Let’s be clear: This is the Official list.
The Criteria; Cultural Impact, Musical Impact/Output, Span (of Years).
Jay Z. DMX. Andre 3000. Busta Rhymes.
Jay Z had another run from ’00-’03 that would include The Blueprint, but this was his initial lead gaining sprint. Jay set himself apart from all competition when Vol 2: Hard Knock Life dropped. The combination of coming off of Streets Is Watching movie, bombing DJ Clue consistently and leading with hit records made Jay a superstar once Vol 2 landed. This led us back to realizing we may have slept on Reasonable Doubt, and possibly Vol 1. Jay continued to dominate with Vol 3… Life and Time of S. Carter, which featured his this era’s iconic music video, “Big Pimpin‘”. A Neptunes-produced “I Just Wanna Love U” with an Omilio Sparks hook led to Jay Z properly setting up Rocafella artists with The Dynasty: Roc La Familia. Jay ruled.
DMX hit the ground running in 1997, alongside Method Man, Redman, LL & Canibus on “4, 3, 2, 1“. This was likely a Def Jam favor, but we know it would not have went down without LL Cool J‘s sanctioning. Soonafter, he’d drop “Get At Me Dog“, and subsequently shake the Earth. He released his debut album, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot May 19, 1998. X would then star in the Hype Williams directed Belly, alongside Nas on November 4th, 1998. Ending the year with a second album Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood on December 22nd. … And Then There Was X would come along in 1999. That album featured the crossover anthem “Party Up“. This was X’s time.
Outkast released 3 albums from 1996-2000, all to great critical acclaim and success. 1996’s ATLiens, 1998’s Aquemini & 2000’s Stankonia. During this time, Andre 3000 established himself as the premiere MC of the two, at least in the eyes of the public. This is what created the initial demand for the Andre 3000 solo rap project (that we never got). He became the “token south lyricist”. Songs like “Elevators (Me & You)“, the controversial “Rosa Parks” and “Ms. Jackson” and the albums they appeared on made the case for Outkast joining G.O.A.T conversation. Rightfully so. 3 Stacks had something to say.
Busta Rhymes began at the turn of the decade as a part of Leaders Of The New School. A few alley oops from Q-Tip (“Scenario“, “Scenario (Remix)“) and Craig Mack (“Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)“) saw Busta setting up for a much anticipated solo career by the mid-90’s. In 1996, he’d release his now-classic debut full length solo effort, The Coming. The Coming was led by the anthemic “Woo Hah!! (Got You All In Check)“. Busta Buss followed up with When Disaster Strikes…, led by the uber-classic “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See“. 1998 saw Mr. Rhymes drop the original Extinction Level Event… album, followed by what some say is his best LP, Anarchy, in 2000. Songs like “What’s It Gonna Be?!” with Janet Jackson cemented Buss as the top rap radio act for this time period. Let us not forget his group/label Flipmode Squad, with Rampage‘s solo dropping in 1997, Rah Digga dropping in 2000 and a group album The Imperial releasing in 1998. Busta was busy.
Ma$e set the world on fire out of the gate. Blazing Clue tapes, possibly the best pre-album feature run and finally a proper album all in ’96-1997. Harlem World sold just as many copies in ’97 as Jay Z and DMX would go on to sell in 1998 (per album). He followed up in 1999, with the slept-on Double Up LP, then famously just left. Disappeared. The combination of street lyricism, crossover appeal and willingness to follow Puff Daddy made Mase one of the most dangerous emcees on the plane(t).
N.O.R.E, the charismatic gun toting Queens emcee, burst onto the scene in 1997 as a part of Capone-N-Noreaga. Their debut album, The War Report, was held down down himself and mentor Tragedy Khadafi, since Capone was jailed and sentenced during the project’s conception. This turn of events led N.O.R.E to a solo career. He dropped his solo debut, self-titled, in 1998. The album featured new producers like Pharell Williams and Chad Hugo aka The Neptune’s and Swizz Beatz. Swizz held down the streets with “Banned From TV“, a posse cut turned single. The Neptune’s gave us “SuperThug“, meanwhile. 1999 would see N.O.R.E drop Melvin Flint – Da Hustler, featuring the a Pharell hook on “Oh No”. His knack for finding dope production would make him one of the era’s most prominent radio and club acts. He eventually reunited with Capone in 2000 for certified platinum, The Reunion album.
Canibus is not here because of anything except the that he was the most feared and revered emcee of this time. He dominated mixtapes and people lined up to get shattered on features like Lost Boyz “Beasts From The East” and DJ Clue’s “Fantastic 4“. His “‘97 Mentality” freestyle actually overshadowed the original by Cappadonna. He went to war with LL Cool J over the aforementioned 4, 3, 2, 1’s original verse. He lost, but that was all politics.
Prodigy, Big Pun…
G-HOLY, Yasin Toure’, Peyton Tenison & Boshko Maric for G-HOLY.COM, 2021.