If you were asked if you know the exact moment when hip-hop was born, would you be able to answer? Of course, some of you will know – but most of the readers won’t know that hip-hop originated at a lavish birthday party in the New York, Bronx in 1973 thrown by Cindy Campbell.
Nevertheless, her name still doesn’t ring a bell, because she was not the one who got famous that night; on the other hand, her brothers’ name certainly made the music history. Still, they were not hip-hop artists at all.
Roots of Hip-Hop
Clive Campbell, who went under the name of DJ Kool Herc, completely transformed the music industry by introducing raw mixtapes of multiple genres through his inventive style of sampling. This was one of the first steps of the first phase of hip-hop beats called ‘breakbeat’.
As the ‘father of hip-hop’, DJ Kool Herc was under the influence of Jamaican rhythm, and especially the significance of drums in the recording. However, DJ Kool always pointed out that his main inspiration actually came from the people who attended the parties he was DJ-ing at.
He observed how people behave to rhythm structures and music styles. Some of artists that are worthwhile mentioning from the breakbeat period are Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flesh. This trio, including DJ Kool Herc, revolutionized the complete music scene at that time.
As aforementioned, the evolution of hip-hop started with turntables, drums and DJ-ing, which quickly enough included chants and vocalization on the beat. Rapping was always considered as a major part of the hip-hop culture, even though it was not originally the part of the first phase.
However, hip-hop very quickly branched into various hip-hop sub-cultures that involved MC-ing, DJ-ing, break-dancing and graffiti art. Seemingly, we are mostly concerned with the ‘rapping’ part of the hip-hop, as firstly brought by DJ Kool Herc and others.
Evolution of Hip-Hop
New-school hip-hop was a new wave of evolution of hip-hop in the 1980-s that brought major hip-hop innovations to the music scene – rappers at that time were mostly concerned with personal storytelling that often involved violent behavior and gangster life.
This hip-hop genre, under the name of ‘gangsta rap’ was one of the most influential phases of hip-hop culture that brought multi-talented artists such as LL Cool J, Ice-Cube and Rakim.
Afterwards in the 1990-s, another wave of ‘gangsta rap’ came along towards ‘G-funk’ style of hip-hop on that was popularized by some of the finest artists in the game, Dr.Dre, Snoop Dogg and Notorious B.I.G, but also towards ‘Atlanta hip-hop’ style that was rather popular at that time.
2000-s were fruitful as well, as new artists emerged to the hip-hop scene bringing a fresh sound that was not alike the mainstream ‘gangsta rap’. New artists brought alternative elements that focused more on the beat rather on lyrics. ‘Alternative hip-hop’ phase that brought some of the most talented hip-hop artists in the hip-hop world, like Kanye West and Andre 3000.
This pace had kept going through 2000-s with a major success, bringing variations to the complexity of beats and style of rapping, but also the targeted audience and rapping themes.
Hip-hop artists e.g. Lil’ Wayne went towards a new direction of hip-hop that talked mostly about the affluence and rich lifestyle, which very much influenced the 2010-s with the outbreak of ‘trap’ rappers and ‘mumble’ rappers.
Right now, artists such as Drake, Migos, Nicki Minaj and Travis Scott are dominating the hip-hop scene through inventive approach to lyrical expression and overall record production, which frequently involves ‘ad-libs’ in the form of phrases and sounds.
List of Top Ten Most Influential Hip-Hop Artists of All Time
Hip-Hop as a music direction, but a culture as well, came along way from the period of DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash and their ‘breakbeat’ period. Over time, multiple major artists influenced hip-hop and spun the game in other directions.
As they are the founding core of hip-hop culture, we felt like they deserve a special honorable place outside our list of ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip-Hop Artists of All Time’.
We are aware that everyone’s approach to appreciation and valuation of contributing hip-hop artists is rather subjective and debatable, so here is our list of ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip-Hop Artists of All Time’.
10. Controversial, But Original
When you say controversial, but original, you think of one – Kanye West or, more popularly, Yeezy, is one of the most unique and multi-talented artists who brought the hip-hop game on a whole new level – through boosting and widening the level of production on the hip hop scene, but also experimenting with different music styles, such as R&B, rock and soul.
Kanye does not only raps and produces for him and others; he writes lyrics as well. If that’s not enough, he is a talented fashion designer. However, we only considered Kanye’s contribution to hip-hop through his music.
