From making us move to the groove to letting their rhymes get us hooked, these rappers have done it all. Everytime they dropped a beat, they also turned up the heat. Some sold records that broke records, while some gained a legendary status with their name in the rap hall of fame.
It won’t be fair to create a list with just the ones who have been the most commercially successful. Neither would it be right to dedicate it to just the legends and pioneers. So our list is a fusion of it all. Best of both worlds, including modern day heavyweights to old school legends.
So here are the top 10 Rappers of all time that you can always listen to and enjoy.
They made us move to the groove. Their rhymes got us hooked.
From modern day heavyweights to legends and pioneers, here’s the list of greatest rappers!
1) Jay Z
The man whose rep goes beyond the hip-hop or even the music industry. Shawn Corey Carter, who is better known in the entire planet as Jay Z, has been a much celebrated figure in the rap scene for over 2 decades now. Since his debut studio album Reasonable Doubt, released in 1996, Jay Z has been the recipient of 22 Grammy Awards.
When you consider the various categories of MTV Awards, Billboard Awards and BET Awards, amongst the several others, you understand why he is literally considered by millions across the world as one of the greatest rappers of all time. Worth around $1 billion, Jay Z first conquered the world of rap and music, before becoming an entrepreneur.
Jay Z has managed to stay relevant and keep producing hits even after all these years. He’s the first ever rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. If that wasn’t enough, the rapper also has 14 number one albums on Billboard 200. And that’s the most any rapper or even solo artist has achieved.
2) Tupac Shakur
An influential rap figure that the world lost too soon. Famously known as 2Pac, made gigantic waves in the world of rap music with his moving, inspiring and thought provoking lyrics, which often addressed socio-political issues. Compared to most on this list, Tupac didn’t last in the scene as long, due to the unfortunate incident that led to his death at the young age of 25.
Despite the short amount of time his music career lasted, his music is celebrated even today and remains evergreen. Part of the Hip Hop Hall of Fame as well as being a major commercial hit, more than 74 millions records of 2Pac have been sold worldwide. While his musical proficiency and rapping techniques were enjoyable, Tupac Shakur was most known for being a poet. A lyrical mastermind of sorts.
A whole bunch of new wave rappers have been inspired by 2Pac in one way or the other. He had a distinct rapping identity of his own. The resplendent rapper was even commemorated into the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list of the Rolling Stones. A feat that is more than justified and only further reinforces why this list has to include Tupac Shakur.
3) The Notorious B.I.G
Just like Tupac, Christopher George Latore Wallace is one of those legends who was gone too soon, due to the horrific incident of him being shot. What those gunmen failed to do was take away his legendary music which has been evergreen. The Notorious B.I.G is rightly considered as many as one of the GOATs of the rap scene.
Just like his stage name, his impact in the world of hip hop was insanely B.I.G. Wallace ranks 3rd in the Greatest MCs of All Time by MTV. Moreover, he has also been recognized by Rolling Stone as the “greatest rapper that ever lived”. The complexity of his lyrical structure and rhyming flow was intricate and could “Hypnotize” anybody.
The range of Biggie’s lyrical work was wide, while his flow and skill with the mic was unparalleled. With about 21 million albums sold, hitting the number 1 spot on Billboard 200 with his album Life After Death, Rapper of The Year by Billboard Music Awards in 1995, among many others, The Notorious B.I.G’s illustrious rap career and influence stretches beyond any of us can even imagine.
An old school rap legend who is still dropping beats and making us all bust a move to the groove. William Michael Griffin Jr. has been a musician since the age of 7. Although his foray into rapping came a few years later. The mid 80s to mid 90s which we lovingly call the golden age of hip hop, was the era where Rakim started making huge waves. In some ways, Rakim, along with other artists, has been a key figure in shaping the commercial rap scene.
William is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest MCs to ever take the mic and the stage. His skills were impeccable and his style unique. What set Rakim apart was the nonchalant style of delivering his vocals, which were not following the more common style of intense and energetic delivery. If anything, Rakim has been revolutionary, to say the least.
What augments his legendary status is the fact that modern day greats like Eminem, Jay Z and 50 Cent have also been influenced by Rakim. Which can be witnessed in their multisyllabic and internal rhymes at times. His legacy is that MTV ranked him 4th in their Greatest MCs of All Time list, apart from also naming his album Paid in Full (created with Eric B) as the Greatest Hip Hop album of all time.
The modern day rap god. A man who had been acknowledged as the ‘King of Rap’ for the longest time, over the past two decades. Eminem is not only a lyrical genius, he is also a brilliant rapper which is evident in the various techniques he incorpores. While Marshall Bruce Mathers III, started his rap career in 1988, it was only in 1997 that the world was first introduced to the now famous, Slim Shady.
