For as long as I can remember, hip-hop fans, critics and trendy tastemakers have been debating the who's who of hip-hop. But, in recent years, a few industry heads have decided to document the conversation in print via a top ten sort of list.
Most notably, people have been asked to give their top 5 rappers of all time or even top 5 alive. You can imagine the amount of controversy this has caused being that there are so many artists who have shared their rhymes with us, that it is hard to choose the best of the best or even, the best of the worse. In 2008, VIBE magazine, in the same manner in which the NCAA chooses its sweet sixteen, decided to create a voting bracket to put the age-old question (Who is the best rapper alive?) to rest. Out of 100 carefully chosen rappers (it can be argued that rappers were not appropriately matched) readers of the mag took to the internet to vote crowning Eminem the best rapper alive. You can imagine how this would upset the hip-hop community and those with differing opinions.
Well, the engines began turning and in 2009, XXL decided rather than debating the greats, they would showcase the new. So, in 2009 the magazine debuted the XXL Freshman 10 list which included Asher Roth, Wale, B.O.B., Charles Hamilton, Cory Gunz, Blu, Mickey Facts, Ace Hood, Curren$y and Kid Cudi.
The list sought to shine light on artists across the country who were both adept in their craft and positioned for mainstream success. However, it created an uproar among the hip-hop community especially those demanding to know why so and so and so and so did not make the list. However, the artists chosen from that list and the list in the two following years since have gone on to become some of today's best new artists.
To some artists the revealing of these list can be detrimental to their ego, motivation and overall gusto as an artists. Not making a list can fuel jealousy and thoughts of "it should have been me". On the other hand, being named the next big thing can put pressure where it is not wanted or needed. Artists may feel they have to be a certain type of way or force themselves into the mainstream.
MTV did a similar thing in which they held a televised discussion regarding the Top Ten Hottest MCs in the game.This was our first glimpse of the conversation as to who, what and why an artists is chosen. But, still not satisfied fans disagreed on what made an artist "hot". Album sales vs. talent was discussed as well as crossover appeal and credibility. That debate still continues.
Alot of people believe these lists are unfair. I concur. For the most part, the selection process isn't revealed to fans nor is the selection committee. While we live in a society that believes everyone is entitled to their opinion, truly everyone's opinion doesn't matter.A list of the best rappers put together by top notch veterans tolls differently than a group of 15-year-old fans. And it should. While everyone has their preference and favorites,these lists should pull together what we, the hip-hop community, can agree on objectively and collectively. However, these lists do not. Rather they act as a magazine's or fans personal playlist in which they are telling you who they think is hot.
Following the tradition of XXL, a well known Bay area DJ, Dj Amen decided to put together a Bay Area Freshman list showcasing the face of the new Bay. Desiring input from the community, artists and fans were asked to vote on Twitter by retweeting the artist's name and #BayAreaFreshman. It immediately became clear the wealth of artists who believed they were freshmen worthy. However, the medium for votes and the counting of votes thereof was unclear. I mean, who is really tally thousands upon thousands of RTs (if that many). While the lists are compiled and posted, artist do not know where they stand (i,e. how many votes they have received or who choose them). Nevertheless, a list is made and 10 artists enjoy their 15 minutes of fame though some will extend that.
Since its 2008 poll, VIBE magazine has not done another list of its magnitude. perhaps because of all the backlash from fans and rappers alike. Still, magazines and radio stations are proud to host these competitions and invite the uproar in debate. Who's hot and who's not, I believe, will be a constant debate in hip-hop. I wonder is it for the love of hip-hop or is it just a gimmick for attention?
by Brandy Varnado