It’s the age old question: Who are the top ten rappers of all time? Now whilst guys like Pac, Biggie and Rakim are always going to be up there on anybody’s list, there is some people who don’t get the love they deserve. Who don’t get the respect that guys like Nas and Snoop do. This article is for them, the ones who aren’t on the commercial top ten lists, so don’t expect to see Biggie or Pac’s names crop up, as this is for the guys who don’t get the adoration others do.
The people on this list aren’t all in my top ten (that will be published at a later date) but I feel these guys have justified cases to make it there. It is all my opinion and if these guys are on your top ten lists then bravo, we share music taste.
One of the most foul-mouthed rappers about, R.A is a favourite on the undeground scene. Formerly known as Crustified Dibbs throughout most of the 90’s, he had a style and flow reminiscent of ODB’s and by age 18 had signed to Jive after nine record labels had a bidding war over this guy – eventually he was dropped by Jive after they wanted him to a make song like ‘Juicy’.
During his time as Dibbs, he managed to get a feature from Biggie when they dropped the disturbing Cunt Renaissance, if that wasn’t enough, Biggie went on record and said :“I thought I was the illest” after their time together. After a couple of unreleased albums in the 90’s he went on to release his first studio album ‘Die, Rugged Man, Die’ which went pretty commercially unnoticed but scored decent reviews.
Perhaps Rugged Man’s most famous release is his verse on Jedi Mind Trick’s Uncommon Valor which is arguably one of the greatest verses of all time and one that HipHopDX gave Verse of the Year to in 2006. After this he went onto put out a compilations album and then Legends Never Die in 2013, which once again didn’t do amazingly well selling only 4000 first week. But despite this he had bars that were out of this world and easily better than almost every commercial and underground rapper, add the fact he had features from the likes of legends like Talib Kweli, Sadat X and Brother Ali and it gives you a well-crafted album.
The fact R.A isn’t too successful could be down to his vulgar lyrics but despite this he spits knowledge, truth and doesn’t frankly care what the media or anyone for that matters thinks about him.
Originally part of the independent group Company Flow, they dropped in my opinion one of the greatest albums of all time in Funcrusher Plus. El-P stood out on the record and earned critical approval. After disagreements between him and his record label Rawkus Records, Company Flow left the label and El-P started his own: Definitive Jux. This label had some pretty good talent on it, including names like; Aesop Rock, Del the Funky Homosapien and Despot.
El-P released his first solo album Fantastic Damage in the early 2000’s and then released a ‘Jazz-fusion’ album in 2004 with Blue Series Continuum which was well-received in both the Hip-Hop world as well as the Jazz world too. El has a crazy flow followed by crazy word play and isn’t one to shy away from cyphers with the big names of the underground as seen here.
More recently known for his duo with Killer Mike: Run The Jewels, El-P has been able to get a wider and newer fanbase, as he still has the fresh bars for fans to listen to time and time over. With his aggressive style, he compliments it with crazy metaphors and references to Sci-fi which he is a big fan of.
With the success him and Mike are having together in Run The Jewels so far, if kept up he could very well be seen on top ten lists of many people in future.
El-P’s partner in crime from Run The Jewels is next on this list, as he is one of the technicians of Hip-Hop, the Ric Flair of Hip-Hop if you will. Starting his career on Grammy winning album Stankonia by OutKast, Mike’s talent was obvious. Later he featured on another OutKast song – The Whole World – which won a Grammy for best rap performance by a duo and also once again showcased his talent.
Never really getting the mainstream attention he should have as an artist he did gain quite the internet fanbase through the release of albums like; Monster, I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind I & II. But it wasn’t until R.A.P Music that Killer Mike really got some attention, the 2012 release was politically themed and production on every track featured himself and El-P. Gaining good reviews from XXL, Pitchfork and Complex, most fans of Hip-Hop now knew who he was if they didn’t before. Many people saw this as the turning point in his career, although people did think he was an extraordinary talent prior to this album.
After El-P helped with the production, the two did go on to form Run The Jewels as I spoke about before. With El-P’s aggressive style, Killer Mike was able to come in with more smooth flows and politically themed lyrics. He spoke publicly about the unjustifiable killing of Mike Brown, and other racial crimes which helped him get noticed by more than just the Hip-Hop community, so much so that he attended the White House Correspondents Dinner via invite from Obama himself.
