Choosing the top 51 rappers of all time is not an easy task since it is very subjective. Personal tastes, the types of music each artist produces, and the lyrics of each song come into play when choosing these artists. Check out our detailed list below of the top 51 we chose and see if you agree, or not, with our picks.
1. The Notorious B.I.G.
The first rap artist on our list is The Notorious B.I.G. His given name is Christopher George Latore Wallace, and he was also referred to as Biggie Smalls or simply just Biggie over his years of popularity. He got his start in gangsta rap and East Coast hip-hop. He is considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. He was known for his very laid-back delivery of lyrics with sometimes very grim content since his music was semi-autobiographical as he told about his life dealing with criminality and hardship but also of his triumphs.
His debut album, Ready to Die, was released in 1994 and quickly earned critical acclaim. The album included some of his signature hits, including “Juicy” and “Big Poppa.” He even received the 1995 Billboard Music Awards’ Rapper of the Year award and helped found his group, Junior M.A.F.I.A., with several other artists, including Lil’ Kim, boosting them to success on the rap music charts.
Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, son of jazz musician Olu Dara, was born in 1973 and is much better well-known by his stage name Nas. He is touted as one of the most influential rappers of all time. He got his start in East Coast hip hop back in 1989, recording demos for Large Professor.
He was one of the feature artists on Main Source’s “Live at the Barbeque” in 1991. Eventually, he released his debut album, Illmatic, in 1994. He enjoyed universal critical acclaim for that album, which is considered to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever. In 2021, the album was even inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. His second album, It Was Written, debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 in 1996 and held the spot for four weeks straight. The album spawned the hit single, “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That),” featuring Lauryn Hill.
Many people know Shawn Corey Carter or Jay-Z as the husband of pop hip-hop singer Beyoncé, but he has gained fame in his own right. Born in 1969, he is currently one of the most influential hip-hop artists in the world.
He was once the CEO of Def Jam Recordings and has helped spur the success of artists, such as Rihanna and Kanye West. He began his musical career in the late 1980s and released his debut album, Reasonable Doubt, in 1996. He has since released 12 more albums as well as a collaborative album, Everything Is Love, in 2018 with his famous wife.
Lesane Parish Crooks or Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in 1971. He is also known as 2Pac and Makaveli. He is considered to be one of the top rappers of his time, which tragically ended in 1996 when he was fatally killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. He released his debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, in 1991, and even after his death, his group of fans is still growing as he has sold over 75 million records worldwide.
5. André 3000
André Lauren Benjamin, better known as André 3000, is not only an American rapper and singer but also a songwriter, record producer, and actor. He was one-half of the duo, Outkast, along with Big Boi, who also made our list. André 3000 has appeared in movies and TV series and even starred in the film, Jimi: All Is By My Side, as Jimi Hendrix.
“The Real Slim Shady” artist Marshall Bruce Mathers III was born on October 17, 1972, and is known to the world as Eminem. Critics credit him with making hip-hop music more popular in middle America since he hails from Detroit, Michigan. He has become a global success since the release of his debut album, Infinite, in 1996, and the extended play Slim Shady EP in 1997. He is known for a variety of hits, including “Love The Way You Lie” with Rhianna and “Lose Yourself.”
William Michael Griffin Jr., also known as Rakim, was once half of the high-hop duo, Eric B. & Rakim. He is credited with raising the bar when it comes to MC technique and released four albums with Eric B. before releasing three of his solo albums, including The 18th Letter, The Master, and The Seventh Seal.
8. Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar Duckworth has a thriving solo career as a hip-hop artist as well as one with the supergroup, Black Hippy. Hailing from Compton, California, he began his musical career when he was still just a teenager under the stage name of K. Dot. He began to gain recognition when he released his first single, Overly Dedicated. In 2011, he released his first studio album, Section 80, which spawned the hit single, HiiiPoWeR.
9. Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Noelle Hill is one of the greatest rappers of all time and was touted as one of the most influential musicians of her generation. She is credited for breaking down barriers for female rappers throughout the world. Her solo album, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, was released in 1998 and was a best-selling album. She has won eight Grammy awards during her musical career and also appeared in the movie, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, in 1993.
10. LL Cool J
LL Cool J, also referred to by his given name of James Todd Smith, touts his stage name as short for Ladies Love Cool James. He was thrust into stardom with his single “I Need a Beat” and his debut album, Radio, in 1985. He gained commercial success with his second album, Bigger and Deffer, which garnered two hit singles, “I’m Bad” and “I Need Love.” He has produced a total of 13 studio albums so far in his career and has earned two Grammy Awards.
Scarface is known for his song “On My Block” along with a slew of others during his lengthy career in hip-hop. His real name is Bradley Terrence Jordan, and he is best known as a member of the Geto Boys, a hip-hop group from Houston, Texas, where he grew up. He has been named by The Source as number 16 on their list of the Top 50 Lyricists of All Time.
12. Black Thought
Tarik Luqmaan Trotter, also known as Black Thought, is the MC leader of the Philadelphia-based hip-hop group the Roots, which he co-founded with drummer Questlove, also known as Ahmir Khalib Thompson. He is known for being a very skilled and incisive, prolific rapper with multisyllabic rhymes in politically aware lyrics. The group’s debut album, Organix, was released in 1993.
13. Big Daddy Kane
Antonio Hardy, better known by his stage name of Big Daddy Kane, began his career in 1986 as a member of the Juice Crew. His song, “Ain’t No Half-Steppin,” was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine at number 25 on its 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time, dubbing him “a master wordsmith of rap’s late-golden age and a huge influence on a generation of MCs.”
Lawrence “Kris” Parker is known to the world of rap as KRS-One, which is an abbreviation for “Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone.” He is well-known for his songs, “Sound of da Police,” “Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love),” and “My Philosophy,” which have garnered him critical acclaim as well as commercial success. He is part of the group Boogie Down Productions, which has received a variety of awards since the release of their debut album, Criminal Minded.
15. Ghostface Killah
Dennis Coles is much better known to the world by his stage name Ghostface Killah. He is a member of the famous hip-hop group, Wu-Tang Clan, and they achieved breakthrough success after releasing, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Ghostface Killah released his first solo album Ironman, which gained success with music critics in 1996. He has had many critically-acclaimed albums since then, including Supreme Clientele and Fishscale.
16. Ice Cube
Ice Cube’s real name is O’Shea Jackson Sr., and he is a rapper, filmmaker, and actor. His lyrics on N.W.A’s 1988 album Straight Outta Compton helped propel gangsta rap into the mainstream. He has released several solo albums that include political lyrics such as AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Death Certificate, and The Predator. As a member of N.W.A., he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.
17. Snoop Dogg
No list of greatest rappers would be complete without Snoop Dogg, also known as Snoop Doggy Dogg and, for a short time, Snoop Lion. His real name is Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr., and he rose to fame backed by Dr. Dre in the early 1990s. He is known for his singles, “What’s My Name,” and “Gin and Juice,” and has sold more than 35 million albums worldwide during his career. Who doesn’t love Snoop? The main is integral in West Coast hip hop, and his music will always be prominent in the industry.
Jason Terrance Phillips, way better known to the masses as Jadakiss, began his career in the 1990s as a member of the rap trio The Lox. His first solo album, Kiss tha Game Goodbye, was released in 2001. Since then, he has released three more solo studio albums, another album with the Lox, and another album with rapper Fabolous.
Earl Simmons is known as DMX and began rapping in the early 1990s. He released his debut album, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, in 1998 and quickly gained both commercial success as an artist as well as critical acclaim. The album sold more than 251,000 copies in the first week it was released. He has recorded many hit singles over the years, such as “Party Up (Up in Here)” and “Where the Hood At?” He has sold more than 74 million records throughout his career.
