Though it’s a relatively new form of music, rap has undergone some major changes. Numerous major artists have greatly shifted the course of the art form. Here’s a look at six of the best male rappers of all time, and what they’ve contributed to hip hop.
6. Q-Tip – With a unique, easygoing flow and socially conscious lyrics, Q-Tip brought the worlds of jazz and hip hop together. His rap group, A Tribe Called Quest, had an incredible influence on everyone from Kanye West to Snoop Dogg. After separating from the group, Q-Tip continued his innovations in both his beats and his flow.
5. Ghostface Killah – Ghostface is a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, the rap supergroup that also features Method Man and RZA. While he hasn’t had the major hits of some of his band mates, Ghostface has the best flow of the bunch, spinning elaborate, complex stories and killer lines on his releases. His place as one of the best male rappers of all time was cemented with 2006’s Fishscale, which received tremendous critical acclaim. Tracks like The Champ show Ghostface Killah’s impressive mic skills.
4. Nas – The only problem with Nas’s music has been that’s it’s a bit inconsistent. Still, on any given album, the thoughtful rapper delivers in both his flow and poetry. His album Illmatic is an undeniable classic. There have been countless imitators, but for street-ready rap music with a good deal of thought behind it, no male rapper beats Nas.
3. Notorious B.I.G. – Notorious B.I.G. was one of the first major male rappers who didn’t write anything down. He’d memorize his lines before going into the studio, sometimes at the studio. His style was gritty and based around vivid stories of street life and death. With hits like Hypnotize and Mo Money, Mo Problems, he helped forge the east coast hip hop song with producer Puff Daddy.
2. Tupac Shakur – Biggie Smalls’ big-time rival was Tupac Shakur. Hailed immediately as a breakthrough rapper, Tupac recorded prolifically and released a dozen major hits. Like Notorious, his untimely death prevented the world from seeing him live up to his potential. Still, the west coast rap scene would be unimaginable without Tupac. He’s still imitated and respected today. Tupac frequently appears on critics’ lists of the best rappers of all time for his 90’s output and songs like Keep Ya Head Up. Tupac recorded so frequently that posthumous albums of the rapper’s work are still being released.
1. Jay-Z – Throughout nearly two decades in the spotlight, Jay-Z has delivered some incredible rap music. His flow changes consistently, but it’s almost always the highlight of any track he’s on. With classic albums like Reasonable Doubt, Blueprint, and The Black Album, Jay-Z has been the king of rap for a long time. His reign seems likely to continue. Jay-Z’s newest album, Blueprint III, hit the charts as the #1 album in the country. Not bad for a rapper who’s nearly forty years old.
Perhaps more than other musical genres, rap is incredibly subjective. This list is by no means complete, but the male rappers on this list have made major contributions to the world of hip-hop. If you think you know of a better male rapper, feel free to post in our comments section below.