When it comes to answering the question, “Who is the best?”, many answers are based on popularity rather than actual skill.
Not this list.
It doesn’t give bonus respect points to those who are old school. It doesn’t matter who call themselves the G.O.A.T. All we care about is pure, technical skill, regardless of whether they’re on a major label or an independent outfit. They need to have been on the scene long enough to prove they can stay consistent, too.
That means we’re looking for advanced rhyme schemes, multisyllabic rhyming, and sensible lyrics, plus an authenticity in their messaging.
We’ll start with the top 10 best rappers of all time, then we’ll move on to the runners-up who are close to breaking into the list. Finally, at the end, there are still more rappers who have what it takes but need a bit more time for refinement and maturity.
If you don’t find your favorite rappers somewhere on this page, you should explore some of the artists listed and see if they expand your horizons and ideas of what’s possible or complex in the rap game.
When you’re done here, why not check out which of these artists made the list of the richest rappers? Does skill earn you money, or just respect? The answer might surprise you. But in the meantime let’s do this, counting down the list of the best rappers of all time…
#10 – Lil Wayne
Top Strength: Wordplay
Some may scoff at this placement on the list, but Lil Wayne is deserving. Ignore his silly auto-tuned sing-song rapping in his radio-centric singles and you’ll find a truly skilled lyricist. For decades now he’s honed his craft to include multisyllabic rhyming, clever rhyme schemes, and gobs of wordplay.
He actually popularized, and some might argue, invented the use of analogies (instead of similes) in his wordplay along with his Young Money labelmates, which plays out more like a joke with a punchline than anything else. His standout skill is that he never wastes a line. They’re packed full of these jokes that happen so fast you can’t even take them all in with one listen.
Trivia: Wayne started his professional career at age 13 when Birdman signed him to Cash Money Records. He later joined the Hot Boys, which launched several bestselling artists like Juvenile. He’s sold over 100 million records, making him one of the world’s bestselling artists. He’s won five Grammys, 11 BET Awards, and much more.
#9 – Sage Francis
Top Strength: Narratives
Sage Francis comes from the intellectual “backpacker” school of rap, which packs more value into each song than any other sub-genre of hip hop. Francis can do it all as good as any other artist, but his real strength is his storytelling and imagery.
Francis could easily be listed even further up the list, but his content is so thick with intellectual content that it holds him back in terms of pure enjoyment. A lot of times it takes effort to listen to him, as one album can be likened to hearing a lecture. He’ll find the balance soon and move up, I’m sure.
Trivia: He’s the founder and CEO of Strange Famous Records. He began practising his craft at age eight while listening to Run DMC and Public Enemy. He has degrees in communications and journalism. He’s won Scribble Jam and the Super Bowl MC Battle tournaments.
#8 – Kool G Rap
Top Strength: Flow
Many of the best rappers of all time call Kool G Rap one of their own favorites. He was an early adopter of multisyllabic rhyming while maintaining that smooth New York flow that inspired several others on this list. While G Rap never hit mass popularity due to his mafioso style of lyrics, anyone who knows rap knows he’s a top rhymer.
His breath control, visual narratives and imagery, and flow are only part of what land him on all the “best” lists. If you’ve never heard him and listen to him, he’ll sound extremely familiar due to how many other artists have tried to emulate him. Big Pun, for instance, got his mafioso style from G Rap.
Trivia: He’s your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. This pioneer got his start with DJ Polo and as a member of the Juice Crew. He’s recently put out a group album with Necro, a runner-up below, also from New York. The “G” in his name stands for Giancana, based on Sam Giancana.
#7 -Kendrick Lamar
Top Strength: Flow
Kendrick has a lot going for him. His voice, his flow, and his lyrical content fit so perfectly with the jazz-inspired instrumentals on his first three albums. He’s showing that he can grow and evolve over his discography now, too.
You know someone is on their way when they get tapped to ghostwrite for Dr. Dre, and it seems that’s been the case in the past handful of years. An exception to this rule is RBX, who’s still one of my favorites. Kendrick is on another level, already being called the “new king of hip hop.”
Trivia: He’s part of a supergroup called Black Hippy with Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul. He’s already earning Grammy Awards, and at the 58th ceremony he received 11 nominations in a single night. He was presented the key to the city of Compton by the mayor in 2016.
