Whenever the discussion of the top rappers of all time surfaces, it is sure to end in a heated debate in the mold of Canibus vs. LL Cool J or Jay-Z vs. Nas. I’m sure I may have left your favorite rapper off this list, so if I have, you can write your own blog post and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong. I have to take offense to a recent article published by one Scorsese, who finds the repulsive acts of Drake, Nicki Minaj and especially Kanye West to be the best in the game right now. While he may be correct that these acts dominate the current state of Hip Hop, they are also the reason that the current state of Hip Hop looks like a Fukushima nuclear reactor after it was hit by a tsunami and the Gulf of Mexico after BP spilled a sh*t ton of oil. Gone are the days of real MCs, mixed tapes, and REAL HIP HOP. I feel like an old man reminiscing about the good ol’ days of rap in the 90’s. Even Justin Bieber is trying to rap now, for Christ’s sake. And yeah, I cheated by using rap groups as a single entity. But hey, it’s Friday and you ainght got sh*t to do, so kick back and groove to my list of the greatest rappers of all time.
Big L – While Big L never achieved the level of success that icons like Tupac and Biggie did, there are many reasons why he should be considered the greatest rapper of all time. First, he rapped alongside Tupac in a song called Deadly Combination and outshined the legendary Pac. Secondly, his song Ebonics is a classic, and his ’98 Freestyle is one of the best freestyles of all time, featuring such classic lines as “Like Beavis, I get nothing but he@d.” Big L also founded Children of the Corn, a rap group featuring superstars like Murder Mase (before he was P-Diddified) and CamRon. The sharped-tongued master lyricist and king of the one-liners was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1999. Check out his song Deadly Combination with Tupac:
Tupac – The battle is often over whether Biggie or Pac is the greatest rapper of all time, but I am here to say definitively that Pac is better. Not by a huge margin, but by enough. Tupac was a master in the studio, a workaholic who recorded nonstop, a true poet, and he also gave Biggie pointers on how to be a better rapper, even letting him appear on stage with him before anyone knew who Biggie was. From his Digital Underground days until his tragic death at the hands of an unknown shooter in Las Vegas in 1996, Pac was debatably the greatest rapper of all time. My personal favorite album is Makaveli: The 7 Day Theory, with such classics as Hail Mary and my personal favorite, Bomb first (my second reply). *Disclosure: I was born in California so I lean towards the West Coast in East vs. West battles.* Check out Bomb First below:
Biggie – The Notorious B.I.G. is one of the greatest rappers of all time, and was only slightly outshined by Tupac. In only a few albums, he has enough classics to rival any other rapper in history. Peers like Jay-Z put out many more albums than Biggie, but can’t come close to Big’s gritty and lyrical street poetry. Classics like Who Shot Ya, 10 Crack Commandments, Hypnotize…there are simply too many to name. Check out one of my personal favorites, Juicy:
Rakim – Rakim is another rapper who is often glossed over when it comes to the greatest MCs of all time by commercial hip hop fans, but he deserves to be in the top 5. One half of the duo Erik B. & Rakim, Rakim was part of one of the greatest albums of all time, Paid In Full. In fact, Rakim may be the greatest rapper of all time – there is simply no one else like him even though he never achieved as much commercial success as some of his counterparts on this list. Check out one of Erik B. and Rakim’s classics, Paid In Full. I sympathize with him, because when I dig into my pocket I come up with lint as well.
