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The Best Rappers & MCs Of All Time: Top 30

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Deciding on the greatest rapper of all time is quite the challenge, just like narrowing down the best rap albums ever. Hundreds of great contenders have joined the music scene over the past few decades, making it near impossible to title just one MC as the reigning leader. However, let’s just cover a common question asked among the hip-hop community.

What Is The Difference Between An MC And A Rapper?

Since the 1970s, the term MC has been associated with hip-hop culture and rap music in particular as a vocalist who rhymes over sampling, scratching, and mixing supplied by a DJ. The term MC was derived from “master of ceremonies” in the late 1970s and became a hip-hop variant for a rapper, so you could believe they’re simply regarded as the same.

With the above being said, however, we still enjoy a challenge, we’ve put together 30 of the greatest. Read on to discover more about these MCs and how they reshaped the world of music.

30. Masta Ace

Masta Ace, better known as Duval Clear, is an American rapper and record producer from Brownsville, Brooklyn. He was a member of the classic 1988 Juice Crew posse cut “The Symphony.” Masta has influenced several MCs because of his unique voice and rhyme ability. Masta Ace had a whole lot of rappers surrounding and supporting him, but it’s his own talents that made it onto this list. He’s full of wit and charm, taking influence from some of the biggest names in the industry.

Singles to start with: Da Grind (featuring Apocalypse), Acknowledge, Take a Walk

Must-listen to albums:

29. AZ

AZ, better known by his stage name AZ, is an American rapper from Brooklyn, New York. He’s been working with Nas for years and has appeared on a number of tracks. He was formerly a member of The Firm alongside Nas, Foxy Brown, Cormega, and Nature. AZ is another rapper that is far too underrated. Although he takes a different, more intelligent, approach to rapping and all that comes with it, this is what makes him stand out from the crowd.

Singles to start with: Sugar Hill, Rather Unique, The Format

Must-listen to albums: Doe or Die, Aziatic, A.W.O.L.

28. Talib Kweli

Talib Kweli Greene is a New York-based rapper. In 1997, he and Mos Def formed the group Black Star together, becoming recognised early on through his collaboration with Mos Def. Talib Kweli has been mastering the art of songwriting since a very young age, heightened by the fact that he grew up with an educational background. He soon started using hip-hop to empower the community around him, making him well respected far and wide.

Singles to start with: Get By, 2000 Seasons, Every Ghetto

Must-listen to albums: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, Quality, Train Of Thought

27. GZA

GZA (Garry Earl Grice), better known by his stage names GZA and The Genius, is an American rapper, songwriter, and actor. GZA is the Wu-Tang Clan’s “spiritual head,” being both the group’s first signer and its oldest member. GZA is no doubt one of the most highly praised MC’s in the Wu-Tang Clan. He knows how to complement smart metaphors, delivering them with nothing other than a smooth and enticing beat.

Singles to start with: C.R.E.A.M, Shadowboxin’, Protect Ya Neck

Must-listen to albums: Liquid Swords, Beneath the Surface, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

26. Black Thought

Black Thought, better known as Tariq Trotter, is a Philadelphia-based rapper known for being the primary MC of the Roots, which he co-founded with drummer Questlove. Black Thought is another rapper that isn’t afraid to experiment with sound. He is considered the “scientist” of the hip-hop world, constantly evolving and using his knowledge to deliver hit after hit.

Singles to start with: You Got Me, What They Do, The Seed (2.0)

Must-listen to albums: Illadelph Halflife, Things fall apart, Phrenology

25. Big L

Big L, also known as Lamont Coleman, was an American rapper and songwriter. From Harlem in New York City during the early to mid-1990s, Coleman became well known among underground hip-hop fans for his freestyling talent. Although murdered at the young age of 24, Big L made enough of a mark on hip-hop to last a lifetime. In the short period, he was active, he made enough material to influence generations of aspiring rappers. It’s safe to say that his talent and legacy still lives on.

Singles to start with: No Endz, Dignified Soldiers, Put It On

Must-listen to albums: Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, The Big Picture

24. MC Lyte

MC Lyte, born Lana Michele Moorer, is an American rapper, DJ, actress and entrepreneur. In the late 1980s, she became the first solo female rapper to release a full album with 1988’s critically acclaimed Lyte as a Rock. She was considered a pioneer of female rap. MC Lyte came in soaring after assisting Sinead O’Connor with a hit dance song and making some very bold moves in her personal life. It’s safe to say that MC Lyte does not do things quietly, which as an MC, is the best way to be.