#6 – Tupac Shakur
Top Strength: Lyrical Content
Tupac Shakur (or 2Pac or Makaveli) spent his teenage years writing poetry and rapping. But, based on the quality of his debut album, 1991’s 2Pacalypse Now, the effort was well worth it. Three more studio efforts would follow before his untimely demise in 1996. The last, All Eyez On Me, went diamond, that rare instance when an album sells over 10 millions units in the U.S. His copious posthumous output is, quite frankly, shocking. What set him apart was Tupac’s raw and emotional lyrics, which tackled a wide range of subjects including poverty, racism, and violence. The term “poet” gets so lightly thrown about in the rap game; to Tupac’s name the label should stick.
Trivia: Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, was a member of the Black Panther Party and was pregnant with Tupac when she was on trial for conspiracy to bomb several New York City landmarks. She was acquitted of the charges and gave birth to Tupac while in jail.
#5 – Nas
Top Strength: Lyrical Content
Nas has all of the skills of anyone else on this list but likes to be less strict with the rules of technical rhyming. This looseness allows him to have far more involved lyrical content. He bridges the gap between annoyingly preachy and casual, where you actually learn things by listening.
Nas is one of those who has just enough skills from all the various types that come together but which never get in the way of the lyrics (pretty much the opposite of Tech N9ne below). He’s in all of the top lists, partially by learning from Kool G Rap and growing from that foundation.
Trivia: Nas has released eight consecutive platinum and multi-platinum records in a row. He held many high-profile beefs with Jay-Z, 2pac, Cam’ron, and Young Jeezy. He has 12 Grammy nominations, 5 MTV Video Music Award nods, and some wins from the BET Hip Hop Awards. He’s sold over 30 million records.
#4 – Chali 2na
Top Strength: Multisyllabic Rhymes
You know how I’ve complained above about rappers who try to get complex and their lyrics suffer? Not Chali 2na. He does not waste an opportunity to place an internal or external rhyme with multisyllables, and his lyrics make perfect sense and are mature. His baritone voice is so pleasant, too.
Chali 2na is what mastery sounds like. There’s nowhere to improve. The only problem is, he tries to make more uplifting songs (which can get old) and attempts to make pop hits. Big Pun tries a similar tactic: chasing money with cheesy pop songs. Regardless, Chali is at the top of the rap game in terms of refinement.
Trivia: He’s a member of both Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli. His stage name comes from the deep-voiced animated mascot for StarKist Tuna. He’s known in the rap world but many were introduced to him from a collaboration with Linkin Park.
#3 – Tech N9ne
Top Strength: Flow
Tech N9ne has the best flow of all time, hands down, zero questions. His use of triplets, sixlets, complex rhyme schemes, multisyllabic rhyming, weird time signatures, and more put him almost at the top. His energy is unmatched. So why isn’t he #1?
Because he refuses to break out of his complexity. He follows the rules so hard that sometimes he even makes up words or phrases to fit into the multi. It’s not a big deal but if he can get past that and perhaps enhance his storytelling, he can easily take the top spot.
Trivia: He’s a co-founder of Strange Music. His music has been featured in film, TV, and video games. He’s continued to remain independent instead of signing to a major label, and while that’s slowed him down a bit he’s still finding mainstream success without them.
#2 – Jay-Z
Top Strength: Authenticity
Like Nas, Jay-Z is a rapper who’s capable of being complex but chooses to be more loose with his style. This gives him more room to hone and share his message, which is his true strength. When you listen to Jay-Z, you hear a guy who’s experienced in life and has a lot of mature things to say.
Everyone loves it, which is why he’s the wealthiest American musician and the first rap billionaire. He’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame, has 22 Grammy Awards, and has sold over 50 million albums and 75 million singles. Everyone knows who he is, whether you’re into rap or not.
Trivia: Jay-Z founded Roc-A-Fella Records and the clothing retailer Rocawear. He founded and owns a luxury sports bar chain called 40/40 Club. He bought the streaming service Tidal recently. Perhaps most impressive, he’s married to Beyonce.
#1 – Eminem
Top Strength: Charisma
If you ask me, Eminem is getting worse with time as he “evolved” through shock rap to sing-song rap to trying to sound like the modern mumble rappers. But if you’ve explored his discography, especially his earliest work and his freestyles, it’s unquestionable… he holds the crown.
Eminem has taken mastery to another level. When he’s not worried about mass appeal, his music is next level in terms of complexity, vocabulary, rhyming phrases you’d never think to put together, etc. His freestyle skills are seemingly limitless, to the point where he’s doing things that seem inhuman.
