We know everyone comes to these best rappers of all time lists and expects to see The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Amaru Shakur leading the pack; with great reason, they are LEGENDS.
10 Best Rappers of All Time
Let us acknowledge The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Amaru Shakur's Rap Gods’ stature and make space for other frontrunners to grace this list. Hip-Hop is subjective and encapsulates many different flow rhythms, rhyme schemes, and regional dialects.
As a result, it is impossible to satisfy everyone regarding who made our top ten. However, these rappers are all deserving of their rankings for different reasons.
These artists have greatly influenced and defined hip-hop culture and are still heavily impacting current rap artists. Rap music would not be as revered as it is today without the contributions of these ten musical geniuses.
Several rap artists from the Golden Age of Hip-Hop are deserving, including KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Salt-N-Pepa, LL Cool J, and Run D.M.C. However, there is no contesting the lyrical superiority of Rakim, and for that reason, he made the top ten.
American rapper Rakim is the other half of the first DJ/MC duo, Erik B. & Rakim. The hip-hop community recognizes him as one of the greatest skilled and influential rappers ever.
He pioneered using internal and multisyllabic rhymes, both techniques in flow style.
According to rapper Kool Moe Dee, Rakim is the inventor of “flow.’ First, it was called rhyming and cadence but is now called flow. Erik B. and Rakim put out four albums together, while Rakim dropped three solo albums. Their album, Paid in Full, is on various rap album best lists.
In 2012, The Source ranked him Number 1 on their list of the Top 50 Lyricists of All Time. Rakim’s lyrical genius helped set a precedent for complex lyrics and the use of metaphors to paint his musical masterpieces.
Best Rakim Tracks
- When I B On Tha Mic
- Paid in Full
- I Ain’t No Joke
- Waiting For The World To End
9. Wu-Tang Clan
The Wu-Tang Clan is a New York hip-hop group and cultural movement representing East Coast styles consisting of many rappers. For instance, R.Z.A., G.Z.A., Ol’ Dirty B, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and Cappadonna make up Wu-Tang.
They defined a glossary of slang words and spoke their unique language, attracting fans to learn and represent it too.
Additionally, the Wu-Tang Clan was one of the first hip-hop groups to produce merch, including hats and hoodies, to unify their movement.
Their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is often rated as one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever crafted. Wu-Tang Clans’ hardcore rap stylings laid the foundation for New York rappers like Jay Z, Nas, and Mobb Deep.
Wu-Tang is an acronym for Witty Unpredictable Talent And Natural Game, and they have demonstrated that through group albums and several successful solo careers.
While each member is impressive and brings a uniqueness to the group, there is no contesting that Ghostface Killah and Method Man are two of the best rappers of all time.
Best Wu-Tang Clan Tracks
- Protect Ya Neck
- Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit
Image Credit: Shutterstock.
We know most lists pick and choose from the group, but N.W.A. deserves recognition as a whole. N.W.A. stands for N***az Wit Attitudes, and they are not playing.
Initially founded in 1987, the group consisted of Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube. Additional members, D.J. Yella and MC Ren, joined later that year and collectively put Compton on the map.
N.W.A. is a highly controversial rap group that helped father the gangsta rap genre popularized in the nineties. Their single, “F*** tha Police,” protested racial profiling and police brutality and was so controversial that radio stations would not play it.
Police officers and bureaucrats were outraged. They refused to protect N.W.A. at their venues. Additionally, the F.B.I. got involved and wrote a letter advising trouble with the song lyrics.
Christians were protesting and destroying albums in the streets. Tipper Gore led the charge, and N.W.A. was deemed dangerous, inappropriate, and slapped with parental advisory stickers on their albums, joining explicit lyrics rappers Ice-T and 2 Live Crew.
Despite the negative attention, N.W.A.’s album Straight Outta Compton sold over 3 million copies without a radio single! Then, unfortunately, the group fell apart following financial controversy with their manager, Jerry Heller.
However, that was only the beginning for many of the group members. Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren achieved platinum album statuses with their solo works in the nineties.
