Honorable Mention: Kanye West: Cause let’s face it any list that doesn’t include Kanye is gong to lose credibility…according to Kanye. In reality, though Kanye is widely acclaimed and recognized as an MC, it can be argued that he is still in fact underrated
10. (Tie) Mos Def: Born Dante Terrell Smith and later known as Yasiin Bey, he burst onto the scene with Talib Kweli as Blackstar marked most notably by their singles “Definition” and “Respiration” off the album (Both songs were declared by VH1 in their 100 greatest Hip Hop songs) serving notice that the Brooklyn MCs’ had skills. Mos Def’s first solo album after Blackstar: “Black On Both Sides” was a continuation of artistic greatness with classic singles like “Mathematics”, “Umi Says” and “Ms Fat Booty”. Further albums continued to showcase, consciousness, lyricism and melodic ingenuity helping him to make this list of underrated MCs’.
Talib Kweli: Talib may very well be one of your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. In “Moment of Clarity”, Jay Z rapped, “If skills sold, truth be told/I’d probably be lyrically, Talib Kweli” Besides coming to prominence with Blackstar, he has had a solo career that has been far too unheralded for the quality of work. Singles like “Get By”, “I Try feat. Mary J. Blige”, “The Blast”, are just a sampling of reasons if you don’t know Talib’s work, older and more recent, you need to.
9. Big Pun: Christopher Rios was the first Latino to achieve platinum status as a solo act. His rapid fire lyrics and rhyme skills (Twinz-Deep Cover 98 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbvePryw7ao ) put him at the top of any MC list. Though he has been critically acclaimed he had a short career, which only featured one full length album, “Capital Punishment” (that peaked at #5 on Billboard) and two posthumous albums: Yeeeah Baby (Gold and #3 on Billboard) and essentially a compilation, Endangered Species that peaked at #7 on Billboard. Pun’s early death and the brevity of his career factor heavily in to his status asone of the genre’s most underrated.
8. Jeezy: When Jay Wayne Jenkins aka Young Jeezy burst onto the scene in 2005 as a member of Boyz n da Hood, he served notice that MC’s from the South needed to be recognized for their lyricism. His major label debut solo album “Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101” and the five albums that followed have cemented his place as one of Hip Hop’s best. Yet, though he is recognized, Jeezy still remains one of the most underrated for his MC skills.
7.Jadakiss: Jason Phillips has been so critically acclaimed as both a member of The Lox as well as a solo artist, that it is hard to reconcile how he can be considered underrated. Yet, I argue he is easily one of the most underrated MC’s because the general public is less aware of the artist that doesn’t pander simply for commercial success.
6. Big L: Lamont Coleman was one of the greatest battle raping, street lyricists ever. Like Big Pun his career was tragically cut short by death (a week after starting negotiations to join Roc A Fella). His body of work was cut short, but instead of using words to try and describe how good Big L was I invite you to listen to these three tracks.
(98 Freestyle) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLpZUI4BZwU
(Big L & Jay Z 10 min Freestyle) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKPXDPKFtmM
5. Rakim: The R is arguably the greatest MC of all time. In 2006 MTV ranked Rakim the 4th best MC of all time and his album “Paid in Full (with Eric B) the greatset Hiop Hop album of all time. In 2011 The Source ranked him #1 in the 50 Greatest Lyricists Of All Time. So how can someone like this be underrated? Time. Younger generations really do not have much clue as to the magnificence of Rakim’s skills.
4. Chuck D: As the leader of Public Enemy, the groups, colorful dynamic and controversial positions at times overshadowed the Voice and Lyricism that made PE a soundtrack for social consciousness and activism. He still performs with PE and has added a new fan base as part of the collective Prophets Of Rage. “Fight The Power” from the Do The Right Thing movie soundtrack is widely considered as one of the greatest and most important Hip Hop songs of all time.
3. Ice Cube: O’Shea Jackson Sr: has been one of the most important and underrated MC’s since he started as a teen with NWA. His blistering attack of Jerry Heller and the remaining members of NWA (“No Vaseline”) and his movie acting and producing career have far overshadowed Ice Cube’s seminal lyrical skills. His solo albums were successful with the third-Predator going triple platinum and featuring the singles “Check Yo Self’ and “It Was A Good Day”.
2. KRS One: Like Rakim KRS is a victim of younger generations not necessarily having an understanding or interest in the greats that proceeded them. 1987’s release of Criminal Minded by BDP was a classic and even after his partner and DJ’s (Scott LaRock) death KRS continued on as one of the most acclaimed MC’s of all time. He had multiple styles, incorporating, gangsta rap, consciousness (he was head of Stop The Violence Movement) and Jamaican Zung gu zung styles in his melodies and lyrics.
1. Fabolous: John David Jackson is the king of the hip hop punchlines. Fab is not the most recognized or celebrated MC on the list. He may not be the best, but I think he is undeniably Hip Hop’s most underrated MC. His first album was released in 2001. Long ago enough that he can be considered old school for several generations but more than relevant today in part because of his prolific consistency (7 studio albums and another half dozen mixtapes and EPs). He is a older rapper who still does collabs with new artists, yet I argue that Fab never truly gets his due. He is easy to overlook, but once you look at his body of work, he is hard to continue to ignore. Fab has walked that fine line in Hip Hop of producing street certified music along with commercial content and that is why he tops this list.
-If you liked this article, check out “The MOST IMPORTANT Hip Hop Acts Of All Time” parts 1 & 2