Who are the best rappers of all time? We can’t say definitively because tastes vary, but thanks to rap music’s relatively young history, discussions about the subject are always changing. This list is a subjective look at some of our favorite rap artists who we think are the best rappers in rap history, with an emphasis on recent releases.
The history of rap and hip-hop music is a fascinating one. It can be traced back to the African American slaves that were brought to America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Later, it evolved into a mantra against oppression and discrimination during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The genre has diversified over time, spawning such forms as Gangsta rap, R&B, hip hop, trap music, and all of the styles in between. The goal of rap music is to discuss, debate, and promote social issues in a way that is both relatable and entertaining.
The term “rap” or “rhyme” is an old-fashioned description of a form of poetry that has been around since the 13th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, rapping dates back to 1929 when it was applied to a style of a jazz performance by a performer by the name of Isabelle Grilloire. In 1950, “Rap” from the lyrics from the song “That’s All I Need,” by Bobby Charles became popular on African American radio stations. The word “rap” is also commonly used to refer to the style of rhyming practiced by hip-hop artists.
Around the same period in history, hip-hop music was being born in the form of DJs mixing records together. DJs created their own beats on two turntables, with one playing the breakbeats, which are short drum fragments that usually occur between sections or verses of a song. This would later become known as scratching, where a DJ manipulates the record by using his hands on the vinyl records. As you can imagine, this became very popular with youth around this time period who were looking for an outlet to express themselves creatively.
Rap music began to evolve out of the need for rhythmic beats used in dance hall performances. In the 1970s, the popularization of disco music played a large role in its growth. The idea of breaking down jazz records and manipulating them to make new beats was born from this new dance sound. These beats were also used live, at nightclubs and parties to get people up and dancing while simultaneously entertaining them with a DJ.
The following is the list of the 20 best rappers of all time.
Eminem is one of the most consistent, arguably the most influential rapper of all time and surely is one of the greatest rappers of all time. He has sold over 300 million records worldwide making him one of the most popular rappers in history. Eminem released his first album in 1999 and it was 16 years later that he released his 9th studio album, Revival. Another thing to consider is that Revival shipped 1 million copies within 24 hours of its release (the fastest-selling hip-hop album in history). He is also one of the most notable figures in hip-hop film and has starred in 8 movies. He is widely considered one of the greatest lyricists and he is known for his satirical and humorous rapping. Box Office Mojo estimates that Eminem has earned $244 million from the film, album sales, and touring. He is also one of the highest-grossing concert acts of all time. He has been described as “The Biggest Stage Personality in Rap” by Billboard Magazine. He is considered one of the best rappers ever by Rolling Stone magazine and has been the most successful solo hip-hop artist in the United States, selling over 8 million albums worldwide.
Eminem is the only rapper to have two albums sell more than 1 million copies. The Slim Shady LP sold more than 7 million copies in 2000 and 2001, making it the eighth best-selling album of all time. Recovery sold 524,000 copies in its first week of release (the fastest-selling hip-hop album in history) and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 177,000 units in its first week. He has won fifteen Grammy Awards and has 7 number 1 singles, including 934, becoming the only hip hop artist to ever top 1,000 songs on the rap songs chart.
2. The Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G was one of the most popular rappers of all time, selling more than 25 million albums worldwide and had more number 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart than any other artist in history, making him the best selling rapper of all time. His sales are estimated at more than $250 million worldwide, which makes him the best-selling hip-hop artist ever.
Biggie Smalls was one of the most influential rappers of all time and was ranked number 1 of the best rappers of all time by “Rolling Stone” magazine in 2003 and was number 4 in MTV’s 2003 list, “The Greatest MCs Of All Time”. He has won many awards, including Best Rap Album for Ready to Die in 1994, which is second only to NWA for most number one rap albums on the Billboard 200 chart. He made guest appearances on more than 20 singles, with 13 reaching the top ten of the US Billboard Hot 100. Biggie Smalls was killed in a murder conspiracy in Los Angeles, California, at age 24.
Rakim was one of the best rappers of all time and between 1986 and 2000, he released 16 studio albums, which sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. He was ranked as the best rapper by Vibe Magazine twice and is one of the most influential rappers of all time. His songs include “Rappers’ Delight” (1986), “My Melody” (1988), and “I Know You Got Soul” (1991). His supreme lyrical skills made him a legend. He won five Grammy awards, one more than Eminem. Rakim is considered by some to be the greatest MC of all time. He is also the only rapper to have appeared on every rapper’s compilation album that has gone platinum, which is 92%.
