Ice-T’s Rhyme Pays vs. Too Short’s Born To Mack. What’s Better?

One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?

“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.

In the late 1980s, two MC vets breathed new life—or “game” into the album format. Both Ice-T and Too Short became famous in cities opposite where they were raised. Students of MCs, both men seemingly paid even more attention to neighborhood kingpins. Released one week apart, Rhyme Pays and Born To Mack both looked at the cash capitalism of hustling and pimping and applied it to Rap. Both MCs not only told the stories of the hood heroes around them, they made music specifically for these status symbols. With completely different mic styles than most New York City MCs, both artists eventually commanded the attention and place in the industry. Their debut albums were products of patiently waiting, and these archetypes ultimately affected a majority of commercial Rap nearly 30 years later. Click one then click “vote.”

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Rhyme Pays by Ice-T


In the five years leading up to his debut album, Ice-T applied the learned techniques of MC’ing with his surroundings. With cinematic detail and commanding cadence, Tracy Marrow’s Rhyme Pays presented a world that was escapism for some, and cold reality for others. The Newark, New Jersey native living in Los Angeles, California combined the superficial allures of the Sunset Strip with the deadly stakes survival tactics of South Central. “6 N’ The Morning” was everyday life’s brutal awakening, as “I Love Ladies” was its lewd dream. A rhyming storyteller, Ice-T applied the imagery and ethos of Iceberg Slim with the B-Boy sensibilities of the Universal Zulu Nation for an album experience that stood out in 1987, even from Rap peers Schoolly D and Eazy-E.

Rhyme Pays positioned Ice-T as an all-knowing hustler. Ice had the girls, he had the cars, and he dressed the part of a playboy. However, the album succeeded in that it broke down the struggle to attain such. Ten years before The Notorious B.I.G.’s hit, “Pain” suggested that with mo’ money, comes mo’ problems. Ice-T sold facts with fantasy, and his debut would be one of his most versatile outings as an MC. “409” was an extension of his Techno-Hop 12″ early 1980s artisty. “Make It Funky,” care of New York City native Afrika Islam, showed Hip-Hop’s universality. Few artists have embraced region as effectively as Ice-T—yet even from the onslaught, he is arguably Rap’s most bi-coastal figure. Rhyme Pays is an archetype album for all that followed. Ice put his life and surroundings on wax, and did so with skill, finesse, and unique production. In this LP’s wake, MCs sought pulp fiction for their verses, and gangsters, players, and pimps cultivated flow to sell their game.

Album Number: 1
Released: July 28, 1987
Label: Sire/Warner Bros. Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #93 (certified gold, December, 1991)
Song Guests: DJ Evil E, Emanon Johnson
Song Producers: Afrika Islam, Dave Storrs, Greg “SSL” Mann

Born To Mack by Too Short


Parallel to MCs prominently comparing rapping to hustling, Oakland, California’s Too Short equated it to pimping. One of the most veteran West Coast artists—with tapes dating back to the early ’80s, Short Dog released his nationally-distributed debut in 1987’s Born To Mack. For many, this was the introduction to the drawled MC who had a penchant for raunch, womanizing, and trunk-rattling bass. By New York’s MC standards, Todd Shaw’s raps on “Freaky Tales” would be pedestrian: slow, strained, and in nursery rhyme patterns. However, despite knee-jerk discrepancies, Too Short immediately became one your favorite MC’s favorite MCs. The Dangerous Crew founder offered something different, and more importantly, something authentic.

Born To Mack made no excuses, and never downplayed its vices. “Dope Fiend Beat” was more Blowfly than Kurtis Blow, but with its sinister beat and callous lyrics, it worked. “Playboy $hort II” took The Beastie Boys’ R-Rated antics and held a XXX peep show, with the same catchy beats and on-mic cockiness. Too Short’s gift is his metered flow. With seven of the eight tracks exceeding the five-minute mark, Short Dog’s long-winded style was intended for the avenue and Cadillac stereos more than parties. With serial raps, it was Too Short’s format that preceded the rapper mixtape. Music for the neighborhood hustlers, pimps, and success stories, Short offered a lifestyle and a symbol of status. With his own 808 sound, the brother from the 415 used Born To Mack as a formal introduction to take his coat off in a 33-year career.

Album Number: 1 (Too Short previously released 3 EPs)
Released: July 20, 1987
Label: Dangerous Music/RCA Records (re-released in 1988 by Dangerous/Jive)
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #93 (certified gold, September, 1992)
Song Guests: MC Jah, DJ Universe,
Song Producers: (self), Silky C, Ted Bohanon

So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: See Round 1 (The 1980s) of Ambrosia For Heads’ Finding The GOAT: The Albums