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Best New York hip-hop: The 50 greatest NYC hip-hop artists

New York is the home of hip-hop. We pay homage to the genre's brightest stars and biggest innovators.

New York is the hip-hop music capital of the world. You can argue with us all you like, but we will simply respond with geography and genius—the raw statistics that tell you everything you need to know about the city and its still-unfurling legacy. Namely? The Bronx: KRS-One, Big Pun, Slick Rick. Staten Island: Wu Tang Clan. Queens: LL Cool J, Run-D.M.C., A Tribe Called Quest, Nicki Minaj, Nas. Harlem: Doug E. Fresh, Biz Markie, Mase. Brooklyn: Busta Rhymes, Big Daddy Kane, Foxy Brown, Biggie.

Not only is New York the birthplace of hip-hop, it’s also home to the genre's biggest star today: Jay-Z, whose cultural and fiscal influence is evidenced by his financial investment in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, a venue/basketball team/mass-media enterprise that opened with an eight-night run of sold-out shows from the star.

Assembling this roster, we kept the big-business aspect of hip-hop in mind—so you’ll find such hefty quarterbacks as 50 Cent alongside art-world crazies like Rammellzee.Time Out Music writers voted on the list, and we invited some of our all-time favorite artists and tastemakers—such luminaries as Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul and Peter Rosenberg—to give us their personal picks. And you can listen to the greatest hip-hop songs on our Spotify playlist.

Did we argue over this list? Of course. Are we proud of it? As proud as we are of this city. Let us know what you think.—Edited by Sophie Harris

Das Racist

Heems and Kool A.D. first came to attention in 2010 with the joke-rap song “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” What followed were insightful, creative tunes, especially on Das Racist’s excellent pair of 2010 mixtapes, Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man. The latter contained “hahahaha jk?,” something of a response to its initial labeling. The group’s first proper release, Relax, followed in 2011, but the two announced their split last year.—Colin St. John
Key Track: “hahahaha jk?”

Slick Rick

It’s hard to think about where hip-hop might be without a one-eyed dude who rapped in a British accent and wore so many chains that their ponderous weight would make normal humans slump over. But Slick Rick pretty much invented (or at least perfected) the idea of rap narrative, and that’s something you can’t really assign a value to.—Drew Millard
Key Track:  “Children’s Story”

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Salt-N-Pepa

Queens trio Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandra “Pepa” Denton and DJ Spinderella became such a dominant presence in ’90s pop (“Let’s Talk About Sex”, “Whatta Man”) that it’s easy to forget the group’s humble beginnings in ’85 as an all-girl crew named Super Nature. Then came the fresh ’80s leisure wear; the album Hot, Cool & Vicious; and a remix of a certain B-side that became Salt-N-Pepa’s signature song, “Push It.” If your date isn’t dancing when “Push It” comes on at the bar/club/wedding disco, check their pulse.—Sophie Harris
Key Track: “Push It”

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DJ Kool Herc

Clive Campbell grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, and was well versed in the ways of sound-system culture by the time his family moved to the Bronx when he was 12. In 1974, Campbell, now rechristened DJ Kool Herc, created a Gotham version by adding a world-changing twist—he began to isolate the breaks from songs like Bra’s “Cymande” and James Brown’s “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose,” playing them back-to-back on two turntables. It was more than a simple way to move the crowd—it was the birth of a new culture, one that would soon be dubbed hip-hop.—Bruce Tantum

Rammellzee

Rammellzee is a local hip-hop legend, almost literally—it’s almost impossible to find the birth name of this sui generis visionary, who passed away in 2010. In the ’80s, the graffiti writer and MC turned up in all the right places, including the now-legendary Wild Style doc and on “Beat Bop,” a single that sported Basquiat cover art. The Rammellzee discography is frustratingly slim, but no one who witnessed his rare late-career performances—riveting talk-rap rants delivered in homemade junkyard-cyborg costumes—came away unmoved. This was an artist who viewed hip-hop as a limitless cultural force: not simply the act of slinging rhymes, but the process of fashioning something beautiful and even mythic out of urban imperfection.—Hank Shteamer
Key track: “Beat Bop”

Jean Grae

Tsidi Ibrahim might be the daughter of jazz royalty, but that doesn’t mean her output under the Jean Grae moniker lacks edge. Since the early aughts, this NYU dropout turned mercurial hip-hop force has demonstrated uncanny range, excelling at both ice-cold takedowns and confessional autobiography. Her output has been sporadic, yet as proved by 2008’s outstanding Jeanius, it’s always worth the wait. Until her long-rumored next LP emerges, we’re content to revel in classics like “My Story,” fierce cameos with the Roots and all the other reasons Grae comrade Talib Kweli saw fit to label her “a living, breathing superhero.”—Hank Shteamer
Key track: “My Story”

El-P

El-P has issued a string of sobering, sardonic solo gems, but what really makes the man born Jaime Meline essential to NYC hip-hop is his status as a nexus for various far-flung scenes. After turning heads with Company Flow in the mid-to-late ’90s, the Brooklyn-born Meline colaunched Definitive Jux, the imprint behind era-defining alt-rap landmarks such as Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein; in 2004, he collaborated with local avant-jazz heroes on the improv-heavy curveball High Water. And thanks to recent alliances with smart-aleck newbies Das Racist and OutKast affiliate Killer Mike, El-P’s profile is still on the rise.—Hank Shteamer
Key track: “Stepfather Factory”

