Now that Bob Dylan can add “Nobel Prize winner” to his already lengthy resumé, it got me thinking who in hip hop deserves those honors? Dylan received the ever-prestigious award for literature which just opens the door for a rapper to step through and claim the prize.
But if Swedish Academy simply handed out literature awards, that would not only be unfair to some but also extremely limited. The contributions hip hop has made to the world are numerous and deserve to be recognized, meaning they’d have to open it up and get really, really creative.
1. The Nobel Prize in Economic Studies — Jay Z
You want to be successful in this game, you study Jay Z. Plain and simple. Shawn Carter’s masterful manipulation of the game wasn’t easy, he just made it look that way. Whether it’s knowing when to hop on trends and when to hop off, self-promotion, or who to invest in, no one’s mastered the crossover this well since Allen Iverson. While other artists focused solely on the “music” part of the music business equation, he understood how to marry both. Roc-A-Fella Records, Roc-A-Wear, Def Jam president, Roc Nation CEO, husband.
The man applied the same business savvy an Ivy League student would have and played chess while everyone else was still trying to figure out checkers. In 20 years, he’s gone from just another rapper to being a brand. In American Gangster, Frank Lucas said that Blue Magic meant something and signified a level of quality. Jay’s name has become just as famous as Pepsi or Coke-A-Cola and when you see his name, you know what you’re getting.
2. The Nobel Prize in Commercial Infiltration — Run-D.M.C.
The kings. The biggest reason this site exists, or that you’re reading it, or that I even get the chance to get be a smart ass when I wax poetic is because of Run-D.M.C. They took what was thought of as a passing fad or turned it into…well…this abomination by Nissan. Without them, no YO! MTV Raps, no Rap City, and no rapper would even dream of having their name etched on a platinum plaque. They literally — yes, literally — broke down doors and told the whole world hip hop had something to say and explained to the world what the genre is all about.
They made adidas shell toe Superstars cool, rejuvenated Aerosmith’s career, and did it their way. They let America know they could let black culture into their homes without getting their Helen Lovejoy on. The kids are alright. Run and Darryl just made sure hip hop was their music of choice and it has been ever since.
3. The Nobel Prize in Cannabis Studies — Snoop Dogg
I can’t think of a single person who’s done more for commercializing weed than the artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg. The man has basically been a walking dispensary for two decades. He’s made no bones — don’t ask me how — about his love for the chronic and its impact on his creative process. Now, this isn’t to say he walks around high and doesn’t know how to handle his business, but his life is an example of how harmless the drug actually is.
Snoop is the antithesis to Reefer Madness, that ridiculous piece of propaganda some people had the audacity to call a movie. For the longest time, weed was thought to be a gateway drug but let’s be real, it’s not. If anyone has helped the world understand how truly harmless and possibly beneficial herb is, it’s him. No, his award will not be a gold bong or something he can smoke. Sweden’s got standards, dammit.
4. The Nobel Prize in Race Relations — Ice Cube
America has this cute little habit of pretending we’re always in a post-racial society. Yes, we all want things to be peaceful but reality has a way of being complex. Ice Cube has always been a the forefront of that complexity, never being afraid to examine the racial epithets spray painted on America’s underbelly. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, “Black Korea,” “A Bird in the Hand,” I Wanna Kill Sam,” We Had to Tear This Mothaf*cka Up.” I could keep going but it would be an exclamation point to the statement when really all that’s needed is a period. Cube not only understands race relations in ways most politicians don’t but he can speak on the subject eloquently and intelligently.
He’s never offered easy solutions because there aren’t any, he’s never claimed to have all the answers because he’s not perfect, and he’s never tried to sell us dreams because he never said he was Martin or Malcolm. O’Shea Jackson dedicated his early career to ensuring America looked beyond its racial divide to acknowledge there are real problems tearing at the foundation we’re built on. Sadly — and prophetically — his first few albums are just as relevant now as they were when the country watched in horror as Rodney King got beat within an inch of his life by the LAPD.
