While any attempt at objectively defining the "greatest rapper alive" (barring one's inadvisable acceptance of J-Hova's hyperbole) is ridiculously evasive, I can say with subjective certainty that my favorite rapper alive is Method Man. If one feels, as I do, that Wu-Tang Clan are the greatest rap group of all time, then it follows that Meth, who was the most immediately artistically stunning and overwhelming-of-character member of the clan, is the greatest MC. He bore the most extreme and potent expression of the clan's thrillingly dichotomous nature. They were unquestionably hardcore poverty-refined past and present criminals, but also obsessive knowledge seekers and art geeks—consumers of cultural strains ranging from the socio-religious teachings of the Five Percent Nation of Islam to Shaw Brothers kung-fu movies to the expansive pantheon of Marvel Comics.

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It is worthwhile to note that while many of the Wu names were more illustratively linked to their respective clansmen's personal qualities (Ol' Dirty Bastard, the Genius, et al.), the name "Method Man" is comparatively neutral and, when one considers the towering inferno of a personality associated, somewhat humble. He is not the Masta Killah, he is simply Method Man—perpetual student and master of the science and systems of his chosen craft: rapping.

Here is suggested a rarely addressed aspect of Meth's character: Despite his superstar charisma, he ultimately projects a sort of resignation and he humbles himself before the altar of hiphop; he knows that ultimately the art and culture of hiphop elevate its purveyors more than even the greatest MCs can reciprocate. He may indeed be the most passionately devoted disciple of the art form making money today; he is possessed of astonishing intensity and crowd-diving fearlessness in live performance and is a stunning freestyler. (Hot 97 radio freestyles from the Clan's early golden age even record Meth heatedly berating some of his Wu brethren for not loving hiphop enough.) This intense, crusading devotion to his art is perhaps the most important element of Method Man to understand when looking at his career and it's the most neglected element of the bulk of the criticism directed at him.

On his beautifully avant-grimy debut, Tical, and its Grand Guignol–infused, blockbuster-sized follow-up, Tical 2000: Judgment Day, Meth continued to sail lyrical dazzle ships over (primarily) RZA's horror-draped beats. He then made an excellent, underrated record—1999's Blackout!—with Def Jam labelmate Redman, and toured extensively with him. Thereafter, his blazing charisma led him to a Redman-conjoined media career that included the ridiculous but chaotically hilarious movie How High and the more cred-objectionable television series Method & Red (the latter essentially a regrettably rote retread of Fresh Prince of Bel Air's premise). It should be noted, in the two men's defense, that they promptly pulled the plug on the series when it became evident that it would not be a reasonable reflection of their character and intentions.

In the wake of his third record, 2004's Tical 0: The Prequel, and seemingly largely in reaction to his ascendant, Hollywood-entangled celebrity, Meth received much defamatory shit talk and, worse, blasé disregard. Some of the backlash felt unfair and small-minded. The line between charisma and cartoonishness was perhaps sometimes forgotten, as often has been the case with culturally towering black men of both penetrating star quality and dimensional humor. (Muhammad Ali, a furious hero who was regarded by many as a jovial clown, comes to mind.)

In recent interviews, Meth has framed his last and newest records as an archetypal Rocky III–style scenario—the greatest in the world grows diffuse and loses focus in his stardom only to lose the crown and subsequently be forced to rediscover the essence of what he does to reestablish his stature and legacy. The recently released 4:21... The Day After is Meth's intended "moment of clarity," the cap to the era in his story which elicited so many accusations of artistic falloff and perceived, integrity-sapping Uncle Tomfoolery. 4:21 is a blisteringly intense and wide-eyed reassertion of his astonishing mastery and essential worth; nary a track goes by without breathless attacks on his detractors, and its strongest tracks, like the RZA-produced "The Glide" and the brutally intoxicating street single "Ya'Meen" are as heavy and exciting as anything he has produced.

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"Ya'Meen" and the first official single, "Say," clearly reflect the substantive halves of 4:21. On "Ya'Meen," Meth (joined by Fat Joe and Styles P.) unleashes hard yet celebratory volleys about his godly self, the dominance of New York City, and the state of the hiphop union over a thrilling, roiling beat. "Say," conversely, is a clear-headed tract over an economical acoustic guitar and Lauryn Hill-aided beat that serves as Meth's self-defensive thesis statement. Among other bullet points, it elucidates the dilettantish inequity of many of his critics' vitriol; who are they, he asks, to judge men who have come from such impoverished roots to accomplish such staggering artistic and economic gains? While in less artful hands this could be taken as blunt, reflexive striking back, Meth's forthright statements ring resoundingly true. It should be remembered that while Def Jam's other still-running clansman, Ghostface Killah, is often cited as the most vulnerable and emotive of the Wu, Meth is no less dimensional; his openheartedness is generally just more fully integrated into his style. Tical's "All I Need," though more restrained and not as raggedly breathless as Ghostface's most journalistic moments, is no less intense or emotionally direct.

Method Man is the greatest for this simple reason: He is the most stylish, structurally artful, and blessed-of-voice rapper alive, and he also infuses his marauding lyrical swordplay with the unfiltered thoughts and emotions of an intense and amazing character. He is all that an artist and superstar should be, and it seems obvious that he loves hiphop more than any of his fans or detractors. You must respect the boss.

editor@thestranger.com