And now for a detour: Avery Tooley basically reprises my entire 9th grade year of high school by resurrecting the greatest debate of our time--Rakim or Big Daddy Kane. Non-hip-hop heads, leave while you can. This discussion is headed into the realm of a black nerd, whose ghetto pass hinged on his ability to offer a flawless rendition of The Symphony.

Those were the days, no? I always thought Kool G Rap killed that joint, and then I started really started listening hard to Kane. He was a master of MCing in its purest form--braggadocio, humor, timing and rhythm. I've heard very few MCs who sound more natural. I love Jay, but Kane was Jay in his time, but so much smoother--"I can let lyrics blast like a bullet\My mouth is a gun, on suckers I pull it\The trigger, you figure, my pockets getting bigger\Cause when it comes to money, yo Grant's my nigger."

That said, for my money, Rakim was the first dude I heard who took the simple and egotistical claim at hip-hop's core ("I'm badder than you.") and raised it to literature. To the day I die I will maintain that the greatest statement of the power of African-American identity and culture is contained in this simple couplet:

I can take a phrase that's rarely heard
Flip it, now it's a daily word.

Of course, Rakim was specifically talking about his own MC abilities, but this is what I mean about his greatness as an MC. At his best, he managed to make the standard claims of the usual braggarts, but he always manged to say more. When I was writing my book, all I wanted to know was to be able to write like Rakim (and his progeny Nas, Black Thought etc.) wrote. I love Kane, but Rakim was just nasty. Anyway, a bit of nostalgia below.

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