It should come as no surprise that Kanye West – a guy who has released five widely praised albums in seven years, including two Rolling Stone five-star discs – should top our critical acclaim ranking, which combines our ratings with career album ratings by Metacritic.
In the history of hip-hop, only West has produced a body of work at this level of all-killer-no-filler acclamation. Public Enemy followed their years of awesomeness with several late-career duds; the Notorious B.I.G. didn't live long enough to extend his two-album streak of greatness; and even West's mentor Jay-Z has a couple of low-rated discs among his string of classics. In "Pazz and Jop," the Village Voice's annual year-end poll of critics nationwide, West has ended up on top three times (a mark equaled only by Bob Dylan), with 2004's The College Dropout, 2005's Late Registration and 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The latter two earned Rolling Stone's "classic" rating upon release, again unprecedented among rap discs. West's high-rated albums have also been top-sellers, but other acts with a more limited commercial presence benefit even more from our critics' tally.
Coming in second is a rapper who, with his old group, reached heights of both acclaim and sales few rappers enjoy, but as a solo act is starting virtually from scratch – OutKast's Antwan "Big Boi" Patton. He's released only one solo album, but it was a gem: 2010's Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. Long in gestation and repeatedly delayed by a label that wished he would reunite with André 3000, Big Boi's debut disc finally dropped last year to a raft of A-level reviews.
Toward the bottom of this tally, Fabolous has long been more popular on the radio than with critics, while the more pop-leaning rappers, such as B.o.B and Pitbull, also receive little love. Somewhat more surprising is the placement for Snoop Dogg, who falls third from the bottom. His career average has been hurt by the sheer volume of albums he's released – usually one every year or two, many of them middling in quality.
Before we close out, let's look at one last measure of acclaim: awards.
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