Mount Rapmore.

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.


  1. Ok, I’m going to take a different angle on this debate. What if we try to actually match rap artists and their role in hip hop history to the actual presidents on Rushmore and their role in US History? My take:

    Washington – Run DMC

    The firsts. First president. First hip-hop artist to go platinum, first to have a top 10 single, first to get a grammy nomination. Maybe these guys weren’t the absolute best and brightest of their generation, but each is the most remembered/recognizable from their era. They were the early leaders and helped lead their young causes (America and Hip Hop respectively) to credibility and mainstream acceptance.

    Jefferson – Dr. Dre

    The visionaries. Am I comparing Dre’s work with NWA/The Chronic/Doggystyle to the Declaration of Independence? Absolutely. (Does that make Chronic 2001 the Louisiana Purchase?) Both were able to transcend their era and craft works that not only changed their world, but have held up and maintained their influence through the passage of time. Neither of their institutions would exist as the forces they do today without their vision and influence.

    Lincoln – Tupac

    The uniters. Each was a very controversial figure in a major divide. Both were killed before they were able see out their vision. Both were great leaders and orators (Gettysburg Address and Dear Mama?). Each was easily the largest figure in his era, and arguably the most influential ever.

    Roosevelt – Eminem

    The expanders. Young, outsized personalities that connected with and were widely loved by the masses in ways that no one else has been able to. Each used their abilities to accomplish many great things across different areas (Seriously, who wins the Nobel Prize while building the Panama Canal, creating the world’s greatest navy and laying the framework for anti-trust law?) and greatly increase the influence of their institution.

    So there it is: Run DMC, Dre, Tupac, Eminem.

  2. In no particular order (except chronological): Kool Herc, Rick Rubin (nearly interchangeable with Simmons), Rakim and Dre. The list is almost self-evident.

  3. Keith,

    Which RSS reader do you use?

  4. Google Reader. How do I know that? I read it in the interview with the picture of him and the beach towel, discovered G-R, and now use it myself.

    Just a random list of rappers needed to be considered: Rev Run, Rakim, KRS-One, Chuck D, Dre, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Snoop, 2 Pac, Jay Z, Nas, and someone mention Anthony Keidis and his Rap-Sing thing he does.

    I mean, it’s cool. lol.

    My 4: Dre, Em, Pac and Jay.

  5. “I’m not here to start no trouble, I’m just here to do the Super Bowl Shuffle”!

  6. The problem with Mount Rapmore is that their are no obvious comparisons. Kool Herc was the first DJ, but that isn’t quite a Washingtonian accomplishment. There is no obvious George Washington of rap, though Pigmeat Markham would be its John Hanson. Run DMC would be more like its James Madison or Andrew Jackson, Will Smith would be its Martin Van Buren and Vanilla Ice would have to be Franklin Pierce. Maybe you could make the argument Rakim is its Lincoln though, liberating the genre from simple structure and lyrics.

  7. It occurred to me after the fact that Will Smith really is more John Quincy Adams than Van Buren. His tenure was short, he didn’t really belong and is much more noted for his other achievements. (Far too much time has been exhausted in the consideration of the subject.)

  8. I can’t wait for keith’s next post…nothing worse than a bunch of white guys discussing rap.

    I can’t stand Eminem, most of his songs are him bitching about his upbringing. boo hoo

  9. nothing worse than a bunch of white guys discussing rap.

    I know one thing that’s worse – saying that discussion of a subject is limited to people of a certain race. That is much worse.

    Don’t worry – I’ll return to more white-people-appropriate topics, like books with words, in my next post.

  10. DtFH, GZA, Tupac, Ice Cube

    Maybe not the “best”, but those are my four favorites. Trying to label anything as the “best” in something as subjective as music is pretty difficult, and really isn’t very satisfying.

  11. I can’t wait for keith’s next post…nothing worse than a bunch of white guys discussing rap.

    Would it be inappropriate to pile on here? I don’t think so.