Trivia: He played the main character in the drama film 8 Mile, about rap battles. He’s won 15 Grammys, 8 American Music Awards, and 17 Billboard Music Awards, among many others. He’s had 10 #1 albums on the Billboard 200, all debuting at #1. He’s the only artist to have achieved this.
Runners-Up: Who Almost Made The List?
There’s only room for 10 artists above, but there are a few in the game that have the potential to knock a few rappers off that list. Some have been around for decades and some are newer to the scene.
Top Strength: Flow
Notorious B.I.G.’s career dates back to the early 1990s when, as a youth, he would freestyle and battle other Brooklyn rappers on the streets of Brooklyn. His apparent talent caught the ears of local record label Bad Boy Records, with whom he signed in 1994. He released his debut album Ready to Die, which was a huge success both commercially and critically. It featured several hit singles, including “Big Poppa” and “Juicy”, and helped establish Notorious B.I.G. as one of the most promising young talents in the rap game.
He followed that up with his second and final album, Life After Death, in 1997. That same year Biggie was the victim of a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. It’s believed his involvement in the East Coast-West Coast feud led to his murder, following as it did a year after 2pac’s murder.
Trivia: He attended George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School in downtown Brooklyn. Among his schoolmates were Busta Rhymes, DMX, and Jay-Z.
Royce Da 5’9″
Top Strength: Rhyme Structure
Royce has been around forever, even hired to ghostwrite for P. Diddy and Dr. Dre in the past. His most notable skill, that you hear less in his current, more pop-oriented sound, is his incredible rhyme schemes. In a couplet, his first bar will be incredibly short, allowing the second bar to be extremely long, and when it lands back on the final multisyllabic rhyme, you get your mind blown.
He’s also extremely skilled with internal rhymes that are either stand-alone or parts of the external rhyme. Over time his lyrics became more authentic and mature, where the message fits perfectly into the complexity of the rhyming rather than suffering from it.
Trivia: Royce came up with Eminem and even formed a duo called Bad Meets Evil. A series of bad business events kept him from rising to the top with his Detroit cohorts like D12, but eventually he hit it big with the group Slaughterhouse.
Top Strength: Versatility
Aubrey Drake Graham (or Drake, to you and me), has, despite still being relatively young, has already reserved his place among the pantheon of the greatest rappers of all time. Hailing from Toronto, Drake made his initial mark on the hip-hop scene in 2009 with his groundbreaking mixtape, So Far Gone. Infused into every track was his unique blend of introspective lyricism and melodic hooks. Since then, the chart-topping albums have taken over the world. Take Care, Nothing Was the Same, and Views all bear his eloquent style, intricate wordplay, and versatile flow, making him not only respected by critics and fans, but also very wealthy. The man is a brand (OVO) but that shouldn’t undermine his mark on the genre, which will be realized in quick time, when a new generation of artists will draw from inspiration from him and his willingness to embrace vulnerability and introspection.
Trivia: Drake has a strong connection to the number “6”. This number is significant to him as it represents his hometown, Toronto, which is often called “The 6ix” because of its area codes, 416 and 647. Drake has incorporated this number into his work, using it in the titles of his mixtapes, like If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, which has “6IX” written on its cover, and his fourth studio album, Views from the 6 (later to be shortened to Views). The use of this number highlights his personal attachment to his hometown and adds a unique element to his music that fans appreciate.
Top Strength: Multisyllabic Rhyming
Yes, he wears a Doctor Doom mask. Yes, his lyrics are often comical and goofy. And yes, you’ll rarely hear a more complex rapper than MF Doom. There are countless videos on YouTube trying to dissect his rhyme schemes and they all fall short. Good luck analyzing it as you listen.
MF Doom, like Kool G Rap, is highly respected by other, far more popular rap artists, but never rose to stardom himself. It’s not stopped him from having widespread success in the underground scene and even bridging over to voiceover work for cartoons.
Trivia: MF Doom has done countless group albums, most notably Danger Doom with Danger Mouse, which led to collaborations with voice actors from Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force. He’s been known to send imposters onstage to perform his songs while hiding behind the mask.