El-P nominated Run-D.M.C. as NYC's Greatest hip-hop artist

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The Sugarhill Gang

The members of this early crew hailed from Englewood, New Jersey, but a survey of New York hip-hop would be unthinkable without Wonder Mike, Master Gee and Big Bank Hank. Granted, including the NYC-honed combo on a tally devoted to creative originality warrants an asterisk heavier than Roger Maris’s: Hank’s verse was actually penned by Grandmaster Caz, and no one even tries to disguise the backing track, Chic’s “Good Times.” But as the song that brought hip-hop to mainstream America, “Rapper’s Delight” is a lock.—Steve Smith
Key track: “Rapper’s Delight”

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Funky Four Plus One

A groundbreaking Bronx quintet (originally a foursome until their expansion forced a wily titular adjustment), the Funky Four Plus One are pioneers in an almost ridiculous number of ways: They were the first Bronx rap group to get a record contract, the first hip-hop crew to have a woman out front and the first rappers to perform on national television (Debbie Harry brought the group onto an episode of Saturday Night Live she hosted in February 1981). Why are they so obscure? Who knows. Just revel in the sublime party jam “That’s the Joint” —which is, if not precisely the joint, one of the genre’s top ten—and pass their legend on.—Michael Martin
Key track: “That’s the Joint”

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The Jungle Brothers

Sorely underrated now, the Jungle Brothers were critics’ darlings during their late-’80s and early-’90s prime. Conscripted early on into the Native Tongues wave, this potent trio injected jazz and house music into its proudly Afrocentric grooves, as heard on its classic, indie-label debut, Straight Out the Jungle.—Steve Smith
Key track: “Straight Out the Jungle”

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Lil’ Kim

When she hit the local rap scene in the mid-’90s, no one knew what to make of the barely dressed, explicitly rapping Bed-Stuy babe, who didn’t do demure R&B or socially conscious rhymes like her female compatriots. Releasing hit after raunchy hit, the Queen Bee quickly rose in the ranks—being Biggie’s protégée probably helped with that—and influenced generations of femcees to be more brazen, both with the mike and their bedroom desires.—Marley Lynch
Key track: “Crush on You”

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A$AP Rocky

Harlem’s Rakim Mayers—a.k.a. A$AP Rocky—is a rapper who values style over substance on his breakthrough mixtape, Live. Love. ASAP., as well as his RCA debut, Long. Live. ASAP. But ooh, that style! Rocky builds a thoughtful, kaleidoscopic sound that borrows from Southern screw music and Cali haze, sonic trends not necessarily indebted to the gritty NYC hustle of the rapper his parents named him after. While Rocky might not be saying anything new, he sounds pretty damn cool saying it.—Corban Goble
Key track: “Peso”

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Foxy Brown

Though she was namechecked by Nicki Minaj as the most influential female rapper of all time, the Brooklyn native has gotten more attention for her antics (raunchy, legal and otherwise) than for her rhymes. Still, Fox Boogie changed the game with her notable stint in Nas-led supergroup the Firm and cameos on classic tracks by LL Cool J (“I Shot Ya”) and Jay-Z (“Ain’t No Nigga”), plus three solo LPs that set the bar high for street-savvy, name-dropping, cleavage-flaunting hip-hop.—Marley Lynch
Key track: “I’ll Be”

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Doug E. Fresh

In the ’80s, rapper and beat-boxer Doug E. Fresh displayed his dual talents on classic tag-team efforts “The Show” and “La-Di-Da-Di” with Slick Rick, and later played a key role in marrying hip-hop with reggae. Although the Harlem native, restaurateur and inspiration for the Dougie hasn’t had a hit in decades, he’s still one of rap’s great live MCs, a status that’s earned him the nickname “The World’s Greatest Entertainer.”—Jesse Serwer
Key track: “The Show” (featuring Slick Rick)

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Digable Planets

Three NYC imports rapping under the names Ladybug Mecca, Butterfly and Doodlebug convened in early-’90s Fort Greene to create a vibe-heavy, unaggressive groove as Digable Planets. While incorporating many of the jazzy samples and tones popularized by the Native Tongues collective, Digable Planets made two pristine LPs—1993’s Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) and 1994’s Blowout Comb—that reveled in the group’s fun-loving, fuzzy headspace. Though the crew didn’t last long, you can hear its influence on new-school NYC folks like Pro Era and the Avengers.—Corban Goble
Key track: “Where I’m From”

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Nicki Minaj

It remains to be seen whether this Queens-reared MC can sustain the seismic force of her initial emergence, but just on the strength of those heady couple of years (that “Monster” verse!), she deserves a permanent place among NYC’s hip-hop elite. If her recordings have been hit-and-miss, Minaj’s core aesthetic has never wavered: a sugar-and-spice attitude bomb, driven by schizo role-playing born out of LaGuardia High School drama training. The best indicator of Minaj’s greatness, though, might be her ability to simultaneously delight the masses and rile purist haters with bubblegum confections like “Starships” and “Super Bass.”—Hank Shteamer
Key track: “Super Bass”

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Pete Rock and CL Smooth

Perhaps the most soulful duo of their era, Mount Vernon’s Pete Rock and CL Smooth brought silky production to the fore on early-’90s classics like “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.),” hip-hop’s definitive word on death. Though their partnership has been mostly dormant since ’94, Pete and CL’s two albums together, Mecca and the Soul Brother and The Main Ingredient, are flawless time capsules showcasing sample-driven rap at its peak.—Jesse Serwer
Key track: “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”

