- Rhyming skills – this doesn’t necessarily mean how fast you are as a rapper or how many tongue-twisting couplets you squeeze in a bar or how complex your rhymes are. If you can do it, great, if not, doesn’t really matter. Look at guys like Ice Cube and KRS-One. They weren’t necessarily the most complex rhymers, but they approached their rhyming with a lot of thought and they articulated their point well. Key examples: Tech N9ne, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, Chuck D, Rakim, Kool Moe Dee and GZA.
- Song-writing – the ability to craft a song; hook, structure, lyrics. There are rappers out there who have amazing rhyme skills, but can’t write a great song. It’s not just about demonstrating how nice you are on the mic, you’ve also got to be a songwriter to be one of the greatest. Key examples: Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Treach, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac.
- Creativity – How creative are is the rapper with their words? Take a look at Nas, probably the most creative emcees of all time. He’s created songs where he’s rapped from the perspective of a handgun (“I Gave You Power”), told a story backwards (“Rewind”), written a letter to a friend in prison (“One Love”), played a detective investigating the “murder” of hip-hop (“Who Killed it?”). Key examples: Nas, Andre 3000, Eminem and Common.
- Storytelling – not a necessity, a lot of great rappers never told stories, but the ones who can weave a heart-stopping narrative with precision are something special. Key examples: Biggie, Scarface, Slick Rick, Ghostface Killah, Ice-T and Kool G Rap.
- Commercial Appeal – this one’s a tough one. Great rappers shouldn’t have to sell records to be considered great, I mean look at dudes like Ras Kass and Canibus, two of most highly skilled lyricists to ever touch the mic, and they never sold that much. But then again, I think great rappers who manage to attain commercial success are able to leave a deeper impact on the genre. Key examples: Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. @distilaofficial