Kanye’s music, since the beginning, easily picked up hip-hop supporters that quickly fell in love with Kanye’s inventiveness and original approach that followed no one. He drew the influence of some of the greatest artists of all time, such as Prince, A Tribe Called Quest, 50 Cent etc.
His style is unique and highly recognizable, as it includes electronic sound alterations, recycling of samples of various genres, auto-tune, live instrumentations, catchy hooks and amazing melodic delivery overall. Kanye elaborates that some of his most powerful weapons are the melody and message proposed.
Career and album releases
Ye started his career as one of the producers for Roc-A-Fella Records label already in 2000, where he got popular as a hit-maker for some of the finest artists at that time, such as Jay-Z and Ludacris.
Quickly afterwards in 2004, Kanye made a decision to pursue a rapping career, blasting the rapping scene with the debut album ‘The College Dropout’ – this album was a major success that brought Kanye a worldwide recognition and respect among other artists.
This was followed by founding his own record label under the name GOOD Music, which allowed him afterwards to experiment with different musical genres in upcoming albums e.g. ‘Late Registration’ (2005), ‘Graduation’ (2007), ‘808s & Heartbreak’ (2008), ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ (2010), ‘Yeezus’ (2013) and ‘The Life of Pablo’ (2016).
Most of this material was under the controversial spectrum as it shook the audience more than once or twice, however it inspired masses of listeners and followers to pursue their own goals and not to follow anybody, as everyone is unique the way it is.
We admire Kanye in his own way of originality of expression and level of production, which most certainly had plenty of influence on the hip-hop scene nowadays. This is why we feel that Kanye West definitely deserves the 10th place on the list of ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip-Hop Artists of All Time’ for his overall contribution to the worldwide hip-hop scene.
9. ‘Gangsta Rap’ As an Invention
Ice Cube is one of the founding artists of the ‘gangsta rap’. Ice Cube is one of the greatest American rappers, songwriters and popular O.G-s. He pushed the limits of gangsta rap furthermore in terms of lyricism and approach to hip-hop.
Ice Cube is one of the most notorious rappers in the game. His main recognition, but also a primary contribution to the rap scene, came from a ‘trio-fantastico’ – Dr.Dre, Eazy E and Ice Cube under one name of N.W.A., a group well known for their hard-to-approach behavior through their lyrics which was masterminded by Ice Cube.
Career and Album Releases
Ice Cube eventually left N.W.A. in 1989 because of his intention to pursue a career as a solo artist. This turned out to be a quite a move. Ice Cube released two albums, ‘AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted’ in 1990 and ‘Death Certificate’ (1991).
After these releases, Ice Cube went on a hip-hop rampage that argued class and racial divisions, especially empowering people of color through his political and social storytelling.
His albums went platinum, and quickly enough, Ice Cube was praised to be a major influence to the whole community, and not just the rap scene. Plenty of artists, publications and media often called him one of the most influential artists, if not the most influential one in the hip-hop industry.
We agree upon Ice Cube’s enormous contribution to the public questions with the strong and untouchable approach to his rapping and music production, which is why we believe that Ice Cube deserves a 9th spot on our ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip-Hop Artists of All Time’.
8. The Lyrical Powerhouse
Innovative lyricist, captivating storyteller, one of the greatest MC-s of all time. Aforementioned and more still cannot fully describe the amount of influence this MC brought to the global hip-hop scene.
As a part of Eric B. & Rakim, which was eventually known as one of the best DJ-MC combos of all time, Rakim, is one of the hip-hop hall-of-fame legends from the ‘golden era of hip-hop’.
Also known as ‘The God MC’, Rakim was the powerhouse when it comes to the complexity of lyrics, creativity and play on words. This brought him a worldwide fame, along with Eric B.’s mixing skills and sampling.
Career and Album Releases
The duo released their first debut album in 1987 under the name ‘Paid in Full’ with major success. ‘Follow the Leader’ was the following album in 1988 with even greater success. Rakim presented himself as lyrically aggressive as possible. This allowed him to gain great attention through tracks like ‘Lyrics of Fury’ and ‘Microphone Fiend’.
Due to individual development of both Eric B. and Rakim on different sides, the duo decided to apart their ways after the publishing of their album in 1992 under the name of ‘Don’t Sweat the Technique’, which was rather more mature and serious than their previous releases.
Rakim signed to Aftermath Entertainment in 2000, but left it after three years because of so-called creative differences between Rakim and Dr. Dre.