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Biz Markie

Unfairly labeled as a one-hit wonder for his hugely successful 1990 hit, “Just a Friend,” hip-hop’s original class clown, Biz Markie, counts rapping, producing, deejaying and—most famously—beat-boxing within his skill set. And while they might not be fodder for drunken sing-alongs in irritating Heineken commercials, anyone with a sense of rap’s history knows Juice Crew–era Biz joints like “Vapors” and “Pickin Boogers” are as classic as they come.—Jesse Serwer
Key track: “Vapors”

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Ghostface Killah

The introductory verse of “Bring Da Ruckus” goes to Ghostface Killah, and it’s telling that Wu-Tang would tap the Staten Island–reared, foulmouthed Dennis Coles for the first moments of its debut. Indispensable in the group, Ghostface has enjoyed a stellar solo career outside of Wu, beginning with 1996’s superhero-themed Ironman.—Colin St. John
Key track: “One”

Ghostface Killah was nominated as NYC's Greatest hip-hop artist by Peter Rosenberg

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Talib Kweli

Since 1998, when he linked up with Mos Def as Black Star and garnered acclaim for an Afrocentric brand of socially conscious hip-hop, the underground hero has made a name for himself as a solo artist with true integrity—consistently recognized more by fellow MCs than by the mainstream. Even Jay-Z tips his hat to Kweli’s verbal dexterity: “If skills sold / Truth be told / I’d probably be / Lyrically / Talib Kweli.”—Marley Lynch
Key track: “Get By”

Talib Kweli nominated Rakim as NYC's Greatest hip-hop artist

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Kool Keith

There is only one “Kool” Keith Thornton—a rapper so inventive that fans have perpetuated a bunk rumor of Bellevue institutionalization in a desperate attempt to explain his limitless supply of “Say what?” bons mots. The veteran Bronx MC showed promise as early as the mid-’80s, when he emerged as one fourth of the Ultramagnetic MCs, but it was his 1996 solo debut, Dr. Octagonecologyst, a campily deranged odyssey concerning sex, space and science gone wrong, that made him a legend. He’s issued a mountain of erratic work since then, but counting him out is unwise. As long as pop-friendly hip-hop endures, Kool Keith will rule the movement’s freaky margins.—Hank Shteamer
Key track: “Earth People”

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Big Pun

Puerto Ricans in the South Bronx helped birth hip-hop in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until Christopher Rios emerged from the same soil in the late ’90s that rap got its first Latin superstar. Big Pun’s impact is all the more impressive considering the short span between his 1997 breakthrough and his heart-attack-induced death in 2000, and can still be felt in the BX, where murals of the fallen lyrical giant abound.—Jesse Serwer
Key track: “Still Not a Player”

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Duck Down

In New York rap, there’s always an unwavering strain of tough-as-nails underground shit, the type of music that’d make you want to punch even your best friend in the face. The Duck Down label’s given us that since 1995, delivering dynamite from guys like Boot Camp Clik, Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun, and more recently Murs and Pharoahe Monch.—Drew Millard
Key track: Boot Camp Clik’s “Here We Come”

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Mase

A weird latter-day U-turn—an international ministry, a somewhat-ignored comeback attempt and an even-more-ignored second comeback attempt—has obscured just how much of an impact Mason Betha made in the wake of Biggie’s passing. With 1997’s Harlem World, Harlem’s son made a Billboard-chart-topping record and made Diddy’s second fiddle his label’s golden boy, thanks to across-the-board hits like “Feel So Good.” Though not even close to the lyricist Biggie was, the kid could style on a track. Bad Boys: Sometimes they make you feel so good. Important bonus fact: Mase and Cam’ron played on the same high-school basketball team at Manhattan Center High.—Corban Goble
Key track: “Feel So Good”

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Mobb Deep

Founded in early-’90s Queensbridge, Prodigy and Havoc’s group quickly became known for sinister themes, held together by propulsive beats. Mobb Deep took part in the East Coast–West Coast insults of the mid-’90s, but remained legit with excellent and commercially viable work. The Infamous (1995) stands as its best effort, a height the duo might shoot for again as part of its recently announced reunion.—Colin St. John
Key track: “Shook Ones (Part II)”

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GZA

Known the Genius of the Wu-Tang Clan, GZA owns the nickname with brave, cerebral verses and technique. His masterwork is 1995’s Liquid Swords, an homage to all things kung fu, chess and philosophy, incorporating samples as wide-ranging as Cannonball Adderley and New Edition. As he says, the rhyme thoughts travel at tremendous speed.—Colin St. John
Key track: “Liquid Swords”

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The Diplomats

The phrase your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper may be a dumb meme of the blogger era, but when you’re talking about Dipset, it’s probably true. It’s no stretch to say that the Harlem group—consisting, at its core, of Cam’ron (a man the legendary MF DOOM himself wanted to mentor), Juelz Santana, and Jim Jones—has defined postmillennial New York with its relentless braggadocio, garish uptown fashion (never forget that Cam made pink okay for thugs) and slang that spread like wildfire (capo status and pause). As commercial hip-hop skewed into pop territory and NYC saw its stranglehold on the game loosening, the Diplomat movement—and yes, it has always felt like a movement to the cultish fan base—stood strong for everything that is great about New York hip-hop.—Chris Schonberger
Key track: “Dipset Anthem”

