The Best Rappers Of All Time (Through The Eyes of A Small Town White Boy)

Before I divulge my nearly two decades of rap expertise and send itunes in a frenzy trying to populate its online store with “Early 90’s Gangsta-Rap-Pimp-Shit” (that is an actual itunes genre by the way), I would like to preface my list with a little background of where my opinion derives. For those lazy bastards who hate reading, simply skip down to the bottom of the page. Anyone who actual enjoys a story, continue on and don’t forget to check out the rest of the site, it’s the shit! 

For those of you that lack the intelligence to infer from the title that I grew up in a small town, I will make it abundantly clear now. I grew up in a very-small-fucking-town. The importance of this is the following:

  • I wasn’t engulfed in a culture of hip-hop like those who grew up in an urban environment. I had to fight hard to discover artists and wasn’t influenced by the opinions of those around me, because I could use my fingers to count the number of people who I hung out with who also listened to rap as intently as I did (and still do).
  • Outside of recreational drug use, I had nothing better to do with my time than to listen to every single word of an artist and scrutinize their work.

The hindsight of my becoming caused me to realize that I have a natural prejudice to early rap music from the east coast. If your first conclusion was that it must derive from the 2Pac and Biggie conflict, please stop reading now, forget this site, and go back to listening to your Lil Wayne. You are not worthy of knowing The Best Rappers Of All Time, you Top 40 deep throater.

The exposure of rap music where I lived, as I stated earlier –  was limited. It was hard enough finding west coast rappers on the shelves, let alone anyone from the east coast that wasn’t from the Wu-Tang Clan.  This west coast exclusivity caused some early biases that I have been able to overcome today, but are still reflective in my preferences.

The difference I found between west coast and east coast (before the popularity of rap intertwined the two and killed virtually all distinction) would be primarily in the beat, chores, and lyrics. What the fuck else is there?

West coast rap has a very distinct clap on every second or fourth beat.

No, seriously. I am not fucking with you.

Go back to any early to almost any mid 90’s rap song from the west coast. Without fail, it will have it. Maybe because the trifecta of djs (Dre, Quik, Battlecat) all arose from the same camp (Death Row)?

There is also variation in the music between the verse and the chorus. While during this era, east coast rap songs had no problem going through an entire track with little change in the music at all and sometimes would even neglect to include a chorus.

The final distinction between east coast rap and west coast rap (in the early 90’s) can be found in the delivery of their lyrics. West coast rappers let the music intertwine/enhance their lyrics – east coast rappers used the music/beat as simply a serving dish for their lyrics. This distinction started to fade roughly the same time that Biggie and 2Pac brought popularity to the genre

Here listen to these two examples and see if you can pick up on the differences.

West Coast Example:

East Coast Example:

Lyrics – Beat – Chorus

These are the three elements that it takes for a rap song to make it onto my list. With the most emphasis being on Lyrics. If you are just bobbing your head to a beat, or bumping a song because the chorus is catchy, you are missing out on 90% of what makes rap fucking awesome. So pay attention boys and girls and listen to the songs below.

The Best Rappers Of All Time

In no particular order and not regarding their career in its entirety. This list serves as an example of talent and not as an all encompassing list. For example – I have 15 Dj Quik songs that would make this list but I am not going to go through the effort of adding them all. Use the artist as a reference and go check them out . . . you lazy fuck!

Quick shout out to my peeps coming up in the StayTucky – Beer Iz My Water

Oh – and I realize that not all of the songs listed below are from the era in which I expressed my upbringing and interest. I was simply illustrating where my opinion derives.

E-40 (2pac, Mac Mall, Spice 1) – Dusted N Disgusted

Luniz – I Got 5 On It 

Ant Banks – Roll Em Phat

Eminem – As The World Turns

Big Pun – The Dream Shatterer

Spice 1 – Too Deep In The Game

Nas – Rewind

Beatnuts – No Escapin This 

2 Pac – Krazy

Notorious BIG – Notorious Thugs

Mac Mall – Get Right 

Dr. Dre – Xxplosive

Too Short – Ima Playa

Method Man & Redman – City Lights

Warren G – Still Can’t Fade It

The Dogg Pound – Smooth

Nate Dogg – Concrete Streets

Black Market – 40oz & Chronic Dice

Celly Cell – It’s Going Down Tonight 

Eazy-E – Real Muthaphukkin G’s

Ice Cube – You Know How We Do It

Andre Nickatina – Ayo For Yayo

50 Cent – Outta Control

Do or Die – Po Pimp

Scarface – My Homies

Geto Boys – Time Taker

Da Brat – Funkdafied (Only female rapper to make the list)

Tech N9ne – Slacker

Xzibit – Get Your Walk On

The Game – How We Do

Busta Rhymes – Break Ya Neck

Outkast – Player’s Ball 

SPM – I Must Be High

Bone – No Surrender

WC – Fuckin Wit Uh House Party 

DJ Quik – Safe + Sound

MC Eiht – One Less Nigga

Masta Ace – Take A Walk

Fugess – Ready or Not

Cypress Hill – Hand on The Pump

Immortal Technique – The 4th Branch

DMX – Damien

To Be Continued. . . .

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14 thoughts on “The Best Rappers Of All Time (Through The Eyes of A Small Town White Boy)

  1. My man I barely read this shit and I’m not sure that anyone else ever has haha. I don’t think these are the greatest hip-hop songs ever (maybe that’s why you specified -rap-) but they are some of the greatest. Nonetheless I love this post and I have yet to listen to some of these songs in-depth now that you posted em (50 Cent – Outta Control? lol). Question, these are a lot gangsta rap songs, did you ever listen to alternative rap from this time? Like A Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde, Souls of Mischief, Digable Planets, or De La Soul just to name a few.

