The Venom promised you a list and here it is. Today marks 46 years that hip hop has been in existence. The genre has seen its up and downs. From its early days as being an underground outlet for parties in New York to become a worldwide brand that touches all corners of the earth. It is truly astounding how much hip hop has changed the world of music.
This is why it is of paramount importance, that when one makes a list of “Top 50 Rappers”, it truly needs to grasp all aspects of the culture. I also believe it is a disservice to those who came before not to emphasize on what they brought to the culture. Sometimes it goes beyond just spitting lyrics, but also all about how a rapper influenced his generation which affected the hip hop scene and the eventual artists who would take over in the future.
My list will not just be a cut and dry name drop, but also will include the top 46 moments that helped make hip hop historic. I will break this down to USA and Canada(later on this week) since I was shown lists representing both countries.
HIP HOP IN THE UNITED STATES
#1. DJ Kool Herc
The moment that started it all and I believe it’s place in history is not as revered as should it be. There would be no rappers at all if it wasn’t for the invention of DJ Kool Herc on August 11, 1973. At 18-years of age, a back-to-school jam at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, New York changed music forever. MC as it would become known in hip hop circles, meant to “Move The Crowd”, and that definitely was done on that fateful night.
It also should be noted that the genre was a backlash to the popular sounds of the time, the trending disco scene, would fizzle out to the rising sounds of hip hop. It was counter culture and it is ironic how the hip hop world would become popular sound years afterwards
#2. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
Some people may disagree with DJ Kool Herc in the #1 spot due to him not being an actual MC aka rapper in the strictest sense, but one has to understand that without that foundation of the breaks he created during his DJ sessions, there would not have been the opening for a MC to appear during the set.
One has to take into account that rappers were not welcomed in certain establishments during the 1970’s. The era disregarded the talent which was needed to MC in certain clubs. The scene took off due to crowds who were seen as outcasts by Wall Street and the MC created its own environment to thrive in due to this problem. It was seen as an offshoot of funk and it permeated the New York underground scene. Not too many people thought it would stick around by the early 80’s as disco was starting to fade as well.
However, there is one song that ensured that hip hop would stay for more than a quick 15 minutes of fame with the New York streets. “The Message”, brought a serious outlook on life that was not seen before in the music world. Once again, due to the skill set of a DJ, by the name of Grandmaster Flash, that was the foundation of the song that would skyrocket the MC to the forefront of the hip hop genre. “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” saw hip hop take a new turn.
With Grandmaster Flash setting the tone, hip hop got elevated to a new level with “The Message”. Every song that you hear today that speaks about the environments of the cities across North America is following the blueprint of this song below. From down south with T.I. with trap music to Los Angeles with Snoop, Ice Cube, and to Canada with hood rappers from Jane Finch to Regent Park back to Scarborough.
So, if you do not agree that DJ Kool Herc should be in the #1 spot, then The Venom spits it straight that all MCs are a variation of Melle Mel in terms of stage show, performing in large arenas, being a rock star, rapping about environments, and doing a combination of party music. The true foundation of rappers as we known them today traces back to Melle Mel who took the styles of the 1970’s to the next level in the mainstream forever.
They were also hip hop’s first rock stars traveling and touring with all time great acts in music history such as Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5ive. They were before their time and rappers such as Jay Z, Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Eminem, NWA, and more all followed their footsteps in rocking large arenas. Melle Mel being left off lists and his contribution to elevating the MC above the DJ in hip hop can’t see him placed other than the top 5. He set the tone for generations of gangsta rap and reality music worldwide.
#3. DEF JAM
Run DMC & LL Cool J
Yes, I put these two as a collective due to their contribution to hip hop as a business. Today everyone looks at the billionaire rapper in Jay Z and automatically give him GOAT status because of how he elevated himself from the Marcy Projects. I can see why he is some people’s “greatest of all-time” along with his way of being witty on rhymes, but honestly Run DMC and LL Cool J were the rappers that turned hip hop into franchises.
Run DMC paved the way for artists to get into the fashion world and they also knew how to keep it streets. The power dynamic put a hit on the popularity of Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five who were trying to keep hip hop at the big league level in the rock star realm. By this, I mean Melle Mel admitted that he did not appreciate Run DMC bringing back the gritty nature of the streets in terms of attire. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five took the street image and made it eccentric, while Run DMC took street wear of the youth in Adidas and made it fashionable.
Some hip hop fans may believe they were only popular due to that song that promoted the shoe line, but in actuality they helped bring back that gutter sound that started to get away from Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. They helped to crossover hip hop with their rap style and many groups afterwards have mimicked their way of incorporating fashion, but at the same time representing the streets. They also did something that Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five didn’t do. They weren’t just trying to be rock stars, but they also rocked with rock stars with the crossover hit, “Walk This Way” bringing hip hop even more into mainstream America. It was the first time we would see rappers being embraced by another culture and it would pave the way for rappers to create songs with artists outside of their industry. It was legendary and historic.