Additionally, Dr. Dre has become a successful record producer and has discovered and produced other rap legends, including Snoop Dogg and Eminem. Ice Cube has experienced tremendous success in screenwriting and acting.
N.W.A. was monumental in highlighting the brutalities of living in the hood and putting the West Coast on the hip-hop map. In 2016, N.W.A. was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A highly-prestigious recognition considering only ten rappers have ever been inducted
In 2015, an N.W.A biographical movie, Straight Outta Compton, featured Ice Cube’s son. It’s awesome! The surviving members of N.W.A. were involved in the production. It is a must-watch for Eric Eazy-E Wright, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube fans.
Best N.W.A. Tracks
- F*** tha Police
- Straight Outta Compton
- Express Yourself
- Gangsta Gangsta
Image Credit: Shutterstock.
7. Tech N9ne
Tech N9ne is one of the fastest and lyrically dope rappers to pick up a mic. He co-founded Strange Music and established himself as the most significant independent rapper ever, producing twenty studio albums and eight collabos.
Tech N9ne, also known as Tecca Nina, has amassed a cult-like following for obvious reasons.
First, he has mastered the “Chopper” style rap flow that has earned him three golds and one platinum album. He crosses genres creating incredible collaborations with artists, including The Doors and Corey Taylor from Slipknot.
Finally, Tech has fantastic mainstream collaborations with rappers like Lil Wayne, Twista, Busta Rhymes, Logic, Wiz Khalifa, and The Game.
In 2018, Tecca Nina broke the Most Top 10s record on Billboard’s Rap Album Charts. An honor he shared previously with rap greats Gucci Mane and E-40. His style is honest and raw, and his discography demonstrates incredible personal growth through some rather dark times.
Lyrically, he expresses his life in the same brutal fashion as Eminem. However, his music is relatable and continues to reach wider audiences with every hot feature and top ten.
Best Tech N9ne Tracks
- Worldwide Choppers
- Am I a Psycho
- B.I.T.C.H. Featuring T-Pain
- Caribou Lou
Image Credit: AppiDrama.
6. Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar is a newer contender on the list, but his intricate lyrics and exceptional storytelling have earned him his place.
Kendrick assembled a significant online following after independently releasing his Section 80 album before signing with Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records.
His major-label debut album received significant critical recognition and mainstream success. However, his third album release, To Pimp a Butterfly, earned him his first number one album on Billboard 200. It was a turning point in his lyrical content.
The album embodies the Black-American experience and has funk, jazz, and soul musical influences centering on its spoken word. It is a musical masterpiece that received several accolades, including Grammys for Best Rap Album and Album of the Year.
In addition, Lamar created Marvel’s Black Panther Soundtrack, marking a monumental moment in Superhero fandom. His fourth album is the only non-classical, and non-jazz album awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
In 2016, Time named him one of the most influential people in the world on their top 100 list. Kendrick has had several incredible features with artists, including ScHoolboy Q, Nipsey Hussle, and Kanye West.
In addition, Lamar and Taylor Swift received an MTV Music Award for Best Collaboration for their number one hit, “Bad Blood.” It also won a Grammy, but who is counting?
He has quickly become your favorite rapper’s new favorite rapper. He contends with the greats and, most recently, had the honor of performing at the 2022 Super Bowl Halftime Show with legends 50 Cent and Mary J. Blige, where he quickly became a household name alongside Eminem, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg.
Side Note: Lamar is among four Super Bowl 2022 superstars who are sober advocates of drug-free living. Mary J. Blige, Eminem, and 50-Cent are the other artists killing it for the sober community.
Best Kendrick Lamar Tracks
- Swimming Pools (Drank)
- All the Stars (Black Panther Soundtrack)
- B*tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe
Image Credit: Shutterstock.
5. Missy Elliott
Five-time Grammy award winner, Missy Elliott, takes inventiveness and originality to exciting levels in her hip-hop legacy. She stepped into the spotlight while unleashing her Supa Dupa Fly swagger onto the scene, dominating the charts with her unique sound and style.
