The Best of the Best: the 50 Greatest Emcees/Rappers ever (#50-41)

Aug 17, 2004 (Updated Aug 7, 2008)

The Bottom Line The 50 Best Emcees in Rap History commences here; from numbers 50 to 41.

I don’t know what it is about lists and human beings, for some stupid reason we seem to be constantly obsessed with clarifying things into a specific order… here comes another one.Having read the beginning parts of Rob’s excellent “Greatest Hip Hop Albums of all Time” (check it out), it got me thinking. Why not do it for the Greatest Rappers of all Time?

Many cats stick to a Top 10: this time around I’m going hardcore. There are so many great emcees out there, and I always feel bad leaving out some of my favourites and other legends when I’m only dealing with 10 artists. Well, this time there's no problem as picking 50 solves that.

Of course, having said all that, this is a task easier said than done. First things first: what the hell am I going to base my choices on? Well, the first criteria is really to have a certain level of rapping ability, I am a fan of lyrical emcees and being skilled is gonna get you big props for sure. But it would be remiss to base my criteria solely on this: how many great artists would I miss out on? A lot, for sure. So longevity, influence (on hip hop, not record sales) and discography come into it in a very big way. The ideal combination of the above is quite simple: the longer an artist has been around, with the more classic or very good albums recorded, and the more skilled & relevant he is right now, the higher he will be. There are exceptions all across the board, for sure, and there are probably some big exclusions… but I’ve still ended up with what I consider a pretty definitive list of the best in Hip Hop history. So, let’s get cracking with those ranking from 50 to 41;

#50. Tash.

There always has to be one who’s at the bottom of the list: well that’s not a slur on Alkaholiks frontman Tash. This lyrical acrobat has presided over some of the most inebriated, wittiest rhymes to emerge from the Westcoast in the 90s; the “Liks” as they are commonly known are undoubtedly the Party Kings of Hip Hop, and Tash is the kind of rapper who everyone loves. He’s also one of my favourite emcees.

Essential Listening: "21 & Under" (1993), "Coast II Coast" (1995), “Rap Life” (1999).

#49. Kam.

It’s funny putting an artist who has released two successive classic albums in the mid 90s at number 49; but the political, intelligent and articulate Kam never quite made the impact on the rap game he would have undoubtedly hoped for. I think of Kam as a more articulate yet less popular version of Ice Cube; challenging the mind about all manner of social and political aspects of a post Rodney King riots L.A. Still active today, though not in the same outstanding form.

Essential Listening: “Neva Again” (1993), “Made in America” (1995).

#48. Aceyalone.

The first “true” Underground hero on my list, Aceyalone gets attention from me mostly because I view him as one of the most talented emcees of all time. Few can harness sheer eloquence of speech, speed of delivery and complexity of wordplay to an absolutely abstract, fluid flow, and then drop this over sparse, minimalist beats that seem to come alive as soon as the rhymes commence. Acey possesses this and more: he can craft outstanding albums, great songs, and great concepts. All he lacks is the ability to reach the mainstream, but that’s something I’m gonna view as a positive.

Essential Listening: “All Balls Don’t Bounce” (1995), “Book of Human Language” (1998).

#47. D.O.C..

Where Snoop’s downfall was largely self-inflicted, the talent that a horrific car crash took away from Houston-based, Westcoast-reppin emcee The D.O.C. is one of rap’s greatest ever tragedies. With an outstandingly lyrical, fantastic debut album backed by sole production from Dr. Dre; the appropriately titled “No One Can Do It Better”, plus appearances with the legendary NWA, D.O.C. had the talent to be one of the all time greats. Exemplary lyrical complexity and ability plus fantastic natural technique equalled a remarkable emcee… it’s such a shame this was wiped away from him.

Essential Listening: “No One Can Do It Better” (1989)

#46. Snoop Dogg.

