Hip-hop is a gladiator’s sport. Yes, that description may be a bit too violent for the constant gossiping, Twitter and YouTube beefin’, Instagram stuntin’, and “fade” catchin’ that typifies America’s greatest cultural export since rock ‘n’ roll. But there are no holds barred when it comes to expressing our love and/or hate for the men and women that occupy the mainstream rap octagon. When it comes to calling out names, sometimes for their lack of musical talent, but more often for their lack of social graces and weak branding schemes, our mockery can be endlessly cruel.
Mainstream rap was a schoolyard playground well before the Internet. Old heads will remember how fans clowned LL Cool J for calling himself “the best rapper in the world,” spread rumors about the late Eazy-E being only 16 when he dropped Eazy-Duz-It, and joked that Big Daddy Kane’s looked like he had AIDS due to his astonishingly thin appearance on Heavy D & the Boyz’ “Don’t Curse” video. No matter how great you are as an artist, there’s always a hater trying to bring you down. Perhaps these picks for the rappers the Internet loves to bash should take solace from being in such great company.
10. Logic: Whenever I mention Logic to my colleagues, I get the equivalent of an eye roll. He obviously has skills – check out his bounce cadences on “Like Woah,” or his battle-ready rhymes on “44 Bars.” But he usually combines those talents into a package that sounds like Post-Millennial Rap 101 (see Drake, Kanye West, Big Sean, etc.). Still, the way tastemakers hate on him because he manages to have chart success in spite of his faults seems more like envy than righteousness.
9. G-Eazy: Nothing’s wrong with G-Eazy, per se. You could substitute this name for Machine Gun Kelly, Post Malone, Twenty Nine Pilots, or any other white rapper that inexplicably gets pop radio spins despite making generic-ass music. At least the rise of the meme-manipulated streaming hit gives Rae Sremmurd, Migos and other acts that dyed-in-the-wool rap fans actually care about an equal chance at Billboard glory.
8. Troy Ave: This Crown Heights, Brooklyn rapper has had a target on his back ever since he called king Kendrick “a weirdo rapper” on his 2013 indie hit New York City. Since then, he’s been mocked for numerous “fails,” from catching flak for only selling 5 copies of Major Without a Deal after EMPIRE dropped it a week early, to releasing the near-pornographic “Sex Tape.” Given his modest talents – New York City had some spark, but he hasn’t made anything interesting since – the constant teasing seems relatively low stakes.
7. Macklemore: Remember when folks hated Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for blowing up with “Thrift Shop” and, more egregiously, winning the 2013 Grammy for Rap Album of the Year over Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, M.A.A.D City? Well, This Unruly Mess I Made has proven them to be a one-album wonder. Given his subsequent handwringing over the fame “Thrift Shop” brought him, Macklemore is probably more relieved than we are.
6. Lil Yachty: As the prototypical “mumble rapper,” Lil Yachty is the latest symbol for old heads of how “wack” hip-hop has become since the glory days, whenever those were. His “1 Night” hit is relatively harmless, even though you’d be forgiven for initially mistaking his voice for former “Tuesday” star turned milkbox candidate I Love Makkonen.
5. Iggy Azalea: After Iggy Azalea cheekily rapped, “I’m the slave master,” rap fans have treated this Australian émigré as the devil incarnate. She has mostly disappeared since last year’s “Team” single bombed. But unlike Macklemore, whom is now treated as a clumsy but ultimately earnest artist, antipathy remains high for Miss Azalea. Maybe her recent “flings” with French Montana will help.
4. Meek Mill: Pound-for-pound, this Philadelphia spitter is one of the hardest-hitting voices in recent memory. He hearkens to an era when rap meant rap, not some unholy mixture of “wavy” off-tune crooning and simon-says word schemes. So why does he keep catching L’s? Whether it was Drake’s infamous and entirely unearned TKO against him during their 2015 beef; his recent breakup with Nicki Minaj; or the fact that he can’t seem to translate his superior mixtapes into standout retail albums; he always gives Internet asshats plenty of material to use against him.
3. Drake: The most popular rappers tend to draw the most haters. It’s part of the gift and the curse, as Jay Z once put it. This Canadian rapper has invited skepticism ever since he magically earned a deal with Lil Wayne’s Young Money label after cashing out his Degrassi High: The Next Generation checks on a few mixtapes. Much of the criticism surrounding him has less to do with his music – he’s clearly one of the most influential rap artists of the decade – than whether he deserves GOAT status. There’s a nagging suspicion that he may sell more albums than anyone else, but he hasn’t reached the artistic heights of, say, Kendrick Lamar or Kanye West. Fake social media stunts like his Instagram flicks with Jennifer Lopez don’t help, either.
2. Azealia Banks: Where should we begin? How about her claims that she conducts voodoo rituals in her closet? Or how she keeps getting kicked off social media platforms for making stereotypical comments about other cultures? For those of us who use to rock her early hits like “212” on repeat, we can only marvel sadly at how it’s all gone downhill for this former rising star.
1. J Cole: Okay trolls, here’s your chance. Cue up the “J Cole went platinum with no features” meme. Trot out the “why is J Cole so mediocre” threads. Bring up the fact that he always seems to rap about bowel movements. For every 1000 overly enthusiastic J Cole fans (as well as critics, too), there’s a loud “tastemaker” arguing about why he seems underserving of his three platinum albums as well as his current hit 4 Your Eyez Only. The debate centers on whether he deserves to be ranked among the best of the new school; or should be regarded as the Supertramp of the 2010s, an anodyne hitmaker that will mostly be forgotten years from now.