Best Rapper Alive. It’s a lofty goal. A phrase Jay-Z famously uttered in 2003 on “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” that declared Shawn Carter the new standard while still paying respect to the late greats Tupac “2Pac” Shakur and Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace. A few years later, the other Mr. Carter, Lil Wayne, laid claim to the throne by outworking any and all competition with a canon of indisputable music.
But in 2022, who wears the crown (at least now that Jay has graduated to full-on GOAT)? Is it our perennial hitmaker Drake? The brilliant J. Cole? Or maybe it’s the enigmatic Kendrick Lamar who would probably garner the most votes. But in hip-hop’s always-on culture, can you really be the best rapper alive if you haven’t given us an album in five years?
And doesn’t the South got somethin’ to say? Last year, when Spotify’s RapCaviar asked Twitter which rappers would be on the Mount Rushmore of the 2010s, fans decreed it would be Drake, Cole, Kendrick…and who? LeBron James quickly led the charge for Future as the fourth, with James Caan (yes, that James Caan) among the chorus of supporters. (Eventually, the great Nicki Minaj received the RapCaviar nod.) Later in the year, in an interview with N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN on the Drink Champs podcast, Kanye West made what at the time sounded like a bold declaration: Future is the most influential artist of the past decade.
“I got here through music,” Future tells me. “I didn’t get here for having the best interviews. Other dudes in the world can have the best speech. They can do this in one take and it’d be perfect. I just found a way to make art with words. And through that, that’s just how I live.”
But was Kanye’s declaration really so bold? Consider Future’s style, which, while widely imitated, is today still singular. Not only does Future use his voice to contort words and syllables into shapes we’ve never encountered before—his own innovative take on the concept of “bars”—but his verses are uniquely versatile: He can traipse the full spectrum of human emotion, from lovingly tender to cruelly toxic to heart-wrenching to turned up to 11, all within the space of an eight count.
Artistically, his impact can’t be denied. Especially not after eight solo albums, 19 solo mixtapes, one collaborative album, four collaborative mixtapes, two EPs, and one soundtrack (for 2018’s Superfly). Worldwide, he’s been streamed over 30 billion times and has, in the process, inspired an entire generation of rappers. Few artists are as prolific.
When you survey the hip-hop landscape, no other artist has been as consistently excellent, or as influential, for as long as he has. He invented his own sound, which has since become the dominant style in rap. He has delivered hit after hit after hit. And he’s done it all on his own terms.
I’ll say it again: Future is the best rapper alive.