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Legends of Rap Music

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

Rap/hip-hop is deeply embedded in popular culture – to the point where its stars seem not only larger than life but also, as Rick Ross once put it, “deeper than rap.” But even as they sell out arenas and top the pop charts, rappers still court the respect and esteem of their hip-hop peers. The title King of Hip Hop still means something. These icons have worked hard to maintain the stardom in the rap/hip-hop music. They are incredibly amazing with their style of rap. Below is the list of Kings who are still balling the rap music back to back.

Eminem ( Image: Revolt TV)

Not even Eminem ignored the role that whiteness played in his ability to sell records, rapping, “If I was black, I would’ve sold half,” on “White America,” the tone-setter of his third album, "2002's The Eminem Show". At the time, though, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone — even the most cynical members of the anti-Eminem camp — who actually believed this; by then, he’d already leapfrogged his hip-hop peers to battle the likes of pop music’s finest when it came to sales and chart position. Now, keep in mind, this shouldn’t have been possible: Eminem’s peak coincided with the boy band revolution, an era when the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, and Britney Spears sold over a million copies in one week. Granted, this hardly mattered for the Marshall Mathers Machine. On May 23, 2000 — just one week after Britney Spears moved 1.3m units to set the record for highest one week sales as a solo artist— Eminem’s second album, The Marshall Mathers LP, sold 1,760,000 copies, making it the fastest-selling rap album in history (twice as much as the previous record holder, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle); then, two years later, his follow-up, The Eminem Show, gave Eminem the two-highest one-week sales for a solo artist, as it moved a not-too-shabby 1.31m units. So, until another rapper comes close to approaching the commercial heights he reached, Eminem is in a stratosphere of his own.

Notorious B.I.G ( Image: EWRN)

Notorious B.I.G by far. The flow, easy lyrics, simple rhymes and clear delivery is enough to make anyone sing along and nod their head. Every rhyme was true, double layered and, most of all, had some sort of meaning. He rapped about his life, he was honest about his looks, his money, his personality and more. Some would say he isn’t the “king” because he only survived to see one album be published but that’s all it took for him to be recognised 20 years later. Anyone could listen to his music, it was easy on the ears, the flow was mesmerising and it captured you from the start of the song. His influence was enough to start a war within the USA and to end it. Biggie’s flow is unmatched (excluding Big Daddy Kane). He created songs about his life (Hypnotize, Juicy) songs about women (Big Poppa, One More Chance), songs about gangs (Who Shot Ya, Somebody’s Got to Die) and more. His freestyling was also unmatched during the mid 90's, he was what MJ was to Pop, what Elvis was to Rock. He’s simply number 1 because of his flow, lyrics, honesty, power, influence and story-telling. The only people who come close and/or tie with him are Tupac, Nas, Eazy-E, Big Daddy Kane and Slick Rick. Each rapper is recognised for a certain factor in the Hip-Hop industry - story-telling, flow, rhythm, lyrics, influence and freestyle - Biggie had it all.

Tu Pac Amaru Shakur (Image: Britannia)

Tupac makes this list largely due to the chart topping success of his most memorable project, 1996’s "All Eyez on Me". By the time he got to Death Row, while he’d already experienced commercial popularity with his most recent album — 1995’s "Me Against the World", which debuted at №1 and gave him his first platinum-selling single, “Dear Mama” — 2 Pac hadn’t come close to scratching the surface of his potential as a mainstream superstar. That all came to pass immediately after Suge Knight bailed the controversial rapper out of jail at the end of 1995; the following summer, with "All Eyez On Me" already certified platinum, ‘Pac hit number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 with “California Love,” before unseating himself with the follow-up hit, “How Do You Want It.”

Ludacris ( image:Getty Images)

If you asked any casual hip-hop fan to list the five most successful rappers of the 2000's, I’d expect them to circle back to the following group: Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye, Lil Wayne, Nelly, and 50 Cent. Let’s throw T.I., and Young Jeezy in there for good measure. Point being, Ludacris wouldn’t be thought of, let alone mentioned. Should he be? Well, let’s look at where Luda ranks amongst that group in our four categories: 6th (album sales), 4th (№1 albums), 5th (№1 hits), and 5th (№1 rap songs). In that regard, I suppose not. But, here’s where it gets interesting: from 2000 to 2006, Luda dropped hits clean, amassing 16 top-ten singles over this period, which places him first in that group, ahead of Jay-Z (14), Eminem (13), Nelly (11), 50 Cent (7), T.I. (6), Kanye (6), Wayne (3), and Jeezy (3). For what it’s worth, Luda was, over the first-half of the 2000s, rap’s commercial King.

