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Is Notorious B.I.G. the Greatest Rapper of All Time?


Back when he was beefing with LL Cool J, Canibus spit a rap line that made me shake my head: “Cuz the greatest rapper of all time died on March 9th.”

He was speaking, of course, about Notorious B.I.G., and anointing Biggie Smalls as the best rap ever as a way to slight LL, who considers himself the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time).

Over time, Canibus’ claim is something that a large percentage of hip-hop fans have grown to believe. Well, except 2Pac fans. I’m sure earning a biopic helped cement Biggie’s “greatest” status.

So here we are — March 9. Because of that Canibus line I’ll never forgot what day Biggie died. It was 12 years ago today. Currently I’m bumping “Life After Death” (which I still say is a vastly overrated album, it’s hardly five-mic worthy) and pondering Biggie’s place among hip-hop’s elite.

Is Notorious B.I.G. the Greatest Rapper of All Time? I don’t think so. He was great, sure. But the greatest? I’ll take Rakim, Ice Cube and 2Pac first. I’d also say Jay-Z — even though he built much of his career on B.I.G.’s death — ranks higher.

Responses to "Is Notorious B.I.G. the Greatest Rapper of All Time?"

dominic says:

Oz, don’t leave off KRS-One, and I’d also throw in Chuck D, although he often gets left out of the conversation because of his hype man. If he would stay out of the movies, I’d say Mos Def would have had a shot at being in the conversation, but he ruined that. And for originality, what about Em? Rakim definitely top three!

Mike Oz says:

KRS and Chuck are definitely up there.

I don’t think Mos is anywhere in the conversation. He had one great solo album, one great group album, a handfull of good singles on a Rawkus and a couple forgettable albums.

The man who I didn’t name, but to me at least is probably both my favorite and the most skilled rapper of all time is … Andre 3K. He just needs to get back to rapping.

dominic says:

I thought about Andre, but he’s getting a little off the mark with singing with John Legend and what not, not to say he wasn’t the star of that track. Mos needs to get back on the Kweli vibe and I think he could be mentioned again.

And when the hell is Luscious Left Foot dropping? Along with 3K’s album? They have been on the back burner for a minute now.

Gotta give a shout to Shock G, maybe the most entertaining of all time!

brodiemash says:

I can’t say that Biggie is the G.O.A.T. but I can say that I enjoy a B.I.G. album more than a 2Pac one. His storytelling, his lyricism, his ability to paint a picture in your head as he’s spews his tales was uncanny.

will says:

no … vanilla ice, thankyouverymuch.

Mike Oz says:

@brodiemash: Good point about a Big album vs. a Pac album.

I’d say “Ready to Die” is better than any Pac album. But “All Eyez on Me,” the Makavelli album and Me Against the World are all better than Life After Death.

Song by song, I’d say I’d prefer a 20-song mix of Pac more than Biggie.

dominic says:

As far as Tupac vs. Biggie, I’ll take Tupac. More hits, longevity, and styles. Ready to Die was great, but All Eyez On Me killed it!

floyd says:

i feel left out because my preference in music is totally subjective to my mood. to me, the greatest of all time is what i feel like listening to “right now.”

is anyone else like that?

me personally, i like rappers that “drop game.” b.i.g. didn’t have much game, but he was hella good at rapping. mac dre was more entertaining and gamey, 2pac was realer, big l was wilder w/his lyrics and better at rapping, ice cube was more confrontational to “the system,” ghostface is more creative, and mobb deep was grimier in a new york way. all of these respective qualities make them more relevant in certain ways and at certain times than notorious b.i.g, but none of those qualities make either of them the G.O.A.T.

b.i.g. just rapped really well. you can’t take that away from him, but it’s also silly to romanticize him because he died.

brodiemash says:

@Mike: Honestly, I haven’t heard “All Eyez On Me” in forever. I think I’ll listening to that this afternoon.

Anthony says:

I’ll take 2Pac and Cube over Biggie any day of the week. Although, Ready to Die is one of my favorite records of all time.

Kathy Mahan says:

I have no idea what I am talking about when it comes to rap, but the rappers that doesn’t make me want to hit the >> on the iPpod are: Beastie Boys and Run DMC.

k.Pizzle says:

Ras Kass Always Gets Left Off The List. And Big L.

kevikev says:

Chuck D, Rakim, KRS-One, and old school uncle L are the tops in my humble opinion. Also worthy of a mention Cube, Q-tip. I tend to hang with the old skool def jam crowd (cause I’m old).

