For as long as hip-hop has existed in the public consciousness, the culture has been fighting a long uphill battle for respect as a legitimate genre and art form. To those of us who identify with hip-hop culture, this progress continues to come in what we consider baby steps.
Early on, one of its moves toward mainstream respectability began when “Rappers Delight” became the first rap song to hit the Billboard charts. From there it was a long journey for rap albums to finally receive their own categories at the Grammys, music’s top awards ceremony. Even FM radio was late to the game (thank God for folks like Stretch & Bobbito). Now the genre has made another historic stride in its long and hard road to achieve the respect it fully deserves.
In February, it was announced that New York icon JAY Z was accepted into the 2017 Songwriters Hall of Fame, making him the very first rap artist ever to be included. Hov will now be immortalized alongside legendary songwriters such as Bob Marley, Little Richard, Stevie Wonder, and Chuck Berry. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis as well as Babyface are also being inducted this year.
To commemorate the honor, VIBE created a list of 10 of the most deserving rap artists who should enter the Songwriters Hall of Fame along with Jigga.
Notable Hit Records: “Brenda’s Got a Baby” (1991), “California Love” ft. Dr. Dre (1996), “Dear Mama” (1995)
The late, great Tupac Shakur was and still is considered to be one of the most prolific and influential rappers of all time. While some would argue that he wasn’t the best or most technical lyricist, he had the unique gift to write some of the most emotionally captivating records in music history, ones that even most top-tier lyricists could not create. He brought to the table a unique perspective on life in the ghetto and paved the way for artists like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, among many others.
Artist: Ice Cube
Notable Hit Records: “Boyz in the Hood” by Eazy-E, “It Was a Good Day” (1993), “F*** The Police” by N.W.A (1988)
Though most younger millennials know him as the actor who stars in family-friendly films (well, though who missed out on Straight Outta Compton), Ice Cube was a gifted lyricist and songwriter who played a critical role in gangsta rap as part of the infamous yet groundbreaking group N.W.A. He told vivid narratives about the life of himself and others in his South Central stomping grounds. His pen elevated to writing clever records about black rage and the ills of the United States government. As he went on to make more commercial hits like “Throw Your Neighborhood in the Air” and “We Be Clubbin,'” the Don Mega has never wavered on writing heavy-handed rap lyrics that told that hard and gritty truth about the world we live in.
Notable Hits: Records: “Follow the Leader” w/ Eric B. (1988), “Juice (Know the Ledge)” w/ Eric B. (1992), “I Ain’t No Joke” w/ Eric B. (1988)
It should be common knowledge that had it not have been for the contributions of Rakim, modern-day lyricism would not be where it is today. His unique and complex battle-rap style helped lay the groundwork for lyrical titans such as Nas, JAY Z, and Eminem, and with the help of DJ and producer Eric B., Rakim created some of the most important hip-hop records of all time. While he may not have had an exorbitantly high number of mainstream hits as those who came after him, his supreme skill, clever songwriting, and influence alone should allow him a to be a solid inductee in the future.
Notable Hit Records: “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” by Will Smith (1998), “I Can” (2003), “If I Ruled the World” (1996)
A onetime archrival of JAY Z, Nas has since become colleagues with his fellow New York giant. Nasir Jones is a master lyricist and talented songwriter who has penned incredible records and verses, whether on a Top 40 track or a deep cut. His writing style helped elevate the rap game to new heights and has proven that even in the face of adversity he can write albums and songs that will stand the test of time. With the classics under his belt, including the tracks he ghostwrote over the years, he carved a strong legacy as one of our most important songwriters.
Artist: Missy Elliott
Notable Hit Records: “I Care 4 You” by Aaliyah (2000), “Lose Control” 2005, “Work It” (2002)
Missy Elliott is a musical anomaly that no one, though many have studied her blueprint, has yet to replicate. And they can’t, because it’s rare in any genre of music to find an artist as multi-talented as she is. Missy combined her roots in R&B with her cultivated Virginia flavor to write and produce not only some of the most litty records of all time, but also some deep R&B records for the likes of Beyoncé, Monica, and the late, great songbird Aaliyah, among many other female R&B stars. Her rare gifts and storied career as a hit writer make her deserving of being inducted. 2018 or nah?
Artist: Fat Joe
Notable Hit Records: “Lean Back” (2004), “All the Way Up” w/Remy Ma ft. French Montana & Infared (2016), “Feelin’ So Good” by Jennifer Lopez ft. Big Pun & Fat Joe
A strong case could be made about how Fat Joe is one of the most underrated yet most consistent hit makers in all of rap. Since his second album, Jealous Ones Envy, Joey Crack has made a long career of launching crossover hits: “Lean Back,” “What’s Luv,” and the Grammy-nominated smash “All the Way Up” are all prime examples. With his extensive catalog of mainstream and independent projects and all his game-changing contributors like Remy Ma, DJ Khaled, and the legendary Big Pun, he should be a shoo-in for both the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Artists: Lauryn Hill
Notable Hit Records: “Doo Wop (That Thing)” (1998), “All That I Can Say” by Mary J. Blige (1999), “A Rose Is Still a Rose” (1998) by Aretha Franklin
Although her prime was short-lived due to her tumultuous personal life, Lauryn Hill’s dominance in black music should be considered historical, as it could be argued that her unprecedented accomplished and gifted songwriting in hip-hop and R&B would make her the greatest female rapper of all time and put her in the top 10 overall. Her revolutionary album debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, contained a well-balanced mix of catchy and substance-filled top 40 tracks as well as introspective, emotional songs that still resonate to this day. Hill cultivated a style and a knack for songwriting that has benefited the likes of Mary J. Blige and Aretha Franklin, among others.
Artists: Melle Mel
Notable Hit Records: “The Message” w/Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five (1982), “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” w/Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five (1983)
It could be argued that legends like Melle Mel to this day do not get the proper respect that’s due them. This doesn’t take away the fact that as the lead writer for Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, he penned many of culture-shifting records that helped break barriers to make hip-hop the dominant art form it is today. Though the legendary Grandmaster Caz was originally considered superior, Melle Mel has cultivated more hit records. Regardless, his spot should already be waiting for him in 2018 as one of the earliest pioneers in rap.
Artist: Jermaine Dupri
Notable Hit Records: “Confessions Pt. II” by Usher, “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey, “Money Ain’t A Thang” with JAY Z
Ever since the early ’90s, Jermaine Dupri has played a pivotal role in the ascension of Southern hip-hop and in Atlanta becoming a black music capital in America. Like Missy, his strengths lie in being a multi-talented producer and songwriter in both rap and R&B. His work has culminated in a very long track record of success in the music business, even after his prime years as the CEO of So So Def. Where would the game be right now were it not for his contributions to artists like Usher, Monica, Mariah Carey, Xscape, and a long string of others? His versatility as a hit-making rapper/songwriter/producer should earn him a place as one of the best of the best.
Notable Hit Records: “Stan” (2000), “Sing for the Moment” (2002), “My Name Is” (1999)
In the early 2000s, Eminem turned heads and dropped jaws as he fought to become not only one of the most controversial and inflammatory rappers since N.W.A, but also one of the greatest songwriters and storytellers in all of hip-hop. While songs such as “My Name Is” and “The Real Slim Shady” offended cultural critics and politicians alike, his other hits like “The Way I Am” and “Lose Yourself” earned him the respect of his peers and fans of all colors. His dual capacity allowed him to make playful, tongue-in-cheek records along with emotionally vulnerable and politically unflinching tracks. Those qualities make him one of the most gifted writers of his time, and solidify his legacy as one of the greatest in rap.