Jay-Z is the wealthiest rapper of all time with an estimated net worth of $810 million. He started out as a DJ in 1994 and then moved into rap music in 1996. In the 1990s, he won twenty-two Grammy Awards, including Best Rap Album for Reasonable Doubt and Best Rap Song for “Hard Knock Life”, earning him the title “MC of the Year” from The Source magazine twice.
He is also a notable fashion designer who has been involved in a number of fashion collaborations and has founded a record label, Roc-A-Fella Records, named after his grandmother’s birthplace, Brooklyn. He has sold more than 80 million records worldwide and has toured as a headliner for four years.
Drake is the most prolific rapper of all time with 14 number 1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and more than 61 weeks at one or more. He is also the only artist to have three albums with over 1 billion streams worldwide, and with four Grammy Awards and several nominations, he is tied for second-most Grammy wins with Chris Brown and Justin Bieber. He was also named “World’s Best Selling Canadian Artist” by music industry magazine Billboard in 2012. In addition to his success as a rapper, he has been one of Forbes Celebrity 100 highest-earning celebrities five times.
6. Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg was the first West Coast artist to be included on XXL magazine’s annual Top 10 Freshmen list which features the best new hip-hop talent each year. He is surely one of the greatest rappers alive. He is also one of the most successful rappers, having won many awards and sold over 23 million albums worldwide. His 2009 album, “Ego Trippin”, debuted at number 1 on Billboard 200 making it his first-ever release to top charts. His net worth is estimated at $ 150 million, making him one of the richest rappers in the world. He has also made 21 appearances on Billboard Hot 100 chart as a solo act, which is the most by any rapper.
7. Lil Wayne
Lil Wayne is one of the most popular musicians in history. His albums have sold over 33 million copies worldwide making him the best-selling album rapper in history. In 2008, he released his sixth studio album, “Tha Carter III”, which debuted at number 1 on Billboard 200 and sold over 787,000 copies in its first week. He has won 5 BET Awards and is currently worth $170 million dollars. He has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide.
Lil Wayne was named one of the best rap artists of all time in Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Artists” by the magazine in 2016, and in 2013 he was ranked number 1 on MTV’s list of “Hottest MCs in the Game”. He has sold over 30 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling hip-hop artists ever. He has won five Grammy Awards and is currently the only rapper to have 6 number one singles for Billboard Hot 100.
8. MC Hammer
MC Hammer is the first hip-hop artist to become a billionaire. He has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide and has had 15 top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including two number 1 hits “U Can’t Touch This” and “2 Legit 2 Quit”. He has also received three Grammy Awards, two American Music Awards, and he was named “Best-Selling Hip-Hop Artist of the 1990s” by Billboard magazine.
9. Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre is one of the most influential rappers ever and has been credited as a pioneer and creator of the Golden Age of hip-hop music. Also, he has sold over 350 million records worldwide making him the most successful producer-rapper of all time. Music Box estimates that
Dr. Dre is one of the richest rappers in the world with an estimated net worth of $800 million. He was inducted into the “Hip Hop Hall of Fame” in 2009. He has produced and collaborated with many musicians, including Eminem, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and Elvis Presley. He has also won six Grammy Awards and made 21 appearances on Billboard Hot 100 as a solo artist as well as receiving 5 American Music Awards for “Most Successful Hip Hop Artist”.
DMX was named one of the greatest MCs of all time by MTV and Rolling Stone magazine and is the only rapper with an album on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (1997’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot). He was also named one of the greatest artists of the 1990s by Vibe magazine, and in 2006 he was ranked 84th on the list of “The Greatest Hip Hop Artists of All Time” by About.com. He is best known for his debut album “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot” which became one of the fastest-selling hip hop albums at that time. His net worth is estimated at $10 million dollars.
11. Busta Rhymes
Busta Rhymes is not only one of the most critically acclaimed rappers but also one of the most commercially successful rappers, selling over 12 million records worldwide including 6 number 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart. He is regarded by many as one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time, having won many awards, including Best Rap Performance. His overall record sales are estimated at over 30 million albums worldwide. Busta Rhymes was also named “Best Rapper Ever” by Vibe magazine in 2012.
12. Kanye West
West is one of the most successful musicians of all time, having sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He has won 22 Grammy Awards and ties with Eminem for most Grammy wins by a rapper. He is also a notable fashion designer and record producer who has received 8 Grammy Awards. He has collaborated with many popular artists, including Jay-Z, Rihanna, John Legend, and Taylor Swift. West is also one of the richest rappers in the world with an estimated net worth of $6.6 billion.