The biggie/pac comparison really makes me laugh because fans of both are really loyal to each. Both had their finer points, but for overall quality you gotta side with PAC.

How bout starting a thread about greatest rap groups of all time? PE, the beasties, tribe, de la soul, NWA???? Yeah I kick it way old school…

benjamin says:

Is BIG the greatest rapper of all time? He was great, but I don’t think he was the greatest ever. I’ve had these arguments before about the best rapper of all time, and I’ve decided that there will never be a greatest MC of “all” time. At best, I think that BIG was one of the best of his era and location. In his own words BIGGIE did “separate the weak from the obsolete” during the mid to late 90′s.

In all honesty, neither PAC nor BIG where my favorite, and both have some horrible songs that I still can’t listen through (and if you can, then you really need help with your quality control meter). Yet PAC and BIG completely deserve a spot in the Hip Hop Hall of Fame…right next to the other lyrically powerful titans before and after their times.

*And let’s be honest, all of us true heads know at least one underground, unsung talent that could have smashed BIG or PAC in a battle. I give respect where respect is due. The title WILL always be up for grabs!

mdub420 says:

talking about who’s the greatest rapper of all time ranks up there with religion and politics that can’t be discussed civilly.

as for Big, I remember 12 years ago, the day he died, I was partying with my homies listening to 2pac’s Hit Em Up.

dominic says:

@k.pizzle – Ras Kass’ “Nature of the Threat” might be one of the greatest underground tracks of all time, but to consider him the best rapper of all time might just be heinous! I did sleep on Tip, and what about Erick B.?

Or maybe it can just go to biggest smash hit, and give love to MC Hammer! You know Oz, growing up in Oaktown, rocked the Hammer pants for a minute!

Skoolyard reppin’

brodiemash says:

@k.Pizzle: If we were to get a list of greatest lyricists, Ras Kass would have to be on there. I have a special spot in my heart for Xzibit (40 Dayz & 40 Nightz exploded my mind) and sometimes lament that the Golden State Warriors project never got off the ground with them & Saafir

Kool Keith.


BIGGIE… GOAT? For some reason I cannot agree with that. Tupac was better. I have so much respect for KRS-One. Big L’s talent seemed limitless until his death. I don’t even think I can say, for me, there is a GOAT.

Wait whatever…I pick LL Cool J. Deepest, bluest, my hat is like a shark’s fin!

rob says:

big L

k.Pizzle says:

greatest lyricists=Ras Kass

Tupac > Biggie

Nas > Jay Z

Rakim > Kane

Snoop > The Game haha

Chris says:

I’m not real sure that anyone can lay claim to the G.O.A.T. title, hip-hop is far from over, but…

All Eyez On Me, stays in rotation, no matter what, Along with The Gift and The Curse.

But of course there are arguments to be had for the ‘Kast, and every time I hear Pimp C rhyme, I turn it up. That guy was real.

The list could go on forever I think, but individuality and style are what stands out in my mind, you gotta have it. Rakim is def. on the list. Snoop, naturally, Too Short…

B.I.G. should be on the list too, but I mean seriously, G.O.A.T?? That guy couldn’t flow live for longer than 4 minutes before he had to get the oxygen tank, and surely that has some effect on the ratings…

ed says:

no way in hell biggie was the greatest. that’s a fact*.

and the biopic that came out was both terrrrrrible (thanks bill walton) and booooring (thanks homer simpson).

*fact not actually able to be able to verified because it’s all opinion

jimguy says:

If he was any good, he would have been a better gunfighter.

benjamin says:

Man its too hard to decide the G.O.A.T. there are so many styles to choose from. Biggie easily top 5 lyricist, Pac wasnt a big lyricist, i can name 20 songs where he used the word adversary. Dont get me wrong Pac is one of the greatest song writers. Nas, i love Nas def. up in the top. i think better than Jay-Z. Ether is all i gotta say. but if u want to sell a million u gotta go with Jay-z. The Game is under-rated, Big L, Man all i can say is ebonics, Papoose lol the Alphabet song. there is to many emcee’s to choose from because they all have their own style