Here are Blaze Magazine’s 50 Best Rappers of 1999

In their February 1999 issue, Blaze Magazine decided to rank the 50 best rappers of all-time. Their metrics: skills, impact, innovation, consistency, and longevity.

Ranking rappers is a perpetually controversial undertaking–there’s no ordering of an inherently subjective and personal art form that will please everybody. Blaze’s rankings skew heavily toward New York, an inevitability considering the location of the publication and the genre’s relative newness at the time. Still, Ras Kass, as good as his debut album Soul On Ice may be, was never the forty-fourth best rapper ever. (He might rank ten spots higher in Los Angeles rappers ranking.) Ras Kass’ value, like many of the token Westerners and Southerners on the list, lay in his similarity to New Yorkers; regional scenes were–and remain–undervalued and critically denigrated.

Green Label has further, manifest issues with Blaze’s list: why is the highest ranked Wu-Tang Clan member, Raekwon, only number 27? And where’s Ghostface? Why is Andre 3000 only thirty-third? And where’s Big Boi? And where are Pimp C and Bun B? And DJ Quik? The people demand answersanswers which weren’t particularly forthcoming, as Blaze’s staff only wrote short capsules for those outside the top ten.

Here are their top 50 MC’s of all-time as interpreted by a surly critic old enough to know Big Willie Style was corny, but young enough to know all the lyrics to “Country Grammar.” Bicker away.

best rappers of 1999

50. Pharoahe Monch

What Blaze said: “…master of storytelling rhymes that put him at bird’s-eye view of an assortment of urban existential nightmares…”
Too high, too low, or about right? Sure
Why? Pharoahe Monch: The perennial underdog, forever underappreciated, with a discography spanning two decades, yet to fall prey to dyspeptic old rapper stereotypes. Monch’s considerable technical abilitieswhich alone don’t make an artist even palatableis the trait which most obviously separated him from other rappers.

49. MC Ren

What Blaze said: “Self-styled villain who helped define the gangsta sound as part of the N.W.A.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Too high, reluctantly
Why? Had Ren rapped much of what he ghostwrote, he would’ve received critical adulation and canonizationeven within N.W.A.’s biopic, Ren was wedged into second-class billing. Despite the cinematic short shrift, Ren, who wrote much of the group and Eazy-E’s material, was arguably the touchstone of N.W.A. He was in Dickies when Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were still rocking Flavor Flav clock necklaces and Member’s Only jackets.

48. Lord Finesse

What Blaze said: “Funky technician and punchline genius who stayed strapped with clever metaphors and biting one-liners.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Way too high
Why? Saying Lord Finesse is ranked too highly as the 48th best rapper isn’t an immense knock on his career; Finesse was, indeed, quick with quips, but his strength as an artist were his instrumentals. His flip of Oscar Peterson’s “Dream of You” for “Hip 2 Da Game” is a classic.

47. Queen Latifah

What Blaze said: “Jersey rap royalty who brought womanism to wax…reached souls everywhere.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Way too high
Why? The apex of Queen Latifah’s rap career was brief; between 1989 and 1993, she became an emblem of both enlightened feminism and Afrocentrism in a genre much more eager to accept the latter than the former. Her rap career was largely halted by her success on the silver screen, and it’d feel like tokenism to anoint her the 47th best in lieu of others who were excluded from the initial list. Still, Latifah’s estimable peaks should be appreciated.

46. Schoolly D

What Blaze said: “Laid the foundation for a thematic style later perfected in the West. Straight hardcore–at its best.”
Too high, too low, or about right? In 1999, sure. Now? Too high.
Why? There’s much debate about who started gangster rap, and, amongst the various parties, Schoolly D has legitimate purchase. Despite repeatedly hinting at deeper nefariousness on “PSK, What Does It Mean?,” D never technically defines the acronym (Park Side Killers, for those interested). Although, compared to N.W.A.’s lurid criminal tales, “PSK…” is rather staid, it was released two years in advance of N.W.A. and the Posse, and inspired Ice-T’s breakout “6 ‘N The Morning.”

