30. Cardi B
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Cardi B (real name Belcalis Almanzar) is atop the rap mountain at this point in time. At only 26 years of age, she’s already put out three number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Many people love to compare her to Nicki Minaj — and others view her as a very polarizing figure. Regardless, Cardi B isn’t going anywhere for a long, long time.
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The multi-time Grammy winner has long been a fixture within the rap game. Dating back the early ’90s, Common (real name Lonnie Lynn) has been delighting fans all across the world with poignant lyrics, velvety vocals, and impeccable delivery. Ardent pleas for equality through his music has been fortified further by his ability to be a activist for social justice. To this day, the poetic Common continues to fight for the underprivileged youth of the United States.
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The former Canadian child actor named Aubrey Graham has turned into arguably the most recognizable rapper in the world today. There are questions from rap purists over whether Drake is actually a rapper — or whether he’s more of a pop singer. Regardless, one can’t hate on the insane amount of money he’s made over the last decade. His newer stuff is most certainly more ‘pop centric’ — though older jams like “Over” and “Fear” is truer to the rap template (as opposed to “Controlla” and “Hotline Bling”).
27. Chuck D
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At the height of the rap group game, Public Enemy stood out as a heavy-hitter. Along with Flavor Flav, Chuck D (Carlton Ridenhour) turned Public Enemy into one of the most successful rap group entities of all-time. Chuck D was masterful with his flow, and even better when it came to his lyrical construction. Few — if any — were better than him when it came to crafting together clever puns and thought-provoking material. Above all else, Public Enemy never failed to drop absolute bangers (such as “Harder Than You Think” and “Fight The Power”).
26. Kendrick Lamar
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Over the last five years, Kendrick Lamar has represented the only rapper with a real homage to the past. He just sounds like the type of performer who’d be cutting his/her teeth during the early ’90s. Lamar’s lyrics are socially sensitive, sometimes political, and all the while full of meaning. Duly, he’s also arguably the biggest rapper to come out of LA since Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. Without question, Kendrick Lamar is a rising star within the industry.
25. LL Cool J
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Before being known exclusively as an actor, LL Cool J was quite the rapper. The Queens native was a child prodigy. He began rapping as a young kid — and ultimately made a name for himself all over New York City. The 51-year-old holds the distinction as being one of the first rappers to burst into American mainstream media. LL Cool J also must get tons of props for cultivating a career starting in 1984.
24. Lupe Fiasco
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Lupe Fiasco kicked and pushed his way into the limelight during the early 2000s. The Chicago native is a highly complex individual. He doesn’t care about being mainstream — nor does he conform to anyone’s idea of what he should be. Lupe Fiasco’s music speaks to the people — and the said plight of those who are beset by issues. Aside from being an award-winning artist, Lupe Fiasco is also highly successful as a producer and a business owner (with multiple clothing lines).
23. Busta Rhymes
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Busta Rhymes (Trevor Smith Jr. ) can “pass the Courvoisier” better than anyone. He never really broke out as a gigantic star. Much of that was a byproduct of the time (where he was surrounded by giants in the industry). Had Rhymes been in another era, we’d be looking at him in a different light. All nine of his albums are atypical in nature — making him highly unique.
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KRS-One was a pioneer of multiple sub-genres within the overarching genre of rap. The Bronx native was beyond ‘woke’ when factoring in the generation he came from. A poet with words and a brilliant guy when it came to comprehending the pulse of the nation, KRS-One often rapped intelligently. His breadth as a performer was quite impressive, and thus there’s no doubt he’s an all-timer.
21. Lil’ Kim
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Before the days of Cardi B, Nicki Minaj and other mainstream female rappers, it was Lil Kim (Kimberly Jones) throwing it down as the first well-known female rapper. She wasn’t the first to emerge — though she certainly developed into a household name. Lil Kim’s lyrics were angry — and at times downright aggressive. A garish fashion sense further catapulted her into notoriety. To this day, Lil Kim has sold more than 30 million single records across the world.
