Measuring Greatness

April Larae
Nov 26, 2018 · 4 min read

In Hip Hop, the exchange of top 5’s lists has become a Hip Hop Head’s own personal Mount Rushmore, chiseling away at ego and knowledge. Formulating a top 5 list is a lot like commissioning a coalition of super heroes to serve and represent you, if ever in some apocalyptic aberration where you need some super lyrical assassins to spit hot fire on the less eloquent. At least it may seem that way, even though some of you would die drafting the equivalent of the Care Bears and Starbright . But what exactly enthralls a listener to induct a rapper into their Hip Hop hall of fame?

The real question is how do we measure greatness in Hip Hop today? As a Hip Hop head who spent her childhood in the greatest decade in Hip Hop, the 90s, I have often looked to metrics plastered throughout The Source and The XXL. Rubrics that took into account lyricism, production, and originality, in the form of a sizing chart or mics. These metrics were the standard. They had their finger on the pulse. They determined whether we would go out of our way, and cop the album, and, for some, even wait in a line that wrapped around for blocks. These reviews were printed in time for the releases that were dropped on Tuesday’s. Reviews that were curated by different ears, and opinions, over a set period of time. These journalists were given set releases ahead of time, and given a deadline. And this is where we were misled.

They made up our minds for us. They dug into our pockets and our brains, and manipulated what we truly made of an album. Reading back some of these reviews and seeing albums like, Reasonable Doubt, an unadulterated classic, given four out of five mics, is mind boggling. I mean 22 years after its release, if stirred up in conversation, the album is always crowned a classic.


Considering the time constraints of these journalists, and today’s eagerness for everyone in the audience to pen an unsolicited review, and throw out the word classic on anything that gets the attention and streams of the hyped lot, is one in the same. With the word CLASSIC, hot potato’d in the laps of journalists then, and every day trolls now. But how can anyone determine an album to be classic without weathering and how can we determine greatness without the test of time? And in special cases, this word and metric may only be used with artists that may have left us on a note of the unmet promise of potential.

This metric is applicable to the undeniable talent of The Big Three, other known as the Notorious BIG, Big Pun, and Big L; Names that always circulate through the halls of this discussion. Names that line the mouths of those heads that were fostered by the 90s. These larger than life personas who claimed their greatness in a short discography, on memorable freestyles, and in their embodiment of the culture, had unfortunate short careers. Their claim to greatness is not based on longevity but on the promise of potential. In the case of the Big Three, their greatness hits all marks of the magazine standards of the golden age. Three individuals who were well-produced, lyrical, and original. And despite what the journalists of yesterday deemed of their albums, each has at least one revered classic. This statement alone can be a strong enough argument for someone to draft any of these individuals on to their top 5, considering that they released two albums or less in their time with us. With only one notch under his belt, Big Pun’s Capital Punishment has been regarded a classic, and he, himself, one of the greatest. Now is this one classic album enough to defy all metrics of longevity in today’s Hip Hop? Can this same metric regard an artist a GOAT, even with an inconsistent discography, if that artist has one immaculate classic album like Nas?

These metrics we came to regard as the end and be all of an artist’s album, may be applicable in rating an artist’s body of work, but when measuring their greatness there are other facets that we need to explore including; cultural influence, evolution, the rapper’s adherence to their own personal mission statement, and with that comes the test of time. True greatness can be measured by comparing the artist to the artist, which is almost a radical concept in Hip Hop considering. And the only way that this can proven is on the metric of time. Time can determine the greatness of any artist of any genre. Greatness may flicker but it does not dim through the weather of time.

This is THESIS. An educated opinion, researched, listened to,and heard over and over, digging through the archives of an artist, audible and visual, on the timeline of their career.

Follow me on IG @abstractionisms

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade