New York Hip Hop
The history of New York hip hop dates back to the early 1970s in the post-industrial South Bronx as African-Americans and Hispanic youths saw hip hop as a means to express themselves freely. With the help of DJ Kool Herc, the “Father of Hip-Hop”, this genre would make its way from the streets of New York City, to expanding across the globe, by the biggest genre of music in the 2020s.
Top 50 New York Hip Hop Artists (No Order)
Now a mogul in hip-hop, Jay-Z has become the most idolized and admired rapper of our time. Beginning under the wing of Jaz-O, but with Dame Dash and Biggs, he founded Roc-A-Fella Records, as Jay-Z’s career in hip-hop began to take off following the release of Reasonable Doubt. Gradually rising to hip-hop prominence, Jay-Z would eventually become the all-time great, with catalog of classics like The Blueprint, The Black Album, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life.
Debuting with one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time, Illmatic, Nas’ lyrical ability and artistic approach has given not dull moment in hip-hop. From 1994’s Illmatic, to the Grammy nominated King’s Disease II released in 2021, Nas has stayed persistent and consistent throughout his time in hip-hop.
3. Notorious BIG
To many, the Notorious BIG, or Biggie Smalls, is the greatest rapper to have ever lived. Unfortunately, due to the East Coast vs West Coast beef, Notorious BIG’s life and career was cut short, long before he reaped all the praise for his work, leaving the world only two classic albums, Ready to Die and Life After Death.
Overlooking any controversy or personal problems, DMX had one of the greatest careers of hip-hop history. A long list of hits, like “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” “Slippin'”, “Party Up (Up in Here),” “What These Bitches Want,” “What’s My Name?,” “X Gon’ Give It to Ya,” and “Where the Hood At?”, at his best and in his prime DMX was untouchable.
5. Run DMC
Three of hip-hop’s first true icons, Run DMC were the number one artists of the 1980s. Growing up in Hollis, Queens, Run DMC became the first of their kind influencing styles and fashion throughout pop and urban culture.
6. LL Cool J
The first superstar of hip-hop, while not only did the ladies love cool James, but LL Cool J was almost everybody’s favorite MC during the 1980s. A career spanning over 30 years, from the mid-1980s to the mid-2010s, LL Cool J produced classics like “Phenomenon,” “Doin’ It,” “Hey Lover,” “Around the Way Girl,” “Mama Said Knock You Out,” “I’m Bad,” “I Need Love,” and many more.
7. Beastie Boys
Icons, legends, pioneers, the Beastie Boys were one of a kind. Forming as band during the start of the 1980s, and later implementing hip-hop into their music, Ad-Rock, Mike D, and MCA would solidify the Beastie Boys stance in hip-hop history with the forever classic Licensed to Ill, and continuing to release classics and fan favorites well into the late 1990s with Hello Nasty.
8. Nicki Minaj
Introduced to the world during the late 2000s and early 2010s, but first with Gucci Mane, as she was only viewed as a mixtape artist. Following her stint with Gucci Mane, she joined Lil Wayne’s Young Money and would eventually become one of the world’s most notable pop stars. After millions of records sold and gaining millions of fans worldwide, it can be debated if Nicki Minaj is the greatest female hip hop artist of all-time. As of today, Nicki Minaj is still releasing music and is still relevant with high ranking status of today’s rap game.
9. 50 Cent
Transitioning from a rap artist to a television and film producer, 50 Cent was once the hottest rapper in the game. Growing up in Southside Jamaica, Queens, 50 Cent began his career under the mentorship of Jam Master Jay, making his debut featuring on ONYX’s “React”, and releasing the controversial song “How to Rob.” While his first album Power of the Dollar saw little success, after linking with Eminem and Dr. Dre, 50 Cent would release one of the hip hop’s greatest albums, Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
10. Public Enemy
A powerful rap group of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Public Enemy truly represented for the people. Chuck D, with hip hop’s most iconic hype man Flavor Flav, led one of hip hop’s most important eras, an era of conscious rap.