With recent praise from Kendrick: “Critics wanna mention how they miss when Hip-Hop was rapping, motherfucker if you did then Killer Mike would be platinum.” It seems Killer’s talent can be seen by everyone – rappers and fans alike.
Watch out for Run The Jewels 3 and a supposed R.A.P Music 2 release for what is sure to be Atlanta Hip-Hop at it’s finest.
A lot can be said about Weezy, one of music’s most polarising figures, he has been subject to controversy whether it be over his talent or even how he goes about releasing his music. Lil Wayne is however, one of the greatest to ever do it. Joining Cash Money Records at the age of 9, he has been in music for most of his life.
Forming the group Hot Boys in the 90’s, their album went Platinum in 1999 as did his own debut Tha Block Is Hot, his next two albums went on to be certified gold. And people still want to argue about how good an artist he is? This is still before Tha Carter releases. After Tha Carter did drop, he reached new found popularity mainly down to ‘Go D.J’ from that album, and Tha Carter II in my mind boasts the best Weezy opening track – Fly In (click his name for the song). People started pandering for features and he was the hottest talent in Hip-Hop, then came Tha Carter III. Over one million copies first week. I could stop this argument here but there is still more to say about Wayne. He won the Grammy for Best Rap Album in 2008 for C3, which had songs such as ‘A Milli’ and ‘Mrs. Officer’ on, he was on everybody’s playlists but still people wanted to badmouth and not rate him as much as they should.
After a bit of a slip from him in the rock-like album Rebirth, he was put in jail where he put out another album but after his release he dropped arguably his second best album in Tha Carter IV. 964,000 copies first week just showed Wayne’s love was still there.
After multiple times announcing he would release Tha Carter V, it still isn’t here, but multiple mixtapes have been released. If anybody doubted if he still had it all these years later check this track with Drake for verse of the year by him.
Keep your ears open for Tha Carter V for what is apparently his last album. As a self-proclaimed martian, that might be the only explanation for his incredible skills.
One of, if not Hip-Hop’s best storyteller, Immortal Technique
will should go down in history as one of the best. Born in Peru, he is one of Hip-Hop’s most notorious activists and political speakers.
His first album Revolutionary Vol. 1 was released independently through money he made from battle rapping and is a Hip-Hop classic that has arguably one the greatest songs of all time in Dance With The Devil. The story revolves a guy wanting to get into drug and gang culture only to end up, well, listen for yourself. The song was heralded as an underground gem and his since found notable popularity on the internet with many speculating if the song itself is a true story as seen by Tech or just one he made up.
Revolutionary Vol. 2 was featured in “Unsigned Hype” by The Source and helped get him more public attention as did the song Bin Laden which featured Mos Def. The song blames George Bush for 9/11 and made Immortal Technique a hate figure on many Republican’s lists. He never managed to find mainstream success but released another album called The 3rd World to some critical acclaim, but didn’t get attention for it like his two prior albums. Touring non-stop he became a rapper many clamoured to see with numerous sold out shows and he was featured on tracks with the like of KRS-One, Dead Prez and English rapper Lowkey.
Set to release The Middle Passage any time now, Immortal Technique is not a rapper to be messed with, a hard-hitting, vulgar and down-right nasty lyricist, he can also hit home with truths about the 3rd world and how people take their lives for granted. Definitely one of the best to step up to the mic.
Dubbed ‘King of the Underground’ by many, Aesop Rock is one of the better talents you may have never heard of. Many hear his name and think he’s a spoof of A$AP Rocky, but Aesop has been in the game a lot longer than Rocky, and possesses a lot more talent too (no disrespect to A$AP, but even he’ll agree).
Appleseed EP was his first release to get a lot of attention and critical acclaim, the EP was produced a lot by long-time friend Blockhead and helped him gain indie/alternative Hip-Hop success, so much so that he signed to Mush and released his first major label album release in “Float”, the album was a success and featured rappers including Slug & Dose One, unfortunately in 2001 he suffered a breakdown, but made the most of it when he was able to write about it on One of Four.
