Music

The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time 

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Originally by Ranker Community
Updated December 5, 2019 381.8k votes 39.7k voters 405.7k views 206 items

A list of the best rap lyricists of all time. Since hip hop and rap music became popular at the beginning of the 1980s, many fans of the genre have focused on the message described in each rapper's lyrics. A form of street poetry, rap lyrics focus on many different things, dependent on who is speaking of the harsh realities of the streets. Others, contrarily, rap about the glamorous life and what it's like to live large. Sometimes, lyrical rappers fluctuate between both of these extremes.

The best lyrical rappers are universally respected by both their peers and fans for the honesty and the way they use their words in a creative fashion. Some of the most respected wordsmiths came from the golden age of hip hop. Here, you had groups like Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, N.W.A. and Black Star and individual rappers like KRS-One and Nas who are universally known as the best lyricists of all time. On the other side of the coin, you have two of the greatest rappers of all time, Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., who connected with millions of hip hop fans due to their strong lyrics that touch on the harsh realities of urban culture. A rapper who has switched from rapping about his rough upbringing to glitz and glamour is Jay Z. His debut album was universally praised for talking about life in Brooklyn during his youth, and his recent album was panned for praising brands like Tom Ford and excess.

This list includes many of greatest rappers of all time, who are also among the genre's most popular as well. The one thing these rappers have in common is their lyrics are considered some of the best in the history of hip hop music. These top lyricists are the greatest of all time, and it's up to you to decide who is the best lyricist in rap music. Cast your votes below.

list ordered by
1
Tupac Shakur is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Political hip hop & Gangsta rap; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: All Eyez on Me, Me Against the World, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, Still I Rise, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z..., + more

Labels: Amaru Entertainment, Death Row Records, Interscope Records

Tupac Amaru Shakur ( TOO-pahk shə-KOOR; born Lesane Parish Crooks, June 16, 1971 – September 13, 1996), also known by his stage names 2Pac and Makaveli, was an American rapper and actor. He is ...more

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2
Eminem is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: The Marshall Mathers LP, The Slim Shady LP, The Eminem Show, Infinite, Recovery, + more

Labels: Aftermath Entertainment, Web Entertainment, Game Recordings, Mashin' Duck Records, Rawkus Records, + more

Marshall Bruce Mathers III (born October 17, 1972), known professionally as Eminem (; often stylized as EMINƎM), is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer, record executive, film ...more

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#140 of 453 The Greatest Singers of the Past 30 Years #229 of 282 The Best (Male) Actors Working Today The Best Eminem Songs of All Time

3
Kendrick Lamar is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: good kid, m.A.A.d city, Section.80, Overly Dedicated, Memories Back Then, + more

Labels: Aftermath Entertainment, Top Dawg Entertainment, Interscope Records

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth (born June 17, 1987) is an American rapper, songwriter, and record producer. He is regarded as one of the most skillful and successful hip hop artists of his ...more

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4
Nas is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop & East Coast hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Illmatic, Life Is Good, Untitled Nas album, It Was Written, Stillmatic, + more

Labels: Def Jam Recordings, Ill Will Records, Columbia

Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, better known as Nas, is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer and actor. He is the son of jazz musician Olu Dara. Since 1994, Nas has released eight ...more

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#17 of 498 The Greatest Rappers Of All Time #6 of 138 The Dopest Rappers of the '90s The Best Nas Songs

5
André 3000 is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop & Rock music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Royal Flush, Class of 3000: Music Volume One, DoYaThing, The Sleazy Remix

Labels: LaFace Records, RCA Records

André Lauren Benjamin (born May 27, 1975), better known by his stage name André 3000 (formerly Dre), is an American musician and actor best known for being part of hip hop duo ...more

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#23 of 138 The Dopest Rappers of the '90s #574 of 2,175 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time The Best Songs Feat. Andre 3000

6
Rakim is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop & East Coast hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: The 18th Letter, The Archive: Live, Lost & Found, The Master, Addictive, + more

Labels: 4th & B'way Records, MCA Records, Universal Records, Island Records, Aftermath Entertainment, + more

William Michael Griffin Jr. (born January 28, 1968), better known by his stage name Rakim, is an American rapper. One half of golden age hip hop duo Eric B. & Rakim, he is widely regarded as ...more

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#61 of 498 The Greatest Rappers Of All Time #18 of 138 The Dopest Rappers of the '90s #17 of 82 Rappers with the Best Album Discography, Ranked

