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 10. LL Cool J



 9. Eminem


 8. Ice Cube



 7. Big Daddy Kane



 6. KRS-One



 5. Nas



 4. Rakim



 3. Notorious B.I.G.



 2. Tupac



 1. Jay-Z



  50 Cent, Nas, Mary J. Give Their 'Greatest MCs'



  MTV Hip-Hop Brain Trust 2006



  Honorable Mentions



  Back to Intro


Have a problem with our choices? Got a better list? Let us know, and check back later for our readers' hip-hop top 10 lists.

Kanye, 50, Diddy, Jay-Z, Tupac? Think your list is better than ours? Make your voice heard in our Greatest MCs poll.




  The Greatest Hip-Hop Albums Of All Time



  The MTV Hip-Hop Brain Trust 2005




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With so many people in the Brain Trust, agreement is rarer than disagreement. In fact, we fought it out tooth-and-nail on some subjects, but that makes for entertaining dialogue. Here are some of our most heated moments.

Staying True To The True School

When giving props to the greatest MCs, there is no way you can forget the artists who paved the way for some of our favorites.

Sway Calloway: Can I comment? One thing I don't see [on this list] is some of the first-era MCs that helped lay the foundation for a lot of the MCs here. I don't see any names like Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel. If it wasn't for Melle Mel making "The Message" [the groundbreaking 1982 single by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, on which Melle was lead MC] ... most of the rap before that was just party rap. When Mel did that, he gave birth to a lot of MCs like Big Daddy Kane, Rakim and Jay-Z.

Buttahman: This is going to sound really messed up, but part of the price you pay for being that founding father is sometimes you don't get recognized.

Sway: Exactly, but we're talking about the greatest of all time, so I like to give props to the originators.

Shaheem Reid: The MCs [in our top 10] definitely evolved from some of those names you named. ...

Don't Forget About Scarface

There's no denying Scarface's greatness, but who would we remove from the top 10 to make room for him?

Bridget Bland: Scarface needs to be on the [list].

Reid: Who would you take off, though?

Bland: I'm gonna get shot for this, but if we are thinking in a broader perspective I don't think Ice Cube needs to be up there.

Sway: Why'd you say that?

Bland: I can only speak for myself: I didn't grow up listening to Cube. I knew about N.W.A and I knew some of their bigger hits, but I'm from Atlanta. And as you all know, I'm very big on Southern rap music and [Scarface] was doing it when I was growing up.

Sway: Can you pick someone else off the list other than Cube?

Bland: I think LL Cool J or Ice Cube could be off the list.

Reid: There's no way you can take LL off the list. LL was making hits in '85 and he's still viable in 2006.

Joseph Patel: Hear me out, though: LL's ratio of wack-to-good is now edging towards wack.

Sean Lee: Compared with Scarface, who constantly gets better.

Reid: LL's been an icon for 20 years.

Patel: But is he a great MC?

Reid: Yes!

Patel: But is he one of the greatest MCs?

Reid: Yes, absolutely. Let LL battle anybody, he'll shut their ass down.

Patel: I think LL in a certain time period is a great MC. I think LL as a whole is not one of the greatest.

Buttahman: Name two or three LL Cool J albums after [1990's] Mama Said Knock You Out! Let's be real. LL Cool J is [under consideration for this list] because, forgive me, he became a movie star. He became an icon, which has nothing to do with a music conversation. If that's the case, then Will Smith should be #1.

Patel: If LL had dropped dead in '91, he would be one of the greatest MC's of all time, but since then, he's a pop star.

Rahman: Does he not epitomize the art of battling? Yes, he does. Isn't that a big factor in being an MC?

Tone Boots: He's got one of the illest battles in the game.

Reid: You got to look at the longevity and stop looking at the impact. LL has a catalog of hits — if he was to do a concert he could do a two-hour show.

Boots: The impact that LL has had is far greater than Scarface's.

Lee: So he's got 'Face on impact?

Reid: You got to look at longevity too. Scarface has longevity but ...

Boots: Just stay with the classics [songs]. Compare the classic records, LL's got him beat.

Bland: It depends on who you're talking to. I think you're not necessarily thinking from a Southern perspective. I still think this [list] is very regionally biased — there are a lot of Southern rap artists who are not on that board.

Boots: I love Scarface! He's my favorite over most of these dudes. But on the list and [in terms of] impact, I couldn't put him above LL. ...

Thoughts On Black Thought

Think Tank member Buttahman was adamant about having Black Thought, the Roots' lead MC, in our top 10 ...

Buttahman: I've seen the Roots perform maybe 200 times, and I've never seen an MC that can just flow off the top of his dome [as well]. He can do any type of style, I mean, the man is just dope and gifted. And when you think about the Roots and how they basically carried a whole soul movement on their backs — Common, Talib Kweli, you know what I'm saying. I looked at the Dave Chappelle ["Block Party"] movie and you just see how impactful that whole movement is right now, and that all came from them. And you can't say, when you look at Kanye West and the impact he's having on the game, that that did not come from the Roots and Black Thought as a lyricist.

