Right back at it, and my surprise (?) pick at #2 is:
I struggled mightily over the decision of whether Nas or Jay-Z should come out ahead on this list. My heart, of course, lies with Nas, for the reasons listed in my earlier post, and also because in many ways I hate Jay-Z (more on that in a sec). In the end, however, I had to go with Jay because this list, unlike pretty much anything else I will write on this blog, is meant to be semi-objective, and when all is said and done Jay-Z is just a more skilled rapper. And just to bring in the c. 02/03 beef for fun, the 'Takeover' is much better than 'Ether', and that that "One good album every 10 year average!" was pretty damning.
To those who know my mixed feeling towards Jay-Z, the fact that I can put him so high on this list should stand as a true testament to his ability. Sometime around The Black Album I began to loathe Jay-Z, and began secretly rooting for his failure. I was elated when Kingdom Come was a critical failure, and disappointed when American Gangster was universally lauded. I used to think the source of this anger was Jay's extreme overconfidence, and constant harping on the "Greatest Rapper Alive" concept. But every rapper ever is guilty of perpetrating those crimes, and I've come to the realization that my distaste actually stems from his whole label executive, corporate takeover, media darling, well dressed, Beyonce-betrothed, non-threatening, hottest interviews, everybody's favorite rapper persona. I was finally able to get past all of these non-music related things one day when I was listening to Kanye West's 'Never Let Me Down,' and Jay's second verse came on: 'Who else you know been hot this long?/ Started from nothin' but he got strong/ To a rock from a pebble/ Pedaled rock before I met you/ Peddle bikes, bought my nephews peddle bikes because they special.' What that verse reminded me was the two crucial things about Jay-Z: his infinitely malleable cadence, and his ability to, with high frequency, pull-out brilliantly clever lyrical gems. Regarding the former, I've debated my brother about the relative merit of 'Ghetto Anthem (Hard Knock Life)', contesting its claims of lyrical idiocy with the fact that Jay sounds so good, regardless of what he's saying. The same argument can be brought to bear on many Jay-Z other songs and verses, to the point that he almost always sounds good even when he's saying stupid or obnoxious things. On the lyrical front, Jay-Z just has an intangible ability to come up with incredible lines that don't rely on being story-driven, progressive, or deeply though-provoking. On top of these things, Jay-Z really has been consistently great over a very long time, and he really isn't slowing down much (although I'm not terribly impressed with the 'Brooklyn We Go Hard' joint). Longevity + consistency + occasionally brilliant lyrics + untouchable 'style' (or 'flow', or whatever hot slang kids are using in the streets these days) = 2nd greatest rapper in history.
Having just heaped praise on him, I feel justified in taking one last pot-shot: worst pre-song ad-libs ever.