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45.9k voters

The Best Rap Lyricists of All Time

Updated October 27, 2020 427.0k votes 45.9k voters 474.2k views195 items

Update: Dive into the best new hip hop with our list of 2020's top rap songs.

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.

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  • Eminem1
    19,925
    7,812

    Eminem

    The Marshall Mathers LP, The Slim Shady LP

    Genres (Music)Hip hop

    Marshall Bruce Mathers III (born October 17, 1972), known professionally as Eminem (; often...  more
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  • Nas2
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    Nas

    Illmatic, Life Is Good

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop, East Coast hip hop

    Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, better known as Nas, is an American rapper, songwriter, record...  more
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  • Rakim3
    8,196
    3,162

    Rakim

    The 18th Letter, The Archive: Live

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop

    William Michael Griffin Jr. (born January 28, 1968), better known by his stage name Rakim, is...  more
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  • Kendrick Lamar4
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    Kendrick Lamar

    good kid, m.A.A.d city

    Genres (Music)Hip hop

    Kendrick Lamar Duckworth (born June 17, 1987) is an American rapper, songwriter, and record...  more
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  • André 30005
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    André 3000

    Royal Flush, Class of 3000: Music Volume One

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop, Rock music, Electronic music, Rhythm and blues

    André Lauren Benjamin (born May 27, 1975), better known by his stage name André 3000 (formerly...  more
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  • Wu-Tang Clan6
    5,558
    1,464

    Wu-Tang Clan

    Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, Wu-Tang Forever

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop, Gangsta rap, Mafioso rap

    Wu-Tang Clan is an American hip hop group formed in the New York City borough of Staten Island...  more
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  • The Notorious B.I.G.7
    11,797
    4,604

    The Notorious B.I.G.

    Ready to Die, Life After Death

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop, Gangsta rap, Mafioso rap

    Christopher George Latore Wallace (May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997), known professionally as The...  more
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  • Tupac Shakur8
    14,209
    5,572

    Tupac Shakur

    All Eyez on Me, Me Against the World

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Political hip hop, Gangsta rap, West Coast hip hop

    Tupac Amaru Shakur ( TOO-pahk shə-KOOR; born Lesane Parish Crooks, June 16, 1971 – September...  more
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  • MF Doom9
    2,946
    970

    MF Doom

    Vaudeville Villain, Operation: Doomsday

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop, East Coast hip hop, Avanthop, Underground hip hop

    Daniel Dumile (born 1971), better known by his stage name MF Doom (stylized in all caps), is a...  more
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  • Outkast10
    3,025
    782

    Outkast

    Stankonia, Aquemini

    Genres (Music)Alternative hip hop, Dance-pop, Jazz, Electronica, Southern hip hop

    Outkast (stylized as OutKast) is an American hip hop duo formed in 1992 in East Point,...  more
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    #1 of 189 The Best Rappers From Atlanta#282 of 297 The Best Duos of All Time

  • Ghostface Killah11
    3,207
    1,318

    Ghostface Killah

    Ironman, Supreme Clientele

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop, Gangsta rap, Contemporary R&B

    Dennis Coles (born May 9, 1970), better known by his stage name Ghostface Killah, is an...  more
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  • J. Cole12
    8,043
    3,156

    J. Cole

    Born Sinner, The Warm Up

    Genres (Music)Hip hop

    Jermaine Lamarr Cole (born January 28, 1985) is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and...  more
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  • N.W.A13
    2,584
    1,014

    N.W.A

    Straight Outta Compton, Niggaz4Life

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Political hip hop, Gangsta rap, G-funk, West Coast hip hop

    N.W.A (an abbreviation for Niggaz Wit Attitudes) was an American hip hop group from Compton,...  more
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  • Method Man14
    4,329
    1,865

    Method Man

    Tical, 4:21... The Day After

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop

    Clifford M. Smith Jr. (born March 2, 1971), better known by his stage name Method Man, is an...  more
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  • Black Thought15
    2,238
    975

    Black Thought

    Book of Judges

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music

    Tariq Luqmaan Trotter (born October 3, 1971), better known as Black Thought, is an American...  more
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  • A Tribe Called Quest16
    2,767
    1,108

    A Tribe Called Quest

    The Low End Theory, Midnight Marauders

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Jazz rap, Alternative hip hop, Rhythm and blues, Alternative rock

    A Tribe Called Quest was an American hip hop collective formed in 1985 and originally composed...  more
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  • Busta Rhymes17
    3,312
    1,473

    Busta Rhymes

    When Disaster Strikes…, The Big Bang

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Ragga, Dancehall, Hardcore hip hop, Pop music

    Trevor George Smith Jr. (born May 20, 1972), known professionally as Busta Rhymes, is an...  more
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  • Royce Da 5'918
    3,399
    1,632

    Royce Da 5'9

    Rock City, Street Hop

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop, Midwest hip hop, Detroit hip hop

    Ryan Daniel Montgomery (born July 5, 1977), better known by his stage name Royce da 5'9", is...  more
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  • Big L19
    4,836
    2,355

    Big L

    The Big Picture, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Horrorcore, Hardcore hip hop, Gangsta rap, Underground hip hop

    Lamont Coleman (May 30, 1974 – February 15, 1999), known professionally as Big L, was an...  more
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  • Raekwon20
    2,405
    1,080

    Raekwon

    Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Instrumentals, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, East Coast hip hop, Mafioso rap

    Corey Woods (born January 12, 1970), better known by his stage name Raekwon () , is an...  more
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  • GZA21
    2,202
    1,020

    GZA

    Liquid Swords, Grandmasters

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Hardcore hip hop

    Gary E. Grice (born August 22, 1966), better known by his stage names GZA ( JIZ-ə) and The...  more
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  • Mos Def22
    4,733
    2,331

    Mos Def

    Black on Both Sides, True Magic

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop, Rock music, East Coast hip hop, Conscious hip hop

    Yasiin Bey (; born Dante Terrell Smith; December 11, 1973), better known by his stage name Mos...  more
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  • Ice Cube23
    6,723
    3,307

    Ice Cube

    AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, The Predator

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop, Political hip hop, Hardcore hip hop, Gangsta rap

    O'Shea Jackson (born June 15, 1969), known professionally as Ice Cube, is an American rapper,...  more
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  • Redman24
    2,638
    1,288

    Redman

    Muddy Waters, Whut? Thee Album

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music

    Reginald Noble (born April 17, 1970), better known by his stage name Redman, is an American...  more
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  • KRS-One25
    3,674
    1,794

    KRS-One

    Hip Hop Lives, Return of the Boom Bap

    Genres (Music)Hip hop music, Alternative hip hop, Hardcore hip hop, East Coast hip hop

    Lawrence "Kris" Parker (born August 20, 1965), better known by his stage names KRS-One, and...  more
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