New York has been a crucial epicenter of hip-hop culture since its inception. It’s the birthplace of the genre and has given us a treasure trove of talented artists, each contributing their distinct style and voice.
So without further ado, let’s put the needle on the record and count down the top 10 New York rappers of all time, from 10 to the iconic number one!
10. Big L
Born Lamont Coleman, Big L was a Harlem-born rapper known for his advanced wordplay, aggressive delivery, and grim narratives. Before his life was cut short at the age of 24, Big L was making a name for himself in the underground hip-hop scene.
His first and only album during his life, “Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous,” is hailed as a classic, featuring hits like “Put It On” and “M.V.P.” Big L’s lyrical acumen and penchant for clever, punchline-heavy rhymes made him stand out.
His posthumously released album “The Big Picture” reaffirmed his talent and impact on the genre. Despite his untimely passing, Big L’s influence continues to resonate within the hip-hop community, a testament to his undeniable talent and lyrical prowess.
9. Mobb Deep
Mobb Deep, the dynamic duo of Prodigy and Havoc, left an indelible mark on the hip-hop scene, becoming synonymous with East Coast hardcore rap.
Hailing from Queensbridge, the same housing projects that gave us Nas, Mobb Deep were known for their hard-hitting beats, grimy lyrics, and raw depictions of street life.
Their sophomore album, “The Infamous,” is considered a cornerstone of hardcore rap, featuring tracks like “Shook Ones Pt. II” and “Survival of the Fittest.”
Their vivid storytelling and authentic reflections of their harsh environment made Mobb Deep not just rappers, but journalists of the street. Despite Prodigy’s passing in 2017, Mobb Deep’s influence on the genre continues to endure.
Earl Simmons, known worldwide as DMX, was one of the most dominant forces in rap during the late ’90s and early 2000s. His gruff voice, raw emotion, and aggressive delivery set him apart from his peers.
DMX’s debut album, “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot,” showcased his talent and laid the groundwork for his successful career. His personal struggles were no secret, often reflected in his music, making him an emblem of resilience.
Despite his turbulent life and tragic death in 2021, DMX’s spirit and legacy continue to impact the rap industry, proving that his bark and bite are indeed timeless.
7. A Tribe Called Quest
This iconic group from Queens was known for its fusion of jazz-infused beats and thought-provoking lyrics. Comprised of members Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, A Tribe Called Quest helped pave the way for alternative hip-hop.
Their lyrics often tackled social issues and personal experiences, paired with innovative, eclectic beats that set them apart. Albums like “The Low End Theory” and “Midnight Marauders” are hailed as classics, showcasing their unique sound and solidifying their place in hip-hop history.
Even after the death of Phife Dawg in 2016, the Tribe’s legacy lives on, continuing to influence generations of rappers and music enthusiasts.
6. Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Clan is one of the most influential groups in hip-hop history. Comprising nine members, each with their distinct style, Wu-Tang created a unique, diverse sound.
Under the guidance of RZA, the group’s sound was characterized by grimy beats, clever wordplay, and themes influenced by martial arts and Eastern philosophy.
Albums like “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” and “Wu-Tang Forever” are staples in the hip-hop canon, and the group’s influence extends beyond music, impacting fashion and culture.
Today, each member of the Clan continues to make music, acting, and even directing, ensuring that the Wu-Tang’s influence remains as potent as ever.
5. LL Cool J
James Todd Smith, known to fans as LL Cool J, was one of the first solo superstars in rap. Known for his bravado-filled rhymes, smooth love ballads, and undeniable charisma, LL Cool J was a trailblazer in the genre.
With numerous hit singles and successful albums, LL Cool J demonstrated that rap could be commercially successful while still maintaining its street credibility.
His successful transition into acting and hosting has only broadened his cultural impact, cementing his status as a hip-hop icon.
Lawrence Parker, better known as KRS-One, is one of the pioneers of conscious rap. With his music, he sought to educate and uplift, challenging societal norms and promoting knowledge of self.
KRS-One’s influence goes beyond his discography, as he’s been instrumental in promoting hip-hop as a culture and a movement.
His contributions to the genre have earned him the title “The Teacha,” and his influence can be felt in the work of countless conscious rappers who came after him.
3. The Notorious B.I.G.
Christopher Wallace, better known as The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls, was a master storyteller. His ability to craft narratives that were both captivating and relatable set him apart from his contemporaries.
His life was cut short in a tragic shooting, but his influence on the genre is immeasurable.
His debut album, “Ready to Die,” is hailed as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, and his posthumous releases have only solidified his legacy.
Nasir Jones, known simply as Nas, is widely regarded as one of the greatest lyricists in hip-hop. His debut album, “Illmatic,” is often cited as the pinnacle of hip-hop, a near-perfect record that showcased his poetic lyricism and stunning storytelling abilities.
Over the years, Nas has continued to deliver thought-provoking and motivational music that delves into social issues, personal struggles, and his experiences growing up in Queensbridge.
Shawn Carter, known globally as Jay-Z, is a hip-hop mogul. From his debut album “Reasonable Doubt” to his multi-platinum hit “The Blueprint,” Jay-Z’s lyricism, storytelling, business acumen, and consistency have made him a titan in the music industry.
Beyond music, Jay-Z has ventured into various business industries and has been an advocate for social justice.
His ability to balance commercial success with artistic integrity has earned him the respect of fans and peers alike, making him one of the most influential figures in hip-hop.
From the boogie down Bronx to the heart of Brooklyn, these MCs have shaped the sound and style of New York rap and left an indelible mark on the genre as a whole.
Each rapper shown that the spirit of New York hip-hop is about more than just making music – it’s about making history.