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The A to Z of Hip Hop: Essential Artists

The A to Z of Hip Hop: Essential Artists

Hip Hop is to music what the alphabet is to writing. The one does not exist without the other. Check out our definitive list of Hip Hop best, greats and GOAT’s.

A – Afrika Bambaataa: Hip Hop starts with Afrika Bambaataa and his Universal Zulu Nation throwing down beats in the South Bronx since the 1980’s. He is widely regarded as one of Hip Hop’s founders.

Check out: Planet Rock – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MChRVrT_p1Q

B – Big Daddy Kane: Widely considered to one of the best MC’s of all time and a major influence on rap’s late golden age scene.

Check out: Ain’t No Half Steppin – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2l2O-JOXG_I

C – Common: The rapper, actor, poet, and film producer has won 1 Oscar, 8 BET Awards, 1 Golden Globe, 1 Emmy and 3 Grammys.

Check out: The People – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7B2VgRShew

1994, Los Angeles, California, USA — Rap Artist Dr Dre at Home — Image by © Neal Preston/Corbis

D – Dr Dre: The OG of West Coast G-funk started spinning for World Class Wreckin Cru, then formed N.W.A. and produced countless young stars. Nothing was as big as his 1992 solo, The Chronic… except for Beats by Dre.

Check out: Still DRE – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CL6n0FJZpk

E – Eminem: Marshall Bruce Mathers III was the biggest selling rapper of the 2000’s with over 220 million albums sold. With 15 Grammys, most other rappers name him as the GOAT.

Check out: Lose Yourself – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yhyp-_hX2s

F – Funkmaster Flex: Hailing from the Bronx, Flex was a pioneer of Hip Hop radio hosting the first show on New York radio, exposing many future stars. In Flex We Trust.

Check out: Nuttin’ But Flavor – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TRsOt8lIdU

G – Grandmaster Flash: The pioneer of DJing, cutting, scratching and mixing, Flash and The Furious Five were the first Hip Hop act to be inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

Check out: The Message – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PobrSpMwKk4

H – Lauryn Hill: First bursting onto the scene as part of The Fugees and through starring roles in movies like Sister Act 2, the New Jersey MC cemented her place in Hip Hop history with her seminal 1998 album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

Check out: Doo-Wop (That Thing) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6QKqFPRZSA

I – Ice Cube: The founding father of gangsta rap, ripped up the LA scene with his first group, C.I.A. He then moved on to rip up the global scene with N.W.A. He also has earned critical acclaim for his roles in movies like Boyz n the Hood.

Check out: It Was a Good Day – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4UqMyldS7Q

J – JAY-Z: Mr Carter currently holds the record for being the richest Hip Hip artist in the world – worth around $900 million. This was all earned through classic albums like Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint and The Black Album. If that’s not enough, how about 21 Grammys? That enough?

Check out: 99 Problems – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uikJTnmtgw

K – Kendrick Lamar: Who else were you expecting to be in this spot? Getting better with every album he drops, K-Dot is surely a top contender for the greatest of all time. In 2018 he was the first musician, outside of classical and jazz, to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Seems the world is running out of ways to say he is the best!

Check out: HUMBLE. – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvTRZJ-4EyI

L – Ludacris: Being one of the first “Dirty South” rappers to break into the mainstream, Ludacris paved the way for fellow Atlanta rappers like OutKast, T.I., Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy and many more.

Check out: Stand Up – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZG7IK99OvI

M – MF Doom: Regarded as one the best rappers and wordsmiths by his fellow artists, Daniel Dumile aka MF Doom is one of the few British born rappers on our list. He has many high profile collabs to his name with the likes of Danger Mouse, Madlib and Ghostface Killah.

Check out: Books of War – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTCp0kJYF30

N – Notorious B.I.G.: No surprises here. Biggie Smalls will be top of most people list as the greatest. At a time when West Coast Hip Hop dominated the scene, he released his debut, Ready to Die. This put him central in the East Coast scene and opened the door for young New York rappers like JAY-Z. Rest in peace, Big Poppa.

