The 10 Best Male MCs Of All Time
The best men in the game.
On season 3 of Sisterhood of Hip Hop, premiering July 12 at 9/8c, it's all about the ladies. But we can't forget about the men. Every fan has a favorite list of rappers and comparing—and contesting—your top artists is a required sport for true hip-hop enthusiasts. After much debate, here's our 10 best male MCs of all time.
1. The Notorious BIG
The greatest rapper of all time. The Notorious B.I.G.’s lyricism, storytelling and easy flow have influenced every rapper to come after him. He rose to prominence on 1993’s “Party and Bullshit” and the remix to Super Cat’s “Dolly My Baby.” His debut Ready To Die was an autobiographical “ashy to classy” triumph, showcasing the hardships of life in Brooklyn. Songs like “Juicy” and “Big Poppa” are eternal hip-hop classics. Biggie’s laid-back charm won over fans and his many romantic collaborations, including Faith Evans and Lil’ Kim.
In the ‘90s, he and 2Pac became embroiled in a notorious coastal feud with Biggie representing the East Coast. As a result, Biggie was gunned down at the age of 24 in Los Angeles in 1997 following the release of Life After Death. Bolstered by radio hits like “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” the album would go on to sell more than 10 million copies—one of the only rap albums to be certified Diamond. Despite his short life, Biggie’s impact as a rap legend lives on and in 2009, his legacy was cemented on the big screen in Notorious. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
2. Jay Z
Jay Z’s talent is only matched by his hustle. A former drug dealer, Jay Z flipped his street savvy into a larger-than-life persona with his debut Reasonable Doubt in 1996. Always one to flip the script, his crazy collaboration with little orphan Annie for “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” in 1998 turned the respected rapper (known for creating songs without writing them down) into a pop star. Platinum albums like The Blueprint and The Black Album followed and a high-profile romance with Beyonce and several successful business ventures, including Roc Nation management and touring, have catapulted Jay onto the Forbes list (with a net worth of some $550 million) and into a household name. Now, he rubs elbows with the likes of Oprah and President Barack Obama but he can still spit a hot verse. At 46 years old, Jay Z continues to redefine the blueprint for hip-hop success. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
Before Jay Z, Nas and Biggie, there was Rakim. The leader of the old school, the New York City rapper is the master of words. He took lyrics to the next level, and is often attributed for pioneering complex rhymes. His 1987 debut Paid in Full (with Eric B.) is a timeless classic. Songs like “Paid in Full” and “My Melody” have inspired every rapper since. Many, like 50 Cent and Lil Wayne have even given nods to the god emcee in their rhymes. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
The phrase “white rapper” conjured up some not-so-pleasant stereotypes until Eminem demolished rap’s racial ceiling. Garnering the mentorship of Dr. Dre, the Detroit native went from underground battle rapper to one of the genre’s most successful and respected emcees. Unlike predecessors like Vanilla Ice and Snow, Eminem spoke honestly about his upbringing—including major issues with his wife and mother—and didn’t fake the funk. Fans of all races embraced songs like the sinister “Stan” and psyche-yourself track “Lose Yourself.” Em’s story has been immortalized in the semi-autographical movie 8 Mile. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
“Who’s the best emcees? Biggie, Jay Z and Nas.” Even Jay Z put Nas on his top rappers list—and with good reason. The Queens native changed the game with his raw and honest debut Illmatic, considered possibly the most perfect rap album from start-to finish. Nas brought the underground into the forefront with smart wordplay and intelligent lyrics. Plus, he garnered love from the ladies for being very easy on the eyes. Following a high-profile rivalry with Jay Z in 2001, many counted Nas out. He shocked everyone with his viscerally charged comeback “Ether.” While others have fallen off, Nas has consistently released music. 2012’s Grammy-nominated Life Is Good displays professional and personal growth and proves that a good emcee lives forever. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
There's no rapper like 2Pac. Handsome, talented and outspoken, the son of a Black Panther was destined to be a revolutionary. In his short career, he released four studio albums, which touched on important subjects like inner-city turmoil (“Brenda’s Got a Baby”), feminism (“Keep Ya Head Up”) and family struggles (“Dear Mama”). His charisma lit up the big screen in cult classics “Poetic Justice” and “Juice.” At the height of his coastal feud with The Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac was tragically killed in Las Vegas in 1996. Posthumously, he continues to be one of rap’s most prolific artists with seven albums released and more than 75 million records sold worldwide. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
7. Andre 3000
OutKast is one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time and much of that is due to Andre 3000. The charismatic emcee's never been afraid to be a showman, rocking costumes and wigs when rappers feared gender lines. He pushed boundaries sonically as well, singing on 2004's acclaimedThe Love Below. 3 Stacks, as he's also known, has largely been focusing on film (landing the coveted role of Jimi Hendrix in 2014’s All Is by My Side), but pops back into rap to bless artists like Beyonce, Drake and Frank Ocean with rare appearances. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
Figurehead of A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip has always struck an impeccable balance between deep, serious politics and accessible musicality. A staple of mid-late 90's and early 00's hip hop, Q-Tip has since become one of the world's most prominent DJs and producers. Although Q-Tip's solo career has veered towards pop, the artist's earliest tracks always had deep social critiques embedded in the impossibly clever and complex lyrics. Notably: Q-Tip is widely considered one of the most successful Muslim musicians in the world and has spoken openly about his faith and experiences as a Special Guest of Honor for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Most recently, Q-Tip was appointed as the Kennedy Center's first Artistic Director for Hip-Hop culture. — Eric Shorey
9. Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar brings the heart to hip-hop. At a time when many argue that the culture has been diluted to Auto-Tune and trap beats, the Los Angeles wunderkind (and protégé of super producer Dr. Dre) has shown wisdom beyond his years. His major-label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, received both critical and commercial success. 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly pushed the 29-year-old’s artistry, experimenting with jazz, funk and the blues and covering controversial subjects like race and poverty. With fans ranging from Taylor Swift to President Barack Obama, Kendrick Lamar has rocketed to the top of the new generation of rap. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy
10. Lil Wayne
Lil Wayne was literally raised in hip-hop. As a teenager, the New Orleans native was taken under the wing of Birdman and became a standout star among Cash Money Records with song-stealing moments on “Back That Azz Up” and “Bling Bling.” In 2008, he released Tha Carter III and skyrocketed to household name status following radio hits like “A Milli” and “Lollipop.” With his Young Money label, Wayne has nurtured superstars Nicki Minaj and Drake and solidified his legacy as king of the south. — Sowmya Krishnamurthy