Lyrics Vs. Character
Monday October 26th 2009,
Filed under: Not Your Average,The Unkut Opinion
Written by:

It’s time to admit the awful truth – I wasted many years of my life as a lyrics nerd. From constantly rewinding ‘Prsioners of War’ to attempting to memorize Percee-P‘s ‘Lung Collapsing Lyrics’ and even listening to Soul On Ice multiple times. Sure, I appreciated the genius of Willie D‘s Shout Rap and enjoyed NWA as much as anyone, but I also went through a period of dismissing a lot of great records for their low syllable count. Then one day, I woke up and began to understand just how important the ‘Character MC’ really is. Hearing rap fans complain that rhymers like Blaq Poet, Big Twin and Tim Dog are garbage reminds me of the lessons that should have been learned during the dreaded Backpack Era – a lot of complicated but ultimately dull rhyme schemes over bland beats. Bogged down by their notebooks, the Lyricist Lounge Generation produced some incredibly boring music.

Somebody like Tupac, however, was able to overcome whatever limitations he had as an MC by projecting so much raw emotion into his vocals that you had to take notice, while a Too $hort is able to get over based on his larger-than-life character. The unfortunate side-effect of this phenomenon is that far too many rapper dudes now think they can get over on attitude alone. When these same characters are revealed to be as dull-as-dishwater, that’s where the problems start. The essential quality of any ‘character rapper’ is that you actually require an appealing personality to begin with – if you’re no Bushwick Bill, then you might want to actually put some time into those bars. That being said, when you’re able to find a technically proficient MC with an entertaining personality to boot, you’re onto a winner. Big L, Lord Finesse, KRS-One, Sean Price and early Kool Keith spring to mind as good examples of this. It’s tough to call which is worse – bland but decent rhymers or lyrical under-achievers who can still provide some amusement?

The idea that any hip-hop fanatic might fail to appreciate the charisma, presence and technique of an MC simply because they don’t sound like a Big Pun rip-off is pretty disturbing. If you hate Infamous Mobb for being ‘too street’ and fail to acknowledge the blissful ignorance of Gucci Mane‘s ‘Wasted’ then you might as well go and sit in your parent’s basement and listen to all your Canibus CD’s while you punch through a few cones of that kush. A knocking beat and the right attitude on the track can work wonders, which is why the recent work of Prodigy still gets burn in my ride. P’s whole state of mind on those albums really translates through the speaker, regardless of how ‘simple’ his lyrics might sound in comparison to early Mobb music. Not to say that I encourage the dumbing down of rap by any means, but a dope beat and a rapper with some personality should never be underestimated.

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33 Comments so far
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100 percent agree…madlib with lootpack…crate diggin is by no means super lyrical..but cds in my crates like crack in my pocket-you can tell the dude has character and knows what hes talking about…& the term multi syllable and wicked multis is such a white person term too…im white, but its like dammn these backpack rappers must just write all the rhyming words down they know on a page and loosely link it together with joining words and voila your the next hot thing on the mic…fail. give me odb anyday

Comment by dialect 10.26.09 @

couldn’t have said it better myself.. i’ll take good melodies and cleverly put quotables over lyrical intergalactic sword swingin’ any day..

young jeezy’s songwriting (melody & ear for beats) and positive message > mr. i’ll lyrically murder a verse and mostly make music that doesn’t matter

Comment by rek 10.26.09 @

Well said Robbie…..

E.P.M.D. were never the most lyrical cats, but they still managed to make bonafied classics…

Comment by shamz 10.26.09 @

for example, O.C. is a cat with mad personality, and his rhymes are pretty decent, but not “omg what did he just say” type ish, or like vinnie paz, used to be a lyrical beast, but just dumbed his shit down so it would appeal to a wider audience, so yeah i think there is a fine balance between the two, but if you have personality and rhymes, then its definitely the one-two punch

Comment by gstatty 10.26.09 @

I think PMD was a beast on the mic, at the peak of his career.

Comment by Antonio 10.26.09 @

This article takes me back to a comedian’s routine on an early episode of Def Comedy Jam. He proclaimed his love for early Hip Hop (Sugar Hill Gang), but then put on a hoodie and pulled down over his head and said he couldn’t understand the younger cats talkin’ ’bout: “I got mad styles, I got mad rhymes….” A well focused article Robbie!

Comment by Bug 10.26.09 @

yo so true robbie. odb is probably one of the best of all time just cuz he did what he wanted…like literally whateva he wanted and we loved it. overdue post

Comment by money mercilesz 10.26.09 @

Wow. Finally Robbie said it! I agree with everything.. but GUCCCI MANE? Maybe I’m too old school but I can’t fucks with oh boy.