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Raekwon

Often overlooked within the Wu-Tang Clan, Raekwon’s Wu verses and mafia-infused solo material are challenging, incisive and straight thug. His 1995 solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…,and its 2009 sequel are hip-hop classics; the Chef’s brusque bravado is a dish best served stoned. Throw your Ws up.—Colin St. John
Key track: “Criminology”

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Busta Rhymes

No artist has been a more consistent presence in hip-hop over the past two decades than Brooklyn native Busta Rhymes. Since splitting from Leaders of the New School in the early ’90s, he’s recorded a string of solo staples too numerous to mention. But Bussa Buss’s greatest legacy may be as the genre’s most valuable pinch-hitter, with cameos on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario,” Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear (Remix)” and M.O.P.’s “Ante Up” ranking among the greatest guest spots ever.—Jesse Serwer
Key track: A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario”

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Jadakiss

Why is Jadakiss as hard as it gets? That question might be rhetorical, but it suggests this LOX member knows his lane and absolutely owns it. A New York fixture since his group guested on Biggie’s “Last Day,” Jadakiss helped kick-start the Tunnel aesthetic, and then took to the solo streets to uphold the legacy of rappers everywhere who claw their way onto the charts through pure force of grit.—Drew Millard
Key track: “Why?" (feat. Anthony Hamilton)

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Mos Def

Dante Smith was an essential force in late-’90s underground hip-hop, both as a solo artist and as one half of Black Star (alongside Talib Kweli). Mos Def’s string of whip-smart solo work began with 1999’s Black on Both Sides, continuing through 2009’s The Ecstatic. He explores themes as disparate as Islam, war and women, while also maintaining a successful acting career.—Colin St. John
Key track: “Mathematics”

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LL Cool J

It’s easy to see why Ladies Love Cool James; since his first releases in the mid-’80s, the Long Island rapper has quickened pulses with slow jams like “I Need Love,” and his sizzling ode to NYC sex, “Doin’ It” (along with a clutch of shirtless movie roles). But the star’s legacy goes way beyond his sex appeal. Hip-hop mainstay Def Jam records was formed after Rick Rubin sent a 16-year-old LL’s demo to Russell Simmons, and LL Cool J’s debut album, Radio, was the label’s first album release, in 1985. Oh, and LL Cool J’s fourth album, 1990’s Mama Said Knock You Out, has sold nearly 3 million copies. Bam.—Sophie Harris
Key track: “Rock the Bells”

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50 Cent

It’s rare that a rapper comes along and becomes the literal, actual epitome of the gangster-rapper archetype fulfilling roles that we didn’t even know existed and embodying the fears of concerned parents nationwide. Having managed to do just that, 50 Cent is a magical human being, spitting hooks and charting astonishingly massive hits along the way.—Drew Millard
Key track: “In da Club”

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Afrika Bambaataa

In on the ground floor of hip-hop, Kevin Donovan rose to fame breakbeat deejaying as Afrika Bambaataa in the South Bronx during the 1980s. He formed the Universal Zulu Nation in an effort to raise political awareness in the hip-hop world and give gang members a chance for a new direction. His 1982 track “Planet Rock” was made with his ensemble the Soulsonic Force, and was a watershed moment in the genre, famously sampling Kraftwerk.—Colin St. John
Key track: “Planet Rock”

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KRS-One

Lawrence Krisna Parker, the Flatbush-born, South Bronx–proud frontman of seminal hip-hop crew Boogie Down Productions, jump-started gangsta rap with the group’s 1987 debut, Criminal Minded. But after the murder of BDP partner Scott La Rock, KRS-One lived up to the credo eventually tacked onto his moniker—“Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone”—with a long string of durable tracks promoting social awareness and self-empowerment.—Steve Smith
Key track: “My Philosophy”

KRS-One was nominated as NYC's Greatest hip-hop artist by Maseo from De La Soul and Big Daddy Kane

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Rakim

As part of the duo of Eric B. & Rakim, William Griffin Jr. helped form the blueprint for the future of hip-hop. Eric B. handled the DJ duties as Rakim grabbed the microphone to think of a master plan. The two were on the cutting edge of defining what would become known as swagger, wearing gigantic necklaces and discussing money openly. As a solo artist, Rakim has continued to release a string of records that exhibit his deft delivery.—Colin St. John
Key track: “Paid in Full”

Rakim was nominated as NYC's Greatest hip-hop artist by Talib Kweli

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De La Soul

Ah, the magic number: De La Soul comprises three members, each of whom was a baby-faced 19 years old when they crafted their debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising—a record that permanently expanded the boundaries of hip-hop forever. As Posdnuos told TONY 20 years after its release: “3 Feet High means something to people the way that Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder or Yellow Submarine by the Beatles does to me.” The trio followed up the skit-happy sample symphony of their debut with the darkly groovy De La Soul Is Dead (having been mercilessly sued by samplee the Turtles, a move that changed sampling laws forever), and continues to refine and redefine hip-hop to this day.—Sophie Harris
Key track: “Eye Know”

Maseo from De La Soul nominated KRS-One as NYC's Greatest hip-hop artist
Posdnuos from De La Soul nominated Run-D.M.C. as NYC's Greatest hip-hop artist