50 best rappers of 1999

45. Ras Kass

What Blaze said: L.A. intellectual who raised the bar for the West Coast. Proved that the ‘Wesside’ could spit African-centered history and diatribe with intensity and authority.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Dude.
Why? As is mentioned in the introduction, Ras Kass’ popularity amongst the Blaze staff was clearly a result of his similarity to New York rappers. This isn’t meant to denigrate his abilities or achievements–Soul On Ice is a really good album–but meant to point out a flaw in criticism. Ras Kass may be a technically superior rapper to West Coast luminaries DJ Quik and Warren G, but ranking him ahead of G-Funk legends is laughable.

44. Biz Markie

What Blaze said: “Pioneering rap funnyman and oddball who cobbled innocuous rhymes, ear-splitting crooning and beat box expertise into classics.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Too high
Why? Rap’s Clown Prince has been unfairly branded as a “one-hit wonder.” The truth is that, in terms of joke-rap songs that are both good and funny, Nobody Beats The Biz. “Just A Friend,” “Vapors,” and “Make The Music With Your Mouth Biz” are classics. Alas, Biz’ discography isn’t strong enough to consider him the 44th best to ever do it.

43. E-40

What Blaze said: “Fast-talking MC…whose innovative lyrical architecture fueled his emergence onto the national scene…”
Too high, too low, or about right? Probably too low.
Why? If Too $hort is the omnipresent of Bay Area rap, then E-40 is the messiah, spreading the gospel in a rubbery voice all his own. E-40, 23 years after the release of Federal, is still making hits and scoring high-profile guest features; he was better than Big Sean on “I Don’t [Mess] With You,” used the word “bozo” on Ty Dolla $ign’s “Saved,” and turned a brutally simple concept on “Choices (Yup)” into an anthem.

42. Busta Rhymes

What Blaze said: “Visual, vocal marvel who evolved from member of Leaders of the New School to solo innovator on wax and on video.”
Too high, too low, or about right? OK
Why? If present-day missteps are forgiven, then Busta Rhymes is acceptable for number 42. Busta’s tongue-twisting, unrelenting rhymes marked him as a star-in-the-making while a member of Leaders of the New School, and it was inevitable that he’d depart for a solo career. The late ’90s and early 2000’s proved to be fecund times for the dreadlocked rapper, and his visual instincts helped catapult him to mainstream prominence. Listen to his recent work at your own discretion.

41. MC Lyte

What Blaze said: “Brooklyn tomboy who represented lovely for the second generation of female mic fiends.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Too high
Why? MC Lyte was the most talented female rapper of her generation. The Audio Two mentee’s Lyte As A Rock was the first rap album by a woman, and included her disemboweling of Antoinette, “10% Dis,” and hit “Paper Thin.” Lyte, like the aforementioned Queen Latifah, was at the vanguard of pro-women rap. Alas, Lyte was less a stylistic innovator than passenger– “Ruffneck” was nominated for a Grammy, but doesn’t reflect anything specifically Lyte-like.

50 best rappers of 199940. Eazy-E

What Blaze said: “Gangstafied Napoleon who took others’ rhymes and, with his high-pitched flow, made them his.”
Too high, too low, or about right? About right
Why? Eazy-E was everything East Coast purists hated about gangster rap: there were no spiritual lyrical miracles or Africa pendants, just a really short guy in Raiders gear, dripping with Soul Glo and bravado. Eazy was the fourth-best rapper in N.W.A., but emblematic of the group’s persona–a knucklehead who succeeded by playing a comic book villain.

39. Cee-Lo

What Blaze said: “Goodie Mob frontman whose soulful Southern voice gives testimonials for the hoodrats, revolutionaries, and bohos.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Too high
Why? Since the publication of this list, it’s probable that no one has damaged their standing in rap more than Cee-Lo. In 1999, Cee-Lo was still a member of the Goodie Mob, and, writ large, the Dungeon Family, an epic agglomeration of talent that included Outkast, Goodie Mob, a young Future (still known as Meathead), Killer Mike, and producers Organized Noize. In 2016, he’s the guy from The Voice with a dicey rep who hasn’t had a hit in six years.

