Home » Music » The Best Rappers & MCs Of All Time: Top 30

The Best Rappers & MCs Of All Time: Top 30

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.

Hip-hop is more than just a genre of music; it’s a cultural movement that has shaped the social, political, and artistic landscapes of the last few decades. From the gritty streets of New York City to the sun-soaked avenues of Los Angeles, and across the globe, rappers and hip-hop artists have used their microphones as tools of empowerment, resistance, and storytelling. But who stands at the pinnacle of this influential art form? In our list, we dive deep into the heart of hip-hop to celebrate the artists who have elevated the craft of rap to unparalleled heights.

Join us as we pay homage to the legends who have laid the foundations, the innovators who have pushed the boundaries, and the visionaries who continue to write the future of hip-hop. Whether you’re a lifelong fan or new to the genre, prepare to explore the stories, the beats, and the bars that have made these rappers and MCs the greatest of all time.

#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

  • A Long Hot Summer
  • Slaughtahouse
  • Ma_Doom: Son of Yvonne

#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 recognized 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 have long been recognized, 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 nearly impossible to come across someone who hasn’t heard of Kanye West. With lifestyle affairs and controversial opinions put aside, he’s undoubtedly one of the best producers with an amazing discography. His technique and flow evolve 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, so he deserves 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 influences as big as Lauryn Hill 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 albums

  • 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 favor.

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. Read more: Things you might not know about André 3000

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 in the 21 Jump Street films, he paved the way for himself in the world of rap. With a not-so-subtle voice and an 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 recognized 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, are American rappers and producers 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 who 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. Labeled 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 recognized 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
  • 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 an absolute legend in the world of MCs. 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 the 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

Deciding on the greatest MCs of all time

What is the difference between an MC and a rapper?

The distinction between an MC (Master of Ceremonies) and a rapper lies in their roles and skills within the hip-hop community. An MC is a term that predates hip-hop and refers to someone who hosts parties and events, engaging the audience with rhymes, storytelling, and a commanding presence. In hip hop, an MC is not just someone who raps; they’re considered a craft master, able to freestyle, battle, and use their lyrics to move and control the crowd. A rapper, on the other hand, is anyone who performs rap music. While all MCs are rappers, not all rappers necessarily possess the skills or the charisma to be considered MCs in the traditional sense.

What makes a great MC & rapper?

A great MC stands at the heart of hip-hop culture, distinguished by a unique blend of lyrical prowess, innovative flow, and an authentic connection to their audience. Their skill in crafting complex rhymes, rich with metaphors and storytelling, sets them apart. Beyond mere words, their performance—marked by an engaging stage presence and charisma – captures and holds listeners’ attention, whether in intimate venues or vast arenas. Authenticity plays a crucial role, as the most revered MCs infuse their music with genuine life experiences, thoughts, and emotions, forging a deep bond with their audience.

Who is the most popular rapper of all time?

Determining the most popular rapper of all time can be subjective and varies depending on criteria such as album sales, streaming numbers, cultural impact, and global recognition. However, artists like Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, Jay-Z, and Drake are often cited among the most popular and influential rappers in hip-hop history, each having left an indelible mark on the genre and culture.

Who invented hip-hop?

Hip-hop was invented in the early 1970s in the Bronx, New York City, by a collective of pioneering DJs, MCs, graffiti artists, and b-boys. DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell) is widely credited as the father of hip hop for his innovation of using two turntables to extend the breaks of funk records at parties. This technique laid the groundwork for the history of hip-hop, creating a new musical and cultural movement.

What is the best hip-hop song ever?

Identifying the best hip-hop songs ever is highly subjective and sparks much debate among fans and critics. However, tracks like “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, and “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G. are frequently mentioned. These songs not only showcase lyrical genius and innovative production but also embody the spirit of their times, making them landmarks in the best hip-hop songs and best 90s hip-hop track lists.

What is the best rap album of all time?

The best rap albums of all time list features a variety of groundbreaking works that have influenced the genre. Albums such as “Illmatic” by Nas, “The Chronic” by Dr. Dre, and “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” by Wu-Tang Clan are often at the top of these lists. These albums are celebrated for their lyrical depth, production quality, and overall impact on hip-hop.

Who is the most successful rapper of all time?

In terms of commercial success, Jay-Z, Diddy, and Dr. Dre are among the most successful rappers of all time, not only for their music sales and streaming numbers but also for their entrepreneurial ventures outside of music. Jay-Z, for example, has become hip hop’s first billionaire, with his wealth stemming from music, clothing lines, a record label, and investments in various industries.

Jay-Z created his clothing brand by integrating the two creative elements of hip-hop culture and music. Influenced by hip-hop culture, streetwear is very particular about choosing accessories.

Patches are one of the popular choices for streetwear. Custom patches with hip-hop culture elements are full of the concepts of flamboyance, maverick, rebellion, and coolness that the younger generation wants. Custom patches in different materials and patterns can express your unique style. Young people can customize the patches with hip-hop elements as decorations on clothing, hats, and bags. Choose Custom Patches with hip-hop culture elements to add more colors to your fashion matching!

Who is the best female MC of all time?

Regarding the best female MC of all time, names like Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, and Nicki Minaj often come up. Lauryn Hill, with her groundbreaking album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” showcased not only her lyrical prowess but also her ability to blend hip hop with soul and R&B. Missy Elliott and Nicki Minaj have both pushed the boundaries of hip hop with their innovative music, visuals, and impactful lyrics, setting high standards for artists to come.

Kelvin, our design whiz and audio tech aficionado, pens articles on audio, home technology, and hip-hop for Upbeat Geek. With a keen eye on the latest from soundbars to earbuds, Kelvin decodes the tech world for our readers. His love for travel, concerts, and a music-driven creative career underscores his expertise. Kelvin’s writing not only covers the intricacies of audio and home technology but also dives into the vibrant world of hip-hop.

don't miss a beat