In 2006, Rakim finally publishes his solo album – ‘The Seventh Seal’, which had a major impact on the community and hip-hop as well, as it had quite a spiritual and religious, but also political value, where he referred to revelations in the Bible and other religious books.
His unique style of ignoring bar-lines while rapping was among the most influential styles to date, which besides his aggressive tone and spirituality, allowed him to enter our list ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip Hop Artists of All Time’ on the 8th place.
7. Smoothness is My Middle Name
Snoop Dogg, Snoop Lion, Snoopy, Doggy, Dogg.., you name it. However you called him, he is one of the greatest and most influential rappers and songwriters of all time. Snoop sold over 35 million albums over the world over his fruitful career. He started his rapping career in 1991. The hip-hop mastermind Dr.Dre was the one who recognized Snoop’s talent.
Snoop Dogg is probably the best-known for his smooth, chill and funky approach to rapping and producing. Most of rap critiques assess his style as rather effective: as his messages are simple, most of the audience can get what Snoop is talking about.
Besides his simplicity, Snoop Dogg very frequently demonstrates his rapping skills through freestyles, even on his original songs, which basically shows how he is comfortable with rapping in any occasion.
Career and Album Releases
Dre gave Snoop a chance to prove himself by a feature on Dre’s solo album called ‘The Chronic’.Snoopy continued the pace releasing his first debut album ‘Doggystyle’; the album was produced by Dr.Dre. This album rocked the hip-hop world as ‘Doggystyle’ became four times platinum awarded; album included some of the finest hip-hop songs.
Some of the examples is a song ‘Gin and Juice’ that was responsible for major Snoop Dogg’s breakthrough. ‘Doggystyle’ got a fine successor as well, ‘Tha Doggfather’ in 1996, which was double platinum awarded.
Quickly after, Snoop Dogg left Death Row Records to sign with No Limit Records where he published three albums. Snoop left again to join Priority/Capitol/EMI Records and published ‘Paid tha Cost to Be da Boss’ album.
Still, he did not find himself at that label, so he switched again; this time now to Geffen Records label where he published three albums – ‘R&G: The Masterpiece’ (2009), ‘The Blue Carpet Treatment’ (2009) and ‘Ego Trippin’’ (2009).
After that period, Snoop Dogg decided he needs a further change. He went on a spiritual journey to Jamaica, where he had an enlightment period, turning himself to Snoop Lion. Afterwards, he released a new album under the name ‘Reincarnated’ (2013).
Due to his originality, laidbackness and smooth deliveries, it can be concluded that Snoop Dogg is one of the legendaries on the list of ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip Hop Artists of All Time’ at the 7th place.
6. The Doctor of the Hip-Hop Scene
Luckily, he named himself as the Doctor – if he did not, that would be a major mistake. Dr. Dre is a plentiful of everything – a producer, rapper and entrepreneur. But not just ANY producer or rapper. He was the one who created and popularized a whole sub-genre of hip-hop called ‘West Coast G-Funk’.
The style was especially popular in 1990-s among the hip-hop public. The success of G-Funk was mostly because of the general popularity of heavy basses and slow beat.
Career and Album Releases
N.W.A. was a major part of Dr.Dre’s life and career, where he became popular due to great beat-making and production. After N.W.A., Dr.Dre pursued his individual career in 1992. He released one of the best albums in that decade, ‘The Chronic’, under Death Row Records label.
Right after the collaboration of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Dre produced Snoop’s debut album ‘Doggystyle’. The album was awarded platinum for four times.
Dr.Dre decided to cut the contract with the Death Row Records. The reason behind was that he wanted a label of his own, and Aftermath Entertainment was created. His mission now was to produce other artists that are promising on the market; he signed Eminem in 1998, and later in 2002, he signed 50 Cent as well.
This was an amazing move by Dr. Dre, as he won 6 Grammy Awards and A Producer of the Year Award.
Dr. Dre has predicted and crafted careers of multiple other artists in the game, besides his own. Some of the huge names on Dr.Dre’s list are Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent and many others. This already makes Dr. Dre a hip-hop legend, besides everything else he did in his massive career.
If this does not assure Dr. Dre’s 6th position on our list of ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip Hop Artists of All Time’, we do not know what does then.
5. Got 99 Problems, But This List Ain’t One
One of the most praised rappers of all time, and not because of Beyoncé. Shawn Carter, known as Jay-Z, is a rapper, producer and business mogul that turns everything to its successful shape. Of course, he started from blank as plenty of other rappers.
