Why Do We Still Debate Who the Greatest Lyricist of All Time Is?

January 7th, 2013

(Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage)

(Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage)

By Dan Reagans

Lil Wayne may have certainly put in enough bars and hooks to be dubbed “the best rapper alive” but according to CNN, Queensbridge MC Nas is “the greatest lyricist of all time.” Yup that’s right, one of the world’s most popular news outlets has acknowledged Nasty Nas for his lyrical super powers. Surely this is news to a small few. While we won’t penalize CNN for being so late with their revelation, the fact that they took a positive/artistic notice of this special rap thing of ours has sparked an age old debate in hip hop circles.

While many have ceremoniously worn the lyrical crown over the years, disputably I might add, there has never really been a criteria laid out to universally define a title holder. Its such a subjective honor to bestow on one in a wholly objective arena; it’s ever-changing. We could be here all day if we ran the list of names that held the title or were in the debate: Notorious B.I.G., Rakim, Eminem and Jay-Z, just to name a few of the usual suspects. Ask a young rap fan today and the names Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Lupe Fiasco will also be thrown into the mix.

Understanding the nature of these types of lists, Nas graciously schooled CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin on the impact of receiving such high praise:

“It’s great to put a list together, but don’t take it too seriously because your list won’t matter 10 years from now or 15 years from now. It’ll be a different list,” Nas reminded the CNN interviewer.

Perhaps it’s his twenty plus years in the game that has helped him acquire knowledge and insight, but once again God’s Son is right. One day we’re going to have a generation of hip hop heads who don’t hold 2Pac, Biggie or Jay-Z in such high esteem as we do now. More importantly, what guidelines and criteria will they use to judge and place artists on these best of the best lists? I know no one is going to listen, but maybe we should ban doing G.O.A.T. lists all together since hip hop is forever evolving. But since I know I’m in the minority on that, I’ll wait to have this greatest lyricist debate when some of today’s young lyrical princes are fully grown kings. Until then, its still Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas for me.

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