Check out: Hypnotize – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk4ftn4PArg

O – Ol’ Dirty Bastard: ODB sadly passed away in 2004, but his legacy remains. Pioneering the free-associative rhymes and half-rapped, half-sung style that is prevalent in Hip Hop today. And don’t forget he was a founding member of Wu-Tang Clan.

Check out: Shimmy Shimmy Ya – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnVJms1EgNs

P – Phife Dawg: The first of two rappers from A Tribe Called Quest on our list, Phife sadly passed away in 2016. He challenged the macho posturing nature of Hip Hop during his time with ATCQ and is cited as a major influence on Kanye West, Jill Scott and The Roots.

Check out: Buggin’ Out – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaIDj6vBEoU

Q – Q-Tip: Phife’s partner in crime at ATCQ had a slick, intelligent style that complimented and played off his partner perfectly. Regarded as one of the best lyricists in the business, he producing credits include: Yeezy’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch The Throne, Nas, Mariah Carey, Beyonce and many more on a very long list of great albums and songs.

Check out: Breathe and Stop – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8omE8XPeYE

R – Rakim: Part of the duo Eric B. & Rakim, they were considered a corner stone to the golden age of Hip Hop. Rakim is considered to be one of the most skilled and influential MC’s of all time. In 2012 Source Magazine ranked him number 1 in their list of greatest lyricists of all time.

Check out: When I B on tha Mic – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M34OelgSlKI

S – Snoop Dogg: Starting your music career as a feature artist on Dr Dre’s The Chronic, is not a bad start and certainly fitting for a star like Snoop. His smooth, laid back delivery and melodic rhyming has been blazing up the charts and earned him 35 million album sales.

Check out: Who Am I (What’s My Name)? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2soGJXQAQec

T – Tupac Shakur: Another great on our list that passed away to soon. He was central in the East Coast – West Coast beefs of the 1990’s due to his high profile and incredible success. To date he has sold over 75 million albums worldwide and was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

Check out: California Love – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wBTdfAkqGU

U – U-God: A founding member, and still part of, Wu-Tang Clan, U-God is known for his deep, rhythmic flow and being equally comfortable with gruff or smooth delivery.

Check out: Wu-Tang – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pr6o6J6Zw6s

V – Vince Staples: The Long Beach, California star received critical acclaim with his 2015 album, Summertime ’06. He seamlessly blends avant-garde, dance and electronic elements to create his unique sound to push Hip Hop into the future.

Check out: Norf Norf – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlZYwiprCJg

W – Wiz Khalifa: Maybe best known for the giant hit “See you again” from the Furious 7 soundtrack, which spent 12 weeks at No.1 on the Billboard charts, Wiz is used to mainstream success. Signing with major labels like Warner Bros and Atlantic is a sign that there is much more to come from him.

Check out: See You Again – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgKAFK5djSk

X – Xzibit: Although he might be best known for his MTV show, Pimp My Ride, X has had great commercial success since exploding out of the West Coast scene. He has collaborated with big names like Dr Dre, Cypress Hill and Snoop Dogg, to name a few.

Check out: Multiply – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_GOuHA66zM

Y – Yella: Yella a.k.a. DJ Yella came up with Dr Dre as part of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru and later joined him to form N.W.A. Together they were the heartbeat of the LA scene in the early days of West Coast rap.

Check out: 100 Miles and Runnin’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiDti_Xnnmo

Z – Zack De La Rocha: Maybe an unusual name to find on a list such as this, but musical styles aside, De La Rocha is one of the fiercest rappers and lyricists of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. He is well respected by his pears and has worked with the likes of Chuck D, The Roots, DJ Shadow and Run The Jewels.

Check out: Bulls on Parade – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L4YrGaR8E4

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