Gang Starr

Years before moving to Brooklyn was anyone’s idea of a springboard to music success, a judge’s son from Boston and the child of college professors from Prairie View, Texas, came together in East New York to pursue New York City rap cred in ’88. Relocated to Brooklyn Boheme–era Clinton Hill in the early ’90s, Guru and DJ Premier became hip-hop’s prototypical DJ-MC duo, setting the standard for rap LP quality control with near-flawless statements like Step in the Arena (1990), Daily Operation (1992) and Hard to Earn (1994).—Jesse Serwer
Key track: “DWYCK" (featuring Nice & Smooth)

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DMX

Dogs do cry. If you could synthesize the career of one Earl Simmons into a three-word thesis statement, that would probably be it. DMX might be struggling for relevance right now, but at his prime, Dark Man X was simply untouchable, registering an unfathomable two No. 1 albums in a year, as well as giving us indelible classic singles, and introducing us to a young Swizz Beatz.—Drew Millard
Key track: “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”

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Big Daddy Kane

Rappers today can get by on “swag” alone, but Big Daddy Kane combined unprecedented levels of flash and finesse with unmatched technical skills. The Queens-based Juice Crew’s breakout star, Kane became Brooklyn’s first certified rap star and hip-hop’s first true sex symbol, matching suave R&B sophistication with a rugged street sensibility. And though his prime as a recording artist was brief, he remains one of rap’s most formidable live entertainers, if not its greatest showman ever.—Jesse Serwer
Key track: “Ain’t No Half Steppin’”

Big Daddy Kane nominated KRS-One as NYC's Greatest hip-hop artist

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Run-D.M.C.

Hip-hop might have gone the way of disco if Run-D.M.C. hadn’t brought it back to the streets with ’83’s minimalist, beatbox-driven “It’s Like That” and “Sucker M.C.’s.” Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels and DJ Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell revolutionized rap yet again a year later by combining it with rock (first on ’84’s “Rock Box,” then on ’86’s Raising Hell), and packaging it for middle America on hip-hop’s first run of arena tours. And no discussion of the Hollis, Queens. trio would be complete without acknowledging their immeasurable impact on fashion and business, via their embrace of—and watershed endorsement deal from—Adidas.—Jesse Serwer
Key track: “Sucker M.C.’s”

Run-D.M.C. was nominated as NYC's Greatest hip-hop artist by Posdnuos from De La Soul and El-P

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Grandmaster Flash/Melle Mel

Joseph Saddler was born in Barbados but grew up in the South Bronx, where he began deejaying. In 1978, he and five rappers formed a crew, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which became one of the most influential hip-hop collectives of all time. Its song “The Message” runs an epic seven minutes, anchored by the strongest MC of the clan, Melle Mel, and deals head-on with the tough issues affecting the band’s neighborhood at the time.—Colin St. John
Key track: “The Message”

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A Tribe Called Quest

Charter members of the Native Tongues Posse, A Tribe Called Quest made its mark on hip-hop with bass-heavy, jazz-savvy grooves, topical themes, a positive outlook and the lyrical prowess of its two key rappers, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. The Low End Theory, the group’s sophomore LP, earned a place in any serious head’s collection, not least for the sly interplay Tip and Phife injected into tunes like “Check the Rhime.”—Steve Smith
Key track: “Check the Rhime”

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Sean “Puffy” Combs

Critics treat Sean Combs—a.k.a. Puff Daddy, a.k.a. P. Diddy—like a punch line, and boosters are few, at least on purely musical terms. Combs made his greatest impact on hip-hop with his entrepreneurial skill as the magnate behind Bad Boy, the template for every would-be empire builder who followed in his wake (not to mention the master of the original Harlem Shake). Still, there’s no denying the style and sizzle in his best handful of tracks, including “I’ll Be Missing You,” his Faith Evans–boosted farewell to friend Biggie Smalls, and the coolly blistering “Is This the End?”—Steve Smith
Key track: “Is This the End?”

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Nas

Illmatic, released in 1994, stands as one of the best hip-hop debuts of all time. Raised in Queensbridge, the son of a jazz musician, Nas has taken on gangster culture, African identity and New York life throughout his prolific career. Never one to shy fromcontroversy, he’s had beef with Jay-Z, Bill O’Reilly, Jesse Jackson and many others. Last year’s Life Is Good demonstrated his continued influence, status and relevance.—Colin St. John
Key track: “If I Ruled the World”

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Beastie Boys

One of the first standout hip-hop groups in history also happened to be made up of three white MCs. The B Boys initially dabbled in punk and the group’s debut, Licensed to Ill, toed the line between the two styles. Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA enjoyed a long career with a large fan base, as well as critical acclaim, most notably for 1989’s Paul’s Boutique and 1994’s Ill Communication. Adam “MCA” Yauch died of cancer last year, leaving the future of the band in question.—Colin St. John
Key track: “Root Down”

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Wu-Tang Clan

Roaring out of Staten Island, this fearless nine-member crew forged a style and sound never duplicated or equaled. Boasting an incomparable lineup of powerful, individual voices—nearly all of whom went on to solo domination—the Clan had its glue in the RZA, whose mix of grimy film noir soundscaping, Five Percent science, kung fu lore and gangsta smack provided a backdrop for intensely personal storytelling and chant-along choruses alike.—Steve Smith
Key track: “C.R.E.A.M.”

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Public Enemy

That hip-hop transcended its early roots as a source of urban entertainment to become a powerful voice for a disenfranchised African-American community owes nearly everything to Public Enemy frontman Chuck D, who famously referred to rap as “CNN for black people.” But Public Enemy’s timely success and enduring impact had as much to do with the carny-hawker flamboyance of Chuck’s inimitable sideman, Flavor Flav, and with the wall-shaking, groundbreaking sounds of the group’s never-equaled production team, the Bomb Squad.—Steve Smith
Key track: “Fight the Power”

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The Notorious B.I.G.