When rappers like Lil Kim and Foxy Brown dropped beef tracks, Missy empowered women to become unified, in a similar fashion as Queen Latifah.
She is a one-of-a-kind artist whose musical influence helped catapult Aaliyah into mainstream fame. She and long-time production partner Timbaland helped shape Aaliyah’s iconic sound, starting with “If Your Girl Only Knew,” from her One in a Million album.
Missy Elliott dominated the nineties with her unique rhymes and masterful flow.
In 1997 she was featured on Lil Kim’s “Not Tonight,” alongside rap greats Da Brat, Angie Martinez, and Lisa Left-Eye Lopes from T.L.C.
Additionally, she produced a show-stopping, chart-topping rendition of Patti Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” which received a 2002 Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
There are no other female rappers like her. She continuously reinvents herself and delivers groundbreaking hits while creating perhaps the best visually captivating music videos of any artist spanning all genres. She set a bar for and has influenced various female rappers stepping into the game.
Many people are unaware that Missy Elliott has written or produced songs for several significant artists, including J. Cole, MC Lyte, Tweet, Eve, Mary J Blige, and more.
Best Missy Elliott Tracks
- Gossip Folks
- Get Ur Freak On
- Work It
- The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)
- Lose Control
Image Credit: Shutterstock.
Outkast is one of the most influential rap duos to enter the rap gods’ arena. Atlanta-based rapper André 3000 (Dre Benjamin) and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton exploded onto the rap scene with their number one single, “Player’s Ball,” in 1994 and have been dominating the game ever since.
It was a critical time in hip-hop history. The West Coast and East Coast feud was reaching a boiling point when Outkast demanded our attention from the South.
Unlike the hardcore gangsta rap popularized at the time, Outkast brought an entirely new sound to the hip-hop movement, combining psychedelia, funk, techno, and jazz.
After winning the Best New Artist Source Award in 1995, Atlanta was officially on the map. Outkast opened the stage for the Dirty South’s best rappers of all time, including T.I., Ludacris, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and Young Jeezy.
Outkast has blessed us with six albums and has earned six Grammy awards for their musical genius. In addition, when they released their double album in 2003 (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below), we discovered Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s solo ingenuities.
While Big Boi’s “The Way You Move” spent eight weeks in the number two position on the Billboard 100, Andre 3000’s “Hey Ya” spent that time at number one.
However, Big Boi bumped Andre into the number two spot for one week of their nine-week run. According to genius, “that was the sixth time a recording act has replaced itself on the Billboard pop chart.” They are two of the greatest rappers to represent the south.
One final mention, Outkast worked on a film called Idlewild, and it came with a certified platinum soundtrack that debuted at number one on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Top Rap Albums. It is a phenomenal watch and listen for Outkast fans and hip-hop aficionados.
Best Outkast Tracks
- Ms. Jackson
- The Whole World
- Elevators (Me and You)
- Rosa Parks
Image Credit: Shutterstock.
After the world lost Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, we witnessed a new beef develop between two of New York’s best rappers of all time, Nas and Jay-Z.
They traded shots for decades before publicly squashing their beef in 2005, but the fire of their feud is partially what makes Nas lyrically one of the greatest ever to pick up a mic.
Nas’s Illmatic is highly-revered as one of the best debut rap albums of all time. He went number one with it, with zero features or assistance.
It is a legendary start to an impressive rap career spanning fourteen albums, ten of which have been certified gold, platinum, or multi-platinum.
Additionally, he won a Grammy for Best Rap Album with his twelfth release, Life is Good. Nas’s music took a political directional turn after signing with Jay-Z’s Def Jam Recordings.
Nas is an incredible poet and master lyricist who captivates complete attention. In addition, he is one of the greatest storytellers in hip-hop history and continues to break new ground.
Fun Fact: All the royalties from his collaborative album with Damian Marley went to charities in Africa. Nas is an outstanding example of leadership and continues to leave his mark on the music industry.
Best Nas Tracks
- One Mic
- If I Ruled the World (Imagine That) Featuring Lauryn Hill
- N.Y. State Of Mind
- I Can
- Nas is Like
Image Credit: Shutterstock.
Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z, Jigga, and H.O.V., holds the record for the most number-one albums by a solo artist on the Billboard 200. Winner of 24 Grammys, Hova splits the honor of rapper with the most Grammys with Kanye West.
He started selling CDs out of his car before founding Roc-A-Fella Records with Damon “Dame” Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke.
Perhaps, the most notable album in his discography is The Black Album. It was H.O.V.’s number one selling record of the 2000s and included a trifecta of hits “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” “Change Clothes,” and “99 Problems.”
He is not only one of the best rappers of all time but also a philanthropist and outstanding businessman. His endeavors include Rocawear Clothing, Roc Nation, Tidal, and Cannabis. Also, he co-produced the docuseries Time: The Kalief Browder Story on Netflix, an essential watch.
In addition, he is the wealthiest rapper songwriter of all time and has written songs for hip-hop moguls Rick Ross, Kanye, and his wife, Beyonce Knowles. Also, Jay-Z is the first live solo rap artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the first billionaire rapper.
Furthermore, he is the first rapper to be honored in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Carter Administration has teased retirement several times with 25+ years of continuous hits and 13 studio albums, but he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
Hova has three Guinness records. First, he holds the record for the most No. 1 rap solo albums on the Billboard 200, and most rap albums debuted at No. 1. Jay also earned one with Beyonce as the highest-earning power couple.
He is regarded by many as the G.O.A.T.
Best Jay-Z Tracks
- Empire State of Mind
- Dirt Off Your Shoulder
- 99 Problems
- Dead Presidents II
Image Credit: Kevin Winter.
Marshall Bruce Mathers III, aka Eminem, broke into mainstream hip hop after signing with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment. His 1999 debut release, The Slim Shady LP, had the entire world’s attention.
Written from his alter-ego Slim Shady’s perspective, Eminem depicted the problems of poverty, crime, and family turmoil by using comical violence and dark humor to elaborate on his points.
Despite having a storm of controversy surrounding his excessive use of profanity and graphic lyrical depictions of violence, Eminem received praise from fans and critics.
His following two albums, The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show were both nominated for an Album of the Year Grammy Award and experienced tremendous success worldwide. Eminem is an international superstar who works with the greatest record producer on the West Coast (Dr. Dre).
He has since released several more albums and currently holds the record for the most certified artist with the most gold and platinum singles, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (R.I.A.A.).
His albums, Relapse, and Recovery demonstrate his strength and growth through addiction and dark times, making his music relatable for many during this deadly opioid crisis.
Marshall Mathers experienced tremendous success with the movie 8 Mile, loosely based on his life. It came with a dope soundtrack that included the track “Lose Yourself.” A song still relevant and played in heavy rotation 20 years later today.
The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, making it the first rap song in history to earn one. He is the number-one-selling rapper of all time, with over 227 million albums sold worldwide.
Em holds 13 Guinness World Records, including having the most consecutive No.1 albums on U.S. Billboard 200 charts. Additionally, he will be a 2022 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, making him the tenth rapper inducted.
He is taking his place among rappers Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Other legendary company includes the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and Run D.M.C.
Eminem discovered rapper 50-Cent and gave us D12. He is a hip-hop legend who continues to break barriers and show remarkable growth as a superstar artist. He is untouchable, and that lands him his spot at number one.
Eminem Best Tracks
- Lose Yourself
- Till I Collapse, Featuring Nate Dogg
- Cleanin’ Out My Closet
Image Credit: Shutterstock.
There is a lot of significant talent to consider in creating a top ten list. Also, it’s easy to want to choose your favorite rappers and overlook many rappers deserving their place.
So here are some honorable mentions who didn’t make the cut but are some of the greatest rappers in the music industry,
- Royce da 5’9″
- Mos Def
- Talib Kweli
- MF Doom
- Lupe Fiasco
- Kanye West
- Snoop Dogg
- Mac Miller
- Big Pun
- Kid Cudi
- Slick Rick
Did your favorite rapper hit center stage, or did we drop the mic?
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.