LL Cool J was another rapper that became a star due to him gaining popularity in the streets and also creating the lane for hip hop that catered to the women. Tupac would use this formula years later and even advised Biggie Smalls to rap for the women. The idea behind it was that the men follow where the women are and if the women are listening to your music, the guys would follow suit.
LL Cool J would also become a tv star and have a program based around his stardom. Yes, Will Smith needs to get a nod for his classic show “Fresh Prince Of Bel Air” in terms of bringing fresh eyes to a new audience that may have never given a rapper a chance on tv, but the difference with James Todd Smith is that he was also a hardcore rapper when called upon. Just ask Cannabis whether or not LL Cool J just rapped for females or he could spit with anyone in the game in his prime. He played both sides of the fence very well and there was a reason why he first coined the “GOAT” phrase in hip hop.
#4. ICE CUBE & NWA
In the 1980’s, as the rise of hip hop was hitting all cylinders across North America, the west coast revolutionized the rap style that was popularized by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.
What separated the two groups were that the NWA were speaking of things from a first hand account instead of the more storytelling aspect of Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. Eazy E is no doubt the foundation of the gangsta rap style that took over hip hop in the 1990’s. The style is still the most popular in the hip hop world today and this is all due to Ice Cube and the NWA.
Ice Cube was a prolific writer and when he went solo, he proved that political rap could become mainstream and keep its potency. He also took the styles of New York and meshed them for his songs by telling traditional stories such as “Today Was A Good Day” and “Check Yo Self”.
As was the case with New York’s LL Cool J, Ice Cube was able to transition himself in Hollywood with hit movies such as “Boyz N The Hood”, but still created hit music. He was also a battle rapper who take out crews that included his own in the NWA.
#5. TUPAC SHAKUR
One of the most controversial figures in hip hop history and for good reason. He is either loved or hated til this day with different people giving their take on his actual rap skills and what he meant to the culture.
DJ Vlad had him as his #1 on his top 50 greatest rappers list and I’m sure he makes it on plenty of fans list as well. He is also criticized by many for having “Thug Life” become the head fixture of hip hop’s most popular content.
He gets the number five position due to being a mixture of the 4 slots above him. He obviously studied the hip hop industry and used the foundational elements along with incorporating his skills learned from performance art school to have perhaps the greatest career in rap history.
If you wanted someone who could go into a battle rap, he sure could lead a nation if given the task. He was responsible for the whole East Coast and West Coast rap battle in the mid 1990’s. Remember what I said above about MC also meaning “Move The Crowd”? Shakur more than embodied that.
If you wanted to hear storytelling at its best, you could get that from Tupac with songs like “Dear Mama” and “Hold Ya Head”. He was multifaceted and talented with his acting as well in major movies that became hip hop pop culture such as Juice. Shakur in his own words explains why he was greater than a lot of his peers below. One interesting point he made was that he mastered the styles of the GOAT rappers and took over hip hop in 1995 and 1996 due to his thought process of what hip hop could become.
#6. NOTORIOUS BIG AKA BIGGIE SMALLS
If you listen to the interview above with Tupac Shakur, there was a real battle for the kingship of hip hop in 1995 and 1996. The “King Of New York” traditionally was the “King of Hip Hop” in the early formative years of the rap world. This all changed in the early 90’s when rap stars such as Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were becoming household names with their G Funk rap that was putting fans into a trance.
This changed when the shoulders of Biggie Smalls held the New York rap world. Nas was also being primed as the Rap Messiah by outlets such as The Source, but Biggie Smalls had something different. He had the combination of the rappers in the slots above him.
Everyone knows of his monstrous lyrics that equaled his large frame and when Diddy crafted his image to become mainstream, New York was suddenly back in the race for record sales where Nas failed with the critically acclaimed “Illmatic”. Notorious BIG was the total package that New York needed to take back its position. He had the skills of Rakim and the bodacious nature of KRS One battling MC Shan. His crossover appeal and potential was not touched upon as much as Ice Cube or Tupac, but that is more due to his time on earth being cut short.
Hip hop would eventually become more financially viable for a lot of artists in the future, but the industry was never hotter in terms of being the trendsetter as it was in the mid 90’s. TV shows such as Martin and “New York Undercover” had hip hop themes and fashion written all over it. Queen Latifah was the star of her own hit tv show along with LL Cool J and Fresh Prince.
The power of the pen and the divisive sword of the mouth was never greater than when Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG ran the hip hop world. Just imagine that for a second. My list has the NWA, Ice Cube, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Run DMC, and LL Cool J as rappers ahead of Tupac and Biggie Smalls, but in my estimation they only rank so low due to the two incorporating what was before and bringing hip hop to greater heights. These two could easily be #1 or #2 interchangeably if we are to create a different list under a different criteria. They ruled the roost when all the GOATS were around their prime or close to it (with exception to Melle Mel).
