(c) Universal Music
Dr. Dre is not only one of the most successful rappers in history, he is also one of the greatest discoverers and promoters of young rap talent. His work was crucial for the careers of great celebrities such as Eminem, Snoop Dog or the young Kendrick Lamar, who could properly mix up this list as perhaps the most popular rapper of the young generation in the future.
Dr. Dre began his career classically in nightclubs, playing smaller albums with local bands before achieving his personal breakthrough with N.W.A.. “Straight Outta Compton” sold over 2.5 million copies.
His first solo album “The Chronic” was released in 1992 and earned three platinum records. With the album “Let me Ride” he became the founder of G-Funk and received a Grammy in 1994.
Subsequently, Dr. Dre appeared more and more often as a producer, worked with greats like Tupac or Nas and made Aftermath and 50 Cent famous. He also tried to stand above the conflicts between East Coast and West Coast. Even if Dr. Dre himself released only three solo albums, his numerous productions of other rappers and his ability to make others very big make him one of the best rappers of all time and justify his nomination in the list of Top 10.
Adam Bielawski, Ice-Cube 2014-01-09-Chicago-photoby-Adam-Bielawski, CC BY-SA 3.0
One of the most famous rappers in US history is Ice Cube. He had great success with the rap groups N.W.A. and Westside Connection, but also released nine solo albums. The gangsta rapper also dabbled quite successfully as an actor. In his hometown of L.A., he maintained good contacts with Dr. Dre early on and made music together with him.
After school, he went to university as one of the few most popular rappers in the world. He studied construction drawing in Phoenix, but dropped out again after one year. He then achieved his musical breakthrough with the N.W.A. album “Straight Outta Compton“, which became the most successful hip-hop album on the West Coast.
From 1990, Ice Cube sought his fortune as a solo artist. His first album “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted” reached platinum status. His lyrics were often viewed critically, as they often revealed homophobic and even anti-Semitic traits. This did not change in the following albums, but did not diminish his success. “The Predator” shot to number one in the charts in 1992. He received numerous awards for his acting performances, including three MTV Movie Awards.
(c) Sony Music
He had just finished elementary school when Snoop Dog was picked up by the police for the first time for dealing drugs. The boy from a poor neighborhood of Long Beach sought his salvation in music – and extremely successful. At the beginning of the 90s he was discovered by Dr. Dre and was allowed to record some guest contributions for his album. In 1993 he brought the first own on the market. “Doggystyle” immediately reached No. 1 in the U.S. charts, selling over four million copies in the States alone.
Some legal problems then brought his career briefly to a standstill, before three years later the next album “Tha Doggfather” also went through the roof. Snoop was now an indispensable part of the American rap scene, before he announced in 2012 that he wanted to process the impressions he had gathered on a trip to Jamaica into raggae music in the future.
In addition to music, Snoop Dog dabbled in various other fields, for example, acting, starring in “Training Day” and “Bones – death is only the beginning”, among others. As a businessman, he launched his own version of the Cadillac.
(c) Lionel Deluy 2009
One of the most successful protagonists in recent rap history is undoubtedly 50 Cent. Like many others of his guild, 50 Cent was born in the New York borough of Queens and had a difficult childhood. His mother was murdered in her own house when he was eight years old, and he never even met his father. As a 12-year-old, he was already dealing in the drug scene and repeatedly came into conflict with the law. His already produced debut album “Power of the Dollar” could not be released, because 50 Cent was first stabbed in front of a recording studio and shortly afterwards hit by nine bullets during a shootout – miraculously, he was soon fully rehabilitated. His label, however, canceled his record contract.
Two years later, he was discovered again. This time, the big breakthrough came. “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” became the best-selling album in the U.S. in 2003, and “The Massacre” also reached No. 1 on the charts in the Americas in 2005, as well as in Germany and the United Kingdom. 50 Cent also raised his profile through his appearances as an actor. He appeared in “Freelancers,” “Southpaw” and “Escape Plan,” among others.
(c) Universal Music
No top 10 rapper list without Nas! His path to rap could be straight out of a storybook. Born in the New York borough of Queens, he spent large parts of his childhood in the problematic Queensbridge neighborhood, a social hotspot with a high crime rate. Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, Nas for short, put his experiences into his songs. At just 19 years old, his first album “Illmatic” was released – it is still considered a milestone in the history of hip-hop. Without much advertising, it took a while for the album to spread, but later over a million copies were sold, for which Nas was awarded platinum.
His second album, “It Was Written,” was even more successful, staying at No. 1 in the U.S. charts for 34 weeks. For this commercial success Nas was not always uncontroversial in the rap scene, but at the latest with the album “Stillmatic” he left the pop track and returned to the original East Coast rap.
What would the best rappers of all time be without Rakim? He is considered the inventor of lyricism and has thus made a big name for himself in the rap scene. He writes intelligent lyrics and takes on the big issues of life.
He came into contact with music at an early age. His mother was a jazz musician, and his aunt Ruth Brown was one of the most famous R’n’B singers in the USA in the 1950s. He released his first major songs together with Eric B. After four albums, the duo split up in 1994 and became embroiled in years of legal disputes, which also stalled Rakim’s career. So it took until 1997 before he released his first solo album, “The 18th Letter“. Two more albums followed before Rakim reconciled with Eric B and announced a joint tour for 2017. His new style is followed by many of the most successful rappers to date, including Nas or Kendrick Lamar.
