The barrier to entry in the music industry has never been lower, but in order to be considered among the greatest to ever pick up a microphone, an MC must possess a set of unique characteristics, such as originality, voice, charisma, lyrical ability, and substance.
Professional athletes often brag about being the best in their sport, regardless of whether or not their statistics back up their claims. This showing of confidence is billed as a necessary component to success. In order to beat the very best, and compete at the highest level possible, you need to believe you are the very best.
Makes sense, right? But what about hip-hop? Does the same mindset apply for MCs as it does for professional athletes?
To find out whether or not a self-belief in greatness is a requirement for success, we asked 10 MCs to share their own personal thoughts and their individual mindset with one simple question:
As an MC, do you need to believe you're the greatest to be successful?
"I’ve studied the mechanics of rap my entire career. Metaphors, punchlines, storytelling, cadence, voice projection and vocal tone. I strive to check all boxes. In this climate, talent is less valuable than popularity so one has to be super talented to stand out. I’ve done songs with the gods of lyricism and came out on top on many occasions. Facts. I put blood, sweat, and tears into my craft and I believe, without question, that I’m one of the greatest rappers to ever put words together. I’ve made a comfortable living without radio or any type of “mainstream hit” music. My personal quest to be the GOAT is a huge part of my success. I’ve sent greats back to the drawing board to rewrite after stepping out of the booth. I love that shit."
"No. What you bring to the table that hasn’t been done is what makes you successful. I once believed you had to think you were the greatest MC to be successful but that’s far from the truth. If that was the case, a lot of these trash cans I watch get treated like royalty would be abolished. My mission has changed. What can I bring to the genre that only PROBLEM can do? That’s my fight with every song, ad-lib, appearance, post, etc..."
Dom McLennon (of BROCKHAMPTON)
"I’ve never wanted to be the greatest MC but I’d love to be the greatest songwriter. I feel like it’s a different type of criteria. Simon & Garfunkel didn’t get the bars off but they said everything a lot of people needed to hear. Saying what people need to hear before they knew they needed to hear it, and how much force you put behind that message, will put you in that place where you can be considered great."
"Yes, but only amongst your peers. Try not to get ahead of yourself, understand what class you’re in and dominate it before you move to the next one. If not, you risk the chance of not being able to learn. I think the best thing to do is believe you’ll one day be the greatest."
"No, I don't think so. You have to believe you're the greatest at being you, at doing what you do. That no one can create and express in the way that you create and express. But I always find it weird when people say that you have to think you're the best—is delusion a prerequisite? How many successful rappers are not as good at rapping or making music as Kendrick? A lot. Does it take away from their work if they aren't under the illusion that they're better? I don't think so. Personally, I aspire to be the greatest one day, and I think I can do it, but I know I'm not there yet. I think that makes me stronger in my ability to grow as an artist, not weaker. So when I talk shit or exude confidence on a record, people feel it more because it's real, it's true. I know my strengths and weaknesses and so when I brag, it holds more worth. All that said, though, the spirit of emceeing—not JUST making music, generally, but emceeing—is a competitive one. I can't relate to any emcee that doesn't feel the burning desire in their gut to outperform and out-craft every single other breathing rapper on the planet. I just don't think you lose points for being honest with yourself at any moment in time. That's how you grow."
"By my own standards of being successful, hell yeah. I'm here to have fun but I'm here to compete as well and it's crazy because I don't think my desire to be the best is derived from a crazy passion for music as much as it is an obsessiveness to just be the best in whatever I do. Being successful is whatever you want it to be, though. Once I become "successful" my qualifications for what success is may change, but as of now my mind is set on me needing to be the best to feel successful, in every aspect of what it means to be an artist, an MC, or whatever you want to call it."
"I’ve always tried to live my life as a humble dude. I actually think all that necessary ego is a myth. Now, I will say that attitude helped me when I was in the battle circuit. But more than believing I’m the greatest, I just focus on that I’m great. It’s been said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” But maybe that’s why I’m not bigger than I am [laughs]."
"Yes, indeed, because a lot of hate and trolling happens in this game we’re in and if you’re confident in yourself, you’ll have a shell built to withstand the comments and dislikes. If not, you’re gonna be one of those emotional artists beefing with fake pages and bloggers."
"No, you don't need to believe you're the greatest because art is an expression of self, and everything is subjective. Some people think Soulja Boy is the greatest."
"Yes. Most definitely. It's part of the bravado and braggadocious fabric of hip-hop. And realistically speaking, in most cases, the people that say they want to rap usually start with no real game plan or team. You're in over your head as an artist. And I feel you need that [mindset] to push through the adversity."