The 10 Best White Rappers of All-Time
White Rappers have been in the news a great deal of late, thanks to VH1's White Rapper Show, a program whose main goal seems to be ensuring that melanin-deficient rappers will be laughingstocks for eternity (see Jamie Radford's reviews of the show here). Last week, I tackled the 10 worst of All-Time. Today's list is intended to be a bit more positive, focusing on the 10 Best White boys to ever pick up the mic and help to make people forget the sad sad legacy of Vanilla Ice.
10. Eyedea Anyone who's heard one of Eyedea's freestyles knows that the guy is no joke. Starting from the age of 16, the kid was a prodigy on the Scribble Jam circuit, winning top prizes at Scribble Jam ‘99, the Rock Steady Anniversary 2000, and Blaze Battle Chicago 2000. But unlike most battle MC's good for little more than a hot flow and a few clever punch-lines, Eyedea had depth and true lyrical ability. By the age of 20, he'd already dropped two solid and very promising albums and seemed to be the underground's next best thing. And then...nothing. Sure, there was 2004's E&A which flew under everyone's radar, but other than that Eyedea hasn't been heard from and might never even return to rap. At least, if you believe Wikipedia, which claims Eyedea's abandoned hip-hop to work on a rock project called Carbon Carousel. But his name and profile remain on the Rhymesayers ' website, so I'm willing to bet that he'll return to rap at some point. Just 24 years old, he still has time on his side.
MP3: Eyedea-"Even Shadows Have Shadows"
A lot of underground heads turned on Cage following the release of 2005's critically acclaimed Hell's Winter. To many, it seemed a blatant play for crossover appeal, as Cage joined indie-rock friendly Def Jux and steered clear of the shit-talking, gross-out, punchline rap that had marked his previous decade in the underground. But in my mind, Hell's Winter is his finest work, at once humanizing him without lapsing into self-pitying woe-is-me histrionics. With tracks like "Grand Ol' Party Crash" (with Jello Biafra providing a dead-on Dubya impression), Cage showcased a knack for political attack to nicely complement his increased introspection. With hard-hitting production from El-P, the album had a consistency that his previous efforts had lacked and remains one of my favorite hip-hop albums released in the decade. I'm anxious to hear what's next.
MP3: Cage-"Shoot Frank"
8. 3rd Bass (MC Serch/Pete Nice)
Don't remember MC Serch for the White Rapper Show punch-line he's become, or for his tendency to dance in 3rd Bass videos that got him dissed by the Beasties of all people, and proved that even if white men can rap, most still can't dance. Serch and his partner Pete Nice deserve credit for being white rap pioneers. At a time when the only other white rappers were the novelty-minded rap/rock of the early Beastie Boys, 3rd Bass were the first crackers to be taken seriously as legitimate MC's. Their 1989 debut, the Cactus Album holds up well, especially the Zev Love X assisted "Gas Face." 3rd Bass also gets points for being second to put Nas on wax, from MC Serch's solo album Return of the Product. Plus, even though he wasn't white nor was he a rapper, 3rd Bass gets points for DJ Richie Rich's wicked high-top fade.
MP3: 3rd Bass-"The Gas Face"
7. The Beastie Boys
I'm willing to bet that my inclusion of the Beastie Boys will inspire the most "you're out of your fucking mind" e-mails. But even though the Beasties get annoying the moment you turn 18, any Best White rappers list without the Beasties Boys isn't a good one. Their discography might be overrated, but in terms of Greatest Hits collections, you won't find many groups rap or rock, with as many classic cuts as the Beasties. Play "Girls" at a party and watch it get live. Play "Sabotage" and don't even pretend that you're not amped up. Or if you're in a mellow mood play the jazzy Eugene McDaniel sampling, Q-Tip featuring "Get it Together." While its easy to lampoon the Beasties average mic skills, their continued evolution (with the exception of the unlistenable To the 5 Boroughs) showed a true sense of artistry that many rappers lack.
MP3: The Beastie Boys (ft. Q-Tip)-"Get it Together"
6. Slug (Atmosphere)
Whenever he's asked about being a white rapper, Slug always side-steps the question with a reply about how he's bi-racial so those labels don't really apply to him. But while I don't exactly have Sean Daley's family tree in front of me, I do remember the old cliche, if it walks like a duck...and talks like a duck...Bottom line is, Slug counts as a white rapper. And a very good one at that. Granted, his career has been mostly uneven since 2003's subpar Seven Travels but his first three albums are all outstanding compelling snapshots of a unique personality unafraid to show his personal side. But the work that makes him most worthy of inclusion on this list is his 1997 debut, the masterful Overcast, a straight-up classic packed with witty battle rhymes ("Even if your DJ was Jesus/you could never fuck with these kids"), eloquently worded laments ("Scapegoat") and gritty bare-bones beat-making supplied by Ant.
