#3 Hottest MC in the Game: Kanye West
Some artists are so hot, they can make up for almost a full year out of the spotlight in just a few short months. Well, at least Kanye West can.
Even though he was featured on popular songs like “Forever,” with Drake, Eminem and Lil Wayne, and Jay-Z’s “Run This Town,” ‘Ye essentially went into hiding after his infamous run-in with Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs, traveling to Europe to intern at Fendi and, later, Hawaii to begin recording his forthcoming LP, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, due November 22. While he resurfaced with the anthemic single “Power” in late May and its accompanying “Portrait of Power” art installation in early August, it was really the oddest of things — his joining of Twitter — that signified Kanye was ready to get back in the mix. To that end, perhaps his Twitter apology to Taylor Swift in early September was the moment when he officially shrugged off the cobwebs and said, “OK, let’s do this.”
Since then, it’s been ‘Ye Day every day, to the point where the MTV News Hip-Hop Brain Trust has voted him the #3 Hottest MC in the Game, up one position from last year’s list and down from his #1 bow in 2008.
A lot of Kanye’s recent buzz has been built off his G.O.O.D. Friday series of song leaks.
“He’s basically putting out a mixtape on the radio,” MTV News supervising producer Sean Lee said during the Hottest MCs roundtable discussion. “These songs are throwaways for his album. He’s taking this beat from here, this feature on here, let me get this person on here, and putting them out to the public. And the public is consistently responding to these records.”
It’s one thing to put out new music and another altogether to put it out with such consistent star power and quality. He was the first person to get RZA and Jay-Z on a song together (“So Appalled”), he got singer Ryan Leslie to spit some verses (“Christian Dior Denim Flow”), and he even mashed up Justin Bieber with Wu-Tang’s Raekwon the Chef (“Runaway Love” remix). Then there’s the song “Runaway,” with Pusha T, which he debuted at the VMAs. And even after dissing “Saturday Night Live” on “Power,” he was so heavy in the game that they had to invite him on the show to perform anyway.
“I think it’s the rebranding of Kanye West,” MTV News associate producer Steven Roberts said. “The fact that he’s come back out, these big grandiose performances, closing out the VMAs, him on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ the songs every Friday. It’s not just the hip-hop community that’s looking out to him; it’s the entire music community looking out to Kanye West.”
What’s more, Kanye has done everything with a very polished artistic sensibility. No other rapper could pull off having director Marco Brambilla create their very own moving art installation in place of the traditional music video. In fact, probably no other rapper would even think of it.
“One of the things we’ve consistently said about him on this list with regard to his impact is his ability to push the culture forward in different ways,” Lee said. “That ‘Power’ video, there’s not a lot of artists that can do that, a 90-second moving painting where he doesn’t even perform.”
Additionally, Kanye’s been trotting the globe premiering “Runaway,” a 35-minute short film, starring himself and model Selita Ebanks, that serves as a companion piece to his new LP. It’s received strong reviews and added to what is perhaps ‘Ye’s biggest buzz ever heading into the release of an LP.
West was rewarded for his work with Jay-Z at the 2010 Grammys, taking home awards for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song for “Run This Town,” and now he’s prepping a proper EP with his big brother called Watch the Throne, tentatively due in stores right before Thanksgiving.
Kanye is so hot right now, XXL handed him the entire magazine for the month of October, even letting him write his own cover story. How’s that for power?
#2 Hottest MC in the Game: Jay-Z
Good music stands the test of time. Just ask Jay-Z.
The Roc Nation chief spent the better part of 2010 riding the wave of success from 2009’s The Blueprint 3. Songs like “Empire State of Mind,” “Forever Young,” “On to the Next One” and “Run This Town” kept BP3 on the Billboard albums chart for 56 weeks, well into 2010. Jay racked up awards for Best Rap Solo Performance for “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song for “Run This Town” at the Grammys. He won CD of the Year for BP3 and Best Live Performer at the BET Hip-Hop Awards. He toured the country on the BP3 Tour (which yielded him a reported $1 million a show) and split Home and Home dates in Detroit and New York with Eminem.
All that was more than enough for the MTV News Hip-Hop Brain Trust to crown Jay-Z the #2 Hottest MC in the Game this year, down one slot from last year’s list, where he held down the top position (he was #2 in 2008 and #7 in 2007).
“Jay has legacy, which you can’t ignore if you’re just talking about the last 12 months,” MTV News senior writer Jayson Rodriguez said during the Hottest MCs roundtable. “What Jay does better than anybody is he leverages his past legacy to do things now.”
The type of seniority Jay has in the game is evidenced best when he appears on others’ songs, and 2010 found him doing a lot of that. There was his scene-stealing verse on Rick Ross’ “Free Mason,” on which he addressed the conspiracy theorists that took him to task for his “On to the Next One” video. Then there were a handful of Kanye West records, like “Monster,” “So Appalled” and the “Power” remix. And there was the Drake cut “Light Up.” He was even called on to make a song for charity in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, linking with Rihanna and U2’s Bono and The Edge for “Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour).”
“There’s nobody in the game that’s even coming close to spitting how Jay is doing,” MTV News’ Shaheem Reid said. “When you talk about Hottest MCs, that’s the very foundation … and Jay is just murdering everything in hip-hop right now, lyrically.”
And then there’s the things Jay does outside of hip-hop (he’s not a businessman; he’s a business, man). Despite not being able to woo LeBron James to New Jersey, he’s still a minority owner in the Nets. Along with Will Smith and his wife Jada, Jay produced the Tony-winning Broadway play “Fela.” Plus, he’s the head of Roc Nation, which manages acts as wide-ranging as Mark Ronson, the Ting Tings and recent signee Willow Smith. He also still has a pair of 40/40 sports clubs in New York and Atlantic City, New Jersey. All these ventures allowed Jay to top Forbes‘ Hip-Hop Cash Kings list, with $63 million earned in 2010 alone.
But Jay didn’t make it to #2 without contention. In fact, the roundtable initially voted him #1. He wasn’t demoted because of anything he did, per se, but more so because Eminem had a more impactful year.
“Jay owned last year; it carried over into this year,” MTV News senior producer Rahman Dukes said. “[But] if you want to look at it like a 12-month period, it’s not been bigger than Eminem. If you asked Jay himself, I bet you he’d tell you Eminem had a better year than him.”
Many on the roundtable claimed Jay was using his verses on Kanye’s songs to keep himself relevant, since Hov didn’t drop a new album this year.
“All the legacy aside and everything we talk about, we made Jay #1 last year based on the work that he put in,” MTV New supervising producer Sean Lee said. “I know he shined on some verses, but when you look over the course of a year … “