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A Tribe Called Quest has gained a global cult following due to Q-Tip (born Jonathan Davis aka Kamaal Ibn John Fareed). He exquisitely created an amalgam of traditional rap and evolved versions of jazz. In the process, Q-Tip became a gigantic producer. There are few musicians within the genre as unequivocally revered as Q-Tip.
19. MC Lyte
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In what was a male-dominated industry, MC Lyte (Lana Moorer) emerged as one of the earliest (and most respected) female rappers on the East Coast. Her music is chock-full of energy. Whether it be her lyrical construction — or musical arrangement — MC Lyte provided more than a few hits. “Lyte as a Rock” is arguably her crown jewel.
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The Houston rapper is one of the most well respected rappers in the game. Long before social media had a penchant for highlighting the unsavory aspects of life in America, Scarface — using witty lyrics and bumping beats — worked tirelessly to address both police brutality and racism. Dating back to the late ’80s, Scarface continues to put out quality content.
17. Mos Def
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Mos Def (real name Dante Smith aka Yasiin Bey) essentially is what 2Pac was before 2Pac was killed. Mos Def is a phenomenal rapper. He’s dipped his toes into a number of ponds — and has collaborated with a plethora of heavy-hitters within the East Coast scene. Aside from his musical chops, Mos Def is also a very accomplished actor. Using his platform as a figurehead and as an artist, he continues to fight for the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, and those who are constantly being pushed down.
16. Black Thought
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Mumble rappers are absolute garbage. Picture the exact opposite, and you’ll come up with Black Thought. The Philadelphia native (real name Tariq Trotter) is brilliant when it comes to weaving together sound with thought-provoking lyrics. The ‘thought’ part of his stage name is more than apropos when describing this talent. Black Thought was a large influence in transitioning ‘old school’ rap into its current standing.
15. Ghostface Killah
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The Wu-Tang Clan is immensely iconic. When dissecting the group, Ghostface Killah holds the candle as the face of the bunch. The rapper has ridiculous flow, a wordsmith persona, and possesses the charismatic flair to front the band. Ghostface Killah is a true entertainer through and through.
14. Big Daddy Kane
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Big Daddy Kane wasn’t the mainstream star that some of his successors (Nas, Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac) were. However, BDK set the stage for many to follow in his footsteps as a complete showman. Big Daddy Kane was extremely clever on the mic. Brooklyn rap was not only shaped by Big Daddy Kane, but also exposed as a true pillar of the entire genre.
13. Snoop Dogg
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West Coast rap and Snoop Dogg are completely synonymous with one another. While most East Coast rap is a bit supercharged in nature, Snoop’s laid-back presentation completely encapsulated the early ’90s in Long Beach. He’s produced banger after banger — and has done it for an extended period of time. Snoop earns a ton of respect on that basis alone.
12. Lauryn Hill
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Hill’s voice haunts to the point of extreme admiration. Her vocals hang over the air like a grandiose balloon exploding into the sky. Whether it be with the Fugees or in a solo capacity, Hill is absolutely tremendous. She’s also not talked about nearly enough when it comes to the poignant and effective nature of her lyrics (especially pertaining to interpersonal relationships).
11. Andre 3000
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Andre 3000 (of Outkast) is one of — if not the most underrated rapper of this current generation. Bigger names overshadowed just how truly gifted he is with both the written word and the spoken word. He — along with partner Big Boi — helped tremendously in raising the profile of Southern Rap (when the industry was previously dominated by the East Coast-West Coast feud).
10. Ice Cube
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Cube’s voice — along with his lyrics — were draped in raw, unabated attitude. He was once an angst-ridden youth, something which drove his art to be utterly transparent in its quality. Initially a member of famed group NWA, Cube eventually broke away to become a solo artist. 20 years later, he’s one of the most successful musical entrepreneurs in the world.