11. A Tribe Called Quest
Hailing from Queens, New York, the four-member group of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed, and Jabori formed A Tribe Called Quest. The kings of an alternative style rap, A Tribe Called Quest had successful run during the 1990s with “Scenario,” “Bonita Applebum,” “Can I Kick It,” “Check the Rhime,” all while placing themselves in the conversation as one of the greatest hip hop groups.
12. Big Pun
Another career cut short, Big Pun became a legend, possibly the most significant Latino rapper in hip-hop history. Discovered by Fat Joe and becoming a member of Terror Squad, before his passing Big Pun blessed music lovers with “Still Not a Player” and “It’s So Hard,” and albums like the Grammy nominated Capital Punishment and Yeah Baby.
At his best, the lyrical content and ability of KRS-One was in a league of its own, especially when the Bronx native was at the top of his game. Beginning as a member of Boogie Down Productions, a group that produced songs like “South Bronx”, “9 Goes Bang”, and “The Bridge Is Over”, KRS-One would continue his rise in hip-hop history following his time with Boogie Down Productions with the release of his first official solo album, Return of the Boom Bap.
14. Slick Rick
Originally born in the UK, before migrating to the Bronx, Slick Rick began his journey through hip-hop under the wing of Doug E. Fresh, before becoming one of the most standout artist of his generation, known for his trademark sense of style with a neck full of jewelry. Despite a short prison sentence, Slick Rick’s legacy would base around albums like The Great Adventures of Slick Rick and The Art of Storytelling.
Praised and often viewed as one of the best to master the art form of hip hop, Rakim’s career spanned from his days as the duo Eric B. & Rakim, which led to one the greatest hip hop albums, Paid in Full, to eventually linking with Dr. Dre, to finally ending a solo career with the classics The 18th Letter and The Master.
16. Salt N Pepa
These three women, Salt, Pepa, and DJ Spinderella, were one of the first hip hop acts that reached pop star level stardom. Salt N Pepa became known for hit songs like “Push It,” “Let’s Talk About Sex,” and “Shoop,” all while dominating hip hop throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.
17. Method Man
One of the leading faces of the legendary hip hop group of the Wu-Tang Clan, long before a rap career turned into an acting career, appearing in The Wire and movies like Belly, Method Man was among the leaders of hip hop. Hit songs like “You’re All I Need to Get By,” “Bring the Pain,” along with his time with Wu-Tang, makes him among the all-time greats.
18. Big Daddy Kane
During a time when hip-hop was a still growing art form, Big Daddy Kane was at the top of the game, mastering the craft to level that were yet to be seen. Known for “Ain’t No Half Steppin'” and “Smooth Operator,” the swagger of Big Daddy Kane and his approach to the microphone was well ahead of his time.
19. Mobb Deep
Queensbridge’s finest, the duo of Prodigy and Havoc created a handful of classic hip-hop hits, “Shook Ones” and “Quiet Storm”, through multiple eras of being in the rap game. As a group, the two of them accomplished much, but individually they were equally as successful, Havoc as one of New York’s top producers and Prodigy having a successful solo career.
Cam’ron was the most influential rapper of the early 2000s, and one of the only rappers representing NYC during a time when the city was losing its position in hip hop to the South. Beginning his career with single “Horse & Carriage”, not until his third album, Come Home with Me, did Cam’ron and the Diplomats become household names in hip-hop.
21. Lil Kim
Queen B is probably the most iconic female hip hop artists of all-time. Lil Kim was way ahead of her time as many of the current top female artists seem to be knowingly, or unknowingly, adopting her raunchy style. With three platinum selling albums, Hard Core, The Notorious K.I.M., and La Bella Mafia, Lil Kim easily left her mark in rap history.
