Sorry, but after a long night of music, term papers, and lack of sleep, I had to do it. Here are my lists of the greatest rappers of all time, and the greatest living rappers. Some of these guys I can’t stand (and yes, they are all guys except in categories of Honorable Mention), but I gotta respect ‘em.
Greatest Rappers of All Time
5. Big Punisher: Yes he is the greatest Latin rapper of all time. But don’t qualify it. Big Punisher had the illest flow hip-hop will ever be graced with. Countless lines packed with multi-syllabic internals that just melted together in one graceful outpouring of sickness. C’mon, don’t front. You can’t tell me that you didn’t try to memorize “dead in the middle of Little Italy, little did we know we riddled some middle-man who didn’t do diddley.” An life cut down entirely too short, as the majority of those on this list, robbed us of more of his gems. But if you have to be convinced still, just look to his debut album: Capital Punishment.
4. Tupac: Okay, so admittedly, I’m not a big fan of ‘Pac. Maybe it’s the hypocrisy (how do you spit “Keep Ya Head Up” and then get convicted of rape?), maybe its the fact that he is a traitor (how do you grow up a product of New York, get famous, and turn around and despise all that you come from?). Either way, I’m not biased enough to deny that Tupac is probably the most revered emcee EVER. Just look to his enormous song library for a taste of his legendary output and contribution to the art.
3. Notorious B.I.G.: The number of rappers that wish to emulate Biggie is second only to ‘Pac. Just think of people who made it big just because the sounded like Big (*cough* Shyne, Guerilla Black *cough*). Easily one of the most devestating freestylers, street favorite, and diverse-flow holding emcees ever. Ready to Die defines the essence of East Coast hip-hop to this day. And unfortunately, Life After Death is rarely treated as the ultimate masterpiece of rap that it is.
2. Nas: Certainly the voice of the streets if ever any emcee could claim that name. This rapper revolutionized the rap game forever with his debut, Illmatic. Underrated sleeper It Was Written continued on to engrain Nas’s prominence as one of the most socially-conscious/political rappers of his time. Failures such as The Firm and God’s Son (just think “You Owe Me” with Ginuwine - eh.) doom Nas when it comes to the battle for greatest emcee ever.
1. Jay-Z: I know, I know, many people will forever cease to read this blog because I dared to put Jay-Hova over Nas and Pac. But just think about it - what album can match the sheer elegance of Reasonable Doubt? The street tales of In My Lifetime Vol. 1? What albums better signposted the future direction of hip-hop as far as production, lyrics, and substance than The Life and Times of Sean Carter, Vol. 3 and Roc La Familia: The Dynasty? Say what you will about his arrogance in his later work, the absolute timeless genius of earlier work such as “Who Ya Wit?” and “Can’t Knock the Hustle” when matched with new millenium gems that made the Neptunes millionaires make Mr. Carter number one.
Honorable Mention: Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, ?uestlove, KRS-One, Rakim, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Scarface.
Greatest Rappers Out Now (Excluding Jay and Nas)
10. Mos Def: Talented in so many ways, Mighty Mos was the brilliant hope of Brooklyn with his and Kweli’s debut album Black Star. Consistently loyal to the roots of hip-hop, Mos also has a rock band, does blues, acts, sings, and targets the system (I am disappointed, however, that he allowed “The Rape-Over” to be removed from his newest album, still a gem).
9. Ludacris: Lova Lova is another cat sick with the flow, and one of the few emcees that is just straight-up hilarious. I recently had a discussion with my girlfriend Debbie about who the funniest rappers ever were. I said Pun was up there, she noted Luda. Yep. She’s right. Just think: “…wanna get me out my Pelle Pelle/they rip of my clothes and say GET IN MY BELLY!”
8. T.I.: T.I. says he is the King of the South. I have to concur. Having seen the enormous respect T.I. has down South of the Mason-Dixon, and having familiarized myself with his underground classic albums I’m Serious and Trap Muzik, I’ve been converted. I never like T.I. until I forced myself to listen to his second album. Surprise! T.I. is quite the conscious rapper (active in the Black community), is diverse with his concepts, and has strong traces of early Jay-Z and old school classic emcees in his joints. Add to that sick production (from everybody - Jazzy Pha, Neptunes, Just Blaze, Kanye West) and you have a star rising.
7. Common: Common Sense has always been ahead of the curve. Just think of his work with Erykah Badu, the Neptunes, and Kanye West before those three artists really hit it big. Common is ridiculous with his knowledge, sick with his lyrics and concepts, and can battle (someone should’ve told Ice Cube before Common tore him to pieces). Consistently drops hot albums. Hot song out now: “The Corner.”
6. Eminem: I’m thinking more along the lines of pre-Slim Shady LP and that album when I think of Eminem as a historic rapper. Honestly, when it comes to battling, freestyling, or just straight flow, nobody out there can touch Em. Yes, his recent stuff is getting annoyingly repetitive (how many songs can you make about killing your baby mama or having problems in your life? You’re rich, get over it). Even still, next to Canibus, Eminem is the last rapper I’d ever want to battle.
5. Andre 3000: The most creative emcee out there. Most would agree, so I’ll leave it at that.
4. Method Man: Meth here is really a representative of the entire Wu-Tang Clan. The greatest group ever in hip-hop, Meth led this collection of killer emcees (I had to fight with myself in order to keep Ghostface and Raekwon off this list) to hip-hop dominance in the early nineties. Nuff said.
3. Prodigy: “Don’t make me have to call your name out/Your crew is featherweight/My gunshots will make you levitate.” Prodigy was dropping gems like this at 19!!! At that tender age (lol) he and Havoc (Mobb Deep) dropped Shook Ones Pt. II, probably one of the most well-known rap songs in New York. Just think about what this song did for the “Dun-language” of Queensbridge. One of those emcees that you can’t provide any examples of weak verses. There are very few in the game, and Prodigy is one of them.
2. ?uestlove: The Roots have consistently done three things: represented real hip-hop, kept an amazingly diverse fan base, and blessed the world with new talent. Evidence? Just look at Illadelph Half-life and compare it to Things Fall Apart or Phrenology…notice a difference? Not really. Straight fire always. I’m a bit scared after the commercially-produced sound of their latest joint (think “Don’t Say Nuthin”…blah) but I still have faith in them. Be sure to thank them for Jill Scott and Jean Grae next time you listen to them, too!
1. Talib Kweli: Reflection Eternal, his debut album, is Kweli at his finest. Although subsequent releases Quality and The Beautiful Struggle featured lack-luster (read: more commercial) production (but then, who can match the genius of Hi-Tek?) and Kweli has shunned his “socially-conscious rapper” tag in an attempt to return to some unknown roots as a battle-rapping thug (wasn’t there in Black Star), Kweli still spits the sickest lines today. His influence can be seen in later Jay-Z and the sub-culture capitalized upon by one Dave Chappelle.