Finding The GOAT (Final 4): Rakim vs. Tupac…Who You Got?
There are now only 4 MCs remaining in the ultimate battle for the title of the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time). Since the elimination, bracket-style tournament was launched in September of 2014, including more than 200 overall MCs, there have been six completed rounds, featuring contenders from all eras of Hip-Hop, including Wild Card series (with optional write-in’s). The 4 remaining MCs have been undefeated, and have been ranked according to their average margins of victory over the past rounds. The MC with the greatest average margin of victory is seeded at #1, the one with the narrowest average margin of victory is seeded at #4. The temperature’s rising, and the debates are getting hot.
As Eminem currently has more than double Big Daddy Kane’s votes, with voting closing today (5/18) at 5pm EST, the floor opens for its other contender for the top. Rakim and Tupac Shakur have been juggernauts in this competition since the very beginning. Both First Round Bye’s, these artists have pounced upon MC predecessors, contemporaries, and artists they’ve deeply influenced. However, as the competition has deepened, the margins have narrowed. It was less than 1% that landed ‘Pac in the Final 4 above Nas—and some cheaters forced the Thug Immortal to prove it, twice. Rakim has enjoyed the cushion of two Bye’s—perhaps a parallel to his career, taking prolonged hiatuses from albums while maintaining a bid for the throne. While they never collaborated, Tupac Shakur and Rakim Allah ran in the same circles in the 1990s. Both headstrong creatives, these MCs have very different styles—both cerebral. While ‘Pac’s ability to move the crowd is in large part thanks to his gifts of playing to the heart-strings, Rakim’s revolutionizing MC’ing has had all eyes (and ears) on him for nearly 30 years. Both masters of thought, Tupac’s thug passion contrasts against Rakim’s un-sweatable technique. Not only is this particular battle a ladder to the top, perhaps it is a referendum on what really makes an MC, moving the crowd, mastering the ceremony, or controlling the mic? (Click on one then click vote. Polls will close at 11:59pm EST on Wed, May 20 )
(Fifth Round Winner, Against Mos Def 67% to 33%)
(Fourth Round Bye – Through Largest Round 2 Win Margin)
(Third Round Winner, Against Slick Rick 82% to 18%)
(Second Round Winner, Against Kool Moe Dee 95% to 5%)
(First Round Bye)
Rakim Allah is revered as one of the “most high” among MCs. A Long Island, New York native, Rakim made noise as a high school lyrical phenom, that had the five boroughs abuzz in the mid-1980s. By ’86, he would cross paths with an aspiring record executive, Eric Barrier, and form the heralded duo, Eric B. & Rakim. On funky tracks (many Rakim alleges he produced), the MC displayed a flow that was deeply progressive in the era of the boom-bap. From his earliest singles, William Griffin, Jr. had a malleable cadence that allowed him to break into multi-syllabic rhyming bars, and a style that was presented more as conversation than an onslaught of statements. Within that delivery, Rakim’s writing was founded upon pride, B-boy style, and the desire to be “paid in a full.”
In the next 30 years, Rakim has won over the masses time and time again. On four albums within Eric B. & Rakim, the MC grabbed platinum and gold plaques, served the people with quoteable hit singles, and maintained a supreme stage show. On his own by the early ’90s, the MC became a rare commodity, only sporadically releasing songs and albums over the last 20 years. Whether alongside Jay Z, Kanye West, or Nas, Rakim has proven that he cannot be eclipsed or overshadowed, on the mic or in the history books. Along the way, Rakim rarely relied on cursing, controversy, or crudeness to take something from “in the ghetto” and help make it truly universal.
(Seventh Round Winner, Against Nas 50.3% to 49.7%)
(Sixth Round Winner, Against The Notorious B.I.G. 56% to 44%)
(Fifth Round Winner, Against Kendrick Lamar 72% to 28%)
(Fourth Round Winner, Against Scarface 72% to 28%)
(Third Round Winner, Against Ice Cube, 64% to 36%)
(Second Round Winner, Against Big Boi 76% to 24%)
(First Round Bye)
In just five short years making albums, Tupac changed Hip-Hop. Like his background, and his young life, Tupac Shakur’s music is filled with passion, soul, and conviction—amidst contradiction. His albums (and many of his songs) were conscious and Gangsta Rap at once, taking on police, society, and industry foes within the same confines. At times, ‘Pac was a pepped-up lyricist who was inspired by the greats, displaying metaphor, alliteration, flow, and cadence. In other places, Shakur rapped conversationally, coming from a place of sincere urgency, more about the content than the method. This duality has made 2Pac one of Hip-Hop’s most enduring superstars, with sales and critical acclaim that have far outlasted his tragic 1996 murder.
2Pac’s versatility may be his greatest attribute, from the socially-narrative (“Brenda’s Got A Baby”) to the anthematic (“California Love”) to the revengeful (“Picture Me Rollin'”). From the top and the bottom, Tupac was gifted in making highly-specific songs that listeners could relate to. He cemented classic LPs such as Me Against The World, and the Death Row follow-up All Eyez On Me double-album. Moreover, ‘Pac’s messages and collaborations spanned the Hip-Hop map long before Rap ever lived on the Internet. Known for fast writing, and often limited takes in the studio, ‘Pac’s urgency may be one of his flaws, but he maintained to get the words out while the thoughts were real, and the ink was wet—and that’s just what he did.
2Pac – The Underground Railroad mixtape by DJ Fatal
So…who you got?