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35 Best New York Rappers of All Time

July 21, 2023
new york rappers

New York City has been a hub of hip-hop culture since the genre’s inception in the late 1970s.

It has produced some of hip-hop’s most influential and legendary rappers.

The city’s five boroughs – the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island – have each contributed to the development and evolution of the art form.

This article explores the 35 best New York rappers of all time.

These artists have not only shaped the sound of hip-hop but have also influenced fashion, language, and popular culture as a whole.

Through their music, they have captured the struggles and triumphs of life in the city that never sleeps, and their impact on the genre and the city itself is immeasurable.

1. The Notorious B.I.G.

The Notorious B.I.G. (also known as Biggie Smalls) was a legendary rapper who rose to prominence in the mid-1990s.

He was born Christopher Wallace in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Biggie first gained attention in the music industry with his debut album, Ready to Die, released in 1994.

Some of his most famous songs include “Juicy,” “Big Poppa,” and “Hypnotize.”

Unfortunately, Biggie’s life was cut short when he was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles at 24.

Despite his brief career, Biggie’s impact on the hip-hop genre and culture is undeniable, and his music inspires and influences new generations of artists.

2. Prodigy

Prodigy, also known as Albert Johnson, was an American rapper and one half of the hip-hop duo Mobb Deep.

Mobb Deep, which also consisted of rapper Havoc, was formed in 1992 and quickly gained a following in the New York hip-hop scene.

Their 1995 album The Infamous is considered a classic of the genre and is often cited as one of the best albums of the 1990s.

Prodigy was known for his distinctive voice and vivid storytelling, often drawing on his experiences growing up in New York City.

He also released several solo albums, including H.N.I.C. and Return of the Mac.

3. Nas

Nas, also known as Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, is a rapper, songwriter, and actor from Queens, New York.

He rose to fame in the mid-1990s with the release of his debut album, “Illmatic,” which is widely regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.

Nas has released several successful albums throughout his career, including It Was Written, Stillmatic, God’s Son, Hip Hop Is Dead, Life Is Good, and King’s Disease.

He is known for his vivid storytelling, intricate rhyme schemes, and socially conscious lyrics that address topics such as poverty, crime, and racism.

4. Havoc

Havoc is a rapper, producer, and one-half of the legendary hip-hop duo Mobb Deep.

He is known for his gritty, hard-hitting beats and introspective lyrics, which often focus on the struggles and realities of street life.

Havoc’s career in hip-hop began in the early 1990s when he and his partner Prodigy formed Mobb Deep.

Havoc has also released several solo albums, including The Kush and 13.

He has worked with many other artists in the industry, including Nas, Eminem, and 50 Cent.

5. Jay-Z

Jay-Z, born Shawn Corey Carter, is a rapper, songwriter, and entrepreneur from Brooklyn, New York.

He is considered one of the greatest rappers ever and has significantly impacted hip-hop culture and the music industry.

Jay-Z began his career in the early 1990s, releasing his debut album “Reasonable Doubt” in 1996.

He released numerous critically acclaimed albums, including The Blueprint, The Black Album, and 4:44.

He has sold over 75 million records worldwide and won 23 Grammy Awards, making him one of the most successful musicians ever.

6. Joey Bada$$

Joey Bada$$ (born Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott) is a rapper, singer, and actor from Brooklyn, New York.

He first gained popularity with the release of his debut mixtape, “1999,” in 2012, which received critical acclaim and helped establish him as one of the leading figures in the underground rap scene.

Joey Bada$$ is known for his socially conscious lyrics and ability to incorporate classic hip-hop elements into his music.

Some of Joey Bada$$’s most popular songs include “Christ Conscious,” “Land of the Free,” and “Devastated.”

7. French Montana

French Montana (born Karim Kharbouch) is a Moroccan-American rapper, singer, and songwriter.

He is known for his unique style of blending traditional East Coast hip-hop with other musical influences, such as Arabic music and trap music.

He is closely associated with the Bronx, where he grew up, and has often referenced his experiences there in his music.

French Montana’s music often features collaborations with other well-known New York rappers, such as Jadakiss and Fat Joe.

French Montana’s music has been influenced by many artists, including Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Jay-Z, and Nas.

He has cited these artists as his inspirations and sought to carry on their legacy through his music.

Some of French Montana’s most popular songs include “Unforgettable,” “Pop That,” and “No Stylist.”