    P.S. I respect that you aren’t one of those boom-pap is the greatest shit ever in hip-hop type of niggas (yay for Mac Mall and Andre Nickatina – even tho Ayo for Yayo is mostly San Quinn haha). Wu-Tang isn’t the best group ever and the west coast wasn’t irrelevant and garbage in late 80’s & 90’s, unlike the majority of hip-hop critics deem.

    • Haha! Bro, I am 100% confident you are one of the first to actually read the post. It gets about 50 hits a day, but I don’t think anyone reads the post for context. They just click on the youtube links. It was intended to be a humorous introduction to where my taste derived and thus explain my perspective. Which was obviously west coast – early 90’s – gangsta rap. I ventured into the more insightful hip-hop once I matured, but during my early days I wasn’t really feeling it. Its funny you say that “west coast wasn’t irrelevant and garbage in the late 80’s & 90’s, unlike the majority of hip-hop critics deem.” because over here we felt like it was the genesises of hip-hip. Starting with NWA and then the epic run of Death Row. . . that was the foundation of today’s hip hop. . . . . . . . on a side note: Outta control was to pay homage to Mobb Deep, while slightly tipping the hat to 50’s ability.

  2. Perfect list man, I’m a white kid from a shitty small town in Canada and I’ve been sitting here looking for a list that has some actual thought put into it. It’s hard to not get into the lyrics when the only thing to do in your hometown is get high and listen to music. Liked the pre biggie & 2pac, west/east comparison, good song choices. Not saying I don’t love that 90s mainstream.

  3. Intriguing story. Dats some piece of literature u got there. Greatest n best rap list i’ve come accross. I’d like to add Rap God by Eminem.

  4. First off. given the two examples above (“Dollaz and Sense” and “Protect Ya Neck”) I don’t see a difference in snare/clap placement. I think you cut the tempo “Dollaz and Sense” in half while counting the beat. The bass is on the 1st beat and the snare/clap is on the 3rd, just like “Protect Ya Neck”, as is extremely common in rock, pop, hip-hop, etc.

    Also, I was wondering why you didn’t include any songs off Illmatic, 36 Chambers or Liquid Swords but I guess the best songs on those albums (Protect Ya Neck, Chessboxin, Halftime, N.Y. State of Mind, Gold, 4th Chamber) don’t really have choruses, but there are many songs on those albums that do. Were you just trying not to include songs from “canonical” albums like those?

    • The defining factor was the “clap” not the snare (which is included in most counts of the beat across music in general). The contrasting difference in the songs that was meant to be exemplified was the rap style (with the beat vs. over the beat) and the lack of chorus. I didn’t include all of the Wu-Tang songs because like I prefaced in my prelude – this list serves as a reference for the best rappers, not as an all encompassing list of all the best rap songs. I smoke weed dude, “ain’t nobody got time for that”

  5. Man, I have to give props where props are due. I grew up in middle-class L.A. None of my friends were really into rap; it wasn’t part of my culture directly, but it was always in my peripheral vision. I felt it was some of the rawest, most intense, most intelligent (well, some of it) music out there. I’m not only about gangsta rap, but your list kicks some serious ass regardless. I’ll fully admit I’m biased. I cannot stand this Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea garbage that passes for rap nowadays. It’s fine if that’s somebody’s jam, but it’s not mine. I’ve hit up a lot of top rap lists, and a lot of them are respectable in a historical or technical sense. Yours, however, captures the real flavor of what rap is. Even though I’d like to see some more intellectual rap up in the mix, your choices are damn solid. Good stuff, man.

  6. Now I hate to sound judgmental, but based on your list, you really need to expand your horizon. I know it’s a matter of taste, but your taste seems very limited to 90’s mainstream or very very near mainstream. I mean, not every song on there is like that (props on the Masta Ace pick, severely underrated album), but a good amount are.

    I recommend that you broaden a little more. For example, you have a west coast preference, it seems, but have you checked out Freestyle Fellowship, particularly Aceyalone? Brotha Lynch Hung, even though he’s horrorcore, deserves some notice too. Blackalicious is consistently good, as is Lyrics Born (especially his Latyrx album that he did with Lateef). Then there is Digable Planets. Also worth mentioning are the Blue Scholars, CYNE, The Coup, and Shabazz Palaces (which is actually a new project by one of the Digable Planets guys).

    On the east coast, we have El-P, who is much better than Aesop Rock, and should be mentioned more, especially his early stuff. He’s been getting much more notice because of his recent work with Killer Mike, but as a solo artist, he was always amazing. His work with Cannibal Ox and Company Flow is great too, though he in general might be outside of your preference. Gangstarr and Jean Grae should be checked out too, especially because Guru and Jean Grae are extremely underrated lyricists.

    Then there is Binary Star’s Master of the Universe. That deserves a mention, both because it is an amazing album and because it also has one of Elzhi’s earliest official appearances, I think. Count Bass D’s Dwight Spitz is also a really good album. Nujabes (Japanese producer), The Foreign Exchange (consisting of Little Brother’s Phonte and Dutch producer Nikolay), Dizzy Rascal (English rapper, first two albums are amazing) Danny!, Felt, Freddie Gibbs (one of my personal favorites in the last couple years)

    Also, why do you hate the Beastie Boys so much? Even if they have an unorthrodox sound, and even if they started as a punk band, it is undeniable they are one of the greatest hip-hop acts.

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