20. Lil Wayne
Lil Wayne, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., has been referred to over the years as one of the top rappers of all time. He began his career in 1995 at the very young age of 12 when he was signed by rapper Birdman at Cash Money Records, making him the youngest member of the label. In 1995, he released True Story, his first label album, in conjunction with B.G., also known as Lil Doogie. His solo debut album, Tha Block Is Hot, was released in 1999 and he gained even more fame with his fourth album, Tha Carter in 2004.
21. Kanye West
Ye, also known as Kanye West, is well-known as Kim Kardashian’s recent ex-husband, but he is actually considered one of the most influential hip hop musicians of all time. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but raised in Chicago where he eventually gained recognition as a producer for Roc-A-Fella Records in the early 2000s. He produced several hit singles for other artists and released his solo debut album, The College Dropout, in 2004, which earned him both critical and commercial success. West subsequently founded his own record label, GOOD Music, later that year.
22. Chuck D
Carlton Douglas Ridenhour gained fame under the stage name Chuck D after he founded the hip-hop group, Public Enemy with Flavor Flav in 1985. He is known as one of the top hip-hop lyricists of all time and has released a variety of singles and albums on his own as well as with Public Enemy.
Christopher Brian Bridges, better known as Ludacris, formed his own record label in 1990 called Disturbing tha Peace. Over the years, he has earned three Grammy Awards and even an MTV Video Music Award. His first album, Incognegro, gained local success when it was released in 1999. A year later, he had his first major label debut with the album, Back for the First Time. It spawned hit singles “Southern Hospitality” featuring Pharrell and “What’s Your Fantasy.”
Reman, who gained fame when he performed with his partner, Method Man, released his debut album, Whut? Thee Album, in 1993. It has been described as a mix of reggae and funk music but with a very terse rap style. The album peaked at number forty-nine on the Billboard 200 and earned gold certification. Redman was named “Rap Artist of the Year” by The Source before releasing his album, Dare Iz a Darkside, in 1994.
25. 50 Cent
Curtis James Jackson III or 50 Cent is known for the impact he has made in the industry of hip-hop music. He got his start in 2002 when he released a mixtape titled, Guess Who’s Back? He was then discovered by Eminem and signed on with the label, Shady Records. With the assistance of Dr. Dre and Eminem, 50 Cent was propelled into being one of the world’s best-selling rappers and rose to fame as the leader of the East Coast hip-hop group G-Unit.
Aubrey Drake Graham, known to the world as Drake, is a Canadian-born rapper who has made mixing R&B with hip-hop very popular. He first gained popularity when he started in the TV team drama series, Degrassi: The Next Generation. He then went on to pursue his career in music, producing several albums including View, which made the Billboard 200 and stayed there for 13 nonconsecutive weeks. It featured the chart-record-setting lead single called One Dance.
27. Big Boi
Antwan André Patton, known to the world of rap as Big Boi, rose to fame as part of the southern hip-hop group Outkast with André 3000. His solo album, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, was released in July of 2010 and earned critical acclaim. In 2012, he released his second studio album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, and his third studio album, Boomiverse, in mid-2017.
28. MF Doom
Daniel Dumile, going by the rap name MF Doom, was a widely beloved underground rapper during his time in the game. He was part of the group, KMD, while performing solo as Zev Love X. He was known for mystery and always wore a mask. His debut album, Doomsday, was released in 1999. He died in 2020 at the young age of 49. His cause of death has not been released.
29. Big L
Lamont Coleman, more famously known as Big L, was a rapper who emerged from Harlem in New York City back in 1992. He was known for his uncanny freestyling ability in the underground hip-hop world before signing on to Columbia records in 1995 and releasing his debut album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous. Unfortunately, Big L’s career was cut short when he died from his injuries after he was shot nine times in his East Harlem neighborhood in February of 1999.
