Known as the poetry of the streets, rapping has become one of the most revered genres in the music industry despite being filled with the depiction of violence, liquor, and adultery. Consisting of unique rhyming lyrics delivered with a beat, the flow of rapping has been much admired over the years. Here today we are taking a look at the 15 greatest rappers of all time:
As one of the most treasured artists signed to the Def Jam label, Redman utilized his twisted sense of humor and unique in-your-face rhymes to make it big in the hip-hop and rap industry. With seven studio albums released since his debut in 1990, the rapper is still one of the few active seasoned musicians in the industry.
His frequent partnership with fellow rapper Method Man is legendary and has paved the way for many artists who thought about facing the hardships and struggles of being a professional rapper.
Starting his career in the rap group Geto Boys as DJ Akshun, Brad Terrence Jordan was destined to shine. Soon after leaving the group, the rapper took the name Scarface from Al Pacino’s 1983 gangster movie of the same name and never looked back again.
Outshining his former group and releasing more than ten studio albums, Scarface lives, breaths and eats rapping as his fluctuating flow with a soft-spoken delivery is enough to quickly grab any music fan’s attention.
As one of the most well-known rappers alive today, it is amazing to see that Scarface has continued his career without losing a single step.
13. Kool G Rap
Often known as one of the most skilled and influential MCs of all time, Kool G Rap has perfected the lyrical content of mafioso and hardcore rap delivered by multi-syllabic rhyming.
The legacy of the rapper from Queens, New York City can be imagined by the fact that Kool G Rap has been regarded as a major influence on several underground rappers and even big names such as Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas, and The Notorious B.I.G.
12. 50 Cent
Having a few run-ins with the law due to his status as a drug dealer since teenager, Curtis Jackson would still be earning money as a lowlife street thug if he was not discovered by Eminem. Once motivated and supervised by the King of Rap, the world got the chance to listen to the man who pioneered the slow-flow style of rap.
Becoming one of the highest-selling artists from his debut album Get Rich or Die Tryin’, a star was born and 50 Cent became the face of the East Coast hip-hop territory.
Selling more than 30 million albums worldwide, the life of the drug dealer-turned-musician and businessman is one of the most well-known rags-to-riches stories in the entertainment industry.
11. Missy Elliot
Exactly how many female artists can claim that they made a huge impact on the music genre of hip-hop? Not many. Hardly three at best and the spectacular Missy Elliott is one of them.
Winning five Grammy Awards and selling over 30 million albums in the United States, she is the only female rapper who has six albums certified platinum by the RIAA, including one of them being double platinum.
10. Snoop Dogg
Hip-hop, gangsta rap, reggae, G-funk, and Snoop Dogg has seen it all and done it all. Discovered and mentored by Dr. Dre, the rapper had all the talent and skills necessary to earn a big spot in the rap industry and proved that one can accomplish wonders regardless of a ridiculous name.
Releasing multi-platinum albums time and time again, Snoop Dogg’s “molasses drawl” and “laconic rhyming” style is simple yet responsible for gaining him fame. As one of the artists who perfected gangsta rap, Snoop Dogg is one of the most illustrious rappers of his time.
9. LL Cool J
Long ago, even much before 50 Cent and Lil Wayne, it was James Todd Smith who introduced bling-bling and jewelry as a vital component of a rapper’s image. Under the name LL Cool J (standing for Ladies Love Cool James), the rapper pioneered romantic rap.
Credited as the innovator of rap music by combining it with love themes, LL Cool J was an extremely skillful user of the microphone. After enjoying a tremendous amount of success, the rapper persuaded an acting career.
8. Ice Cube
With ten studio albums, Ice Cube stands out as one of the most revered rappers of his time. Beginning his career in the rap group C.I.A and later N.W.A, Ice Cube soon pursued a solo career and enjoyed a tremendous amount of success due to his unique storytelling coupled with his raps.
While most rappers stay limited to gangsta rap, Ice Cube not only founded it but took himself beyond it by involving political scenarios in his lyrical content, establishing himself as one of the most brutally honest rappers alive.
While the list is limited to solo artists, it would be unfair to leave Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels unmentioned as the hip-hop group Run-D.M.C – the most influential hip hog duo in music history. Introducing the relationship between a DJ and MC, the group has been phenomenal.
Responsible for creating the new school of hip-hop music, Run-D.M.C. was the first artist to earn a platinum record, the first to earn a multi-platinum certification, and most notably, the only hip-hop act to perform at the Live Aid concert in 1985.
The supreme versatility of the rapper from New York knows no bounds as Rakim, both as a solo artist and as a member of the rap duo Eric B. & Rakim has gained the attention of millions of fans who admire hip hop and rap music.
Allmusic admitted that:
“Rakim is near-universally acknowledged as one of the greatest MCs — perhaps the greatest — of all time within the hip-hop community.”
Not only that, but The Source acknowledged him on the number one spot on their list of the ‘Top 50 Lyricists of All Time.’
Among the most recognizable artists alive today is Jay-Z. In his career that has spanned nearly two decades, the hip-hop artist has enjoyed intense success both financially and musically. Receiving 19 Grammy Awards and selling more than 100 million albums, Jay-Z is quite frankly unmatched.
Consistently attributed as one of the greatest and most gifted rappers of all time, Jay-Z has pioneered his industry as his albums Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, and The Back Album are considered a few of the best albums ever produced.
After entering the rap music industry at the tender age of 19, everyone knew right from the start that Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones – better known by his stage name Nas – was special and indeed the hype lived up. As one of the most accomplished artists signed to Def Jam Recordings, he is as amazing as a rapper as a songwriter.
Having released eight consecutive platinum and multi-platinum albums whose sales have crossed more than 25 million records worldwide, Nas is without a doubt a pure jewel in the world of hip-hop and rap.
3. The Notorious B.I.G.
A master of the loose, easy flow, The Notorious B.I.G. was exceptional when it came to storytelling in his lyrical content and was responsible for making the East Coast hip-hop scene noticeable when the West Coast counterpart was beginning to be a force to be reckoned with.
Known as the King of New York and with only two super successful albums under his belt, Biggie was untouchable on the microphone and has been a source of inspiration to countless hip-hop artists who have dared to dream big.
In an industry dominated by the black community, Eminem did the unthinkable by proving to everyone that he can overcome obstacles of hardships and take on any challenge put in front of him. Known as the King of Rap, Eminem is the only rapper who has won an Academy Award and is the greatest rapper alive today.
Not a stranger to controversy and disputes, Eminem has been involved in numerous legal and drug issues – like almost every rapper has – but has still managed to establish a legacy well admired by his peers and even critics alike.
1. Tupac Shakur
Back when hip-hop and rapping were not even mainstream, Tupac Shakur was selling millions of albums worldwide. Often criticized for the gangster themes in his music, Tupac’s music also highlighted social issues such as racism, teenage pregnancy, and police brutality.
Due to his life being cut short by a drive-by shooting, the total tenure of his career lasts only six years. That may seem like a short time but it was enough for him to put the music genre of rapping on the map and to develop a name for himself as undoubtedly the greatest and most influential rapper of all time.
- Method Man
- Dr. Dre
- Busta Rhymes
Did we miss any of the greatest rappers of all time on our list? Let us know in the comments!