Question: Is it better to be the greatest, or to be yourself?
An artist's hunger is one of their most attractive qualities; nothing sells us on a rapper quite like a strong sense of self. Striving to be the greatest is a beautiful thing, but perhaps it is better to strive to be the best self an artist can be.
We've already covered the importance of self-awareness in hip-hop, but what about being the GOAT? Is that a viable goal? Should that even be the goal? We posed these questions, and more, to DJBooth Managing Editor Donna-Claire Chesman and Senior Writer Yoh.
Their conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
yoh [10:05 AM]
Good morning, Donna. How are you feeling today?
donnacwrites [10:06 AM]
Good morning, Yohsipher! I'm preparing for a very eventful morning, but I'm ready for our conversation.
yoh [10:08 AM]
Let's dive right in. What's on your brilliant mind today?
donnacwrites [10:11 AM]
Oh, you're sweet. I was thinking about a chat we had earlier about striving to become the GOAT versus merely being yourself. It got me wondering, does being the GOAT even matter anymore? Nowadays, it feels like everyone is seconds away from being a viral rapper. The market is so saturated; there's so much for everyone's tastes. With such a vast pool of competitors, is aiming to be the greatest rapper alive a viable option for growth, or is it just better to strive to be the best you that there is?
yoh [10:22 AM]
Irrational confidence is a requirement to be a rapper. The game doesn't believe in anyone who doesn't believe in themselves. You have to step in every recording booth as if you are the greatest ever to do it. I'll always understand why rappers are so forthright about that status. But I agree with you; there will never be a definitive GOAT. Music is subjective. The fans will argue and debate based on their taste.
But there will always be GOAT talk. It's a conversation LL Cool J embedded in the culture. So, my question for you, Donna: are GOAT conversations pushing artists to fight harder for that status? If everyone adapted to our way of thinking, would it take the competition out of hip-hop?
donnacwrites [10:31 AM]
I agree with you that an artist needs to step into the booth feeling like they're the greatest ever to approach a microphone. My buddy once said to me, "If you're not awash in love, what's the point?" and I feel that way about a rapper's confidence. Your question is tricky because, on the one hand, I agree that GOAT talk will never die, as hip-hop is naturally competitive. Life is competitive. As long as we talk about the GOAT, an artist will want that acclaim.
This result isn't the worst outcome, because it does imply a level of potential growth, but I wish there were a better way to inspire artists to step their game up consistently. I'm looking for rappers to take some modicum of personal responsibility and pride in themselves, to not be ruled by the external. If everyone adopted our way of thinking, I would imagine competition would still exist in hip-hop—a sparring match of one.
The best music is self-aware and self-assured. Take the new Big K.R.I.T. record. He's so secure in his status, and he doesn't need to look right or left to find that security. He gathers it all on his own.
I often think of Smino, who is one of my favorite rappers. He's absent from GOAT conversations, but that doesn't stop him from being a favorite. That doesn't stop me from spinning NOIR until the proverbial needle breaks. Smino doesn't have to be the GOAT, because he's so good at being Smi. He's one of one, and that should be the goal of every artist.
yoh [10:45 AM]
I love that you wrote me a novel. I love everything you said, especially, competition looking different. Creating with the "Sparring match of one" mentality would be a nice change. The Freddie Gibbs versus MF DOOM conversation is pretty silly. Although I like that Gibbs has the confidence to make such a statement, I would instead prefer he show us. Show by always making a better album than your last.
Still, I love conversations. I love that rappers can spark dialogue between fans. It's hard to have the best of both worlds.