Singles to start with: I Cram To Understand U, Cold Rock A Party, Poor Georgie

Must-listen to albums: Lyte As A Rock, Eyes On This, Act Like You Know

23. Pharoahe Monch

Pharoahe Monch, also known as Troy Donald Jamerson, is an American hip-hop recording artist from Queens, New York. He is recognized for his challenging words, intricate delivery, and multisyllabic rhyme schemes in his music. Pharoahe Monch is arguably one of the most prominent lyricists around. His broad views and ability to take his fans to another world has long been recognised, making his music the perfect escape.

Singles to start with: Simon Says, Oh No, Rehab – Remix

Must-listen to albums: Internal Affairs, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades), Desire

22. Kanye West

Kanye Omari West is an American recording artist, record producer, and fashion designer. Kanye West was born in Atlanta and raised in Chicago, where he became known as a Roc-A-Fella Records producer for producing songs for other well-known musicians. It’s near impossible to come across someone who hasn’t heard of Kanye West. With lifestyle affairs and controversial opinions put to one side, he’s undoubtedly one of the best producers around. His technique and flow evolves with every album, making us all intrigued for more.

Singles to start with: Stronger, Heartless, Ni**as In Paris

Must-listen to albums: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Late Registration, 808s & Heartbreak

21. Mos Def

Yasiin Bey is known by his stage name Mos Def, he is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and actor. In 1994, Mos Def began his hip-hop career alongside his siblings in the short-lived rap group Urban Thermo Dynamics. There aren’t many MC’s like Mos Def. In his short stint before turning to act, he made upbeat hip-hop tunes that even your grandparents would enjoy. Focusing on nothing but clean lyrics and a good time, we hope to see more Mos Def inspired music in the future.

Singles to start with: Ms. Fat Booty, Mathematics, Sunshine

Must-listen to albums: Black on Both Sides, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, The Ecstatic

20. Redman

Redman is an American rapper, DJ, and record producer. He rose to fame in the early 1990s as a member of one of Def Jam’s rap crews. In our opinion, Redman is an incredibly underrated rapper, which is why he deserved to be featured on this list. He has a lively persona that switches with each performance, keeping his audience on their toes while dropping unforgettable beats.

Singles to start with: Da Rockwilder, Tonight’s Da Night, Smoke Buddah

Must-listen to albums: Whut? Thee Album, Muddy Waters, Dare Iz a Darkside

19. Big Pun

Big Pun, born Lee Rios, was an American rapper and songwriter. Pun’s lyrics are remarkable for their technical complexity, with exceptional breath control, hefty alliteration use, as well as internal and multi-syllabic rhyming patterns. Big Pun was the first solo Latino rapper to go platinum, which is more than enough of a statistic to prove his greatness. He’s known for delivering fast rhymes backed with a whole lot of fire – something that the rap scene can’t get enough of.

Singles to start with: Still Not A Player, Twinz, It’s So Hard

Must-listen to albums: Capital Punishment, Yeeeah Baby

18. Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Nohilly (Lauryn Hill) is an American recording artist, songwriter, rapper, and record producer. She is frequently considered one of the finest rappers of all time, as well as one of the most significant vocalists of her era. Although times are certainly changing, there haven’t been many female influences in the world of rap as we know it. There are, however, some amazing exceptions. Lauryn Hill has been providing us with non-stop beats since 1998, proving that absolutely anyone can enter the world of rap.

Singles to start with: Killing Me Softly With His Song, Doo Wop (That Thing), Ready Or Not

Must-listen to album: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

17. Common

Common is an American rapper, actor, and writer who first gained fame as a member of the hip hop group Above the Law. With his 1994 album Resurrection, he became known to both fans and critics. He had an underground following into the late 1990s. Common has been on the hip-hop scene for well over two decades, telling stories of his troubled past through meaningful poetry and catchy bars. He came from the streets, and in the world of rap, you can use this to your favour.

Singles to start with: Invocation, GO!, The Light

Must-listen to albums: BE, Like Water For Chocolate, Resurrection

16. Chuck D

Chuck D, also known as Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, is an American rapper. As the leader of Public Enemy, which he formed with Flavor Flav in 1985, Chuck D helped pioneer politically and socially aware hip hop music in the mid-1980s. Chuck D is a hugely influential figure and has been for quite some time. He has a very cutthroat approach to rapping, paying no attention to who he’s intimidating in the process.

Singles to start with: Harder Than You Think, He Got Game, Fight The Power

Must-listen to albums: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Fear of a Black Planet, Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black

15. André 3000

André Lauren Benjamin, better known as André 3000, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, actor, and record producer. He is most recognized for being a member of the southern hip-hop duo Outkast alongside fellow rapper Big Boi. André 3000 is undoubtedly one of the most multi-talented rappers in the industry. He doesn’t just rap – he sings, acts and plays the guitar, too! Although he’s yet to release his own standalone album, the impact that André 3000 has when featuring on singles is more than enough.