Comment by William M. Holla 10.26.09 @

Word ta moms. For example:

Bumpy Knucks….got made hate on this site from some cats in that post about “wasted beats” but if ya’ll do the knowledge, Foxx be droppin gems on the daily.

Comment by H.R. Paperstaxxx 10.26.09 @

odb could rhyme with complex patterns sometimes.

Comment by gx 10.26.09 @

a common opinion/retort on message boards that pisses me off:

“if you dont like <> its because you’re old/a backpacker” – what theres no in between? Just cos I think Gucci Mane is rubbish it doesnt mean I only check for Ugly Duckling and Jurassic 5.

the assumption seems to be that all these mcs that people ‘hate on’ appeal to kids which I’m just not getting. all under 18s like shit music? cant be true.

Comment by step one 10.26.09 @

neva said he wasnt complex…just sayin he did exactly what he wanted to do…sing scream…play lyrics backwards…..sound effects.”din dunt duhh..enter the wutang swarm”…like whatever he felt at the time and it was all dope.Not even Kool Keith could break boundaries like he did and still come off as fresh as odb.

Comment by money mercilesz 10.26.09 @

I can’t believe people still like thug gutter rap. Some loser negro from the projects rhyming about drugs and guns and pretending to be introspective at times is so fuckin gayish and lame.

Thats why Cormega and Raekwon sucks but Joe Buddens is the best rapper

Comment by chitown liotta 10.26.09 @

how in the fuck is joe budden better than mega and rae? i even like joe budden, but that’s just stupid.

back to the point: great piece, robbie. i’ve been feeling like this for a minute. there are rappers like talib kweli, who have nice lyrics, but when you get down to the meat of it (||), he’s kinda boring (mainly his newer stuff, i still fux with reflection eternal real heavy). the opposite is true with dudes like p and big twins. they’re entertaining as hell, but they’ve got some really terrible lyrics.

cats like sean p are definitely the middle ground of this. they’re entertaining to listen to, but they don’t overburden a song with multis and what-not

Comment by WallySean 10.26.09 @

Most definitely, I agree.

But it does have its limits. Some stuff is just asinine beyond any amount of character in the world, i.e. Tim Dog. If you can’t provide fascinating wordplay, the least you could do is stay on beat and not sound like you just started rappin’ yesterday.

But still… character, delivery, etc. go a long way… much further than how witty and wordy the shit looks on paper.

I’ve always told people, there were lots and lots of lyrically-proficient MC’s back in the day, especially during the post-Rakim/G Rap/Kane era where every other rapper was tryna be all polysyllabic and multi-crazy… but why doesn’t anyone ever talk about all those guys today? Because they were missing elements about either their music or their presence that would’ve made them more notable than they are.


Comment by DANJ! 10.26.09 @

Oh, and shining examples- Ras Kass and Talib Kweli. They got a few joints here and there, but there’s a lot of less-verbose rappers I’d listen to before I bump their shit.


Comment by DANJ! 10.26.09 @


Tim Dog gets his in on that Ultra album though.

Penecillin on Wax? G’head and have it.

Just my opinion.

Comment by H.R. Paperstaxxx 10.26.09 @

For the record Joe Buddens sucks. I agree that character and personality carry over a lot. That definitely contributed to the success of Wu-Tang. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice on the mic (well not U-God) but they also had interesting characters which added another element. Big L is another great example. He was the whole package. His lyrics were nice, and while he said some exagerated/funny shit, it worked because dude was smooth and could pull it off.

Comment by BIGSPICE 10.26.09 @

I disagree about O.C. not being a great lyricist.

Comment by Daniel Beaulieu 10.26.09 @

No disrespect, but I guess that anybody with more than 5 or ten years of listening to hip hop has come to such a conclusion.
Also, it’s pretty obvious that if you started listening to rap music when they were all about multisyllabic rhymes you’ll be probably heavily influenced by this and you definitely won’t be able to stand this whole swagger gimmick, but there will still be some notable exceptions.

Case in point: IMHO that Slaughterhouse album sucked major balls -even though some ten years ago I would’ve been much more enthusiastic about their rhyme patterns- while the last ‘Mega album definitely has much more impact because of what and also HOW the concepts have been put down. And I’m not saying that because ‘Mega uses some weird adlibs or something, it’s just because it’s well-written.

The bottom line could be: “First of all them tight niggas with that spaced out shit/ I stick a rocket up in they ass and give em a lift”
Words of wisdom

Comment by reiser 10.27.09 @

in the end, the ultimate test is
the song/album was released.

That’s all that matters.
Thats why cats like Snoop, Eminem, ODB, Biz Markie, Redman, Method Man, Scarface, Cube, Jay, Big L, Kane, Rakim etc – are great classic MCs…

Comment by Question Marc 10.27.09 @

Robbie is enjoying Gucci Mane songs? Can da streetz smell a Unkut UGK ephiphany post?