#7. JAY Z
For what I just mentioned above, I can’t with clear conscience give Jay Z a higher ranker than any of the rappers above. Jay Z arguably had his best album, “Reasonable Doubt”, during the same time period that Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur were the Kings of the West Coast and East Coast.
Jay Z went on to do greater things in terms of taking business onto a whole other level than the six men before him, while also being a wordsmith and lyrical assassin when needed(which all of the men so far are more than equipped with).
He took what was before and learned from everyone’s mistake by being meticulous with his movements in songs and in business. Jay Z is ranked at lucky #7 for rap reasons and business savvy. Hip Hop’s first billionaire is the prime example of incorporating all the elements mentioned above to create a GOAT rapper.
It is ironic that Nas is being placed underneath Jay Z in my list as many rap fans believe Nas destroyed Jay Z in their rap battle, but the rules for the list must be followed.
Jay Z overachieved in the rap game when he was slept on during the Rap King Wars of the mid 90’s, while Nas fell victim of trying to live up to his Hip Hop Messiah status. It may not be fair, but Nas failed in the commercial aspect which I believe takes a great rapper to a greatest rapper level. Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, and Jay Z were able to amount to.
Technically, the only rapper on this list above that really gives Nas a run for his money is Notorious BIG. Nas fell asleep for a bit in his career, but Jay Z woke that sleeping giant for us to receive the “Illmatic” like “Stillmatic”.
Nas would quietly become one of hip hop’s best investors and business men though with huge acquisitions later on his life. However, it was the moment Nas dropped the music video for “Got Myself A Gun” do you realize his place in hip history was set in stone and are fortunate to see one of the hip hop kings of the 90’s still alive to smell his roses today.
This ranking may not sit well with some, but the truth of the matter is Eminem is one of the greatest to ever to do it on a great scale. He mixed both commercial with underground and help further hip hop even more into the mainstream conscious.
The detractors will claim only certain segments of the hip hop nation listened to Eminem seriously, but just as I stated with Nas above, technically Em could take on anyone here with ease. Just listen to Eminem on Jay’s “Blueprint” single “Renegade” and listen to why he is top ten of all time kicking lyrics with a GOAT on the same track.
Here is a hip hop artist that has got lost in time. By this I mean, his contributions to the rap world at the time he arrived gets overlooked now due to his style becoming the common place structure of today. His wordplay more than anyone else set the blueprint for everybody on this list.
Rakim gets placed in the top ten, but he severely lacks the other ingredients I mention of those listed above. He never did seek to have the crossover appeal or get into rap battles which push him down the list.
However, I would find it truly appalling to leave Rakim out of the top ten rappers and moments in hip hop history. When he dropped “Follow The Leader”, it was more than prophetic. His style would become the hip hop norm until around 2012 when the new wave set by Cheif Keefe started to permeate the rap world. Rakim is the father of today’s rappers such as J. Cole, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, and more. He brought the lyricism levels up from what KRS One, Melle Mel, and MC Shan were doing before he appeared in the hip hop game.
The top ten GOAT rappers and moments are artists that brought certain events to the rap scene that changed the perception of the business. The rappers and moments below could easily be interchanged on any given day.
#11. ANDRE 3000
When the hip hop beef between Deathrow Records and Bad Boy Records was stealing all the spotlight in the industry, Andre 3000 spoke into existence “The South got something to say” and hip hop would later have perhaps its longest running region in history.
Andre 3000 is also regarded as a GOAT by a lot of rappers and fans alike for his wordplay and style.
#12. KENDRICK LAMAR
Lamar is from the same cloth of hip hop personification as Nas, Tupac(MC New York), and Biggie, but with West Coast soul. When he called himself “King Of New York”, he knew it too.
Before Andre 3000, told people to not ignore the south, Scarface put it on the map.
The man responsible for bringing that street grit back with Yonkers flavor after Biggie Smalls passed away. He ended the shiny suit era.
#15. LIL WAYNE
The impact Lil Wayne has had on hip hop from those who he influenced with his style to giving us the new wave of artists that have dominated the scene in the last ten years, Lil Wayne is in the top 15.
16. SNOOP DOGG
17. KRS ONE
19. LAURYN HILL
21. J COLE
22. CHUCK D
23. 50 CENT
24. BIG PUN
25. BIG DADDY KANE
26. METHOD MAN
27. KANYE WEST
31. KOOL G RAP
34. NICKI MINAJ
36. BIG L
37. STYLES P
38. BUSTA RHYMES
39. E 40
41. BLACK THOUGHT
42. LIL KIM
44. MEEK MILL
45. Q TIP
46. MC LYTE
WorldWide Entertainment TV Host Brooklyn recently spoke with hip hop legend Biz Markie. He was asked the question about his top rappers list and he gave an interesting response.
Check out the full interview here!