With the release of The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem declares himself a Rap God, featuring the King of Rap (Kendrick Lamar) on his album, and hoping to finally pass the torch of the rap game to a worthy predecessor. One can debate back and forth over whether Em or Jay-Z is thegreatest rapper alive, but, rather than waste any time debating semantics between these two self-proclaimed “God MCs,” I’m declaring the greatest MC in the history of the game to be neither Em nor Jay. History will show that the existence of a God MC is irrelevant so long as there’s life on Mars.
People Love the Underdog…
Eminem has complicated rhymes and rhythms. There’s no denying the man knows how to put together a sentence and spit it — if complicated equated to musicality, however, why is “Yesterday” the most covered song in pop culture and not “Crazy Train,” the fast-paced and just as classic track from Ozzy Osbourne? There’s no denying Eminem is a legendary MC and a great artist, but, while he may have seemed like the innovator in real time, looking back at his archive, the majority of his work doesn’t hold up. His cartoony beats, dated pop culture references (who are Moby and Carson Daly, and why is Em mad at them?) and comical lyrics mostly fall flat. Eminem’s problem is he blew up too quick — so he never really had a chance to mature as an artist.
Lil Wayne, on the other hand, came up in the shadows of Juvenile, Manny Fresh, and Baby. Whereas Em was Aftermath’s LeBron James, Weezy started as Cash Money’s Allen Iverson. At best, Duane Carter was a sidekick, destined to VH1 reality and dating shows. Slim Shady is Vanilla Ice with credibility and skill; he’s the Yankees, and he was supposed to win. Lil Wayne is a blinged out Southern rapper like any other. There’s no reason he should still be relevant, but he is. All Marshall Mathers had to do in order to stick out was show up; Weezy had to work for his — and that’s real hip-hop.
Less Is More…
The career-defining single for each of emcee is Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” an ode to the struggle of becoming a rapper, and Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” a song about sex. Both songs are approximately five minutes long, and Em fits about 50 percent more words in his song. Weezy’s lyrics are much more repetitive, so Shady is essentially working twice as hard to produce the same effect. This certainly proves Marshall is talented and hard-working. It proves he can spit complicated rhyme patterns. But is that what makes a great song? By accomplishing the same thing (a number 1 single) with half the words, Tunechi proves he has a better grasp of lyricism than the Rap God.
While word count seems like a wacky way to compare two lyricists, if we’re calling someone the greatest rapper alive, it’s an important consideration. Lyrics are words, and, as Twitter has proven time and time again, the less words you use to express a thought, the more appealing it is. Being able to express a concise thought on a subject is the mark of a genius, and doing it melodically is a sign of a musical prodigy — both of which describe Lil Wayne.
Where most people adamantly take a stance on Eminem being great while Lil Wayne is “garbage” lies in Shady’s subject matter — “Em raps about real life and real problems while Wayne just talks about money, drugs, and sex.” I understand what is being said, but Marshall’s lyrics focus on himself while Weezy’s run the gamut of subject matter, from destruction (murder) to creation (sex) to everything in between. While Shady is a master of both horrorcore and emo-rap, Tunechi not only excels at both, but can also touch on a wide variety of subjects.
Eminem does rap about drugs (“Drug Ballad,” anyone?), guns (“Pistol Pistol”), and sex (“Superman”) just like Lil Wayne, but Mr. Carter is able to touch on one universal subject that Mr. Mathers still struggles with, even into his 40s…How to Love. Slim is incapable of writing a love song that Justin Bieber could legitimately pull off. The sign of a truly classic song is in its ability to be covered by artists from different generations, and Lil Wayne’s discography will stand the test of time longer than Eminem’s because compassion is what truly lasts. Em is incapable of expressing compassion without betraying his image. Weezy can release an entire album of love songs; Shady can’t.
A Goon to a Goblin…
Relatability is an important consideration when determining an artist’s “star power,” and Eminem is much more relatable than Lil Wayne on the surface. Em is an every man who everyone can relate to on some level, while Tunechi is subtitled in his interviews. Aside from having a recognizable face, Slim dresses, looks, and acts like everyone else on the streets (albeit a bit more amped up). He could be anyone’s son, neighbor, father, brother, etc. If you showed up to work looking like Weezy, on the other hand, you’re going to be fired, and probably arrested. Lil Wayne is a Martian, and if it weren’t for music, he wouldn’t fit in anywhere.
Unfortunately for Em, star power doesn’t equate to being the best MC, and his relatability is only skin deep. People may get angry and want to kill themselves or someone else in their head every so often, but a large portion of his portfolio is angry. Basically, Eminem is a really good battle rapper, which is one of the more classical styles of hip-hop. Lil Wayne, however, pushes the sonic boundaries of the game to new levels. Both “Lollipop” and “How to Love” take hip-hop to levels that Shady is incapable of pulling off. Weezy is talented in any musical genre; Marshall Mathers is not.
The Real Slim Shady…
Unlike the classic debate over 2Pac or Notorious B.I.G. being the greatest MC ever, both Lil Wayne and Eminem are still very much in the game and cranking out hits, with each artist sitting on discographies of over 1000 tracks. As long as Em outlives Wayne (and, unless Weezy shares genes with Keith Richards, it’s a definite possibility), Shady will have the last word. He still has a chance to release a unique album that breaks his formulaic approach to music. Eminem could possibly test the boundaries of rap in an unexpected way.
That day may never come, however, and until it does, Lil Wayne is the undisputed greatest living MC.
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower, freelance consultant, and troll. He’s a frequent contributor to The Street, Cannabis Now, and Fast Company, Huffington Post, Mainstreet, Lifehack, and HardcoreDroid.