Tragically, we’ll never see Notorious B.I.G.'s career reach its full potential. The mythology we’re left with, though, speaks to the brilliance and capital-G genius of Biggie; his debut album, Ready to Die, has a legitimate claim to the title of Greatest Rap Album Ever. The follow-up was just as good, though it didn’t have the benefit of his guiding hand, and that relatively tiny sample size still earns him a spot in any hip-hop discussion that involves the words Greatest or Ever. No one else at the time—maybe no one else ever—married the pop savvy that B.I.G. could pull out of his back pocket (“Hypnotize,” “Juicy”) with the hard-hitting street knock (“Gimme the Loot,” “Machine Gun Funk”) that sated the “real hip-hop” heads, while at the same time crafting powerful odes to melancholia (“Sky’s the Limit”). What other heights would Brooklyn’s finest have reached? We’ll never know.—Corban Goble
Key track: "Juicy"

The Notorious B.I.G. was nominated as NYC's Greatest hip-hop artist by Noah Callahan-Bever

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Jay-Z

While he’s traded the desire to make classic albums for more top-down tycooning in recent years, never forget this—no rapper has better endured the day-in, day-out shift of the modern rap era than Bed-Stuy’s Jay-Z. Not many rappers can list collaborators as varied as the Notorious B.I.G. (“Brooklyn’s Finest”) to Coldplay (“Beach Chair”) to UGK (the masterpiece “Big Pimpin’”) and bookended basically the entire career of modern day GOAT candidate Kanye West, while still flashing brilliance in the ’10s (Watch the Throne). An old man (26) in rap years by the time his breakthrough instant classic, Reasonable Doubt, came out in 1998—for perspective, the Notorious B.I.G. was 24 when he was murdered in Los Angeles—Jay filled the void created with Christopher Wallace’s death with gold-standard-setting LPs like 1998’s Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life, 1999’s Vol 3… Life and Times of S. Carter and 2001’s The Blueprint. Before marrying Beyoncé and fathering Blue Ivy to construct the real First Family (no shade, Obama), he was already taking others’ hot lines and making them into hot songs, running streets like drunks might run street lights, accosting others for trying (and presumably failing) their best Jay-Z renditions. For those doubting his worthiness of our top spot, he’s asked you nicely before. Don’t make him ask you again.—Corban Goble
Key track: "Hard Knock Life"

Jay-Z was nominated as NYC's Greatest hip-hop artist by Brian "B.Dot" Miller

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The 50 greatest NYC hip-hop artists: Honorable mentions

They didn’t make the list—this time around. Outraged by our list of the 50 greatest NYC hip-hop artists? Think we missed some true hip-hop heroes? The competition for the top 50 was so fierce, we made space to celebrate these artists who have made an enduring contribution to NYC hip-hop—or might just be a part of its future. Heavy D Rap’s history is littered with MCs who lost their base after going too mainstream. Whether it was rhyming on Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” or bringing the short-lived early-’90s hybrid hip-house to the charts with “Now That We Found Love,” the late Heavy D was the first rapper to master the balancing act between pop and hip-hop. What’s more, the “Overweight Lover” helped pave the way for plus-sized lotharios from Biggie Smalls to Fat Joe.—Jesse SerwerKey track: “Nuttin’ but Love”  Download on iTunes    Download on Amazon Native Tongues Posse Along with De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest (all of whom feature in our main list), the poetically minded Native Tongues collective included pioneering MCs Monie Love (from London) and Queen Latifah (New Jersey); two female MCs in a pool of too few, who were proudly woman-shaped but felt no need to use sex as their hard sell.—Sophie HarrisKey tracks: Monie Love: “It’s a Shame (My Sister).” Queen Latifah: “Mama Gave Birth to the Soul Children.” Antipop Consortium Whoever came up with the concept of “dropping science” might have been describing Antipop Consortium, a cult-fave

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The 50 Greatest NYC hip-hop artists: Guest list

You've seen the list, now hear what Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul, Peter Rosenberg and more have to say. The biggest names in New York hip-hop reveal who they think is the greatest NYC hip-hop artist. In other words, your favorite rapper's favorite rappers dish on their favorite rapper. You heard right. Talib Kweli Black Star MC and solo pioneer, No. 31 on our list of 50 greatest NYC hip-hop artists“Rakim was the artist who successfully moved hip-hop from the party and the streets to the intellectual side. But he did it without moving a step. As a lyricist, Rakim is the father of my style—he’s the father of Nas, he’s the father of anyone who is considered to be a good lyricist. He was talking about esoteric stuff, he was talking about Five Percent philosophy [Nation of Islam], he was talking about the state of the community—but he still wore Dapper Dan suits. He was still able to kick street knowledge. “So, Rakim encompasses all the great things about New York hip-hop. The grittiness, the griminess, the intelligence, the lyricism, but also being fly and making party records, you know? I think that ‘Follow the Leader’ is the best-written hip-hop song of all time. So I would have to give it to Rakim. He’s the cornerstone of anybody that takes hip-hop seriously.” You might also like The 50 sexiest songs Let our sexiest-songs playlist take you by the hand, whisper sweet nothings in your ear and lead you all the way to the bedroom. Yeah, baby! Music may very well be the food

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Comments

49 comments
Alex C
Alex C

Come on Jay-Z?! what a joke, Run-D.M.C and The Beastie Boys have more talent in their pinkie toe than Jay-Z has in own body.