(c) Universal Music
Jay Z is something of a glamour star in rapper heaven. This is not least due to the fact that he has been married to singer Beyoncé since 2008, even though the marriage has repeatedly suffered from crises and a divorce often seemed inevitable. The celebrity couple were regular guests on red carpets, and the rapper’s fame also benefited.
He spent his youth on the streets of New York, where he got to know the rough customs in the Brookyln district. It took several attempts before Jay Z took off as an artist. His first musical works reached only a small audience. That changed in 1997, when the album “In My Lifetime Vol.1” stormed to number three on the US charts. With the next albums, he shifted his music further in the direction of the mainstream, achieving great commercial success for himself. To date, an incredible ten albums have reached number one in the American charts.
Forbes magazine estimated his fortune as early as 2009 at around 150 million U.S. dollars, and it is likely to have risen significantly again since then (Jay-Z fortune). He is considered the most successful black musician of his time. Above all, “The Blueprint” is repeatedly named as one of the best rap albums of all time.
(c) Universal Music
Many music fans who don’t like rap may have a hard time listing some famous rappers. But they all know at least one: Eminem.
The American has developed beyond the boundaries of rap into a real superstar who also appears as a producer. Rolling Stone magazine named him King of Hip-Hop in 2011, and in the noughties his album “The Eminem Show” was the third best-selling album of the decade in the States.
Subsequently, Dr. Dre appeared more and more often as a producer, worked with greats like Tupac or Nas and made Aftermath and 50 Cent famous. The first major success of his career came a few years later with the album “The Slim Shady,” which went platinum four times. Success followed success, six more albums jumped to No. 1 in the US charts, “The Marshall Mathers LP” and “The Eminem Show” both reached diamond.
His private life is repeatedly riddled with minor and major scandals, and in 2006 Eminem takes a two-year sabbatical amid alcohol and drug problems, after which he goes straight back to the top of the U.S. music market and raps three more No. 1 albums. In addition to his music, several films also increase his popularity, including the Oscar-winning flick “8 Mile” starring Eminem. Eminem has received many other awards, including the Grammy 15 times alone.
(c) Universal Music
Tupac had only 25 years to make music, and he used them to become one of the most successful rappers in history. The New York native sold 75 million records by the time of his death in 1996. Originally from a poor background, his mother enabled him to attend the Baltimore School for the Arts. In addition to literature and ballet classes, he took up rapping before a job-related move by his mother to the San Francisoc area led him astray, as he would later say. He slipped into the drug scene, dabbled as a dealer and was again involved in violent altercations. During this time, however, his great career as a rapper began.
The first album “2Pacalypse Now” was an immediate success, staying in the US charts for 23 weeks in 1991. Four years later, his third album “Me Against The World” was even honored with double platinum. His greatest commercial success was the fourth of only five albums titled “All Eyez on Me“, it topped the US charts for 105 weeks and received diamond.
In September 1996, Tupac died under mysterious circumstances. On the sidelines of a boxing match of his friend Mike Tyson in Las Vegas, he got into a brawl with an enemy gang member of the Southside Crips. Security forces broke up the brawl. Shortly after, several shots were fired at the car in which Tupac was sitting. The rapper was seriously injured and died a few days later in a Vegas hospital. To this day, conspiracy theories surround his demise, not the least of which is that many still believe it was a faked death. “Nobody has seen Tupac dead,” said his friend Knight in an interview in 2012, a police officer wants to have received 1.5 million dollars for faking a death. Even though there were many great and successful rappers after him – Tupac set standards and therefore belongs in our top 3.
(c) Warner Music
“Juicy”, “Big Poppa”, “Ready to Die”, “Life after Death” – The Notourios B.I.G. managed not to produce a single bad song in his life. He has gone down in history as one of the most popular rappers. Unfortunately, his life ended way too early after only 24 years. All the more amazing that he made it to such fame.
He began rapping at the age of 15, distributing specially produced tapes that quickly made him famous in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York. When the tape fell into the hands of the already well-known rapper Big Daddy Kane, who passed it on to the newspaper The Source, Biggie’s big career was a done deal. His first commercial success became the single “Flava in Ya Ear”, and his biggest album became “Life After Death” in 1997. At that time, the enmity between East Coast and West Coast rappers had already escalated. Especially Tupac and Biggie, once close friends, were no longer on good terms since a shooting in 1994. With Snoop Dog, Dr. Dre and several others, Tupac railed against Biggie, who knew his East Coast allies. When Tupac was shot in 1996 following a Mike Tyson boxing match in Las Vegas, the suspicions of some West Coast rappers fell on Biggie’s entourage.
On March 9, 1997, revenge followed, Biggie was also hit by four bullets while sitting in the car and died a short time later in the hospital. The perpetrator was able to flee and was never caught. Biggie’s popularity was not diminished by his demise. Even after his death, countless records were sold. Some famous rappers even dedicated the album “Born Again” to him posthumously, including Eminem and Puff Daddy.
In 2009, the film version of his life was released. Even though Biggie’s life and career were very short, he left a deep impression and shaped his posterity like hardly any other musician of his time. He is considered the most successful rapper on the East Coast and perhaps the most popular rapper of all time. Many musicians called his influence formative for their own songs, Eminem especially honored him by having many of his songs included in the movie “8 Mile”. For us, the best rapper of all time!