He later signed to Def Jux (El-P’s label) and dropped “Labor Days” in late 2001, this album helped him gain some mainstream success as it reached 15 on the Billboard Top Independent Charts. The album had ‘Daylight’ on it which is arguably his most famous song, Rock’s lyricism and beauty can be seen from a few lines in this track:
“Life’s not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman
You only call her a bitch because she won’t let you get that pussy
Maybe she didn’t feel y’all shared any similar interests
Or maybe you’re just an asshole who couldn’t sweet talk the princess”
With a few EP releases and a few albums through the 2000’s, Aesop Rock cemented his place in underground rap’s notoriety, but 2007’s None Shall Pass – his fifth album – was praised and critically loved as many liked his change in sound. His last solo album was Skelethon in 2012 and saw some mixed reviews, but Aesop’s lyricism was still favoured by the underground fans.
Rumours of an album release by the end of 2015/early 2016 have his fans a buzz, but we’ll have to wait and see. The King of the Underground deserves a spot on anybody’s top ten list.
What can be said about Kendrick Lamar that hasn’t been said already? Arguably the most popular Hip-Hop artist of the last five years, loved since Section.80’s release by mainstream critics and before that by underground fans. Compton’s newest big thing can be denied a spot on a top ten of all time list due to his seeming lack of experience. Truth be told he released his first mixtape in 2003 – I’m not going to lie and say I heard him back then though, I was only 5. Through the 2000’s he released a lot of mixtape’s under the K.Dot name as well as being featured on tracks with The Game and also Lil Wayne. After releasing the Kendrick Lamar EP in 2009 he went on to form Black Hippy with TDE labelmates ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock.
The O(verly) D(edicated) mixtape helped Kendrick get some mainstream success and featured all of Black Hippy as well as names like Dom Kennedy.The mixtape got Snoop and Dre’s attention and they reached out to work with him. This was before his first album release: Section.80.
The album was loved for it’s poetic stylistic approach as well as narrative songs like: Tammy’s Song and Keisha’s Song. HiiiPower was the first single from the album which helped get attention for the release which also saw A.D.H.D on, which was heard on almost every Hip-Hop playlist.
After Cartoons & Cereal with Gunplay leaked, the internet stood up and took notice of Kendrick even more. In 2012 he announced he had signed to Interscope Records & Aftermath Entertainment. good kid, m.A.A.d city was Kendrick’s real breakthrough album. The album blew up and Kendrick was dubbed a mass of names from “New Pac” to the “King of the West Coast”. Kendrick was on one in 2013 though. He was on Big Sean’s ‘Control’ where he sent for 11 rappers, including Sean. This was one of the most exciting times for Hip-Hop in recent memory. Many rappers sent back but nothing really came of it.
After releasing To Pimp A Butterfly, which is a contender for 2015 album of the year, Kendrick took his place at the top of the rap game. Hood Politics is the track that stands out from the album, well worth the listen. With a Black Hippy album supposedly coming soon, watch out for Kendrick to cement himself on everybody’s top ten list within the next two years.
DOOM a.k.a Viktor Vaughn a.k.a King Geedorah a.k.a Zev Love X a.k.a Metal Fingers is in my opinion, the greatest to do it. Formerly a member of KMD, his brother died before their second album release which led to DOOM not being heard from 1994-1997. After this he attended a few open mic’s and ultimately released Operation: Doomsday in 1999. Critically acclaimed, Dumile was back.
After releasing Take Me To Your Leader under the alias King Geedorah, then Vaudeville Villain & Venomous Villain under the name Viktor Vaughn, DOOM reached new heights as he released the collaborative album Madvillainy with Madlib, under the duo’s name Madvillain. The album spawned songs like Accordion, Strange Ways & Rainbows. DOOM was seen to be one of the best about with this release, then releasing Mm.. Food (an anagram of MF DOOM) which was primarily themed around food with real life issues of his mixed in as seen on Deep Fried Frenz.
Numerous collaborative projects have since occupied DOOM’s career, but none as notorious or as good as Madvillainy. His last solo album was Born Like This which featured Raekwon and also Ghostface Killah whom DOOM is dropping an album with under the name DOOMSTARKS soon.
If you don’t know DOOM you don’t know Hip-Hop. The best face to rarely be seen, he has the ability to use beats to compliment his style every single time. Never releasing a bad album be it solo or collaborative, he deserves a spot on everybody’s top ten list.
With new solo stuff, and projects with Madlib and Ghostface dropping soon, be sure to be on the look out for one of the internet’s favourites. Oh yeah, just remember all caps when you spell the man’s name.
Do you agree with this list? Anybody you think should be on it instead? Please let me know in the comments below.