5 Rappers Who Deserve the Nobel Prize | Features | MN2S

We look at five rappers who deserve the Nobel Prize in Literature for their lyrical talents.

This year, the Nobel Prize in Literature went to a popular musician for the very first time. Bob Dylan undoubtedly preserved the prize. His lyrics are brilliant poetry, and his songs encapsulate an era. The same is also true of many rappers, and in a genre that packs in so many words per song, it seems only right that a hip hop artist should win the Nobel Prize in Literature on a future date. Here is a list of five who deserve the honour.

1. Rakim

Sample lyrics: I’m everlasting, I can go on for days and days/With rhyme displays that engrave deep as x-rays/I can take a phrase that’s rarely heard/Flip it now it’s a daily word.

Eric B & Rakim changed hip-hop forever with their albums Paid in Full, Follow the Leader, Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em and Don’t Sweat the Technique. Eric B’s production was some of the best around, but it was Rakim’s rhyming style that really shook up the game.

Before Rakim, rappers mostly delivered their lyrics on the beat in a fun, bubbly way—even when they were dealing with serious topics. Rakim was different. His lyrics took rap to the next level. He laid the groundwork for the internal rhymes-within-lines we take for granted today, and the next generation of rappers paid attention. 2pac, Jay Z, Eminem, Kanye—all the biggest rappers on the planet were influenced by Rakim. For that alone, he deserves the Nobel.

2. KRS-One

Sample lyrics: Change your attitude, change your plan/There could never really be justice on stolen land/Are you really for peace and equality?/Or when my car is hooked up, you know you wanna follow me.

KRS-One, aka ‘Teacha’ dedicated his career to educating the masses about hip-hop culture, through his music and through college lectures. The amount of knowledge and wisdom he packs into his bars is astounding, and his rhymes are as catchy as they are thought-provoking. His educational quality makes KRS-One stand out, and propels him to the level of Nobel Prize nominee.

3. Nas

Sample lyrics: Inhale deep like the words of my breath/I never sleep cause sleep is the cousin of death/I lay puzzle as I backtrack to earlier times/Nothing’s equivalent to the New York State of Mind.

Nas was following in Rakim’s footsteps, but he turned multisyllabic internal rhyme schemes into something of his own. Illmatic is one of the most cohesive and evocative albums in hip-hop, and indeed in any genre. It vividly captures life in Queensbridge, New York in the late 1980s/early 1990s, just as much as Bob Dylan’s early work captures Greenwich Village in the 1960s.

4. Andre 3000

Sample lyrics: My mind warps and bends, floats the wind, count to ten/Meet the twin Andre Ben, welcome to the lion’s den.

Andre 3000’s literary lyrics are possibly the most technically complex on this list. Able to rhyme almost every word in a line when he wants to, Andre can combine wit, wisdom and storytelling, as he does on the epic ‘A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre’ but he also championed a more abstract style of free association, which led to more creative and off the wall lyrics.

5. Kendrick Lamar

Sample lyrics: Livin’ in captivity raised my cap salary/Celery tellin’ me green is all I need/Evidently all I seen was spam and raw sardines.

Kendrick Lamar is one of the biggest selling artists in hip hop at the moment. He’s far closer to the beginning of his career than these other choices, but that shouldn’t disqualify him from hypothetical Nobel Prize consideration.

Modern Compton is to Kendrick what 80s Queensbridge is to Nas, and he made a name for himself communicating the harsh experiences he had witnessed in this town. His versatile lyricism sets him apart from his contemporaries, but it is his move into tackling important issues head-on that puts him on this list. Kendrick’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly was a celebration of black artistry that asked the hard questions about police brutality and a system that is rigged against African Americans in lessons worthy of the Teacha himself.

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