22. De La Soul
An Afrocentric, neo-soul, progressive style of rap, De La Soul formed as a trio in Long Island during the late 1980s. Following their formation, the group released their debut album 3 Feet High and Rising, which became an instant classic. De La Soul would continued to release music through the 1990s and 2000s, building a core fanbase in a niche subgenre of hip-hip.
23. Big L
New York’s best kept secret, despite having short lived career, and life, Big L still managed to become a legend in the community of Harlem and viewed and admired as the greatest rapper to hail from the legendary community, especially with the classic The Big Picture.
The trio that formed Whodini were early innovators of hip-hop, with songs like “Freaks Come Out at Night,” “Friends,” and “One Love” becoming some of the biggest hits of the 1980s.
25. Kool G Rap
One of the first true street rappers, hailing from Queens, Kool G Rap was well before his time. Starting his career with the legendary Juice Crew, Kool G Rap would emerge as a pioneering New York rapper starring in the niche category of gangster rap.
26. Fat Joe
The leader of the Terror Squad debuted during the early 1990s as Fat Joe Da Gangsta, following the release of his first single “Flow Joe”. While Fat Joe’s biggest hits came later into his career, Fat Joe became one of New York’s more respectable artists during the 2000s. Over the course of his career, Fat Joe would produce hits like “Lean Back,” “All The Way Up,” “What’s Luv,” and “Make It Rain,” featuring Lil Wayne.
27. Biz Markie
Known for hits like the “Vapors” and “Just a Friend,” Biz Markie later transformed his career as an iconic rapper into becoming one of the more notable hip-hop DJs, often having a prominent role in television DJing television hosts.
28. MC Lyte
Easily one of the most respected hip hop artists of the 1990s, as consistency led to MC Lyte’s longevity as well admiration for her artistry as one of the best hip hop lyricists of all-time.
29. Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Unique as they come, Ol Dirty Bastard quickly emerged as one of hip-hop’s most standout artists, after beginning his career under the umbrella of the Wu-Tang Clan. Debuting with a Grammy nomination for Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, which included songs “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Brooklyn Zoo”, only to release one of his biggest hits “Got Your Money” on his sophomore album, the personality and the character of ODB will always be remembered.
30. Kurtis Blow
Possibly the very first star in hip hop, a career that began during the late 1970s and flourished during the 1980s, while becoming famously known for songs like “The Breaks”.
31. Doug E Fresh
The legendary beatboxer by the name of Doug E Fresh was another one of the first true stars of hip hop during the 1980s. “The Show” and “La Di Da Di”, along with his iconic performances, positioned him in hip-hop’s “Hall of Fame.”
32. Mos Def
Now known as Yasin Bey, the Brooklyn native was on top of hip hop’s late 1990s and 2000s conscious rap era, at least before turning to acting. Debuting with Talib Kweli as Black Star, only after releasing several songs like “Universal Magnetic” and other tracks under Rawkus Records, Mos Def would later become known for the classic Black on Both Sides.
Brought into the game with the help of DJ Clue, Fabolous “I Can’t Deny It” with Nate Dogg gave him his introduction to hip-hop fans. Throughout the 2000s, and still pushing a career into the 2020s, Fabolous became New York’s most lyrical artist, especially during a time in rap where the importance of lyrics were slowing fading away.
34. Ja Rule
Entering the game with “Holla, Holla” and as one of the key contributors of New York’s late 1990s and early 2000s movement, Ja Rule was one of hip-hop’s top artists during his run in the industry. Albums like Rule 3:36, Pain Is Love, The Last Temptation, RULE, brought some of the some of the biggest hits in hip hop of the era.
35. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Over 40 years since the release of The Message, remains the most important song in hip hop history. An intricate role in the growth of hip hop, The Message, one of the first rap music videos, but also one of the very first to showcase a social side of hip-hop.
