Hip-hop has always been rooted in competition. Jay Z boasted about being from the block where they argue who’s better, “B.I.G., Jay Z or Nas.” This generation has Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse, plus the occasional rivalry unfolding over social media, meme and Apple Music ad.
With year-end lists imminent, the following is an inaugural power ranking of local rappers. Before we argue, a few explanatory notes about the selections. It was strictly compiled off 2015 material — so no Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, DJ Quik, Nipsey Hussle or anyone else who was quiet in the calendar year.
Evaluation metrics included lyrics, beat selection, impact, popularity and rap ability. If you didn’t write your rhymes, you didn’t make the list. (Sorry, Dre.)
With one new song, this list could change tomorrow. That’s sort of the point.
Affiliated with DJ Mustard’s 10 Summers imprint, the lanky South Central ex–dope dealer landed a local anthem in “Get Rich,” breaking through as the city’s biggest new street rapper.
9. Cam and China
Inflicting more fear on basics than the twins from The Shining, the versatile Inglewood sisters aren’t just the best female rappers in L.A.; the Pink Dollaz alumni might become its best duo since Tha Dogg Pound.
8. The Game
The Compton Piru earned Comeback Player of the Year with his two-volume Documentary sequel, and quietly delivered the best cameo on Dr. Dre’s Compton. If he’d only stop using Instagram as the after-hours sequel to his Change of Heart episode …
With “Oh My,” Compton’s premier anti-thirst advocate achieved an Internet hit and Interscope deal. One and a half million views later, he’s as likely as anyone to achieve stardom in 2016 due to his equal ease at writing tearjerkers about parenthood and mocking your stupid selfies.
“Twist My Fingaz” summoned Roger Troutman via séance and proved that YG doesn’t need Mustard. There’s a reason he’s “the only one to make it out the West without Dre.” He also gets the Tupac Shakur Memorial Award for surviving a shooting and walking out of the hospital the same day.
5. Open Mike Eagle
Following last year’s caustic capitalist indictment, Dark Comedy, the Chicago transplant dropped two more brilliant EPs. We should elect him mayor, but he’s too smart to want the job.
4. Kendrick Lamar
The Compton good kid made the year’s most important and ambitious record. Its scattershot songcraft was offset by virtuosic musicianship and admirable risk. He’s still worthy of the hype so long as no one ever brings up his guest verse on Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”
3. Freddie Gibbs
With fashion rappers obsessed with Tom Ford, the Gary, Indiana, transplant might be the gangsta rap John Ford — the movie Westerns director who turned genre exercises into complex and violent probes of human nature. As displayed on Gibbs’ latest, Shadow of a Doubt, no one instills terror with such technical skill.
2. Earl Sweatshirt
With I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Earl delivered on the outlandish hopes that have hounded him since his Samoan exile. It’s bleak, comically misanthropic and agoraphobic. If Larry David and MF Doom owned a weed shop, this would be the only soundtrack they could agree on.
1. Vince Staples
Summertime ’06 catalogs the alienation and trauma of adolescence refracted through the lens of North Long Beach’s most savage Crip. It captures the despera-tion to escape the trappings of poverty while simultaneously celebrating those left behind. It might take another decade to fully process.
Honorable mention (in no order): Tyler the Creator, Versis, Nocando, Dom Kennedy, Skeme, Phora, Speak, Snoop Dogg, Busdriver, Jay Rock, Jonwayne, Problem, Warm Brew, Blu, TeeCee 4800.
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.