The 1990s saw a rise in commercial successes within the hip hop world.
However, with this mainstream popularity came higher stakes and increased competition in the rap world.
The late 1990s saw rivalries and feuds emerge between the respective artists and fans of the East and West coasts.
The focal points of the feud were East Coast-based rapper The Notorious B.I.G. and P. Diddy with their New York City-based label Bad Boy Records, and West-Coast rapper Tupac Shakur with Suge Knight and their Los Angeles-based label, Death Row Records.
Here is a list of some of the best East Coast rappers of all time.
1. Notorious B.I.G.
Christopher Wallace, better known by his stage name Notorious B.I.G, was an American hip hop artist.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York City in 1972.
He is remembered as one of the most iconic and influential rappers of all time.
He was one of the key players in the East Coast gangsta rap scene.
He signed to Bad Boy Records in 1993 and released his debut album Ready to Die in 1994.
On March 9, 1997, he was shot and killed in a drive by shooting while visiting Los Angeles.
Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Corey Carter, is an American rapper, record producer and entrepreneur.
He is one of the most influential hip-hop artists of all time, and is rooted in East Coast hip hop.
He is the founder of Manhattan-based entertainment agency Roc Nation and CEO of Def Jam Recordings, allowing him to aid the successes of fellow artists like Kanye West, Rihanna and J. Cole.
He was born in New York City in 1969.
He released his debut album Reasonable Doubt in 1996.
He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold over 140 million records.
Nas is an American rapper, known for his roots in East Coast rap.
He was born in New York in 1973 and is the son of jazz musician Olu Dara.
He released his debut album Illmatic in 1994 and it is considered to be one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.
His second album brought him international success, after debuting at the top of the Billboard 200.
Between 2001 and 2005, Nas was involved in a high profile feud with fellow East-Coast rapper Jay-Z.
After they squashed this feud, Nas signed to Jay-Z’s Def Jam Recordings.
4. Mos Def
Yasiin Bey, more commonly known as Mos Def, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter and actor.
He began his career as part of a hip hop group called Urban Thermo Dynamics, which was made up of his siblings.
They appeared on albums by Da Bush Babees and De La Soul.
He then formed the duo Black Star with Brooklyn-based rapper Talib Kweli.
In 1999, he released his first solo album, Black on Both Sides.
Since the early 2000s, he has also been working as an actor.
5. LL Cool J
LL Cool J, which is short for Ladies Love Cool James, is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer and actor.
He was born in New York in 1968.
He grew up around a lot of violence, with his father shooting his mother and grandfather when he was four years old, nearly killing them both.
He was one of the first hip hop artists to achieve mainstream commercial success, and had a huge impact on the genre as a whole.
He signed to Def Jam Recordings in 1984, releasing his debut single “I Need a Beat”.
He has also appeared in many films, like Halloween H20, In Too Deep, S.W.A.T and Last Holiday.
6. Flavor Flav
William Drayton Jr, known by his stage name Flavor Flav, is an American rapper and hype man.
He rose to fame as part of Public Enemy, an East Coast hip hop group that rose to fame in the late 1980s.
He was born in Roosevelt, New York in 1959.
Public Enemy were signed to Def Jam Records in 1986.
In 2006, Flav released his first solo album, titled Flavor Flav.
In 2011, he partnered with Nick Cimino and the pair opened Flav’s Fried Chicken in Iowa.
Corey Woods, better known by his stage name Raekwon, is an American rapper.
He was born in Brownsville in Brooklyn, where he was raised by his mother.
His father was an addict, and he apparently only met him once when he was six years old.
He was a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, a hip-hop group from Staten Island, New York.
The group released their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), in 1993.
Raekwon released his solo album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx in 1995, and it is often regarded as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.
8. J. Cole
Jermaine Lamarr Cole, better known as J. Cole, is an American rapper and record producer.
He was born on a military base in Germany and was raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Cole released his debut mixtape The Come Up in early 2007, which is when he began gaining recognition.
In 2014, he released 2014 Forest Hills Drive, to widespread critical acclaim.
The album earned him a Grammy nomination.
