Many of the acts on the honorable mention list were deserving of making the top ten, but that is the unfortunate downside to ranking all time greats in a field nearly forty years old. Once I narrowed it down to a top ten it was even more difficult to actually rank them at that point.

Remember this is an attempt to rank the 10 most IMPORTANT Hip Hop Acts of all time, not simply the greatest MC’s. Importance was based on: MC skill level, impact on the culture both domestically and internationally and influence on other artists. So, here they are from 10 to 1.

10: Sugar Hill Gang: For Hip Hop Purists/aka B-Boys from NYC, “Rapper’s Delight was one of the corniest songs of the early era of Rap. In 1979 Rap was relatively new and primarily relegated to jams in the parks, clubs in the Bronx and underground mixtapes that circulated throughout the northeast. The Sugar Hill Gang’s single is widely credited with introducing rap to the United States and the world and the single sold over 2 million copies for Sugar Hill Records. It was widely played on the radio and peaked at #36 on US Billboard charts…unheard of for rap at the time.

9: Beasties Boys: The third Rap Group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame(2012), after Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five and Run-Dmc. Initially signed to Def Jam, the Beasties, produced by Rick Rubin, released “License to Ill” in 1986 which sold over 9 million copies and topped Billboard’s charts for 5 weeks. By far Hip Hop’s highest selling artists in the 80’s, they went on to have six other Platinum (or better) selling albums through 2004. The former punk rock artist’s expanded Hip Hop’s audience and consistently toured world wide on an arena and stadium level.

8: NWA: Straight Outta Compton introduced a new audience to NWA’s impact on Hip Hop. They were the credited originators of West Coast Rap. Hip Hop had previously been associated strictly with NYC and the east coast. NWA effectively changed that and their influence on Gangsta Rap is still evident today. The group’s run was relatively short, but the legendary solo careers it directly and indirectly spawned are equally as important. Ice Cube is one of the most underrated rappers of all time. DOC, and Dre and all of his pupils are further evidence of NWA’s importance.

7: Eminem: Marshall Mathers burst onto the scene with “Slim Shady” a multi platinum effort that won the best Hip Hop Album Grammy. His second and third albums both also won the Grammys as well as each achieving commercial success with Diamond status (meaning sales of more than Ten Million sold). He further broadened Hip Hop’s audience White audiences worldwide, all while maintain credibility and critics’ esteem. He earned an Oscar for best original song for “Lose Yourself” from “8 Mile”, the semi-auto-biographical film he also starred. Along with Dre, he is credited with signing 50-Cent.

6: Public Enemy: (My personal favorite group of all time irrespective of genre.) The fourth rap group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Public Enemy is one of the most critically acclaimed groups of all time. Though Flavor Flav, provided a comedic edge, Chuck D’s lyrics made the group a soundtrack and leader for afro-centric pride and empowerment as well as calling the media and police to task for their treatment of the African American community. “Fight The Power” is not only an anthem for a generation, but possibly the most influential Hip Hop song of all time.

5: Dr.Dre: Though he was a part of one of the most important groups of all time (NWA), Dre’s success at founding tow of the most successful rap labels (Death Row then Aftermath) make his achievements so substantial as to be able to stand alone. He is credited with launching some of the most successful Hip Hop artists of all time (Snoop, Eminem and 50Cent) along with his own solo success with the certified 3x platinum classic “The Chronic”. He is less active musically today, but his impact and influence is still immense with his co-founding of the headphones, Beats by Dre, and the company’s sale for more than 2 Billion Dollars to Apple (In which it is rumored Dre’s take was in excess of 600 Million).

4: Run-DMC: They were the first Hip Hop group to achieve a gold record and the first to achieve platinum as well as the first to achieve multi-platinum status. Just as important was their being the first Hip Hop act to have a video appear on MTV as well as perform on American Bandstand. They were one of the most critically acclaimed and influential groups, becoming the 2nd group behind Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Their concerts were groundbreaking, inclusive of becoming one of the first Hip Hop acts to sell out Madison Square Garden. Their longstanding relationship and endorsement with Adidas was equally important and groundbreaking in showing the viability of urban culture’s impact on mainstream commerce.

