Part history lesson, part art project, part argument-starter, and all cool, Complex Music just dropped a long piece detailing the Best Rapper Alive each year from 1979 to 2015.
The authors acknowledge the tribalism and subjectivity that makes this an impossible task, and are quick to note that this isn't a rap Hall of Fame. Instead, "(b)eing the BRA is sort of like being the MVP—even though rap doesn’t follow a rigid cultural calendar quite like major sports seasons—because it only requires looking at the current crop of active artists and picking a winner."
Given the fairly loose guidelines Complex uses to assess the BRA, there's room for quibbling. As they say, "...one thing we know for sure, it’s more about a general feeling among fans rather than any discernible facts. (What facts? It’s all just opinion anyway.)" And if it's a feeling, give me Killer Mike in 2015 instead of Drake. The authors do cover themselves by offering a handful of honorable mentions each year.
Nearly as good as the text is the accompanying artwork, stylized portraits of each year's winner. Kool Moe Dee's wraparound shades will bring you back to 1981. LL Cool J's Kangol the same to 1985. Q-Tip and his winter hat and polo shirt in 1991 sit between Ice Cube and Redman, stylistic differences obvious visually as much as they were sonically. It's worth a skim just for the art.
I'd love to hear the opinions of people who actually know what they're talking about on this topic. I expect response tracks from Mark and Z by the end of the week.