His next album, 4 Your Eyez Only, debuted at number one after its release in 2016.
Lawrence “Kris” Parker, better known by his stage name KRS-One (which is short for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) is an American rapper, lyricist and producer from New York.
He was born in New York City in 1965.
He rose to fame as part of a hip hop group called Boogie Down Productions.
Following the release of their debut album, one of the group members Scott La Rock was shot and killed.
KRS-One continued the group as a solo project.
He is known for his songs “Sound of da Police” and “Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love)”.
10. 50 Cent
Curtis James Jackson III, known professionally as 50 Cent, is an American rapper, actor, and businessman.
He was born in the South Jamaica area of Queens, New York, in 1975.
He created an album called Power of the Dollar in 2000, but was unable to release the album as he was shot just prior to its planned release.
In 2002, he released a mixtape called Guess Who’s Back? and he was then discovered and signed by Eminem.
He released Get Rich or Die Tryin’ in 2003 and achieved commercial success.
Rakim is an American rapper and record producer from New York.
He is the nephew of American R&B singer and actress Ruth Brown.
He is known for his work alongside Eric B, with the two forming a hip hop duo in the late 80s.
He is considered a hugely influential figure in the world of hip hop, known as a pioneer of internal rhymes and multisyllabic rhymes.
Rapper Kool Moe Dee has said that “Rakim is basically the inventor of flow”.
12. Method Man
Clifford Smith Jr, better known by his stage name Method Man, is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer and actor.
He was part of the East Coast hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan.
He also worked as part of a duo with Redman.
He won a Grammy Award in 1996 for his song “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need to Get By”, which featured Mary J. Blige.
He has also made appearances as an actor in 187, Belly and Red Tails.
13. Chuck D
Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, known professionally as Chuck D, is an American rapper.
He was born in 1960 on Long Island, New York.
He is best known as the frontman of hip hop group Public Enemy, which he co-founded with Flavor Flav.
The two met at Adelphi University in Long Island.
The group were known for the socially conscious and political messaging in their music.
14. Busta Rhymes
Trevor George Smith Jr, known as Busta Rhymes, is an American rapper and actor.
He has received 12 Grammy Award nominations for his works.
He was the original member of Leaders of the New School, who began gaining recognition after opening for Public Enemy on tour.
Busta Rhymes appeared as a guest artist on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario”.
His debut solo album The Coming, released in 1996, reached the top ten of the Billboard 200.
Earl Simmons, known professionally as DMX, was an American rapper and actor.
He was born in 1970, although it is unclear whether he was born in Baltimore, Maryland or Mount Vernon, New York.
He has described the physical and emotional abuse that he faced throughout his childhood while living in poverty.
He released his debut album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot in 1998.
He is the father of 17 children from 11 different women.
16. Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Russell Tyrone Jones, better known by his stage name Ol’ Dirty Bastard, was an American rapper, born in New York in 1968.
He was one of the founding members of iconic hip hop group the Wu-Tang Clan.
He began his solo career in 1985, aged 26, releasing his first album Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version.
He died in 2004 from an accidental drug overdose, aged thirty five.
Albert Johnson, better known by his stage name Prodigy, was an American rapper.
He was born in Hempstead, Long Island in New York in 1974.
He met Havoc while attending the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan.
He formed hip hop duo Mobb Deep alongside Havoc.
They released their debut album Juvenile Hell in 1993.
Reginald Noble, better known by his stage name Redman, is an American rapper.
He was born in 1970 and raised in Newark in New Jersey.
He was kicked out of his home by his mother for selling cocaine.
He rose to fame in the early 1990s.
He is known for collaborating with Method Man, forming half of the duo Method Man & Redman.
19. ASAP Rocky
Rakim Mayers, known professionally as ASAP Rocky, is an American rapper, music producer and record executive.
He began his career as part of the ASAP Mob, a hip hop group from Harlem, New York.
He released his first mixtape Live. Love. ASAP in 2011.
He then signed a record deal with Polo Grounds Music, RCA Records and Sony Music Entertainment.
Kamaal Ibn John Fareed, better known by his stage name Q-TIp, is an American rapper, record producer, singer and DJ.
