Take Your Pick
Tupac or Biggie? Barcelona or Real Madrid?
Hip-hop and football (soccer) are two cultural spheres from which people form intimate relationships. One’s favorite rapper or footballer is formed based on a huge web of interconnected influences: where someone grew up, the values they were raised to hold, and the style of their favorite rapper or footballer, amongst others.
While everyone is entitled to having a favorite in anything, there is a collective understanding within any given cultural sphere of who is the best at what they do. The cream rises to the top, and those on top set the standard for everyone else to follow.
How Do We Know Who the Greatest Is?
Greatness consists of a powerful fusion of sentiment and statistics. Sentiment in hip-hop and football are measured based on subjectivity; the emotions evoked by someone’s ability, for example, are incalculable. Statistics in hip-hop and football, on the other hand, are strictly factual. In hip-hop, statistics can be how many streams, album sales, or Grammys a rapper has compiled. In football, statistics can be quantified by the number of goals, assists, or clean sheets a player has, as well as major titles or Ballon d’Ors a player has won.
While sentiment and statistics are polar opposites in nature, they combine to form a compelling argument about who the greats are, and in this case, who the greats in hip-hop and football are.
This Generation’s Greatest
We currently live in a unique cultural period, both in hip-hop and football. This era, which can be marked by the turn of the decade, can be defined by one word: longevity. The two greatest rappers of the 2010s are Kendrick Lamar and Drake, and the two greatest footballers of the 2010s are Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. What makes these four individuals so special is how long they’ve been performing at the highest level. It has rarely been seen in either sphere, making this past decade a special one.
Interestingly enough, when you split the four men into groups of two, with the careers of Kendrick and Messi aligning in certain ways, as do those of Drake and Cristiano.
K Dot and La Pulga (The flea, Messi’s nickname)
Kendrick Lamar (Compton, California) and Lionel Messi (Rosario, Argentina) were born a week apart on June 17th and June 24th, 1987, respectively. Kendrick Lamar has lived in California his entire life, and Messi moved to Barcelona as a teenager, where he has lived for the majority of his life. Lamar and Messi are widely praised for their humility, coming from humble upbringings, letting their performances speak to their unparalleled talents.
They have taken on the occasional advertisement campaign or acting gig (Kendrick, briefly), but generally go unseen in the public eye or the tabloids. Perhaps this can be attributed in part to the fact that both men are in committed relationships to their high school sweethearts with whom they’ve had children. Regardless, the fact that folks can almost solely associate the two with their profession is a reflection of the dedication they’ve demonstrated in their careers.
Of course, Lamar and Messi’s abilities have evolved over time, but all of the magic they’ve produced has been executed with the same underlying grace that has won them so many faithful fans. Their seemingly innate talent is considered to have a permeating effect, making those around them perform at a higher level, be it in the studio or on the pitch. It is due to this “effortless” ability that they are considered amongst the very best, if not the best, in the history of their respective crafts.
Drizzy and CR7
Drake (Toronto, Canada) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Madeira, Portugal) were born over a year apart on October 24th, 1986 and February 5th, 1985, respectively. Drake lived in Canada for some time before moving to Los Angeles, California, and Ronaldo has moved about throughout his career, initially leaving Portugal for Manchester, England as a teenager. These two also had humble upbringings, Ronaldo from poverty, and they have gone on to be the most marketable individuals in their respective crafts, taking on the persona of global ambassadors of sorts.
Drake and Ronaldo are constantly making noise in the press for one thing or another. Drake has come to be seen as the face of streaming giant Apple Music, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s business team has built a museum, a hotel, and underwear line all under Cristiano’s name, just to name a few business ventures. Their often excessive self-adoration, especially Ronaldo’s, has fueled much criticism over the years. Both men have had children with unknown mothers, irking the purest of fans, and both men have been accused of sexual assault. Although neither accusation was deemed true, it (understandably) holds an asterisk over their heads for some, cemented by the fact that the accusers in both cases were paid off.
Despite the negative image bestowed upon them by the public, Drake and Cristiano Ronaldo are seen as two of the most hard-working professionals of all time in their respective industries. They have evolved on numerous occasions, which has been the key to maintaining their longevity at the top. Drake started out mainly as a rapper, but went on to become arguably the biggest pop artist in the world, much to the disapproval of his hardcore rap fans. Ronaldo started out as a flashy winger, and upon moving to Real Madrid became the best goal scorer in the world, causing some fans to call him a boring player without the flair. Both have been accused of depending on the talent around them in reaching the point that they are at, but this is simply petty and unfounded.
Not Everything Was The Same…
Obviously, the aforementioned comparisons are subject to all kinds of rebuttal.
First and foremost, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are objectively two of the ten best footballers of all time, and arguably in the top five of all time. On the other hand, while a large population of hip-hop fans would put Kendrick Lamar in their top 10 all-time list, Drake seems unlikely to appear on that list. He has produced countless hits and helped further the careers of dozens of artists, but he does not have a To Pimp a Butterfly or a Good Kid M.A.A.D City. Drake’s Take Care and Nothing Was The Same are amazing bodies of work, but some say they lack the depth that lifts most albums into the tier of classic. In all, his cultural impact has been immense, but his societal impact has been modest, whereas Kendrick’s singular ability to narrate the black experience in America has transcended the rap game.
Second, Messi’s story with Argentina remains a dismal one. Despite having reached the final in multiple tournaments with his national team (including in the 2014 World Cup), Messi has returned to his club duties empty handed after each of those occasions. Kendrick Lamar, on the other hand, was the first non-jazz or classical musician to win the Pulitzer Prize, which one could argue is even more impressive than winning the World Cup. A considerable crowd of football fans argue that it’s impossible for Messi to be the best ever because of his shortcomings with Argentina, but many say that Messi’s achievements at the club level balance his legacy out.
Third, I can imagine that many hip-hop fans could disagree with the notion that Kendrick Lamar and Drake are the two best hip-hop artists of this past decade. The only artist who fans can genuinely argue in favor of over one of those two is Kanye West, which is a valid argument. After all, many credit Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreaks as Drake’s inspiration in expanding his sound beyond the realm of rap, and Kanye’s most critically acclaimed album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, came out in late 2010. It’s important to note, though, that Kanye’s influence in hip-hop began as early as the 1990s when he started out as a producer for Roc-A-Fella Records before deciding to rap as well. Despite all of this, Drake’s musical success in the 2010s has been greater than Kanye’s.
Our world is interconnected in far more ways than we have been conditioned to perceive.
Being a massive fan of rap and football myself, it’s entertaining to think about the ways that these two massive cultural spheres overlap and bounce off of one another. Hip-hop and football are two entirely unique cultures, but they also have the power of creating community, both amongst like minded folks and amongst historically oppositional groups of people. These two art forms generate emotions, establish personalities, and set trends within our daily lives. Immortal memories and achievements have been made in both, and will continue to do so as long as we can figure out how to weather the impending climate catapult.
The more we push ourselves to recognize commonalities amidst more obvious differences, the more cohesive a global society we will live in.