Are fans of underground and old school hip hop really as free-thinking as they think they are?

I'm using the term old school to mean not modern mainstream hip hop because I couldn't think of a better term.

Anytime I see someone list the greatest rappers of all-time, their lists all look the same for the most part. There are about 15-20 rappers of which you can choose 9 to be in your top 10, and then you can add 1 from outside those 15-20 to make your list unique. DJ Premier, Pete Rock and J Dilla are always at or near the top for producers. El-P and Madlib are usually top 10 as well. For albums, Illmatic and Paid in Full are always in their top 10 albums. The Cold Vein and Madvillainy are always among their top underground albums. Rarely is there any debate over what any given artist's best album is.

Are there some artists and albums that are just so good that everyone has to agree on how good they are, or are these fans as easily swayed by popular opinion as mainstream fans.

I'm not excluding myself either. Most of the opinions I mentioned apply to me as well.

Update:

Basketball also has statistics that allow you to easily compare players side by side. The only statistic in music is sales, which almost all underground and old school hip hop fans would agree, aren't that important.

Solid point though, as that is the case with almost everything.

Update 2:

Bonnie, Jay-Z was my main inspiration for this question due to the barrage of thumbs down I received for the order in which I ranked his albums.

Update 3:

Tyler, do you feel better now?

15 Answers

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  • 10 years ago
    Best answer

    I was recently thinking the same thing to myself, the conclusion I arrived at is that we are just as much slaves to our anti-conformity, as mainstream fans are to what the radio plays. Its gotten to the point where, in most cases, if you hear a song on MTV BET whatever that you enjoy, you don't admit to liking it or listen to it at all for the simple fact that it was mainstream. If you ask what Nas' best album, 95% of the time it will be Illmatic. It has been accepted as fact, hardly an opinion any longer. Most people will say Rakim is the best to ever grace the mic, it has been accepted as fact. When it comes to music there should really not be that many artists that appear on everyones list. I will say that Rakim is talented enough to have everyone admit he has talent, but that doesn't mean that everyone has to like him. Illmatic is a great album, but I don't like it enough to put it in my top ten. But if I don't include it in my list someone will be like Ayy where's Illmatic at? Wheres The 18th Letter at? Wheres 36 Chambers at? as if I had forgotten to include these albums that just MUST be included in any list. And most of the time I won't be like, I don't like those albums enough to put them in my 10 favorite albums. I'll usually just throw in an edit giving those albums a shout out. There isn't an overall standard on how to critique and judge music. Sometimes you like songs for reasons you can't understand. So I don't see how all of us can find the same albums as 'the best'. Our problem is we use the same elements to critique, for MC's its lyricism, flow, and substance. But what about how well it relates to your life? what about personality, what about live performances? The stuff that makes music individual? Tons of MC's are super lyrical, but I don't like them all, why not? Same problem with producers, no one ever says I love so and so's production because it reminds me of when I used to go on midnight graffiti missions with my friends. Its always the same key things we like about it. I will say Emancipator is my favorite producer of all time, with his one album out. Because I listened to that album non stop during an extremly significant part of my life, and everytime I listen to it now, I almost relive it, and it makes me just feel great. Now if I put that on a list, someone would be like thats not rating him on just overall skill, or I don't see why he's your favorite, wheres Dilla? And now I'm gonna just say Thats why its MY favorite list, not yours.

    Great freaking Question. Thank You.

  • Anonymous
    10 years ago

    Yes, i completely agree, i am guilty of this too sometimes but it is not anyone's fault. This acceptance of what is mainstream happens until the person feels safe enough to defy what is percieved as the correct view point. When i first came to this site i was puting artists i had never really heard of in my top ten just because others were mentioning their names. This was the fault of my ignorance of rap music not because i cannot make up my mind. However, this mob mentality can build if the person does not seek their own ideas (something i have done thankfully) and can lead to a sheep like following of whatever is the general consenses. This is how the theory of evolution got so mainstream. Several professors used big jargon and adverage people wanting to seem above adverage swallowed the dumb down dogma fed to them. If you take a trip to the R&S section their are people supporting evolution because it is, and i quote "the only logical possiblity". This is an example of what i find frequently happens here, several people (you many times) say an unknown artist's name and it becomes the "in thing" to know them and talk about them. I've seen things like, "well Morbid said this guy is good" or "Mech never mentioned him, he probably isn't good". I will end with a quote from an unknown author "If you do not think, others will think for you"

    edit: I also don't have a best list, only one of my favorites. Judging who is the best Emcee of all time is impossible

    if i had to vote, it be MC Supernatural

  • Anonymous
    10 years ago

    I think underground fans can be more annoying than mainstream ones, just because I'm tired of Lil Wayne being the standard for whack rappers while these f*cks go and praise someone like Necro's rapping skills.

    I can't speak for others, but I discovered The Cold Vein accidentally and I love it, so I didn't have any outside factors. But I agree with you. The most critically hailed underground albums always seem to be at the top of people's list. Frankly I have a hard time considering something truly underground if everyone from Robert Christagau to Pitchfork has called it an album of the decade.

