Every year since the early beginnings of rap music, we’ve watched and danced as the genre has grown and branched away from sitting and having fun rhyming on your street corner or school bus. We’ve seen the incredible rise of rappers over the years (Master P, Eminem, Ja Rule) just as we’ve seen the disappointing falls (Canibus, Ja Rule, 50 Cent) of some of our favorite emcees.
It was during the discussion of these trends in rap music that I decided to take a look back over the years and find the MVP from each year.
As 2011 heads into its final turn, each week I’m going to take a look and list the Most Valuable Rapper from 1985-2011, one year at a time.
What goes into selecting the MVP? Record Sales, Song quality, Rap skills and overall presence in music. I’m not just going to give someone MVP because they sold the most records. If I did that, we’d have some interesting winners. With all of that being said, let’s start with 1985’s winner.
Rap’s Most Valuable Player: 1985 – LL Cool J
Could it really have been anyone else? By 1985, LL had taken over rap music. His legendary album Radio, although released in November of 1985, was the first full-length album release of Def Jam Recording. The album saw the b-boy rapping style of LL brought to the mainstream forefront, along with an album that included the emphasis of the downbeat and DJ scratching. This album also helped launched the career of producer Rick Rubin. His braggadocio raps allowed the album to see sales that hip-hop releases did not normally receive at that time.
A person once told me that this is the most important album release in hip-hop history. Although I didn’t agree, I didn’t necessarily disagree either because you could make the case that it is. Does Def Jam ever become the empire that it became without the release of this album and success of this artist? This album ushered in a new era of hip-hop, which saw mainstream success. Fueled by singles such as “I Can’t live without my Radio” and “Rock the Bells, “Radio received the first platinum plaque for DeF Jam and catapulted LL into the national spotlight.
Melle Mel – After delivering a memorable verse on Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s “The Message,” Mel appeared on the Grammy’s that year alongside Chaka Khan, allowing the award show to acknowledge rap music.
Run DMC – Released a followup to a classic by putting out King of Rock. Although a decent album, this released was considered a disappointment compared to the success of Run-D.M.C.
Too Short – Your favorite pimp’s favorite rapper. Too Short was releasing tapes all across the west coast that gained him steady popularity, which grew into momentum before his first major release.
Next week: 1986.