The time has finally arrived, Humanoids. The teams have been selected and the matchups have been set. For the first time in history, the world will decide what corner of the planet can lay claim to the greatest rappers.
In the spirit of March Madness, this tournament is likely to have upsets, landslides, and Cinderella stories. But in staying true to the spirit of rap music, it will be the fans (this means YOU) that determine the fate of your favorite emcees.
No matter whether you ride with your favorite rapper all the way or deliberate more objectively, the 1st Annual Rap-etology Classic is sure to create controversy. And in case you thought you knew where your loyalties lie at first glance of the bracket, have a look at who all will be representing the squads this year before you cast your votes (voting information at the bottom of this post).
Note: You may notice some semblance of duplicativitiy (made-up word) on some of the rosters, where individuals overlap across multiple acts on a given team (e.g. Ice Cube, Juicy J). This is not an oversight, but an acknowledgement of merit in both solo and group contexts.
(1) New York
As the birthplace of hip-hop, New York has had no shortage of rap talent since the late 1970s. And the omission of many legends from this squad demonstrates that pioneer status is not enough to rise to the top of this massive pool of acts.
Despite the decline of the music industry and of the Big Apple’s reputation for delivering consistently high quality rap music, its rich history justifies New York’s undeniable seeding at number 1. However, ever shortening attention spans and a lack of reverence for legends past may result in an upset by regions that have been hotter more recently.
Starters: Eric B. & Rakim, Notorious B.I.G., NaS, LL Cool J, Run DMC
Reserves: A Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z, KRS-One, Melle Mel, Public Enemy
(2) Los Angeles
Although Los Angeles didn’t catch fire until the 1990s (RIP, Rodney), its squad comes an extremely competitive second to New York, according to the Selection Committee. Rife with prevalent icons, some of which are still active, the city synonymous with West Coast rap causes matchup problems for other teams no matter how loyal the fan base of a smaller market region. Compound that longevity with a diversity of styles only rivaled by New York, and it is anyone’s guess what team can take LA down.
Starters: Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, N.W.A., Ice Cube, Ice T
Reserves: Cypress Hill, DJ Quik, Pharcyde, The Game, Warren G
The ATL led rap’s third wave behind the SoSoDef and Organized Noize camps, paving the way for smaller southern outposts. And in pioneering the still-evolving Dirty South sound, Atlanta is on pace to be the most dominant city with respect to mainstream radio play and household recognition. With a demonstrated flair for storytelling, tackling social mores, and partying like a fool, Atlanta’s squad may be the competition that northern teams like New York may hate to face. After all, many New York artists have begun emulating the Dirty South to get any attention lately. How about some hot sauce for that fried irony?
Starters: Outkast, Ludacris, T.I., Goodie Mob, Young Jeezy
Reserves: B.O.B., Jermaine Dupri, Kris Kross, TLC, Ying Yang Twins
(4) New Orleans
The explosion of independent artists since the late 90s has at least one person to thank: Master P. While far from the first rapper to sell CDs out of his trunk, Percy Miller parlayed his (illicit) business sense into the small empire that took over the rap scene for a relatively brief but thirsty period. During a time when New York and LA were still reeling from the deaths of Tupac and Biggie, No Limit Records filled a void that didn’t replace the two biggest rap stars of the decade, but rather provided a new direction as rap fans were in need of something new, different, and less volatile. Between No Limit and the cross-town rival Cash Money Records, the Big Easy added unique yet identifiable narratives to a genre that should have surprised no one. After all, it was a city with a poor black population and a celebrated history of jazz that gave birth to rap in the first place.
Starters: Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Mystikal, TRU, B.G.
Reserves: Fiend, Jay Electronica, Mannie Fresh, Mia X, Turk
Mainstream success and critical acclaim have not eluded this southern city. However, it remains a dark horse in this competition. Since the 90s, Houston has delivered a new brand of rap music combining unheard lyrical styles, as well as innovative production techniques (thanks in part to Michael Watts and the late DJ Screw).
It appears that the region has fallen a bit under the radar of late, but it should surprise no one if this roster’s memorable contributions propel it far beyond the first round.