5. The Streets
When someone first played me the Streets' debut, I thought they were joking and begged them to take it off. Certainly, Mike Skinner has the worst flow of any white boy on my list. It isn't even close. But The Streets did something Erick Sermon proved a long time ago: you don't need to be a good rapper to make a classic album, as Skinner's first two records are two of the most vivid self-portraits ever put on wax. Each song leaps off the speakers, pregnant with poetic detail. From the way a girl twirled her hair to the satirical depictions of a drunken lout vs. a quiet pothead, The Streets' songs seemed endlessly relateable. His third effort, last years The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living was a step backwards, with Skinner seemingly bored with the life that fame had ushered in. It remains to be seen whether or not he'll recover, but either way Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don't Come for Free remain two of the most unique hip-hop albums of all-time.
MP3: The Streets-"Dreams"
It might be a little early in his career to place Boston-bred Edan as the fourth best white rapper of all-time, but chalk that up to the promise he's shown, between 2005's instant-classic Beauty and the Beat and his prodigious skills that make him the best live performer in hip-hop today (at least to me). Watching Edan live, you can see exactly how many freestyle ciphers he must've been in to get such a razor-sharp LL Cool J-like flow. How many hours he must've spent behind the turntables learning to scratch as well as almost anyone you've seen. How many times he must've got laughed off the stage for being a white Jewish rapper and how much persistence and dedication to his craft it took to get to the levels he's at. For heads wondering whatever happened to the spirit of 1988 and Golden Age-era MC's like De La Soul, look no further, this is psychedelic rap for the new millennium.
3. Aesop Rock It saddens me how little hip-hop heads have embraced Aesop Rock, as his fan base generally consists of hippies, indie kids and the occasional back-packer that got left behind when Kweli and Mos Def went stale. I'll never understand how they don't love his dense abstract lyrics that bear a heavy creative debt to Ghostface. Or how somehow people consider this "nerd rap." From his collaborations with Camp Lo and Del tha Funkee Homosapien to his odes to NYC graffiti and b-boy culture, Aesop Rock's hip-hop bonafides are legit and his lyricism is rock-solid. Spitting tangled fables and allegories with a raspy too-many blunts and cigs voice, Aesop's skills are unmatched in the underground. Bar none. The tattoo on his arm reads Must Not Sleep, but sadly others have. And its their loss, because the man born Ian Bavitz is not just one of the best white rappers of all-time, he's one of the best rappers. Period.
MP3: Aesop Rock-"The Greatest Pac-Man Victory in History"
With each passing day, Eminem seems to be pleading for his removal from this list. And truthfully, if I had to listen to that dreadful Re-Up album again, I'd probably grant him that favor. Indeed, the last few years have pretty much seen Eminem do everything in his power to stain his legacy, from aligning with no-talent 50 Cent, to again re-marrying and again divorcing Kim, to his strange decision to talk exclusively about gun play and murdering people. Dude, that's the kind of shit you talk about on your first album. Not your fifth. But for all the badwill Eminem has engendered over the past few years, there is no denying the unmitigated brilliance he displayed in the first few years of his career. From show-stopping verses on Soundbombing, to mix-tape lyrical assaults to his outstanding first two LP's, hip-hop had seen few talents as bright as Eminem. Whereas guys like 3rd Bass had proved that white guys could rap, questions perpetually lingered in the aftermath of Vanilla Ice. Eminem crushed all those doubters, inspiring even Charles Barkley to comment: "You know something strange is going on in the world when the best golfer is black and the best rapper is white."
1. El-PI'd argue that El-P's mic skills are as good as any white rapper ever. But if nothing else he deserves a spot a top this list because he's also one of the most important rappers of all-time, regardless of race. With the success of Company Flow, El-P practically invented underground hip-hop as it exists today. Did you like Rawkus Records from 1997-2002. If you're reading this blog, I'm willing to be you did. But its not unreasonable to suggest that Rawkus would never have taken off, if not for Co Flow's legendary Funcrusher Plus. Setting the template for the future of underground hip-hop with gritty beats and hard-minded but broad lyrics, Company Flow and El-P's solo work has always been progressive futuristic minded-music that sounded great. Whether toppling sacred cows ("Patriotism"), lamenting NYC's dystopian paranoid feel ("Deep Space 9mm") or living with war ("Da Nang, The Front, The Bush and the Shit," El-P is a true original in a rap game filled with copy-cats. The mastermind and owner of Def Jux, El has built up one of the best labels in hip-hop, with a roster full of left-field artists like Cannibal Ox, Mr. Lif, Aesop Rock and Cage. And from what I've heard, I'll Sleep When You're Dead, is supposedly some of his finest work yet, further solidifying his place as one of the most innovative and important figures in hip-hop history.