The Top MCs Of The 80s & 90s Were Graded By Kool Moe Dee

Kool Moe Dee cemented a reputation during the 1980s as one of Hip-Hop’s elite MCs who said what he felt without concern. After putting in work with The Treacherous Three group, Moe Doe pivoted to the scene as a feared battle rapper. He took on Busy Bee at the Harlem World venue in 1981, and spent much of the later decade in a high-profile war of words with LL Cool J. That skill and attitude earned the New Yorker a platinum LP, How Ya Like Me Now, as well as the gold-certified Knowledge Is King.

By the mid-1990s, Kool Moe Dee ceased making albums, but the Manhattan native never stopped making noise. In 1999, ego trip magazine and St. Martin’s Press published ego trip’s Book of Rap Lists by revered journalists Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Jefferson “Chairman” Mao, Gabriel Alvarez, and Brent Rollins. The text, now available in digital formats, compiled interesting factoids and lists about Hip-Hop music and history. Pieces ranged from a list of MCs who could DJ, legacy artists that were notoriously harsh about sampling, and cringe-worthy mistakes made in Rap lyrics.

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The text also included a Rap report card from Kool Moe Dee, who graded his peers and himself in 1999. Notably, the move was an homage to an album insert from the aforementioned How Ya Like Me Now. Moe Dee’s second solo LP included Teddy Riley production and a report card reminder that he was atop many of his peers. The late 1987 Rap report card was examined in The Los Angeles Times upon release.

These two scales got new life in 2022, when circulated around the Hip-Hop community on social media—especially after British turntablist Jimbo Jones shared the cards on Twitter.

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In his circa-’99 grade book, Moe Dee judged peers on Vocabulary, Articulation, Creativity, Originality, Versatility, Voice, Records, Stage Presence, Sticking To Themes, and Innovating Rhythms. These categories earned numerical ratings that led to an academic-style alphabet grade. More than 30 MCs were measured, including some interesting misspellings.

Notably, K.M.D. handed the highest score, a 97, to Miss Lauryn Hill. Moe deducted a point each in “Voice,” “Records,” and “Stage Presence” from the Fugees MC/singer. The grade was earned after the release of 1998’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill solo debut. Close behind L-Boogie is Biggie Smalls; The Notorious B.I.G. earned a 95.Tupac Shakur and Busta Rhymes trail him—the One Nation affiliates each grabbed a 93.. Two artists who worked with Biggie and Pac, Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man and Naughty By Nature’s Treach also tied with a 91. The only other artist in the ’90s was then-No Limit Records star Mystikal, who gathered a 90.

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Moe Dee’s list of grades includes MCs who would later compete among the best, including The Roots’ Black Thought (87), Nas (84), JAY-Z (82), and Ice Cube (88). Of the pool, he was harshest on former Jive/Zomba Records label-mate Too Short (76) and No Limit founder, Master P, who got the same as Short Dog. Also earning a C+ was then-Bad Boy Records star Ma$e, who has named an album and a group after the same Harlem World where Moe Dee came to glory. K.M.D was especially critical of P’s Vocabulary and Short’s Versatility. Both categories scored 6’s.

In the 1987 report card, which was also posted in ’22, Kool Moe Dee gave himself, Cold Crush Brothers’ Grandmaster Caz, and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5’s Melle Mel the highest scores—95, 95, and 94, respectively. Notably, K.M.D. handed his then-foe LL Cool J a 90, docking the Queens, New York superstar in Originality with a 6. KRS-One, Rakim, and extended Treacherous Three family T La Rock joined the exclusive class of A-students.

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Moe Dee was harshest on the Beastie Boys, who he lumped as one—and gave a 70. The Uptown MC was deductive about Vocabulary, Creativity, Originality, Voice, and Innovating Rhythms—at a time when only Licensed To Ill had released. He explained his rating at the time, “They’re pretty awful. I gave them a lot of 6’s. They don’t have any vocabulary and they try to make up for their lack of originality by screaming and yelling. Besides, our tour followed theirs and wherever we went, we couldn’t get into hotels or restaurants ‘cause the Beasties had been there two weeks before and gotten into trouble.” Moe Dee added that he was unimpressed by Run-D.M.C., who he had battled on Michael Holman’s Graffiti Rock over three years prior.

Mercury Records act The Boogie Boys were the only others scoring a C, while late-’80s acts like Ultramagnetic MC’s and Public Enemy, and Heavy D & The Boyz scored very low B grades. “I listen to everything that comes out–and I mean everything– so I figured that I’d make a pretty good critic,” Kool Moe Dee told The L.A. Times‘ Patrick Goldstein with the arrival his sophomore Jive LP. “It’s all a matter of knowing your competition. The idea of a report card wasn’t meant to be insulting. I try to have good relations with all my rivals—though I don’t know what LL Cool J’s gonna think of all this.” One group of that era, Jive label-mates DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, grabbed an 88, as did Brooklyn’s U.T.F.O. Last month, U.T.F.O.’s Kid Kangol passed away from colon cancer.

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Yesterday (January 10), ego trip’s Book of Rap Lists co-author Elliott Wilson recalled Chairman Mao’s idea to get Kool Moe Dee to reprise his Rap report card for the 1990s.

In recent years, Kool Moe Dee has been back in business. He, Caz, and Grandmaster Melle Mel (those three top-rated MCs from the 1987 list) earned a platinum plaque for their Macklemore & Ryan Lewis collaboration, “Downtown.” The Seattle, Washington duo made the generation-bridging track a single from This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, and performed it at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards.

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#BonusBeat: Heads can hear new blistering verses from Lauryn Hill, Meth’, Common, Redman, Black Thought, and Snoop Dogg—all MCs that Kool Moe Dee rated—on our official playlist: