Top 10 List: Lyricists

Recently I listened to an interview where Kool G. Rap (one of the most talented lyricists of his era) was asked to name his top 10 lyricists. I believe he said:

  1. Himself
  2. Big Daddy Kane
  3. Rakim
  4. Jay-Z
  5. Nas
  6. Eminem
  7. Scarface
  8. Ice Cube
  9. Big Pun
  10. KRS One

He didn’t put them in any specific order. When asked about the Notorious BIG he made the statement that he considered Biggie a great rapper, not a great lyricist. On the one had I can see his point; on the other I was shocked and appalled. Biggie didn’t have the most intricate rhymes in the world, but he painted a picture with lyrics that few others could. I was talking to a coworker about this and he was livid. So much so that he started getting loud every time he thought about it over the course of 2 or 3 days!

Personally I think that any list that has Cube and Face on it but excludes Big is extremely flawed. But then I realize that there’s no science to this; it’s all about opinion and personal taste. So having said that, my top 10 lyricists of all time are (in a very particular order; an order that shifts daily depending on how I think about it and what I’m listening to!):

  1. Eminem
  2. Jay-Z
  3. Nas
  4. Notorious BIG
  5. Big Pun
  6. Andre 3000
  7. Jadakiss
  8. Redman
  9. Prodigy
  10. Kendrick Lamar

This is slightly different from my top 10 rappers list from a few years back. Kendrick Lamar hadn’t dropped yet and I do recognize the distinction that Kool G. Rap was making between a rapper and a lyricist. I think that all of these artists are great lyricists. I’d even put Kanye West in that category now, although his earlier work wasn’t all that lyrical to me. Some might be surprised to see Kendrick Lamar on there but I’ve yet to hear a wack verse from him. It doesn’t hurt his case that he’s unique and that he put out one of the most well thought-out and entertaining albums I’ve heard in years with good kid, m.A.A.d. city.

And that’s all part of being a great lyricist. Consistency, creativity, wordplay, delivery, intricacy, originality, flow, etc. all factor in. Joell Ortiz is a fantastic rapper, but he can’t do a concept song to save his life. Such was Canibus’ problem as well. Snoop had all of the above mentioned attributes save consistency. He’d rightly deserve a spot on that list had he not done so many wack songs in the No Limit days.

You’ll also notice that there’s no names of rappers who dropped in the 80s on there. Why? Well, even though Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, and Kool G. Rap were great lyricists for their time, they don’t measure up to those who came after. They may well have influenced all of these artists, but the bar was raised and they sit squarely under it. And I will defend that opinion until my dying day.



5 thoughts on “Top 10 List: Lyricists

  1. You shocked me with Kendrick Lamar. I even said before I read it, “He won’t have Kendrick.”
    I agree with most of your list (1-4,6,10) although not the order. Not that I don’t think the others are great I’m just not a big fan.
    If you’re gonna give Big a pass then I’d throw Pac on there too for the same reasons (although I know your not a fan)
    I’d keep Scarface and add Bun B and Ceelo and I’m not sure after that. Maybe Tech 9, Twista, or Busta.
    Agree on the 80’s.
    Good post.

  2. Bryan: Ceelo from Goodie Mob? I would have never thought to include him. I always liked him but he never seemed like a true lyricist to me. Scarface is among those late 80s artists. Remember that the Geto Boys came out around the same time as NWA and EPMD. I gotta hear more Bun B before I can form a reasoned opinion. I never listened to a lot of UGK. Busta is one to consider. I actually think he out-shined Eminem by far on “I’ll Hurt You.” And he stuck right with Redman on “Da Goodness.”

    As far as Kendrick goes, he’s the sole artist giving me hope for the future generations of rappers. The talent pool is just so shallow these days.

  3. Yeah that Ceelo. He’s like an Andre 3000. Seriously underrated. Give some of his stuff a listen. Yeah Ghetto Boys came out in the 80’s but Scarface is one of the few rappers that made the transition into the 90’s and 2000’s. Busta is really good. Sometimes I get tired of listening to him though. Check Bun out too. Remember, Jay-Z was a big fan of UGK before he ever put them on his song. I think Big Boi is also extremely talented and would probably put him on the list if it weren’t for Andre constantly out shining him, but there are songs where he outshines Andre.

  4. Bryan: I think Royce is phenomenal. He’s one of the few that can stick with Em on a consistent basis. It’s hard to say that either one outdid the other on the Bad Meets Evil album, but his body of work is not extensive enough to make the list. At least not what I’ve heard of it.

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