Sound of the City’s search for the quintessential New York City musician enters Round Two this week, with battles in the Round of 32 daily. Keep up with all the action here.
Brooklyn’s finest meets Strong Island’s most prominent in a match up of two lyrical hip-hop powerhouses. Having steamrolled past the disingenuous hip-hop duo that is Black Star in the last round, Rakim is proving that age and experience are no barrier to success. The Notorious B.I.G, for his part, blitzed by Oneida and now looks to spar up to the MC who blazed legendary lyrical trails during hip-hop’s golden era. Expect no pulled punches with this one.
Rakim: “Eric B Is President”
Lyrical scholars might laud some of Ra’s intricately crafted flights of fancy like “In The Ghetto” or “Follow The Leader,” but there’s nary a rap song that causes involuntary spasms of exuberant apoplexy like “Eric B Is President.” Sounding like it’s being beamed down from some still-distant future, Rakim’s lyrics are quick-witted and clever; they’re ingrained in the minds of an entire generation of golden agers. And his “thought I was a donut, you tried to glaze me” line is the stuff of legend.
The Notorious B.I.G.: “Juicy”
Purists might plump for one of Biggie’s crime rhymes or raw DJ Premier produced tracks, but there’s nary a rap song as joyful, uplifting and anthemic as “Juicy.” The lyrics have been taken to heart as a proud motivational mantra by a few generations—almost as soon as it dropped, it a certified hip-hop anthem. Although these days it’s unsure whether Big’s mammoth two grand phone bill would also include unlimited data.
Longevity: Big has departed this mortal world for better climes, but his legacy is more abundant than the still-rapping Rakim’s. It’s a circumstance caused by Big’s svelte two-album body of work giving him a relatively untainted back catalogue, while Ra has made a couple of botched attempts to stay relevant with albums recorded long past his golden era pomp.
Innovations: The R taught rappers how to be clever without being overly wordy. Big showed the world how to have the streets and the mainstream on lock at the same time. Both influenced the generation that preceded them. Be proud of them both!
Starpower: Despite being hauled out of retirement for that Nike commercial with Kanye West, Rakim has maintained his mysterious persona and largely stayed out of the spotlight—although back in the ’80s he and his entourage were the stuff of rap royalty. Big is still beloved, recognizable, and iconic the world over.
Intangibles: According to lyrical legend, both at some point were involved in sticking up innocent bystanders—although while Ra endorsed reforming his ways on “Paid In Full,” Big chuckled heartily about robbing pregnant women on “Gimme The Loot.” But remember: There is no moral high ground in rap!
Likely winner: Biggie—because rap fans too often have short memories and value the present over the past. That, and midwestern white kids who’ve moved to the city are infatuated with him.