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Every time I stumble upon one of these Top 10 style blog-articles (or as I prefer calling them – “Blarticles”), I inevitably find that I only partially agree with the author’s selections. But before we get down to business, I must admit that this was NOT an easy subject to tackle (rappers and rap music), nor was it an easy list to compose. For those of you who are still reading (thank you), let’s head over to Atlanta and the Dirty South for some Christopher Brian Bridges. Ludacris’ early roots in rap are well documented by MTV interviews and whoever edits his Wikipedia page. Snoop is an innovator, an icon, and his imprint on popular culture may even out-weigh Jay Z (that’s why he’s at 6 and Jigga’s at 7).
I think this one comes down to personal preference for me (some people might not rank Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones this high at #4), but I see him as one of the very best.
I feel the need to make one final comment on Nas before we move in to the stratosphere with our top three greatest. Stay tuned for my next piece, which is currently in the works – The Top 10 Greatest Rap Groups and Duos of All Time.
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I’ve never found a Top 10 list (about ANYTHING) that I completely and whole-heartedly agreed with. Yes, there are certain obvious artists who will undoubtedly be mentioned (I can see your imagination working already). He’s got the swagger of James Dean and the ink of Travis Barker (what more could you ask for?) But it came down to two things that ultimately sealed the deal for me on whether or not I liked the guy. Ludacris stands out for many reasons, but what impresses me most about him is that he has successfully marketed himself as both a musical artist AND a legitimate film actor (I’m a HUGE movie buff, I can’t help it). He apparently recorded his first rap at age nine (I had no idea) and joined a rap group at age twelve (still clueless). This is also where the list gets a little somber, as Christopher Lee Rios is sadly no longer with us; but get used to that, because we have at least two more rappers to get to who have also passed on (you probably know who they are).
He is hailed as one of the greatest lyricists of all time (rightfully so) and his flow is basically unparalleled. I’m guessing most people would put Shawn Corey Carter higher in the Top 10 Greatest Rappers than a measly little #7, but I arrived at this order after a tremendous amount of careful and painstaking thought.
In 2011, Nas released a collaboration album alongside Damian Marley called Distant Relatives. From here on out, these next three rappers, Tupac Amaru Shakur included, are essentially interchangeable amongst the rap and hip hop community. Many people don’t know that a book of his poetry, The Rose that Grew from Concrete, was posthumously released by his family and loved ones.
However, the most challenging aspect of this piece was deciding how to treat rap groups and duos, like Black Star or Slaughterhouse. The first was his album No Ceilings (2009), which I’ve come to see as the quintessential mix-tape. Maybe I’m just thinking about Luda movies because the final Fast & Furious flick hit theaters this weekend. I first heard of Ludacris in middle school in 2001-ish, right around the time of Word of Mouf (2001).
Big Pun, AKA Big Punisher if you’re not into the whole brevity thing, is on this list for a few specific reasons. He’s got the kind of sound that you know right away and you ALWAYS listen to if it comes on. Technically, this shouldn’t really matter; a man should have the freedom to pursue a career in hip-hop for nearly two decades and then move on to other things, but something about that just kind of waters Jay Z down for me. He caught a lot of the initial backlash from the “establishment” during the early 90’s when rap was undergoing a massive transformation, in both East and West Coast scenes.


