It wasn’t long ago that hip-hop media could be separated into two distinct buckets. In one bucket were the Journalists—magazine writers, bloggers, and cultural critics who wrote for publications like The Source, XXL, and eventually AllHipHop, NahRight, and yes, Complex. The Journalists were opinionated and sometimes critical, but rarely seen or heard. In the other bucket were the Personalities—a lineage of on-air hosts from Fab 5 Freddy and Dee Barnes to Ed Lover and Big Tigger—who were paid to be congenial insiders, but not to express their opinions. Hip-hop media was once a relatively small industry, serving one primary function: to promote hip-hop music.
Over the past decade, however, the landscape has drastically changed. The distinction between Journalists and Personalities has blurred; so too has the difference between journalism and entertainment. As hip-hop has evolved into mainstream culture, rap media has exploded—so much so that the people who cover the music can generate more money and interest than the musicians themselves. To sort through this new glut of hip-hop media personalities, Complex has curated its inaugural Hip-Hop Media Power Ranking. Prepare to disagree.
What constitutes power in hip-hop media? The power to book the biggest players in rap and extract meaningful dialogue from them—or to make appealing content out of unknown emerging talent or forgotten has-beens. The power to make news simply by expressing your opinion on the news. The power to not only draw the ear of a general audience but also the ears of the music industry, so much so that your words can affect the business. And lastly, the power to turn your passion for hip-hop and content into a multimillion dollar empire.
The rise of the media personality in hip-hop is due to both overarching media trends and reasons unique to rap. The proliferation of digital platforms and social media democratized content creation, so that anyone with a POV and a passion could engage with a global audience. With playlist algorithms diminishing the need for musical tastemakers, the role of hip-hop media has become more about commentary—and gossip—than gatekeeping. The familiar warring-pundit debate format, pioneered by shows like CNN’s Crossfire and ESPN’s First Take, was co-opted by rap, as in Complex’s Everyday Struggle.
And let’s not discount three other key factors: (1) the growing number of rappers either aging out of their recording primes or seeking new revenue streams; and (2) the mid 2010s era of SoundCloud rap, which provided a clear inflection point between old rap and new rap and endless fodder for debate; and (3) the adaptive ingenuity and hyper-competitive nature of the genre, which lends itself not only to competitive disagreements on rap topics, but also fierce competition between rap personalities.
Before we begin our countdown—and before you begin arguing—here’s an FAQ on the methodology behind the ranking.
Who’s on the list?
As this is a ranking of people, not platforms or shows, we specifically focused on individuals who are public-facing personalities. That’s why you won’t find outlets like Say Cheese or The Shade Room on the list, but you will see N.O.R.E. (but not the show Drink Champs).
Where’s Speedy Morman and B. Dot?
To remove any potential for bias, we excluded any personalities who are currently attached to Complex programming.
How did you rank them?
We put names in a hat and drew them out one by one. Just kidding. We used a scoring method based on five categories: (1) commentary and banter; (2) star power of guests; (3) consistency; (4) viral moments; and (5) integrity of content. And then we debated the list like hell before reaching consensus on the ranking you see here.
OK, but how come this legendary radio DJ is so far below this newbie Twitch streamer?
We engineered the list to be a ranking of the right now—which means that current relevance and influence supersedes legacy and longevity.
Why are you including people who have been accused of abuse, misconduct, or sexual grooming?
We ranked the personalities strictly based on their content, not their character.
So who’s No. 1?
Well, you’ll have to read on and see…