THE BEST MAN…

When it comes to rap debates, the rule is to never say ever. Best is debatable. But best ever? The word seizes an otherwise informal comparison of rappers diverse as apples and oranges, and upturns the cart. If you've been following hip-hop as long as I have, you've noticed that each generation of hip-hop loyalists will anoint their "best,” and as time goes on, the memory of the last fades to the side like Big Daddy Kane's high top. But the Notorious B.I.G., even in death, refuses to say die or relinquish the title of best ever.

Today, as always, there are those who hope to christen Tupac, Jay-Z, Nas or even Rakim the all-time top MC. For clarity, you need only to look at a few top MC indicators—flow, influence, storytelling, lyrics—to understand why Biggie's bigger (and better) than the "best.”

When it comes to flow, Big tailored a style to each piece, from speed-rapping on "Notorious Thugs,” to laying in the pocket on "Nasty Boy,” verse two, line one: "I remember weeee, went to Tenesseeee…” The words move the story along but the flow hooks you every time. And while he finessed circles around Tupac's and Rakim's steady—albeit effective—flows, Big didn't rely on rhyme patterns alone to outshine every other MC (ever). His lyrical craftsmanship allowed him to spin long yarns into gold, making children's stories out of Slick Rick's classic tales. Furthermore, when paired with Jay-Z's masterful strokes on "BK's Finest,” and "I Love The Dough,” Jigga clearly walked in the shadows of Big's heavy vocals. After Big's passing, Jay liberally borrowed and embellished B.I.G.'s lyrics, boosting his own star while paying tribute to Big's.

But this notion of ever is a relatively new one. Rappers have always claimed it, of course, but fans didn't always have a proper historical perspective available. In the wonder years where super battles between groups like Cold Krush and Fantastic Five took place, it was still too early for such measures. The greatest of all-time and the best of the time were one and the same.

It went on through the ages (every five years or so) that the Best MC question would be revisited. LL Cool J or Cool Mo Dee. Rakim or Big Daddy Kane. Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas. Now, if you understand the mentality of the MC, you already know that none can be content occupying a throne that will soon be overtaken by the next. But as a prerequisite to the ever crown, the present-best is a must-have. Perhaps that's why Lil' Wayne lays claim to a tailor-made title: "Best Rapper Alive.”

Though Big didn't live long enough to see the full effect of his influence on rappers like Lil' Wayne, Life After Death set a new blueprint by embracing regional sounds from across the country. And well before Jigga threw it back or buttoned up, Big had Suge Knight donning a Cooji sweater in Compton. While there's little doubt that 'Pac left huge footprints, he's largely remembered as an artist-activist, a ghetto icon, and a heartfelt entertainer. B.I.G., on the other hand, is known as a wordsmith who painted pictures ("Niggas Bleed,”), delved into the mind of hopeless ne're-do-wells ("Suicidal Thoughts”) and turned the notion of traditional sex-appeal on its head with a single line: "Heart throb never / black and ugly as ever.”

But aside from all that, Big's biggest influence can be felt in the way we approach the question of MC supremacy. And how, since his departure, every MC worth his weight in gold plaques aspires to be like Big—forever ever.
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...OR THE BEST MAN AT THE TIME?