He is noted for his jazz-influenced style of hip hop.
He was the MC and main producer for alternative hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest.
He has also appeared as an actor in films like Poetic Justice, She Hate Me, and Prison Song.
He is regarded as one of the most influential figures in the hip hop genre.
21. Ghostface Killa
Dennis Coles, better known as Ghostface Killah, is an American rapper and member of hip hop group Wu-Tang Gang.
He was born in Staten Island, New York City in 1970.
After the success of the group’s first album, many of the members successfully pursued solo careers.
He had a feud with fellow Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon, but the two made amends and are now friends.
He is known for his imaginative storytelling in his music.
22. Big Pun
Christopher Lee Rios, better known as Big Pun or Big Punisher, was an American rapper.
He is from the Bronx in New York and came to prominence during the late 1990s.
In 1997, he signed with Loud Records and released his debut album Capital Punishment in 1998.
The album was nominated for a Grammy and was the first solo hip hop record by a Latino artist to go platinum.
Guru was a rapper from Massachusetts, who formed half of the hip hop duo Gang Starr alongside producer DJ Premier.
The two were based in Brooklyn, New York.
They were at their height throughout the 1990s, and are recognized as pioneers of jazz rap.
In 2010, Guru suffered a heart attack and went into a coma, passing away a few months later.
He had fallen out with DJ Premier a few years before his death, and no longer wanted to be associated with the producer.
24. Joseph Simmons
Joseph Simmons, better known as Run or DJ Run, is an American rapper, producer, DJ and television personality.
He was born in Hollis in Queens, New York in 1964.
He is one of the founding members of Run-DMC.
His brother Russell Simmons was one of the founders of Def Jam records.
He is also a practicing minister, known as Reverend Run.
Kejuan Waliek Muchita, better known by his stage name Havoc, is an American rapper and record producer.
He was born in Brooklyn in 1974.
He formed the hip hop duo Mobb Deep with fellow rapper Prodigy.
He has produced songs for the likes of The Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, Nas, Raekwon and 50 Cent.
In 2012, a feud emerged between Prodigy and Havoc, but the two reconciled the next year and announced they were going on tour.
26. Beastie Boys
Beastie Boys were an American rap rock group from New York City.
The group was made up of Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “MCA” Yauch and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz.
The group achieved local success with the release of their 1983 comedy hip hop single “Cooky Puss”.
They toured with Madonna in 1985, which brought them widespread recognition.
They have sold 20 million records in the United States.
Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, better known as RZA, is an American rapper, actor, filmmaker and record producer.
He was the leader of hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan.
He is the cousin of two other members of the group, GZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
He has been heavily involved in filmmaking since the late 90s.
He has scored a number of films, such as Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004).
28. Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill is an American singer, songwriter, rapper and record producer.
She is often thought of as one of the greatest rappers of all time, and broke down barriers for women in the genre.
She began her career with the Fugees.
She is known for her 1998 solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
She has won eight Grammy Awards, which is the most that a female rapper has won to this day.
29. Slick Rick
Richard Walters, better known as Slick Rick, is an English-American rapper and record producer.
He gained fame with Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew.
Slick Rick was signed to Def Jam Records in 1986, making him the third artist to sign to the label.
His music has been sampled and interpolated over 1000 times, by artists like Eminem, Beyonce and Mariah Carey.
30. MF Doom
Daniel Dumile, better known by his stage name MF Doom, was a British-American rapper and record producer.
He was born in Long Island, New York, and moved to London at a young age.
He is known for his “supervillain” stage persona.
He was a hugely influential figure in the underground and alternative hip hop scenes.
In 2004, he released an album called Madvillainy with producer Madlib, and it remains a landmark album in hip hop to this day.
Despite having lived in the US for most of his life, he never gained American citizenship and was denied reentry after returning from an international tour.
He then relocated to London for his final years, before he passed away in 2020.
31. Big Daddy Kane
Antonio Hardy, better known as Big Daddy Kane, is an American rapper.
In 1984, he became friends with Biz Markie, going on to write some of his best-known lyrics.
