From Bill Simmons’ mailbag:
Q: If they were going to construct the Mount Rushmore of the rap industry, who would the four members be? Keep in mind that it is the four most influential people to the history of the industry, not necessarily the four best rappers.
–Adam, Hillsville, Va.
First of all, I have no idea why Adam asked Bill this instead of me. But Adam lives in some place called “Hillsville” in rural Virginia is probably still listening to his cassette version of To The Extreme, so we’ll cut him some slack.
Bill, however, gets no slack. His answers: Tupac (fine), Dr. Dre (also fine), Jay-Z (awful choice – the man can not rap), and the most overrated rapper ever, Notorious B.I.G.
B.I.G.’s legacy was preserved because he died just as he was becoming popular. He wasn’t a good technical rapper. His lyrics were beyond stupid, crude, and misogynistic, while never being particularly funny or clever. And his rise with Bad Boy Records represented the end of rap’s golden age and helped kill off West Coast gangsta-rap (although Warren G’s “Regulate” was that genre’s self-immolation moment). And maybe it’s just me, but I have never thought Jay-Z was any good as a rapper. His success mystifies me.
I don’t see how you can make any such list without including Rakim, one of the most influential rappers of all time and, I would argue, its best technical rapper, with outstanding flow and meter and plenty of inside rhymes. He’s cited as an influence by most of the best rappers of the 1990s and was revered enough in his prime to be referred to simply as the “R,” although I would be shocked if many current rap “stars” knew who he was.
And I’m also not sure how you can exclude Russell Simmons, who was a major figure in hip-hop’s formative years, co-founded (with Rick Rubin, who would be a good alternative) the first hip-hop record label, and was responsible for most of rap’s earliest cross-overs into the pop mainstream.
Honorable mention would go to Grandmaster Flash, the first rap artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a highly influential rapper in early hip-hop who probably didn’t have the long-term career to merit inclusion.