8. Mos Def

Mos Def gained fame as a hip-hop group Black Star member alongside Talib Kweli.

Mos Def released his debut solo album, Black on Both Sides, in 1999, which received critical acclaim and commercial success.

He released several more albums, including The New Danger, True Magic, and The Ecstatic.

His music often addresses social and political issues, including police brutality, racism, and poverty.

In 2012, Mos Def legally changed his name to Yasiin Bey, and he has since retired from music and acting.

However, his influence on hip-hop and popular culture continues to be felt today.

9. Lil’ Kim

Lil’ Kim rose to fame in the mid-1990s as a member of the hip-hop group Junior M.A.F.I.A.

Her debut album, Hard Core, launched her solo career in 1996.

The album was a critical and commercial success, and Lil’ Kim became one of the most prominent female rappers in the industry.

Lil’ Kim has released several successful albums, including The Notorious K.I.M. and La Bella Mafia.

She has collaborated with numerous artists and received several awards and nominations for her music, including a Grammy Award.

10. A$AP Rocky

A$AP Rocky’s real name is Rakim Athelaston Mayers.

A$AP stands for “Always Strive And Prosper,” which is also the name of his hip-hop collective, A$AP Mob.

A$AP Rocky started his music career in 2011 with his debut mixtape “Live. Love. A$AP.” which received critical acclaim and led to a record deal with Polo Grounds Music, RCA Records, and Sony Music Entertainment.

He has since released several successful albums, including Long. Live. A$AP, At. Long. Last. A$AP, Testing, and ALL $MILES.

11. Puff Daddy

Puff Daddy (now known as Diddy) is an American rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur.

He was born Sean Combs in 1969 in Harlem, New York City.

Combs started his career as an intern at Uptown Records. 

He eventually became an A&R executive and helped launch the careers of several successful artists, including Mary J. Blige and Jodeci.

In 1993, Combs founded his record label, Bad Boy Records, which became one of the most successful hip-hop labels of the 1990s.

Combs’ debut album, No Way Out, was released in 1997 under the name Puff Daddy and featured several hit singles, including “I’ll Be Missing You,” a tribute to The Notorious B.I.G. who was killed earlier that year.

The album won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album and launched Combs’ career as a solo artist.

12. Flavor Flav

Flavor Flav, known as William Jonathan Drayton Jr., is a rapper, reality TV star, and hip-hop group member of Public Enemy.

He was known for his energetic stage presence, comedic antics, and distinctive vocal style.

Flavor Flav rose to fame as a member of Public Enemy, which was formed in 1982.

He was known for his distinctive style, which included wearing a giant clock around his neck and his energetic stage presence.

Flavor Flav was known for its politically charged lyrics and activism and his 1989 album Fear of a Black Planet is considered a genre classic.

13. Method Man

Method Man is best known as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, a rap group from Staten Island that formed in the early 1990s.

The Wu-Tang Clan is known for its distinctive style, which blends martial arts imagery, gritty production, and intricate wordplay.

Method Man released his debut solo album, Tical, in 1994, a critical and commercial success.

He released several more solo albums and collaborated with other artists, including Redman, who formed a successful rap duo.

14. GZA

GZA (pronounced “Jizza”), known as The Genius, is a rapper, songwriter, and producer from Brooklyn, New York.

He is a founding member of the legendary hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan and is widely regarded as one of the group’s most lyrically gifted members.

Throughout his career, GZA has continued to release critically acclaimed albums, including Beneath the Surface (1999), Legend of the Liquid Sword (2002), and Pro Tools (2008).

He is known for his intricate wordplay, complex rhyme schemes, and thought-provoking lyrics that touch on topics ranging from science and philosophy to social and political issues.

In addition to his work with Wu-Tang Clan and as a solo artist, GZA has collaborated with many other artists, including DJ Shadow, MF DOOM, and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine.

15. RZA

RZA (pronounced “Rizza”), also known as Bobby Digital and The Abbot, is a rapper, producer, and actor from Brooklyn, New York.

He is best known as the de facto leader and producer of the Wu-Tang Clan, one of the most influential and critically acclaimed hip-hop groups ever.

He produced most of the group’s early albums, including their debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993), as well as his solo albums, such as Bobby Digital in Stereo (1998) and Digital Bullet (2001).