7
The Notorious B.I.G. is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop & East Coast hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Ready to Die, Life After Death, Born Again, Duets: The Final Chapter, Greatest Hits, + more

Labels: Atlantic Records, Uptown Records, Bad Boy Records

Christopher George Latore Wallace (May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997), known professionally as The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, or Biggie, was an American rapper. He is widely considered to be ...more

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8
Wu-Tang Clan is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time

Albums: Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, Wu-Tang Forever, 8 Diagrams, The W, The Swarm, + more

Labels: Loud Records, Various Wu-Recording Labels, Universal Motown Republic Group, Sony Music Entertainment, SRC Records, + more

Wu-Tang Clan is an American hip hop group formed in the New York City borough of Staten Island in 1992, originally composed of rapper-producer RZA and rappers GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, ...more

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9
J. Cole is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
raynakuzio added Genre: Hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Born Sinner, The Warm Up, Friday Night Lights, Cole World: The Sideline Story, The Come Up, + more

Labels: Sony Music Entertainment, Roc Nation, Columbia

Jermaine Lamarr Cole (born January 28, 1985) is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer. Born on a military base in Germany but raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Cole ...more

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#93 of 119 Current Singers You Most Wish You Could Sound Like #262 of 1,038 The Worst Bands & Musicians of All Time The Best Songs Feat. J. Cole

10
Ghostface Killah is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop & East Coast hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Ironman, Supreme Clientele, Fishscale, Fried Fish, Bulletproof Wallets, + more

Labels: Def Jam Recordings, Epic Records, Epic Street Records

Dennis Coles (born May 9, 1970), better known by his stage name Ghostface Killah, is an American rapper, songwriter and actor and member of the Wu-Tang Clan. After the group achieved ...more

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Method Man is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop & East Coast hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Tical, 4:21... The Day After, The Riddler, I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By, Tical 0: The Prequel, + more

Labels: Def Jam Recordings

Clifford M. Smith Jr. (born March 2, 1971), better known by his stage name Method Man, is an American rapper, record producer and actor. He is known as a member of the East Coast hip hop ...more

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#21 of 138 The Dopest Rappers of the '90s #33 of 82 Rappers with the Best Album Discography, Ranked The Best Method Man Albums of All Time

12
Ranker Video
Genre: Hip hop music, Ragga & Dancehall; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: When Disaster Strikes…, The Big Bang, The Coming, Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front, C'Mon (Catch 'em by Surprise), + more

Labels: Conglomerate, Aftermath Entertainment, Universal Motown Republic Group, Violator, Cash Money Records, + more

Trevor George Smith Jr. (born May 20, 1972), known professionally as Busta Rhymes, is an American rapper, singer, musician, record producer, record executive, and actor. Chuck D of Public Enemy ...more

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13
Ice Cube is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop & Political hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, The Predator, Death Certificate, Lethal Injection, Laugh Now, + more

Labels: Lench Mob Records, Priority Records, EMI, Ruthless Records, Virgin Records, + more

O'Shea Jackson (born June 15, 1969), known professionally as Ice Cube, is an American rapper, actor, producer, director and writer. Ice Cube initially gained recognition in 1984 as a member of ...more

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14
Mos Def is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop & Rock music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Black on Both Sides, True Magic, The New Danger, The Ecstatic, Mos Dub, + more

Labels: Downtown Records, Priority Records, Geffen Records, Rawkus Records, GOOD Music

Yasiin Bey (; born Dante Terrell Smith; December 11, 1973), better known by his stage name Mos Def (), is an American rapper, singer, actor and activist. Best known for his music, Bey began his ...more

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#222 of 282 The Best (Male) Actors Working Today #29 of 138 The Dopest Rappers of the '90s The Best Mos Def Songs

15
Outkast is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time

Albums: Stankonia, Aquemini, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, ATLiens, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, + more

Labels: Sony BMG Music Entertainment, LaFace Records, Sony Music Entertainment, Zomba Group of Companies, Arista Records, + more

Outkast (stylized as OutKast) is an American hip hop duo formed in 1992 in East Point, Georgia, composed of Atlanta-based rappers André "André 3000" Benjamin (formerly ...more

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16
Big L is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time

Albums: The Big Picture, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, Children of the Corn: The Collector's Edition, The Archives 1996–2000, Harlem's Finest – A Freestyle History, + more

Labels: Sony Music Entertainment, Rawkus Records, Columbia

Lamont Coleman (May 30, 1974 – February 15, 1999), known professionally as Big L, was an American rapper. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most lyrical rappers of all time, and ...more