38. Fresh Prince (Will Smith)

What Blaze said: “Philly pop-rap phenom. Among first to mine profits with lyrics that weren’t profane, violent or misogynist.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Way too high
Why? Will Smith, under the guise of the Fresh Prince, was a capable rapper and excellent performer, whose crossover singles were family-friendly fare. But rewarding artists for making safe choices, which adhere to widely accepted moral codes, is bad criticism. There are plenty of rappers who aren’t profane, violent, or misogynistic while still rebelling and transgressing. The Fresh Prince wasn’t one of them.

37. Snoop Dogg

What Blaze said: “Long Beach G whose laid-back lyrical strolls put The Chronic and Dr. Dre on top.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Too low
Why? If one’s definition of good rapping is inextricable from speediness and logorrhea, then Snoop Dogg isn’t a good rapper. Snoop wasn’t polysyllabic or hurried, but slithered over instrumentals. One of the great what-if?s in rap is Snoop’s second album, Tha Doggfather, which didn’t feature Dr. Dre’s production because Suge Knight wouldn’t allow his involvement.

36. Method Man

What Blaze said: “Helped propel Wu-Tang Clan to worldwide prominence with ‘Method Man’ single. Copped a well-deserved Grammy with ‘All I Need,’ biggest hit mediocre solo debut Tical.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Probably too low
Why? Blaze’s editorial staff may have been the only people to think Tical was mediocre, because it features some of the Wu canon’s finest moments: “Bring The Pain,” “Meth vs. Chef,” “Release Yo Delf,” and the aforementioned “All I Need.”

50 best rappers of 199935. Grand Puba

What Blaze said: “Original Master of Ceremony who became Brand Nubian’s boastful, enlightening standout.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Way too high
Why? On one hand, Brand Nubian splitting up denied fans a follow-up to the group’s excellent One For All. On the other hand, it meant Grand Puba didn’t have to spend time around Lord Jamar anymore, so maybe it was for the best. His 1992 solo debut, Reel to Reel, was well-received, but has aged poorly relative to its competition; Showbiz & AG’s Runaway Slave was released the same year, and despite its superiority, Blaze wasn’t doing AG any favors when it came to ranking rappers.

34. Doug E. Fresh

What Blaze said: “Beat box innovator and ‘World’s Greatest Innovator’ whose collaborations with Slick Rick…earned him a spot in rap’s pantheon.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Too high
Why? Because Doug E. Fresh’s best, had it been sustained, would have an argument for the 34 spot. But, because Doug E. Fresh’s best wasn’t sustained, it doesn’t have a strong argument for those born after 1980.

33. Andre 3000

What Blaze said: “The prophetic poet from OutKast who pointed a new direction for southern MCs…Heartfelt revelations mark him as a true artistas does boho fashion sense.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Way too low
Why? That Blaze heard Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, ATLiens, and Aquemini and decided “Andre 3000’s good, but he’s no Grandmaster Caz!” is absurd. Stankonia, released a year after this issue hit shelves, further solidified ‘Dre as one of the most thoughtful, gifted rappers ever. Outkast’s four album run (five, if you actually like The Love Below) appears to be an ever-replenishing wellspringfew rappers of the ’90s, if any, can claim to have the same indelible influence as Andre and Big Boi.

32. Treach

What Blaze said: “Jersey ghetto bastard to penned anthem after anthem…Influenced countless MCs with lightning-quick delivery.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Understandably too high
Why? Naughty By Nature, led by Treach, were the premier crossover group of the ’90s. Though woke teenagers will forever re-discover A Tribe Called Quest, Outkast, De La Soul, etc. when in search of emotional nuance, Naughty By Nature practically manufactured catchy, accessible singles. “O.P.P.,” “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Hip Hop Hooray” remain throwback rap radio staples. Alas, it’s difficult to track Treach’s influence—fast-rappin’ was hardly the hallmark of a single person in the ’90s.

31. Ice-T

What Blaze said: “Los Angeles mic jacker credited with established ‘gangsta rap’ on the West Coast through his ‘crime rhyme’ style and Iceberg Slim persona.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Too high, unfortunately
Why? Ice-T is a legend, partially because of his masterful sense of aesthetics. The art for Rhyme Pays, Power, The Iceberg…, and Home Invasion are classics, but his (ironic) role as a quip-deliverin’ cop on Law & Order: SVU has cemented late-career Ice-T as a loveable figure by mainstream America’s children. Claims of inventing gangster rap are complex, and perhaps overblown, but Ice-T deserves a special place in every rap fan’s heart.