He has also composed music for several films, including “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003) and “Django Unchained” (2012), and has acted in several movies and TV shows.

RZA is known for his spiritual and philosophical approach to hip-hop and his use of martial arts themes and imagery in his music.

16. DMX

DMX, whose real name was Earl Simmons, was a famous American rapper and actor known for his rough and gritty style.

DMX released his debut album, It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, in 1998, which was a huge success, reaching number one on the Billboard 200 chart.

He released several more albums, including Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, And Then There Was X, and The Great Depression, all of which were commercial successes.

Unfortunately, DMX struggled with drug addiction throughout his life, which led to several run-ins with the law and health issues.

He passed away on April 9, 2021, at 50, following a heart attack caused by a drug overdose.

17. Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill rose to fame as a member of the hip-hop group The Fugees member in the mid-1990s.

The group’s second album, The Score, released in 1996, was a massive success and won two Grammy Awards.

After The Fugees disbanded in 1997, Hill pursued a solo career, releasing her debut album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, in 1998.

The album was a critical and commercial success, selling over 8 million copies in the US alone and winning 5 Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.

The album blended R&B, soul, and hip-hop elements, showcasing Hill’s talents as a singer, rapper, and songwriter.

18. LL Cool J

LL Cool J, whose real name is James Todd Smith, began his music career in the 1980s and quickly gained popularity with his debut album, Radio, released in 1985.

He is known for his energetic and innovative rap style, which helped define the genre in its early days.

LL Cool J has released numerous successful albums and singles, including Mama Said Knock You Out, I’m Bad, and Going Back to Cali.

He has collaborated with prominent musicians like Jennifer Lopez, Brad Paisley, and Boyz II Men.

19. 50 Cent

50 Cent, also known as Curtis James Jackson III, rose to fame in the early 2000s with his debut studio album Get Rich or Die Tryin’, released in 2003.

The album was a commercial and critical success, selling over 8 million copies in the United States alone and earning him several awards and nominations, including a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Album.

Since then, 50 Cent has released several other successful albums, including The Massacre, Curtis, and Animal Ambition.

50 Cent has been known for his controversial lyrics and persona and his beef with other rappers and celebrities.

However, he has also been praised for his contributions to hip-hop and his philanthropic work, including his G-Unity Foundation, which aims to improve the lives of young people in low-income communities.

20. Busta Rhymes

Busta Rhymes first gained attention as a member of the hip-hop group Leaders of the New School in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

He then embarked on a successful solo career, releasing his debut album, The Coming, in 1996, which was certified platinum and included hit singles like “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check” and “It’s a Party.”

Over the years, Busta Rhymes has released several other successful albums, including When Disaster Strikes…, E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front, and The Big Bang. He is known for his unique style, which blends rapid-fire rhymes, intricate wordplay, and energetic delivery.

Busta Rhymes has won several awards, including multiple BET Awards and MTV Video Music Awards.

21. Ghostface Killah

Ghostface Killah, born Dennis Coles, is a rapper and member of the Wu-Tang Clan.

He is known for his unique storytelling style and vivid descriptions of street life, which have earned him critical acclaim and a dedicated fanbase.

Ghostface Killah first gained recognition as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, a collective of rappers from Staten Island.

He released his debut solo album, Ironman, in 1996, which was a huge success.

Over the years, Ghostface Killah has released solo albums, such as Supreme Clientele, Fishscale, and Twelve Reasons to Die.

He has collaborated with several artists, including MF Doom, Raekwon, and Cappadonna.

22. Big Daddy Kane

Big Daddy Kane is one of hip-hop’s most influential and skilled MCs, known for his smooth flow, complex wordplay, and energetic stage presence.

Kane first gained attention in the mid-1980s as a member of the Juice Crew, a collective of artists from Queensbridge, New York.

His debut album, Long Live the Kane, was released in 1988 and is considered a classic of the golden age of hip-hop.

The album featured hits like “Ain’t No Half Steppin'” and “Raw” and established Kane as a significant force in the genre.

Kane released several successful albums throughout the 1990s, including It’s a Big Daddy Thing, Taste of Chocolate, and Prince of Darkness.

23. Nicki Minaj

Minaj moved to Queens, New York when she was five years old. She began her music career in the mid-2000s, releasing mixtapes and collaborating with other artists.