Honestly, though, Prodigy’s best moments from the past 4 or so years are as good as any of the classic 90s Mobb shit. The more he’s been punked by other rappers, the more ostentatious and nasty his rapping has become. Mac Ten Handle, Raining Guns And Shanks and Mobb’s Put ‘Em In They Place are masterpieces.

Comment by MF 10.27.09 @

Kool Keith never lost it

Comment by chu 10.27.09 @

i’d hate to say it, but blaq poet isn’t fresh anymore.. Did dude leave his stamp early on in the game? Of course.. can’t take that away from him.. much respect and all buutt but do i wanna hear dude nowadays? nooo.. Same with Big Shug (although he has great beat selections).. and all the mobb deep off shoots are terrible.. every branch of infamous mobb and illa ghee.. dudes just can’t rap.. you have to think if cats like Nas and Big Daddy Kane came in the game like that (sounding like their hangers on), they would’ve been promptly laughed out of it..
As far as older heads who still got charisma.. I’d have to go with Grand Daddy I.U.. though a lil rusty, he still has something important to say and says it in a dope manner.. Ed O.G… though sometimes inconsistent still has It.. Cormega sounds like one of the first internet emcee.. has rhymes but can’t flow to save his life.. I got his album too so i’m not just talkin shit.. Sean Price.. Altered his rhyme content and flow a little and is by far one of the freshest and most entertaining characters in hip hop (and he doesn’t even have to yell)
A.G. is the man.. always.. Just needs to dump DJ Design.. (no more new age/world beats..)
I think Grand Puba is one of the best examples of a rapper who can say the simplest stuff and still be entertaining as hell.. devin the dude too.. A lot of these other dudes.. O.G.’s and Newjacks alike, need to hang it up!

Comment by TCOR 10.27.09 @

Damn I hate to say this because I have mad respect for all those who love Hip-Hop but some of the comments I’ve been reading lately on this site are straight garbage. I’ll put it down in order for y’all:

1)Madlib better stay off the mic, no matter how much you love his beats (which bore me after two minutes but hey that’s me)
2)Young Jeezy sucks
3)E.P.M.D. were never the most lyrical cats? are you serious?maybe they weren’t if compared to Ra, G.Rap or Kane but c’mon Erick and Parish have been lyrically consistent for at least four albums.
4)O.C. and Freddie Foxxx are two of the best mc’s ever and if you don’t believe it maybe you have never seen them live rapping their asses off.
5)Blaq Poet’s last album is killing it.
6)Grand Puba saying “the simplest stuff”?you must be out of your mind…the man’s got crazy flow with mad concepts…definitely the wrong example to make to describe someone lacking lyrical skills..

I think the best example in the category Robbie posted on is Noreaga. He could never really rhyme but he could set a track on fire at least in his early days when everyone wanted him as a guest on tracks.

Comment by ceedub 10.29.09 @

the D.O.G
Best that ever did it.

Comment by tareq 10.29.09 @

Sean Penn has his head so far up that he doesn’t see that Chavez is a dictator ruining Venezuela and exporting drugs, corruption, and violence throughout Latin America.
Sean should stick to acting and stay out of politics.
Megan Mills

Comment by Megan Mills 10.29.09 @

mc hammer, there you have it, no more comments anybody, he had the personality and the rhymes, you guys can’t touch this mc, literally, i’m totally cereal guys, oh and homie the clown, okay thats my two, homie would be in full face paint with a mean mug, guy carried around a sock with rocks in it, thats more gully than any hardbody talking ex-convict rapper, eff a tooly son, homie the clown had socks with rocks, respect his wig hairs

Comment by gstatty 10.29.09 @

man..i meant in comparison to a canibus or saafir (Puba Maxwells the man!).. he was more by the book (flow wise..) he was basically the drunk uncle 5%er of rap.. always said some real insightful shit to say.. and sometimes simple is better anyways..

Comment by TCOR 10.29.09 @

I personally think the argument either way does not count if an emcee is spectacular in either category e.g. Pharoahe Monch is so ridiculously technically able that even if he was monotone or something it wouldn’t matter, Talib is an example of this imo.

But yeah a balance is far more preferable but thats what separates a good emcee from a legendary one. Prodigy used to be so revered as he was technical as well as just raw.

Comment by Victor 11.01.09 @

@ Megan Mills

I think u got the wrong Sean P,the one we talkin about is a rapper lmao (unless i missed something)

Comment by dj blendz 11.01.09 @

You rap fan guys are really passionate about your PERSONAL viewpoint.

Comment by damestatus 11.02.09 @

On The Money Rob..

Comment by Dontez 12.15.09 @

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