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17
Royce da 5'9" is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop & Midwest hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Rock City, Street Hop, Death Is Certain, Lost and Found, The Bar Exam 3: The Most Interesting Man, + more

Labels: Tommy Boy Entertainment, Game Recordings, M.I.C Records, Shady Records, E1 Music, + more

Ryan Daniel Montgomery (born July 5, 1977), better known by his stage name Royce da 5'9", is an American rapper and songwriter. He is best known for his longtime association with Eminem as ...more

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18
N.W.A is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Gbi KalibataCity added

Albums: Straight Outta Compton, Niggaz4Life, Greatest Hits, Family Tree, 100 Miles and Runnin', + more

Labels: Priority Records, Interscope Records, Ruthless Records, EMI Records, Capitol Records

N.W.A (an abbreviation for Niggaz Wit Attitudes) was an American hip hop group from Compton, California. They were among the earliest and most significant popularizers and controversial figures ...more

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19
Redman is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Muddy Waters, Whut? Thee Album, Doc's da Name 2000, Blackout!, Red Gone Wild: Thee Album, + more

Labels: Def Jam Recordings, Shady Records

Reginald Noble (born April 17, 1970), better known by his stage name Redman, is an American rapper, DJ, record producer, and actor. He rose to fame in the early 1990s as an artist on the Def Jam ...more

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#78 of 498 The Greatest Rappers Of All Time #71 of 149 The Best Hot Ones Guests Ever The Best Redman Albums of All Time

20
Ranker Video
Genre: Hip hop music, Horrorcore & Hardcore hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, ...And Then There Was X, Grand Champ, + more

Labels: Bloodline Records, Def Jam Recordings, EMI, Ruff Ryders Entertainment, Her Royal Majesty's Records, + more

Earl Simmons (born December 18, 1970), known professionally as DMX, is an American rapper and actor. He began rapping in the early 1990s, and released his debut album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot ...more

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#41 of 498 The Greatest Rappers Of All Time #1,433 of 2,003 The Greatest Actors & Actresses in Entertainment History The Best DMX Songs

21
KRS-One is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop & Hardcore hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Hip Hop Lives, Return of the Boom Bap, Criminal Minded, The Kristyles, KRS-One, + more

Labels: B-Boy Records, Jive Records, E1 Music, Duck Down Music Inc., RCA Records

Lawrence "Kris" Parker (born August 20, 1965), better known by his stage names KRS-One, and Teacha, is an American rapper and occasional producer from The Bronx, New York. He rose to ...more

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#45 of 498 The Greatest Rappers Of All Time #833 of 2,175 The Greatest Musical Artists of All Time

22
Raekwon is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, East Coast hip hop & Mafioso rap; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Instrumentals, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II, Immobilarity, Avenging Eagles, The Lex Diamond Story, + more

Labels: Universal Records, Aftermath Entertainment, Loud Records, EMI, Interscope Records, + more

Corey Woods (born January 12, 1970), better known by his stage name Raekwon () , is an American rapper and a member of Wu-Tang Clan. He released his solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... in ...more

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23
A Tribe Called Quest is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time

Albums: The Low End Theory, Midnight Marauders, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, The Love Movement, Beats, + more

Labels: Jive Records

A Tribe Called Quest was an American hip hop collective formed in 1985 and originally composed of MC and main producer Q-Tip, MC Phife Dawg, DJ and co-producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and MC ...more

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24
Big Pun is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Genre: Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop & East Coast hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Capital Punishment, Yeeeah Baby, Endangered Species, The Legacy: The Best of Big Pun, It's So Hard, + more

Labels: Terror Squad Entertainment, Loud Records

Christopher Lee Rios (November 10, 1971 – February 7, 2000), better known by his stage name Big Pun (short for Big Punisher), was an American rapper. Emerging from the underground hip hop scene ...more

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25
MF Doom is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time
Nightstalker55 added Genre: Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop & East Coast hip hop; Nationality: United States of America

Albums: Vaudeville Villain, Operation: Doomsday, Special Herbs and Spices, Volume 1, Special Herbs, + more

Labels: Stones Throw Records, Fondle 'Em Records, Nature Sounds, Shaman Work Recordings, Lex Records, + more

Daniel Dumile (born 1971), better known by his stage name MF Doom (stylized in all caps), is a US-based English rapper, songwriter, and record producer from Long Island, New York. Best known for ...more

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