Her breakthrough came with her debut album, Pink Friday, released in 2010 and reached number one on the US Billboard 200 chart.

Since then, Minaj has released several successful albums, including Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, The Pinkprint, and Queen.

She is known for her bold and often controversial lyrics, as well as her unique style and image.

Nicki Minaj has significantly impacted the music industry and popular culture, and her legacy as a trailblazing female rapper continues to influence younger generations of artists.

24. Rakim

Rakim, also known as William Michael Griffin Jr, is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential MCs ever.

He first gained fame in the late 1980s as one-half of the hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim.

Together, they released four highly acclaimed albums: Paid in Full, Follow the Leader, Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em, and Don’t Sweat the Technique.

Rakim’s unique lyrical style and delivery, characterized by his smooth and effortless flow and use of multisyllabic rhymes, set a new standard for lyricism in hip-hop.

He is credited with revolutionizing the art of rapping, and his influence can be heard in the work of countless MCs who have followed in his footsteps.

In addition to his work with Eric B., Rakim has also released several solo albums, such as The 18th Letter and The Master.

25. MF Doom

MF DOOM first gained recognition as part of the hip-hop group KMD, which he formed with his younger brother DJ Subroc in the late 1980s.

KMD released two albums before Subroc’s untimely death in 1993, which led to the group disbanding.

After a hiatus, DOOM re-emerged in the late 1990s under MF DOOM (an acronym for Metal Face Doom or Metal Fingers Doom), with a new persona and a unique style that mixed gritty, underground beats with esoteric lyricism and off-kilter humor.

He released a string of acclaimed solo albums, including Operation: Doomsday (1999), Mm.. Food (2004), and Born Like This (2009).

DOOM was known for his reclusive nature and use of various masks and alter egos, adding to his persona’s mystique.

26. Big L

Big L began his career in the mid-1990s and was a member of the hip-hop group Diggin’ in the Crates Crew (D.I.T.C.).

He gained recognition for his lyrical ability and clever wordplay and released his debut album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, in 1995.

The album was well-received and established Big L as a rising star in the rap world.

He continued to release music and collaborate with other artists throughout the late 1990s, and his career was cut short when he was tragically murdered in a drive-by shooting in Harlem in 1999.

Despite his short career, Big L’s impact on hip-hop is still felt today.

He is remembered as one of the most skilled lyricists in rap history, and his music continues to influence new generations of rappers

27. Big Pun

Big Pun, also known as Christopher Lee Rios, was a Puerto Rican-American rapper born in 1971 in The Bronx, New York City.

He emerged as a prominent figure in the late 1990s, becoming the first Latino solo rapper to reach platinum status with his debut album, Capital Punishment, released in 1998.

Big Pun’s unique style combined his intricate lyricism with a deep, commanding voice and a strong stage presence.

He was known for his ability to deliver rapid-fire rhymes with precision and impressive breath control, allowing him to rap for long periods without stopping.

Unfortunately, Big Pun’s life was cut short when he died of a heart attack in February 2000 at 28.

28. Jadakiss

Jadakiss, whose real name is Jason Terrance Phillips, is best known for his distinctive voice, lyrical prowess, and collaborations with fellow rappers such as Styles P and Sheek Louch, with whom he formed the group The Lox.

Jadakiss began his music career in the early 1990s. 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he gained mainstream success with his solo albums, including Kiss Tha Game Goodbye (2001) and The Last Kiss (2009).

He has also collaborated with other artists on numerous hit songs, including “We Gonna Make It” with Styles P, “Knock Yourself Out,” and “Why” featuring Anthony Hamilton.

Jadakiss is known for his sharp and witty lyrics, often touching on social and political issues.

He has also been recognized for his freestyle abilities, having won numerous battles and competitions early in his career.

29. Ol’ Dirty Bastard

Ol’ Dirty Bastard, also known as ODB, whose real name was Russell Tyrone Jones, was a rapper and founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan.

He became known for his distinctive rapping style, which blended humorous and sometimes nonsensical lyrics with a gritty, raw delivery.

ODB’s music career began with the formation of the Wu-Tang Clan in the early 1990s.

He contributed to the group’s debut album and released his solo album, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, in 1995.

Throughout his career, ODB was known for his unpredictable behavior, which included legal troubles and a reputation for showing up late to shows or not showing up at all.

