Two days ago, General Mathers assembled the troops and dropped "Detroit vs. Everybody," a cut that sent every hip-hop debate-loving rap nerd into a frenzy of discussion around who had the best verse and, of course, who should and shouldn't have been included. What, no Elzhi? No Black Milk? Why Dej Loaf?
Of course, that debate only lasted a few minutes before the DJBooth staff started tossing around their picks for a national "Your City vs. Everybody" tournament. Who would you pick for a "Chicago vs. Everybody" cut? What about "Atlanta vs. Everybody"? Great question, and since this is ridiculously my job, and if you're reading this you're clearly looking to kill some time, I think our collective internet destiny is clear DJBooth Nation. Some people are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them.
Now, at first I was thinking that I'd knock out a bunch of cities in one post, but because I never met an article I didn't want to over-write, by the time I'd even finished outline the rules (see below) I was already at approximately eleventy-million words. You may be looking to kill some time, but not spend your remaining days on Earth reading one post, so I'm going to break this up into a series. Today we'll outline the rules and I'll pick my L.A. squad, next up we'll do New York City, then Atlanta, etc. etc. It's gonna be a whole thing.
But first, some rules I know angry people in the comment section aren't going to read, but fuck it I'm going to write 'em out anyway.
The Fine Print
Roster: Since "Detroit vs. Everybody" featured four rappers, that's the precedent. We're selecting four rappers. (I'm not counting Dej and Trick Trick since they didn't actually rap.) In that same spirit though, I will make one allowance for a hype man/intro/outro specialist. Think of it like a DH. When we get to NYC, there's no way I'm letting Diddy touch the mic. But if he came in with the crazy, "Nobody"-esque Diddy rant, that could be a nice addition.
So you're gettting four rappers, who each get a verse, and one DH. Got it? Good.
Location: The most obvious, but perhaps more complicated than it may first seem; the rapper has to be from that city and deeply tied to it. Big Sean is from Detroit, he reps it consistently, obviously qualified to rap on "Detroit vs. Everybody." That kind of easy geography will likely cover a lot of rappers.
Some exceptions are going to come up though. For example, Ab-Soul is from Carson, CA. Technically that's a different city than Los Angeles, but it's so close I think he can still be considered for the L.A. squad. By contrast, Fashawn is from Fresno, which I think is too far from L.A. to qualify him. And what about someone from, say, Lawrence, MA? That's very much its own city, but since Boston is the clear hub of MA, I think I'm ok with Termanology being in the Boston squad. Someone from Providence, RI though? Eh...distance wise it's about as far from Boston as Lawrence, but it's in a different state. Doesn't feel right to let a Providence rapper into the Boston squad.
Furthermore, you know how a politician has to live at least a certain amount of time in a city/state to run for office there? I feel like a similar criteria should be in place. For example, Lil Wayne is very much from New Orleans, but over the past...let's say decade....he's spent more time in Miami than N.O. Should he really be a top pick for the New Orleans squad?
Maybe he should, maybe he shouldn't. We'll just have to take each rapper and location on a case-by-case basis.
Style: Crucial point. Let me say that again, crucial. While there may be some overlap, this isn't about simply listing the best rappers from a particular city. This is about assembling a team a city can go to war with. It's not "Detriot Hugs Everybody," it's "Detroit vs. Everybody." If there was a Hunger Games-esque national rap battle in the dystopian future, and the city with the illest, most OH SHIT!!! inducing line-up got clean drinking water for the year, who are you going with? Their opponents should hear their verse and make an Andrew Bynum face.
Case in point, a lot of people pointed out that Black Milk should have been in "Detroit vs. Everybody." That'd be true if you're looking to make the deepest, most high quality music possible, but not so much if you're looking for shock and awe. I love Black Milk, but that's just not the kind of artist he is. By the same token, Chief Keef is one of the most aggressive rappers from Chicago, but while people are scared of his illegal weapons, no one's scared of his rhymes.
Also, you need to think about your squad as a team, not just a collection of individual rappers. What I like about the Detroit line-up is that it's got a lot of variety. There's a couple vets (Em and Royce), a couple emerging vets (Big Sean and Danny Brown) and a rookie (Dej Loaf), and all of them have different styles; Em and Royce with the punchline-heavy raps, Big Sean with the smoother shit, Danny Brown with the insane energy, Trick Trick with the intimidating DH outro, Dej Loaf with the....vocalizing words. That's a pretty balanced attack.
Era: You can select any rapper alive, but you're getting each emcee as they are now. For example, if I'm getting the "Amerikkka's Most Wanted"-era Ice Cube, that dude's a top pick. But since I'd be getting the "Drop Girl"-era Ice Cube, I'm passing. Something to consider, especially when it comes to the veterans.
