The Best Old School Hip Hop Groups/Rappers

Over 28.1K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Best Old School Hip Hop Groups/Rappers
Voting Rules
Should be rappers and hip hop artists who rap in the style that emerged from New York in the late '70s to early '90s.

If you're a fan of rap music, you should have at minimum a base knowledge in old school rap. If not for old school rappers, it's highly unlikely that rap would have evolved into the popular artform that it is today. Many of old school rappers are widely respected by the artists repsonsible for today's biggest hip hop hits. For the sake of this list, all of the classic old school hip hop artists featured became popular during the rap's golden age, which occurred during the 1980s through the mid-1990s. The diversity, innovation and ultimately, the influence of of these old school rappers cannot be stated enough.

So, who are the best old school rappers? If you know old school rap, you know that the likes of Run DMC, De La Soul, Eric B & Rakim, Gang Starr, Grandmaster Flash and the Beastie Boys. These names are widely recognized as some of the best old school rappers. If not for the contributions of these artists, old school rap, and thus, good rap music would cease to exist.  Who are your favorite old school rap artists?

That said, it's to you to determine the best old school rap. If you are familiar with old school rap and old school rappers, feel free to chime in with your vote. If you notice someone isn't on this list and should be, feel free to add them. This list answers the questions "who are the best old school hip hop bands of all time?" and "who is the greatest old school hip hop musician ever?" If you know enough about the genre, please vote based on the quality of the band's music instead of just voting for the most popular old school hip hop bands that you might've heard of.

Most divisive: D12
Ranked by
  • Tupac
    12,551 votes

    With a career spanning only five years, this phenomenal artist managed to leave an indelible mark on the hip-hop scene with his powerful lyricism, dealing with contemporary social issues and raw emotions. His iconic albums, Me Against the World and All Eyez on Me, are considered to be some of the best in hip-hop history, showcasing his incredible storytelling capabilities and deep understanding of the struggles faced by African Americans. The influence of his profound poetry, advocacy for change, and tragically short life continue to reverberate through hip-hop music and culture even today.

  • Often referred to as one of the greatest rappers of all time, this Brooklyn-born MC was known for his impeccable flow, vivid narratives, and larger-than-life persona. His debut album, Ready to Die, remains a landmark in hip-hop storytelling, with tracks like "Juicy" and "Big Poppa" showcasing his ability to craft memorable hooks and relatable tales of struggle and success. Despite a life and career cut tragically short, the indelible mark left by this hip-hop heavyweight on the genre remains undeniable and continues to inspire new generations of artists.

  • Ice Cube
    7,944 votes

    Once a prominent member of the groundbreaking hip-hop group N.W.A, this rapper made a name for himself as a solo artist with a powerful voice for the socio-political issues faced by African Americans in the late '80s and early '90s. His debut solo album, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, saw him boldly tackling themes of racism, police brutality, and social inequality, solidifying his position as an important voice within the hip-hop community. With a career spanning over three decades, including numerous successful forays into acting and producing, the impact of this trailblazing artist on both hip-hop and popular culture is immense.

  • Nas
    4,311 votes

    Hailing from Queensbridge, New York, this highly influential rapper debuted with the game-changing album Illmatic, which is still widely regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. With intricate wordplay, vivid storytelling, and a smooth, effortless flow, this artist masterfully painted a compelling picture of life in inner-city New York from the perspective of a young African American male. His influential career and consistent output over nearly three decades have cemented his status as a hip-hop legend and an inimitable lyricist.

  • N.W.A
    8,684 votes

    Comprised of talented MCs Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren, and DJ Yella, this revolutionary hip-hop group emerged from Compton, California, in the late 1980s and boldly pioneered the gangsta rap subgenre. Their incendiary debut album, Straight Outta Compton, caused immense controversy due to its raw, unapologetic depiction of life in the city and its criticism of police brutality. This groundbreaking group's influence continues to be felt in the hip-hop world today, having paved the way for countless artists to unabashedly speak their truth.

  • Dr. Dre
    6,155 votes

    As a founding member of N.W.A and a highly influential hip-hop producer, this artist has played a pivotal role in shaping the sound and direction of West Coast hip-hop. His debut solo album, The Chronic, not only catapulted him to superstardom but also introduced the world to the G-funk subgenre, characterized by smooth melodic hooks and heavy basslines. With a career spanning over 30 years, a knack for discovering and mentoring new talent, and numerous successful business ventures, this hip-hop mogul continues to make waves in the industry.