He was also known for his flamboyant style, which included a unique sense of fashion and a tendency to shout out his name in his lyrics.

30. Fat Joe

Fat Joe started his career in the early 1990s as a member of the hip-hop group Diggin’ in the Crates Crew (D.I.T.C.).

He gained popularity with his debut solo album Represent in 1993, which included the hit single “Flow Joe.”

Fat Joe continued to release successful albums throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including Jealous One’s Envy, Don Cartagena, Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.), and All or Nothing.

Fat Joe is known for his deep, gravelly voice, ability to tell stories through his lyrics, and collaborations with famous hip-hop artists such as Big Pun, Remy Ma, and DJ Khaled.

31. Cardi B

Cardi B, born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar, is a famous rapper who gained fame after appearing on the VH1 reality show Love & Hip Hop: New York.

Before she became a rapper, Cardi B worked as a stripper and gained a following on social media for her candid and humorous posts.

In 2017, she released her debut single, “Bodak Yellow,” which became a huge hit and topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The success of the song led to the release of her debut studio album, Invasion of Privacy, in 2018

Cardi B is known for her bold and explicit lyrics, and her music often addresses issues such as female empowerment and sexuality.

She has been recognized with numerous awards, including several BET Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, and Billboard Music Awards.

32. Fabolous

Fabolous (born John David Jackson) is a Brooklyn rapper, songwriter, and actor.

He began his career in the late 1990s and first gained attention with his debut single, “Can’t Deny It,” featuring Nate Dogg, released in 2001.

Fabolous is known for his smooth flow and lyrical ability, often incorporating storytelling into his music.

Fabolous has released several successful albums since then, including Street Dreams, Real Talk, and From Nothin’ to Somethin’.

He has collaborated with numerous other artists in the hip-hop and R&B communities, including Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, and T-Pain.

33. Guru

Guru was best known as one-half of the legendary hip-hop duo Gang Starr alongside DJ Premier.

Although he was born in Boston, he spent much of his career in New York City, and the city’s vibrant rap scene heavily influenced his music.

He was known for his smooth delivery and ability to craft intelligent and thought-provoking rhymes that tackled topics such as politics, race, and society.

His music was also notable for its fusion of jazz and hip-hop, which he dubbed “Jazzmatazz.”

His collaborations with jazz musicians such as Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers, and Branford Marsalis helped to bridge the gap between the two genres and introduced hip-hop to a broader audience.

34. Foxy Brown

Foxy Brown, whose real name is Inga DeCarlo Fung Marchand, is undoubtedly one of the most prominent female rappers from New York City.

Foxy Brown gained recognition for her debut album Ill Na Na in 1996.

The album featured collaborations with several hip-hop heavyweights, including Jay-Z and Nas.

Her follow-up album, Chyna Doll, also achieved platinum status and solidified her position as a rising star in the rap industry.

What set Foxy Brown apart from other rappers was her lyrical skills, which were on par with her male counterparts.

She was unapologetic in her delivery and tackled controversial topics such as gender politics and female empowerment.

Her ability to hold her own in a male-dominated industry earned her the respect of her peers and fans.

35. Mase

Mase rose to prominence in the mid-1990s as a member of Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records, and he quickly became known for his smooth flow and catchy hooks.

Mase’s debut album, Harlem World, was released in 1997 and became an instant hit, going multi-platinum and spawning several hit singles, including “Feel So Good” and “What You Want.”

His follow-up album, Double Up, was also successful, but Mase shocked the music world when he announced his retirement from rap in 1999 to pursue a career as a pastor.

Mase eventually returned to the music industry in 2004 with the release of his album “Welcome Back,” which debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200 chart.

While his later work did not achieve the same level of success as his earlier releases, Mase’s impact on the New York hip-hop scene is undeniable.

Best New York Rappers of All Time – Final Thoughts

The New York City hip-hop scene has played a pivotal role in shaping the genre into what it is today.

With so many talented artists from the city, it’s clear that the New York hip-hop scene will continue to thrive for years.

The list of the 35 Best New York Rappers of All Time reflects the diversity and richness of the city’s hip-hop culture, with a mix of legendary pioneers, trailblazers, and modern-day icons.

New York remains a hub of creativity and innovation in hip-hop, and the legacy of these legendary rappers will continue to inspire new generations of artists for years to come.

You may also like: Best East Coast Rappers

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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