Singles to start with: Rosa Parks, Ms. Jackson, Elevators (Me & You)

Must-listen to albums: Aquemini, ATLiens, Stankonia

14. LL Cool J

LL Cool J, is an American rapper and actor from Queens, New York. With the success of his single “I Need a Beat” and the Radio LP, LL CoolJ became one of the first hip hop acts to break into the mainstream with Kurtis Blow and Run-DMC. LL Cool J is a prime example of a rapper that moves with the times. While some rappers get stuck in their way and start to fall behind, LL Cool J forever reinvented his landscape, experimenting with new tunes and appealing to the masses.

Singles to start with: Around The Way Girl, Mama Said Knock You Out, Doin’ It

Must-listen to albums: Mama Said Knock You Out, BAD: Bigger and Deffer, Radio

13. Slick Rick

Richard Martin Lloyd Walters, better known as Slick Rick, is an English-American musician and record producer. In the mid-1980s, he rose to prominence with Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew. Their songs “The Show” and “La Di Da Di,” which were released in 1985, are regarded as early hip hop classics. With a name as cool as Slick Rick, it was clear that this rapper was only destined for greatness. Although his career dipped between visits to jail, Ricky Walters always came back stronger and with yet enough story to tell.

Singles to start with: Behind Bars, Street Talkin’, Children’s Story

Must-listen to albums: The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, The Art of Storytelling, Behind Bars

12. Kool G Rap

Kool G Rap (Nathaniel Thomas Wilson) is an American artist from Queens who performs under the stage name Kool G Rap. He first emerged as half of the group Kool G Rap & DJ Polo before becoming a member of the Juice Crew in the mid-1980s. If hardcore hip-hop is more your vibe, then you’ll have a lot of respect to pay to Kool G Rap. Classed as the “grandfather of hardcore hip-hop”, Kool G Rap will forever be known for unbeatable rhymes that came straight from the streets.

Singles to start with: For Da Brothaz, The City, Ill Street Blues

Must-listen to albums: Live and Let Die, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Road to the Riches

11. Scarface

Scarface is an American rapper best known as a member of the Geto Boys, a Houston, Texas-based hip hop group. We can all agree that Scarface will forever hold the title of “voice of the hood”. With an iconic name to suit such an iconic presence, he grasped mainstream music with both hands and tweaked it to make it his own. He knew how to get the crowds going, succeeding every time.

Singles to start with: Mind Playing Tricks On Me, Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangstar, Smile

Must-listen to albums: The Diary, The Fix, Mr. Scarface Is Back

10. Ice Cube

Ice Cube is a Grammy Award-winning rapper, actor, and filmmaker from the United States. His songs on N.W.A’s debut album Straight Outta Compton helped to establish gangsta rap’s popularity. Before Ice Cube showed his comedic side on the 21 Jump Street films, he paved a way for himself in the world of rap. With a not-so-subtle voice and incredibly (almost cult-like!) fanbase, Ice Cube proved that you don’t have to have an iconic style to succeed. It’s all about charisma.

Singles to start with: It Was A Good Day, You Know How We Do It, No Vaseline

Must-listen to albums: Death Certificate, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Straight Outta Compton

9. Kool Moe Dee

Kool Moe Dee, also known as Mohandas Dewese, is an American rapper and screenwriter. He is credited with pioneering the new jack swing style in hip hop during the 1980s as a member of one of the genre’s early groups, the Treacherous Three. Kool Moe Dee is responsible for creating “battle rap” as we know it. He’s long had a career in music and acting, winning gigs thanks to his incredible wit and strong presence. You wouldn’t wanna mess with Kool Moe Dee.

Singles to start with: Wild Wild West, How Ya Like Me Now, Go See The Doctor

Must-listen to albums: Knowledge Is King, Kool Moe Dee, How Ya Like Me Now

8. Eminem

Marshall Bruce Mathers III, better known as Eminem, is an American rapper, songwriter, and record producer. Eminem is hands down one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with estimated worldwide sales of over 220 million records. It’s safe to say that Eminem was going to feature on this list at some point. His ability to rap faster than lightspeed is recognised by many, matching his incredible skill to combine dystopian rhymes with complex beats. Eminem has positively impacted many of our lives and will forever continue to do so.

Singles to start with: ‘Till I Collapse, The Real Slim Shady, Lose Yourself

Must-listen to albums: The Marshall Mathers LP, The Slim Shady LP, The Eminem Show

7. KRS-One

Lawrence “Kris” Parker (also known by his stage name KRS-One) and Teacha, is an American rapper and producer from New York. He rose to prominence as a member of the hip hop group Boogie Down Productions, which he co-founded with DJ Scott La Rock in the mid-1980s. KRS-One is another rapper that uses his platform to create a more positive light. He takes experience and stories from violence on the streets and turns them into songs inspired by hope and harmony.