    I don’t know what’s more offensive: the racial stereotyping implicit in your comment or the implicit assumption that the nobody involved in this thread is something other than white.

    Do you assume people of other ethnicities are incapable of using the internet?

  12. For real yo. FWIW I’m Puerto Rican and there are plenty of white guys who know a thing or two about hip hop and a shitload of blacks and latinos who couldn’t pick Rakim out of a lineup.

  13. What’s next? A bunch of women and minorities in a chatroom about “being able to vote”?
    Give me a break. People like what they like, they know what they know. Ethnicity allows different people different perspectives- each is as valid as the next.

  14. Also, “I can’t stand Eminem, most of his songs are him bitching about his upbringing. boo hoo” is kind of ridiculous. As Jay said, people know what they know. People will generally write and rap about things based on their own experiences. He did have a tough uprising, as did most of the guys who could be included on Mount Rapmore, and they all “bitched” about it too. Or maybe we should include the likes of Souljah Boy since they can rap about more important issues, and are of the appropriate race I suppose.

  15. Let me just suggest that we end the criticism of the comment about white people discussing rap here. We’ve said enough, and I don’t want anyone to become the target of so much opprobrium that they leave the site. Thanks.

  16. On a hip hop note, are you familiar with Atmosphere? They are a Minneapolis based act that I’ve only recently stumbled onto after reading an interview by their MC, Sean Danley (aka Slug) and I’m really impressed.

  17. I was just listening to De La Soul. Do they make the mountain?

  18. De La merits strong consideration as one of the best hip hop groups of all time, but I don’t think their impact was strong enough to be considered for Mt Rapmore. Stakes is High is a classic album, released just as the music was starting to go heavily mainstream. I believe it was released on the same day as “Stillmatic,” Nas’ not so subtle attempt to gain radio play and wider consumer acceptance.

  19. Sorry, I meant “It Was Written,” not “Stillmatic.”

  20. Keith, I don’t know about a place on Rapmore, but what do you think of Gang Starr?

  21. Gang Starr was always big with the critics, but I never could get into them. I’m not even sure how to phrase my criticism, but it seemed like they were trying too hard to write intelligent lyrics, so what came out was forced.

  22. anyone here dig the pharcyde? their first 2 albums were good.

    and before they ran out and got skanky fergie, the black eye peas had potential…

  23. I’m just astonished that, based on his uber-Bostonian proclivities, Simmons didn’t try to sneak House of Pain in there.

    Or Aerosmith.

  24. House of Pain is from New York.

  25. Simmons has now updated Mount Rapmore and (surprise, surprise) it is identical to Keith’s.

  26. Sickeningly identical. Keith, we need a response from you. I dying to hear your take on the coincidence.

  27. I think it’s just that, a coincidence. Bill told me he’d never seen it (or this blog) before, and his word is good enough for me.

  28. My man, you are so dead wrong on this one. This is as bad a call as the one the Yankees made in the sandwich round when Weatherford, Webb, and Mellville were all available. I’m going to come back at you with some of his lyrics, but I’ll tell you now that in terms of flow an delivery, he was one of the best of all time. He also practically invented the style of rapping that is the basis for all of the dirty south stuff, as well Dre’s later records, and Eminem.

  29. Grandmaster Flash is not a rapper. That said:

    DJ Kool Herc, for inventing the breakbeat.
    Grandmaster Flash, for inventing the developing scratching after Grand Wizard Theodore discovered it could be used as another form of rhythm.
    Afrika Bambaataa, for introducing techno-style synths to hip-hop.
    Marley Marl, the very first “super-producer”, who also explored the practice of sampling like no one ever had before.

  30. Keith, where do you recommend starting with Rakim? Is there any particular album that stands above the rest? Thanks.

  31. Probably the greatest hits package, The Book of Life, which came with his first solo album. If you want to buy individual songs, go to Disc 2 and buy tracks 1 through 5, 8, 10, and 15, and maybe 9.