He began his career with the Juice Crew in 1986.
He is considered a hugely influential figure in the late-golden age of hip hop.
He is known for his ability to syncopate over fast hip hop beats.
Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, known professionally as Logic, is an American rapper and record producer.
He was born in 1990 in Rockville, Maryland.
He began his career in 2010, when he released his debut mixtape Young, Broke & Infamous.
In 2013, he signed a contract with Def Jam Recordings.
He has received two Grammy Award nominations for his music.
33. Pusha T
Terrence Thornton, better known by his stage name Pusha T, is an American rapper and record producer.
He rose to fame as part of hip hop group Clipse with his older brother No Malice.
He signed to Kanye West’s GOOD Music in 2010.
He then featured on West’s “Runaway”, which reached number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.
He released his debut solo album My Name Is My Name in 2013.
34. Mac Miller
Malcolm McCormick, known professionally as Mac Miller, was an American rapper and record producer.
He began his career in 2007 at the age of fifteen.
He signed to an independent record label called Rostrum Records in 2010.
He released his breakthrough mixtapes K.I.D.S in 2010 and Best Day Ever in 2011, before releasing his debut studio album Blue Slide Park (2011).
He struggled with addiction and substance abuse, and passed away from an accidental overdose in 2018, aged 26.
35. Queen Latifah
Dana Elaine Owens, better known by her stage name Queen Latifah, is an American rapper, actress and singer.
She was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1970.
Her third album Black Reign was the first album by a solo female rapper to receive a gold certification from the RIAA.
Her single “U.N.I.T.Y.” was written to raise awareness about violence against women and the objectification of black female sexuality.
She has received a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe, three Screen Actors Guild Awards and two NAACP Image Awards.
36. Will Smith
Will Smith, also known as The Fresh Prince, is an American rapper and actor.
He began his career by playing a fictionalized version of himself on the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which aired between 1990 and 1996.
He worked with DJ Jazzy Jeff in a hip hop duo, releasing songs like “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” and “Wild Wild West”.
He has received four Grammy Awards.
He is now better known for his acting accolades, starring in films like Bad Boys, Men in Black and Independence Day.
37. Meek Mill
Robert Williams, known professionally as Meek Mill, is an American rapper.
He was born in Philadelphia in 1987.
He began his rapping career as part of the rap group The Bloodhoundz.
He released his debut album Dreams and Nightmares in 2012.
He launched his own label imprint in 2012, called Dream Chasers Records.
Mason Durell Betha, better known as Mase, is an American rapper and minister.
He signed to Bad Boy Records in the late 1990s.
He had five platinum singles and six Billboard Hot 100 top ten singles between the years 1997 and 1998.
His 1997 album Harlem World was certified quadruple platinum.
He took a break from music to go to college, and returned to the scene as an ordained minister.
Eve Jihan Cooper, known mononymously as Eve, is an American rapper, singer and actress.
She was born in 1978 in Philadelphia and attended Martin Luther King High School.
She released her debut album in 1999, titled Let There Be Eve… Ruff Ryfers’ First Lady.
The album reached number one on the Billboard 200, making her the third female rapper to do this.
She has also worked as an actress, appearing in Barbershop, The Woodsman and Animal.
40. Biz Markie
Marcel Theo Hall, known professionally as Biz Markie, was an American rapper, singer, songwriter, DJ and record producer.
He was born in 1964 in New Jersey and was raised in Long Island, New York.
He is best known for his 1989 single “Just a Friend”.
The song became a Top 40 hit in several countries.
He is often thought of as a one hit wonder, and is sometimes referred to as the “Clown Prince of Hip Hop”.
Best East Coast Rappers – Final Thoughts
The East Coast-West Coast feud culminated in the deaths of two of the greatest hip hop artists of the 1990s.
Both Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur were killed in drive-by shootings within months of each other, and both murders are believed to be linked to the feud.
Modern day hip hop is widely considered to have originated on the East Coast, specifically from the United States.
Regardless of which side you think has produced the best musicians, it goes without saying that many of the greatest hip hop artists in the world have come from New York and the surrounding areas.