36. Brand Nubian
Three individual legends in hip-hop, Grand Puba, Sadat X and Lord Jamar, helped formed the conscious rap group of Brand Nubian, debuting in the early 90s with One for All.
One of everybody’s favorite Wu-Tang Clan artists, Raekwon stepped out of the shadows of the Wu with his 1995 freshman release. With multiple projects released throughout his career, none came close to one of hip-hop’s best albums of all-time, Raekwon’s freshman album of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, along with its sequel, 2009’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II.
38. Talib Kweli
Ironically, the Brooklyn native received his start in hip-hop with the help of Cincinnati producer Hi-Tek. Collaborating with producers and artists alike, Talib Kweli’s artistic abilities gave him a top position among the hip-hop’s conscious and Afrocentric rap.
39. The Lox
Entering the game under Bad Boy Records with the album Money, Power, & Respect, before later linking with the Ruff Ryders, the Lox would later have individual careers of success as Jadakiss, Sheek, and Styles P all while becoming three of New York’s top artists and best lyricists of the 2000s, one of the few rappers on the list that still have remained relevant into the 2020s.
The Mashed Out Posse, hailing from Brooklyn, is probably the most underrated rap group of all-time. But with the hit songs like “Ante Up,” “How Bout Some Hardcore,” and “Cold as Ice,” M.O.P easily held their own in New York’s hip hop scene.
41. Kool Mo Dee
The Wild Wild West became Kool Mo Dee’s biggest hit as projects like Kool Moe Dee , How Ya Like Me Now , Knowledge Is King gave the Harlem MC elite status in hip hop during the 1980s.
42. Fat Boys
One of the top hip-hop acts of the 1980s, beatboxing and rhyming with their own sense of style, along with adding a sense of humor and comedic approach to their artistry, became one of the first hip hop groups to reach quite success.
43. Roxanne Shante
A true pioneer for women rappers as Roxanne Shante was one of the first female hip hop artists that not only gained notoriety, but also respect for her craft as a hip hop artist during a time when rap was just starting and dominated by men.
44. Masta Ace
Another former member of the Juice Crew, to date Masta Ace has become one of the underrated legends of hip-hop, legendary career that expanded well outside of the NYC into the international markets.
45. Lost Boyz
Led by Mr. Cheeks and Freaky Tah, the Queens rap group would become famously known for hits like “Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz & Benz” and Renae, all on the their debut release Legal Drug Money.
Featuring both Fredro Starr and Sticky Fingaz, both known for their acting and rap careers, making their rounds through hip-hop with one of the biggest club hits “Slam.”
46. Foxy Brown
Foxy Brown is female hip hop artist that at times seems to be forgotten legend. With a strong presence in hip hop during the late 1990s, Foxy Brown released Ill Na Na, Chyna Doll, and Broken Silence, all platinum and gold selling records, as well being part of the rap group The Firm with Nas and AZ.
The N.O.R.E and one half of CNN (Capone N Noreaga), Noreaga made his breakthrough being one of the very first rappers working producers Pharrell and Neptunes on the “Superthug” track.
Beginning his career as a member of Harlem’s Children of the Corn, alongside Cam’ron and Big L, until eventually linking with Puff Daddy and becoming one of Bad Boy’s top artist. Arguably one of the greatest hip-hop albums of the 1990s, Ma$e’s debut album of Harlem World was an instant success.
49. Remy Ma
While a stint in prison shorten her career, at least until she came back home with hip hop’s top record of the year, “All the Way Up,” building momentum for a new journey for the Bronx native. Remy Ma was among the top female hip hop artists of the early 2000s, as well one of New York’s top rappers during that time, with her first album being released in 2005, There’s Something About Remy: Based on a True Story.
50. Juelz Santana
While the trajectory of Juelz Santana’s career had him once on the same path as Lil Wayne, no other artists were as big as the Diplomats during the early and mid 2000s, led Cam’ron, Jim Jones, and of course Juelz Santana.
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