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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40
Lil' Kim

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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39
ASAP Rocky

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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38
Foxy Brown

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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37
Doug E Fresh

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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36
Digable Planets

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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35
Nicki Minaj

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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34
Pete Rock and CL Smooth

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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33
Biz Markie

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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32
Ghostface

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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31
Talib Kweli

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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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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