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1520 Sedgwick Avenue: The BRA Tournament, The Notorious B.I.G. Bracket, First Round Monday, July 21, 2008

Posted by Andy Hutchins in 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, Rockabye, The BRA Tournament.

It’s a time-honored tradition in hip-hop to spend more time squawking about who the “G.O.A.T.” (Greatest of All Time, for the uninitiated) is, or squabbling over who the “Best Rapper Alive” is, than actually listening to their music and reacting to it at a personal, critical level.

Still, the idea of settling it all still fires passions and drives page views, so VIBE is doing a month-long, pale imitation of what could be a great idea. Here’s your bracket. Let’s hop in.

So I’m picking who I want to advance, who I’m voting for, and, counting the Internet’s and humanity’s proclivitites for stupidity, picking who I think will advance. (And some cases, one person will fit both.)

We’ll start with the The Notorious B.I.G. Bracket. (Thematically, I know what I would do to populate this, but I’ll get to that later.)

1) Jay-Z vs. 16) Winner of Play-In Game (Jim Jones/Diddy)

I probably shouldn’t even bother writing anything about this, but there are edges that both Jones and Diddy have against Hova. (And Diddy won that round, by the way.)

For the one who isn’t named after a cult leader, it’s his empire. Diddy prospered more from Biggie’s death than anyone (second might be Jay), by recording “I’ll Be Missing You,” shepherding Life After Death, and basically keeping the big guy’s memory alive as long as people paid for parts of it. The spotlight helped turn him from mere rap label head to mini-mogul, and everything he’s touched since, from clothing lines to reality TV, has made him money, with the exception of Jennifer Lopez, who made him, uh, other things.

And Jones is maybe the only guy to ever “win” a “beef” against Jay, landing some shots (obliterates is the wrong word) in 2006 after a laggard, half-inspired Jay foolishly tried to sort of quiet Jimmy without ethering him as he was promoting/execrating Kingdom Come.

But if we’re talking about the Best Rapper Alive, it’s about the music, plain and simple. And any one song from Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, or The Black Album slaughters either other rapper’s full career. I don’t even need a link to prove that Jay’s better than these two.

You don’t hold a candle to an inferno. And that’s why Jay-Z is my choice and my pick to advance.

8) Lauryn Hill vs. 9) Lil Kim

It’s been a hot minute since either one of these two was in their prime, which is why they could both conceivably be overseeded. But, really, they’re probably underseeded, if we look at their careers.

Lauryn Hill is the only female “hip-hop” artist to take five Grammys in one year, for the rapped/sung genius that was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. And you only need to watch Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (you know, I should review that movie) and the reunion of The Fugees to see how incredible she was in that context, too; she’s one of just a handful of artists in musical history to ever come with a classic album as a member of a group and as an individual, and she’s still got the voice and the mind to make great music.

Her musical sin, then, is of omission, because after leaving the game to raise a family, she really never came back, and it seems unlikely she ever will.

Lil Kim’s guilty of one of those, musically, but because of an actual sin of commission; her prison sentence helped KO her career, and La Bella Mafia stands as her standout, “The Jump Off” as her only great track. (That beat will set parties off until music dies, too.) She might be more integral to rap history, what with her close association to Biggie and her New York roots, but it’s doubtful that she’s currently capable of anything approaching her one decent era.

And yet, she’s the vixen here, and Lauryn’s the siren. So I’ll take Lauryn Hill, and bet the Internet following of the LGBT set gets Lil Kim through.

5) Cam’ron vs. 12) Juelz Santana

I’ll say what I think about VIBE’‘s match-ups later, but do you see a trend developing?

Cam’s the elder statesman of the Dipset, and Santana’s really only around because Cam’s theoretically the best rapper in the crew. But this is a deeply troubling matchup because each guy’s career has been so schizophrenic, despite giving the world this wonder, which has a halfway decent Jim Jones hook and manages to cross The Warriors with a bathroom for kitschy menace.

Cam’s the dude who, as Kanye put it, got pink Polos to pop, and rolled around in a pink Escalade, but he’s also a good enough rapper that he was signed to Roc-A-Fella (which, yes, only means you’re as good as Memphis Bleek) and, in spouting the “Stop Snitchin’” nonsense, got a bit of his status back on the streets.

