Earlier this week, I started blabbering on Twitter about this list that I've been conjuring up in my head over the last few months. Everyone always talks about who's in their Top 10 MC's of all time, or the ever-popular Top 5 Dead or Alive list. Well, I've been thinking about something different.
Ever since I started listening to rap and hip-hop when I was 11 or 12 years old (1982 or 1983 to be exact, I know, old guy), I've always been drawn to exceptional lyrics and lyricists. The art of emceeing is something that grabbed my ear and never let go, from buying every album that came out on cassette (there were only a few a month back then) to making a career out of it.
We all know about the greats that make most peoples lists (Biggie, Jay, 'Pac, Nas, Rakim, KRS and YES Em), but this isn't about them. This list is about the guys that haven't quite got their proper due or recognition as spectacular rappers, in my opinion. So, while I love Redman and Ghostface, guys like that aren't on this list because I think most people hold them in very high regard amongst the best. This list is about the other guys that often aren't mentioned in that discussion, but probably should be. The guys that on their best day could probably tear a New One in some of your Top 10'ers.
So without further ado, here is my Top 10 Most Underrated MC's list.
10. Black Rob: To me, this guy is one of the best street story tellers of the post-gold age rap era. Anyone that disagrees just take a listen to his verses on "I Love You Baby" from No Way Out for a reminder. Rob's dead pan flow packs a casual power that has been often overlooked. I think label issues and legal issues have really held this special artist back from where he deserves to be.
9. Nature: This one might cause some grumbling, but I feel strongly about it. Nature is one of the most gifted Queens MC's to never get his full shine. His simple but extremely poignant flow paired with wit and depth makes him really special. His debut album For All Seasons is an overlooked gem, and his verses from The Firm album are stand-out classics. Check out "We Ain't Friends" and holla back.
8. Brother J.: The X-Clan's main flow came courtesy of none other than Brother J., one of the smoothest but aggresive voices in the history of rap music. J. kicked X-Clan's brand of pro-black, militant rhetoric with such force and talent that even if you took issue with some of their views, you had to give it up to him. Although there were only two original X-Clan albums before the original members of the group disbanded (To the East, Blackwards and Xodus), J.'s delivery was so memorable that his style is imitated and his lyrics are quoted to this day. Check out the title track from the second LP "Xodus" for proof. Brother J. says YUCK!
7. Wiae Intelligent: Hailing from Trenton, N.J., the lead rapper from Poor Righteous Teachers was hands-down the best reggae/rap toaster ever. His melodies and intricate lyrics were simply incredible. P.R.T. had 4 albums out of the gate in the early-to-mid 90's and Wise never slipped for a second across all of those discs, even when there wasn't commercial success. Take a listen to "Easy Star" to hear Wise at his freshest.
6. The D.O.C.: Unfortunately for us, this guy was only able to make one (classic) album No One Can Do It Better before his vocal chords were severely damaged in an auto accident shortly after the album's release. Yeah, there's really only one album, but put it on today and it still stands up. That Dre guy has always been good at finding great rappers. Imagine what he would have done with The Doc if his full voice was still rockin'. The D.O.C. still remains a frequent Dre collaborator, penning several classics on 2001. Anyone needing a reference, check "Whirlwind Pyramid".
5. Del the Funkee Homosapien: Aa you may or may not know, D-E-L is Ice Cube's cousin. But their blood relation is where the similarities end. We first heard Del's voice on Cube's classic Amerikkka's Most Wanted, and he dropped a couple of classic albums and seriously complex and deep verses along the way after wards. This pioneering lead MC from the Hieroglyphics crew is one of my personal faves. Peep his twisty and flavorful verses on "Wrongplace" (Casual Remix) to remember.
4. Big L.: There's not much to argue with here. Right before L.'s untimely passing in 1999 he had blossomed into one of the best rappers in the game and was in his absolute prime. While he hadn't hit his stride quite yet on his major label debut, the world learned just how ill he was when his posthumous Rawkus album The Big Picture dropped. The classic "Ebonics" is all you need to know.
3. Royce Da 5'9": It has always amazed me just how many incredible rappers have come out of Detroit, and in particular the storied Hip-Hop Shop scene. Royce arrived on the scene in it's later stages, and quickly gained a reputation as one of Detroit's nastiest MC's. Personal bias and history aside, the fact that Royce still rhymes at the level that he does after all these years is simply incredible. If you don't know, give a listen to "Boom" for a reminder where he was and check out "Street Hop 2010" to see where he's at.
2. Big Pun: Another unfortunate early loss for hip-hop fans worldwide occurred when Pun passed away at an early age in 2000. Simply the illest Latin rapper of all time happens to also be one of the most underrated rappers ever. Pun was so nasty and quick on the mic that his verses commanded rewind buttons everywhere for years. "Dead in the middle of Little Italy..." is one of the most memorable lines ever. Listen to "Leatherface" loudly. Now.
1. Kurupt: A personal favorite of mine ever since the Death Row Dogg Pound days, Kurupt Young Gotti is still rapping at a level above most. Hailing from Philadelphia but spending his adult years on the West Coast caused Kurupt to develop a unique East Coast flow with that Cali twang that is one of a kind. Kurupt's solo album Tha Streetz Iz A Mutha and Space Boogie are both extremely overlooked gems that still get play in my rotation to this day. Check out the hard rhyming on "I Call Shots" to see where he was and listen to the sublime "Yes Sir" with Pete Rock to see where he's at.
So, there it is. I hope that this list causes anger, elation, frustration, memories and most importantly debate. Let us know who's on your Underrated list... the greatest thing about the list is that it's yours and thus nobody can be wrong.