His career as a solo artist is simply too prolific, whether you measure it by Grammy’s or record sales. I can’t assume you’ve heard of it, because rap and reggae are somewhat niche musical genres, but it was and still is wildly popular. Some will place 2Pac at #1, some will place him at #2, and as it turns out, I have him at #3, but there’s no way he should EVER be ranked any lower. The book featured photocopies of hand-written poems and lyrics by Tupac, alongside an actual typed transcript of his words (he uses a lot of slang and drawings in his poems, so my guess is they included a transcript to reach a wider audience).
No, obviously Christopher George Latore Wallace is more than just a bunch of flow, A LOT MORE. And by that, I mean he has sold over 155 MILLION albums and singles worldwide (God-damn!), which makes him the best-selling hip-hop artist. For example, it took only one week for Tha Carter III (2008) to go platinum, yet he is still personified as the poster child for what people call “new rap,” suggesting that modern rap music is somehow inferior to the stuff from the good old days (which it is). The second was the release of the documentary Tha Carter (2009) – an in-depth look at Lil Wayne, his recording process, and his lifestyle, among other things. That album is loaded with classics – “Coming 2 America”, “Rollout (My Business)” and “Move Bitch” to name a few.
Secondly, but still very important, Big Pun’s Capital Punishment (1998) was the first Latin rap record to go Platinum (sold a million copies). He is now more of a business tycoon, political spokesperson and community activist than he is an MC.
I will even go so far as to say that Snoop Dogg may be the easiest rapper for me to listen to. He was labeled as a violent gangster who sang about drugs and objectifying women, which may be partially true, but there’s no way that sums him up in one sentence. The Chronic (1992) is cited by many as one of the greatest rap albums of all time, if not THE greatest.
Several of the rappers I’ve mentioned (and haven’t mentioned) cite Biggie Smalls as one of their biggest inspirations. Diddy is the closest one maybe, but I just couldn’t find it in me to put them ahead of my ten.
Looking for a truly perfect “Top 10 Greatest” may be like chasing a dragon, or a unicorn; it simply might not exist. That was the most fun I had listening to rap music at a time when most of the stuff was just really angry and violent.
I’ll get to his actual rap music in another hundred or so words, but first, I need to put his non-rap career under the microscope.
Many rank him as one of the greatest MC’s of all time, and he is undoubtedly one of the most gifted lyricists ever. I can only write so much about him here in two paragraphs, but entire books have been written about Tupac Shakur’s revolutionary career and tragic untimely death. The man is quite possibly the most recognizable name in the genre, and he was only active for less than ten years.
He is a source of nearly infinite talent and wisdom, with lyrics and beats that were simultaneously right on time and a bit ahead of the curve as well.
Marshall Bruce Mathers III has (rightfully) been proclaimed the King of Hip-Hop, which essentially makes him the King of Rap. I will admit that I like Marshall more, too, and Relapse is probably one of his weaker albums – but his weakest album is infinitely better than dozens if not hundreds of (good) rappers.
I won’t give anything away here as I explain myself sufficiently as the list goes on, but I just wanted to air that in the open before proceeding, because it WAS indeed a challenge.
Ludacris and his Def Jam record label, Disturbing tha Peace, reminded us (me) that rap was fun. Unfortunately, Big Pun suffered from chronic obesity, and in early 2000, he suffered from a massive heart attack and respiratory failure.


Nearly every album he recorded before his death has (easily) gone either double or multi platinum, not to mention his posthumous works.
Not the Grandfather or the Father of it, because so many paved the way for him, but he’s like the Michael Jordan of rap. Like a split personality, or a writer of characters, Eminem has separated himself with (at least) two distinct voices and sounds.
Is he the “greatest rapper alive?” Hell no, and he’s #10 on this list for a reason, but he is Top 10 nonetheless. He is also among the first of the Dirty South rappers to successfully infiltrate mainstream American music.
Rios’ career may have been short-lived, but his influential impact in only a few years is the sign of a true legend.
I’m not saying the man has lost touch with his roots or anything (although he is worth over $500 million).
His rhymes and lyrics on some of his harder tracks are loud and strong, hitting you with as much punch as a Tyson uppercut. I have come to love Nas’ fusion of lyrical technique and ambient beats, a style truly all his own. There’s Marshall (deeper voice, harder lyrics) and then there’s Shady (higher-pitched, goofier lyrics). But there’s no denying the quality of The Slim Shady LP (1999), The Marshall Mathers LP (2000), The Eminem Show (2002), and Recovery (2010). But hopefully you and the other readers will feel as close to 100% as possible about my picks for the Top 10 Greatest Rappers of All Time. I just feel like he’s involved in too many other things now, which could ultimately define his legacy as less of a rapper and more of an entrepreneur. And for those who don’t know, we have one man to thank for discovering Snoop Dogg, and he’s up next.
My personal favorite effort of his was his work on the soundtrack for the classic “life in the hood” movie Friday (1995).
Packed with thought-provoking lyrics that blend perfectly with reggae, Distant Relatives is guaranteed to stand the test of time and remain one of the greatest rap collaborations ever. Maybe the rumors are true – he’s living on a hidden island somewhere with Bob Marley and other “alleged dead” celebrities. Personal anecdote – I actually met Ludacris in Orlando in 2010 and saw him perform live at Bonnaroo in 2012. He basically invented his own sub-genre of slang (fo shizzle), which has propelled him to far more than just a rapper.
He founded his own record label, Aftermath Entertainment, and has gone on to become one of the top, if not THE top name in headphones and other audio products. If you haven’t ever heard “Keep Their Heads Ringin’,” then you need to go to Pandora, YouTube, Spotify or whatever and give it a shot. Snoop Dogg has an extensive career in film and TV, sometimes even playing himself (what rapper doesn’t?).
AND his musical reach goes beyond hip-hop (as Snoop Lion, he successfully infiltrated my favorite musical genre – reggae). Also like 2Pac, he has had several posthumous works released, including one of my favorite rap collaborations, Duets: The Final Chapter (2005).



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