Who are the best east coast rappers of all time? Rap is a genre that has evolved significantly during the past few decades, and each region has its own style. There are several artists who have defined East Coast rap, serving as inspirations for some of our favorite artists today.
Take a look at a few of the best East Coast rappers of all time, and explore some of their top hits. They might inspire you to launch your own music career!
1. The Notorious B.I.G.
There is no way we can start this list with anybody else. The Notorious B.I.G. is arguably the greatest rap artist of all time, let alone the greatest East Coast rapper. When he burst onto the scene in the early 90s, he completely turned the genre on its head, garnering worldwide fame immediately. Countless rap artists have credited him as their inspiration, and he laid the foundation for rap for the next few decades. Sadly, he was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1997, but he continues to serve as an inspiration to many artists to this day.
2. Wu-Tang Clan
The Wu-Tang Clan is synonymous with rap. This group is unique among East Coast rap groups in that each member has gone on to enjoy a successful solo career as well. Some of the members include RZA, GZA, Masta Kila, Method Man, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The group is known for its hard, sharp, biting sound, but the lyrics are always relatable. They burst onto the scene in the early 1990s, and are still played regularly to this day. Many members of the group have served as mentors to younger rap artists who would later become household names.
3. Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys are synonymous with the rap movement in New York City. They debuted in the 1980s, releasing their first rap album in 1986. They enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, skyrocketing them to international stardom. Even though they were largely seen as party guys during the 1980s, they left a larger mark on the rap genre with each subsequent album. Some of their most popular albums include Chuck Your Head and Paul’s Boutique, which have received a tremendous amount of praise over the years.
There is no denying the significant impact that Jay-Z has had on the genre. He burst onto the scene in the late 1980s, and he is the CEO of Def Jam Recordings. Even though he is most closely associated with Beyonce, he has also worked with Rihanna, Kanye West, and J. Cole. He outshines just about every other rapper, and the longevity of his career is virtually unmatched. He continues to sell millions of records worldwide, and the only reason why he is not higher on this list is that his career is still growing. His very first studio album was released in 1995, but between his personal record label and business success, he has cemented his place as one of the very best rap artists in history, let alone those on the East Coast.
5. 50 Cent
50 Cent is from South Jamaica, Queens. He had a difficult childhood on the streets, and the influence of that childhood shines through in his unique, relatable lyrics. During the late 1990s, he released a handful of mix tapes. Then, he broke into the industry in 2002 with his first hit, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. He is now a household name, has released four studio albums, and has had a successful career in the film industry. He even made an appearance at the 2022 Super Bowl Halftime Show, which serves as a testament to how far he has come.
Nas became popular in New York City during the early 1990s. He is an incredibly influential rapper, and he has been active for several decades. His first album was titled Illmatic, and he showcased his skills as a creative lyricist; however, each album is different, showing that he is also a multifaceted rap artist. Even though he has been embroiled in a few controversies with rap artists over the years, there is no denying his talent and creativity.
7. De La Soul
De La Soul is known for its conscious rap vibes, which were popular during the early 1990s. The members of the group include Maseo, Trugoy, and Posdnuos. They debuted in 1989 with the album 3 Feet High and Rising, and they were nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1989. Even though they have released a handful of albums, none of them were as successful as the first. Regardless, they set the stage for the modern East Coast rap movement seen in the 2000s and 2010s.
DMX is from Mount Vernon, New York, and he started garnering attention during the early 1990s. He released two albums during the mid-1990s, cementing himself as a household name. Even though his rap career did not last long, he made a successful transition to the film industry during the 2000s. In total, he released eight studio albums, but his life was cut short by a heart attack. He passed away in 2021, but his legacy as a successful East Coast rapper and actor will live on.
9. A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest is a rap group that formed in the 1980s, but enjoyed its heyday in the 1990s. From Queens, NY, the group recorded a handful of studio albums, with its most recent coming in 2017. The members include Q-tip, Jarobi White, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Phife Dawg. Recently, they have become a bit more mainstream, but one of their albums, Beats, Rhymes, and Life, rose all the way to the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart.
Run-D.M.C. is unique in that they are an East Coast rap group that has successfully made the transition to mainstream music. They formed in the early 1980s, and were featured continuously on MTV during the mid-1980s. The first major hit was a cover of Walk This Way, and it demonstrated that rap artists could successfully cover mainstream hits. They opened the door to numerous other rappers, which makes this group one of the best East Coast rap groups of all time.
11. Mobb Deep
Yes, we know that gangster rap is something that is closely associated with the West Coast, but Mobb Deep did a great job of bringing it to the East Coast. The duo of Prodigy and Havoc call on their own gang experiences to develop unique, relatable lyrics that everyone on the East Coast, particularly New York City, could relate to. The group released a handful of albums during the late 1990s, including Hell on Earth, that are still popular today.
12. Puff Daddy
Puff Daddy, whose real name is Sean Combs, was born in New York City. He is one of the most famous rap artists today, but he has influenced the genre not only as a rapper but also as a producer. His career started during the early 1990s, and he has released a wide variety of memorable tracks. They are all very easy to sing along to, which has contributed to his popularity. He worked closely with Kanye West and co-produced his single released in 2016, All Day.
