They are kings among kings, according to MTV's hip-hop brain trust: Our 10 Greatest MCs of All Time. We asked some of the legends how it feels to be one of the elite.
"It's wild flattering. Secondly, it's like making it to the Hall of Fame. I don't even know what to say. It's a blessing to know that I could be on Farmers Boulevard [in the New York City borough of Queens] beating on a green garbage can and always hearing it different, and wanting to say it different and seeing it different lyrically, and visualizing it different. And for us to go all the way down the road now, and for people to acknowledge me as one of the best, it's a blessing. 'Cause I know it doesn't have to be like that. I don't even have to have a career right now. I'm probably one of the most grateful guys in hip-hop. [That's] not fake humility — 'cause I'm confident in what I do, I feel like I put it down — but I'm very grateful."
"That's one of my first dreams: Out of all this, I wanted to be a respected MC. That was my first thing I thought I could get out of the rap game, something I could control: my lyrics, my delivery and to be respected. It's like, 'Play your hardest and someday you'll be in the Hall of Fame,' just by being named in the [company] of some of the greatest MCs who ever spit. It's something you don't think about until you're kinda there. It feels good that it's me.
Jay? Nas? Biggie? Pac?
Our experts say Hov is king. Find out where your favorites rank and tell us what you think.
"To be a great MC, you have to be a good observer of people and situations. Master the language. You gotta always try to be as creative as you can. Some people write rhymes and they're easy; I never liked to write easy rhymes. I always liked to bend my brain. I wanted everything to cut through the heart. The passion, the flow. The flow is 35 percent of it. You gotta have the flow and your love. The more love you have for it, the better MC you gonna be."
"I feel that's what an MC wants: the recognition of being that hot MC. Like, 'You heard what he said?' Most of my career, that's been my thing, [to be] Mr. Break Your Rewind Button. I appreciate it."
"That's everything. Being acknowledged, first of all, is all I wanted. When I got in the game, I knew what I was doing, I was putting a lot into what I was writing. But I just knew only a certain amount of people would get it — people who could relate to the stories I was telling. But I never thought it would grow and I would have a career to continue on and get acknowledged for the new stuff I was doing. And as I went along, I was growing and the [number of] people that were listening to me was growing. Then after a while, you realize your thing is about to be a legacy. When you say it's over, you'll always have that legacy. And I realized a lot of dudes don't survive that length of time."
"It's a blessing, man. Especially the road I took. I'm a conscious rapper. I try to stay away from a lot of things: Not wanting to cross over and go pop. Try to stay true to my roots and for them to bless me with that title. It makes it all worth the battle. It's like the first time you sit down with the notebook, you want to be with the greats. I came up under Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee. I used to think, 'If Melle Mel heard this, or if Caz heard this, what would he think?' "
"I'm not an artist; I'm a hustler. The industry didn't accept me right away — I felt it was my enemy. But as the years went by and I came to make friends in the industry and feel more accepted, every time something like this happens, it's a great thing for me."