Competition is as inherently hip hop as rhyming and self glorification.
The title of best rapper alive and greatest of all time is constantly debated and only 16 bars away for some artists. Recently, Twitter has been abuzz with a conversation about two unlikely rappers that are, honestly, tough to compare: Drake and Nelly.
Though both artists have earned immense commercial praise, it’s hard to base our argument solely on record sales. After all, Nelly’s heyday was before the advent of organized internet music streaming. Names like Spotify and Tidal were unrealized gibberish in the ethos. Bearshare, Limewire, and Napster were the conduits in which music was exchanged, and because of the programs’ illegal nature, download statistics are impossible to track.
Still, Nelly garnered an amazing 21.815 million record sales as of June 2014. Drake, on the other hand, is known as the greatest commercially successful rapper of our time. Constantly breaking sales and streaming records, he has pushed an impressive 10 million album sales to date. Each of his releases have reached #1 on the Billboard top 200 except his first attempt: “So Far Gone.”
Today, selling just one million albums is nothing to shake a stick at.
Music is more than easily accessible to stream for free on numerous internet based platforms. Let’s not forget that Drizzy broke the record for most streams in a year on Spotify in 2016 with 4.7 BILLION streams. One year. 4.7 BILLION with a “B.” So, both rappers have impressive commercial track records to lean on. Still we ask, “Who is supreme?”
Now if we start talking about street credibility and authenticity, the scales start to tip a bit.
Nelly is from a notoriously rough and tumble neighborhood in St. Louis. His lyrics are a direct reflection of that lifestyle with plentiful references to guns, illicit substances, and the selling thereof. His city has always confirmed his cred, and his cousin’s life was even taken on the streets hence the infamous memorial facial band aid.
What we know of Drake is a bit less dangerous.
The former child star from the Canadian teen hit “Degrassi” has a less sordid overwhelmingly upper middle class upbringing. His father was a performer in the music industry and his mother, a Canadian Jew, wreaks of reality TV housewife. Although she raised Aubrey “Drake” Graham largely without the help of his father, old home footage portrays a lifestyle that Nelly wouldn’t encounter until after his musical success. Lucky for us, Drake rarely feigns the male bravado and tough guy image that he certainly has not lived.
Are these facts pertinent to the comparison of the artists? That is for you to decide.
When we talk about general popularity and hype, the comparison, again, starts to hurt our brains. When “Country Grammar” and “Hot in Here” released, by far Nelly’s most memorable grooves, there wasn’t a soul around with even slightest appreciation of the genre that didn’t know the words by memory or recite them each time the song was within earshot. From the burbs to the barbs (prison), a general appreciation for Nelly’s musical catchiness and playability was felt. Since then Nelly has graced us with several more hits, but few seemed to hit the mark like the aforementioned two.
Today, Drake’s lyrics can be found on the lips of males and females of an impressively large age demographic. His sound is infectious. Plain and simple. Something about his voice, delivery, and selection of beats blends to create pop platinum. His consistency is also to be admired along with his ability to switch from gritty hip hop bars to the smooth RnB sound that has him classified as soft. We all know better, though. Drizzy does it for the ladies… Really, between both artists at their peak, their phenomenal sounds are difficult to choose between. I have found myself in a stalemate. Join the conversation on Twitter and say your peace!