Got It - So Who's on "L.A. vs. Everybody"?
I'm going to start with Los Angeles because I lived there for the past seven years and this is my feature so deal with it. Don't worry, we'll get to your city soon. Unless you live in Davemport, Iowa. Then you're on your own. Anyway, besides my personal geography, I'm stoked to do an all-Angeleno line-up because we're very much in the midst of a west coast rennaisance. Nothing will ever beat the impact of the first gangster rap era, but for the first time since that era, a wide range of L.A. rappers are making music right now that has to be reckoned with.
Dre. Dre (DH): I'm not letting Dr. Dre rap when I could just have the guy who would ghostwrite for him do the rapping himself. But I really like the good doctor for the DH role here. He's got that unfuckwithable voice, he's obviously the symbolic bridge between L.A.'s past and L.A.'s present, and he can just talk shit about how the streets of Compton produced hip-hop's first billionaire.
Kendrick Lamar: No shit. He's Compton to the core, his verses can become the subject of national debates (see "Control") and most importantly here he's able to fold some deeply complex lyricism into a harder, more aggressive style better than almost anyone. Do I really need to say more? Besides the people who just automatically accuse everyone of riding Kendrick's dick, is there any more clear choice? Feels like this could be the most automatic selection of the entire "Your City vs. Everybody" draft process.
Basically, I just tell Kendrick to get in that "M.A.D.D. City" zone and get the fuck out of the way.
ScHoolboy Q: I was hesitant about this one at first. Was it lazy and obvious to just pick two TDE rappers (plus the TDE-affiliated Dr. Dre)? But the more I sat with it, the more I like Q here. First, there's just no doubt that TDE is the controlling, younger-generation squad. If any crew deserves to get two representatives in, it's Top Dawg. Plus, Kendrick and Q on this track works for all the same reasons they work on TDE. Once Kendrick's got people on their heels with a barrage of metaphorical jabs, ScHoolboy comes in and throws a wild, reckless, zero-fucks-given haymaker. Or he'll fall asleep on lean. Either/or. But that kind of unpredictability is why he's here.
If he drops that true "Gangsta" shit, it's gonna be a problem for team Everybody.
Crooked I: Here comes your veteran who helps balance out some of the younger dudes. And while he doesn't have the same attention-grabbing personality as his fellow Slaughterhouse teammates like Budden and Royce, I think you can easily make the case that Crooked is one of the most consistently devastating rappers in that crew. The technical skill? The delivery? The lyricism? He may never get on the radio, but I don't see how there's any doubt that Crooked is an elite Angeleno emcee.
Watch the "Shady XV Cypher" again and tell me you'd want any piece of Crooked?
[Goddamnit. This is why these listy-exercises are so impossible. There's no way you're whittling the entire hip-hop history of Los Angeles into four rappers without leaving out 700 other worthy folks. I could bring in a true OG like Snoop for the weight of his legacy, but his rhymes just aren't there right now. I could make the underground heads happy and bring in a Murs or Blu. I could go really off the map and bring in someone with a completely different style, like Dumbfoundead or Busdriver. I hear D.O.C. might be rapping again. Fuck this is impossible. But I think I'm going with...]
Tyler, The Creator: I surprised myself with this one too, and I'm still not sure about it. Including Tyler, Kendrick and Q make this a really young crew, and then there's the whole "is Tyler even a particularly good rapper?" thing. But in my heart of hearts I'm a risk-taker, and so I just can't help myself.
Again, if this was a best rapper list, there's no way Tyler's here. But in the context, when you're looking for someone to be as vicious and memorable as possible for one verse, when you're looking to draft a cohesive but versatile squad, this feels like the environment Tyler was made for. My hope would be that he comes with some shit that's so wild, so strange, that no competitor really knows what to do with it. Plus, I like that he represents this line of Los Angeles rappers that aren't from the traditional mainstream or underground pipeline. This feels like it's either a brilliant call on my part or a horrible mistake. I'll roll the dice on brilliance.
Honestly, I've literally spent the last few hours of my life thinking this over, and I'm not going to say I'm 100% confident in this squad. I fully expect the comment section will come through with a selection that will make me regret at least one of these picks...and then I'll get stubborn and stick to these...and then I'll be like no, that really is a better pick, I need to put the pride aside. It'll go like that for a while, quite possible forever. It's a vicious cycle.
So enough of me, let's get to it people. I know the temptation to do more cities right now is strong, but I promise, we'll get there. As much as possible, let's try to stick to the City of Angels. Have at it DJBooth Nation...
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]