Starters: UGK, Slim Thug, Geto Boys, Chamillionaire, Scarface
Reserves: Devin the Dude, Lil Flip, Lil Troy, Mike Jones, Paul Wall
Once all bass and booty-shake music, Miami pioneered the concept of using sex to sell rap. Since that nascent (objectionable) period, Miami has become a melting pot of talent, welcoming transplants from other cities and creating mini-empires that have recently taken hold of what is left of the industry. But despite proclamations from locals of “We the best,” some rap fans may question whether YMCMB and Maybach Music Group truly have demonstrated nationwide superiority. Time will tell whether Miami’s evolution will get them far in this competition, especially since most of its noteworthy current talent does not represent South Beach, even if that’s where their checks are cut.
Starters: Flo Rida, Trick Daddy, 2 Live Crew, Pitbull, Rick Ross
Reserves: Ace Hood, Trina, Brisco, Sean Kingston, JT Money
Consider this irony: neither New York nor LA can claim the first Oscar for a rap song. As bizarre as the win for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” was, natives of Memphis can always lord the achievement over more accomplished cities. But all fluke talk aside, pimp-hop reached impressive heights thanks to Music City. Additionally, the roots of Crunk can also be tracked back to Memphis. Of all cities in this tournament, no other has so seamlessly infiltrated the mainstream with previously underground sounds. No need to warn of potential upsets; “I know you haters NERRRrrrVIIIiiiss!”
Starters: Three 6 Mafia, 8Ball & MJG, Juicy J, Playa Fly, Project Pat
Reserves: Hypnotize Minds, La Chat, Lil Wyte, Gangsta Boo, Yo Gotti
No Oakland rapper has reached superstar status since MC Hammer. Then again, very few rappers from any city have. But the Bay Area’s presence on the rap map goes far beyond the pop recognition of You Can’t Touch This. While both Hammer and Digital Underground called attention to the region, giants (figurative and literal, respectively) Too $hort and E-40 offered a more down-to-Earth approach to ‘the game,’ making them respected members of the global rap community regardless of whether people actually enjoy their music. And having seen the enthusiasm of ‘Yay Area’ fans firsthand, they may come out in force to show everyone that Oakland is a city to be reckoned with.
Starters: Digital Underground, Too $hort, E-40, Luniz, MC Hammer
Reserves: Dru Down, Hieroglyphics, Mac Mall, Rappin 4-Tay, Spice 1
Although The Second City slid down the rankings with respect to rap, Chicago’s representative impact goes without saying. Covering the spectrum of conscious rap, rapid-fire lyrical delivery, and whatever the hell it is Kanye West does, Chicago demonstrates a range not exhibited by more celebrated rap cities. Chicago’s reputation as a tough city with something to prove no doubt fuels its rappers, so don’t be surprised if its collective catalog turns out to be stronger than expected.
Starters: Common, Do or Die, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Twista
Reserves: Rhymefest, Chief Keef, Crucial Conflict, Da Brat, GLC
Pretty funny that one of rap’s grittier cities is also the hometown of Will Smith, and more interesting still that Philly’s more ‘gangsta’ artists have no choice but to pay homage to The Fresh Prince for being their first break-out star. But instead of emulating a more consumer-friendly approach to rap, today’s Philly rappers focus more on the trappings of the urban environment that gave birth to hip-hop, both glorifying and dismissing the street lifestyle. Philly seems to be a few steps away from making waves in this competition, but rabid Philly fans may have something to say about that assessment.
Starters: The Roots, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Schooly D
Reserves: Cassidy, Eve, Young Gunz, State Property, Major Figgas
Detroit came on pretty late by rap standards. But when it did, an unlikely artist ushered the city onto the scene. And although some critics may disagree with Detroit being seeded so high on the strength of one guy and a marginal supporting cast, the ranking indicates just how strong a force Eminem has been for rap music. Other artists have made waves since Eminem’s camp entered the scene, so it’s only a matter of time before the world sees if momentum will carry the D forward. And if you’re mad that Kid Rock isn’t on this squad, beat your own ass.
