How many times have us hip-hop fans discussed whose the hottest emcees of all time or even the best rappers right now? Countless lists have been formulated since the beginning of hip hop to chronicle what fans should be listening to, who we should be listening to, what everyone else is listening to, who not to listen to, and who everyone isn’t listening to and shouldn’t be. Numerous publications, respected in hip hop and not, have put together lists like these for the purpose of everything from organization to duty. The lists we put together in conversations with other hip hop heads at home to the hair salons and barbershops, are all dictated by exposure. No one can know about you if there’s no label behind you pumping thousands of dollars to ensure your career and their pockets. If you want people to listen to you, make them think that a whole lot of other people are listening to you. This seemed to be the formula of success for every other emcee except The Original Mister Carter and his soon to be successor Drake. Anyone who knows the story of Jay-Z probably knows that he was one of the first people to start their own record label, in a time when labels were infamous for ripping off their clients. Whatever you think about their lyrical skills and their maybe over-rated hyper-hype no one can not sit up and take notice to the ruthless and uncanny ability to spark buzz like Jay-Z and the rapper formerly known as Aubrey Graham to the teenage-now-grown-up set. Anyone who follows hip hop would be foolish not to include Drake and Jay-Z on their hottest MC’s list. Both artists have been featured on the other’s records. But are these two really enemies? If not in real life, maybe in the ring of rappers and emcees? Or on the front line of lyricism? Or perhaps on the behalf of buzz? No rapper or emcee before or after Jay-Z is able to captivate as much buzz as his larger than life, rock star persona, except maybe Drake or maybe even the other Mister Carter, D’Wayne Michael Carter Jr. Drake along with Lil Wayne are poised to become Jay-Z’s successors whether he likes it or not and some people are more than ready for him to give up claim to the mic.
Drake on the other hand is just getting started and hip hop fans are itching for him to get started. He has yet to release his debut album and continues to garnish teasers with mixtapes. His most popular one, So Far Gone has garnered attention from Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne; his mentor and label boss. According to Fader.com, “On his own records, he abandons Southern double-time to push genre boundaries more like Kanye, rapping over chopped-and-filtered snatches of Coldplay, Lykke Li and Peter Bjorn & John. The differences only get starker if you compare Drake’s bio to his project-raised, tattooed and codeine-addicted mentor. Though born in Memphis, Aubrey Drake Graham was raised in Forest Hills, an affluent enclave of Toronto that is about as far in mood and geography from New Orleans as you could get without a land bridge. Before he ever considered being a rapper, Drake was a child actor, portraying athlete Jimmy Brooks on the Canadian teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. His father, Dennis Graham, was a drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis, and he is nephew to both legendary bassist Larry Graham and Teenie Hodges—a guitarist best known for co-writing some of Al Green’s ’70s classics who’s played with everyone from Talking Heads to Cat Power. The more you know about him, in fact, the harder it seems to know exactly who Drake is. There is something almost chameleon-like about his talent. If his appeal can’t be contained to a one-liner like “Wayne protégé,” it’s only because he invites a whole series of comparisons: to Wayne’s inventiveness, Kanye’s art-school eclecticism, Jay-Z’s braggadocio and Lloyd’s post-Kelly singsong. He has the lyrical teeth to skewer you if you mistake introspection for weakness.”
In today’s hip hop game it is almost a necessity to be from an impoverished background with experience in gunplay and cocaine. The number one reason why rap battles in the mainstream ensue are because one person lies about where they are from or their background and another person calls them out on it. The glamourization of the “hood lifestyle” is on the is a huge problem and hip hop and has people everywhere wanting to be something they are not. Just look at the example of Rick Ross who raps about cocaine and guns, and yet is a former corrections officer. However, there are two examples where this is not true. Kanye and Drake, both come from middle class families where they weren’t exposed to the harsh realities of life. “Drake does not seem particularly pressed to play down the middle class and Jewish half of his biracial upbringing and frequently mentions his mother’s central role in his life.”-Fader.com One may wonder, though, if Kanye and Drake’s limitless life, transfers to limits in their lyrics. The two are known for the boisterous lyrics in which they show their bravado. One might expect for Drake and Kanye’s lyrical content to be something for the ages. Instead we get a kind of dumbing down from their educated selves and even Lil Wayne who attended college for sometime like Kayne. One might want to tap them on their shoulder and tell them that hip hop can be educated too.
