A while back my buddy, White, sent me this email:
The below question came from Sports Guy’s most recent mailbag. Given the subject matter, I can’t think of a more legitimate authority than you for the real answer. You’ve been waiting your whole life for this moment. So go – who gets on Mount Rapmore, and why?
Q: If they were going to construct the Mount Rushmore of the rap industry, who would the four members be? Keep in mind that it is the four most influential people to the history of the industry, not necessarily the four best rappers.
So here’s the humble opinion of a luk krueng who used to rock a “Fear of Black Planet” T-shirt and a Malcolm X medallion back in ’91. And if my opinion sounds better than yours, take it personal.
Going with the most influential, my list is going to be producer-heavy because producers were the creative forces behind most of hip-hop’s many “sounds” and subsequent movements. My personal Mt. Rapmore:
Dr. Dre – Beyond the West Coast thing, he is hip-hop’s first super-producer. He transcended the DJ/MC paradigm. Kanye, P-Diddy, Timbaland, Pharrel all would’ve ended up like Jazzy Jeff if it were not for the muthafuckin’ D-R-E. I would also argue that Tupac and Snoop would be nothing without him, so they’re off Mt. Rapmore.
Jay-Z – Bill Simmons is wrong by saying Jay-Z “brought hip-hop into the mainstream and taught everyone how to sell out.” Jay-Z didn’t sell out; he kept it real (mostly). He provided the Blueprint. Shit, he’s like the love-child of Russell Simmons and Rakim; hip-hop’s best businessman and best living MC. He’s got legitimate credibility on Madison Ave. and MLK Blvd. Impressive. I’d also eliminate the Notorious B-I-G from the Mt. Rapmore because I think Jay-Z inherited Biggie’s “King-of-New York” crown and took it to another level. Jay-Z was also instrumental in the careers of Kanye West, Timbaland, and Pharrel.
The RZA – In 1993, I was becoming disinterested in hip-hop, as it seemed all of the ideas were drying up. “The Chronic” had come out in 1992 and, although it was the best thing to bump in the car EVER, it didn’t overwhelm me with it’s complexity. “Enter the 36 Chambers” blew me away. During the whole East Coast/West Coast beef, I always thought that P-Diddy and Notorious B-I-G didn’t truly represent the East Coast sound; they just sampled old ’80’s pop hits. The RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan put out the real East Coast sound. Those niggas scared me. The RZA was the first producer in hip-hop to capture an orchestral, cinematic sound. His albums sounded like movie scores. It’s no wonder his best work recently has been exactly that: movie scores (watch Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog.”) The RZA’s sound is dense, idea layered upon idea. If Dr. Dre is hip-hop’s Spielberg, the RZA is its Kubrick.
DJ Premier – the unsung hero of hip-hop. The quintessential DJ. When others were doing live shows with DAT (Digital Audio Tapes) machines, Gang Starr were still rockin it live: Guru on the mic freestylin’ and Primo on the turntables. Their live sets were akin to watching live jazz. DJ Premier was also the best at capturing a distinctive jazzy sound with scratchy old be-bop samples and monotonous bass loops. That’s why Guru’s Jazzmatazz albums sounded good, but not quite as good as a Gang Starr album because they lacked Premier’s genius. However, DJ Premier can’t simply be grouped in with the “jazzy” hip-hop artists like, A Tribe Called Quest or early-De La Soul. He produced some of the hardest East Coast gangsta albums I’ve ever heard. For proof, check out an album by Group Home or Jeru the Damaga, both produced by Premier. DJ Premier’s sound represents hip-hop in its purest, most distilled form: obscure snippets from the early roots of urban American black music (be-bop) blended with distinctively simple hip-hop beats. DJ Premier genius lies in his ability to capture elements deep within hip-hop’s DNA and bring them forth to the front.
There you go: 3 producers and one cultural icon. I could argue that anyone left off this list owes a debt to (or was surpassed by) one of the four on this list.
This was fun. Now I have to go listen to “36 Chambers” and “Daily Operation.” Word.