How To Argue About Rap

Jay Z was only partially exaggerating on “Where I’m From” when he said that it was possible to “argue all day about who’s the best MC: Biggie, Jay Z, or Nas.” From inner-city barber shops to the comments sections of hip-hop blogs, arguing about rap could almost be considered another element of the culture, one that benefits the art as a whole.

Rap arguments keep the oral tradition alive (and online), and create a sense of community; we’re doing more than shuffling in the club to the hits or bobbing our heads in the privacy of our homes, cars, and headphones; we’re engaging, we’re thinking deeply.

While music is of course subjective, hip-hop culture has always been serious about competition. You can like what you like, but don’t you dare talk about them being the best ever or even currently unless you’re prepared to defend that declaration. Arguing about rap is healthy and can be quite engaging, but in order to be taken seriously among knowledgeable rap fans, there are guidelines one should adhere to when forming and voicing their arguments.

Know More Than Most

It’s absurd to expect that anyone entering a rap discussion possess an encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop history, but you should have a broad and deep knowledge. In fact, rap music is by origin so derivative of other genres that it’s even helpful to have some knowledge of the blues, rock, and soul that came before it. A rap fan who only listens to rap or rap and R&B is missing some serious context when it comes to analyzing production and discussing it intelligently.

No Bias

There’s nothing quite as ineffective in a rap debate as a superfan who can’t see past their adoration for one particular artist and think critically about the art itself. A Nas superfan will discuss in depth the inarguable greatness of Illmatic, but then at the same time stand firmly by the statement that the Bravehearts album was solid (you’re entitled to your opinion, of course, you’re just wrong is all). The problem with a Stan is that their allegiance is to the artist and not to the craft of rhyming.

Sales Don’t Count

Don’t ever be that guy who brings up record sales in a rap debate. In a risky time for music, the argument that someone’s selling records is tempting as a way to prove their legitimacy. However, record sales should probably only be considered in an argument about rap marketing. Sales aren’t indicative of rhyme skills; in fact, artist sales are often inversely proportionate when it comes to an artist’s lack of rhyme skills. Never forget: Vanilla Ice sold records, too.

Don’t Be An Old School Head

There are two factions of rap fandom that are continually at odds: those who overly romanticize the past so much that they dismiss anything current, and those who think it has no bearing on the rap of today. The former wax nostalgic about anything that was created before 1999, and who isolate themselves from current trends and younger fans. On the other hand, you have fans of new rap who have no frame of reference, and who regard veteran MCs as “washed up.” Balance is key.

Accept You’re Not Going to Win

Ultimately, you will walk away from most rap arguments feeling the same way about the topic that you did going into it. And that’s OK.

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