The Notorious B.I.G. Jay-Z. Nas. The titans of New York rap made their mark on the industry in more ways than one. The best rappers from this city became superstars because they changed the way the game was played, made millions of dollars along the way, and influenced generations of music lovers. Let’s explore the best rappers from New York and learn how they became legends.
1. The Notorious B.I.G.
Christopher George Latore Wallace, later known by the epic name of The Notorious B.I.G., was just 24 years old when he was killed by a drive-by shooting. In his short life, he made an incredible impact on East Coast rap. His debut album Ready To Die received significant critical acclaim, and many consider him responsible for revitalizing the New York R&B scene.
Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, known as Nas to his fans, has created more than a dozen studio albums that reached gold, platinum, and multi-platinum status. His debut album, Illmatic, released in 1994, is considered one of the best hip hop albums ever recorded. He was once involved in a highly publicized feud with fellow New York rap titan, Jay-Z.
Producer, rapper, and entrepreneur Shawn Corey Carter, known by most as Jay-Z, was born and raised in New York City. His musical career began in the 1980s, and he became one of the world’s best-selling music artists, selling more than 140 million records. He’s also won 24 Grammy awards and cemented his fame with a business empire covering a wide array of industries, from music to clothing.
Born Albert Johnson in 1974, Prodigy was one part of the hip hop duo Mobb Deep and is credited as one of the originators of East Coast hip hop in the mid-1990s. He met his future rap partner Havoc while in high school in Manhattan, and the two would eventually become one of the best-selling rap duos of all time.
Kejuan Waliek Muchita was born in 1974 and would eventually become known as Havoc and one-half of the rap group Mobb Deep with Prodigy. Not only was he a central figure in the growth of the 1990s East Coast rap scene, but he also produced songs for legendary rappers like The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Eminem, 50 Cent, and a slew of other well-known artists.
6. Puff Daddy
Born Sean Combs in 1969 in New York City, the influential rapper has changed his stage name several times over the years, but his talent has remained intact throughout his work as a singer, producer, and entrepreneur. The incredibly successful businessman has a net worth estimated at $740 million and has sold more than 12 million albums in his career.
7. Flavor Flav
Flavor Flav was born in 1959 as William Jonathan Drayton Jr. in Roosevelt, New York. He was a founding member of the landmark rap group Public Enemy and earned six Grammy Award nominations. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s known for wearing a clock necklace.
8. Method Man
Method Man was born Clifford Smith Jr. in 1971 on Long Island, New York. He performs as part of the hip hop collective Wu-Tang Clan and was also part of a hip hop duo with fellow rapper Redman. He embarked on an acting career in the 1990s and also spent years collecting tens of thousands of comic books.
GZA is a founding member of Wu-Tang Clan and a pioneer in rap and hip hop. Born Gary Eldridge Grice in 1966, he was interested in breakdancing, DJing, and graffiti in his early years. He soon began writing and eventually got signed to Cold Chillin’ Records as The Genius. An analysis of his songs reveals to listeners that he has quite a large vocabulary despite leaving high school in tenth grade.
RZA was born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs in 1969 and is the unofficial leader of Wu-Tang Clan, as well as a cousin of members GZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Although his status as an influential New York rapper is undeniable, some of his most famous releases have occurred in film and television with music scores for movies like Kill Bill: Volume 1 and Kill Bill: Volume 2.
DMX was born Earl Simmons in 1970 in Mount Vernon, New York. He began performing in the early 1990s and was met with immediate critical acclaim and commercial success with his debut album, It’s Dark, And Hell Is Hot, in 1998. During his lifetime, he sold more than 74 million records before he passed away from a heart attack in 2021.
12. Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Noelle Hill was born in 1975 and is one of the few female rap icons in the world. She was a member of the Fugees, and her solo album The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill sold more than 20 million copies. The pressure of success and fame caused her to drop out of public view for several years, but she would eventually return to occasional touring and recording music.
13. LL Cool J
LL Cool J was born James Todd Smith in Bay Shore, New York, in 1968. He was signed to Def Jam Recordings in 1984 and would find immediate commercial success with his debut single and the albums that followed. He is a Grammy Award winner and was the first rapper to receive the Kennedy Center Honors.
14. 50 Cent
Curtis James Jackson III was born in 1975 in Queens, New York. He would eventually become one of the most well-known rappers in the world and would cultivate fame as an actor, record executive, television producer, and businessman. He’s sold over 30 million albums worldwide and is a Grammy Award-winning artist.
15. Busta Rhymes
Trevor George Smith Jr. is a New York City native and was born in 1972. He would start to perform as Busta Rhymes after rapper Chuck D of the group Public Enemy gave him the nickname. He was an incredibly prolific rapper in the 1990s and would receive 12 Grammy Award nominations without winning a single award.
