As the 2nd oldest brutha on 3 Bruthas Passing Judgement, I grew up slap dab in the middle of the true school and beginning stage of hip hop’s decline. The rappers on my list seem to all be from the golden era or started out during that time. I tried to consider some of the rappers who stepped on the scene post 1999, but I couldn’t find anyone deserving to be on the list. There are a few rappers (i.e. The Game, T.I.?) who could potentially be one of the greatest after a few more albums, while others are clearly good top ten contenders for a ringtone countdown. Before I beat a dead horse with a rant dealing with the state of today’s hip-hop(maybe another blog for another day), here’s my list to round out our top 10 rappers of all time:
10) Master Ace.
Talk about someone who is underappreciated in the rap world. He goes way back to the Juice Crew days when he killed it on“The Symphony”. I didn’t get into Ace until he released the joint “Born To Roll” from the album Slaughterhouse, then I began to check out some of his other projects and he is amazing. He reminds me of a less lyrical Nas who has a way of making you visualize scenarios on screen when he rhymes…that’s a talent.
9) Chuck D.
Looking back at some of the rap to come out of during the late 80’s, there was a lot of socially conscious hip-hop. Many of those artists were fly by night and had no impact what so ever. It says something about Chuck if he managed get everyone to stop and listen to him worldwide.
8) Lauryn Hill.
Let me first say when I heard her kill it on the “Nappy Heads” remix in ’94...I was obsessed and knew big things were on the way. Putting aside all of the erratic behavior she began to show years later, L was once a force to be reckoned with. Every rhyme that came out of her mouth was flawless.
As a group they had the best chemistry. I sometimes wonder would Guru even be as successful if he wasn’t initially paired with DJ Premier to create a masterpiece like “Manifest” , “Just To Get a Rep” or “Mass Appeal”. To be honest, Guru is just an ok rapper i.m.o. and it was the Gangstarr synergy that made them an incredible group.
I’ve been following Common before he had to drop Sense from his name for legal reasons. The first time I REALLY paid attention to him was when the song “I Used to Love H.E.R.” dropped. It wasn’t until the album One Day It Will All Make Sense dropped that I went out and bought his album. He’s poetic without going over your head and probably one of the best REAL freestylers.
5) Big Daddy Kane.
Kane is swag’s inspiration. Before T.I. redefined swagger, Kane was the dude every rapper wanted to emulate. His wordplay still remains top notch even after two decades.…Who comes with better lyrics than this:
“Here I am, r-a-w
A terrorist, here to bring trouble to
Phony mcs, I move on and seize
I just conquer and stomp another rapper with ease
Cause Im at my apex and others are below
Nothing but a milliliter, Im a kilo
Second to none, making mcs run
So dont try to step to me, cause I aint the one
I relieve rappers just like tylenol
And they know it, so I dont see why you all
Try to front, perpetrating a stunt
When you know that Ill smoke you up like a blunt”
---Big Daddy Kane Raw
4) Jay- Z.
Jay shined the most from 1995-2001 in my opinion. I respect his ability to expand and take risks by working with artists like Punjabi MC ,Coldplay, and Linkin Park. Plus he’s a master next to Diddy when it comes to marketing himself.
3) Wu-Tang Clan (selected members).
The distinct personalities in the Wu made them stand out for me. Most rap groups before them consisted of members who seemed to all be cut from the same cloth. Wu Tang came along and brought storytelling, complex lyrics, and party hip hop together backed by RZA’s unique sound. So they rightfully deserve to be in the top 3.
This was a hard decision. I battled between choosing B.I.G. and Pac for this position. Pac’s writing ability and how he addressed issues of everyday people gave him an edge over BIG. I’ll just end there before I start comparing more…lol. Both Pac and BIG were intriguing people but this one goes to Tupac.
I still can’t believe Nas was only 19 when he created the Illmatic album. Can you think of anyone today that age or even older creating anything on that level? He is hip hop at its finest. Some of his other gems were Stillmatic, God’s Son, and It was Written.