In the last 40 years, Hip Hop music not only came into being but even managed to become the most popular genre of music.

In 2017, Hip Hop surpassed rock as the all-round chart-toppers in the US. Nielson’s 2017 report showed that once considered a niche genre has grown to become the most listened genre of music.

Starting in the 70s as block party music in New York City, Hip Hop is now in demand all over the world. Who created the base for this global frenzy? From Nas to Drake, let’s take a look at the most influential Hip Hop artists of all time.

Early Pioneers


1. Kool Herc

Kool Herc, the block party DJ from the 70s, is largely considered the initiator of Hip Hop sounds.

As an entertainer, he wanted to keep people dancing. He observed how people danced more to music breaks than the lyrical parts. He eventually looped two records playing only the breaks, occasionally scratching the record.

Emceeing during the breaks, he heated up the crowd.

Although he never became as famous as many of his followers, his creativity gave us an entire genre of music we love!

2. Afrika Bambaataa

Afrika Bambaataa is where the unity in Hip Hop truly began. Influenced by Herc, he also began experimenting with DJing. His vision was to pull the youth of the African American community out of the streets.

He started “Universal Zulu Nation” giving them a safe place for self-expression. Little did he know that this will be the beginning of Hip Hop groups.

3. Grandmaster Flash

Grandmaster Flash perfected the Hip Hop sound. A master DJ, flash’s artistry was exceptional. He made scratching more mainstream and produced his own DJing device.

His contribution to mixing, cutting, and breaking is phenomenal. He formed the Hip Hop group Furious Five. The music produced by the group furthered the goal of presenting a social message through Hip Hop music.

Legends


1. Rakim

Rakin refined the art of rapping. As an emcee, he showed that his rhymes can intertwine with the beat with refined harmony, without following conventional style. Much worshipped by the rappers who followed, he brought an unparalleled grace to rapping.

Paired with Eric B, the MC/DJ duo made a solid mark into the history books.

2. Dr.Dre

With Dr. Dre came the west coast dominance. As the instigator of G-funk, he changed the face of Hip Hop forever.

Dr. Dre first caught the public eye as part of the infamous trio called N.W.A. Although the trio will later end in a feud, Dr. Dre would soon make his own name famous.

He was not famous for writing verses but he had a unique understanding of what the public would love. Alongside being the master producer of many hits, he aided the careers of many giants of Hip Hop including, 2pac, Eminem & Kendrick Lamar.

3. Notorious B.I.G

Perhaps the most loved Hip Hop star of all time, Biggie Smalls brought the focus back to the East Coast. He showed the true colors of hustler life in New York City.

His low pitch smooth rapping often showed a softer side of the “thug life”.

As a master performer, he captured his audience with ease, making them feel his brand of pain and love. The violence of his death shattered millions of loving fans.

4. Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur & Notorious B.I.G were part of the most infamous rap feud of all times, which ended with the death of both.

Tupac Shakur was a powerful rapper. Unafraid to ask the important questions, he painted the true picture of his community and all it’s problems.

He delivered his verses with such power and confidence that his music inspires the youth even today.

5. André 3000

While storm brewed between east and west, Andre 3000 came in with his message from the south.

Andre 3000 & Big Boi was a part of the rap duo Outkast, who brought balance to the Hip Hop world with their colorful southern vibes. Andre’s contribution to Hip Hop helped disassociate Hip Hop with Gang violence.

6. Nas

Nas broke into the Hip Hop scene with his debut album which established him as East Coast’s gem. He delivers his full verses with such style.

His own persona reflects in his words. Although he had many hits, his debut album Illmatic stays untouchable. Like many from his generation of rappers, he also made it big as an entrepreneur.

7. Jay-Z

Jay-Z is not just a rapper. He is an entrepreneur, producer, fashion icon and so much more. He, along with a few others, made Hip Hop mainstream music.

He is the creator of some of the catchiest tunes and lyrics in existence. He has more Grammys than any other rapper. As one of the most influential rappers of all time, he never loses significance.

Modern Torch Bearers


1. Eminem

There is little that needs to be said about the fame of Eminem. His hits dominated the global market, making him the most popular musician of his generation.

His sharp tone paired with satirical content makes for an explosive combination. An almost petulant voice, he spoke out for the “little people”.

He made Hip Hop relatable to everyone and dissed everyone with his eccentric and electrifying lyrics

2. Kanye West

“N-now th-that that don’t kill me can only make me stronger.” These lines are inspirational and relatable for an entire generation. Eccentric, vain and straight-forward, Kanye West is a force to reckon with.

Never one to shy away from the limelight, he has often caused controversies. Soul meets modern hip hop in his songs. As a producer, he has bagged more hits than you can count.

3. Rick Ross

Rick Ross is the face of luxury Hip Hop. Once a sportsman, Ross was attracted into the industry by the wealth and glamour. Now his net worth exceeds what the southern boy from a humble background could have ever imagined.

What makes him truly stand out is his deep understanding of how the industry works. Now the owner of his own successful record label, “Maybach Music Label”, Rick Ross is the proverbial Golden Goose of Hip Hop.

4. Drake

Drake is the face of modern Hip Hop. An exceptional composer, his every hit instantly becomes a global sensation. In early 2019, Nielsen Report showed him to be the most on-demand streamed artist.

His influence on modern culture can almost be compared to that of Michael Jackson and Madonna in the 80s. Hip Hop once promoted a culture of strong masochism and disturbing misogyny.

Drake is a true millennial and he brought forth a culture of respectful behavior towards women. His lyrics show a vulnerability that cannot be labeled as a weakness. His influence on the young generation is undeniable.

Conclusion

Breaking the boundaries of race and culture, Hip Hop music is an expression of people. The great influencers of Hip Hop have transformed it into the giant it is now. These artists are not just musicians, they are representatives of voices waiting to be heard.

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