People often forget that hip-hoppers are humans, too. They breathe, sleep, eat, and salivate at the sight of buttermilk donuts just like us. And, every now and then, they'll geek over other rappers, just like us.
It would have been so much easier to compile a list of rappers dissing other rappers, but when have you known "taking the easy route" to be one of Rocks Off's shortcomings?
Album: Street's Disciple (2004)
When J. Cole first started to draw comparisons to Nas, he threw a hissy fit and shot down the comparison. Understandable. Cole is signed to Jigga's label. Plus, he doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a Nas clone. When Nas drew comparisons to the greatest lyricist of all time, Rakim, he went home and wrote a "thank you" note in the form of this geeky audiobiography.
9. Jadakiss, "Letter to B.I.G."
Album: The Last Kiss (2009)
Cuban Link once wrote a letter to Big Pun in song form, but it was more like an opportunity to air out some dirty laundry than a tribute. What makes Jada's "Letter to B.I.G." so special is that it sounds heartfelt and genuine, a few boastful lines notwithstanding. In the vein of Nas' "One Love," Kiss updates the New York icon on his family's well-being, while Biggie's ex-wifey sings the hook. "Tiana so pretty. CJ turned into Lil' Biggie, just a lil' lighter but so witty," Jada rhymes, adding this tidbit "On your Born Day, we get the highest."
8. J.Cole, "Bun B for President"
Album: Unknown (2010)
A cursory glance at this list should confirm that only a handful of artists get their just dues while they're still walking the earth. J. Cole has no problem giving his idols roses while they can still smell 'em. He already paid tribute to Nas on "Villematic." He shouts out Hov on his mixtapes. And on "Bun B for President," Cole tips his hat to the elder statesman of Southern hip-hop, while spitting lyrics nasty enough to make Pimp C smile: "I potty train niggas, yeah, it's that teach you how to shit."
7. Nas, "We Will Survive"
Album: I Am... (1999)
Verse 1 is a tribute to Biggie. Verse 2 is dedicated to 'Pac. There's also an indictment of then nemesis Jay-Z in between the two. "We Will Survive" was recorded in the middle of the east vs. west coast beefs that culminated in the deaths of two hip-hop greats. In addition to other ramifications, Big's death created a vacancy for king of New York's rapdom, and Nas took issue with a certain Brooklyn rapper who was positioning himself as Biggie's successor. Although Nas had already thrown the first stone on "Nastradamus" ("You wanna ball till you fall? Let me help you with that"), "We Will Survive" was the one that really got Jay's blood boiling.
6. Preemo, "My Letter to Ice Cube"
Album: The Magic Bullet (2011)
Preemo recalls a studio session with Ice Cube on this gem from his Magic Bullet LP. The closest we've been to Ice Cube was eating a bunch of food designated for his crew before getting chased out of the green room. Preemo got to kick it with him in the studio, smoke with him and even weigh in on a song he was recording for Laugh Now, Cry Later. "Such a trip to hear the speakers playing Cube, and you look up and he's looking back at you from the booth," Preemo remembers.
5. GZA feat. The RZA, "All in Together Now"
Album: Grandmasters, DJ Muggs vs. GZA (2005)
The RZA, GZA, and ODB formed a group in the late '80s named Force of the Imperial Master, which later became the All In Together Now. The fellas cut various tracks as a group, and this track finds GZA and RZA paying homage to the late Ol' Dirty. The All In Together Now later added more members and became known as the Wu-Tang Clan. We hear they're pretty solid.
4. Raekwon, "Ason Jones"
Album: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II (2009)
You could fill an album with ODB tributes. Most of them have come from fellow clansmen, including this Raekwon doozy from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II. Knowing that J Dilla laced this beat adds to the song's emotional aura.
3. Talib Kweli, "Ms. Hill"
Album: Right About Now (2005)
Back when everyone was praying for Lauryn Hill to get her shit together, Talib Kweli took it upon himself to write a letter of appreciation to the hip-hop queen. Backed by a sped-up sample of Ben Kweller's "In Other Words," Kweli recaps Hill's monumental career and concludes with a plea for her return.
2. Kanye West, "Big Brother"
Album: Graduation (2007)
Part appreciation, part vengeful spite, "Big Brother" paints a vivid portrait of Kanye's struggle to rise from behind the towering shadow of a giant. "Big Brother" avoids the patronizing details that often plague artist tributes. Instead, Ye drops honest, heartfelt details.
1. 2Pac, "Old School"
Album: Me Against the World (1995)
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Let the record show that Tupac Shakur was never too pompous to bow at the feet of his elders. Pac was truly a student of hip-hop. In fact, listening to his pre-Me Against The World albums gives you a sense of how well he studied his predecessors. The rhyme scheme on those late-'80s recordings betrayed his admiration for Rakim and Kool Moe Dee.
Pac, a native of East Harlem, remembers those New York greats who soundtracked his childhood. "Old School" finds him tipping his hat to highly influential artists like Grandmaster Caz, De La Soul, LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim, Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, Whodini, MC Lyte, and KRS-One.