Where do the biggest stars land on this top 5 list? (l – r) Nas, Lil Kim, Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z
By Charles Glover, Jr.
After seeing Chris Rock’s movie “Top Five” it seems fitting to compose my own list of hip-hop artists. There are five different categories of top five lists: solo artist, rap duos, rap groups, rap factions, and record labels. This is a list of my top 5 for each category. What’s yours?:
(l – r clockwise) Ice Cube, KRS-One, MC Lyte, and Rakim, are some of the best hip-hop artists of all time but there is only room for 5 on the list.
Since the early 1980’s, hip-hop has a range of record labels dedicated to mainly to the genre. There are so many labels that narrowing the list to just 5 is very difficult but here we go:
5) Cash Money – This label makes the list because of its impact financially and cross-over appeal of main stars from the subsidiary, Young Money record label. Notable stars from the label include Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Drake.
4) Rocafella – This label makes the list mainly because of Jay-Z. The label was also able to eventually add other stars that made hits for years. Notable stars included Jay-Z, Kanye West, Cam’ron, Beanie Sigel, and DJ Clue.
3) Bad Boy – They helped usher in a resurgence of east coast popular hip-hop music. Charismatic owner/producer Sean “Puffy” Combs, was able to assemble a talented cast that made plenty of chart toppers. Label stars included The Notorious B.I.G., The L.O.X., Ma$e, and Craig Mack.
2) Death Row – The emergence of this label as a top company in such a short time of existence is to be celebrated. Led by Suge Knight and Dr. Dre, they were major influences in spreading west coast flavor in hip-hop. Notable stars included Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg (now Lion), Tha Dogg Pound, and Tupac Shakur.
1) Def Jam – The preeminent hip-hop record label for many years, Def Jam has found a way to stand the test of time. Founded in 1983, Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin started a tradition of finding and signing some of the best artists of the genre. Notable stars include, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, EPMD, Ludacris, DMX, Method Man, and Ja Rule.
Rick Rubin (l) and Russell Simmons (r) were instrumental in the early growth of hip-hop at Def Jam.
Hip-Hop Groups/Factions: For the purpose of this article, hip-hop factions refer to groups of artists who worked together regularly but didn’t record together often as a group. Examples would be the Juice Crew, Hit Squad, the Boot Camp Clik, Native Tongues, and the Dungeon Family. Groups have 3 or more members. Groups that narrowly missed the cut were Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Boogie Down Productions, and Slaughterhouse.
5) N.W.A. – Their influence during the transformative years of hip-hop is undeniable. Group members included DJ Yella, Eazy-E, MC Ren, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube.
4) Public Enemy – Known for their music about black empowerment, this group made it clear that there was more to them then their music. Group members featured Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, Sister Souljah, Professor Griff and DJ Lord.
3) Ruff Ryders – This group had a string of hits in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Not only did the group work together often, but they often collaborated with other top rap acts at the time. Featured members included producer Swizz Beats, DMX, Eve, Drag-On, and the L.O.X..
2) The Fugees – This group featured a talented trio made music with the diversity of R&B at times and hard-core hip-hop at others. Group members were Wyclef, Pras, and Lauryn Hill.
1) Wu-Tang Clan – A large group with each member having a distinctive rap style, Wu-Tang quickly rose to success with hit songs right out of the gate. Though the group has grown to have many members, the original group consisted of 9 members: RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Ghostface Killah, Masta Killa, and Method Man.
The surviving Wu-Tang Clan members (l – r) RZA, Ghostface Killah, Masta Killa, Method Man, GZA, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Raekwon the Chef
Rap Duos: For this article, rap duos are two rappers, not a dj and a rapper. The synergy that exists between a rap duo makes their music stand out. Examples are Black Star, Mos Def & Talib Kweli, Tha Dogg Pound, Salt N Pepa, and Kid N Play.
5) Mobb Deep – Havoc and Prodigy make this list slightly ahead of Black Star because they were just young teenagers when their hit “Shook Ones” came out and they continued making hits for quite some time afterwards.
4) EPMD – Erick Sermon and Parish Smith made dollars and hits. They sampled music a great deal and now they are the sampled often as well.
3) Method Man & Redman – What started as a mere collaboration on “How High” turned into a true partnership with albums, a movie, and a television show.
2) Run-DMC – True pioneers in the rap game, Run and DMC opened doors for hip-hop fans with big hits in the 80’s and also starred in the movie Krush Groove as well.
1) Outkast – Andre 3000 and Big Boi rose to hip-hop stardom as unique hit makers with complementary rap styles. They also appeared in a movie together, Idlewild, and have had success as solo stars as well.
Big Boi (l) and Andre 3000 (r) form Outkast, top rap Duo on this list.
Female Solo Artist: Women’s contribution to hip-hop should not be understated, the ladies of hip-hop have had to be creative to carve their niche in the male dominated hip-hip world. Some ladies that narrowly missed the list are MC Lyte, Rah Digga, Left Eye, and Roxanne Shante.
5) Foxy Brown – Foxy teamed up with Jay-Z for a few songs and was part of the group The Firm that included Nas. She had the respect of some of the best rappers during their prime.
4) Lil Kim – Lil Kim was a member of Junior Mafia with the Notorious B.I.G. and was able to emerge as one of the top hip-hop artists after the Notorious B.I.G.’s death.
3) Queen Latifah – The Queen had several hits before rapping the intro to her own sitcom, Living Single. Though she would transition to acting and TV host, her music career should not be forgotten.
2) Da Brat – Her lyrical style made her verses stand out on just about every track she collaborated on. Jermaine Dupri was wise enough to find a way to get his So So Def artist on numerous tracks between the few solo albums of her own.
1) Lauryn Hill – Hill’s dual threat nature as a singer and rapper helped her have one of the most successful hip-hop albums with “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”. Her rap skills are highlighted while she was working with her Fugees brethren Pras and Wyclef.
Lauryn Hill earned the top spot because of her rap lyrics, her singing ability is merely a bonus.
Male Solo artist: The argument for best male hip-hop artists can and will go on forever. This is a list of my favorite as I realize there’s no making everyone happy. Some artists that narrowly missed the list were Big Pun, Snoop Dogg, Rakim, LL Cool J, Nas, Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z.
(l – r) Snoop Dogg, and Tupac are two of the best to do it but only one made the top 5.
5) Joe Budden – Budden may not have a great deal of mainstream success, but he has made quite a name for himself on mixtapes and through freestyles.
4) Busta Rhymes – Busta has been in the game since the early 90’s making hit songs. However, his music videos were influential as they broke the typical mold of hip-hop videos.
3) Tupac Shakur – Tupac’s music is wide-reaching and clearly reflected his mood when he was in the studio. In fact, there’s probably a Tupac song for every mood a hip-hop fan is experiencing.
2) DMX – DMX is entertaining to just hear speak but his flow and constant energy make it easy to listen to his music, even the barking.
1) Eminem – What makes Eminem stand out among the best is add to his repertoire as his career continues. Even if you’re listening carefully you have to go back and listen to the songs again just to catch all the metaphors and wordplay prevalent in his music, which earns him top honors on this list.
Eminem tops this list as he has topped many charts throughout his career.
I’m sure there will be major disagreements about the lists so please feel free to engage me on social media.–OnPointPress.net–
Charles Glover Jr. is a management/employee training and benefits consultant. Follow me @OpenWindowMES on Twitter.com. For business inquiries contact (646)309-1938.