  • Anonymous
    10 years ago

    Well the best are obviously the best for a reason and that is because they are the best plain and simple.

    Underground fans are obviously somewhat free thinking or they wouldn't even be into the underground at all. It really varies from person to person though, so I don't think I can call it either way, but I guess you could give most underground fans the benefit of doubt just for listening to underground. Then again it could be taken away if your the type that comes on Y!A and constantly asks for everyone else's opinion on music. That might kind of bring how free thinking you actually are into question.

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  • As many of you regs know I am true and true old school. 3/4 of what I listen to in hip hop is pre 1996. However, since coming on this board I have definitely opened my mind to recent hip hop, including underground, and for the most part I believe it to be junk. There's some good underground but that's mostly pre 2005. The last 3-4 years have been crap in general and I know many would agree with me. I also think as you mature (I'm older than almost everyone here) you open your mind to things you wouldn't have but a few years ago. So based on that I don't think I fall into your category. That said, I believe there are many on this board that do.

  • 10 years ago

    I think I am pretty free thinking in terms of recognizing what I like and don't like. DJ Premier is #1 on about.com, but I also put him at #1 because I agree with the list on that. Illmatic is mentioned as the #1 album alot, and I think it's good but I put many albums above it on my own personal list. In my top rappers I have M.O.P and Bumpy Knuckles who are never mentioned in this catagory, but I also have people like Ice Cube and KRS-One because I think they deserve to be in there. So basically about.com, yahoo answers, wikipedia, amazon, etc don't really sway my opinon on something either positively or negetively. I try to rate everything the way I see it. Sometimes that corresponds with popular opinion, and sometimes it doesn't.

    I think there are some albums that are so good everyone has to agree that they are good at all, but people probably won't always agree on HOW good they are specifically.

  • 10 years ago

    No, I think we pretty much conform as well. However, our conformity is with much better music, thus making it less...obnoxious. And the guy with the basketball example had a good point; just about any subject has this issue. Best rock bands: Beatles/Pink Floyd. Best guitar players: Hendrix/Clapton. I don't know much about other genres so I can't go as in depth, but you get the idea. Constituencies supporting the same thing have the same/similar opinion.

  • There's about 15-20 basketball players of which you can choose 9 to be in your top 10, and then you can add 1 from outside those 15-20 to make your list unique.

    For example, Magic, Larry, Jordan, Kobe, Shaq, Barkley, James, Adul, Duncan, and Grant Hill.

    I'm too sick to answer this with a straight head.

  • 10 years ago

    Now im not sure if im answering this 100% correct, as im still half asleep but.....

    I think most people would agree that Nas, Biggie, Pac, Rakim, Big L, Big Pun & Kool G Rap all belong and should be in the top 10, then there are a few wild cards, Scarface, Talib Kweli, KRS-One, Ghostface and Ice Cube that i have seen people stick in their top 10's for good reason.

    But it depends on personal opinion on who deserves to be in, for example i include Scarface in my top 10 when i have seen alot of people sometimes not even mention him top 15, the same goes for KRS alot of people dont include him. But on their lyricism and influence alone they should be top 10. Without KRS, who knows what the state of conscious rap would be in right now, if there would be any at all. And for Scarface, he along with the Geto Boys were the first major hip hop act out of the south, if it wasnt for Scarface it begs the question would we have UGK, Outkast, Ludacris ect. if he didnt open the doors for southern artists.

  • It can be difficult to determine what someone's motives are for naming certain rappers or albums the greatest.

    Public opinion holds a lot of sway, even if people don't consciously realise it, so there's a very good chance that the albums and rappers most widely recognised as the greatest will be the ones people make more of an effort to listen to so they can see what all the fuss is about. This often leads to other good albums being overlooked, purely for wont of more publicity from fans.

    I see this with albums more than with individual rappers. For example, I don't understand why so many people think Reasonable Doubt is the best Jay-Z album - to me, it's not at all. But in any conversation about Jay, RD comes up over and over and I do sometimes wonder how much of that comes from having genuinely listened to his discography and made an informed choice and how much comes from following popular consensus.

    However, some of the rappers and albums whose names come up over and over are thought of as the greats because they really are. There are rappers whose contributions to hip hop are undeniable and it's difficult to look at those rappers and not put them on a greatest list when you compare them to others.

    I'd actually rather see a top 10 GOAT list that looks like the kind of thing you're talking about than see one made up of 10 rappers who haven't really contributed much in the way of impact and are barely known just because the compiler wants to buck a trend. That to me seems far more false.

    Greatest and best are also two different things to me. I think PE's *best* album is Apocalypse 91, but I think their *greatest* is Nation of Millions because it was seminal. Same reason I would put Paid In Full over The 18th Letter on a greatest list - obviously the latter is a better album, but it's impact was nothing like that of PIF.

    So I don't think it's unreasonable for certain names to appear over and over, because many of them are there for good reasons.

    We all have our little quirks of thinking about these things, and we're all influenced by opinion one way or another - but if I had to choose, I'd rather be influenced by a consensus that does actually make sense than influenced into trying to look different by completely ignoring any objective reason about who the greats really are.

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