Diehard fans, music nerds and critics love lists. But in rap, rankings like this take on a special level of import: aside from moving a crowd (shouts to Rakim), MC means proving you’re the best. In no other genre do artists so blatantly express their desire to outdo competition. That made Billboard‘s editorial list a more high-stakes undertaking than usual. Many favorites — Kane, Drake, KRS — didn’t make it, and each of those omissions hurts deep down. Note: we’re ranking these folks as MCs, not artists. That’s why Dr. Dre and Kanye West, for example, two legendary producer-rappers who don’t match the mic skills of those listed here, were left out. Even Tupac, perhaps the most influential rapper ever globally, is arguably known more for great songwriting than dominant bars.
Eminem, born Marshall Bruce Mathers III, is an American rapper, actor and music producer born on October 17, 1972 in St. Joseph, Missouri. Eminem has sold over 300 million records making him the bestselling hip-hop artist of all time. In addition to his solo career, he is a member of D12 and (with Royce da 5’9″) half of the hip-hop duo Bad Meets Evil.
Rolling Stone ranked him 83rd on its list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, calling him the King of Hip Hop. Including his work with D12 and Bad Meets Evil, Eminem has had ten number-one albums on the Billboard 200 and 5 number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, and 13 worldwide.
Tupac Amaru Shakur, also known as 2Pac, was an American rapper and actor born on June 16, 1971 in East Harlem, New York. Tupac sold over 75 million records worldwide and has been referred to in multiple major publications such as Rolling Stone as one of the greatest music artists of all time. 2Pac was assassinated on September 1996 at the age of 25. Although 2pac is dead, he’s heavily rumored to still be alive .
3. The Notorious B.I.G
Christopher George Latore Wallace, better known by his stage name, The Notorious B.I.G (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls), is consistently ranked as one of the best rappers of all time. The Notorious B.I.G was born May 21, 1972, he was born in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 24 The Notorious B.I.G was murdered on March 9, 1997 in a drive by shooting in Los Angeles, California, to this day it’s unknown who murdered him.
Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, better known by his stage name Nas, is an American rapper and entrepreneur born on September 14, 1973 in New York City. His album, Illmatic, is considered to be one of the best rap albums of all time. He is also considered to be one of the best rappers of all time.
Shawn Corey Carter, known by his stage name JAY-Z, is an American rapper, record producer, entrepreneur and investor born on December 4, 1969 in Brooklyn, New York. He is best known for his albums Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, and The Black Album. He is considered to be one of the best rappers of all time.
6. Dr. Dre
Andre Romelle Young, better known by his stage name Dr. Dre, is an American rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur born on February 18, 1965 in Compton, CA. He is the founder and current CEO of Aftermath Entertainment and Beats Electronics.
7. Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar Duckworth (born June 17, 1987) is an American rapper and songwriter. Raised in Compton, California, Lamar embarked on his musical career as a teenager under the stage name K-Dot, releasing a mixtape that garnered local attention and led to his signing with indie record label Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE).
William Michael Griffin, Jr., better known by his stage name Rakim, is an American rapper. He was born on January 28, 1968.
9. Ice Cube
O’Shea Jackson, born June 15, 1969 in Baldwin Hills, CA, known by his stage name Ice Cube, is an American rapper, record producer, actor, and filmmaker. He began his career as a member of the hip-hop group C.I.A and later joined the seminal gangster rap group N.W.A. After leaving N.W.A in December 1989, he built a successful solo career in music and films.
10. Kanye West
Kanye Omari West is an American rapper, songwriter, and fashion designer. He was born on June 8, 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia. After West’s parents divorced, him and his single mother moved to Chicago, Illinois. At the age of 10, West temporarily moved to Nanjing, China, because his mother was teaching at Nanjing University. As a child, art such as poetry and drawing fascinated him. By the age of 13, West was already recording hip-hop songs. West received a scholarship for several universities as a teenager, but dropped out after recognizing that the universities he was attending was not meeting up with his expectations.