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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20
Mos Def

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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19
LL Cool J

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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18
50 Cent

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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17
Africa Bambaataa

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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16
KRS-One

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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15
Rakim

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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14
De La Soul

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

13
Gangstarr

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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12
DMX

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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11
Big Daddy Kane

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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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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