50 best rappers in 199930. Kool Keith

What Blaze said: “Madcap charter member of the groundbreaking Ultramagnetic MCs. Offbeat, barely rhyming style essentially established him as an inimitable genius.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Sure
Why? In a genre which lionizes eccentrics, and whose fans function as foaming-mouth cultists, there’s no more obvious candidate for small-scale godhead than Kool Keith. There’s simply no one like him; his array of alter-egos is unmatchable, his lyrics id-driven outerspace ur-horrorcore and amateur erotica. Keith is like an alien (or some kind alien gynecologist..) who crash landed in the 1960’s Bronx, who hasn’t bothered fixing his spaceship for a return home.

29. The D.O.C.

What Blaze said: “Dallas native whose solo career was cut short by a throat injury. Held his own with entire N.W.A. roster on debut.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Way too high, sadly
Why? No One Can Do It Better is a West Coast classic. But it’s also the only album the D.O.C. recorded before a car accident crushed his larynx. Like the aforementioned MC Ren, it’s difficult to apportion weight for prolific ghostwriting, which became The D.O.C.’s sole creative avenue after the loss of his voice. Saying The D.O.C. could have become the 29th best rapper ever is a much less controversial opinion than saying that he did achieve these lofty heights.

28. GZA

What Blaze said: “Wu-Tang dark horse’s infrequent appearances only leave listeners craving more of his complex, vivid styles.”
Too high, too low, or about right? About right
Why? Had GZA maintained the brilliance of Liquid Swords, he’d rank higher. Beneath The Surface and Legend of the Liquid Sword, GZA’s second and third efforts, were in dire need of production by his cousin, RZA, whose gritty kung-fu samples provided him a perfectly grey-black palette. He’s the wizened samurai covered in scar tissue, high atop a boney steed, trotting into moonlit villages to share the knowledge he’s accrued on his travels. Liquid Swords is, to some, the ne plus ultra of Wu-Tang solo albums.

27. Raekwon

What Blaze said: “Destroyer of traditional rhyme writing, creator of a whole new lyrical approach: ‘Raebonics,’ a flurry of lyrical darts strung together for bars and bars.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Too low.
Why?  If NBA Jam rules are in effect, then the team of Raekwon and Ghostface is shoving and dunking on all-comers. On Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, the Staten Island goons, in blue ‘n’ cream Clark’s Wallabees and Polo shirts, are whirlwinds of Five Percenter pseudo-science and home chemistry. There’s an almost Beatnik linguistic urgency and fungibility, an infinite number of fiends dragging themselves through the streets at dawn, looking for an angry fix.

Perhaps most shocking about Blaze’s rank of Wu-Tang members is the exclusion of Ghostface Killah entirely. Although he’d “only” released Ironman at the time of publication an effort which surpasses the best of many of those includedGhostface was already a distinct voice in rap.

26. Common

What Blaze said: “Sensible Chicago poet whose bouncy, nasal inflection and biting punchlines rescued the Windy City from obscurity.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Who knows?
Why? People love Common. He’s the type of person who’s impeccably chivalrous, wears seasonal clothing, and makes lots of eye contact. Resurrection, his second album, received lots of post-hoc attention after an initially lukewarm reception, which earned the Chicagoan wider mainstream attention. He’s the socially conscious rapper.

50 best rappers in 199925. Q-Tip

What Blaze said: “Formidable songwriter who shored up flow with lyrical craftsmanship and humorous, mature insight.”
Too high, too low, or about right? A little low
Why? Blaze had a reasonable temptation to overrate the heroes of their youth at the expense of then-active artists. In February 1999, A Tribe Called Quest has just broken up after one, final album (The Love Movement), and Q-Tip was about nine months away from releasing his semi-controversial Amplified, a pop-friendly release almost solely produced by J Dilla. Q-Tip was never prone to densely filigreed lyrics—that was more Phife’s role in the Tribe—instead opting for nasal, gentle ripplings.

