Now I often see threads about which K-Pop Idol Rapper is better than who, and why this one is so good and the other one is so bad... And I think to myself.
"Do these guys actually know how to judge which rapper is better than another one?"
This is where this thread comes in, even though preference in rap is mostly subjective, there is an actual science behind rap and a legitimate way to judge which rapper is more adept at their craft than the other. The rest (like looks, style and swagger) is history.
First things first, in order to judge which rapper is the best, you need to look at the criteria. I personally keep it simple with three points.
1. Vocal Tone
This criteria is considered the most subjective, because if we look at mainstream media, different rappers have different tones that work for them and are successful in those endeavors. The ideal tone is one where the voice is deep enough to carry weight to the words but also light enough to understand the diction or pronunciation.
Rappers like Method Man, Royce Da 5'9" and Jay Z have voices like that.
However it's not compulsory to have a voice like that, Eminem, Andre 3000 and Logic have particularly light voices and British rapper Giggs has a very deep voice, and they manage to do just fine.
Another ideal aspect is to have a smooth enough voice for the flow (another term we'll get too) to feel just right, but also gruff enough to add some aggression to it. This mostly depends on the song, but rappers like Immortal Technique, Tech N9ne and B.O.B have the right idea in this area.
But again, you have rappers like Rick Ross with overtly husky voices and 50 Cent with a very smooth timbre but hilariously bad diction to compensate for it.
The point I'm getting across is that, the best way to judge Vocal Tone is simply whether or not it is annoying to you or the general populace.
For example, Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj are both from New York with very similar artistry and rap styles... But why do people get annoyed with Nicki Minaj and not Lil Kim? One could argue overexposure, however it is simply due to the way the Vocal Tone fits the lyricism, delivery and the beat. Nothing to do with flow whatsoever. (It also helps that Lil Kim has a bit more bass in her voice, but whatever.)
The next thing to consider is delivery.
Now this term is often confused with flow in the sense of the definitions being mixed up. Delivery is only ever used to describe the rapper's annunciation of words, their diction and the emotion or emphasis behind each word.
For example, with songs like "Not Afraid" or "Lose Yourself" the delivery of the rapper (Eminem) is shown to be quite powerful, emotional and aggressive... Which fits the song, the artist's persona and the motif behind the songs. Whereas songs like "Mirror" (Lil Wayne) the delivery is quite lackadaisical and melancholy, the former quality fits the artist's persona but the latter fits the song quite well.
Two different types of delivery but they each fit the song well and fit the artist well... However! If they were to swap delivery for both of these songs, then it wouldn't fit nearly as well, even though both raps are quite good in their own right.
Delivery is completely dependent on three things...
The beat. The rapper/lyricist. The concept.
If a "gangster" rapper started rapping with Jimin's voice on a song like Gee, then that would be awful... However, if he started rapping with Yongguk's voice on a beat like "Lean Back" by Fat Joe, that would be perfect.
Delivery is the least subjective out of the three points, but it is still somewhat subjective to say the least. People may like hearing bars about robbing a bank from Jimin whilst "Gee Gee Gee" is playing in the background.
This one is the trickiest, because there are different types. It's akin to a singer's voice...
Now while there is a standard procedure for vocalists to follow and you can easily define a person's singing technique being bad (e.g. Bom has awful technique, whereas Ailee has beautiful technique in comparison). In rap, it's not that simple, partially due to the fact that nothing is being sung.
Flow is defined as the ability to construct the line in a manner that not only fits the bit but also doesn't disrupt the rhythmic cadence of the entire rap.
A good example of flow? "Rap God (Eminem)", "Malcolm X (Royce Da 5'9)", "No Limit (Zico)", "Memories (Yoon Mirae)".
However, you can also have bad flow in a song, but it is still considered good because of the lyricism or delivery... "Dance With The Devil (Immortal Technique)", "Yonkers (Tyler The Creator)".
You can also have stop-and-start flow where the idea is to purposely make the flow choppy in preference to the delivery.
These are the three ways to judge whether or not your bias is good at rapping, if you want some in-depth analysis you could post a video or any other type of excerpt and I could analyze it for you if you wish... Hope you all learned something.
One last thing, there are three main types of rapping style as well!
Musician's Rapper (Mu) is a rapper that can adapt to any flow and suit the genre of the beat and instrumentation, they are more prone to experimentation of sorts. Rappers that fit this description are guys like Drake, Travie McCoy, Mike Shinoda, Macklemore and Yours Truly.
Old School Rapper (Sch) is a rapper that treats their raps like a piece of furniture they need to build and know that their vocal tone is the paint, the flow is the woodwork and the delivery is materials. They pay attention to every detail in their rapping style meticulously and will make sure that the finished product is something that has their signature all over it and is sturdy and beautiful as fuck. Rappers that fit this description are guys like Tech N9ne, Immortal Technique, Nas, Eminem, Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Method Man and ironically enough Lil Wayne (although he fits all the criteria).
New Era Rapper (NE), otherwise known as the Post Hip-Hop approach. These guys are no worse than the other ones mentioned, it's just that their approach is different. New Era rappers tend to focus more on what is unique about their approach or what style suits them than the actual piece, Old School Rappers can be like that too, but what separates them is that Old School rappers are more concerned about the rap and everything to do with the rap. New Era Rappers are more concerned with how everything sounds but not to the extent where they would change up their whole style like a Musician's Rapper would. Guys like this are Kendrick Lamar, Hopsin, B.O.B, etc.
The emboldened brackets will be the style I believe that the rappers analyzed are following.