50 Cents ( image: Complex)

Given the magnitude of Fiddy’s earth-shattering run from 2003 to 2005, it’s hard to believe that he only notched three number-one singles and five chart toppers on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart. "After Get Rich or Die Trying " debuted at №1 on Billboard’s Top 200 — selling 872,000 copies in its first week to become the fastest-selling debut album in rap history — 50 saw his first two singles (“In Da Club” and “21 Questions”) hit №1 and his third, “P.I.M.P,” peaked at №3 on Billboard’s Hot 100; and yet, it may not top the run he went on at the top of 2005 when, on April 2 of that year, he became the first artist to simultaneously occupy the top three positions of Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart, with “Candy Shop,” “Hate It Or Love It,” and “How We Do.”

Kanye West ( Image: Billboard)

Kanye may not have a single calendar year that rivals the aforementioned MCs, but what he has had is a consistent presence on the charts. In nine consecutive years, from 2004 to 2012, Kanye had at least one song that charted either the Billboard Hot 100, Billboard Hot Rap Songs, or Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, including a three-year run (2007–09) in which he posted seven №1 singles. Further, he makes his case as a commercial giant with eight №1 albums and 16.3 million albums sold, which cement him as the №1 rapper of his era in both categories. More than anything, though, when it comes to full bodies of work, Kanye is unrivaled among his peers.

Drake ( image: Aceshowbiz)

DRAKE On his 2013 loosie, “5 AM in Toronto,” Drake famously rapped, “Most number-ones ever, how long did it really take me?” Well, not long. By early 2012, he already set the record for most number ones on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart (11) and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (10). In the six years since, he’s made a mockery of his own records, notching his 20th and 19th №1s, respectively, this year, giving him a grand total of 26 songs that have topped at least one of the charts. If his career-defining summer has proven anything, though, it’s that Drake’s rap peers are no longer who he’s chasing: last month, with four new top 10 singles to his credit, Drake leapfrogged Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to become the man with the most top 10 singles under his own name (31); and, when it comes to all artists, he only trails The Beatles (34) and Madonna (38).

Jay Z ( Image: Billboard)

In an alternate universe, producer “The 45 King” doesn’t flip the Annie sample, Jay-Z releases his third consecutive flop and never catapults into the mainstream, cementing his legacy as a what-could have-been star. Thankfully, the opposite happened: Jay-Z turned the Annie-backed “Hard Knock Life” into the biggest hit of his career, helping make his subsequent album, Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life, the first of his career to debut at №1 on the Billboard 200, selling over 350,000 copies in its first week. Naturally, from there, Jigga became the guy who hasn’t wasted a moment to remind us that he’s dropped eleven consecutive number one albums, and is only looking up at "The Beatles" when it comes to the artists with the most number one albums ever.

P Diddy ( Image: Billboard)

If we were ranking the best calendar years a rapper has ever had, it’d be fair to argue that Diddy’s 1997 tops the list. I know what you’re thinking: No Way Out was Diddy’s debut album only technically, because, really, it was a Bad Boy compilation project that saw the headliner (Puffy) outshined by the label’s stable of superstars (Biggie, Ma$e, and The LOX). Still, there’s no denying that Puff Daddy had a massively successful 1997, as the album produced two chart-topping singles (“Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” and “I’ll Be Missing You”), along with two more tracks that peaked at №2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (“It’s All About the Benjamins” and “Been Around the World”); and if you throw in Biggie’s №1 hit, “Mo Money Mo Problems,” Diddy spent 22 out of 25 consecutive weeks (from March 22 to September 6) atop the Billboard Hot 100.

Lil Wayne ( Image: Billboard )

Lil Wayne’s ascent into pop music, and the mainstream success that comes with it, was slow, so much so that, over the first five years of his post-Hot Boyz, solo career, there were no signs that he would ever reach the heights of the commercial giant he’s become. After his first three albums underwhelmed, Wayne started to make noise with the first two efforts from "Tha Carter series", before his transcendent mixtape run (from 2006 to 2007) left the world anticipating his forthcoming, 2008 album, "Tha Carter III". Its release was a moment, to say the least. Finally, Wayne was King; not just of the underground, the mixtape circuits, or the mind of your rapper’s favorite rapper, but of the genre, if not the entire pop music landscape. Carter III debuted number-one and became the first album — in all of music — to sell over one million copies since 50 Cent’s The Massacre, released three years earlier. The list of Kings/Legends of Rap music are endless. But, you can share your favorite king of rap in the comment section below. Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to share and like.

Special thanks to all the media whose images and materials we have used for the research.

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