Spotify didn’t denote any of their criteria beyond the assumption of what Mount Rushmore represents historically and the transfer of that importance to this context. Meanwhile, B.Dott’s asterisk served as his only metric: “based on skill, performance, & presence,” he wrote. An anchor, though hardly specific.
However, he was also speaking to an audience he (rightfully, for the most part) assumed would understand what he meant by his three beats.
Skill equals lyrical dexterity. Performance could be chart/streaming success. And presence accounts for how an artist is moving, i.e. leveraging their momentum to greater effect.
During our yearly Hottest MCs debates, we also shared this unspoken understanding that we were all operating from the same plane. In the accompanying online editorial, led by Shaheem Reid, he would relay our five beats: skill, success, presence, outside ventures and influence. (B.Dott christened us the 1515 Boys and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was inspired by Sha’s foundation in establishing his basis.) We also operated with the comfort that we’d be comparing apples to oranges in some cases.
The apples to oranges conversation rankles many.
In barbershops, it can be difficult to convert a head to regard anything being comparable to bars. Twitter and IG commentors can echo that philosophy. At MTV, there were suits at the time that didn’t understand the fluency with which we would inherently pivot from one artist’s primary strength to their secondary one and down the line and in comparison with another artist’s accolades that, again, may not align cleanly: for example, the critical praise of an album against the chart success of one’s singles.
As hip-hop has grown and eras bleed into one another the currency of intricate rhyme structure has recessed.
In fact, one specific executive demanded we create a matrix that clearly defined different point values for each category. Not only was this detrimental to the then growing boundaries of what the culture entailed, it also ensured Eminem’s ascendancy to the top of one particular year, which so upset us that the program never aired. A story for Shaheem and I and a few others to tell one day; our stance and point was that this rigidity unfairly awarded extra value to things MTV News higher ups deemed more worthy than what we did and it chafed against the editorial independence we established. Case in point: Eminem, while an all-time great, is not a popular request in clubs, at barbecues nor blasting out of cars driving down any MLK Boulevard. That matters immensely and caps Em’s place among other peers.
Back in the day this was much easier. We operated with a clean distincting between an MC and a rapper. The former indicated a higher skill level, almost the difference between operating in the major leagues versus the minor leagues. I reference traditionalists often in this piece, because those with that belief system, be it critics, fans, etc, still subscribe to tying rapper value to wordplay prowess above all.
As hip-hop has grown and eras bleed into one another (along with the genre’s center moving left, as Jon Caramanica noted often in his pieces, due to the result of Drake’s rise), the currency of intricate rhyme structure has recessed. There’s still value there, as evidenced by the reception to J.Cole’s latest project and Griselda’s rise. But Kid Cudi, Roddy Ricch, Young Thug, Lil Tjay, Coi Leray, Moneybagg Yo, Don Tolliver, Travis Scott and many others have something to say about that and it’s likely to be said in AutoTune and a sing-songy staccato. (Melody has even waned as the vibe and sound has risen due to the success of Soundcloud rappers.)
Sports debates about Jordan versus LeBron, Ali versus Tyson, Jim Brown versus Barry Sanders are fun until a sourpuss tries to dispel any argument by noting since the aforementioned greats can’t play against one another or that they played in different times, it’s impossible to judge who is truly the better of the two. Current day debates avoid that and actual head-to-head matchups or counting of rings solve disputes. The latter isn’t as fun, though. And in hip-hop, there’s not a similar approximation beyond the rare SoundScan clash and that’s more inconclusive than anything.
What we have is an inexact science that we’ve turned into an art where we can pit Benny The Butcher’s lines against Gunna’s flow. We know Wayne is more talented than Jim Jones, but in the past 12 months there’s few who’ve put out better music than Capo. Soon enough, Bad Bunny, Burna Boy and global rappers influenced by each, will make this inexactitude even messier.
I can’t wait.