Choices were made based on following categories: Skill on Mic, Lyrical Quality, Uniqueness, and Public Appeal.
10. Talib Kweli
If skills were the only factor on this list, Talib would be near the top, but unfortunately he is probably one of the best rappers no one knows about. Although far from a “nobody”, Talib does not hold the mainstream popularity of Jay-Z or Lil’ Wayne. He began his career as a member of the group Black Star, but once they broke up he began his solo career. His album Quality (2002) did not sell a huge number of copies, but he received much respect from his peers. This is best evidenced by Jay-Z’s famous Black Album rhyme: “If skills sold, truth be told/I’d probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli.”
Best Song: Get By
Lyric to note: “Places where you could get murdered over a glare, but everything is fair. It’s a paradox we call reality, so keeping it real will make you a casualty of abnormal normality”
9. The Game
Although he doesn’t have the same agility on the mic as the others on this list, his raps tell quite a gritty story. His multi-syllable rhyme schemes represent a new breed of west coast rappers, but still hold strong connections to the old-school west coast rap. When you are done listening to his albums you will feel as if you walked a mile in his shoes. The Game has a bad habit of name dropping in his albums but he has improved over time. After briefly discussing retirement, The Game has decided to release another album in 2010.
Best Song: One Blood
Lyric to note: “mike tyson lost his little girl when she was only 3. she didn’t have the chance to blossom on the family tree”
8. 50 Cent
Although he has struggled in recent years, 50 Cents’ talent has helped him endure many obstacles throughout his dramatic life. 50 Cent lived everything most rappers write rhymes about but not all actually experience: drugs, crimes, imprisonments, stabbings, and most infamously of all, shootings. 50 Cent may have looked like a prototypical hardcore rapper, but he could also craft a catchy hook. He attracted individuals interested in his rags-to-riches story and those who wanted to dance to club tracks. 50 Cent also helped his G-Unit crew grow into a successful franchise, spawning many platinum-selling solo albums from his group’s members.
Best Song: Many Men
Lyric to note: “love your enemies and hate your friends / Your enemies remain the same. friends always change”
Much like Lil’ Wayne, T.I. has experienced a great amount of growth over the last decade. With each album release he has grown as a rapper. His growth culminated in the release of Paper Trail, which showcased a lyrically, sonically, and artistically sharpened T.I.P. He has a cool southern draw, and a swagger that’s just a little different than everyone else on the list.
Best Song: Live Your Life
Lyric to note: “The spirit of a hussler n the swagger of a college kid. allergic to the counterfeit, impartial to the politics”
6. Lil’ Wayne
Finally, Lil’ Wayne enters the picture. Half of you are probably wondering why he isnt’t number one, while the rest of you are upset he is even on the list. Anyone who knows me knows I am not the biggest Weezy supporter, but he is (unfortunately) one of the best rappers in the game right now. If this were a pure popularity contest Wayne would be #1, but it’s not. The difference between him and everyone above him on this list is it took him a very long to become a “good” rapper or even a popular one. He released a multitude of “poor” albums before finally releasing The Carter. It is my strong belief that we will not be talking about Wayne in 10 years the way we do about Tupac and Biggie.
Best Song: N/A
Lyric to note:
“I’m headless. No mind. I can say ‘Don’t rhyme,’ and it’s gone rhyme.”
5. Kanye West
Before Kanye started producing his own albums he was the man behind the production of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint. Craving the limelight, Kanye took his immense production skills and began producing his own albums. Known as much for his egotistical nature as he is for the quality of his music, Kanye has never shied away from the spotlight, often landing himself in hot water multiple times. However, with the exception of 808’s and Heartbreak, Kanye has had a stellar album record.
Best Song: All Falls Down
Lyric to note: “Shoot for the stars, so if you fall you land on a cloud”
4. Lupe Fiasco
If Jay-Z and Nas were to have a baby, it would be Lupe Fiasco. Lupe is quite possibly the most intelligent, insightful, intriguing, and entertaining rappers of this decade. His lyrics are a double edged sword – so lyrically complex and metaphorically intricate you can’t help but be in awe, yet so complex they often fly over most listeners’ heads. This is both what makes him great and holds him back from being number one. It is impossible to catch every little detail in his music with only one listen. This stands as a breath of fresh air in industry full of “surface” rappers who’s rhymes may very well be written by a fifth grader. In a few years time Lupe WILL be number one and will forever cement his place in history. His new album Lasers drops this year.
Best Song: Little Weapon
Lyric to note:
” before I bid you a due / Do this one thing for me. outta the trillions of numbers that’s in the world / Just leave me a few that lead to you”
Although probably the “least” popular rapper that will appear on this list (except Talib), Nas is responsible for what is perhaps the best hip-hop album this decade – Stillmatic. His beef with Jay-Z also spawned one of the best diss songs ever in Ether (*I like Pac’s Hit ’em Up better*). Although none of his albums have been as successful as Stillmatic, they still showcase his immense talent. What Nas lacks in star power he makes up in “legend”. He is a hometown hero and is often praised for staying true to his roots, as opposed to Jay-Z who “forgot” where he came from. Check out his collaboration album with Damian Marley!
Best Song: Ether
Lyric to note: “It drops deep as it does in my breath /I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death”
Jay-Z once said he “dumbed down [his] rhymes to double [his] dollars”. Regardless he has still maintained his position of one of the best rappers of this decade. Hova combines wit, lyrical agility, and street smarts into his rhymes in order to captivate his audiences. His album, The Blueprint, is a classic and arguably ranks with the best rap albums ever. Although his style has changed in recent years he still captivates audiences around the world and has established himself not only as successful rapper but label executive.
Best Song: Can’t Knock the Hustle
Lyric to note:
“I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man”
Eminem, as a protégé of Dr. Dre, emerged in 1999 as one of the most controversial rappers to ever grace the genre. Known for his biting wit and speed on the mic, Eminem used his skills to vent about everything from his lousy childhood to his hatred for the media. Although his controversy occasionally brought him trouble it brought him an equal amount of fame. He was the first white rappers in years to make a significant impact on the hip-hop industry and his message spoke to legions of “disaffected” youth who had few roles models in the rap world. While Encore and Relapse don’t match the caliber of his earlier work, Shady still proves that he is nobody to mess with on the mic.
Best Song: Stan
Lyric to note: “I don’t give a f***, God sent me to piss the world off”
- Andre 3000
- Ice Cube