30. Kool G Rap
Known as both Kool G Rap and G Rap, Nathaniel Thomas Wilson hails from Queens, New York City. He started out his career as one half of the Kool G Rap and DJ Polo duo and as a member of the Juice Crew. He is touted as one of the most skilled and influential emcees of all time in one of the pioneers of the mafioso rap, street, and hardcore genre that features multisyllabic rhyming.
He has released several albums and singles over the years, including The Giancana Story. Many famous artists have credited Kool G Rap as being one of their greatest influences, including Jay-Z, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., and Eminem.
31. Big Pun
Big Pun’s real name is Christopher Lee Rios, which is short for Big Punisher. He began his career as a rapper in the Bronx borough of New York City in the early 1990s, specifically in the underground hip-hop scene. He was discovered by Fat Joe, and eventually, he formed Terror Squad with Big Punisher.
He released his Grammy-nominated debut album, Capital Punishment, in 1997 with the label Loud Records. He received both commercial success and critical acclaim for his solo album, which also made him the first hip-hop Latino artist that went platinum. Big Pun died of a heart attack in February of 2000.
Kamaal Ibn John Fareed, born Jonathan William Davis in 1970, is known in the rap world as Q-Tip. He is not only a rapper and singer but a record producer and DJ as well. He earned his nickname, The Abstract, because of his unique style of hip hop that was influenced by jazz music and the very philosophical and introspective themes of his lyrics.
After working with several others during his career as a rapper and producer, he released his first solo album, The Amplified, in 1999, which was certified gold. He went on to release his first Grammy Award-nominated album, The Renaissance, in 2008. As an actor, Q-Tip has appeared in several films, including Poetic Justice.
33. J. Cole
J. Cole’s stage name is very similar to his real name, Jermaine Lamarr Cole. He is German-American and was once a professional basketball player for the Scarborough Shooting Stars of the Canadian Elite Basketball League. He was born on a military base in Germany but raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and gained recognition in his rap career with his debut mixtape, The Come Up, in 2007.
He went on to release two more mixtapes before releasing his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in 2011, which debuted at #1 on the US Billboard 200 chart. He has even earned a Grammy nomination for best rap album in the past.
34. Mos Def
While many know him as Mos Def, now Yasiin Bey was born Dante Terrell Smith on December 11, 1973. He is not only a rapper but also a songwriter, singer, and actor. He started out in a group with his siblings before forming a duo called Black Star with rapper Talib Kweli. In 1998, they released their debut album, which spawned hit singles such as Respiration and Definition.
His first solo album came out in 1999, Black on Both Sides. He has since released several other albums and has appeared in a variety of different movies, including Bamboozled and Brown Sugar.
Lonnie Rashid Lynn, who is known by his stage name Common, was born on March 13, 1972. He released his first album in 1992, Can I Borrow a Dollar?, but earned critical acclaim for his album, Resurrection, which he released in 1994.
Common became a commercial success when he released his first album with a major label in 2000 titled, Like Water for Chocolate. He won a Grammy Award for best rhythm and blues song for the single, “Love of My Life (An Ode To Hip-Hop),” with Erykah Badu in 2003.
Corey Woods, known by his stage name Raekwon, rose to fame when he helped found the hip-hop group, Wu-Tang Clan, known for their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), in 1993. Raekwon released his first solo album in 1995 titled, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, which received critical acclaim. It was a staple in the rap genre in the 1990s and is considered by many critics to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.
He also released the albums Immobilarity in 1999 and The Lex Diamond Story in 2003 before releasing the long-awaited, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, in September 2009. Raekwon is also the founder of the record label ICE H20 Records.
