For many reasons, Melle Mel will never be considered the greatest rapper of all time. However, he will always be respected by hip-hop as one of the many MCs that helped spearhead the genre when it was an underground, hyper-localised movement with little traction. As a Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five member, Melle Mel was one of the most famous rappers in New York during the late 1970s and early ’80s.
The Bronx native (real name Melvin Glover) was the brains behind ‘The Message’ and, as such, was the first hip-hop act to fuse rap with politics. Following in his footsteps, other artists began to do the same, and he paved the way for acts such as Chuck D and Ice Cube to use the genre as a vehicle for social change. Glover had vast amounts of success with tracks such as the 1983 hit ‘White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)’ and ‘Don’t Push Me’. However, he was part of the generation that didn’t reap much financial reward from the genre, despite setting a solid foundation.
In an interview with DJ Vlad for VLADTV, Melle Mel admitted he couldn’t acknowledge Biggie as the greatest rapper ever. Glover explained that it was considered corny to rap about felonies during his era because the world of crime and hip-hop operated as two separate entities. The Bronx lyricist explained how, in his day, if you were a criminal, you did your deeds quietly, and if you were a rapper, you couldn’t speak about illegal activity.
The rapper elaborated, detailing that it was a very binary choice. You were either a musician, a felon or neither. However, you couldn’t be both a criminal and a rapper simultaneously because you would incriminate yourself and others around you, which was looked down upon as a form of snitching. Melle Mel acknowledged that although it’s not the case now, he was programmed to denounce that rap. As a result, Glover was insistent that if he had to pick a “greatest rapper,” it would be either Rakim or Big Daddy Kane.
Nowadays, crime and rap are innately intertwined. However, this trend is beginning to bite back as District Attorneys across the US have started using the music as grounds to effect RICO charges, a phenomenon that DJ Akademiks thinks will ‘cleanse’ hip-hop. However, irrespective of whether or not artists are talking about crime, for Melle Mel, Biggie Smalls just doesn’t make the cut. You can watch his interview with DJ Vlad in the video below.