Last November, Billboard released their list of the greatest rappers of all time. Billboard is normally pretty reliable when it comes to music but this list outraged most of the hip-hop community. As an avid fan of this genre of music, I too was shocked by the list because it seemed as though no research was done and names were just picked out of a hat. A fan of this site asked me to make a list of who I think should be considered the ten greatest rappers of all time. That was back in December haha. But have no fear, I have not forgotten about you! I’ve been taking my time with this, trying to perfect my list through intense research and listening sessions. I’ve been reading opinions from fans, opinions from hip-hop personas, and have been listening to artists new and old in order to create the best possible list. I want this list to represent the true greats, who not only put out exceptional music, but inspire others to do the same. That being said, with any Top Ten list, many great acts are going to be left off and bias is going to creep in. I did everything I could to not let any personal bias for or against an artist effect my judgment when making this list, but liking or disliking something is going to persuade me a little. That’s just science. Anyway, here goes nothing…my Top Ten Greatest Emcees of All Time are:
Kicking off the list I have one of the most respected artists to ever spit. Scarface has made a living off of telling incredible street tales in every way imaginable. His rhymes are so poetic and his delivery is so smooth, he raps as if he’s tucking you in for a bedtime story. But the stories he’s telling clearly have a great influence on him as you can hear in his pain-ridden, weary voice. He’s seen it all, done it all, and rapped about it all and we can thank the good Lord that he did.
9) Andre 3000
Andre 3000 is a musical genius, plain and simple. His run with Outkast was full of legendary music that helped put the southern music scene on the map. But how can an artist stay so relevant despite not putting any of his own music out in almost a decade? Ask Andre Benjamin. Three stacks is a guy who can jump on any track with any artist and absolutely steal the show. Very few guys can do that. His originality when it comes to rhyming, flow, delivery, and subject matter are astounding. Nowadays, you never know when you’ll see his name pop up on a track list but when you do, you know it’s destined to be a great verse…every time.
8) Ice Cube
For me, Ice Cube was a no brainer for this list, I just didn’t know how high to put him. Cube was one of the most feared emcees in hip-hop, writing the majority of the rhymes for N.W.A. and dropping two of hip-hop’s greatest albums (“Amerikka’s Most Wanted” and “Death Certificate”). He was hostile, direct, and didn’t take shit from anybody. As far as battle rapping, he destroyed anyone who got in his way (cc: No Vaseline). He blew up in the 80s, took over in the 90s, and is still very relevant in today’s music scene; there (for the most part) isn’t another artist that can say that. Ice Cube is an icon and his presence will be felt in hip-hop for a long time.
7) Big Daddy Kane
Big Daddy Kane remains one of the most lyrically gifted artists to ever grace the mic. He was ferocious and attacked the mic with vicious punch-lines and a braggadocios swagger that no one before (or after) could match. His debut album “Long Live the Kane” is nearly 30 years old and can still go toe-for-toe, bar-for-bar with any album out there. He is a lyrical master that has helped mold the art of rapping into what it is today.
2Pac at 6?!?! What is this guy talking about? Yeah, I know it seems low, but honestly, anyone on this list could jump up (or down) depending on the day. The higher up on the list I got, the harder it got to rank these guys, but at least I am smart enough to have Pac on the list (looking at you Billboard). One reason I have him down a littler lower is due to his unfortunately short career, but that’s a weak excuse since I have (SPOILER) Biggie ahead of him. Look, Pac had incredible influence and ability, but someone has to get shafted on a top ten list, right? At least I admit I’m probably undervaluing him here. As for his legacy, Pac was just fascinating the way he could make music about the thug life and then turn right around and drop a song about social activism. He truly embodied every aspect of the human emotion, maybe more so than any other artist, and spilled them all over the page into every song. Whether he’s 6 on my list or 1 on yours, we can both agree that 2Pac is without question one of the best artists of all time.
5) The Notorious B.I.G.
Another guy I probably undervalue but again, he only released two albums in his all too short career. On the other hand, what does it say about a guy who released only two albums and is considered by nearly everybody as a top 5 artist of all time? That’s pretty amazing stuff. The guy didn’t have the quantity, but he had the quality. His raps were so smooth, so powerful, and so unlike anything before him. He didn’t mess around with intricate rhymes or fancy long words; he just stuck to his roots and created a style that catapulted him straight into the GOAT discussion. He could rap over any style of beat and could give any rapper a run for his money. During a time when the West Coast was dominating hip-hop, Biggie’s “Ready or Die” helped breath life into the East Coast scene, leveling the playing field and opening the door for many acts to follow.
