Finding The GOAT Album: Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP vs. Nas’ Stillmatic. Which Is 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 canon of early 2000s Hip-Hop albums, Eminem and Nas made two of the best. Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP was a growth spurt for the multi-platinum MC who began looking inward, thinking mainstream, and refusing to compromise one bit along the way. Nas’ Stillmatic set off the sequel craze of the 2000s by returning to his blueprint, and embracing his uniqueness and creative courage. These steps resulted in two platinum-plus works, that would set the table for years to come. On both records, these artists threw their weight around at competitors, defied the conventions of beats, and shunned what worked on formulaic Rap radio. Facing off against each other, the opinions of Hip-Hop Heads should bring the debates (and the gloves) out (Click one then click “vote”).
The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem
- First Round Winner (against Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, 70% to 30%)
Before the new millennium, Eminem rode a rocket-ship to the top of the charts and the elite class of MCs through The Slim Shady LP. The lyrically progressive album was big on pranks, sophomoric humor, and fork-tongued fun. Like its namesake, Slim Shady was as much shtick as it was incredible flows, and complex rhyme patterns. One year later, Eminem refined his approach. This album looked more inward at the man behind the act. The Marshall Mathers LP would still make a mockery out of popular culture, but in between the jagged lines revealed the profane and the profound alike. This is the album that proved Eminem had incredible staying power. Underneath the clown makeup was a creative genius, and a tormented soul—who wanted zero sympathy from anyone.
“The Way I Am” was Eminem’s essay to fame. Rather than accept the misunderstandings, Marshall nipped them right in the bud. The song was a piercingly honest attack at his media portrayal, and an assertion that Hip-Hop was not responsible for massacres like Columbine and the like. Em’ was tackling bigger issues rather than poking fun at pop tarts (which he still would do on “Real Slim Shady”). “Marshall Mathers” was a lucid commentary on the music stars and white MCs to whom Eminem was mistakenly compared. The scathing remarks were closer to the heart than past antics. Upsetting the status quo was still part of the Shady Records founder’s repertoire. “Criminal” exonerated Eminem’s freedom of speech, while the nimble lyricist deliberately crossed lines of all sorts, dragging his feet. However, Eminem’s point was that as much as he could (and would) make fun of you, he made even more fun of himself. Suddenly, Em’ transformed from Don Rickles to Lenny Bruce, with some insightful and derogatory thoughts of the world we all shared. “Stan” would be a masterpiece within M.M.L.P. Co-produced by 45 King (Eric B. & Rakim, Lakim Shabazz, Queen Latifah), the dramatic concept single would introduce the world to Dido. The song was another reaction to stardom and changing circumstance, as Eminem looked at his cult status differently with a big-reveal tale. Not only was the concept grabbing, Eminem wrote in the shoes of another person, and made it a captivating single. The record would blur the lines in Hip-Hop and Pop, singing and rapping—at a time when those walls towered. The third album from the D12 front man would provide his fullest, most compelling production. Eminem was no longer just hardcore Rap, and not simply a lyrical circus freak. Dr. Dre, the Bass Brothers, and 45 King treated these verses on a higher level. The Marshall Mathers LP would be a stone in the sand. Sixteen years later, its herculean legacy still has brawn.
Album Number: 3 (solo)
Released: May 23, 2000
Label: Shady/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1
Song Guests: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Xzibit, Sticky Fingaz, RBX, Dido, Bizarre, Dina Rae, D12 (Proof, Bizarre, Kuniva, Mr. Porter, & Swifty McVay), Steve Berman, Paul Rosenberg, Mike Elizondo, John Bigham, Camara Kambon, Tommy Coster
Song Producers: (self), Dr. Dre, Bass Bros. (Jeff Bass & Mark Bass), Mel-Man, 45 King
Stillmatic by Nas
- First Round Winner (against J-Live’s The Best Part, 62% to 38%)
Following 1999’s Nastradamus, Nas was at one of his most vulnerable career points. Queensbridge finest’s fourth album was largely panned, as the lyricist veered into overt trend-chasing during confusing times in Rap. To make matters worse, while he fumbled, Jay Z was slyly and strategically there to usurp Nas from his post as a perceived New York Rap giant. With combative knocks at the door, Nas made Stillmatic with incredibly high stakes. The album studied the foundation of Nas’ Illmatic introduction, and built upon those vibes for the new millennium. Along the way, Nasir Jones found his essence, and exuded some of the most exciting, visceral, and charged music of his career. Not only did Nasty Nas tap the pool of genius, he restored his place near (if not at) the top of his class. After “The Takeover,” Nas ripped the sledgehammer from Jay’s symbolic hands, and made it a Friday fair-one. Although it is often considered in a different area code from its sacred predecessor, Stillmatic is as good, and original of a sequel as Rap has ever witnessed.
As Nas searched for meaningful things to say, he realized that all he needed was “One Mic.” At a time when many lyricists were pandering to club music and pop radio, Nas dimmed the lights for one of the most dramatic singles of the last 15 years. With a Phil Collins-like crescendo, “One Mic” was the kind of record that only Nas could make. He owned his creativity, and bucked the system with courage. Reuniting with mentor Large Professor, Nas’ concepts came back with a vengeance. “Rewind” was a suspense thriller, enveloped in the MC’s mafioso style, told in reverse—over a backwards-sounding beat. “You’re da Man” restored Nas to the 41st Side of things. Extra P’s evocative string-and-drums arrangement beckoned Nas’ ego to come alive against all of his suitors. The lucid, stream of consciousness showed that underneath the silk and velour, Nas was living out his dreams “since ‘Barbecue.’” Just as Tupac had done years prior, Nas carved out hits from talking about his life and times. “Got Urself A…” placed Nas in the symbolic drivers seat of Tony Soprano. There, he identified his enemies, vices, challenges, and own place at the top. However, in surging ahead, Nas beautifully went backwards, literally and figuratively. The DJ Premier reunion, “2nd Childhood” allowed Nas to go back to his humble, modest days. In revisiting a bygone, pre-9/11 New York City, and his own innocence, Nas channeled his swagger and trademark introspection. Shaking off radio pressures and demands, Nas made a platinum album that appeased fans, critics, and allowed him to stand down all stick-up status seekers. Although he perceived himself as a king, Nas’ purist approach to Stillmatic positioned him as an underdog, only adding to his mystique and legacy.
Album Number: 5
Released: December 18, 2001
Label: Ill Will/Columbia/Sony Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #5 (certified gold, January 2002; certified platinum, January 2002)
Song Guests: AZ, Mary J Blige, Amerie, Keon Bryce, Bravehearts (Jungle, Wiz, & Horse), Salaam Remi
Song Producers: (self), Large Professor, DJ Premier, L.E.S., Ron Browz, Salaam Remi, Swizz Beatz, Trackmasters (Tone & Poke), Baby Paul, Mike Risko, Chucky Thompson, Precision, Megahertz, Lofey, Hangmen 3 (Benzino, Jeff 2x, & Johnny Bananas)
So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums.