By Michael Harriot
As we speak, Black Twitter is engaged in a furious debate about who was the better rapper–Nelly or Drake. While this may seem like fodder for some, these things are very serious matters when the negro section of the internet gets involved. Because NegusWhoRead settled many of Black Twitter’s previous debates, including the landmark Black Supreme Court grits case Sugar v Salt, we have decided to tackle this argument head-on.
We assembled a crack staff of hip hop aficionados, lyrical examiners and the only 3 niggas who still have boom boxes, and dissected the entire subject scientifically. First, we should point out that hip hop heads (People who bring up some unknown dude whose mixtape they copped at a Philly gas station when they list the greatest rappers alive), this conversation is not for you. This debate is about which was the greatest rapper in laymen’s terms. We broke down what makes a good rapper into six categories–(lyrics, voice, flow, song-crafting, and body of work. Here’s what we came up with:
Definition – The complexity, originality, cleverness and literary quality of the wordplay.
Nelly: I don’t think even his greatest fan would accuse Nelly of being a lyrical genius, but that’s ok. Contrary to the belief of niggas who wear wristbands as bracelets and Timberlands to funerals, lyrics aren’t the be-all, end-all of a rapper. If they were, Q-Tip would be in hip hop jail. Nelly was a pop rapper whose entire intention was to make you dance. Just like I wouldn’t compare James Browns voice to Luther Vandross’, I wouldn’t put Nelly up against Lupe Fiasco.
Drake: A lot of hip hop heads hate Drake, because of his soft, pop appeal, but if we are being honest, Drake is lowkey a good lyricist. One of my favorite, most irreverent opening lines of any song is the beginning of “Paris Morton Music” when Drake kicks in the door and splashes on the track with:
I talk slicker than a pimp from a Augusta, who just had his linen suit dry-cleaned–Bitches what up with y’all?
There is just something so colorfully descriptive about that line.
Now I’m not saying I’d put Drake up against Black Thought, but, again, he’s not that type of rapper. But if my wife wanted me to rap our wedding vows, I’d let Drake write mine. And when we got divorced, I wouldn’t even blame him (Of course we’d get divorced. SHE WANTS ME TO RAP MY WEDDING VOWS!)
Definition: The overall tone, listenability and quality of the voice
Nelly: Even though you can’t control what your voice sounds like, it is very important. Half of Biggie’s legend was the sound of his voice. I believe Talib Kweli would be a much bigger star if his voice didn’t sound like a snare drum. Nelly always sounded like he had just asked his mother if he could have a piece of cake, and she told him no. He sounded like a 19-year-old white porn star in her first video trying to fake an orgasm. It was halfway between crying and pleading.
Drake: As bad as Nelly’s voice is, Drakes is worse. Drake’s, monotone, drab voice has no personality whatsoever. There is no inflection or bass. Drakes voice sounds like someone woke him up in the middle of the night and said, “Quick! Read this!” Drake’s voice sounds like only eats celery and unsalted pretzels. Drakes voice is a 1993 gray, Pontiac Grand Prix with cloth interior. Drake’s voice is a flannel nightgown. Drake’s voice sounds like what bathroom faucet water tastes like.
Definition: The quality of the composition of the song, including chorus, verses, beat, and catchiness.
Nelly: What Nelly lacked in lyricism, he made up for in songwriting. A song doesn’t need to be a complex, intricate exposition on life to be well-written. Bootylicious boasts better songwriting than any pretentious, socially conscious preachy Alicia Keys song. He knew how to craft catchy hooks and populate the chorus with booty-shaking imagery. He could also make slow songs that make you want to grind your crotch on your dance partner’s thigh.
Drake: As popular as Drake’s music is, I don’t quite know what it exactly is. You can’t really turn up to his songs, unless he is on someone else’s track. You can’t really make love to his music. And every song or verse is just a collection of one liners that he thinks might inspire a woman to take her panties off. All his music is just depressing songs about the love he wants, had or dreams of, mixed with a few Maybach references and champagne lines. His hooks are often nonsensical, like he scotch-taped them into the song after he recorded it. Sometimes there aren’t even three verses! How the fuck can a song take off work, early? Drake owes us 42 verses (yeah I counted).
Definition: An emcee’s ability to deliver lyrics using pacing, voice inflection, rhythm and writing style.
Nelly: Nelly had a sing-songy delivery that worked perfectly with what he was trying to do, but it was one-dimensional.
Drake: While Drake always sounds like he just took a Xanax and drank 2 cups of Nyquil, he does have the ability to adapt his style and delivery which is why Congress passed the 2012 Drake act, which bars rappers from releasing an album without a verse from Drake on it. This is why J. Cole’s stans make a big deal about him going platinum with no features–because it was against the law. Plus, he gets extra points for when he tries to sing.
Definition: The originality of the music and how it reflects the personality of the artist.
Nelly: Nelly was not a thug. He did not try to act as if he was hard or street. Nelly was fun, and he brought all of his fun homeboys with him. He repped his city and you could hear it in the way he talked. When he came on the scene he was different from everyone else who was out.
Drake: Drake is the opposite of real. Even when it sounds like he’s discarding his ego and bearing his fragile soul in a song, it comes off as inauthentic. When he’s alongside Lil Wayne and tries to act “hood,” all we can think is, “Come on Drizzy, you’re too light-skinned for that!” You’re from a Jewish, middle class Canadian family, Drake, stop thuggin’. Drake is the kid who grows up in the suburbs, but goes to college and makes everyone believe he’s a hard-nosed gangsta from the projects. Bruh, You were Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi, we can see you.
Body of Work
Definition: The totality of an artist’s output, factoring in the impact, longevity and success.
Nelly: Nelly has sold over 21 million albums (1 Diamond, 3 more platinum, and another gold). When the history of catch rap pop songs is written, Nelly will be up there with MC Hammer and the Black Eye Peas. Nelly literally had grown-ass street niggas saying “E-I-E-I-Uh, Ohhhhh!” “Hot in Herre” was one of the most ubiquitous pop songs of all time, and you can identify it by the first two notes. It is over 15 years old and people will still dance to it (Mostly White people at weddings, but still…) Plus, after Destiny’s Child broke up, Nelly did more for Kelly Rowland’s career than Beyonce, not to mention the boost he gave to the band-aid industry.
Drake: Drake has sold nearly 10 million albums in the US. Drake has had hits, but nothing as big as Nelly’s big singles, he just produces verse after unremarkable verse, song after unremarkable song. Drake’s music isn’t bad, it’s just that none of his music is indicative of a time, era or even a mood. 20 years from now he will be mentioned in the same breath as D-Nice, Kurrupt or MC Eiht. He’ll mostly be remembered as an industry T.H.O.T (because, if we’re being fair and truthful, If Drake was a woman we’d say he got passed around like a blunt at Snoop’s house).
After tabulating the votes, adjusting them for importance and value we have come up with a winner:
Neither one. Both of these dudes were garbage.