16. Ghostface Killah
Ghostface Killah was born Dennis Coles in 1970 and grew up in the Staten Island projects, helping to support his two younger brothers, who were born with muscular dystrophy. He created music as a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan and would eventually release his own critically-acclaimed solo albums. Critics say he possesses a genius-level storytelling talent.
17. Big Daddy Kane
Born Antonio Hardy in 1968, Big Daddy Kane got his first brush with fame as part of Juice Crew, a Queens-based group. His success is particularly impressive because he’s known for fast hip hop despite having asthma. Other rappers consider him an incredibly influential and talented hip hop MC.
18. Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj was born in 1982 in Trinidad and Tobago but moved to the United States at an early age and grew up in Queens, New York. She earned the nickname Queen of Rap after selling more than 100 million records worldwide. She was the first female rapper to get more than one billion views on a video on YouTube.
Rakim was born William Michael Griffin Jr. in 1968 in Wyandanch, New York. Also known as Rakim Allah, the influential rapper transformed the industry with his multisyllabic rhymes and his exceptional MC technique. He helped the industry shift from simple rhymes to complex flow with his influential talent.
20. MF Doom
Daniel Dumile was born in 1971 and would perform as MF Doom until his death in 2020. He was born in England but would move to Long Island, New York as a child. Interestingly, he lived in the United States for decades but never gained American citizenship. He is considered an incredibly influential voice in hip hop, with many in the industry counting themselves as fans.
21. Big L
Big L was born Lamont Coleman in 1974 and got his start in Harlem in the early 1990s in underground hip hop. He eventually inked a deal with Columbia Records and released his debut album in 1995. Before his death in 1999, he was considered one of the best freestyle rappers and was lauded as a gifted storyteller.
22. Big Pun
Big Pun, short for Big Punisher, was born in 1971 in The Bronx as Christopher Lee Rios. He was part of the underground Bronx hip hop scene in the early 1990s and would gain fame working with the Terror Squad and Fat Joe later that decade. He was the first Latino artist to see a solo hip hop record go platinum.
Jadakiss was born in Yonkers, New York, in 1975. Growing up as Jason Terrance Phillips, the future rapper would become interested in hip hop in his early teens. His first performances were freestyle rapping for money on street corners. His talents got him recognized quite early in life, and Mary J. Blige would eventually hear his performance and give his demo tape to Puff Daddy.
24. Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Ol’ Dirty Bastard was born in 1968 as Russell Tyrone Jones. He spent equal parts of his career mired in legal trouble and making successful albums. He often used expletives in his music and sang in a style that mixed spoken and sung music. He was a member of Wu-Tang Clan and the cousin of several well-known rappers, including GZA.
25. Fat Joe
Fat Joe was born in New York City in 1970 and got his start as part of the hip hop group Diggin’ In The Crates Crew. He released his debut solo album in 1993, which was followed by several commercially successful albums. He also cultivated a healthy acting career with roles in movies like Happy Feet and Scary Movie 3.
26. Cardi B
Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar, the fiery songstress who would ultimately become Cardi B, was born in New York City in 1992. She made her mark as an aggressive female rapper in a male-dominated industry. After releasing two successful mixtapes in 2016 and 2017, her debut studio album, Invasion Of Privacy, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.
27. A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky was born Rakim Athelaston Mayers in 1988 in New York City. Not only has he built a career as a successful rapper, but he’s also found success as a record executive and record producer. He was once part of ASAP Mob, which influenced his choice of nickname. His first studio album came in 2013, and he’s won several awards since his debut.
28. Lil’ Kim
Lil’ Kim was born Kimberly Denise Jones in 1974 in Brooklyn, New York. She was thrown out of her house as a teen and spent much of her adolescence on the streets before The Notorious B.I.G. discovered her and invited her to become part of Junior M.A.F.I.A. She’s lived a wild life with a stint in prison, millions of records sold, and a prolific career on reality television.
29. Mos Def
Dante Terrell Smith was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1973 and released his debut album in 1994 as part of the rap group Urban Thermo Dynamics. In 1999, he created his solo debut album, which was followed by several more over the next few years. He also spent years as an actor with several film and television roles under his belt before he started rapping.
30. French Montana
Karim Kharbouch was born in Morocco but moved to New York City at around the age of 13 with his parents. His breakthrough single came in 2010 with the release of Choppa Choppa Down, and then, he created his first album in 2013. His family lived on welfare for support during his youth, and he would become a battle rapper in the early 2000s.
31. Joey Bada$$
Joey Bada$$ was born in 1995 as Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott. He grew up in Brooklyn and was part of the hip hop group, Pro Era. His debut mixtape came out in 2012 and was followed by additional mixtapes before his debut studio album was released in 2015. He once gave $25,000 to support homeless students living in New York City.
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