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Rap: The Greatest MC's of all Time

The Greatest MC's of all Time
With the popularization of hip hop, words like rap and chill took on new meanings outside of the African-American community. With the popularization of hip hop slang, several words have lost their original meanings in their usage outside of hip hop.

For example, a fact often unrecognized outside of hip hop culture is that not all rappers are MCs. While the former includes anyone who raps, the latter requires that one performs for crowds.

MCing is one of the essential elements of hip-hop: The best MCs can make the world move with just words and flow. They don't just entertain us - they teach us about life; introduce us to new styles, regions and slang; and act as our counselors in times of need.

The Best of the Best MC's are difficult to single out as tastes are different but here is a list of those who considered to be most famous and most influencial:



The greatest M.C to ever hold a Mic, hands down. A lyricist who was truly ahead of his time, just play 'Paid In Full'. Any of his early recordings stand the test of time, holding ground with any modern M.C you can name. Vivid Imagery, metaphors, versatile delivery, and all around dictionary-like command of the English language makes this individual the best. "The ghetto", "Mahogany", and "Paid in Full", and "Microphone Fiend" are four very different songs that display the range of Rakim. The Greatest of All Time. If Eric B. & Rakim put out their first album yesterday, "The God" still would have made this list. Back in the golden age of hip-hop (the late '80s, youngsters), Rakim took lyricism to unfathomable heights, helping to usher in the wave of lethal MCs like Big Daddy Kane and Kool G Rap, who would go on to become icons. Two decades later, some of Ra's rhymes from '86 are still over people's heads: His wordplay remains a hip-hop measuring stick.


Is Jay really not just "the best rapper alive," but the greatest of all time? Just look at what Hov's done for the game: He has headlined several major hip-hop tours and brought along his peers, rapped alongside a Beatle at the Grammys and thugged out Madison Avenue, emphasizing that a rapper's clothing line or brand of sneaker can be successful. Now Jay is proving that a "retired" MC can get focused and rep hard as the prez of major record company. So what about Jay's life on the mic? Well, since 1998, Jigga has been the most consistently excellent MC in the game, and it seems like he's at his apex every year. He is one of only a handful of MCs whose flow is so potent that his tongue can effortlessly glide over any track and still destroy a verse with line-for-line firepower. Hov's first-hand narratives have become a thing of legend, whether he told us about his resentment and ultimate forgiveness of his father, his brushes with love, his endless nights of partying, or riding dirty with cocaine in his trunk. Jigga's influence is beyond question: If he does it or wears it, chances are his fans and peers will do the same. With S. Dot hinting about stepping back into the vocal booth for another LP, chances are good that his legacy has not yet seen its zenith.


Tupac Shakur was the hardest-working and probably the most impactful MC of all time. Rappers and fans alike all try to emulate some part of Pac: the warrior, the prophet, the leader. He'll never leave our hearts. Even before his tragic passing, Tupac's music became almost like a religion to his followers: His poetics could drive you right into the middle of the beautiful struggle in the ghetto, give insight to his own inner battles, detail revolutionary game plans or vividly capture the essence of black love. He wasn't with us for long, but he left behind a catalog of jewels to last forever.


Long live the Blast Master! KRS will tell you he is the living, walking, breathing embodiment of hip-hop till the day he dies. That's what makes Kris one of the all-time greats: He was live and loved to prove it. Kris could go from dropping indisputable science that elevated the masses to crushing any "sucka MC" who stepped his way. And onstage, who could compete with him? Besides Busta Rhymes, he may be the best live performer ever. You have to love a man that says, "I am Hip Hop". His blend of consciousness and raw lyricism has been evident from day one. The hardest thing in music to do is be entertaining and teach at the same time. People call him arrogant, but if you truly think you are the best then arrogance is needed. His love for Hip Hop culture has kept him in the game for nearly 20 years. "Criminal Minded", "My Philosophy", "I'm Still #1", how he single handedly took out the Juice Crew, threw P.M Dawn off a stage, or made Nelly his bitch, the man is an Icon.

Big Daddy Kane

Dookie gold chains, four-fingered rings, bespoke suits and more girls than Archbishop Don "Magic" Juan could imagine - Kane was the smoothest cat in rap back in the day. But let's not get it twisted: The Prince of Darkness lived up to his song title of being "raw." He could bend words at a rapid pace but never sacrificed lyricism when he wanted to kick his gutter dialogues. The man with rap's flyest flattop (at least in 1989) was criticized for hollering at the ladies too much toward the end of his career, but listening to all the MCs who make records for women nowadays, it's clear Kane was ahead of his time. Put your weight on it! One of the first M.C's to incorporate the "player" persona and at the same time stressing the importance of lyricism. His arsenal of rhyme styles from a smooth delivery to a rapid flow captivated a then 15 year old kid. Matter of fact, it still captivates a now 31 year old man.


