Making Sense of Ice Cube’s All-NYC “Top 5” Emcees List
Earlier this week, Ice Cube was a guest on The Combat Jack Show. During their 40-minute conversation, Cube touched on the early days of N.W.A., the influence Public Enemy had on their music, and the continued relevance of a song like "Fuck The Police" a whopping 29 years after it was released.
A hip-hop interview wouldn't be complete, however, if Jack didn't end the podcast by asking Cube to list his top 5 emcees of all time.
At first, Cube hesitates, acknowledging how much he hates the question, but ultimately he gives the following answer:
"Oh god, man. I got a top 35. Chuck D. I can't go in order. KRS-One. Rakim. Melle Mel. And I'll give it to LL."
While some hip-hop fans might review Cube's list and think, "How does he not have a single West Coast rapper on his list?" it's important to remember that a top 5 list usually begins to take shape at an early age.
When N.W.A's debut Straight Outta Compton was released in 1988, Cube was 19. Aside from fellow Angeleno Ice T—who made his debut five years prior on Breaking And Entering with The Radio Crew and who Cube later called "a giant" and someone who he "can't leave out"—Cube didn't have his own Ice Cube to look up to in hip-hop. During his primarily influential teenage years, the most skilled emcees at the top of the rap totem poll were all from New York: Chuck D (Flushing), KRS-One (The Bronx), Rakim (Wyandanch), Melle Mel (The Bronx) and LL Cool J (Queens).
Today's rap fans seem to adjust their personal top 5 after every new release is deemed a "classic" on Twitter, but it's doubtful that many emcees would place peers who debuted after they did on a top 5. Hip-hop icons like Jay Z, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac and Eminem are always in the G.O.A.T. discussion, but all five artists released their debut album after Cube had already broken off from N.W.A. and released his first two solo albums, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted and Death Certificate.
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to something subjective like a top 5 list—unless, of course, Cube had listed Chingy or MIMS—but objectively speaking, Cube's selections make perfect sense.
By Z, who loves to argue with you on Twitter.
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