NWA – This is definitely kind of cheating to put these hip hop heavyweights into one slot, but it enabled me to squeeze way more than 10 rappers into my top ten list. The pioneers of Gangsta Rap, N*gg@z Wit Attitudes included rap legends Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Arabian Prince and DJ Yella. While some of my favorite songs of all time were created by some of these artists during their solo careers, particularly Ice Cube’s Today Was a Good Day, when this group was together it was ridiculous. Eazy-E on his own may be one of the top-ten greatest rappers, along with Ice Cube. Roll down the window of your low-rider, turn up the bass, and kick back to some classic NWA, Straight Outta Compton:
Wu Tang – Besides NWA, Wu Tang is unquestionably the greatest rap group of all time. The Staten Island rap group includes RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (may he rest in peace, there’s no father to his style.) Much like with NWA, some of these individual artists put together some of the greatest solo albums of the 90’s, particularly Method Man’s Tical, ODB’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, GZA’s Liquid Swordz and Ghostface Killah’s Ironman. It is astonishing how many classic solo albums this group put out in the 90’s, and their group albums Wu Tang Forever and 36 Chambers are two of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. Check out one of my personal favorites, Protect Ya Neck:
The LOX – The LOX, with members Jadakiss, Styles P. and Sheek Louch, are hands down the best rap group ever on mix tapes. They dominated mix tapes in the 90’s, with every mix tape worth any salt having at least one LOX track. The trio started on the scene with Puff Daddy and Bad Boy, with classics like Money, Power, Respect, and a tribute to B.I.G. after his death. However, it was their move to Ruff Ryders and alignment with DMX that produced some of the greatest rap songs of all time. From shiny suits to camo, the LOX were a perfect fit with Ruff Ryders, and We Are the Streets is a classic album. Sadly, Scorsese, the author of a previous article extoling the virtues of Kanye West, Drake and Minaj, had to look up LOX on Wikipedia because he had never heard of them. Enough said. Listen to some REAL HIP HOP!
Mobb Deep – The duo of Prodigy and Havoc is one of the classic combos of the 90’s, with albums like The Infamous, Hell on Earth and Murda Muzik. Just the beats that Havoc produced to songs like Shook Ones stand on their own as is evident in the rap battle in Eminem’s 8 Mile film. Hell on Earth had so many classic songs, and Prodigy had some sick solo albums as well in the 90’s, but no one can hold a candle to their hits in the 90’s. Every one of their songs is hard, they make you bob your head to some ill Havoc beats and listen to the gritty east coast raps of Prodigy. Check out some sick Mobb Deep below:
Nas – Nas cracked the top ten on the strength of his classic albums like Illmatic, despite some shaky albums he produced in the mid-90’s. In fact, he re-established himself with the album Stillmatic, especially with Ether, his diss track of Jay-Z (How many of Big’s rhymes gonna come out your fat lips?). With his intelligent rhymes and classic rap tracks, Nas deserves to be in the top ten. Songs like Affirmative Action could play on a loop for this entire day and I would not change it, his hits are that good. Nas is one of the greatest rappers of all time, so check him out below:
Big Pun – Another rapper who died young, Big Pun is the pride of Puerto Rico, a talented rapper who spit in English and Spanish with equal adroitness. I can still hear him take a big breath and proceed to rap for days; those lungs were a powerful weapon. Pun is another one who produced only a few albums but they were laden with hits. His rhymes on Off the Books with the Beatnuts is ridiculous and no one can match his rhyming style. Capital Punishment and Yeeeah Baby were classic albums with hits aplenty. His intricate rhymes and delivery are unparalleled and if he had more time there’s no doubt he would have continued to produce hit records. Check out Pun below:
I’m sure there are some glaring omissions that someone will get upset about, but here are a few I will address. Snoop Dogg, Redman, KRS-ONE, LL Cool J, Canibus, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Talib Kweli, DMX, and A Tribe Called Quest were all in my top twenty and some may even deserve to crack the top ten. Jay-Z, based on Reasonable Doubt, would be in the top ten, except then he put out plenty of wack albums after that and copied too many of Biggies rhymes. 50 Cent, you were good on mixtapes and when Dre and Eminem produced your early hits, but once you dissed Jadakiss as “local” you lost me. Lil’ Wayne was real good until he started sipping too much syrup and singing R&B and rock, but he would still probably crack at least the top 25. And I would have included The Game in my top twenty, but of course I like the West Coast.