3: Biggie: Christopher Wallace only blessed us with two studio albums during his lifetime. His career initially consisted of two albums, “Ready To Die”, and “Life After Death”(certified Diamond) and actually released days after his death in 1997. Biggie’s influence and impact survived well past his death including the release of two more albums. During his lifetime Biggie and his label, Bad Boy Records was at the forefront of war of words with the West Coast, Tupac and Death Row Records. The whole country was immersed in the battle, with many feeling the need to pick sides, until the unfortunate passing of each side’s leading protagonists. Biggie’s legacy is reflected not only in his music but through Puff and label they effectively built together. Bad Boy did “re-invent” the Re-Mix and Diddy took the reigns from Biggie and created a soundtrack for a generation.

2: Tupac: His story and legacy in many respects mirror the Notorious B.I.G. Former friends, their rivalry highlighted the differences between the West and Death Row Records and the East Coast and Bad Boy. Much of Tupac’s anger was triggered by feeling set up from a botched robbery in shooting outside a recording studio in New York City. Subsequent legal issues also seemed to fuel the fire that generated prolific recording. Prior to his death in 1996 Tupac released his four (4) studio albums. Posthumously Tupac released six (6) studio albums as well as fourteen (14) compilation albums. Tupac was literally as prominent for years after his passing as he was in his dynamic, short lived life. His passion, whether it was anger driven screaming “Thug Life” or cerebral story telling, resonated with millions to this day.

1:Jay-Z: “Reasonable Doubt” was an instant classic right out the box. The album’s release, just prior to the passing of Tupac and Biggie, placed him in esteemed company, critically and popularly. Their deaths effectively served as a de facto passing of the torch and Jay’s prolific recording (seven more studio albums released over the next seven years) cemented his status as his generation’s soundtrack. As a partner, Roc A Fella Records, distributed by Def Jam, became one of the pre-eminent independent labels, spawning the careers of Kanye West, Beanie Sigel, Freeway and Memphis Bleek. Jay is now almost as famous for his business acumen as he is his musical prowess. The formation of Roc A Wear clothing and endorsement or partnership deals with Reebok, Heineken, Ace of Spades, to ownership of 40/40 Club and Tidal along with the formation of Roc Nation Management music and sports division where they manage the likes of Rihanna, Fabolous, J. Cole, Shakira and Yandel along with Kevin Durant, Andre Ward, Victor Cruz, Miguel Coto, CC Sabathia and Dez Bryant. Jay’s coupling and eventual marriage to Beyonce expanded his global reach and brand beyond measure. His influence as an artist and businessmen has further underscored his importance and this was only highlighted by becoming the first rapper to have his lyrics recited and be name checked by a president (as a fan).

(If you like this be sure to check out part 1 as well as the Top 10 MOST UNDERRATED MCs in Hip Hop) as well as other articles in diaryofamadmind.com


#hiphop #kanyewest #jayz #drdre #eminem #nwa #beastieboys #public enemy#biggie #notoriousbig #tupac #rundmc



  1. This is truly a testament to all artists torn between being an artist and being an entertainer. Success (monetarily) comes from the biz side of the Show Business. Its Difficult to have your legacy move forward when you aren’t savvy in the art of the bizness.
    Emotionally I wanted to jump in the ring like what about Rakim, Nas, LL, Mos…Yasin Bey, Dana Dane, Big Daddy Kane…and btw is it too early to mention Kendrick Lamar or J Cole?
    However, you broke it down to the very last consonant…so I shall take several seats and continue to look forward to reading your blogs ☺

    1. Thanks. The list was more difficult to make than I thought. Subjective matters always leave room for discussion. Coming soon…my list of the most underrated.

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