Al F
Al F

jay z no. 1?    this list was created by jay z himself or his mom.   no fuckin way jay z is no. 1  GOAT...  Rakim all the way.

Jack H
Jack H

I'll never be able to fully understand why jay-z is consistently the favorite rapper of every old white person that doesn't actually like hip hop. Is it cause he worked with Coldplay? Is it cause he lives as a manhattan socialite in TriBeCa now? I don't doubt the mans a genius but putting him over biggie OR nas is just laughable. Also, where the fuck are big L, mf doom, and cam'ron?

Carlos M
Carlos M

Finished the list only to talk more shit. and as far as I can see most people commenting are agreeing. this is such a bad list that the writers seriously appear to have no knowledge of hip hop. first 50 Cent doesn't belong in the top 50. most East Coast rappers would agree to that. and second. Jay Z the best rapper ever from New York? get the fuck out of here. it goes 1. Biggie 2. Nas .3 Wu Tang (collectively) 4. KRS _One 5. Rakim 6. Melle Mel. 7 Tribe Called Quest. 8. Jay Z.   

and last P diddy is a producer. not a rapper. 

Carlos M
Carlos M

This list is terrible. I stopped reading after I saw Nicky Minaj and Asap Rocky were ahead of Slick Rick. I think it's terrible that for the past 20 years the people who have written about Hip Hop have no clue about real hip hip. stick to your top 40 hits. 

Bee
Bee

did I miss Tupac? I'm not even a die hard Tupac fan but if he was here he wasn't close enough to the top. Love Jay too, but #1??? Yeah Lauryn Hill and EPMD...totally missed. This is a bit of a mess.

Ed
Ed

Jay Z? Lame - he's a businessman. Puff Whoever? For real? Agree with lots of the comments below, Nas, Rakim Q Tip, EPMD - the list goes on.. whoever put this together clearly missed the point. It's like saying David Beckham's the best footballer in the world - the most famous, yes..

Will
Will

Lauryn Hill??? EPMD??? Kool G Rap??? Where are they? EPMD had several number one albums on the rap charts. Did this person forget that Kool Moe D existed??? I am wondering if the person who made this list actually listens to rap...

Ragga Scum
Ragga Scum

The Father of Hiphop, DJ Kool Herc, is at #47? Without him there'd be no hiphop!

John G
John G

too bad LA is the hip-hop capital of the world. Way better artists in the west

Stephanie
Stephanie

This list is lame. Slick Rick # 49, behind Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim? That's embarrassing. Puff Daddy #7? That's preposterous. Biggie came out with 2 albums and he's # 2!? Ridiculous. Rakim is the greatest! #1. Whoever made this list please kill me for having to endure the pain of comprehending such blasphemy. Then kill yourself. Thank you! Lol

Stephanie
Stephanie

I despise this list. Rakim is #1. Puff Daddy? Nicki? What a joke!

HIP HOP CULTURE WARRIOR
HIP HOP CULTURE WARRIOR

THE DEATH OF ANOTHER ART FORM, PROMPTED BY THE CULTURAL IGNORANCE AND HEGEMONIC CONTROL OF YOUNG WHITE URBAN PROFESSIONALS (YUPPIES), WHO HAVE NEITHER LIVED NOR STUDIED THE TRUE ORIGINS OF THE ART. A DISGRACE..... BE PROUD, FOR YOU HAVE USHERED IN THE DEMISE OF YET ANOTHER BLACK ART FORM.

Marcus
Marcus

Yea whoever made this list can drop dead

RobThom
RobThom

What a joke. This is the media that killed rap music.

Jose
Jose

Makes sense that a this publication would put what he knows at the top. Everyone in Brooklyn knows, BIG over Jay-Z. And Nas is the King of NY. Where is EPMD? #7 should have been Sean Comb's ghost writers and ghost producers. No BIG L??????!!!! No AZ????!!!!!!!

Frank Wright
Frank Wright

Is puffy daddy really number 7 on this list as a rapper?

DJ OFFICER BAD GUY(Twitter @OFFICER_BAD_GUY
DJ OFFICER BAD GUY(Twitter @OFFICER_BAD_GUY

This may dissappoint some of y'all, but this list has a shocking accuracy level that is 'Revenue Realistic'. I am a hardcore Philly Backpacker DJ, fan of lyricists, & underground, & I promise you, this list is jaw-dropping accurate, however, there is a margin of error. I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars. Hip Hop is so Big, a list of 50 doesn't cover an inclusive range of relevant artists, so some will be left out that shouldn't be. I know where you all are coming from. I think the same. You're talking about 'Lyrical skills, flow, lyrical shock value'. That list would include sharp with the skills greats old and new,like Nas, Gza, Vast Aire, Immortal Technique, etc. They mentioned 'Business Stats' which is sales, plus the opinions of some artists. That considered, 'Sales', is where Popular artists with laughable lack of lyrical skills will make the list. That said, if you exclude them, as well as deceased or disbanded artists and artists whose's careers are over, you get this list based on sales and skills of who is still in the game. 1. Jay-Z-Collective Sales 2. Wu-Tang Clan-Collective Sales 3. Nas-Collective Sales 4. KRS-1-Collective Sales 5. Mos Def-Collective Sales 6. Busta Rhymes-Collective Sales 7. Raekwon The Chef-Collective Sales solo career 8. Genius/Gza-Collective sales solo career 9. Mobb Deep-Collective sales 10. Boot Camp Clik(Duck Down Records)-Collective Sales 11. Kool Keith-Collective Sales 12. Talib Kweli 13. Ghostface Killah-solo career collective sales 14. El-P(MC/Producer & Owner of Definitive Jux label-Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock, etc)-collective sales solo career 15. Jean Grae. I made this list of artists based on the first. Go to wiki artist by artist and check their chart placement. I'm not saying this is 100% accurate but its close to how much these artists CDs have sold in sales total so far, with or without radio play. FYI, Tupac was from New York but he marketed himself as a West Coast Artist. This is not a 'Shock value lyricist list.' It's sort of, a how many CDs have they sold so far in total sales. Trust me. This is VERY accurate. Rare.