And Julez is the Diplomats’ yipping poodle, a decent guest rapper who relies on that ad-libbed “Ay!” and sounds pretty stupid calling himself the “rap Ali” and helping start one of Deadspin’s newly deceased memes on “Mic Check,” but a lovable underdog nonetheless.

For me, it comes down to this song, which was the great lothario’s smooth jam of 2002. Juelz tries his best, in the video and the song, to come correct with his punchline-heavy style and sneak into the party, but Cam lays it down in his verse and keeps his cool. And because I know the Internet loves Cam’ron, that makes this decision fairly easy.

4) Fabolous vs. 13) Cassidy

I think Fab’s overseeded, and Cass a little underseeded, but I can count my favorite Loso cuts on every finger of my hand, including the last one’s great subliminal at his opponent here and Cassidy only has one, itself reliant on a Jay-Z sample.

So, uh, Fabolous wins. That was quick.

6) Missy Elliot vs. 11) Lil Mama

I mean, it’s not like female rappers should be segregated or anything, right?

This is actually a better match-up when one considers that these two are less female rappers than they are pop-rappers, one with great production and a style that blew people away in her prime, and one who turned cosmetics into a jam (and there’s a sick a capella in there), her MTV-aided Paula Abdul-type fame into an MTV/YouTube hit, and “A Milli” into her own.

But Missy’s on the wane, and she’s floundered on her own, hitching her star to Ciara in recent years, and Mama, despite her debut coming DOA, has the youth behind her, so I’ll go with Lil Mama.

3) Lupe Fiasco vs. 14) Q-Tip

Any tournament where Tip is a 14 seed probably should have its selection committee lobotomized, but even worse is this match-up.

It’s not fair to put Lupe, who gets branded as a “conscious rapper” when, in reality, he’s an esoteric one who happens to know a little more than most and rap well about it; he’s basically the forefather of this “hipster rap” movement, thanks to “Kick, Push,” and he’s a damn good tongue-twister who can spin a narrative, too. He tends to overindulge at times, but he’s probably in my personal top ten.

Tip, though, sort of reinvented the conscious thing after the golden era of the ’80s passed and the East/West Coast feud brewed, bringing a totally different and fresh vibe to the game in narrative form, and saying something other than “I hate cops,” which was good.

Still, he’s not nearly on Lu’s lyrical level (few are, really), and that’s why I have to go with Lupe Fiasco.

7) Mos Def vs. 10) Talib Kweli

I have to put both halves of Black Star on opposite sides? Why?

I can’t do anything with their joint work, so we’ll call that even.

For solo projects, Mos has one great album (Black on Both Sides) and Kweli has two good ones (The Beautiful Struggle and Eardrum), but each is better known to the public for something outside their own music. For the former, it’s his role in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and the latter has an epic backhanded compliment from Jay (“If skills sold/Truth be told/I’d prob’ly be/Lyrically Talib Kweli”) to thank for no shortage of his fans.

Oh, you want links? Mos leads off here, and Kweli goes in over there. (Yeah, his label’s logo is one of those Angels and Demons-style things. You and my chiropractor can thank me later.)

My personal preference is Mos’ versatility, and though either one could win this as neither really gets people up in arms online, I’m going with Mos Def.

2) Kanye West vs. 15) Foxy Brown

I should really just write Kanye West up here and be done with it, but that ruins my chance to make fun of Foxy Brown.

Look, she’s been rumored to be engaged to this. She spent eight months in prison, and, upon release, got slayed in this video (shouts to the boys at The Real; I will get you burn for that thing you sent Jerkwheat in due time) and in this article by one line about a gift shop. And she’s not even a good rapper.

If she were to advance, it would be the high point of her career.

That’s not going to happen.

So, we’re done with a quarter of the tournament, and I’ll be dropping three more of these through Thursday; Friday, I’ll be looking ahead a little bit and sharing my picks, plus rounding up and observing some bits of tid.

Vote early, and vote often, unless you’re a Soulja Boy fan, and leave your thoughts in the comments.



1. JohnG - Monday, July 21, 2008

How the fuck are Mos Def and Kweli a 7 and 10 seed, much less FACING each other? That is a traveshamockery.

2. DougOLis - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jay – easy pick
Lauryn – pretty underrated and I hate Lil Kim
I don’t know who Juelz Santana is
Fabolous is a 4? Really? Guess he still moves on here
Missy Elliot is way overrated at 6 so I pick the upset
This is a fucked up matchup but I easily give to Mos
Kanye easy

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