Staff Top 10
Top Ten Underappreciated Rappers

let’s face it…we don’t prize skillz in hip-hop. Style overwhelms substance. Booty-bops are favored over lyrics of fury. Why else do you think rappers managed to devise the concept of “sellout” and hip-pop? In a bid to celebrate the unheralded connoisseurs of pure hip-hop (if there is such a thing), we’ve compiled a list of the most under-appreciated rappers of our time.

10. Jean Grae
Even if her name sounds like something out of a comic book, Jean’s adept lyricism and in-your-face attitude makes her a real life super-hero. Yep, super-hero, her raps are that macho. From the unsung masterpiece This Week to her heavily-bootlegged Jeanius collaboration with 9th Wonder, J.G is everything you’d never expect from a femcee.

09. GZA
Much like KRS-One, GZA has now retired into a state of everyone-sucks-and-I’m-still-the-illest type of antagonism. But, revisit any Wu-Tang jawn from the 90’s and you’d quickly cut the Genius some slack for his current bitterness. His solo projects were never lauded as much as Method Man’s or Ghostface’s. But GZA should take solace in the fact that his son (what’s his name again?) is a better rapper than Ghost’s (Sun God).

08. Scarface
Just like you, I thought Scarface was dead when T.I. suddenly started referring to himself as the “King of The South.” It’s a slap in the face that two million fans would go and cop nine copies of whatever album Tip puts on the shelf while Brad Jordan needs as many as two albums in the same year to stay weighty. Sure, he might be older than all your uncles put together, but the man helped spearhead the Southern rap movement, morphed into a street lyricist, and more importantly, remains the only rapper 50 Cent has refused to beef with. Now that’s gangsta.

07. Pharoahe Monch
When Talib Kweli and Mos Def were selected to headline the “Love Breed Odyssey Tour” last year, Pharoahe’s name was reduced to damn-near-illegible fine print on the concert flyers and ads. How sacrilegious! Not only did Mr. Monch establish himself as a no-nonsense wordsmith way before Black Star was conceived, he’s one of only three rappers who hasn’t banished the word “artistic” from his vocabulary.

06. Canibus
I know I’m going to wind up with some banana peels on my driveway for this, but Canibus is responsible for his own inclusion on this list. If ‘Bis had accepted LL’s offer to shove his classic “2nd Round Knock Out” dis down his throat and kill the feud before it became a feud, not only would he be un-blacklisted by industry big-wigs, he’d also be living up everything he dreamed of on “Dear Academy.” You know, vacation on an island where gangsters wear sandals, more groupies, the whole nine. And, maybe, just maybe XXL would’ve never referred to him as “that little fuck.”

05. Royce da 5’9”
Ryan Montgomery is one of the few artists that can hold down an album from start to finish. He was hip-hop elite in Detroit back when he’d formed a duo known as Bad Meets Evil with Marshall Mathers. But after a hilarious war-on-wax with Em and his sidekicks, Royce threw away his crown and became a hip-hop nobody. Fans have since preferred D-12’s limp pop-rap over Royce’s wit, lyricism, intelligence, and charisma. If only talent equaled power…

04. Ras Kass
The West Coast’s answer to Rakim, Ras Kass never lived up to his full potential. Stalled first by label politics and later by a jail bid, the Golden Child came back with a solid album (The Golden Child) but still remained under the radar.

03. Masta Ace
A veteran of the game since the late 80’s and a member of the legendary Juice Crew, M-Ace is responsible for musically fathering most of today’s big names including Eminem, who publicly admitted that he jacked Masta Ace’s style. Ace has been Sittin’ on Chrome before the ability to use the word “chrome” in a rhyme became a prerequisite to scoring a label deal, yet his flawless joints remain overlooked by a big section of the hip-hop community.

02. Black Thought
Black Thought should be a hip-hop legend by now. His name alone screams ‘genius.’ As conceptual as it gets, Riq Gees has been laying it down lyrically for over 17 years without repeating himself…ever! By today’s fan’s standards, however, his excellent command of the English language on the mic ranks him below every chart-topping puppet fastened to the strings of a major label. But that’s all about to change, since Jay-Z has given The Roots 100% artistic freedom at Def Jam Left—their new home for the upcoming Game Theory.

01. AZ
It’s such a shame that hip-hop’s biggest bully, 50 Cent, couldn’t find any other artist to equate to “bullshit records” on his song “What If.” Come on, now, there are so many options but Anthony Cruz is not one of them. Interestingly, AZ didn’t jump back at 50 and try to revitalize his career via beef. After all, he’s one of the few emcees that walked into the game without a demo tape. His verse on Nas’ “Life’s A Bitch” was his official demo. And, as quiet as it’s kept, his own debut, 1995’s Doe or Die, was just as good as Illmatic. I’m sure it has something to do with that speech impediment.

By: Henry Adaso
Published on: 2006-03-24
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