4) Jay Z
When you think of Jay Z, you think of longevity. Starting with a classic, “Reasonable Doubt,” in 1996 all the way until now, Jigga has remained in the upper echelon of rappers. His output is incredibly impressive, dropping 16 albums (4 of them joint projects) in 20 years. What makes Jay Z special is his seemingly effortless approach on the mic, whether it’s over a soulfully produced Kanye beat or a Just Blaze banger. His proficient flow and cool swagger merge perfectly over the instrumentals, creating a sound that makes rapping seem easy. How does he do this? Before heading into the booth to record a verse, Jay memorizes every lyric so he doesn’t have to read off his lines. This creates an authenticity and essence that few (if any) other artists can pull off. A true man amongst boys in the rap game, especially when it comes to his wisecracking wordplay.
Here is where my bias may have kicked in a tad. There’s no denying Eminem is one of the GOAT’s but he’s always been my favorite artist and putting him any lower than three seemed crazy to me. Lyrically, there are only a handful (if that) of guys that are even in the ballpark with Em. His technicality, multitude of flows, and intricate rhyme schemes are arguably the best of all time. His passion for emceeing is apparent in every track and his delivery is always flawless. In addition to his lyrical skill, the guy can write songs like few others. His creativity has no boundaries. He can be funny (Guilty Conscience), he can be rageful (Cleaning Out My Closet), he can be motivational (Lose Yourself), and these are just a few of the emotions he’s explored throughout his illustrious career. I consider “The Marshall Mathers LP” one of the greatest albums of all time and still listen to it regularly. Eminem will always be my favorite artist for so many reasons, and he is certainly a top ten emcee to ever grab hold of a microphone.
A lot of people consider Nas the greatest of all time. Hell, you could say that about any of the previous 5 names on this list, but I have him at number 2 in a tight race. Another guy ripe with longevity and creativity, Nas has pushed the boundaries of hip-hop for two decades. His debut album “Illmatic” will forever be considered one of the most iconic hip-hop albums ever, and he hasn’t stopped since then. Yes, he hit a few road bumps in the middle of his career, but ultimately, his greatness cannot be denied. His rhymes are like poetry and his storytelling is otherworldly. That’s what really sets Nas apart, his songwriting. Songs like “One Love,” “I Gave You Power,” and “Fried Chicken” are just a few stand out examples of Nas’s premier conceptual songs. He seems to be a blend of all things you want in the perfect rapper, so why isn’t he number 1 on my list? Well, I gave the number one spot to…
That’s correct. Rakim is the greatest emcee of all time…to me anyway. He is the most revolutionary lyricist to influence the genre and that to me puts him above all others. He is the reason so many artists started rapping with intricate rhyme schemes. He is the reason we have guys like Eminem and Nas on this list. Listen to older artists like Run DMC, Kool Moe Dee, and Melle Mel and you hear similar rigid structures of rhyming. That doesn’t mean they weren’t all great, but it just goes to show how innovative, different, and influential Rakim was to hip-hop. Rakim is to hip-hop what Uber is to drunk people…an absolute game changer. Not only were his rhymes innovative, they were delivered effortlessly with elegance and without boundaries. He made multisyllabic rhymes seem like a breeze and displayed some of the most impressive verbal acrobatics to date. As you can tell by the list, I value lyrical ability very highly, so it only felt right to put the pioneer atop the list, even if some of his protégées may have had more successful careers.
Well folks, there you have it. I’ve worked on this on and off for 8 months and I’m fairly happy with the final product. I’ve changed the order of this list 100 times and realistically could change this list around 100 more times and like it just as much. I love hearing what people have to say about this topic so please chime in on any form of social media. I know I did better than Billboard but I hope I lived up to your standards, readers. Let me know who you got in your top 10, top 5, top 3, whatever. Embrace debate! I’m going to try and write more concept pieces like this so you guys and gals can have some more hot and tasty content to read. If you want me to write an article about something regarding hip-hop that you would find interesting, please let me know. I love hearing from you all and ultimately, I’m here to please you. Thanks for reading. Talk to you soon.