Top Strength: Flow
Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr., known to the world as Snoop Dogg, is one of the most prolific and gifted rappers of all time. He emerged from the vibrant West Coast rap scene in the early 1990s. His unmistakable laid-back flow and smooth, rhythmic cadence quickly garnered him acclaim as a formidable lyricist. Under the mentorship of the legendary Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg released his debut album, Doggystyle, in 1993 to widespread critical and commercial success, catapulting him into the upper echelons of the rap game. Throughout his illustrious career, Snoop Dogg has released numerous chart-topping albums and collaborated with an array of celebrated artists, solidifying his status as a hip-hop icon.
Snoop Dogg’s rapping abilities have always been characterized by an unparalleled sense of groove and an innate capacity for vivid storytelling. His distinctive style, blending G-funk-infused beats with evocative lyrics that reflect his experiences and observations, has endeared him to legions of devoted fans across the globe. Snoop Dogg’s undeniable talent for crafting infectious hooks and memorable verses, combined with his remarkable versatility, has allowed him to transcend the genre and remain relevant throughout the ever-evolving landscape of popular music.
Trivia: He was given his moniker by his mother, who fondly observed that her son bore a resemblance to the character Snoopy from the beloved comic strip Peanuts. This affectionate nickname has become synonymous with Snoop Dogg’s persona, perfectly capturing the blend of whimsy and charisma that has endeared him to fans and fellow artists alike.
Top Strength: Long Multisyllabic Rhymes
Fabolous is a respected emcee that suffers from the same problems as others, where instead of flexing his insane skills, he dumbs it down and tries to score pop singles. Oh well. If Fabolous continues to use his incredibly long external rhymes and keeps up with his smooth swagger, he can climb back into the limelight with a different, darker image.
Fab had a moment at the top, and he spent it doing love songs with R&B singers on the chorus. That might have earned a lot of short-term money but I think it hurt him in the long run. He needs to get back to the gritty topics and flex his technical skill.
Trivia: After a long grind with many major labels, Fabolous ultimately founded his own label Street Family Records and has signed four other artists. He did a horror-themed album with Jadakiss in 2017.
Top Strength: Rhyme Structure
Let me state up front that unless you’re really into horror movies and the occult, you’re not going to like Necro. However, if you can get past the topics that he raps about, you’ll hear an extremely intelligent rapper with an incredible command of rhyme schemes and multis, as well as an insane vocabulary.
Necro is also an accomplished producer, making all of his own beats, and some for the group Non-Phixion, which includes his brother Ill Bill. Like many others, he lists Kool G Rap as one of his biggest influences, as well as Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, Rakim, and LL Cool J.
Trivia: His musical style is a combination of rap and heavy metal, though lyrically you could simply call him horrorcore. He founded Psycho+Logical-Records, which has released over 40 albums to date. He’s opened for Run DMC, Sepultura, Insane Clown Posse, and Biohazard.
Who Else is Climbing the List?
There’s a handful of rappers who are the obvious “next at bat” in terms of skill. All have and will achieve even more underground success, but few will have mainstream appeal. That’s okay, because it has nothing to do with our list of the most skilled.
- Canibus has it all, but especially an enticing flow. The only problem is he’s too intellectual, rapping about physics and things I enjoy but many others don’t.
- Hopsin has the multis, the structure, the flow, and the energy, but he’s still hanging onto horrorcore too much, like many other all-time greats.
- Rakim is an influential hip-hop icon known for his complex lyricism and innovative rhyme schemes, is often credited with elevating the art of rapping in the late 1980s.
- A$AP Rocky is resolutely modern in his style, bending rap rules but never breaking them. I just think he should focus more on what words mean instead of how they sound.
- Aesop Rock is akin to Sage Francis. He’s capable of anything, but is too lofty in his lyrics for most. It takes effort to listen to him.
- Vinnie Paz has matured and refined his style to perfection, but it can get stylistically repetitive. He can fix that and grow further, I’m sure.
- Chino XL is a veteran rhymer with a strong flow that takes advantage of all of the other advanced techniques.
- Sean Price is no longer with us, but his most recent rhymes were completely refined along the lines of Chali 2na above. He was ready for the big time.
I’m sure there are others that deserve mention somewhere on this list, which is why this discussion always leads to arguments. There’s just never enough room nor time to mention everyone, and it starts to boil down to different tastes. These are my tastes and opinions, and if you think someone else should appear on this list of the best rappers of all time, then let me know!
Top 10 Best Rappers of All Time
This is the table for the top 10 best rappers in the world. It contains their names and top strength.
|Kool G Rap