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Who’s your top five, dead or alive? The ranking of best rappers of all time is a common sport in hip-hop. The consensus — at least if you grew up on New York City rap — is usually some combination of the Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, Rakim and Nas. It’s the fateful last spot that causes the most fervor and heated debate in barbershops, industry circles and now, on social media. Rapper Jadakiss may not be as universally renowned as the aforementioned, but arguably, he’s a fitting fifth man. The rapper, born Jason Phillips, is one of the most complete artists: commercial success, dexterity to make street and mainstream records, killer guest verses and an unmistakable, raspy flow. His solo debut, 2001’s Kiss tha Game Goodbye, is a modern classic, not to mention the standout verses he’s had with the Lox. Underrated is an understatement.
With his aptly-titled Top 5 Dead or Alive, the Yonkers native is in on the joke — but he’s coming for his spot. “I just thought it was time. It’s not really taking a statement or taking a shot or patting myself on the back,” he says via telephone from Boston. “It’s just a nickname that they gave me for years. The people. The fans.”
Top 5 Dead or Alive, released November 20, is equally a statement in staying power. The 40-year-old relies on guests spanning generations, including Lil Wayne, Swizz Beatz, Future and Wiz Khalifa, to appease both day one loyalists and millennial males. “When you read [the tracklist], it looks crazy but when you hear it, it sounds beautiful,” he assures. “I try not to do the normal thing you gonna look for. I try to do something out the box.” Of course, it’s a tenuous space to try and satiate Gen Xers well as fans ostensibly young enough to be their offspring. The results could easily derail into outdated, too-hard territory.
Jadakiss has always been able to bridge the gap rather well because of his approachability. Compared to many of his New York City contemporaries, he’s never been perceived as elitist or insular. He says that it’s intentional. “I never try to think I’m bigger than the culture. [I want] to work with different artists whether they’re lyrically the equivalent of me or not. I’m not scared to roll the dice. I think that’s what makes a lot of the younger cats love me and gravitate to me. That gives my career legs at the same time.”
He promises that another album will immediately follow Top 5 Dead or Alive. “The fans, the kids, they want more content, so the long [recording] gaps that I usually take won’t work right now. Imma try and give them two albums in one year.” He’s not leaving you nostalgic heads out, either. Jada teases that he’s “going to do some joints together” with former Ruff Ryders labelmate DMX (who was recently released from prison). “It’s only right. That’s family. That’s the dog!” He’s also planning to hit the road with Puff Daddy on the Bad Boy Reunion Tour. On the entrepreneurial front, the rapper is looking to expand his Juice For Life juice and smoothie bars with fellow Lox member Styles P.
In a genre filled with perpetual one-upmanship, getting in the upper echelon ain’t easy. Jadakiss’s secret to his 22-year career is surprisingly simple: “You just gotta keep it organic,” he says. “As long as you keep it organic, they’ll accept. They know when you getting outta your element. They can tell.”