Following the sad passing of Brooklyn rap stalwart Sean Price this past Saturday, who was part of the rare breed of MCs who improved as they got older as opposed to getting complacent, I racked my booze-soaked brain to see if I could think of any other examples of this unusual phenomenon. Turns out I was able to think of seven…
Despite underperforming on the first Tribe Called Quest album, like a 2007 Ja Rule single, Phife Dawg got his act together and stepped up both his content and his delivery for the magnificent Low End Theory LP— providing a pleasant surprise for rap fans who had written him off as little more than a worthless side kick only capable of lines such as, ‘Beef jerky, Slim Jims, I eat sometimes/I like lemons and limes.’
From his days as a serviceable Natural Elements affiliate in 1994, he re-emerged in 2008 with a more distinctive, refined delivery and has since carved himself a spot as one of the most intriguing lyricists of recent years with the Grief Pedigree and Days With Dr. Yen Lo albums.
Some fans of The UN insist that Marcy was nicer when he was rapping fast and, while I certainly appreciated that era of his music, you must have rocks in your head if you can’t appreciate the genius of ‘Snow’ or ‘Ice Cream Man’, which showcase a fully-formed artist rather than just the stand-out in a four man crew.
RA The Rugged Man
This guy has come a long way from his Crustified Dibbs days, having refined his flow to the level where he’s automatically going to outshine anybody who dares to share a beat with him. Whether it’s his hard-hitting account of the horrors of war on Jedi Mind Tricks’ ‘Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story’ or showcasing verbal gymnastics on ‘Definition of a Rap Flow’, this Strong Island rap fanatic clearly has a serious training schedule.
After starting his career sounding like a guy who was the Key Style Champion in his local AOL chat room and vomited more words than could ever reasonably fit into a bar of music, Talib eventually calmed down and got his shit together to the point where he got a shout-out on a Jay Z record—which is why everybody does this, right?
Rapping through a broken jaw was almost a valid excuse for the patchy quality of his early vocal performances, but he still had a long way to go. Thankfully, with a well-picked support team of weed carriers and writers in his circle, Mr. West is now capable of stringing sixteen bars together without regressing into mush-mouf territory, which I guess is an improvement of sorts.
Thought has never been a slouch, but in recent years he seems to be getting even more adept at slinging words around over a beat with the reckless abandon of a hired gun, as demonstrated by his flawless performance on Ghostface’s ‘In The Park’ and frequent freestyle demonstrations. It would be great if he could have another shot at a solo project (following his abandoned 2000 MCA LP, Masterpiece Theatre), away from the confines of The Roots, to really flex his talents as a truly formidable MC.
Keep up with Robbie’s weekly ‘No Country for Old (Rap) Men’ here.