37. Lil’ Kim
Lil’ Kim was born Kimberly Denise Johnson in Brooklyn, New York City back in 1974. She lived on the streets of the big city after being kicked out of her house as a teenager and began freestyle rapping before she was discovered in 1994 by fellow rapper, The Notorious B.I.G. She joined his group, Junior M.A.F.I.A., and their first album, Conspiracy, netted them two top 20 singles on the Billboard Charts and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
In 1996, her solo debut studio album, Hard Core, was certified double platinum, and to date, has sold more than six million copies throughout the world. It spawned several of her hit singles, including “No Time,” “Not Tonight (Ladies Night),” and “Crush on You.”
38. Slick Rick
English-American Slick Rick’s real name is Richard Martin Lloyd Walters, and he rose to fame with Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew in the mid-1980s. Two of the group’s songs, “The Show” and “La Di Da Di,” are considered by the industry to be hip-hop classics, and the latter was proven to be one of the most listened to and sampled songs in history.
He was the third artist to sign to Def Jam Records, which he did in 1986, and released four albums, including The Great Adventures of Slick Rick in 1988, The Ruler’s Back in 1991, Behind Bars in 1994, and The Art of Storytelling in 1999.
T.I. was born Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., in September of 1980 and was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. In the world of hip-hop, he is one of the highest-selling artists of all time and is known for being a pioneer of the hip-hop subgenre of trap music. He signed with his first major label, LaFace, a part of Arista Records, in 1999 before releasing his debut album, I’m Serious, in 2001. Eventually, he signed with the record label Atlantic and helped found his own label imprint, Grand Hustle Records, which launched in 2002.
He has garnered three Grammy Awards and released a total of 11 studio albums, of which seven reached the top five of the US Billboard 200 chart. Some of his best-known single records are “Whatever You Like” and “Live Your Life,” which featured Rihanna.
40. Royce da 5’9
Ryan Daniel Montgomery, also known as Royce da 5’9″ (or Royce 5’9″), is widely known as an integral part of the hip hop duo, Bad Meets Evil, with the legend himself, Eminem, who is also on our list! He is also one half of the hip-hop duo, PRhyme, with producer and partner, DJ Premier. He was also part of the same group of rappers in the Shady Records 4-man group Slaughterhouse with Joell Ortiz, Kxng Crooked and Joe Budden.
He has ghostwritten many hit songs for some of the most well-known rappers in the world. Some of his own hits include, “Fast Lane,” “Detroit VS Everybody,” and “Welcome 2 Hell.”
41. Missy Elliott
Melissa Arnette “Missy” Elliott began her career with the Rhythm and Blues group, Sista, in the early 1990s. She later joined Swing Mob with Timbaland, who happens to have been a childhood friend of hers and whom she has collaborated with multiple times since then.
She released her first solo album, Supa Dupa Fly, which included the top 20 single, “Sock It 2 Me.” This album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, which made it the highest charting debut album for a female rapper at that time.
42. MC Lyte
Known as MC Lyte in the world of female rappers, Lana Michele Moorer was born on October 11, 1970, and has worked as a DJ, actress, and entrepreneur. She is considered to be one of the pioneers of female rap, earning fame in the late 80s for becoming the very first female solo artist to release a full rap album with critically acclaimed Lyte as a Rock. She has released eight more solo albums since then, including, Legend, in 2015.
43. Busta Rhymes
Busta Rhymes has been around for decades and rose to fame quickly. Even though he has never won a Grammy, he is known as being one of the most nominated artists without ever winning one, since he has had 12 nominations for his work. MTV once labeled him one of hip-hop’s greatest visual artists.
His first solo album after leaving the group, Leaders of the New School, is titled The Coming, which peaked at #6 on the Billboard 200 album chart in 1996 and even reached platinum status. He has released a total of nine solo albums with the latest being 2020’s Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God. He has a long list of hits, including “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check,” “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See,” “Dangerous,” and “Turn It Up.”
44. Nicki Minaj
The sometimes controversial Nicki Minaj, who was born Onika Tanya Maraj-Petty, was born in Trinidad and is known for her sharp lyrics and fashion styles. She has a lot of versatility as an artist and even uses accents as well as alter egos in her very animated rapping style.
