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.

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50
Das Racist

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?”

49
Slick Rick

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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48
Salt N Pepa

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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47
Kool Herc

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

46
Rammellzee

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”

45
Jean Grae

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”

44
El-P

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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43
Sugarhill Gang

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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42
Funky Four Plus One

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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41
Jungle Brothers

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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Users say

46 comments
Andre G
Andre G

Nas at #6 puzzles me. 

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

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