5. The Nobel Prize in Boosting Bootlegger Economy — Lil’ Wayne
If you hustled albums or mixtapes in the early to mid 2000s, then you have Lil’ Wayne to thank for whatever you did with that income. Wayne’s prolific run changed the way we think of mixtapes. No longer just promo material, they became full-blown bodies of work where an artist could strangle someone else’s beat into submission and rewrite history. They also became the preferred way to get music for some, which is why bootleggers ate incredibly well. As “the hottest n*gga under the sun,” Wayne was in high-demand and if you did’t have his latest, you closed shop.
6. The Nobel Prize in Literature — Andre 3000
Truthfully, there are a handful of artists this could go to and anyone of them would be deserving but Andre Benjamin aka 3 Stacks aka Andre 3000. There’s a beauty to every rhyme he’s ever laced us with, whether explaining why he felt the need to carry a gun in high school to meeting Erykah Badu. Few — if any — can match his ability to combine humor, wit, pathos, insight, and honesty with the surreal. How many rappers can tell you they visited a gypsy and you not only believe it but go along on the journey? I’ve never met a gypsy outside of Disney movies about hunchbacks nor do I believe in fairies, but when Dre speaks on these things, they feel real.
When he got bored with the confides of hip hop, he decided to sing because why not. He can pen express anger and rebellion on “Player’s Ball” or remorse and regret on “Ms. Jackson.” Andre runs the gamut in emotions which is what we want from our artists, especially one who values his pen that much. Rhyme for rhyme, line for line, stanza for stanza, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can simply walk with Andre, let alone run with him.
7. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry — Future
Another ATLien on the list means there must be something in the water down in Atlanta. Well, this time, there really is because the man — while not an really an addict — clearly created several concoctions. Not that I’m advocating drug use or self-medicating, but his music feels like it’s at least partly a product of it. He understands what works for him without going too far. Once you get past the glamor and glitz, you see a portrait of a depressed guy who uses drugs as a coping mechanism. He never wants to make it a crutch but sometimes it is, which is the same story for every mad scientist who’s ever done a maniacal laugh.
8. The Nobel Prize in Storytelling — Nas
This could’ve gone to B.I.G., Slick Rick, or Ghostface Killah but Nas can lay claim to being the greatest storyteller the game has ever known. Rarely does he kick a “bragger rap” as most of his bars are stories. Whether from a first person perspective like “New York State of Mind” or third person like “Still Dreaming,” he knows how to use the precise words to paint the picture in your head. “The Mac-10 was in the grass and I ran like a cheetah with thoughts of an assassin,” evokes very specific visuals. If you’ve never been to Queensbridge or never even been to New York City, you know can see it all because of that line.
Nas understands the human condition. Our foibles, our contradictions, our aspirations, and our fears. The best example of this is possibly “I Gave You Power” where he manages to give a gun so many human traits that you’ll think twice the next time you look at one. But even while doing that, he’s speaking the larger issues that plague the black community and why some feel that a gun is their only way out. Good storytelling works on multiple levels but Nas is a great storyteller.
9. The Nobel Prize in Rapping/Acting — Will Smith
Being a two-sport athlete is tough. Ask Bo Jackson, he knows. Will Smith also knows all about that but the Fresh Prince showed the world good rappers could be great actors. He’s Hollywood royalty with a couple of Grammys and VMAs on his shelf. He’s responsible for a song that’s become just as much of a summer staple as water guns and barbecues, while contending for Oscars damn near every winter.
Every rapper with the acting bug is looking to follow his lead — whether they admit it or not. In ’97, he had one of the highest grossing movies, Men In Black, and highest-selling albums, Big Willie Style and kept everything hip hop from beginning to end. Smith opened the doors for rappers to be taken seriously as actors and proof they can do it…big.
10. The Nobel Prize in Improving Strip Club Infrastructure — Gucci Mane/Lil’ Jon
For two guys who’ve given so much, its fitting they share this award. For a rap song to pop now, it’s gotta get play in the strip club and these dudes have done more for those buildings than bouncers and poles. Entire businesses and college educations — supposedly — have been funded on the strength of what these two have done. They make anthems for that perfect time of night when the mood strikes and money just has to be spent.
We may be a few weeks from an election, but these guys truly have the most important job in the world. They dedicated their lives to protecting the rights and freedoms of everyone in the real world, all in the name of making it rain. Their work put this country on its back during the great recession and ensured the strip club establishment remained strong. For these two, it’s all about the dollar, dollar bill, ya’ll.