For the current issue of Rolling Stone, Nas didn’t so much provide a “best lyricists of all time” list as the title circulating the net suggests. Instead, he provided an exclusive list of what he sees as some of the more progressive lyricists; progressive in reference to emcees that continue to shape and cultivate hip-hop as a creative craft rather than settle into old formulas.
“When I said Hip-Hop is dead a few years ago, I felt we’d gotten away from the great wordplay and storytelling,” says Nas.”There’s a place for the party shit and a place for the gangster shit. I focus on the guys that are always pushing themselves forward.”
Although the Jay-Z and Nas feud produced some of the best battle music in hip-hop history, I’m glad to see Nas throw Jigga up on the list.
1. “My Downfall” – Notorious B.I.G., 1997
The lyrics are about how he’s acing the shadows of death, despite all of his success, and he’s giving it to you in a way that makes it seem so real.
2. “If My Homie Calls” – 2pac, 1991
He’s just saying to his boys that he’s going to be a friend no matter how big he gets.
3. “Road To The Riches” – Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo, 1989
The way we’re rhyming now? He was already doing it then.
4. “A Bird In The Hand” – Ice Cube, 1991
5. “Paid In Full” – Eric B. & Rakim, 1987
6. “I’m Single” – Lil Wayne, 2010
I’m recently divorced, so I feel what he’s saying.
7. “Tears of Joy” – Rick Ross, 2010
Ross is at the pulpit here.
8. “The Moment I Feared” – Slick Rick, 1988
It’s cinematic. He’s at a hip-hop show and ices this girl who played him, then he’s in prison getting violated by some dude. This was unheard of.
9. “Empire State of Mind” – Jay-Z, 2009
This song is huge. It sounds like Broadway. It’s New York’s modern anthem.
10. “Queen Bitch” – Lil’ Kim, 1996
At the time, females rappers didn’t appeal to the street, but Kim came with the vulgarity, sexuality and gangster shit.