The top 10 rappers have made their influence known, forever changing the hip-hop genre. Rap music thrives on lyrical experimentation and innovation, transforming the top rappers from street poets to cutting-edge trend setters in modern culture.
- Tupac Shakur. Any discussion of the top ten rappers would be incomplete without Shakur. His personal lyrics ushered in a wave of self-analysis in hip-hop. He’s in top form on the 1995 album “Me Against The World,” where the sentimental “Dear Mama” fits right in alongside a tough-talking “If I Die 2Nite.”
- Jay-Z. As one of the most financially successful rappers of the modern era, Jay-Z has a mind for business as well as hip-hop. His best musical works can be found on 1998’s “Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life.” With smooth and hard-hitting tracks like “Can I Get A…” and “Money Ain’t A Thang” to his credit, this rapper’s influence is widespread.
- Q-Tip. As a key member of innovative rap group A Tribe Called Quest, this rapper has been unleashing quality music since 1985. His intelligent lyrics and nimble rhymes show a hip-hop awareness not seen in many other rappers. “Breathe And Stop” and “Vivrant Thing” from 1999’s “Amplified” showcase this top rapper’s abundant talent.
- Chuck D. With lyrics that are as politically charged as they are socially honest, this rapper put legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy on the musical map. Chuck D’s most groundbreaking work appears on 1990’s “Fear of a Black Planet.” Songs like “Burn Hollywood Burn” and “Fight The Power” will go down as some of the most significant performances by any rapper in history.
- Kanye West. First rising to prominence as a producer, this rapper wasn’t known outside the industry until the release of the 2004 album “The College Dropout.” West’s unique delivery and creative rhymes on songs like “Through The Wire” and “Jesus Walks” show a rapper who’s just arriving at the top of his game. With his subsequent albums, like 2005’s “Late Registration” and 2007’s “Graduation,” West displayed his staying power.
- Eminem. With a much publicized personal life that sometimes overshadows his musical aptitude, this rapper is as volatile as he is talented. Eminem is capable of a wide range of lyrical styles, from the motivational “Lose Yourself” from the 2002 soundtrack to the film “8 Mile” to songs that are dark and reflective, such as “When I’m Gone,” released on “Curtain Call: The Hits” in 2005.
- Ice Cube. As part of the infamous N.W.A., this rapper unleashed hell with the release of the 1988 album “Straight Outta Compton.” Raw, perverse and talented, Ice Cube helped develop gangsta rap into a subgenre with his subsequent releases after leaving the group. His solo career highlight is 1992’s “The Predator,” which is one of the decade’s top albums.
- Slick Rick. One of the founding fathers of modern hip-hop, this rapper helped bring lyrical narrative to the genre. Slick Rick’s distinctive delivery alone makes him one of the top ten rappers, but his uniqueness is equaled by his musical ability. Songs like “Teenage Love” from 1988’s “The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick” display a story-telling ability that no other rapper can match.
- Mos Def. Although recent years have brought him more fame for film roles than for music, this rapper is as talented as they come. First rising to prominence as part of the influential duo Black Star, Mos Def displayed a knack for nimble rhymes and metaphors throughout his solo career, most notably on 2004’s “The New Danger.”
- KRS-One. A driving force in hip-hop’s infancy during the 1980’s, this rapper is one of the most legendary artists of the genre. His socially conscious lyrics brought a legitimacy to rap music, standing in stark contrast to his flashy peers. His work with Boogie Down Productions is tops on his résumé, most notably the 1988 album “By All Means Necessary.”
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