While it hasn’t produced as many mainstream rappers as New York or Los Angeles, Philadelphia is still considered one of the best rap cities in the United States. Some familiar names have reached the Billboard charts, but there are also plenty of underground rappers with a lot of respect around the nation who are underrated. It was hard to narrow it down to just 15, but here are our picks for the best rappers from Philadelphia.
1. Lil Uzi Vert
A very difficult man to miss, Lil Uzi Vert (real name Symere Bysil Woods) is not only the top rapper on the list but also the youngest. A pop culture icon, Lil Uzi Vert grew up in North Philadelphia and started rapping in high school, using it as an outlet to get out of his home situation.
In 2017, Lil Uzi Vert released his debut album Luv Is Rage 2, which he followed up in 2020 with Eternal Atake. After finding success on the rap charts, Lil Uzi Vert would find mainstream success in 2017 with his first top 10 hits XO Tour Llif3. Since then, he has followed this up with successful tracks, including Futsal Shuffle 2020, Demon High, and Sanguine Paradise.
2. Meek Mill
Starting out as a battle rapper, Robert Rihmeek Williams would adopt the name Meek Mill while in South Philadelphia. Eventually, Meek Mill was signed by T.I. to his first record deal and never looked back.
Meek Mill found instant success with the release of his debut solo album Dreams and Nightmares in 2012 and has released several chart-topping albums ever since. Following several years of success on the rap charts, Meek Mill found crossover appeal in 2015 when teaming up with Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown on All Eyes On You. Some of his most memorable tracks include Sharing Locations, Dangerous and Going Bad.
A member of the popular rap group Ruff Ryders, Eve was one of the most influential female rappers of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Eve’s debut album came out in 1999 with Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders‘ First Lady and she would release four studio albums. The biggest hits from those albums include Let Me Blow Ya Mind and Gangsta Lovin‘. Eve carved out an acting career for herself, as well, starring in movies such as xXx, Barbershop and Animal. At the same time, Eve has had her own television sitcom and was on the main cast of Queens.
4. Beanie Sigel
South Philadelphia rapper Dwight Grant was an independent act when he adopted the stage name Beanie Sigel and was eventually discovered by Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records to set him up for success.
Sigel would release six studio albums between 2000 and 2012, starting with his debut The Truth. Sigel has only had one song reach the Billboard Hot 100 but has had several successful songs on the rap charts including Roc the Mic, Beanie and Feel It In The Air, just to name a few.
5. Black Thought
You can’t talk about the Philadelphia rap scene without mentioning the legendary The Roots. Tariq Trotter, as Black Thought, founded the group in the early 1990s along with Questlove.
With The Roots, Black Thought has been part of more than a dozen studio albums, beginning with Organix in 1993. It has remained busy with studio sessions and television appearances while also producing some big hits. Their most notable songs include You Got Me, Stay Cool, and What They Do.
6. Will Smith
Yes, Will Smith (The Fresh Prince) is far more known for his long and prestigious acting career, but he started finding mainstream success as a rapper. Teaming up with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Smith was already a household name before becoming a sitcom star.
Smith’s first rap album with DJ Jazzy Jeff came out in 1987, called Rock The House. The duo released five albums together in total. Smith has also released five solo albums, ranging from Big Willie Style to Lost and Found. Songs like Wild Wild West and Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It would reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
Interestingly enough, west coast “gangsta” rap wouldn’t have gotten as far as it did without Philadelphia rapper Ricardo Brown. Under the name Kurupt, Brown moved to Los Angeles in his late teenage years where he became a member of Tha Dogg Pound.
As part of his solo career, Kurupt would release his debut album Kuruption! in 1998 and has continued to release music ever since. His best solo songs include We Can Freak It, Girls All Pause and Who Ride Wit Us while Tha Dogg Pound had hits such as What Would You Do and Let’s Play House.
8. Lisa Lopes
One signature of each TLC song is that it always had a spot where Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes would rap a verse. Sadly, Lopes passed away in 2002, but she left a huge impression on music during her life.
Lopes released two solo albums, Supernova, which came out in 2001, and Eye Legacy, released posthumously in 2009. Her biggest solo hit was Block Party in 2001, but she found most of her success with TLC. Lopes was part of the group for three albums, churning out hits like Creep, Waterfalls, and No Scrubs.
9. Lil Dicky
Though he’s more known for his comedy work as Lil Dicky, David Burd has established himself as a legitimate rapper whilst also having his life detailed in the form of a comedy series on FXX.
Interestingly enough, Lil Dicky has only released one studio album with Professional Rapper coming out in 2015. Still, he has had several songs from outside of the album find mainstream success. Already a dominant force on the comedy charts, Lil Dicky has had top 20 hits with Freaky Friday and Earth.
10. PnB Rock
In September 2022, rapper PnB Rock was tragically killed in Los Angeles at just 30 years old. Prior to his death, PnB Rock was a rising star in the rap scene.
PnB Rock was able to release a pair of studio albums before his passing. Catch These Vibes was released in 2017 while TrapStar Turnt PopStar was released in 2019. Some of the best tracks that PnB Rock recorded included Selfish and I Like Girls.
Another rapper that got discovered thanks to his skills as a freestyler and battle rapper, Cassidy (real name Barry Reese) was signed to Full Surface Records after being discovered by legendary producer Swizz Beatz.
Cassidy released his first solo album in 2004 titled Split Personality and has released more than half a dozen in total. The debut album remains his biggest to date, while his songs Hotel, I’m a Hustla and My Drink N’ My 2 Step all reached the Billboard charts.
12. Schoolly D
Jesse Weaver would adopt the nickname Schoolly D during the 1980s when he was rapping in Philadelphia, teaming up with DJ Code Money and honing his rap style that talked about life in an urban area.
As a solo performer, Schoolly D has released a long list of albums, starting with his self-titled debut album in 1985. He released three other albums in the late 80s and another three in the 90s. Memorable Schoolly D tracks include Gucci Time, Livin’ in the Jungle, and Put Your Filas On.
Leslie Pridgen took on the moniker Freeway while rapping in North Philadelphia, which was the same nickname as drug lord Rick Ross. He was signed to Roc-A-Fella Records during the early 2000s and those outside of Philadelphia heard him rap for the first time.
Freeway released his debut album Philadelphia Freeway in 2003 (which spawned a sequel in 2009). His other albums include Free At Last and Diamond In The Ruff. While Freeway hasn’t released many solo singles, he has found success with a handful of them including What We Do and Flipside.
14. Young Chris
Young Chris essentially didn’t take a break between 2004 and 2014, churning out album after album including everything from Tough Luv to The Network 3. More memorable tracks by the duo include No Better Love, One For Peedi Crakk and Friday Night. Still, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop remains their biggest hit.
15. The Ambassador
William “Duce” Branch has been a devout Christian throughout his life, making a name for himself in the underrepresented Christian hip hop scene as The Ambassador.
While The Ambassador has teamed up with a lot of rappers over his career, he’s still also released plenty of solo work. In 1999, he debuted his solo career with the album Christology: In Laymen’s Terms, and since then he has also released albums such as The Thesis and When Sacred Meets Secular.
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