When Nas debuted in 1994, he was quickly labeled the new Rakim. But he was a new kind of beast - try Rakim, Slick Rick, Kool G Rap and KRS-One wrapped into one MC. He was grungy and unrefined, but prolific. Although Wu-Tang Clan, Buckshot from Black Moon, Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound were spitting at the time, upon Nasir's arrival, it was clear that he was special. Unquestionably, Nas' gift has remained intact more than a decade later. He may get criticized for his beat selection, but if you just sit back and listen to his words, there's no disputing Queens' favorite son was, and still is, as ill as they come. In his verse on Main Sources "Live from the barbecue" just hear him saying "..kidnap the President's wife without a plan.." or "..when I was 12, I went to hell for snuffing Jesus..". Illmatic has to be the best debut album of any rapper ever. In a time when lyrical content seems to be irrelevant, the man continues to push the envelope and display his wide ranging lyrical strengths. His career took a wrong turn(see duet with Ginuine), but it seems that it got back on track again when Jay Z made the disastrous decision to challenge the Queensbridge M.C.

Kool G Rap

If you hear some of his earlier songs, he should be credited for some of the first "gangsta rap" recordings. Brilliant lyricist, with a aggressive delivery mixed with his ability to inject the vivid images of street life. With his trademark lisp, he had the best verse on "The Symphony". As a person that is against the "bitch and hoe" content of many of the "artists" of today, or the clumsy way they tackle strong sexual content in Hip Hop, can't resist the imaginative ways he approaches those topics.

Notorious B.I.G

Death can certainly make someone a martyr, and inflate their importance in music. There is no denying the lyrical ability of this Brooklyn M.C. Awesome flow, skillful metaphor use and wordplay will keep him relevant in Hip Hop for years to come. Not into the "shiny suit" era that Puffy tried to force upon us, but Biggie's lyrics makes forget about that, somewhat. The rule "nobody's perfect" didn't apply to Biggie: You'll be hard pressed to prove he wasn't the most skillful ever on the mic. His approach to rhyming was astounding. Lyrically he could kill you with some of the most cold-blooded pairings of words ever recorded, then charm you and then make you laugh - all in one verse. The way he rode the beat was so calculating and smooth - he had more flow than a singer. Big also had that intangible: his voice. So husky, so captivating it was, you could listen to his skits all day. Just how deep was his impact? He only made two albums while he was alive and yet, 10 years later, he's still the most quoted MC.

Chuck D

"It takes a Nation of Millions.." is the album of all time. Like KRS-One to be able to be musically relevant and have a message at the same time is not only difficult but it takes balls. Here is a quote form Chuck D, "I knew that we had something when women hated our music". The man that calls out Elvis, the president, and talks about kidnapping the mayor of Arizona for not recognizing Martin Luther Kings birthday.

Ice Cube (Circa 1992)

At his peak, he was the most gangsta, most militant, most prophetic and, most importantly, most intrepid MC of his time. His audacity was paralleled only by Chuck D of Public Enemy. He said he wanted to kill Uncle Sam and leave Hollywood sizzling in flames. He admonished a few cats for not being true to the game. Fans from the East and West had to bow down and heed the man with the Raiders cap, Jheri curl and scowl. The Bomb Squad produced 'Amerikkka's Most Wanted' was a dazzling debut of street life and hardcore beats. Ice Cube album 'Death Certificate", where he dealt with topics like the failing health care system, selling out, dissing his old band-mates N.W.A, the military, and venereal diseases. Yeah he fell off, and his contribution to the West Side Connection is forgettable, but his works of the early 90's are legendary.

LL. Cool J

If Uncle had stopped rapping 10 years ago, he still would have made this list. Cool J is like an NBA team that clinched a spot in the playoffs early but still plays hard through the rest of the regular season. He's one of the few MCs who has reigned as a pop-culture icon in the '80s, '90s and the new millennium but still maintained hip-hop credibility. Your kids love him, you love him, your mother loves him, your grandmother loves him. Even though he brought that Queens, New York, swagger to the silver screen, Daddy Cool is still one of the most viable rap acts. When you factor in all his hits, his longevity and how much style he's brought to the game, there's no denying that he is one of the best ever. Like his recent work or not, but the man was considered a legend at the age of 25. The first artist signed to Def Jam, he has proved to be the Hip Hop version of Madonna, successfully changing with the times and staying commercially relevant. He has defeated Kool Moe Dee, Ice Tee, and Cannibus, proving that he is a battle tested M.C. With 10 albums under his belt, he is the poster boy for longevity.


Em hasn't been in the game half as long as some of the rappers on this list, but you can't deny the all-consuming whirlwind that has been Marshall Mathers' career since he debuted nearly a decade ago. He's sold more albums than any MC ever, and could become the most well-known performer on the globe since Michael Jackson. Success aside, Slim Shady has shown dexterity on the mic that even the most bitter old-school cat or angry young G would have to applaud - just listen to the lyrical creativity of "Stan" or the hypnotizing angst of "Cleaning Out My Closet." Maybe only Big and Jay have as many flows; there aren't too many more who can measure up to him lyrically.

Fastest Rap MC

Ricky Brown (USA) rapped 723 syllables in 51.27 seconds on his track "No Clue" at B&G Studios, Seattle, Washington, USA, on January 15, 2005.
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