13. Pete Rock & CL Smooth
Pete Rock and CL Smooth debuted in 1991 and are synonymous with the golden era of hip hop. Complete with jazz music and a tremendous amount of soul, the duo is known for its smooth flow. They might not have had a chart-topping album, but their influence on the genre is undeniable, and elements of their style can be found in younger rap artists popular today.
14. Public Enemy
Public Enemy is from Long Island, NY. Made up of Chuck D and Flavor Flav, they joined forces in 1985. The group is known for its intense music videos and ranks among the most successful East Coast rap duos ever. Their early work was incredibly successful, particularly with It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, which was released in 1988. By the mid-1990s, the group had rotated its members several times, and eventually disbanded due to a lack of interest. The group’s early work is still played regularly today.
15. A$AP Rocky
Even though he is one of the younger East Coast rappers on the scene, there is no denying his talent. His debut album was released in 2013, and it was an instant hit, rising all the way to the top of the Billboard charts immediately. He followed that up with two more popular albums, cementing his position on this list.
KRS-One is not only one of the best East Coast rappers of all time, but also one of the most controversial. He worked closely with Boogie Down Productions, but released his first solo album in 1993. He frequently rapped about controversial topics, police abuse, and civil rights. Even though gangster rap was popular during this time, he made his mark in his own way, showing that it was okay to separate from the crowd as long as you were rapping from the heart.
17. MF Doom
MF Doom was raised in Long Island, NY. His rap career launched in the 1990s. He was a frequent performer at open mic nights in the city, and that eventually got him noticed. He released his debut studio album in 1999, Operation Doomsday. While he is mostly an underground rap success, he has a cult following. That made him one of the most popular East Coast rappers of all time.
Recommended: Greatest MF Doom songs playlist feature
18. Eric B. & Rakim
Eric B. & Rakim are from Long Island and made their mark on the rap industry during the late 1980s. Rakim is the voice of the group, while Eric B. generated the music in the background. They are consistently ranked among the most influential rap artists of all-time, even if their songs and albums aren’t constantly played today. Much of the success of modern rap is owed to the foundation laid by Eric B. & Rakim during the 1980s.
19. Mac Miller
Even though it is true that many of the most influential rap artists are from New York City, Mac Miller is not. He is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his rap career took off at the age of 15. He already had a string of independent mixtapes by that time, but his debut studio album was released in 2011. Blue Slide Park put him on the map, and he eventually used his influence to found his own music label, REMember Music.
Fugees are a rap trio originally from South Orange, NJ. The most famous member is Lauryn Hill, who has also enjoyed a successful solo career. Even if the group has released several songs, the most popular is an R&B hit cover of Roberta Flack’s famous hit, Killing Me Softly. In addition, the conscious rap hits on the 1996 album The Score put them permanently as one of the most influential East Coast rap groups of all time.
21. Big Pun
Big Pun was one of the most popular East Coast rappers from New York City during the mid-1990s. His career got started when he was working closely with Terror Squad during the early 1990s. His first studio album was released in 1997, and it enjoyed significant commercial and critical success. It even received a Grammy nomination for the Best Rap Album of the year.
Logic hails from Rockville, Maryland. He put himself on the map in 2010 after he released his mixtape, Young, Broke, and Infamous. He credits his success to earlier groups, such as the Wu-Tang Clan. He eventually signed to Def Jam Recordings, launching several successful studio albums. He is also known for his charitable work in the community, releasing a single that seeks to draw attention to the suicide hotline number, raising awareness of mental health issues.
23. Cardi B
Even though Cardi B is relatively young compared to some of the other artists on this list, there is no denying her influence. She is known for her catchy music and candid lyrics. She is also known for her feud with other popular rap artists, which has contributed to her popularity. She is from New York City, has released several successful studio albums, and has had a significant impact on hip-hop culture.
24. Queen Latifah
Even though Queen Latifah is better known as an actress, she was also one of the first women to enjoy success as a rap artist. She is from Newark, New Jersey, and she was signed to Tommy Boy Records in the 1980s. She released her first studio album, All Hail the Queen, shortly after that time. She released a total of four studio albums in the 1990s before breaking into the acting industry. She still performs from time to time, but she is mostly seen on television and movie screens today.
25. Aesop Rock
Aesop Rock is from Long Island and is considered an influential artist on the East Coast rap scene. His career launched in the late 1990s, and he is known for his artistry and creativity. His rhythm is impressive, he works with a large vocabulary, and he can frequently be seen performing alongside other popular rappers in the local area.
26. Lil’ Kim
Even though Lil’ Kim might not be as well known as Nicki Minaj or Cardi B, we might not have either of them without Lil’ Kim. She is from Brooklyn, New York, and she started rapping in the mid-1990s. Known as a freestyle rapper, she performed with Notorious B.I.G. during his heyday. She was also a member of Junior MAFIA, and she enjoyed significant success during the 1990s and 2000s. He is also known for teaming up with other artists, such as Pink, Christina Aguilera, and 50 Cent.
