Kanye West is the greatest hip-hop artist of all time. He's made the best albums and changed the game the most, and his music is the most likely to endure.
One thing before we get going: This isn't one of those arguments meant to piss people off or "start a conversation." I really mean it. And, considering I was born a few minutes after hip-hop was and have been writing about it for over a decade, I feel qualified to say. So let's say it again: Kanye is the GOAT.
Rather than laying out all the evidence in his favor, though, I'm just going to predict and shoot down your arguments, one by one:
1) He's not a very good rapper
Fine. Maybe. Sorta. Well, not really, but even if that were true, being the GOAT is not the same as being the bestest technician. If that were the case then Christopher Cross or someone would be the best rock dude instead of Bob Dylan.
2) Biggie Smalls is the GOAT
We love Biggie more than many members of our family, but Biggie died too soon to be the greatest. He never got a chance to experiment much with style, or to refine his story-telling abilities as he moved into different phases of his life. Maybe Ready to Die and Life After Death are better than The College Dropout and Late Registration (maybe), but would his next three albums have been as strong as Graduation, 808s & Heartbreak, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? Would his music have evolved in such interesting, complex ways? The answers are most likely no.
3) Kanye's fallen way off since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Sure, Watch the Throne was not classic, and Cruel Summer is definitely not classic, but they are not Kanye solo projects and should not be judged in the same way. Are they evidence that Kanye has fallen off permanently? Absolutely not. Don't forget that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy -- an album that is Kanye's best, in the opinion of many -- is barely two years old. Let him get his kilt-wearing, kingmaking phase out of the way and see if he doesn't come back with an even more interesting perspective.
4) Jay-Z is the GOAT
Jay-Z is an absolutely first-rate songwriter, rapper, and performer, and his influence and style have unquestionably shaped the genre permanently. And, not for nothing, he brought the world Kanye West. (And Memphis Bleek.) But even putting aside Jay's great mountain of subpar work, very few of his albums are truly canonical 'art with a capital a,' whereas one can make this case for every one of Kanye's albums.
Though he's an expert boaster (not a slag) and makes stellar street anthems and pop hits with equal ease, Jay-Z doesn't often go to interesting places emotionally. In that sense, he's the best rap traditionalist; rap didn't used to be about psychiatrist couch confessions. But we believe the genre's tendency toward introspection is a positive shift, and while others deserve credit in this regard (including Scarface and Eminem) no one's more responsible for it than Kanye.
Also, shouldn't the greatest hip-hop artist be at least somewhat relevant when it comes to social issues? While one gets the feeling Jay hangs out with the president mostly because it makes him look cool, Kanye has legitimately risked his reputation on issues like gay acceptance and the diamond trade. He addresses issues like poverty, inequality, and access to education in his songs, in a way that is not trivial but is also not shrill or annoyingly Kwelian.
Oh, and this might be petty, but personally we'll never forgive Jay for ruining "Never Let Me Down." What could have been one of Kanye's best tracks evar is blemished by Jay. After J.Ivy offers one of the most heartwarming, uplifting verses we've heard, Jay-Z returns for a megalomaniacal, completely pointless second turn on the mic, and it's the absolute pits.
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