Though the term hip-hop is a sub-culture defined by four (4)key elements: MC-ing/rapping, DJ-ing/scratching, break-dancing and graffiti writing, however for the sake of simplicity we would restrict the use of the term hip-hop to mean rhythm and poetry (rap).
I’m not a performer of hip-hop; a devoted consumer of the art is more like it. Although I would love to compile my own list, naming one hip-hop act above the other, but to be honest, we are yet to be given pointers on how to determine a better artist or rather the best. Most times it’s just about how an highly rated critic feels about it. They say delivery, yet I feel all the songs we’re able to listen to are well delivered, I mean in truth, a bad delivery would mean the song won’t get listeners (its basic reasoning that’s why songs sell or don’t sell). These elements set the standards for acceptability and marketability.
Another element they point out is content- now before I go further , I’ll bring an instance of a very good rapper(in my opinion), Vector YSG in his feature on OD wood’s track, saying ‘if you need loving I’ll come, to sample your Davido album’. Now the Davido album in the context refers to the title of the album OBO, which means something in his native tongue (Yoruba), but you can’t fully appreciate the line (his word play) if you don’t understand what it means. So yes I agree content should be a pointer, but then again music is an intangible art form, such that it can only be perceived, and perceptions vary , hence the varying extent of consumption of the content. This element in this particular subject is now flawed.
Another important feature of an emcee is his ability to brag. Rappers tend to carry around with them this “I’m the best and no one can touch me” kind of attitude. Who recalls the all star track by TI, “Swagga Like Us” off his 2008 album, Paper Trail? The track featured 3 heavyweights, including Lil Wayne, Jay Z, and Kanye West . Guess what they were rapping about? Every single one of them was the self-acclaimed best.
More recently LOS did a song “Bad Guy P” and then did the remix with Banky W. He said on the track “and I’m not even a rapper though” yet he delivered a good rap verse and yes, he also claimed he’s the best. C’mon Mr. Wellington, be merciful on dem beat.
The most important thing I believe is proficiency, and how do we measure this, by followership, amount of records sold (statistics). Because frankly, that’s the simplest way to look at it. This way the consumers have spoken for themselves, not waiting for some award committee. In 2011 BET awards, when Busta Rhymes was presented an award and the crowd’s reaction was massive, he said in his speech ‘When you get this kind of noise from the fans after receiving an award, it tells you the extent to which your work is being appreciated, ‘cause sometimes we don’t know where the award committees conjure up their awardees list.’ That to me, sums it all up.
However, I believe that any artist that sells 500k units, deserves to be called a king in his own lane.