Singles to start with: Sound Of Da Police, MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know, 9mm Goes Bang

Must-listen to albums: Return of the Boom Bap, KRS One, I Got Next

6. Big Daddy Kane

Big Daddy Kane (Antonio Hardy), is an American rapper who emerged in the 1980s as a member of the Juice Crew. He’s widely known as one of hip-hop’s most important and talented MCs. Labelled as the “original king of swagger”, Big Daddy Kane has a lot going for him. His charm and confidence oozes when on stage, and when off stage, it continues to shine through the clothes he wears. Big Daddy Kane is responsible for making the world of rapping so much more about music; it’s a lifestyle.

Singles to start with: Ain’t No Half-Steppin’, Smooth Operator, Warm It Up Kane

Must-listen to albums: Long Live the Kane, It’s a Big Daddy Thing, Looks Like a Job For…

5. Jay-Z

Jay-Z, also known as Shawn Carter, is an American rapper, songwriter, record executive, businessman, and media owner. He is regarded as one of the most important hip-hop artists in history and is likewise recognised for being the former CEO of Def Jam Recordings, developing significant industry talents such as Kanye West, Rihanna and J.Cole. Jay-Z is a prime example of a rapper that went from rags to riches. He’s long provided hope to the younger generation of aspiring rappers, proving that if you put in the hustle, the rewards will come flooding in. Jay-Z is the epitome of rapping combined with marketing.

Singles to start with: Empire State Of Mind, 99 Problems / Dirt Off Your Shoulder, No Church In The Wild

Must-listen to albums: Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, The Black Album

4. 2Pac

2Pac was a legendary gangster rapper, songwriter, actor, and poet from the United States. He was one of the most popular and influential rappers of all time. Tupac Shakur is no doubt the most transcendental rapper of all time. His legacy has reached every corner of the world, with rappers far and wide trying oh-so-hard to imitate his influence.

Singles to start with: California Love, Dear Mama, Ambitionz Az A Ridah

Must-listen to albums: The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, Me Against the World, All Eyez on Me

3. The Notorious B.I.G

Christopher George Latore Wallace, better known by his stage names The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, or simply Biggie, was an American rapper and songwriter. He is widely regarded as one of the best rappers of all time because of his roots in the New York rap scene and gangsta rap traditions. The Notorious B.I.G will forever be considered as an absolute legend in the world of MC’s. He made his mark on everything he touched, enticing audiences of any age or gender. His flow was unbeatable, and there’s never been an MC quite like him since. He set the stakes very high.

Singles to start with: Hypnotize, Big Poppa, Juicy

Must-listen to albums: Ready to Die, Life After Death, Born Again

2. Nas

Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, better known by his stage name Nas, is an American rapper, songwriter, and entrepreneur. He’s regarded as one of the best influential rappers of all time owing to his roots in the New York hip-hop scene. It doesn’t matter what Nas is rapping about – the way in which he delivers any form of lyric is outstanding. While some of his songs are considered to be “novelty”, Nas keeps his dedicated fan base gripped with his quick-witted nature and classic approach to albums.

Singles to start with: If I Ruled The World (Imagine That), The Message, N.Y State Of Mind

Must-listen to albums: Illmatic, The Lost Tapes, It Was Written

1. Rakim

Rakim, born William Michael Griffin Jr., is an American hip hop artist and record producer. He’s regarded as one of the most influential and talented MCs of all time, along with his partner Eric B. & Rakim, one half of golden age hip hop duo Eric B. & Rakim. Many rap enthusiasts far and wide agree that Rakim deserves the greatest MC crown. This is mainly due to the fact that he is so distinguishable from the rest. While a lot of other rappers focused on drugs and weapons, Rakim took it upon himself to shine a more positive light on his music. Celebrating his incredible skills, Rakin focused on positive lyrics that would make a difference. He is also responsible for introducing multisyllabic rhymes into the world of rap. Pure talent.

Singles to start with: When I B On Tha Mic, Guess Who’s Back, It’s Been A Long Time

Must-listen to albums: Follow the Leader, The 18th Letter, Paid In Full

With so many great MC’s out there, choosing just 30 of them felt near impossible. Who do you believe to be the greatest rapper of all time? We’d love to hear your views.

To keep up to date with the latest music news and movements in the rap industry, be sure to revisit Upbeat Geek!

Ryan Toomey
Ryan Toomey
Hip-hop loving and keen vinyl collector Ryan works in Digital Marketing, UX and Design. When he's not jamming to music and designing, he reviews record players and looks for his next vinyl for his collection. With years of visiting record player shops, copping limited edition vinyl and rocking up at all sorts of concerts, he's our go-to guy for vinyl and record players guides. Ryan's favourite artists are Frank Ocean, Outkast, Khalid, Rejjie Snow and A Tribe Called Quest - in that exact order (apparently).

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