24. Busy Bee

What Blaze said: “Crowd-rocker and ’70’s vet who crushed microphones back when hip hop had yet to grow beyond the block party.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Who knows?
Why? Busy Bee was unlucky. His generation, who pieced together rap from the shards of Black culture, never had the infrastructure to properly capitalize on their talents. Busy Bee was, deservedly, featured in Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style, but his releases (like every other rapper’s) from that period are sparse. Truly experiencing Busy Bee, and rap as a whole in the early ’80s, was essentially restricted to those who lived in New York City.

22. Scarface

What Blaze said: “Anchor of the Geto Boys who helped put the Lone Star State on the map. Flexed potential on ‘Mind Playing Tricks On Me’ and expanded further during influential solo career, mastering the ability to wax reflective.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Too low
Why? For all the alarum and quandry and chin-stroking about Kanye West’s seventh album, The Life of Pablo, and his continued popularity. Scarface’s seventh album was The Fix, a borderline classic. Were there a Southern rap Mt. Rushmore, surely Scarface’s, er, face would be carved into it. Without Scarface and the Geto Boys, rap music would be markedly worse.

21. Lauryn Hill

What Blaze said: “Hip hop Nina Simone who carried the weight of less-talented Fugees brethren for two consecutive albums. Surprised everyone with a brilliant R&B-oriented solo debut. Upped the intellectual ante for MCs nationwide, female and male.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Uhh..
Why? Lauryn Hill was, once upon a time, a very good rapper, and I won’t say another word about her.

50 best rappers in 199920. Redman

What Blaze said: “…Jersey grime rhymer. Consistent lyrical innovations mark four critically lauded albums…”
Too high, too low, or about right? About right. Possibly underrated.
Why? Filming How High? and short-lived television series Red & Meth alongside Method Man probably left Redman’s bank accounts flush. But they may have simultaneously reduced the rapper to a face-pulling stoner sidekick for a generation of would-be listeners. Redman’s recombinant flows–unhinged, fast, pointed, sing-songy, syrupy–and sense of self-deprecating humor made him one of the ’90s’ premier rappers.

19. Kool Moe Dee

What Blaze said: “Used eloquent baritone to craft successful solo career.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Way too high.
Why? Kool Moe Dee’s How Ya Like Me Now was released in 1987, the same year as Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid in Full. The former was largely produced by Teddy Riley, New Jack Swing impresario and then-member of R&B group Guy, the latter by “Eric B.”–in reality a cajoled and uncredited Large Professor. The difference is clear: Teddy Riley’s production was glossy and sterile, Eric B./Large Professor’s was hard-hitting and crafted from crackling soul and funk records. When Blaze says Kool Moe Dee had an “eloquent baritone,” one should read that as “His delivery was wooden.”

18. Posdnous

What Blaze said: “Mic philosopher who grew from playful intellectual…into mature overseer. Perhaps the most complicated MC ever.”
Too high, too low, or about right?
About right. Maybe a bit low.
Because Posdnous led De La Soul, who, when ranking groups, would be near the very top. The “hip-hop hippies” label was too liberally applied to the Plugs, which they refuted with the art for their second album, De La Soul Is Dead–an overturned pot with wilted daisies. Posdnous, Dave, and Maseo are much more than flower children.

17. Kurtis Blow

What Blaze said: “Original King of Rap. Reign on the mic was relatively short, but achievements were historic.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Too high
Why? The 17th-greatest rapper of all-time should, ideally, have a strongest discography than Kurtis Blow. His strength, when arguing his place amongst the greatest rappers, are his firsts: the first rapper signed to a major label, the first rapper to be certified Gold (“The Breaks”), the first rapper to undertake a national tour, and the first rapper in a nationally televised commercial. Blow’s success was due, in no small part, to his appearance and his PG subject matter.

16. Too $hort

What Blaze said: “Oaktown microphone mack who did it the same way–his way–for a decade straight.”
Too high, too low, or about right? About right.
Why? Though Too $hort wasn’t technically the first Bay Area rapper–that was Motorcycle Mike–he’s the wellspring from which the region’s rich tradition emanates. Without Too $hort, there’s no E-40, Mac Dre, and, one could argue, Tupac. The remarkably prolific Short Dawg’s current four year hiatus between records is his longest since 1987.