Drake is not only a rapper but also, and annoyingly a crooner on most of his hooks. He has a do-it-yourself approach to his music, his production and refreshingly, his image. Drake, Kanye, Lil Wayne and Jay-Z all fall in the overrated set. Despite that, Drake has signed one of the biggest record deals ever, signing a contract with Lil Wayne’s Young Money for over a million dollars. “That deal is the end result of what has been described as one of the biggest bidding wars the music industry has seen in ages. No one party is willing to share all the details, but Atlantic Records and Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine were certainly both in the mix, and at one point, Universal Motown president Sylvia Rhone apparently threatened Drake with legal action to prevent him from going elsewhere. In the end, he signed directly to Aspire, a company co-run by his manager (and Young Money CEO) Cortez Bryant, with major label distribution through Universal Republic. Although his Wikipedia entry and various news items list his label as Cash Money/Universal Motown, Drake is quick to say, ‘I went through Universal Republic because I don’t fuck with Motown. At all.’ The details are more than academic, since the Universal affiliation is what allows Lil Wayne and Young Money to own a piece of the project. But even though Wayne has been touted as an executive producer in previous interviews, Drake indicates that putting a YM logo on the disc is more of a nod to his mentor than a structural reality. Kanye—according to the people around Drake, anyway—is so open on his talent that he is more amped to work on Drake’s project than his own, dangling the possibility that he might step in as executive producer.”-Fader.com
All four artists can be named the four hardest working emcees in show business. Their names have been on everyone’s lips for a while now in their ever sweeping takeover of the hip hop game. “‘Forever’ may be for the album or possibly a forthcoming soundtrack, a Kanye collabo in which he and Drake bring out the best in each other, elevating their respective rap games in a way that’s only happened with Drake and Wayne on tracks like “Ransom.” It’s the kind of verse that lends real credibility to his fans’ claims that Drake is the best lyricist on the set in 2009. Despite the obvious implication, he does not seem inclined to substitute one mentor for another, preferring to develop the sound for the album himself, drawing beats from his engineer, “40” Shebib, and other members of his crew, loosely known as October’s Very Own.’-Fader.com
However, one can only glimpse into the probably friendly rivarly between all of them. The recent releases of all four were some of the most anticipated and talked about. The Carter 3 versus The Blueprint 3 versus So Far Gone and 808s and Heartbreak. Hip hop breeds competition even among friends. When you feature on someone’s track you better be sure to bring your best or risk being slaughtered on your own song. Jay-Z seems to be coming in first off the heels of his latest release. The Washington Post called him “hip-hop's undisputed alpha male”, albeit in a full out diss to his newest installment of the now completed Blueprint series. Spin says that the Blueprint 3 is posied “to create a world-historical event horizon” with its release. Nothing is more prominent about Jay-Z, not even his artistry, than his skill in exuded pride, confidence, even cockiness and conceit. Any line that you could probably quote from him is for sure expressing his dire love with himself. With his sway, his teasing to bring back Versace shades, and his incessant laziness, seem to suggest that not only does he feel he is number one but that he will always be number one. Not only does he believe he is the greatest alive, he knows that he is the greatest ever; we all know those who agree. But one must wonder if he really feels he is the best why the need to constantly behave in a way that cries so desperately that the fact needs to be proven, namely to the most famous new school to come about in a while, if not ever. On “What More Can I Say, Jay-Z says, “Add that to the fact I went plat a bunch of times. Times that by my influence on pop culutre, I supposed to be number one on everybodys list, We'll see what happens when I no longer exist, Fuck this” You got the Entertainment Weekly proclaimed JV squad Drake and Kid Cudi court the youth vote. Drake, and even though Wayne has been in the game for a while now, we never quite saw him like this with CashMoney; Wale, both who have worked and been listed as proteges of Jay, and LA mixtape kings, Nipsey Hussle and Jay Rock. Is it because he is feeling at least slightly threatened? One would think it weird if he weren’t. Why? Jay is living off money it would take at least a thousand