suggittttttt
suggittttttt

is this guy from New York? single-handedly the most amazing list I've seen. didn't bother reading the reasons for each pick in fear of actually disliking this list anymore. good job homey. lovely job. one suggestion for next time though, Rakim was a better MC than BDK. just saying. suggmahnutzzzzz

Whiterthanmost
Whiterthanmost

This list is quite possibly the worst I've ever seen. To place Slick Rick and Rakim where you did is criminal. ASAP Rocky? Nicki? Good lord. And Puffy in the top ten?! Check please...

Ethan
Ethan

No immortal technique? And nas is G.O.A.T

George
George

Reasonable doubt dropped in 1996....

Watrboi
Watrboi

This list is a funny joke. Nicki Minaj on this list makes it all irrelevant.

Mfuraz
Mfuraz

List might be messed up.But Hov deserves that spot.

Mfuraz
Mfuraz

Best rapper alive........ Best rapper alive........ You better get that dirt of you shoulders. Holla HOVITO

B@SICS
B@SICS

Whoever did this list needs to stick to whatever their primary music genre is because it clearly isn't Hip-Hop or "Rap" as they'd like to coin it. This list is all kinds of f*cked up.

Elias
Elias

Seriously this list is so flawed, Nicki manj but no big l , Rakim Kane but no kool g rap, nas ethered J so how's he higher on the list.

SJG
SJG

Bogus!!! Nas should be # 1. Where is AZ, Fabolous, MC Lyte, Big L? Honestly, I don't think Jay should be in top 5.

SJG
SJG

This list is garbage!!! NAS should be #1. Honestly, I don't even know if Jay should be in top 5. Where is AZ, Special ED, MC Lyte, and Fabolous? Bogus!

Jcon
Jcon

Reasonable Doubt came 1996. Just a heads up.

Fuckthislist
Fuckthislist

Big l nas cormega gunit the firm the lox the list goes on but they got ASAP and Nicky manaj on there lol? Really? This is a bootleg list if you ask me...PAC was fron ny as well.

Coroner
Coroner

Horibble list. Jay-Z shouldn't even be in the top 10. He's maybe the most successful businessman, but not the best rapper from NY.

Jake
Jake

Wow no L....

BIG_G
BIG_G

Excuse my typo. meant to say.... next to each other on that 'LIST"

BIG_G
BIG_G

The Thing i dont understand........ why isnt Slick Rick and Doug E Fresh next to each other on that last. SMH. MAKES NO SENSE. Another thing..... Hip Hop is VERY HARD to judge who is the best. U can "NEVER" say who is the Best of ALL TIME. u "CAN" say who is the best in their era. Record sales DONT make u the Dopest!!! This Subject will alllllways be debatable. Bottom line...... your List SUCKS!!!!

CJ
CJ

Two words about this list: Negro Please. lol.

R2D2
R2D2

Wtf 2Pac wasn't on there and Rakim and Krs-one didn't make the top 10! This is list is a Sin!!!

TZ
TZ

Big Pun in there! YES!!!! & u guyz, stop h8ting on Nicki - u kno u sing her songz when no1s looking!!

kev
kev

horrible list don't ever make a music ranking again in ur life u clearly don't kno anything about ny hiphop

David Vargas
David Vargas

Lil Kim ranked higher than Kool Herc.... your list lost credibility right there. Tuned out shortly after.

Manny Faces
Manny Faces

To be honest, for the most part, this is simply a list of 50 great NYC hip hop artists. While lists are ALWAYS subjective, and NO list can or should be argued, it's pretty clear that this list is more arbitrary than carefully constructed. It's a great list that pays tribute to a great history of artistry from our area, but it is not fully accurate, nor properly indicative of a true hierarchy, and should not have been presented as such.

Enrique
Enrique

This list lost all credibility when Nicky Minaj was on it and placed higher than Salt-n-Peppa, Slick Rick, Sugarhill Gang and Dj Kool Herc. And not to mention that Kool G Rap and Big L didn't make the cut. FAIL!!!!

Enrique
Enrique

This list lost all credibility when Nicky Minaj was on it and placed higher than Salt-n-Peppa, Slick Rick, Sugarhill Gang and Dj Kool Herc. And not to mention that Kool G Rap and Big L didn't make the cut. FAIL!!!!

Nick
Nick

Kool G Rap doesn't crack the Top 50? Pfffffff....

areal
areal

This is what happens when people who don't understand real rap and just look at charts and sales do "rap" list they pick the most popular person Nas is No.1 and Big is No. 2 Jay-z is third at best knock it off