You know things are getting serious when you hit the Elite 8, the championship starts to feel within reach. After this, all that stands between your favorite team (or album) winning a title and the big game is one round. One...measly....round. You can already taste the celebratory champagne, feel the confetti raining down on you. So it seems right that this was our most serious round yet.
As a quick recap for those who might have missed our selection process, here's the deal. For our second annual DJBooth March Madness Rap Tournament, we're tackling the best new hip-hop album, "new" meaning released in the last five years. In terms of "best" we're weighing commercial success, cultural impact, inherent quality and more - it's a kitchen sink situation. And we select each winner through a highly scientific process that involves myself, Yoh and Lucas getting on the phone and yelling at each other until we either reach a consensus or someone makes a strong enough case to swing one other guy his way. Typically, I also edit together a compilation of all the times Lucas sighs and mutters "fuck this" during the tournament as one of the albums he's pushing for loses. It really is a tradition unlike any other.
And with that, let's get to the results. The updated bracket is below, followed by game by game breakdowns.
Mick Jenkins is simply an excellent rapper, and this was the project that put him on. (We actually selected him as a Top Prospect before The Water[s] dropped, flex.) And adding to his case is the fact that the project came paired with some outstanding visuals - we mean outstanding. These days the videos aren't released in addition to the album, they are part of the album. All praise due to Mick. But...it simply wasn't enough to knock off Groovy Q. Oxymoron is an album that spans from violent felony to heartbreaking addiction, from radio singles to gritty Alchemist beats. Plus, it was the album that launched Q from "Kendrick's homie" to a star in his own right, capable of headlining his own global tours. The Water[s] was the scrappy underdog team we were all rooting for, but sometimes the underdog just doesn't win. Such is life. Such is imaginary rap tournaments.
Summertime '06 vs. Because the Internet: Winner, Because the Internet
Goddamn goddamn. I'm getting PTSD flashbacks to the debate over this. Personally I was torn, and so were the other guys. On one hand you had Summertime '06, an album that was simply a gangster rap masterpiece. I could write 1,000 words on what a work of art "Jump Off the Roof" alone is, and I might just do it. Summertime '06 is my soul, but Because the Internet is my head. That's not to say BTI doesn't have some legitimately great music, it does, but the album's real impact lies in everything the album encompassed. While we watch superstar artists and giant corporations flail around trying to release music, Gambino, a truly indie artist, unwrapped one of the most intricate, perfectly executed album experiences we've ever seen. There were short films, music videos with overlapping stories, scripts, secret sites, clues hidden in the source code. He really did lay down a blueprint for how to release an album on the internet. We agonized over this, I hate that it had to come to this Vince, we're pouring out a Sprite in your honor, but Gambino becomes the tournament's true Cinderella story and advances to the Final Four.
Acid Rap vs. Forest Hills Drive: Winner, Acid Rap
I know you won't believe me, but this was a tough one. We sweated, we debated, we switched positions like a Nascar race on the final lap. Frankly, there was some part of me that wanted to vote for Forest Hills Drive just because I didn't feel like dealing with the wrath of the Coleminers, which in a way is an argument for FHD (level of fan devotion it inspires). This was Cole's best album yet, a project that went platinum, led to a HBO special and cemented his place as an elite emcee. "Ain't no such thing as a life better than yours" are words I try to live by. And then there's Acid Rap, the out-of-nowhere release that launched one of hip-hop's brightest young talents and introduced the world to the relentless creativity of Chance the Rapper. Like College Dropout or - dare I say it? - The Warm Up before it, Acid Rap was the kind of album that became a generation's anthem. No one wanted to put down their final vote, but eventually we had to make a decision, and Acid Rap squeezed by on the slimmest of margins. So sharpen your pitchforks and light those fires Cole fans, we're awaiting your attack. We can't blame you...but it's still Acid Rap.
Nothing Was the Same vs. GKMC: Winner, GKMC
I've never told you a lie and I won't start now. We made sure we really reviewed the importance of Nothing Was the Same, how easily enjoyable it was as a musical work and how it really ushered in the age of Peak Drake. "Started From the Bottom," "Worst Behavior," this was the album that launched a thousand memes and pushed Drake into Super Saiyan mode. We made sure we gave Drizzy all the praise we could, I didn't even bring up Jay Z' atrocious "Pound Cake" verse. And then there was a moment of silence, and then we all agreed that yep, GKMC it was. Obviously. It wasn't even a serious question. I'd trade all of NWTS for just "Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst" alone. Kendrick advances easily.
Oxymoron vs. Because the Internet, Acid Rap vs. GKMC, it's going to be a hell of a Final Four. "March Madness" is indeed mad.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.