January 6, 2012

Abe Beame is talking square biz.

It’s hard to keep up with the internet in 2011. Both music and its criticism changes faster than truths can even be registered. By the time you figure out what’s happening, the herd has already moved on. So it should come as no surprise that since I started writing about rap music on the internet 5 years ago, the landscape has greatly changed. Back then, critics, and by critics I mean those amongst the small circle of people I would share music and argue with, wrote, wrote passionately, wrote often.

In these RSS-fed times, as we move away from blogs, increasingly toward Tweeting and Tumbling, the currency of Rap Music criticism is quantity. 100 pennies far exceed a dollar, and a popular sentiment is that three thousand word defenses of the second half of Nas’ catalog or love letters to early UGK are a waste of time, both yours and mine, when the essence can be boiled down to a few 144 character, snark filled dismissals. And maybe there’s some truth in that.

As a result of this commoditization of volume, the black card in every rap critic’s wallet is the list. Lists give us the ability to introduce you to obscure material, briefly reflect on songs, artists and albums and make 50 tiny arguments, 50 greater than/less than signs. That Operation Doomsday is better than MMM…Food, that “Jazzy Belle” is better than “Claremont Lounge”, that Mobb Deep’s Demo was better than Big L’s.

Rap lists can be irreverent, irrelevant, passionate, lazy, mean, disposable or invaluable, in some instances all these things at once. They can be painstakingly tabulated, with wars fought over position 44 and everything canonical hanging in the balance — or they can be spit-balled on a slow post day. Like any practice there’s a refining process that some have perfected in making a quality rap list. While others are still developing their craft. Ranking art has become an art in and of itself. So as a nod to the parlance of our times, as my own bittersweet farewell to the internet I knew and loved (and for page hits), I present to you one man’s categorical ranking of the Internet’s 15 best categorical rankings of rap songs, albums, artists and other ephemera. —Abe Beame

15. Oh Word’s 50 Incredible Rap Songs You Need to Hear Right Now

This is the first rap list I can ever recall reading, back when I was just a fan of an old satirical Hip Hop site called Oh Word. It utilizes the list as a means of education, with the Oh Word staff (Including our very own Sach back when the O stood for Orenstein), Queensbridge fetishist Robbie Ettelson, and Noz digging deep into their zip drives and compiling a freewheeling mix of their favorite obscure tracks.

14. The Ten Best Mixtape Albums of the 2000s

Complex is the closest thing the internet age has to The Source. Through their fascinating behind the scenes reporting on great, underappreciated albums and of course, their lists, they are the only actual hip hop publication on the internet that has that remote air of professionalism and relevance. Complex deservedly makes up a good chunk of this list, and their list cataloging their favorite mixtape albums is a good reason why. It’s an inventive list, and one that serves a historical purpose: charting the evolution of the mixtape, which began the last decade as a slapdash collection of cutting room floor tracks and 16s over other people’s shit, and wound up becoming a proving ground for artists, or a place for established artists to go off and experiment in the company of their most loyal fans. Top prize deservedly went to the architect of this movement toward mixtape legitimacy: 50 Cent.

13. Vibe’s 50 Best Rap Blogs

In 2009, Vibe patted a few heads and pissed off a million lone wolves who enjoy spending their free time raving about the intricacies of Young Buck’s flow. Nah Right took that #1 spot, most likely meaning it had the most hits and McDonalds fish filet adds that year. A little blog that could, featuring the rambling thoughts of a rogue LA Weekly music critic and his rag tag crew came in at #49.

12. Complex’s Inglorious Rappers: Rap’s 25 Most Flagrant Nazi References

Insanul Ahmed finds an entertaining angle of obscurity, focusing on rappers’ deep love of invoking Godwin’s Law in their punchlines. Ahmed finds his references in the cracks of ODB and Sir Mix A Lot songs, a true Rap nerd showing off. Anti-Semitism never sounded so dope.

11. Passion of the Weiss’ The Ten Greatest M.O.P. Couplets

Aaron Matthews pays tribute to the surprising nimble and hilarious wordplay executed by Brownsville’s grimiest duo. The real star of this list is the inspired “Lil Fame Head” ratings system.

10. Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of the Year

This is not a Rap list, but I always enjoy seeing what the four or five avant garde, critic-bait, “never will be played near a radio” “rap” albums that smart white people who don’t really listen to rap, are using as a cred shield from year to year. (2011: What up Shabazz!) Oh, and Kanye West.

