Bring up the question of who the best rapper alive among Hip Hop fans and you are sure to get a lot of names and emotions flare up. Both only two names really stand out when you look at, Jay-Z and Eminem, sure Nas comes up every now and then.
Before i go on about talking whom I think is the better rapper, and in the interest of full disclosure I would like to say that my favourite rapper isn't Jay or Eminem. My favourite rapper is 50 Cent, i like his music, I like his come up story, i like his penchant for making business deals and I like the beefs. But I do not think he is the best rapper alive,as a matter of fact he isn't a really good rapper, he's just adequate. After Fiddy, my next favourite rapper is Kanye West, who I like his music and his antics. My choice of rappers are largely based on the selection of songs in their discography, if I could play your album without needing to skip every now and then, that rapper gets a bum to my favourite list. Beyond these two guys I really do not like any rapper that much, because of their discography.
Getting back to the crux of the matter, I think there should be more than one criteria for choosing who the best rapper alive is. Having an amazing vocabulary shouldn't be the sole criteria for that.
Having sampled a range of songs made by Jay-Z and Eminem (I have their entire discography), i find Jay has my vote for the Best Rapper Alive. And the header below are my reasons why I think Jay holds the upper hand.
Jay is more versatile than Em. Jay can make music for the streets, for the clubs and also for the poets. Eminem's songs are far more polarising than Jan's, you specifically need to have an open mind to enjoy it. Like Chris Rock once said When was the last time you heard an Eminem song in the club?. You would never hear an Eminem song in the club, it's ill-suited for that audience but you would hear a Jay-Z song in the club. In terms of Versatility, Jay has Em beat hands down.
And another aspect is Lyrical ability, and this is where everyone who is a Eminem bases his whole argument on. Yes, we have all heard the Renegade song and truth be told, Eminem one-upped Jay in that song. Eminem has bloodied just about every rapper his been featured with. That's his strong suit, he is lyrically great and so is Talib Kweli. But you don't see anyone talking about Talib Kweli as one of the greatest.
One of Jay's biggest feat is his longevity, this dude has managed to remain relevant for years. Reasonable Doubt, his first album was released in 1996 back when The Notorious B.I.G was still alive. That album went on to become a classic album and ever since then he has managed to always drop good bodies of work (I don't care much for the Volume series or the Dynasty). Eminem isn't a new rapper either since taking the music industry by storm in 1999, and has pulled off the longevity trick too. Jay-Z is that one rapper that has managed to successfully pull off a "Michael Jordan" by retiring and pulling off a successful comeback. Even though the Kingdom Come album wasn't that good (I don't like it), he didn't need to look for his fans as the album was a commercial success. Over the years, Jay-Z's subject matter has continued to evolve from cars, fashion, drugs and women to art, fashion, drinks and family while Eminem has pretty much remained the same, as a matter of fact his last album was a throwback to his 2000 Marshall Matters LP in which he tries to retrace his root to that stage in his life and attempt to channel the emotions he felt back then and perhaps win back his ageing fans. Jay has never had that problem or felt he had (Hov' on that new sh*t, n***s like "How come?" N***s want my old sh*t, buy my old albums, N***s stuck on stupid, I gotta keep it movin'). Jay-Z's art has continue to change and evolve over time.
Jay-Z is almost 50 years old and still manages to pull in the younger generation, this is an amazing feat considering that the young are known to never listen to the older generations.
I Guess age doesn't count if your flow stays submerged in the fountain of youth.
NO WRITTEN LYTICS
Jay-Z is part of the very slow group of rappers that never write down their lyrics, forming and structuring all his lyrics in his mind. It's really difficult to write down and structure good rhymes on paper, now imagine someone that does this all in his brain. Even battle rappers all have a rhyme book which they write down rhymes which they could use later. Only a small group of rappers such as The Notorious B.I.G., Everlast, Bobby Creekwater and Guerilla Black do this really well. This approach is nothing shirt of genius, and is testament to how incredible Jay-Z is.
DIVERSITY OF FOLLOWERSHIP
Jay-Z has also managed to court different generations, classes and ethnicity with his music. Today, the President of the United States of America is openly a fan of Jay-Z. Even when thirteen years olds control the remotes, he still one of their favourite rappers. Jay has the ability to connect with a wider demographic than any other rapper out there.
Jay-Z is that one artist that personifies what Hip Hop is today, everybody knows him. Jay has managed to make and change trends, he is practically the 2Pac of rap today. When Jay started rappkng about Crystal, other rappers started rapping about Cristal. Jay switched to Ace of Spade and everyone made that jump. Jay started talking about art, Warhols and Basquiats, everyone is incorporating those art names into their raps.
You can not talk about Hip Hop rivalry today without talking about the Jay-Z and Nas beef. It is the Gold standard by which we judge all other rap feuds today. The both sides in that contest had really good songs. It was the craziest rap feud in radio history, and Jay emerged the Victor and the claimed the King of New York crown, a title that no one has been able to USURP ever since. Besides the Nas feud, other rappers such as Mobb Depp, The Game, Jim Jones, Cam'ron, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Drake and Young Thug have all taken shots at him but like the Teflon Don he has survived them all without breaking a sweat with his unique blend of hard hitting sublimals, sorry Mrs Drizzy (all except 50 Cent which he pretty much ignored).
Eminem has pretty much had one rap feud and that was the one with Benzino of the source magazine, others have just been as a result of been inherited by association such as the Jermanine Dupri-Dr. Dre feud, 50 Cent-Ja Rule feud (which 50 Cent won almost singlehandedly) unless if you are counting the Mariah Carey thing too.
Although it doesn't really matter, some people might bring this up. Yes, Eminem is the highest selling Hip Hop artist today, however this success is aided by his skin colour and Slim Shady himself even fessed up to this in his song White America saying, "Let's do the math: if I was black, I woulda sold half I ain't have to graduate from Lincoln High School to know that". So record sales shouldn't be a criterion for choosing whom the better rapper is.
Eminem is one of the most lyrically gifted (if not the best) rappers out there, but unfortunately he doesn't check enough boxes to be the best rapper alive. While Jay checks enough of them to be considered the best rapper alive.