I am a big fan of hip hop and like so many other people I recognize its place in music history. Unfortunately like so many other musical styles the corporate machine has infiltrated hip hop and in some cases watered it down and in other cases turned it against its own people.
Today we forget about the negative and celebrate the best of hip hop and present the top 10 best rappers of all time. There are 4 elements that were consider when choosing the top 10 rappers. Each act on the list has created music with a message and has stood the test of time. Some have had more commercial success than others but they all have created songs that are as strong and relevant today as the day they made them.
Lyrics The heart of hip hop is the amazing way people use lyrics to paint a picture. Crafty lyrics that make you think or just make you say "hmm" are a big factor. Storytelling (a dying art form in hip hop today) is also a measure of excellence in the judging.
Originality People who pave their own way always stand out from the rest. Each of these rappers is clearly unique from their peers in both style and content.
Creativity If all you rap about is one thing over and over again you are automatically disqualified. You can be a gangster but even gangsters can talk about more than just one subject.
Longevity You don't have to be around for 20 years, but no one-hit-wonders are allowed here. Multiple albums plus some commercial success is required to be considered an all-time great.
Those are the rules. Here is the list. Feel free to disagree (respectfully) in the comments.
Top 10 Rappers of All Time
Anybody who writes a 600 page hip hop bible ("The Gospel of Hip Hop") has to be included on this list. Lawrence Parker (aka KRS-One) has been the conscience of hip hop for the past 20 years. Although he has certainly enjoyed his own commercial success, Kris has also inspired and collaborated with countless others who needed and wanted a top notch political lyricist on their track. Alsways speaking on a range of topics from poverty to corporate corruption KRS-One is a solid entry in the top 10. See Inspirational People Profile: KRS-One
Eric B. and Rakim are defiitely not the most popular act on this list, but within rap circles Rakim was the man that alomst every other east coast rapper looked up to. In the 90's people measured themselves against the style and flow of Rakim. With timeless tracks like "Lyrics of Fury" and "Don't Sweat the Technique", the commercial success was certainly there, but it was the underground sound that made Eric B and Rakim stand out from the pack.
8. Ice Cube
NWA was a legendary group, but when Ice Cube left NWA never recovered. The master lyricist of the group, Ice Cube took his talents solo and never looked back. Never apologetic, Ice Cube was and still is one of the best storytellers in the game. Ice Cube has an uncanny ability to paint such vivid pictures through his rap that you can almost see it unfold as you listen. It's no wonder Cube took his talents to film. Still making music, Ice Cube has found some way to balance his street persona with his mainstream film and TV image (no easy task).
7. Kanye West
He may be arrogant, but what rapper isn't? He may not be a spokesman for all black people, but what rapper could be? What Kanye does well is create some of the most interesting raps written over an always changing and mesmerizing track. His use of sampling far exceeds the skill of any other rappers/producers on the list and Kanye never seems to make the same song twice. He can make you laugh on one song, think on the next and party on the third. Whether solo or on callabos with artists like Jay Z or Twista you always know a Kanye West song when you hear it.
6. Notorious BIG
Many would put Biggie at the top of the list and it would be hard to argue. The only reason he is not at the top here is because his career was unfortunately cut short by his senseless death. Biggie dominated East Coast rap and influenced generations. Most people don't truly understand how lyrically gifted Biggie was until they actually read his lyrics. This man was creative and his flow was beyond sick. "Damn, why they want to stick me for my paper?"
Eminem could be on the list twice: Once for Slim Shady and once for Eminem. With some of the most original lyrics and an amazing flow, Eminem has earned his way into the top 10 through sheer will and determination. Eminem did what most rappers want to do: become a commercial success while all the time dissing the establishment and commercialism.
Tupac has influenced so many people in his lifetime we just can't seem to let him go. Multiple albums after he passed and holograms performing in concert, it seems like Tupac will live forever. The obvious reason is that he was able to touch so many people with his music that was some of the most honest ever written. No one has spoken directly to a generation more than Tupac and for that he is solidly in the top 10. See Inspirational People Profile: Tupac Shakur
Your favorite rapper's favorite rapper. Nas has been in the game a long time and he has the resume to prove it. If Nas would have stopped at Illmatic he would still be a top 10 contender, but Nas has continued to up his game and reach out in all types of musical styles. Always keeping it real, Nas is still putting out great music and shows no signs of slowing down.
2. Chuck D
The heart, soul and brains behind Public Enemy, Chuck D is one of the few artists who changed the rap game. Always political and putting out a serious message, Chuck D is responsible for a political revolution in rap at a time when all people wanted to do was go to the club or sing "gangsta, gangsta". A voice for the people on or off wax, Chuck D is still putting it down. See Inspirational People Profile: Chuck D
1. Jay Z
Jay Z is number one because he has changed the game in so many ways. He is certainly one of the most prolific rappers of all time. His lyrics are as fresh today as they were 15 years ago. He has teamed with some of the best rappers in history, and has created stars out of former nobodies (think Rihanna). A consummate professional and well-respected businessman, Jay Z is the literal "blueprint" for hip hop. See Inspirational People Profile: Jay Z
Honorable Mentions: Run DMC (rap pioneers), Slick Rick (best storyteller), Eazy E (the soul of NWA), LL Cool J (the crossover G.O.A.T.), Dead Prez, Mos Def, Beastie Boys
Special Shout: Immortal Technique is one of the best rappers you may have never heard of. The winner of multiple rap battles and a king of the underground, Immortal Technique only has 4 studio albums to his credit, but the man is a street legend and has SERIOUS rap skillage to go with sick beats and deep political lyrics. If you're not familiar with IT, listen to or download his EXCELLENT mixtape "The Martyr" for free. As Biggie would say “If you don’t know, now you know”.
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