13. 50 Cent
50 Cent has sold over 30 million records worldwide making him one of the most successful rappers in history. He is often compared to other famous rappers, such as Tupac Shakur, Eminem, and Jay-Z, who are considered among the best hip-hop acts ever. He is also ranked number 10 on MTV’s “Hottest MCs in the Game” and number 14 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. His career was brought into focus after he released his debut album “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” which debuted at number 1 on Billboard 200 charts making it one of the fastest-selling debuts in hip hop history.
14. Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar is one of the most influential artists in music today. He is also one of the best-selling rappers of all time. His debut album “good kid, m.A.A.d city” debuted at number 1 on Billboard 200 making it the fastest-selling hip hop album in history, and is certified platinum by RIAA (Recording Industry Association Of America). He also won 2 Grammy Awards and he has currently sold more than 10 million albums worldwide making him one of the best-selling rap artists in history. Kendrick was named one of GQ’s 50 Best Dressed Men Alive and was included in Complex’s “50 Must-See Hip Hop Artists Right Now”.
15. Travis Scott
Travis Scott is one of the most critically acclaimed rappers of all time. He has won many awards. He is also worth $ 60 million dollars making him one of the richest rappers in the world. He has released 5 studio albums and his debut album “Rodeo” debuted at number 1 on Billboard 200 which made him the third rapper in history to have a debut album at the top spot of the chart. In 2016, he was named one of Rolling Stone’s 10 New Hip-Hop Artists to Watch and also ranked 21st on Billboard’s “Top 20 Hip-Hop Artists of the Past Five Years“.
Nas is one of the most influential rappers of all time, having won 1 Grammy Award. He has sold over 38 million albums worldwide and has collaborated with many artists including Mobb Deep, Snoop Dogg, Drake, Damian Marley, and Kanye West. He also received anhonorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music during his induction into the “Hip Hop Hall Of Fame”. Nas is also one of the richest rappers in the world with an estimated net worth of $70 million dollars. He was named “The Greatest MC of All Time” by MTV in 2010.
17. Juicy J
Juicy J is one of the most successful rappers in hip hop history. He has sold over 14 million records worldwide and over 4 million albums in the United States making him one of the best-selling rappers there was ever. He has won many awards, including Best Rap Album for “Kings of Crunk” (2006) and Best Rap Performance on “Bandz” (2006). He also has collaborated with many acclaimed artists including Big Sean, French Montana, Meek Mill, and Wiz Khalifa among others on his album “Stay Trippy”. He is also one of the richest rappers worldwide with an estimated net worth of $25 million dollars.
18. Ice Cube
Ice Cube is one of the most successful rappers of all time. He is also known as “the voice of gangsta rap” and released his debut album “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” in 1990. His first solo album “Death Certificate” was released in 1991 which went on to make him the first rapper to have a platinum album. His other albums include “The Predator” (2012) and “Everythang’s Corrupt”. He has sold 20 million records worldwide making him one of the best-selling hip-hop artists of all time. He has also produced many films, including “Friday” (1995) and “Barbershop” (2002). He was inducted into the Long Beach, California Walk of Fame in 2011.
19. Ghostface Killah
Ghostface Killah has sold over 30 million records worldwide. His debut album “Ironman” (1996) was certified platinum by RIAA (Recording Industry Association Of America). He is also one of the richest rappers today with an estimated net worth of $15 million dollars. He has won many awards, including Best Rap Album for “Supreme Clientele” (2000). He has collaborated with many acclaimed artists including Kanye West, Hip Hop Duo Outkast, Cee Lo Green, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, and MF DOOM.
Ludacris is one of the most successful rappers in hip-hop history. He has sold over 25 million albums worldwide and has won 3 Grammy Awards, 1 American Music Award, 2 BET Awards, and 1 Soul Train Music Award. He also received an honorary doctorate from Georgia State University. His debut album “Back for the First Time” debuted at number 1 on Billboard 200 making him the only hip hop artist ever to have his first 3 albums debut at number 1. His album “The Red Light District” debuted at number one on Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart making him the first solo male rapper to have 4 consecutive albums debut at number 1. He also won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Hip-Hop Video for his single “Splash Waterfalls” (2003).
Rap music is a serious matter. People are arguing about the validity of the genre, its role in culture, and its effect on society. We all have an opinion on what rap music means to us, rap music can be learned at your own pace no matter where you are. After all the rap music that has been gifted to us by these artists, anyone can definitely fall in love with rap music and be a part of the rap fans’ family.