50 best rappers in 199915. Nas

What Blaze said: “Queensbridge upstart who translated comparisons to Rakim into one of the hottest solo debuts ever…Still enjoys commercial success despite critical thumbs-downs to follow-up solo and The Firm Collaboration.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Way too low.
Why? Nas’ status in 1999 was that of a false prophet, which, for many, remains the case. Those expecting Illmatic 2 were disappointed by It Was Written and I Am… And those same people would’ve expected Nas to remain an arrested boom-bap Lost Boy forever. Nas, a complex character whose discography spans two decades, is surely better than 15th-best. Illmatic has legitimate purchase on claims of being the greatest rap album ever.

14. Melle Mel

What Blaze said: “True-school rhyme master…among the first to combine political rhymes and tight leather outfits.”
Too high, too low, or about right? In rap’s first 20-ish years, maybe.
Why? Ranking rappers across multiple decades is like comparing athletes over a similar span: The forms themselves have been so heavily altered that baseline metrics are impossible. Was Melle Mel integral to rap’s development? Absolutely. Does Melle Mel, when not being used to bolster Macklemore’s credibility, influence contemporary artists? No.

13. Run & 23. D.M.C.

What Blaze said about Run: “Undisputed MC legend…With D.M.C., proved that hardcore lyrics with crossover potential were worth millions.”
What Blaze said about D.M.C.: “Best known for three distinctive features: The voice. The glasses. The B-boy stance.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Sure.
Why? Before Run-D.M.C.’s logo became meme-ified, they were the most popular rap group in the world. The Hollis, Queens rappers (and DJ, Jam Master Jay) were both style icons–adidas sponsorees long before Kanye ever draped himself in a shawl–and loud, nails-hard crossover stars whose endeared them to a country beginning to come to terms with rap music.

12. Chuck D

What Blaze said: “Public Enemy frontman who brought the politicized stentorian noise that shook our very consciousness.”
Too high, too low, or about right? About right.
Why? Public Enemy’s four records between 1987 and 1991 was a near-unimpeachable run of greatness, which helped politicize a generation of young people and soundtracked Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. Chuck D’s booming voice and the Bomb Squad’s barely contained chaos sounded like revolution.  Elvis was hero to most. He didn’t mean anything to Chuck D, or those who loved P.E..

11. Grandmaster Caz

What Blaze said: “Rap cornerstone who authored ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ the song that introduced the art form to the American mainstream.”
Too high, too low, or about right? Who knows?
Why? Caz’ rhyme book was used for “Rapper’s Delight” (with Big Bank Hank going so far as to call himself “the C-A-S-AN, the O-V-A”) but he never received royalties or formalized credit. There are very few recordings of Caz, and his group Cold Crush Brothers, at their peaks, and it’s nearly impossible to compare the disco-inflected stylings of the late-’70s and early-’80s with contemporary rapping.

50-best-rappers-in-1999.jpg10. Ice Cube

What Blaze said: “Circa ’89…the world belonged to a Compton G named O’Shea Jackson.”
Too low, too high, or about right? About right
Why? It’s important to properly adjudge Ice Cube’s involvement in NWA. Not only was he a founding member of the group, he wrote most of the verses on Straight Outta Compton and collaborated with The D.O.C. and MC Ren to write much of Eazy-E’s debut, Eazy-Duz-It. Between his solo career, memberships in NWA and Westside Connection, and his ghostwriting, Cube’s biggest rivals in sheer number of West Coast classics are Tupac and, less convincingly, Dr. Dre.

9. Jay-Z

What Blaze said: “He makes it seem so easy. The manner in which Jay-Z boasts of superior intelligence, wealth and skills makes the efforts of other MCs look foolish.”
Too low, too high, or about right? About right?
Why? One’s stance on Jay Z (he eliminated the hyphen in 2013) is near-inextricable from one’s stance on Nas, their beef, and the ideas which the rappers were thought to represent; those of a carefree bent likely prefer the former, those of a stern mien likely prefer the latter. Jay Z’s peaks are excellent, but the returns have been diminishing for much of this century, and cratered on Drake’s execrable “Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2.” The impetus to rap has understandably gone for Jigga Man. The durag is off.

