When Biggie died in March of 1997, less than a year after Tupac fled the country, it left a massive void in rap music. To make a geopolitical comparison, it’s like when we killed Saddam and left a power vortex in the Middle East that led to the rise of certain extremist terrorist groups. So just which rappers have had the best careers since Biggie died in 1997?
10 to 16 year-old Spencer probably would have ranked Eminem as the greatest musician ever so it’s hard to believe that he doesn’t even crack my top 5. If Eminem died of a drug overdose in 2003, he’d likely be considered the GOAT. Unfortunately for him he didn’t die, and beginning in 2004 with Encore (fucking awful) he has released some of the worst music you can find and has really tarnished his legacy. Stan certainly holds up as one of the greatest rap songs ever made, and he has a handful of other great songs, but most of what he made in his prime really hasn’t aged well at all.
Nas released two of his best albums before the cut-off for this list, and he’s one of those guys that’s really good at rapping but not very good at putting together a great album. He also has a historically bad ear for beats. As far as Andre 3000 goes, I’ve never heard anyone rap quite like him but his catalog of music isn’t strong or long enough. Full discloser I haven’t listened to much of either of them and I’m basing this largely off of Eminem’s list on Til I Collapse.
He obviously doesn’t really deserve consideration, but The Game was a personal favorite of mine for quite a while. I think I might have literally been his biggest fan. One of the great unknowns in rap history is what if The Game didn’t go scorched earth on 50 cent and g-unit, forcing Dr. Dre to drop him from his label after just one (5x platinum) album. His first two albums are classics, and he’s managed to stay moderately relevant over the last decade.
Now onto the top 5:
- Lil Wayne
Lil Wayne dominated rap music from approximately 2006 to 2009 with a flurry of guest features, mixtapes and even the occasional album. Wayne is unique because his mixtapes and guest appearances are a much bigger part of his legacy than his albums. From 2006 to 2009 he released Dedication 2, Da Drought 3, Dedication 3 and No Ceilings. He was featured on dozens and dozens of songs and always had the best verse. Yet in that same time period he only released one album (Tha Carter 3) before eventually going to jail, and he hasn’t really been the same since. Beyond that, Tha Carter 2 was great and the first one was solid. He’s had a huge impact on the direction of rap music and I feel like he doesn’t always get the respect he deserves for his previous work. He’s also arguably the most ridiculous character in the history of rap.
I was originally planning on putting Drake higher on the list because he’s had an unprecedented streak of success. “Best I Ever Had” came out in 2009, and Drake has pretty much been at the top of rap and one of the most popular musicians in the world ever since. Drake makes music that is incredibly smooth and easy to listen to. It’s fun and it’s safe. That’s why he’s so successful and also why he isn’t higher on the list. Unlike the 3 people ahead of him, Drake hasn’t put out an album that would be considered really critically acclaimed. Take Care, my personal favorite album of his, has an average score on Metacritic of 78. Nothing Was the Same has a 79. Drake doesn’t really take any risks, sticking to the same subjects and sounds on all of his albums. His music is never deep and never makes you think. Still, he is consistently good to very good and has made more hits than anyone before him.
- Kendrick Lamar
I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about Kendrick Lamar. It’s universally agreed upon that he is very good at what he does. I think that there’s a good chance Kendrick will widely be considered the GOAT by the time he’s done making music. He has it all: lyrics, different flows, a strong voice, an ear for great production, amazing storytelling and commercial success. He’s put out four albums, all of which are critically acclaimed. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is the second best rap album of the last decade, according to me. Everything he does is very good, not much else to say about him.
All but one (Reasonable Doubt, many would say his best work) of Jay-Z’s albums have come out since biggie died. That’s 12 albums, of which The Blueprint and The Black Album are classics; Kingdom Come, Blueprint 3 and Magna Carta are kinda garbage, and the rest are all pretty good to really good. He isn’t as consistent as he used to be, but he’s aged pretty gracefully as a rapper and certainly hasn’t tarnished his legacy with horrifying music like Eminem. Many would say that Jay is the GOAT and it’s hard to argue with his body of work. He has the greatest flow of all time and makes rapping sound effortless. Some rappers sound like they use a thesaurus trying to come up with their rhymes. This awesome documentary shows Jay’s writing process while making The Black Album. One of the most impressive things about Jay is that he put out an album every single year from 1996 to 2003. Like he released an album in 96, 97, 98, 99, 00, 01, 02 and 03. That doesn’t happen anymore.
- Kanye West
What Kanye lacks in lyrical ability he more than makes up for with what I think is the most important quality for a musician to have: good judgment. Kanye’s music is always good and always has been. His first album, The College Dropout, is a modern rap classic. Late Registration and Graduation received critical acclaim. While many people say that 808’s & Heartbreak is the weakest of his albums, it created a sound that still dominates rap music today. Drake built his career off the sound of 808s. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is, in my opinion, the greatest rap album ever made and the most perfect album I’ve ever listened to. Yeezus isn’t for everyone, but he achieves the exact sound he’s going for and you can’t say that it isn’t very well made. The Life of Pablo is the weakest of his albums in my opinion, as it doesn’t have the same focus and direction that his other albums do, and yet it’s still a pretty damn good album. Oh and he also made Watch the Throne, which I give more credit to Kanye than Jay because he produced it. As one of the best producers in rap history, Kanye has more creative control of the sound he wants in his music than anyone else. All of his albums sound different. None of the songs on Yeezus would make any sense on College Dropout, and nothing on MBDTF would make sense on Graduation. Compare that to a guy like Drake, who’s been making different versions of God’s Plan (great song btw) since 2010.
And that’s my list, which probably will never change because I’ve stopped consuming new music by artists I don’t know.
Bonus: IF Biggie didn’t die and this list was simply best rappers since Tupac died, I predict that he would be in at #3. I could absolutely be wrong, but I think Ready to Die and Life After Death were as good of albums as Biggie was ever gonna make. I don’t think he could have put out album after album year after year like Jay did. Although it’s crazy to think that Biggie was 24 when he was killed, almost two years younger than Jay-Z was when he made his first album. Puts into perspective how little I’ve accomplished for my age.