z. While Jigga was beginning a multi-platinum run at the top of Rap’s totem pole, the masked villain from Long Island was arguably chopping it down with a lyrical axe of non-conformity, disregard for convention, and whimsically clever compound rhymes. As Jay was influencing fashion and becoming a symbol of wealth, masculinity, and power, DOOM veiled his face, wore dusty clothes, and upheld Rap’s grimy past. So why does this all matter? The last 10 years. Since The Black Album, Jay Z has taken arguably the greatest retirement farewell in Hip-Hop history and challenged it with a polarizing return, and a string of albums that have been received with mixed reviews. Meanwhile, DOOM has delivered some of his most interesting, critically-acclaimed, and commercially-viable work of his career, thanks to Madvillainy, MM…Food, and The Mouse and The Mask. As Jay has seemingly tampered with his own legacy, DOOM’s skills and overall artistic vision has taken its finest form.

In voting, are Heads only seeing the last 10 years? Are sales and overall impact less relevant than originally thought? Is Jay that upsetting to his core believers in the face of “Empire State Of Mind” and “Beach Chair” that they’ve dismissed “Dead Presidents II” and “PSA”? Or, is MF DOOM that incredible when we munch on “Kon Karne” or admire “All Caps,” and finally getting his just due? Whatever the case may be, a true #1 seed may be on his way out thanks to a wild card round winner…but that’s why we play the game.

These questions may never get a concrete answer, but the numbers—seen in extensive voting—surely tell us all something: no MC is untouchable in the battle for the GOAT.

Exiting Round 3, there are two very close races remaining. Both of these could legitimately come down to a single deciding vote:

Big K.R.I.T. vs. Action Bronson: Two of the most impressive artists of the 2010s-era have squared off, and made things really interesting. Both MCs are highly influenced by ’90s MCs and sounds, and in a competitive setting like this, that pedigree shows.

Method Man vs. Black Thought: Two stars from the class of 1993, arguably two of the finest onstage showmen in Hip-Hop history, face off. Both MCs have cult followings, colorful discographies (often elusive, thanks to group and feature work), and career stamina unlike most. This may be the most exciting single match-up of the last six months.

Things will change in Round 4. There will be new content added in order to better showcase the talents of these esteemed MCs. And, in Round 5, the brackets will be removed and all barriers between eras will fall in the march to determine Hip-Hop’s greatest MC once and for all.

Related: Finding The GOAT…Round 3 Battles , Finding The GOAT…Round 2 Battles , Finding The GOAT…Round 1 Battles