My friend Sunny brought an interesting question to my attention (which was posed by Asim Chaudhry on Romesh Ranganathan’s Hip-Hop Saved My Life podcast):
which artist has the strongest discography?
Now this is a really difficult question to answer. I’ve seen people come to blows because another person couldn’t accept that Rakim/Nas/2Pac/Biggie weren’t the best rapper of all time. But we aren’t looking to find the ‘best rapper ever’; we are looking for the artist who can be most proud of their discography.
Hip-hop is a reasonably new art, so we only have to look back to 1979. In the early days, I think it is fair to say that output was limited, but by the mid-80s hip-hop had really taken off.
Unpicking the question
Pride is a difficult thing to measure. We’ve taken a really basic measure for pride: critical ratings. Not a great measure, but possibly the best we have to hand.
An artist’s discography is a unwieldy and complex beast too. Take for example Pharoahe Monch: one half of Organized Konfusion, a solo artist with four albums, plus a host of amazing guest slots on various mixtapes and soundtracks (see Oh No , Mayor , Got/F* You ).
We decided to take full album releases as an artist’s body of work.
I originally took the scoring from Metacritic, but their scores don’t go back further than 2001, which discounted a lot of stuff. I turned to Allmusic.com and used their scoring throughout (except a couple – they are the ones not rounded to tens). The 5-star ratings were converted to percentages (each full star equals 20%, so e.g. = 70%).
Where Allmusic.com reviews are not available, I have defaulted to metacritic. Where there is no metacritic score, I have calculated an average rating from the following sources: Exclaim, HipHopDX, NME, OkayPlayer, RapReviews, Rolling Stone, Spin, and XXL. These sources were chosen as the most hip-hop-focussed, long-running and likely to actually have reviewed the work.
- Must have at least 3 full albums (not EPs)
- Doesn’t include any EPs, guest appearances, compilations or mix tapes
- Can include genuine partnership albums e.g. Black Star counts towards Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s scores as truly joint, but GZA can’t count Wu Tang Clan’s albums
- We’ve cut off at groups with max 3 MCs for work to be classed towards the individual
- Doesn’t include compilations or live albums
- The album had to sell ‘enough’ so someone actually heard it and there was a possibility of it being reviewed somewhere
Sunny guessed LL Cool J. I said The Roots (but I am biased).
Progress so far
Okay, here we go
- Some great artists don’t make the cut (The Fugees – they only did 2 albums)
- Working out which album counts towards the total was hard
- Working through the aliases was harder – looking at you Kool Keith
- Find some of the more obscure albums was impossible
- All scoring is subjective – I disagree with some Allmusic.com scores, but I tried to keep it consistent
- Some scores are missing – you can add them
- I have no idea how to deal with super producers (like DJ Krush or DJ Shadow) who released solo work