Jay-Z’s rapping style was mostly associated with the Notorious B.I.G. punch line type, but somewhat smoother in delivery. Royce da 5’9” mentions Jay-Z’s ingenious play with words with partial linking in almost every song.
Furthermore, Jay-Z is a genius when it comes to usage of pauses that provide solid structure to verses.
Career and Album Releases
Slowly building his modest career in the beginning, Jay-Z started as a rapper in New York clubs. His first major success was after he founded his label under the name of Roc-A-Fella Records.
Jay-Z published his first album ‘Reasonable Doubt’ with a major worldwide success. Afterwards, the scene exploded due to new Jay-Z releases in 2001 and 2003; ‘The Blueprint’ and ‘The Black Album’ were one of the best albums of all time.
This is supported by the fact that Jay-Z received a massive 21 Grammy Awards in his career. He also holds a record for the ‘most-number-one albums’ artist. Last, but not the least, Jay-Z is the richest hip-hop artist in the world; his staggering net worth is around 900 million dollars.
We believe this is more than enough for Jay-Z to end up on a 5th place on our ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip-Hop Artists of All Time’ list.
4. One Of the Greatest MC-s Of All Time
Multi-platinum albums, own record label, over 30 million records sold over the world – can’t say nothing else but nasty. Nas, is an American rapper and songwriter. Nas has an eccentric, deep lyrical style that every hip-hop supporter praises.
According to multiple sources, Nas is definitely one of the greatest innovators that the rap world has ever seen. He covered plentiful of various themes through his powerful lyrics, such as birth, death, religion and so on. His style is viewed as very conversational and intricate, which gives a notion of fluency and ease.
On the other side, Nas used non-rhyming segments that was rather complex in the combination with his signature compound rhyming.
Career and Album Releases
Nas started on the “Live at the Barbeque” show as one of the highlighted hip-hop artists. He quickly created his own path by the release of a debut album under the name ‘Illmatic’ in 1994.
This was as a transfiguration of ‘gangsta rap’, which eventually went multi-platinum. Besides, it was appraised as one of the best hip-hop albums ever released. This had put Nas in a very favorable position to be at the hip-hop scene.
It was hard to believe that it is possible to keep up the pace of the first album; however, Nas made it with ‘It was written’ as the second album. It dominated the Billboard 200 where it held the first position for 4 weeks in a row.
The album also went multi-platinum as the first one. Nevertheless, the second album was the one that gave Nas an international recognition.
Afterwards, we would still believe that it is even harder to get further internationally known. However, Nas made it furthermore with the involvement into a dispute with a hip-hop colleague Jay-Z. He released a single called ‘Ether’ created as a diss track towards Jay-Z.
In 2012, Nas releases ‘Life is Good’ which topped the charts as well. Besides, it was one of the nominations at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards for the ‘Best Rap Album’.
Overall, Nas was on the MTV’s list of ‘The Greatest MC-s of All Time’ on the 5th place. However, we believe that Nas deserves at least 4th place on our list of ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip-Hop Artists of All Time’. Nasty.
3. No One Thought I Will Make This Far
Marshall Bruce Mathers III. This one of the rare examples where a lot of hip-hop enthusiasts are already familiar with the first name.
As one of the greatest hip-hop artists ever, Eminem is a rapper, songwriter, producer, executive and what not. The ‘Rap God’ is just one of the titles he has got through his career.
No other than Dr. Dre discovered such talent. Eminem signed to Aftermath Entertainment after the release of two albums; ‘Infinite’ in 1996 and ‘Slim Shady EP’ in 1997. ‘The Slim Shady LP’ was the first album that was released under the wing of Dr. Dre. This made Eminem stand along with other rappers that were of color.
The public doubted that the ‘white-boy’ can make it in the hip-hop world. Eminem received a ‘Grammy Award for the Best Rap Album’. This was a crowning of the successful collaboration of Eminem and Dr. Dre.
One of the reasons of success of ‘The Slim Shady LP’ was the development of Eminem’s alter ego. ‘Slim Shady’ was a violent and aggressive alter-ego. Eminem frequently expressed violent and dark thoughts through his lyricism.
Career and Album Releases
Right afterwards, Eminem released ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ in 2000 and ‘The Eminem Show’ in 2002. Both albums had a massive success over the world. This was supported by the fact that both were diamond-certified concerning the U.S. sales.