27. Meek Mill
Meek Mill is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He garnered attention as a rapper due to his success in local rap battles. Eventually, he signed with the Maybach Music Group, releasing his debut studio album, Dreams and Nightmares. He launched his own music label, Dream Chasers Records, in 2012.
28. J. Cole
J. Cole launched his music career as a teenager, and his second mixtape was released in 2009. He frequently collaborates with other artists, but it was his 2011 album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, that put him on the map. He has since transitioned into the mainstream music industry, frequently performing alongside Drake, Jay-Z, and Missy Elliott.
29. R.A. The Rugged Man
R.A. The Rugged Man is from Suffolk County, NY. He signed his first music deal at the age of 18, and has been popular in the underground rap movement of New York City. He tends to tackle controversial topics with lewd and outlandish lyrics, making him a perfect fit for the underground rap scene. In 2020, he released another studio album, All My Heroes Are Dead.
30. Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert is from Philadelphia and is known for his trap and emo rap. He released his debut single, Money Longer, in 2016. He garnered most of his initial attention using the internet, but he is now a part of the mainstream music industry. He is known for his trap base lines and lo-fi drum beats, which provide a new take on hip hop music.
31. Princess Nokia
Even though princess Nokia is a bit new to the rap scene, she has already garnered quite a following. Her first album was released in 2014, Metallic Butterfly. She is known for her experimental style that comments on a number of New York City subcultures, such as punk, hardcore, and gangster rap.
32. LL Cool J
LL Cool J is from Bayshore, New York. He has enjoyed success not only as a rapper but also as an entrepreneur, author, and actor. He has released more than a dozen studio albums, and some of his most popular songs include I’m Bad and I Need Love. While his acting credentials are impressive, he is also known for his acting roles in TV shows and movies.
33. Big L
Lamont Coleman typically goes by the stage name Big L. He is from Harlem and is typically associated with Three the Hard Way, a hip-hop trio. He released a debut solo album in 1995, and he founded his own entertainment label, Flamboyant Entertainment. His career ended when he was killed in 1999, but his second album was released posthumously in 2000.
Raekwon, whose real name is Corey Woods, is from Brooklyn, New York. He spent most of his life on Staten Island, and he is a founding member of the record label ICEH20. He is typically tied to the Mafioso rap genre, and he is known for Heaven & Hell, released in 1994. He also released a solo LP, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
35. Method Man
Clifford Smith goes by the stage name Method Man. He is known as an actor, producer, and rapper. He is from Long Island, New York, and he named himself after a film released in 1979. He is typically associated with the duo Method Man & Redman, and together, they won a Grammy Award. In addition to his career as a rapper, he has acted in several movies.
36. Busta Rhymes
Busta Rhymes is typically known as an actor and producer, but he also enjoyed a successful rapping career. He is from Brooklyn, New York, and he was mentored by Chuck D, a member of the group called Public Enemy. Busta Rhymes was influential in his own right during the late 1990s. He released his first studio album, The Coming, which put him on the map. He went on to release eight other studio albums.
37. Ghostface Killah
Ghostface Killah is the stage name of Dennis Coles and is known as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan. After he left the group, he also enjoyed a successful solo career. His debut solo album is called Ironman, released in 1996. He went on to release several other Studio albums, cementing himself as one of the best storytellers in the industry.
38. Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Ol’ Dirty Bastard is the stage name of Russel Tyrone Jones, originally from Brooklyn, New York. He was also a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, but when he left the group, he had a successful solo career. He released his first solo album in 1995, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. His solo career ended prematurely when he died of a drug overdose in 2004.
39. Gang Starr
Gang Starr is an American hip hop duo from Boston, MA. They have been based out of Brooklyn, New York, and enjoyed significant popularity from 1989 to 2003. They are consistently rated as one of the best producer and MC duos in the history of hip hop, and they are also one of the pioneers of a genre called jazz rap. They were assigned to a variety of labels during the course of their career, such as Wild Pitch and Virgin. Some of their most popular hits include Full Clip and Moment of Truth.
Robert Fitzgerald Diggs goes by the stage name RZA. He was known as the leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, but he also enjoyed a successful solo career. In addition to a rap artist, he is a successful filmmaker, actor, and record producer. In addition to his career with the Wu-Tang Clan, he released a handful of studio albums under the stage name Bobby Digital. He broke into the rap industry with the Wu-Tang Clan during the 1980s, but he started working on films during the early 2000s. He played a significant role in the production of Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2, which went on to become massive hits.
41. Slick Rick
Slick Rick was born in London but has spent most of his life in New York City. He burst onto the rap scene in the 1980s, and is known for performing with Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew. Together, they produced the song La Di Da Di, which is consistently sampled by other rap artists. He signed with Def Jam Recordings in 1986, and he released four successful studio albums. They have been interpolated more than 1,000 times, and his influence can be seen in artists ranging from Eminem and Beyonce to Mariah Carey and Beastie Boys. That influence on the genre has earned him a place on this list.
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