Starters: Slum Village, Eminem, D12, Royce Da 5’9,” Obie Trice
Reserves: Big Sean, Black Milk, Danny Brown, Guilty Simpson, Proof
(12) New Jersey
Fine. So New Jersey isn’t a city, but haven’t they been through enough already? Give ‘em a pass because the rap pedigree in this region is serious. Remember this: millions of people still say that the first rap song they ever heard was Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight. But what those millions tend to forget is that those guys are from Englewood, NJ. But no matter—New Jersey has been feeding talent into the rap bloodstream consistently since the ‘70s, and it looks like the flow will continue even if Joe Budden has to do it singlehandedly for a while.
Starters: Lauryn Hill, Naughty By Nature, Queen Latifah, Redman, Sugarhill Gang
Reserves: Joe Budden, Chino XL, Hussein Fatal, Wyclef Jean, Serius Jones
The late ‘90s were good to this region behind the genius of Timbaland. And the Neptunes carried the baton into the ‘00s. Concurrently, those producers offered their own lyrical contributions as well as introduced other more talented rappers to the international fold. Yet aside from those two camps, solo artists from the area (Skillz and Wale, for example) are proving that it takes more than well-known producers to make noise. Marz Media insiders suspect DC/Virginia to be the team most likely to pull off an upset in the first round.
Starters: Clipse, Missy Elliot, N.E.R.D., Wale, Skillz
Reserves: Magoo, Fam-Lay, Timbaland, Jewelz, Bubba Sparxxx
The Bubble Bunch
Represented by both the prolific and the currently commercially viable, this small squad turns heads but has a slim chance of getting too far. And this assessment comes from a committee that thinks Bone Thugs-n-Harmony is one of the greatest groups of all time.
Starters: Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Bow Wow, Flesh-n-Bone, Kid Cudi, Machine Gun Kelly
Reserves: Ray Cash, Poetic Hustla’z, Graveyard Shift, II Tru, Ken Dawg
The international hodgepodge of rappers in this year’s tournament comes from an admittedly limited exposure to artists from outside the US. Still, behind Slick Rick (nice) Drake (ugh), they may stick around long enough for people to take notice of the lesser-known talents.
Starters: Drake, Kardinal Offishal, Daddy Yankee, Slick Rick, Sean Paul
Reserves: Lady Sovereign, K’naan, Tego Calderon, The Streets, Tinie Tempah
(16) St. Louis
Nellyville is right. If not for him and his St. Lunatics, St. Louis wouldn’t even be “in the conversation,” as legitimate sports analysts say.
Starters: Nelly, Ali, Murphy Lee, Chingy, J-Kwon
Reserves: Jibbs, City Spud, Kyjuan
(17) North Carolina
It appears they really have ‘raised up’ since the ‘00s. And who knows; maybe this small but powerful group can helicopter into the first round. Yes, we only had Petey Pablo references; we are 30 years old.
Starters: J. Cole, Joe Scudda, Little Brother, Petey Pablo, Rapsody
Reserves: Khrysis, L.E.G.A.C.Y., Sean Boog, Edgar Allan Floe
Did you know that Guru was from Boston? Neither did we. Do you know anyone else on that team besides Made Men? Neither do we. Best of luck, Boston. Just kidding; I’ve got no love for that city, anyway.
Starters: Akrobatik, Ed O.G., Termanology, Guru, Almighty RSO/Made Men
Reserves: 7L & Esoteric, Big Shug, Krumbsnatcha, Mr. Lif, Reks
Looks like a classic case of “We don’t believe you; you need more people.” Despite Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa representing Steel City, Pittsburgh doesn’t quite look ready for this level. On the bright side, they’d be the favorite in the Rap NIT.
Starters: Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, Boaz, Sam Sneed, Beedie
Reserves: Grand Buffet, Pittsburgh Slim
Tournament voting starts Sunday, March 17, at the Marz Media Facebook page. ‘Like’ Marz Media so you don’t miss your chance to have your say as the match-ups continue. And let the madness begin, let it, let it begin.