regular people to use in two lifetimes. The crown? Me think so. If a talent is able to surpass Jay what would become of him? He’s supposedly tried so many times to quit the game and as most musicians can relate to, it is his livelihood. And he wouldn’t dare think of giving up his career, the one that saved him from death or a life sentence without a fitting escape. He respects hip hop too much, or at least he says he does. But one has to wonder how can he respect it, when he has obviously gotten bored doing it. He seems to be secretly, embarrasingly, and probably shyly trying to compete with his earlier works or at least before 2006’s Kingdom Come. “There's never been a nigga this good for this long, This hood, Or this pop” The problem is he doesn’t want anyone to know it, so he remains complacent and cocky. Never letting his faithful fans get a glimpse of his vulnerabilities. If he only knew, it would bring us closer and give him what he’s been waiting for; a epic exit from the game. “On The Blueprint 3, Jay aims to rectify that by reconciling his two divergent worlds: the rode-hard history of the Brooklyn housing projects he came up in, and the yachting-
off-the-Amalfi-Coast-with-Gwyneth celebrity Narnia he inhabits today. Even if it lacks the raw power of his earlier work, the album succeeds at its larger goal — reaching maximum commercial blast radius while maintaining its street bona fides.” -EW
These days, you can’t read an article without his age being mentioned and it serves as a reminder to no one more than Jay-Z himself. No matter how much I may be tired of his assertions of being “the new Sinatra”, hip hop doesn’t tire of this recycled but never old formula from Jay. Perhaps ABCNews said it best, “Perhaps that's what rap needs to reinvigorate itself — someone to pull the genre out of its money-clothes-cars-and-girls sinkhole.” He tried to be the savior but he’s one of the reasons it needs saving. One must pause and wonder if the laziness was fueled by this obligatory last album owed to Def Jam. One would also wonder if he would sacrifice his artist integrity like that, but either way he’s and always will be wildly successful. “
After been beat out by his known worshipper, Lil Wayne for the Grammy of Best Rap Album, after performing with him, the complexity of hip hop’s biggest star is sometimes confusing. Its as if he features in their songs to soothe his ego. "Wayne's scorching, I’ll applaud him, if he keeps going, i'll pass the torch to him"
In the December 2006 issue of Complex Magazine, Lil Wayne stated “‘I'm better than [Jay-Z]... I'm 24 years old. (...) I'm 13 years deep with five albums and 10 million records sold, I don't like what he's saying about how he had to come back because hip hop's dead and we need him... What the fuck do you mean? If anything it's reborn, so he's probably having a problem with that. You left on a good note, and all of the artists were saying, 'Yo, this is Jay's house. He's the best.' Now he comes back and still thinks it's his house... It's not your house anymore, and I'm better than you". On the track "Watch What You Say to Me" Jay-Z makes an attack on Lil Wayne, rapping, "I hear you baiting me lately / I've been doing my best just to stay hater free / Still watch what you say to me / Sooner or later I take you up on your offering / Put you all in your place / Like I'm replacing your father / You're talking to the author / The architect of the Blueprint/ My DNA in your music / Motherfucker, you stupid? Watch what you say to me.". Eventually, the beef was resolved between them, and the two of them recorded tracks together like "Hello Brooklyn 2.0," "Mr. Carter," and "Swagga Like Us.’”
Allmusic's Steve Huey describes Jay-Z as a "a street hustler from the projects who rapped about what he knew—and he was very, very good at it...detailing his experiences on the streets with disarming honesty". Multiple aspects of this lifestyle are explored: "Can't Knock the Hustle" details Jay-Z's hustling talent, "Cashmere Thoughts" and "Dead Presidents II" explain his financial goals and other tracks like "D'evils" and "Regrets" detail how hustling negatively affects the mind. Huey summarizes the album's subject matter saying: “He's cocky bordering on arrogant, but playful and witty, and exudes an effortless, unaffected cool throughout. And even if he's rapping about rising to the top instead of being there, his material obsessions are already apparent [...] the album's defining cut might [...] be the brief "22 Two's," which not only demonstrates Jay-Z's extraordinary talent as a pure freestyle rapper, but also preaches a subtle message through its club hostess: Bad behavior gets in the way of making money. Perhaps that's why Jay-Z waxes reflective, not enthusiastic, about the darker side of the streets.”