10. Purple Man
As the only rapper whose vocals are naturally chopppppppppppped and screwwwwwwwwwwwed, Purple Man deserves to be pointed out on basis of style alone. It's like the dude's got codeine instead of blood. While his appearances on tracks are few and far between, his dissonant presence is always appreciated. Unfortunately, like a lot of artists looking to gain traction in the hip-hop world, Purple Man is probably better known for his beefs with Daredevil and Luke Cage than his actual lyrical abilities — not to mention his, um, "coercive" relationships with women. These days he's better known as the father of the stripperiffically named Persuasion, who's already got her own rap sheet. In more ways than one.
9. Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker
It's so tempting to overhype the fresh and new, especially when you're bored with the state of the medium and the culture around it seems to have gone stagnant. While many have been saying the controversial Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker is going to save hip-hop, I'd prefer to say that Butcher Baker's reiterating why we all fell in love with it in the first place. Butcher Baker presents the medium in extremis, imbuing the last couple decades of releases with a fresh, young, aggressive enthusiasm that seemed to have been missing for a good long while. As long as he can keep up that energy, I think we can continue to be optimistic.
8. The Tick
"Joke rap" is probably the biggest misnomer in hip-hop — for that matter, all of music. Just because an artist writes funny lyrics doesn't make his or her work any less important than those who sing about important things. The Tick is very, very funny, but it's too easy (not to mention unfair) to lump him in with every other novelty/parody act in the game just because he talks about ninjas and man-eating cows. While there's obviously a mental patient quality to the music, and more recent releases have felt more comedic than weighty, there's still an element to the Tick that reveals the insanity of the genre — no matter how much the artist is having a laugh himself.
7. Quantum & Woody
The collaboration between Eric Henderson (aka Quantum) and Woodrow Van Chelton (Woody) was never meant to last. You could tell from their quirky, often hilarious records that they were best friends, but there was also this sense of hostility between the two that fueled some of their best songs. Low album sales and mounting tensions only helped to incite the breakup, but fans continue hold out hope for a comeback. The best thing fans can do is to stow the pipe dreams and cherish the releases that actually came out; they're a gift.
6. Grifter (a.k.a Cole Cash)
Grifter was certainly the breakout star of the hip-hop group WildC.A.T.s (Cadillacs All-Terrain) with his trademark trench coat and bandanna mask. While often lumped in with the most derivative figures of '90s gun-toting gangsta rap (including his own squad), Grifter's verses and solo records always tended to have a little more wit and depth than listeners gave him credit for. Take, for example, the EP Point Blank, released under his unmasked Cole Cash moniker, showed an unexpected grit and maturity, but that happens when rappers refuse to get comfortable. His new self-titled record feels scrubbed of all grime in favor of a more trendy pop production, but there are moments when he puts the mask on and the guns go blazing.
While hip-hop seems a young man's game, the genre does gets to enjoy the odd elder statesman once in a while. Some wouldn't know it due to his recent popularity, but the Mic Offender Deployed to Officiate Killing has been spitting crimes for years and years before his resurgence. While his instantly identifiable appearance and style make him seem like a novelty (especially as children's TV appearances have him renamed as the Musical Officiator Destined to Optimize Coolness), his weird, idiosyncratic style reminds us just how fun hip-hop can be.
Strictly speaking from an artistic standpoint, a short-lived career can make you seem deadly. For few rappers is this more true than Tommy Monaghan, a.k.a. Hitman, whose made all of hip-hop his target by lyrically assassinating nearly every rapper he took on. This damn-near-punk-rock urge to kill all idols drew a lot of ire from more traditional hip-hop fans and some coldly deemed his untimely, violent death as more than deserved, but his energy and iconoclastic attitude earned him a place with some of the genre's greats.
3. Supreme Intelligence
The second distinctly large-headed rapper on this list, Supreme Intelligence never really gets the respect he deserves. Nobody's ever bought an album because of Supreme Intelligence alone, but they should. Whenever he shows up on a track, it's a delight — he brings an over-the-top feel to his verses that simply commands attention. Even at his age, the dude's got a presence that matches the size of his head.
2. War Machine
At first written off as a needless Iron Man sidekick, War Machine quickly came into his own as a distinct, notable rapper, shou
ldering his sector of the genre with his high-powered, rapid-fire verses that made him a fan-favorite. Unfortunately, most fans still prefer him when teamed up with Iron Man than in such solo projects as his Japanese-influenced U.S. War Machine. More recently, the cheaply named Iron Man 2.0 was a financial failure — even though it had an unsurprisingly strong start, it soon fell victim to too many producers disrupting any sense of a singular vision. Still, anyone who knows War Machine knows that one failure won't get him down; he'll just come back for more.
1. Omega the Unknown
While it may seem unfair to list an artist with only two releases to his name as the best rapper in comics, you gotta realize what those two releases were. Released in the late '70s and featuring the polish of a mainstream release, Omega the Unknown was a look into an underground style people hadn't even thought about before and dealt with themes like youth and growing up in its strange, oblique way. After a few decades of dormancy, Omega came back with 2007's Omega the Unknown, which update that underground sound for a new generation while still treading a lot of the same territory. To be out of the game so long and come back with a classic puts Omega the Unknown firmly in the status of best rapper in comics.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine (drawn by Eric Zawadzski) will debut in Spring 2012.