9. 2pac Shakur
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2Pac had a world of talent. Had he chosen to strictly focus on writing, he could’ve very well become a Pulitzer-winning poet. His lyrical construction was both vivid and unmistakable. All the while, the biting words tugged on the heartstrings of those absorbing his content. Transcendent for his times, 2Pac often balanced on the delicate tightrope of racism and social issues. Simply put, he was a giant within the industry.
8. Kanye West
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Regardless of what you think about his political views or romantic relationships, Kanye is a top-10 talent of all-time. The Chicago native got his feet wet with the critically acclaimed album The College Dropout. From there, anthems such as “Through the Wire,” “All Falls Down,” “Jesus Walks,” and “Blood on the Leaves” were born. Kanye also gets credit for being rather experimental when it comes to overall presentation from a musical accompaniment standpoint.
7. Lil Wayne
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Tunechi (real name Dwayne Carter Jr.) helped usher in a new movement of hip-hop in the post-gangster rap era. Southern rappers began garnering a foothold in the genre, and Lil Wayne was by far the most prolific of the bunch. The five-time Grammy Award-winner has been nominated an eye-popping 26 times. Wayne’s raspy, slow drawl was fortified further by the additions of instrumentals and synths. To this day, Wayne also exists as an excellent collaborator (as seen within a ton of songs featuring fellow top talent).
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Before Nas, Notorious B.I.G., and others emerged on the East Coast, you had Rakim. Lyrically, few compared to the New York native. He paired with Eric B. to completely revolutionize the hip-hop scene during the 1980’s. Along the way, Rakim paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps. His complex lyrical construct is one many have attempted to copy, though none have truly captured the essence of Rakim on stage.
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Raw. Uncut. Gritty. Brutally Transparent. All of the aforementioned adjectives could describe Eminem (aka Marshall Mathers). The words jotted on paper — and then eventually rapped on stage — were virtually diary entries for a man who struggled with the demons of poverty and addiction. Eminem’s clever lyrics were buoyed by his love of the dictionary. He’d spend hours searching for words to fit his narrative. When it’s all said and done, Eminem more than earned his respect in an industry expecting him to fail.
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Nas and the East Coast rap game are completely synonymous with one another. Starting in the early ’80s, Nas began hitting the Long Island streets with mix tape after mix tape. After garnering a local buzz, Nas flourished — starting by signing with Columbia Records. Nas was immensely introspective, and in a sense personal when rapping. His lyrics were poetic in nature, and seamlessly flowed. While he wasn’t always a mainstream name, many within the industry recognize Nas’ ridiculous talent.
3. Dr. Dre
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Dre is the godfather of rap. As an artist himself, his discography isn’t as vast as some of his contemporaries. However, Dre made his mark as arguably the greatest music producer we’ve ever seen. He’s worked with virtually every heavy hitter in the genre. Not only that, but Dre has won six Grammy Awards throughout his illustrious career. His influence on the West Coast rap game cannot be overstated enough.
2. Notorious B.I.G.
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B.I.G. still remains a global icon roughly 20 years after his unfortunate passing. Born Christopher Wallace, the Brooklyn native was a true wordsmith. His ability to quickly mesh together rhymes was tremendous. Wallace often crafted beautiful soliloquy’s about life on the streets — and the ever-present struggle to survive. One also can’t measure Biggy’s presence on stage. His larger-than-life persona was eclipsed only by his actual size.
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HOVA lands the top billing on this list for both his overall talent and comprehensive body of work. He really is a “business, man and not a businessman” when analyzing the success he’s had over the course of the last 20 years. Hailing from Brooklyn, Jay quickly made a name for himself with pace. Simply put, the rhythm with which Jay-Z raps is unparalleled. There’s an immense level of versatility when it comes to his vocal presentation. He can structure stanzas with a ton of speed — whilst others will be slow. All the while, his velvety smooth voice remains intact. The man worth nearly a billion dollars is unquestionably the current G.O.A.T of rapping.