For the better part of over a decade, rap aficionados have debated the question: who is the best to ever hold a mic? But, as time changes people’s views and opinions, one aspect of this debate has remained the same. The debate has come down to four MCs battling out for the proverbial thrown – 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G, Jay-Z, and Nas. While I (and even Nas himself) have said the debate delves far beyond those four, that’s if there is “,a greatest”, let’s take the words which came from the mouth of one of the aforementioned four shall we?
“Hearing me rap, is like hearing G Rap in his prime” (Jay-Z; ‘Encore’)
When Jay-Z teamed up with rockers Linkin Park for the Collision Course EP, his single, ‘Encore’, was mixed with Linkin Park’s single, ‘Numb’, which was probably the biggest hit on the album. They even performed it alongside Beatles legend, Paul McCartney at the 2006 Grammy Awards. Even when Jay spit that line during the performance, most observers probably didn’t know who he was talking about, and that’s if they caught what he said to begin with.
Well, the “G Rap” who Hova was referring to on ‘Encore’ is the Queens, New York native, Kool G Rap. And yes, Kool G Rap, the man born Nathaniel Thomas Wilson, is one of the greatest rappers you’ve probably never heard of. How so? Simple; the four rappers, who many have duking it out for rap’s proverbial thrown, were all influenced by G Rap. He pioneered a style that is still prevalent in rap music today, and it’s a style that many MCs have borrowed.
Off the top of my head, the list of rappers who have traces of Kool G Rap’s DNA in their rap style includes: 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G, Jay-Z, Nas, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg (now Snoop Lion), Mobb Deep, Raekwon (along with numerous members of the Wu-Tang Clan), DMX, the late Big Pun, Ja Rule, AZ, Jadakiss (and the rest of the Lox) 50 Cent, and many more.
To illustrate this, let’s take a trip back to the mid- to late-1980s, and see who were the top rappers of that time, and what their artistic characteristics were. Big Daddy Kane (he was smooth, confident, and possessed great wordplay), Rakim (he was poetic, wise, and a lyrical genius), LL Cool J (the ladies man with a penchant for battling), Run-DMC (the fun-loving party group), KRS-One (the conscious teacher who would speak on social issues), and Slick Rick (the funny, witty storyteller). So what was G Rap? What characterized him? He once admitted himself that he didn’t know exactly, and that’s what pioneered his style.
Growing up in the Corona neighbourhood of Queens, New York, he rapped about the street life he saw, from killings to drug dealings. While many credit N.W.A, and wrongly so, for pioneering “gangsta rap”, N.W.A member and hip-hop legend, Dr. Dre clarified the role they played by stating, “We (N.W.A) didn’t create gangsta rap, we popularized it.” Much like Kool G Rap, Dr. Dre gave credit to rapper (now actor) Ice-T for being the first “gangsta” rapper. While Ice-T used the pimp genre to fuel his raps, G Rap took to rapping about street life with a mafia twist, and many followed thereafter.
Nas, another Queens native, who’s been heralded for nearly 20 years for his brilliant narrative style of rap, has a catalogue littered with excellently structured street stories. ‘N.Y. State Of Mind’, ‘The Message’, ‘Shootouts’, ‘Small World’, ‘Rewind’, and ‘Sekou Story’, to name a few, can all be considered leaves and branches from the Kool G Rap tree of MCing. Whether it’s 2Pac’s chaotic classics, such as ‘Hellrazor’, ‘Open Fire’, and ‘Trapped” Biggie’s ‘Me And My Bitch’, and ‘Somebody’s Gotta Die’; or Jay-Z’s ‘Dead Presidents’, ‘D’evils’, and ‘A Week Ago’; they all can be traced back to you know who.
While rappers became enamoured with making references from the film Scarface (see the bathtub scene), G Rap had already done that. . .
“I bathe in champagne / with a girl named Elaine / In my jacuzzi / with a Uzi / with Suzy and Jane” (Kool G Rap; ‘I’m Fly’)
When Jay-Z explained to us the nuances of ‘Money Cash, Hoes’ in 1998 (from his five-times platinum, Grammy Award-winning Hard Knock Life album), you probably were not aware that G Rap did it almost a decade earlier in 1989. Listen further to ‘I’m Fly’ to hear about money, women, and clothes. . . .
“Jump out my big car / puffin’ on a cigar / Make my girls wait on the corner while I step in the bar / First I walk through the door / then I spit on the floor / Give some money to the poor / because I always get more / Take off my black mink / and order a drink / My pockets resemble Manhattan bank / So on my big ropes is a Gucci link”
While Nas succinctly told us what molded his ‘N.Y. State Of Mind’ in 1994, Kool G Rap painted us a grimy picture on 1990’s ‘Streets of New York’. When they first recorded together, the result was the beautiful song ‘Fast Life’, which depicted illegal plans similar to those of mob bosses, to become rich and retire. And although Nas has made a habit of outshining his peers with his guest appearances on their records, G Rap more than held his own with clever wordplay like this:
“The cell rollers / money folders / sippin’ bola / holding mad payola / Slangin’ that Coke without the Cola”
And for those who are quick to dismiss him with the usual “glorifying crime life” diatribe, need to take a listen to ‘Erase Racism’ (featuring Big Daddy Kane). The title itself is self-explanatory regarding the song’s meaning, or ‘Black Widow’. The latter being the tale of a female criminal who uses and then kills men for financial gain, but is eventually murdered because of that.
He was one of, if not the first, to incorporate many forms of rapping and writing techniques that are still prevalent in rap today. His machine-gun rapid fire delivery was also used by the platinum selling Big Pun. His multisyllabic rhyming – see Nas, AZ, and Eminem for a reference. Relating street life from a third person perspective – you’ll find that from 2Pac, and Scarface. Mafia influenced rhymes – Nas, Raekwon, and Biggie.
But don’t think his legacy is simply built upon being the first to incorporate certain styles. It isn’t. Not only was G Rap great for being the original, he also did it at a very high level. When you add to that the length of time he did it over (from the late ’80s to well into the 2000s), it shows his staying power.
Consider this: when he was first getting started, Paula Abdul was one of the biggest names in pop music. He lasted long enough to see her rise again to fame on American Idol then leave the show and rhyme on a track with Haylie Duff. Yes. . . Hilary’s (Lizzy McGuire) sister on the DJ Premier-produced ‘On The Rise Again’. And believe me, it doesn’t come off contrived, trying to give street credibility to a mainstream performer, or vice versa, trying to get a street rapper to crossover for mainstream appeal. Trust me, years later he still has it. . .
“Blow on the stove / with blow on the stove / Made a blizzard in the summer, put snow on the road” (‘On The Rise Again’, featuring Haylie Duff)
He is certainly one of the best that ever did it. If you don’t want to take my word for it, take the word of two of the biggest mainstream selling rappers of all time. Not only did Jay-Z acknowledge him in rhyme, he did so in an interview with Charlie Rose. Eminem did it in one of his Grammy Award accepting speeches. Why do you think that is? Pay homage, people. Pay homage.