8. Slick Rick

What Blaze said: “The master storyteller took listeners on a lyrical journey: part fantasy, part reality; part humor, part tragedy.”
Too low, too high, or about right? Too high. Maybe.
Why? Blaze assessed Slick Rick’s abilities correctly: Few rappers of any era can approach the easygoing, charismatic raconteur. Unfortunately for Rick, he spent many of the years following his debut The Great Adventures of Slick Rick in prison. It’d take ten years for him to release a true sequel, The Art of Storytelling, which hadn’t yet been released during the production of this issue. Blaze’s ranking of Slick Rick was entirely based on his great first album and his mostly unfulfilled artistic potential, rather than a summarily great career.

7. Tupac

What Blaze said: “…who knew that Pac would burn himself so indelibly into our consciousness? But he did. With gold and platinum hits galore…With heartfelt subject matter that elevated average rhyme skills…”
Too low, too high, or about right?
Way too low.
Saying that Tupac had “average rhyme skills” is a dog whistle for “The West Coast sucks.” It’s true: Tupac wasn’t quite the technical equal of Notorious B.I.G., but he was significantly above average, and his passionate, earnest performances easily compensated for this perceived shortcoming. There isn’t a “respectable” (hah) and currently working (hah hah) rap critic who’d rank Tupac this low.

6. Kool G Rap

What Blaze said: “He broadcast chilling narratives, doling out street lore in its purest form.”
Too low, too high, or about right? Slightly too high. Again.
Why? Kool G Rap is one of the most influential rappers ever–without G Rap’s lisped mafioso lyrics, New York City’s Golden Era of Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, et. al would’ve sounded different. What drags Kool G Rap down (a tad) is the latter half of his discography; as his stylistic successors came of age, his powers were waning.

50 best rappers in 19995. LL Cool J

What Blaze said: “His most recent war proved he not only remains relevant, but that he has skills. And he’s still hard as hell.”
Too low, too high, or about right? Way too high
Why? Like KRS-One, extreme LL Cool J fandom is very much a product of age. For some, LL Cool J is forever the insouciant teen in a red Kangol. For others, he’s the guy who made the worst song in recorded history, “Accidental Racist.”

4. Big Daddy Kane

What Blaze said: “His eloquent flow, metaphor manipulation and superslick fashion sense is evident in a slew of rappers…from Jay-Z to Snoop Dogg.”
Too low, too high, or about right? Slightly too high
Why? Big Daddy Kane’s ranking, like Rakim’s, isn’t affected by an evolving discography (Kane hasn’t released a project since 1998). Rather, it was those making the list who slightly overrated himhe “only” has two undeniably great albums, but Long Live The Kane and It’s A Big Daddy Thing still make King Asiatic Nobody’s Equal a worthy inclusion in almost any top ten.

3. The Notorious B.I.G.

What Blaze said: “Christopher Wallace changed the course of rap forever with his deft blend of humor and pathos, gangsterism and poetry, hardcore skills, and mainstream marketability.
Too low, too high, or about right? Too low, probably
Why? Twenty years after his death, it remains unlikely that another rapper has performed with greater élan than Biggie. He and Tupac are widely considered the two greatest to do it–choosing one is far more a matter of preference than remotely objective fact. The Brooklyn rapper’s murder tragically truncated an already incredible career.

2.  KRS-One

What Blaze said: “Say what you will–and the most polarizing figure in hip hop has plenty of critics–but no one can front on the Blastmaster’s impact.”
Too low, too high, or about right? Too high
Why? KRS-One’s acclaim is a generational divide; Blaze’s staff came of age with the edutaining, sometimes pedantic, rapper, and wrote this list before living through 16 further years of crotchetiness. KRS has a place on a top rappers list–where he places is a matter of age and how much emphasis one places on late-career missteps.

1. Rakim

What Blaze said: “He’s a living signpost, the embodiment of rap’s transition into the modern era.”
Too low, too high, or about right? Slightly too high
Why? Rakim’s stature as a great rapper is undoubted–he’s still probably top 10–but anointing him the greatest seems a step too far in hindsight. Blaze did have him pegged correctly as the rapper who transitioned to the genre to elaborate, internal rhyme schemes. He, Big Daddy Kane (4), and Kool G Rap (6) defined the Silver Era of New York Rap, which laid the foundation for arguably the greatest period in the genre’s history.

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