9. Fat Lace’s Greatest Rap Intros

A resurrected Internet Magazine of unimpeachable taste finds that right mixture of obscure and nostalgic for a solid top 5. The intro is a perfect way to dig up old favorites, inspiring a rare and refreshing comment section of hip gop heads suggesting the own personal recommendations. Their loving description of the way “When she made me promise” drifts into the beginning of what many consider rap’s greatest song will have you running for your old jewel case, Mecca and the Soul Brother LP.

8. We Eat So Many Shrimp’s Top 50 Gucci Songs of 2008

David Drake and his gang are an outspoken, passionate, obsessive bunch, a list of attributes that normally suggests writing below the level they produce. Their campaigning for an ascendant Gucci Mane during his pre-jail year of magical thinking helped introduce many to the bizarre, tongue twisting brand of rap Gucci eventually brought, briefly, to the mainstream. They also came out with a masterful list of his best verses from his banner year of 2009, and would’ve ranked higher, but this wasn’t the first obsessive, artist driven list of its kind.

7. Complex’s Punchline King: The 25 Best Lloyd Banks Verses

An obsessive’s list of the one-time, boy wonder, Lloyd Banks’ best appearances throughout his spotty career. Banks is a rapper who many outside the New York area might not give a shit about, but he’s one of the finest all-time practitioners of the classic New York, battle-ready, mixtape flow. For this reason, focusing specifically on his verses rather than entire songs correctly accentuates what it is about Banks that makes him great, introducing a laymen to a cat that’s hungry like a South African with flies stuck to his face. The team of Complex writers feel comfortable with Banks’ wide ranging catalogue and it’s hard to argue with their favorite.

6. The XXL Freshman 10

It’s a point of derision and laughter around most critical circles, and yet every year we’re talking about the new talent XXL deems worthy of their cover. And who knows, haters? When Donnis is running rap in 5 years you won’t be able to say XXL didn’t warn you.

5. Egotripland’s Da Beatminerz’s 10 Favorite Sample Flips

Part List, part interview, part biography, part roundtable discussion, the originators of this rap list shit go to a Godfather, East Coast production deity to nerd out.

4. The 77 Best Lil Wayne songs of 2007

Sean Fennessy put together this artist-driven list in 2007 and for many people it served as a culmination to what a few had known and been arguing for years: That if the Squad Up tapes or his crack rap classic Tha Carter hadn’t gotten your attention, Lil Wayne, the nasal bray in the background of our favorite Juvenile and Hot Boyz songs, had quietly been conducting some brilliant experimentation on his many mixtapes. This list put it’s finger on the pulse at just the right moment. By the end of the next year Lil Wayne was the biggest star in rap, if not music. In its breadth, this list would also serve as a forefather for many an artist driven, “argument” type list such as So Many Shrimp’s Gucci paen a year later, the implicit underlying argument is “Lil Wayne actually has 77 songs worth listening to.”

3. Passion of the Weiss’ 50 Best Rap albums of the Last Decade

My first opportunity to work with the gang. A laughably ambitious, instant canonization of a decade in rap before it had concluded. Jeff and Co. reached across the aisle, bringing in writers from every digital nook and cranny to form a consensus…….And in the end no one was happy. It sparked the kind of arguments that make us ball our fists, that make us engage in honest debate and dialogue, that force us to ask that essential question: what do we like, and why do we like it? In short, it was the type of list that validates the hours you spend at the end of every year cataloging why Cam’ron’s last effort fell short of Roc Marciano’s, why you put up with trolls in the commenting section, why we talk about music on the internet. That’s not to say it doesn’t piss me off to this day. For instance: Did you know Mike Skinner was responsible for 4% of the best Hip Hop made between 2000 and 2010? Me neither!

2. Complex’s 30 Greatest Hip Hop Demos

Chairman Mao’s opening of his mixtape chest proved informative and useful in a way we haven’t even begun to learn the ramifications of yet. Of all the lists on this list, it’s the only one that really unearthed new material and utilized the list as a vehicle for reporting and informing, rather than simply listing.

1. Complex’s The 79 Greatest Tunnel Bangers

One time Funk Flex crowd warmer turned major Hot 97 personality, Cypher Sounds, takes us for a nostalgic stroll down a memory lane covered in grime. The 79 most reliable street anthems at a fabled, long shuddered Hip Hop club in Chelsea. While other lists on this list are arguably more “important,” for an 80s baby this was the most pleasurable. It would was an informative warm reminisce of the last fleeting moments when New York was still Hip Hop’s first city, and 13 year old kids straining through static actually had something invested in whether or not Capone and Noreaga could knock off Big Pun on Battle of the Beats.

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