Her debut album, Pink Friday, was released in 2005 and debuted on the US Billboard 200 chart with the single “Super Bass,” hitting the number three spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was later diamond certified by the Recording Industry Association of America.
45. Lupe Fiasco
Raised in Chicago, Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, better known to the world as Lupe Fiasco, rose to prominence with a smash hit album debut, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, which was released in 2006.
Even though he disliked hip-hop at first because of its use of vulgarity and misogyny, it grew on him and he began recording songs in his father’s basement before meeting famous rapper Jay-Z, who assisted him in landing a record deal with Atlantic records. He then released his debut album, which received three Grammy nominations. His single “Superstar” became his first Billboard Top 40 hit and is from his second album, Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, which was released at the end of 2007.
Anthony Cruz hails from Brooklyn, New York City, and is known throughout the world by his stage names of AZ, AZ the Visualiza, or Sosa. He rose to fame for his debut album, Doe or Die, which was released in 1995.
AZ is considered by those in the rap industry to be one of the best lyricists of all time. He was also nominated for a Grammy in 2003 for Best Hip Hop or Rap Performance.
47. Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah has definitely held on to her title of queen for several decades. She was born Dana Elaine Owens in 1970 in Newark, New Jersey. She first signed with Tommy Boy Records in 1989 and released her debut album, All Hail the Queen, on November 28, 1989, which featured the widely popular hit single “Ladies First.”
She went on to star as Khadijah James on the Fox sitcom Living Single from 1993 to 1998. Black Reign was her third album and is touted as the first album by a female solo rapper to ever receive an RIAA certification. Her single “U.N.I.T.Y.” is credited with raising awareness of violence against women and the objectification of black female sexuality.
48. Method Man
Method Man, also known as Clifford Smith Jr., took the rap world in the hip-hop genre when he was a member of the Wu-Tang Clan from the East Coast. He is also very well known for being half the duo of Method Man & Redman. The pair won best rap performance by a duo or group at the Grammys in 1996 for their hit “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By,” which featured Rhythm and Blues singer Mary J. Blige. Method Man has also starred with her in Power Book II: Ghost, a spin-off of its original show Power. He has also appeared in several other films.
49. Masta Ace
Duval Clear, who is way more well-known by his stage name Masta Ace, is not only a rapper but also a record producer who hails from New York City. He first appeared on the classic 1988 Juice Crew posse cut “The Symphony.”
Due to his very distinctive voice and his penchant for good rapping, he has influenced several emcees in his 55 years on earth. His album, Sittin’ On Chrome, received a ton of airplay and propelled him to stardom.
50. Pharoahe Monch
Known by his stage name of Pharoahe Monch, Troy Donald Jamerson was born in South Jamaica but grew up in Queens, New York City. He is well-known for his intense lyrics, along with his amazingly intricate delivery, and multisyllabic rhymes.
He started out as half of the duo Organized Konfusion with Prince Poetry. Their self-titled Organized Konfusion, Stress: The Extinction Agenda and The Equinox only had mediocre sales. Eventually, he went his own way, signing with Rawkus Records in 1998. His debut solo album, Internal Affairs, was released in 1999 and spawned the hit single “Simon Says.” He has had several hits since then and is a very respected member of our list.
51. P. Diddy
Sean Combs has had many names over the years. Whether it’s P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, Diddy, or simply Puffy, he has produced iconic music as a rapper as well as rap entrepreneur/executive in Bad Boy Records. He was born on November 4, 1969, in New York City and originally worked as a talent director at Uptown Records before deciding to create his own record label, Bad Boy Records, in 1993.
He has worked with several artists, many of who made our list, including The Notorious B.I.G. and Mary J. Blige. Combs’ debut album, No Way Out, came out in 1997 and is certified seven times over as a platinum album. He has garnered three Grammy Awards and two MTV Video Music Awards and has an estimated worth of around $740 million.
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