Over the years, Eminem has taken the world through a rollercoaster of emotions, with his witty, emotional, flabbergasting, ghastly, funny and a wide range of lyrical work. It’s okay if you ‘Lose Yourself’ when you realise that Eminem has 15 Grammy awards and 17 Billboard Music Awards, apart from several others.
If that wasn’t enough, Mathers was also honoured by the Rolling Stones by including him in the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list. Sure, Eminem’s collection of awards is endless, but so are the number of records he has sold and young rappers he has inspired. The massive icon that Eminem is and his achievements combined means he easily waltzes into our list.
See also: How to Become a Rapper?
6) Kendrick Lamar
One of the modern day greats who had somewhat of a meteoric rise. Often labelled as the ‘King of Rap’ of the current generation, by many. What shouldn’t come as a surprise is the fact that Lamar mentioned 2Pac as one of many artists that influenced him. Which makes all the more sense considering his style of flow and the sharp narratives in his powerful and poetic lyrics.
From Best Rap Song to Best Rap Performance, Kendrick Lamar has collected accolades aplenty. A Pulitzer Prize is one of the many he holds, apart from the 5 Billboard Music Awards and 13 Grammys. The rap icon is also recognised for his work on the soundtrack for Marvel’s Black Panther.
What’s even more admirable is Lamar’s ability to fuse elements of blues, jazz and funk with his rapping style. Something which has led to him having a bit of distinctiveness for his jazz-rap style. Kendrick Lamar is the youngest rapper in this list, but his success, brilliance and far reaching impact makes him a worthy addition for sure.
Yet another legend that has been around in the game since over 2 decades now. While Nas released his debut album back in 1994, his journey as a rapper began much before, hustling in the underground scene as a teenager. The rapper is often credited for his creative and offbeat approach with a conversational style of rapping as opposed to the more conventional rhyming style.
His creativity is further highlighted in the way he raps about a broad spectrum of topics from unique perspectives. Rapping from the perspective of a ‘Fetus’ is a classic example of that. Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones has inspired a whole generation of rap music enthusiasts to take a more creative yet free-flowing approach to the form of music.
Nas’s album, It Was Written made its way to the top of the Billboard 200, soon as it debuted. Which was the point from which he started becoming more of a global star. While he may not have been as commercially successful as some others on the list, his influence in the rap music scene and legendary status cannot be understated. The fact that he featured in the Ten Best Rappers of All Time list of Billboard bears testament to that.
8) Lil Wayne
Even at the age of 14, Young Money was hot on the streets. At that point, he was mainly known for being the youngest member of the rap group Hot Boys. That’s when Lil Wayne started making a rep from himself. The interesting thing about Lil Wayne is the evolution of his musical style. The rapper has experimented with nuances of a few different sub-genres and fused it with rapping.
From a commercial success point of view Weezy’s inclusion in the list totally makes sense as he is one of the best selling artists in the world. With more than 120 million records being sold worldwide, the name Young Money does make sense. Although he’s currently 37, but still, you get our point, right?
Here’s what further proves Lil Wayne’s legacy. The legendary, Elvis Presley, previously held a record for having the most number of songs that made it to the Billboard Hot 100. Lil Wayne eventually exceeded the record. A feat which wasn’t achieved by any other male artist till that point.
9) Lauryn Hill
Unlike most artists on this list, Lauryn Hill doesn’t have as many singles or even studio albums as the rest. In fact, her album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which was released in 1998, is her only one as a solo artist. Lauryn Hill, however, was one of the few in those days, who managed to bridge the gap between women and rapping. She also broke the barriers and gave hip hop and rapping a more melodic though in her own style.
Since 2002, Hill has not been as active in the scene due to various reasons. She however, did help pave the way for a lot of female rappers to stamp their authority. That solo album of hers alone sold close to 8 million copies. Her last release was MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 which was in 2002. While not as successful as her previous album, her music was loved and admired nonetheless.
Lauryn Hill was also a part of the group called The Fugees. The big names in the rap scene and the music enthusiasts know all too well how pivotal Hill has been in the rap industry. Her inclusion in this list is more than just a tribute to her. But also as an acknowledgement how great a rapper she still remains.
10) DJ Kool Herc
The man known for being the pioneer of rap as a form of music. Often referred to as the first rapper ever. It would be a major injustice to not have the ‘Father of Hip Hop’ to this list. After all, greatness is not just defined by the number of records sold or commercial success. Born as Clive Campbell, as his name suggests, Clive is DJ of Jamaican origins
One of the ways in which DJ Kool Herc’s legacy can be experienced is through the funk and beats which are often the most recognised elements of hip hop music. Beyond that, the simple yet rapping style of vocals was also introduced by DJ Kool Herc in New York City’s Bronx area. Add to that the rhyming elements that he started incorporating and consequently influencing.
DJ Kool Herc might not be a name on every young hip hop lover’s lips. But he revolutionized and created a musical genre which as we know today, is one of the most loved forms of artistic expressions, celebratory genre of music as well as a means to express and advocate various socio-political causes.
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