Given that modern-day rap has only been in existence as a musical genre for a little over 30 years, it seems like it would be relatively easy to come up with the greats of all time, as compared to genres with longer lifespans. This is not necessarily true.
The argument as to who the greatest rappers of all time are is one that is constantly evolving, although some greats of the final years of the 20th century and the first years of the 21st obviously sank their roots deep. The first cassette our staff writer purchased was Run DMC, back in 1986. He was only seven years old at the time, and grew up as rap itself grew up. Here is his breakdown and reasoning regarding the Top 10 rappers of all-time.
10 – Common
Common’s scope of work, diversity of audience and modern-day social relevance earned him the 10 spot on this list of living and once-living legends. By all accounts, he is still in the very prime of his career.
9 – Eazy-E
Easy-E was one of the first rappers to truly embody the street-level West Coast gangster. With an aggressive, unapologetic breed of lyrics spliced in with splashy, pounding beats, Easy-E created some of the most memorable rap anthems of the early-1990s before passing away in 1995 due to complications involving the AIDS virus. Rap fans under the age of 25 will likely not know much about the man born as Eric Wright, but some research and some iTunes searches can quickly acquaint you with his rebellious nature and his steady, plodding vocal pace.
8 – Kendirck Lamar
Kendrick Lamar was born in Compton, California. He grew up just blocks away from where NWA was forming their band and their brand. He used the influences of his surroundings in his early songs, and he has demonstrated a sharp vocal style in the years since. At just 30 years of age, he has produced four successful studio albums and has won a total of seven Grammy Awards. 20 years from now, he could have a spot on this list a few slots higher.
7 – Snoop Dogg
Possibly the tallest, skinniest and smoke-lovingest rapper of all time, Snoop Dogg took a gangster persona and mentality and managed to weave his way into the hearts and minds of millions of fans around the globe. Snoop sprang on the scene in the early-90s underneath legendary rapper and producer Dr. Dre, and he has maintained social popularity and relevancy for over 25 years since then. It is arguably the longest run a rapper has ever had in the spotlight.
6 – Notorious B.I.G.
The mere mention of the great Notorious B.I.G. brings millions of rap fans back to the 1990s, when a heated East Coast-West Coast feud actually led to real-life homicides. The New York City-born and raised rapper painted detailed portraits of what life was like growing up on the tough streets, and his signature voice and wrapping style still plays out in the heads of fans these days. His life was cut short in 1997 at the age of just 25 when he was gunned down by a gang member wearing a bow tie early in the morning following the shutdown of a crowded party in between Beverly Hills and Hollywood.
5 – Nas
Sticking with the theme of great rappers being born in either Los Angeles or New York city, Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones is more commonly known by his stage name, Nas. A calm, somewhat-introverted and very cerebral rapper, he exploded onto the scene with the popular Illmatic back in 1994. He produced three more studio albums in the 1990s, all of which quickly shot to the top of the Billboard charts in the hip-hop category.
Another five studio albums followed in the first decade of the 21st century, and 2012’s Life Is Good on the Def Jam label shot to #1 on the US Billboard charts, as well as #1 in the hip-hop category and the rap category, which was founded in 2006. As of press time, the 43-year-old rap legend is dating Nicki Minaj, one of the most recognizable female personalities in all of music.
4 – Kanye West
To sum up Kanye West in 100 words or so is a difficult endeavor. Few rappers have had quite as much of a creative evolution over the course of their careers. West has garnered a gigantic following around the world – in part by creating controversy. But regardless of what people may think, he is clearly one of the most talented lyricists of all time.
West’s career can be divided into three sections, and fans have their favorite parts. He’s confident, passionate, wildly-talented, dedicated, driven and perhaps going to run for president in 2020. West has been around since the turn-of-the-century. Fans can expect him to stay in the public eye well into future.
3 – Eminem
Eminem was a groundbreaker and a pioneer in number of ways. It is a legitimate argument that he is the single greatest lyric writer and deliverer of lyrics in the history of rap. A blonde-haired Caucasian isn’t exactly the most logical candidate for one of the greatest rappers ever, but that is exactly what the Detroit-born and raised rapper has become.
Putting together layers upon layers of lyrics with poignant and poetic presence and at times delivering them at the speed of light, Eminem has wowed his large legion of rap contemporaries in the modern era. There is an edge to everything that he has ever created, and it cuts like a knife to the soul of the listener.
2 – Jay-Z
Jay-Z is a rapper with plenty of distinctions. The first being the fact that he is from the 1960s. Indeed, Shawn Corey Carter was born in Brooklyn, New York on December 4 of 1969. He released his first solo studio album in 1996, and came with high-energy tracks highly-infused with his talented lyrics and signature pace over each of the next seven years. By the time 2013 rolled around, Jay-Z already had eight studio albums featuring a handful of memorable tracks from each.
Indeed, the lyrical genius has perhaps the single largest library of rap hits. He also has the distinction of being married to perhaps the single greatest female soloist of the 21st century, and they continue to make news as the man known by many self-assigned nicknames continues to make chart-topping albums.
1 – 2Pac
Now comes the time when the single greatest rapper in the history of Earth gets his just due. Tupac Shakur was born in East Harlem, New York City in June 1971. He died on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada in September 1996 at the age of 25 after being gunned down by enemies willing to go to great lengths to put an end to the life of a true music legend.
In the large handful of years before this tragic night, Tupac crafted, authored and passionately performed dozens of pulse-pounding tracks that ultimately became rap gospel. It was as if Moses himself was showing the 10 Commandments of rap to the world by way of the talented rapper who faced his fair share of ups and downs.
Wise beyond his years, he was able to create and customize incredibly powerful songs and figure out a way to perfectly contrast them with slow paced songs, including a notable into tear-jerking homage to his mother. Alas, the greatest rapper of all time, who paved a path for all others – none of which have dared to attempt to replicate his unique style – is properly resting in peace.