Lee: That's one factor of many. Let me say, I love Black Thought, I think he's one of the dopest MCs of all time, but he don't flip different styles the way Jay-Z can. He used one style, man. The dude was a little boring to me. He's never stepped outside the group — you're talking about Black Thought and the Roots. ...

Who's #1?

Originally, we had Biggie at #1 with Tupac coming at #2 and Jay-Z third. However, upon revisiting the list, things changed ...

Sway: I'll go on the record and say this: I find Tupac and Biggie to be just about equal, but I think the impact that Pac made — through his music and the movements that he created and all that he endured — would give him the edge.

Lee: He brought the intangible to the game that all MCs are trying to capture today.

Dukes: Big didn't?

Sway: Big did.

Dukes: The man dropped two albums — two albums.

Lee: When you [first] heard Tupac's "Brenda's Got a Baby" and saw him on that BET thing back in the day, you were like, "This dude is on another level."

Tuma Basa: He was a militant, he was a gangsta and he even had a soft side in party jams. Biggie didn't do that.

Lee: Beyond that, he touched people in a way that you can't even describe.

Sway: I would be the first to say: I would switch [and make Tupac #1 and Biggie #2]. I love Biggie, he was a friend of mine, I did his last interview — did both of their last interviews — so I knew them intimately well. I would switch that, personally.

Bland: I could agree, per se, with what Sway said, because I think Tupac could be #1 with all the stuff that he did and then the range as far as being an artist. Like we still don't bring up some of the stuff that Tupac —

Sway: There isn't a rapper alive who hasn't contradicted themselves at least once.

Boots: Nobody's contradicted themselves more than KRS-One and Pac.

Reid: I don't think that Tupac could out-rhyme Biggie.

Sway: For real, I love the two dudes both the same, and this is the hardest decision to make.

Reid: I'm gonna throw a wild card and say we need to consider Jay-Z. Now, the reason why I would say that is because Big and Pac had a time frame. I personally think Big is the most talented MC ever — I think he's the greatest as far as talent. But Jay, I think we have to look at what Jay's done — like, Jay has had the chance to fall off but he never has. All of his albums have been consistent. Since '97, '98, since Big and Pac died, Jay has been the best. We have never seen anyone who has excelled consistently for this long a period of time.

Lee: And gotten better.

Reid: And also, Jay has had one of the most impactful careers: He's been onstage with a Beatle, he's sold out shows, I've been to like all the Jay-Z and Friends concerts and you have to look at what he has done for pop culture — like when Jay says, "button up, dudes" ...

Dukes: But Big didn't do that? Big came out and he was there —

Lee: Hold up, I think Rahman is trying to say that Biggie did in two summers what Jay did in eight.

Dukes: Exactly, yes he did. Look the success that Big got. Jay ain't getting it till now.

Reid: We need to choose [a number one].

Bland: I think it's Pac.

Basa: For many many years I thought it was Pac, that was my true, I couldn't even imagine someone beating him. But in Africa, in Iowa, all over the world, both sides of the equator — what happened was this: Jay just kept on going and going nonstop.

Sway: I think Jay is a more skilled lyricist, but Pac said a lot more things that made me want to go riot. Geez, I've seen Pac perform, but I've seen Jay at the Garden when R. Kelly flaked out on him and he flipped the whole script and he got me back to lovin' the game again from that performance. Can I give them a tie?

Reid: Unfortunately, Big and Pac passed away and we never got a chance to see what they would have done.

Sway: Initially I would have said Pac, but I'm gonna go ahead and roll with Jay. Let me make this point, and this is a trump card that not too many can argue, and it is on tape. I sat down and I talked to Pac in his last interview, and he claimed he gave Biggie a lot of his style after Biggie was making the record "Party and Bullsh--," he sat down with Biggie and said, "Listen, if you want to expand your game, you gotta lighten up on those lyrics and dumb them down a little bit and sing to these ladies."

Reid: And what did Biggie say to that?

Sway: He said, "It was all a dream/ I used to read Word-Up magazine" [from Biggie's hit "Juicy"]. I talked to Biggie, days before his untimely death, and said, "Hey man, I don't know if this is true or not, but this is what Pac said how he influenced your rap style," and Biggie didn't deny it. In fact, he said "Yeah, Pac did give me a lot of game and told me how to write records where they could reach a wider audience." I don't think Pac is a better lyricist than Biggie, by no means at all, I just think what he brought to the table, what he brought to the world made a larger, a more important impact.


You Tell Us
Have a problem with our choices? Got a better list? Let us know, and check back later for our readers' hip-hop top 10 lists.





NEXT: Meet the MTV hip-hop brain trust and check out their individual picks ...
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