OK, where to start with this one. As you may have read if you are a) a rap fan and b) get the internet, Rolling Stone Mag this week declared Marshall “Eminem” Mathers as the official (!) “King of Hip-Hop.” Though nobody is saying that Em is not a real, real good rapper–certainly one of he most influential, certainly deserving of being on the Top 5 list–I, for one am gonna go out on a limb and say that is ludicrous (no disturbing the peace intended).
RS seems to have arrived at their bold proclamation by crunching a lot of numbers, including rankings of record sales, awards, youtube views, etc, etc. They have obviously done a thorough job of that (and Em is the clear winner of CD sales and a few other categories). But even by their own measures (and we can debate the validity of those measures below) Jay-Z seems to be the most consistent all-rounder near the top of the pile in every category–and in my mind the most obvious off-the-top choice for this title.
Here’s the next problem. Jay is not ranked 2nd–he is ranked FIFTH after Wayne, Drake and Kanye. This seems to suggest that selling CDs is still the main criterion that counts, even when confronted with a dude who is a top contender in sales, live shows, awards and let’s not forget baddest-b**ch-in-the-game-wearing-his-chain.
When stepping away from the safe predictability of statistics, RS seems to be on even less solid footing. In a fairly token nod to the idea that other qualities might go into King-making, author Chris Molanphy writes: “we know that no King of Hip-Hop index can capture swagger or flow – if it could, the all-time title might go to Q-Tip or Rakim.” First of all: did you try? Capturing it, I mean? Secondly, even the disclaimer seems to suggest a shaky knowledge of what swagger and flow are. If you’re going to list both, why cite two examples of flow and none of swagger? As an extra nitpick, could Nas–who, based on actual rhymes might legitimately have the strongest claim to best rapper OAT, if not KOHH–get a footnote or a mention somewhere? Could RHYMES get a footnote or mention somewhere?
Now, I know what you’re thinking. No. Even though rap is clearly an African-American artform in practice as well as spirit, I am NOT going to make the Black Studies argument and attempt to disqualify Em because he is a white dude from Detroit (full disclosure: I am a white dude from Detroit). On the contrary, the most blatant problem with this choice is that RS threw their crown in the ring the same week that Watch The Throne broke Coldplay‘s sales records on both iTunes and the Billboard Top 200 charts, not to mention the other important charts of “critical acclaim” and “broke the internet.”
In a bit of pre-emptive disclaimer they hedged: “If Kanye and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne is as big a release as expected – not just this week, but deep into the fall, followed by a world-beating tour – next year at this time those two friends and veterans may be yanking the crown off Slim Shady’s head.” Which just underlines the fact that this pick is incorrect not for the pre-millenium reason–they went with the white dude based on his ability to sell records to a broader demographic, reaching more fans outside the genre of hip-hop–but the for post-millenial reason: despite nods to the digital nature of rap in 2011 they approached the process like a print magazine needing six weeks of lead-time to absorb new developments, talking about the bomb that dropped on rap last week as if it were some sci-fi scenario that might unfold next year.