(January 14, 2022). You knew it would happen. After a couple of rap “report cards” from 1980s hip-hop pioneer Kool Moe Dee went viral last weekend, it was only a matter of time before someone would take his grading system and apply it to today’s rappers.
That someone happens to be yours truly and your favorite music ranking source, djrobblog. And our imaginary 2022 version of KMD’s report card for the current generation of rappers is right here (below) in this article.
But first, for background, New York hip-hop legend Kool Moe Dee, real name: Mohandes Dewese, knows a thing or two about rap—particularly early rap—as he came up during its lean days with memorable ‘80s classics like “How You Like Me Now,” “Wild Wild West” and “Go See The Doctor.”
In 1987, for his successful How You Like Me Now album, KMD printed a report card for the LP’s inner sleeve that ranked 25 rappers in ten different categories on a scale of one to 10, with an aggregate total and grade at the end. The categories were: vocabulary, articulation, creativity, originality, versatility, voice, records, stage presence, sticking to themes, and innovating rhythms.
On the original list, it’s probably not surprising that KMD himself received the top grade, along with fellow New York legend Melle Mel (both 95, A+), with Bronx-born Grand Master Caz on their collective tail with 94, also dubiously receiving a letter grade of A+.
Twelve years later, the “I Go To Work” rapper did it again. At the behest of a collective known as Ego Trip (made up of Gabe Alvarez, Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, and Brent L. Rollin), KMD created another report card in 1999, this time featuring 31 of that era’s biggest solo hip-hop stars and using the same ten grading criteria and scale.
On the updated list, the highest grade went to Lauryn Hill, the New Jersey icon who was still hot at the time with her 1998 opus The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She received an impressive 97 (A+), while the late King of Brooklyn, The Notorious B.I.G., rated second with a score of 95 (also an A+ using KMD’s scoring). Busta Rhymes and the late 2Pac (Tupac Shakur) finished tied for third with a 93 score (both got A’s).
Interestingly, fellow New Yorker and now-legend Jay-Z, who was only three albums deep in 1999, finished with a lowly 82 (with the categories of stage presence, vocabulary and versatility bringing him down significantly). Other clonkers on the ‘99 list included ‘bout it-‘bout it New Orleans entrepreneur Master P, Bad Boy rapper Mase, and pimp-rap legend Too $hort, none of whom received much love with C+ ratings.
Now, djrobblog has taken that same KMD criteria and graded 37 of today’s biggest rappers. But first a few acknowledgements and disclaimers before I get to the report card.
First and foremost, hip-hop has changed significantly since 1999, and especially since the first list was created in 1987. KMD criteria like “articulation” might not be something a rapper from the current millennium would even strive for, especially in the early-to-mid 2010s when mumble rap was blowing up.
As for vocabulary, it’s never wise to judge one’s word capacity based on subjective listening to his or her music—and we’re sure word-count technology wasn’t available when KMD created his lists. So to remove some of that subjectivity, djrobblog consulted this 2019 study that tallied the number of unique words used by contemporary rappers in all of their hits. The blog used its judgment for those rappers who came after the project or who were otherwise not included in it.
Also, the category of “records” may be a misnomer because, well, hip-hop simply doesn’t thrive on “record” sales anymore so much as it does streaming. Still, by “records,” the blog assumed that KMD meant product consumption—regardless of format—and consumption is charted by Billboard magazine as it has always been. Therefore, Billboard chart performance, as well as an artist’s prolific status based on quantity of output, are the measuring sticks the blog used for “records” in the 2022 grades.
For the category of “sticking to themes,” which seems to contradict “versatility” but I get why KMD included both, an artist rated highly here even if his or her penchant for staying true to one theme came at the expense of versatility or creativity (another category KMD included).
For “stage presence,” the blog used observations of each rapper’s awards show or other TV performances, or video clips of their concert or festival shows (the blogger hasn’t seen all of these acts in concert himself and we doubt KMD had either).
And, finally, while the blog recognizes that much of today’s hip-hop centers on standard trap beats, there are many variations of it out there and a few rappers have even managed to make those beats with only subtle differences sound interesting. (Besides, KMD didn’t appear to have penalized rappers back in the day for totally ripping off ‘70s and ‘80s hits for their samples.) With that in mind, the “Innovating rhythms” category—or beats—was judged leniently.
Having put all that out there, here is the blog’s “rap-port card” for 37 of today’s biggest rappers, using KMD’s grading system as we imagine he might apply it. Like KMD did, we picked the 37 rappers subjectively based on their current relevance to the hip-hop community. We excluded any rappers who appeared on KMD’s earlier lists (like Jay-Z) even if they’ve had product in the past five years.
Let the blog and fellow readers know what you think in either the comment section below or in any of the social media feeds where this article is posted.
Here it is (rappers are ranked in order of total grade, from best to worst):
So where did your rapper end up? And tell us why you disagree with this list, because I’m sure you do!
Oh, by the way, if you’re wondering about the average grades for each era, which may be an indicator of how the current era of rap compares to the golden era of the late 1980s or hip-hop’s commercial explosion in the 1990s, they are as follows:
1987: average grade was 84.8 (B)
1999: avg = 86.3 (B+)
2022: avg = 81.0 (B-)
Do with that info what you will. Here is the report card in table form.
|Rapper||Vocabulary||Articulation||Creativity||Originality||Versatility||Voice||Records||Stage Presence||Sticking To Themes||Innovating Rhythms/Beats||Total||Grade|
|Tyler The Creator||8||9||10||9||9||8||8||9||8||9||87||B+|
|Megan Thee Stallion||8||8||8||8||7||8||8||8||10||8||81||B-|
|A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie||6||8||8||8||7||8||8||7||8||8||76||C+|
|Chance the Rapper||7||8||8||7||8||7||7||8||8||8||76||C+|
|The Kid LaROI||7||8||7||7||7||7||8||7||8||7||73||C|
DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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