By Gary Johnson, Black Men In America.com (Originally published July 14, 2019)
I was sitting in my office having a discussion about music. The subject of rap music came up and the conversation evolved to who are the greatest rappers ever. For the record, I have never been a fan of rap music. I appreciate the art form, but I have not spent a lot of my hard earned dollars on that genre. I own approximately 1,200 albums, cassette tapes and CD’s. I would estimate that less than 8 artists in my collection are rappers.
In order to have this conversation, I realized that I needed a “common definition” for rap music. I studied several sources (Internet, Dictionary, Encyclopedias). Here’s what I discovered:
Rap music, also referred to as Hip Hop music, is a music genre developed in the United States by inner-city Black and Latinos in the Bronx borough of New York City in the early 1970’s. It consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted.
Ranking rappers was like watching a drunk driver (the conversation was all over the place). Later that evening I went to the Barbershop and raised the topic with the fellas in the chairs. There was very little agreement. I believe part of the difficulty in rating rappers is that many of the rappers are gone, and some are still in the game. In addition, times and influences change.
I decided to go to the Internet and read how music experts ranked the top rappers. Going to the Internet made things worst. There is no consistency in the rankings. The great thing about this topic is that most of the lists by folks in my office and the Barbershop are reasonable. The lists by organizations such as Medium.com, Billboard.com, The Cheat Sheet and LiveAbout.com are very interesting reads.
What have I learned?
- Rap music is an oxymoron, because rap is not musical.
- Rating rappers is a “high stakes” game. There’s rap, hip-hop and “real rap.”
- No one group will ever come to agreement on a list. If you’re lucky, you might get a small group to come to consensus on a list, but all that means is that they don’t agree with the list, but they can live it, if they have to.
- The top 5 richest rappers (according to Forbes magazine) are:
- Jay Z: $900 million
- P. Diddy: $825 million
- Dr Dre: $770 million
- Drake: $100 million
- Eminem: $100 million
5. After listening to dozens of people rank rappers, I learned that any ranking or list of rappers that does not include: Tupac, Snoop Dogg, NAS, Eminem, Jay-Z or Notorious B.I.G aka Biggie is highly questionable and suspect.
OK, back to our search for the best Top 10 List of the Best Rappers Ever.
Here’s a “sample plate” of organizations and their rankings. You can visit their websites if you want to compare their rankings against your list or ours. Keep in mind, you can’t get that time back.
Medium.com – One of the factors that Brad Callas used to rank rappers was album sales.
Billboard.com – Billboard is arguably the world’s most famous authority on music. And yet, Tupac Shakur, perhaps the most influential rapper ever globally, was left off the list. Let that sink in for a minute. Wow!
The Cheat Sheet – This organization used the following criteria for their list: voice, storytelling ability, creativity, and general influence through the microphone.
Live About.com – This sites ranking criteria includes artists who were or have been active for at least 10 years and have released at least two albums. They were evaluated for originality, longevity, lyrics, cultural impact, flavor, battle skills, body of work, poetic value, substance, versatility, vocal presence, live performance, flow, delivery, and influence.
After two days of conversations all over the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia (DMV), I consulted Black Men In America.com’s resident rap expert Comms 2.0. , who grew up on rap music and knows the “rap game” better than any of us.
Before we display the big reveal, know that we believe that our ” Top 10″ list will stand up against any list developed or endorsed by any music or cultural organization in the world.
I asked our own Comms 2.0 to explain his logic or criteria. Comms said, “My criteria was pretty simple. I was looking for what I believed to be the most iconic, influential rapper or rap group of all time. These are artists that lyrically or stylistically changed the game of rap.”
OK folks, there you have it. The time has come for the “Big Reveal.”
This is the “Top 10 Greatest Rappers” as ranked by “Comms 2.0” for Black Men In America.com:
10. Public Enemy
9. Kanye West
6. Snoop Dogg
2. Tupac/Notorious B.I.G – I don’t know how you can put either of these artists over the other. Truly game changers for the development of a rap culture. East Coast vs West Coast and a lyrical sounds that had never been heard before.
1. Sugarhill Gang – one may be surprised by this choice, but without the Sugarhill Gang we would not have the artists or music we have today.
The Sugarhill Gang is an American hip hop group. Their 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight” was the first rap single to become a Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright, Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson, and Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien, were assembled into a group by producer Sylvia Robinson, who founded Sugar Hill Records with her husband, record producer Joe Robinson. On November 11, 2014, Big Bank Hank died at the age of 58 after a long battle with cancer.
That’s it! That’s the list! Of course this is a hotly debated topic. There is a subjective, intangible element that elevates some rappers over others.
Who is on your list? Join the debate and enter the conversation. Scroll down and click on the “Comments” icon and tell us your Top 10. Or reply to any of our social media outlets and tell us your list of top rappers of all time.