If this was a list of the most popular or most recognisable rappers around, Snoop would be Top 5. Unfortunately for him, it’s not, and in truth he’s lucky to scrape into the Top 50 here. His route of entry is mainly through an album called “Doggystyle”: one of rap’s finest albums ever in my eyes. The Snoop here was a majestic emcee, unfortunately for the vast majority of his career after all we saw was a pale imitation, whose flow disappeared and who seemed to increasingly live off the success of his earlier album. Still, he’s a charismatic, talented (and that’s often forgotten) emcee who can flow better than most when the moment takes him.

Essential Listening: “The Chronic” (1992), “Doggystyle” (1993)”

#45. Cormega.

For many Cormega is, right now, the essential definition of what a “street poet” should be. The former Nas disciple who was once on the peak of fame (and infamy, though he wouldn’t know it at the time) as a member of The Firm, rose from the ashes of a broken career to deliver two near classic albums around the turn of the century. A crisp, slow spitter with a careful delivery and not the best flow in the world, Mega has always relied on poetic, thoughtful rhymes rather than the more natural elements of rapping: maybe that is why he’s so endeared?

Essential Listening: “Tha Realness” (2001), “The True Meaning” (2002)

#44. Guru.

It’s one of hip hop’s long debates: does Guru, of outstanding, legendary NY duo Gang Starr, need DJ Premier’s beats to sound good? My answer to that is a resounding no. Sure, when you think of Gang Starr you think of Premier, but when you think of what sums up their mentality, you think Guru. He’s put down some of the most thoughtful rhymes on wax ever; introspective, measured, thoughtful rhyming that makes you stop and think. No, he’s not the most technically gifted, with his “wild monotone style”, but that doesn’t always matter.

Essential Listening: “Daily Operation” (1992), “Jazmatazz Vol 1” (1993), "Moment of Truth" (1998)

#43. Inspectah Deck.

Inspectah Deck has never been one of the Wu-Tang Clan’s big guns: the limelight has always eluded him. But that suits his style, as the underrated bomb dropper Rebel INS built a reputation as the clan’s best lyricist, bar none. Starring roles on the group’s classic, timeless debut and its follow up Wu-Tang Forever (who can forget his opening verse on the epic “Triumph”?), and a solid solo debut means that Deck has a place in every hardcore hip hop fan’s hearts, forever. A lack of a big, classic solo album hurts him in the overall standings, sadly.

Essential Listening: ”Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" (1993), “Uncontrolled Substance” (1999).

#42. MC Ren

Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E got the headlines, but legendary rap group N.W.A had another, more talented emcee in their ranks. Yeah, MC Ren was the most technically gifted in a defining rap group, and while the angriest emcee around never fully capitalised on this initial promise he remained active throughout the 90s releasing a number of dope EPs and poppin up on various prominent Westcoast albums. Ren has real style, true ability, and one of the dopest voices ever… he could have so much been higher.

Essential Listening: “Straight Outta Compton” (1989), “Kizz my Black Azz” (1992).

#41. Killah Priest

If I said one unknown, talented Wu-Tang Affiliate dropped one of the best three songs on the classic Wu solo album “Liquid Swords”, who was not Gza, you’d probably laugh. But the intellectual, highly spiritual Killah Priest burst onto the scene with an enchanting, beautiful rap song; that set the stage for the lyrical classic “Heavy Mental”. KP is a member of the elite Four Horsemen, and is a religiously-charged, imagery-reliant emcee with a penchant for fiery battle raps; talented, with a solid discography, but he’s always remained sub-underground, which means he can never climb too high.

Essential Listening: "Heavy Mental" (1996), "Priesthood" (1998)

Here's the Entire List (now that I've completed this), for your browsing convenience :)

The Greatest Emcees of All Time: #40-31

The Greatest Emcees of All Time: #30-21

The Greatest Emcees of All Time: #20-11

The Greatest Emcees of All Time: #10-1

How about swinging over to the comment section and ranting.. *coughs*, sorry, telling me what you think

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