Besides, both received ‘Grammy Award for the Best Album’. This made Eminem the first in the hip-hop history to receive a Grammy Award for three released albums in a row.
Eminem still kept going with the release of ‘Encore’ album in 2004 that was a major success as well. After Encore, Eminem made a decision to pause for a little until the next album release. After a 5-year break, Eminem comes back with ‘Relapse’ in 2009 and ‘Recovery’ in 2010.
Both albums won Grammy Awards, and ‘Recovery’ was the most-sold album of 2010. With that, Eminem confirms that he is one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time.
‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ was released in 2013 and it received double Grammy Award, which included a Grammy Award for the Best Album. This convincing record is still in Eminem’s hands, and honestly, it will be a one very hard to beat.
After ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’, Eminem went on another break for few years. He returned with ‘Revival’ in 2017 and ‘Kamikaze’ in 2018, which were under a lot of media and fan criticism. Still, ‘Kamikaze’ was the most popular album release of 2018.
Eminem is one of the best-selling hip-hop artists ever; with approximately 220 million records sold all over the world and ten number-one albums on the Billboard 200 chart. There is nothing else to say that the ‘King of Hip-Hop’ is humbly placed on the 3rd place of our ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip-Hop Artists of All Time’ list.
2. I Will Live After I Die
The Notorious B.I.G. Biggie Smalls. Biggie. Frank White. Even Big Poppa. All nicknames aforementioned direct us towards a one hip-hop artist. A man who revolutionized the rap game in 5 years of being active on the scene.
Career and Album Releases
Standing at 6’3’’, Biggie Smalls was one of the most memorable hip-hop artists in the hip-hop industry. Biggie was one of the most talented artists who overtook the rap dominance from the West to East Coast; especially through his debut album under the name of ‘Ready to Die’ in 1994.
His main signatures were slick flow and punch-line deliveries. Most of his lyrics were dark stories that were mainly based on hardship and violent behavior.
Sadly, he actually died in a car shooting already in 1997, due to the involvement in East-West disputes. His second studio album under the name of ‘Life After Death’ was released post-mortally. It held the number 1 spot on worldwide charts – eventually, the ‘Life After Death’ album was certified as diamond. After the second album, three more albums were released post-mortally.
What Biggie did in 5 years of being active on the hip-hop scene, most rappers wouldn’t be able to do it if they had a lifetime. This is why this legend is on the 2nd place of our list of ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip-Hop Artists of All Time’.
1. All Eyes On Him
Finally the greatest of them all. Tupac Shakur, or 2Pac, is American hip-hop prodigy and one of the most praised hip-hop artists in the history. He was born in the New York City; however he moved to Los Angeles where he started his career.
Tupac Shakur was the kind of rapper that was not afraid to make changes. He demonstrated this through the introduction of social issues in his lyrics. Gangsta rap was still dominating the hip-hop scene at the time, but Tupac influenced the change.
2Pac released his debut album ‘2Pacalypse Now’ in 1991. This brought him massive popularity among the West Coast hip-hop rappers and supporters.
Career and Album Releases
Tupac released two albums in upcoming years – ‘Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z…’ in 1993 and ‘Me Against the World’ in 1995. Both albums had major success in terms of sales, but critics as well.
Tupac was involved into an East-West Coast dispute (where The Notorious B.I.G. was involved as well). This was the same year when he published ‘Me Against the World’ album. This event further raised the tensions between the two hip-hop divisions.
Unfortunately, an unknown shooter killed Tupac Shakur in a drive-by shooting in September of 1996. This happened after Tupac published a double-disc album under the name of ‘All Eyez on Me’.
This album became one of the most-sold albums in the U.S. of all time.The Notorious B.I.G. was the first murder suspect because of his vivid dispute with Tupac. Unfortunately, The Notorious B.I.G. was also killed in a drive-by shooting a few months after the Tupac’s death.
All 5 post-mortal Tupac’s albums received a platinum certification after publishing.
Overall, critics and public consider Tupac Shakur to be one of the best-selling hip-hop artists of all time, with over 75 million records sold over the world.
His influence on the community was mainly through his records that addressed social and racial issues. This had put Tupac into the position of a main symbol of resistance and fights against inequality in the society.
Due to major societal influence, but even greater influence on the hip-hop culture, Tupac is definitely the 1st on our list of ‘Top Ten Most Influential Hip-Hop Artists of All Time’.
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