Rap music is a cultural statement. It is poetry with a beat. It has been used to stop racism, shed light on issues, artistically describe communities, tell powerful stories, proclaim beliefs and express emotions. There are countless rappers who have excelled in this art, but these ten rappers in particular, have made the cut for the Greatest of All Time.
Before you view this list, take the time to look at my list of honorable mentions who, unfortunately, did not make the cut and remember that this list is my personal choice; music is subjective and my choices may or may not resonate with you.
Rap duos and groups like the Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, the Beastie Boys, OutKast and Run-D.M.C. will not make any appearances on this list since that is a list for another time.
Honorable Mentions: Dr. Dre, Andre 3000, Mos Def, Big Pun, RZA, Eazy-E, Common, Ghostface Killah, Snoop Dogg, Raekwon and KRS-One
With that out of the way, here are the Greatest Rappers of All Time:
#10. 50 Cent
50 Cent is the King of Choruses and Beats. His lyrics have been debated to be mediocre, but the delivery of his lyrics is considered to be one of the best. The production of his music is considered near perfect, the emotions and moods of his songs are extremely evident and his impact on rap culture has been substantial.
A moshpit stampede is sure to follow the playing of almost any song by JAY-Z. His enormous success, mastery of flow, ability to write lyrics in his head and fearless performance style make him one of the greats. JAY-Z currently holds the record for most number one albums (13, to be exact) by a solo artist on the Billboard 200, was ranked the 88th greatest artist of all time by Rolling Stone and has an estimated net worth of nearly $610 million.
#8. Ice Cube
Ice Cube holds absolutely nothing back in his music. He is considered to be one of the founding fathers of gangsta rap and has received major scrutiny and praise for the socio-political commentary in his music. In 2012, The Source ranked him Number 14 on their list of the Top 50 Lyricists of All Time. Two years later, About.com ranked him Number 11 on their list of the 50 Greatest MCs of All Time.
DMX is loved for his ability to infuse harmony into his rap lyrics. His honest, original and aggressive lyrics make him one of the most talented rappers ever. DMX’s powerful rapping, hard-hitting songs and hardcore, gangsta-style earn him a place on the greats.
Rakim coordinated with Eric B. to create what critics consider to be the greatest rap album of all time; “Paid In Full” (1987). His rapping style originated from the rhythm patterns of early 1980s hip-hop and his relaxed delivery resulted from jazz influences. His methodical approach to microphone fiending, slow flow, mesmeric and blunt lines, literate imagery and complex internal rhymes make him one of the best, and one of my favorite, rappers.
Nas’ advanced flow is considered to be the best out there by members of the rap community. He is an incredibly skilled MC and has some of the most intricate and advanced rhymes out there. His use of metaphors and compound and internal rhyming is also heavily praised by both critics and fans.
#4. Kendrick Lamar
Whenever Lamar is asked about the style of his music, he says, “You really can’t categorize my music; it’s human music.” Lamar’s projects are usually concept albums which makes his work so much more creative and original. His work has been influenced by 90’s gangsta-rap, West Coast hip-hop, funk, free jazz, soul and spoken word poetry. For his varied influence and originality, he has earned himself a place at Number Four.
Eminem destroyed the popular belief that white people cannot succeed in rap music. His fast-paced and complex rhymes, descriptive lyrics, word-bending, profane yet poetic style, varied subject matter, connection to audiences and inspiring life story make him the third greatest rapper of all time.
The late, great Tupac Shakur’s music and philosophy was heavily rooted in American, African-American and world entities including the Black Panther Party, black nationalism, egalitarianism and liberty. His love for theater and Shakespeare also influenced his work; this proved to be very beneficial because Pac was able to recognize the Shakespearean psychology of inter-gang wars and inner-cultural conflict. His reflection on and interpretation of social inequality, injustice, compassion and hope make him second best.
#1. The Notorious B.I.G.
All of the teachers who told young Christopher Wallace that he would never amount to nothing sure were proven wrong. Biggie Smalls’ larger-than-life persona, semi-autobiographical lyrics, storytelling abilities, vicious diss tracks and sex appeal make him the most influential rapper ever to grab a mic.
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