The Best Rapper of All Time: The Evolution of Rap Since 1979

Rap music has existed for decades, with someone new stepping up every year to claim the spotlight.

There’ve been many influential artists throughout the years, so we decided to delve deep into how rap music has grown, changed, and given us heroes with microphones.

Trace the journey from Grandmaster Caz in 1979 to J. Cole in 2023, highlighting the evolution of rap.
Explore seminal albums and chart-topping hits that secured each rapper's spot on the list.
Understand these artists' influence on music, culture, and rap.

The Start of Rap’s Biggest Stars (1979-1989)

  • 1979: Grandmaster Caz – It all began with Grandmaster Caz amazing everyone with his way with words.
  • 1980: Kurtis Blow – Kurtis Blow made history with “The Breaks,” becoming the standout rapper of the year.
  • 1981-1989: New heroes emerged every year; Kool Moe Dee, Melle Mel, Run (shining for two straight years), LL Cool J, KRS-One, Rakim, Slick Rick, and Big Daddy Kane each led the rap world at their time, each with their own sound and memorable shows.

The 90s: The Era of Rap Legends (1990-1999)

  • 1990: Ice Cube – After leaving N.W.A., his solo journey skyrocketed, making him the top rapper of the year.
  • 1994: Nas – Nas’s Illmatic transformed rap, putting him at the forefront in a tough year.
  • 1995 and 1997: The Notorious B.I.G. – Biggie, with his charm and skills, was named the top rapper twice, leaving a lasting impact on rap.
  • 1996: 2Pac – Tupac, known for his deep lyrics and charm, was the year’s clear winner.
  • 1998: DMX – DMX’s debut shook the rap scene with his intense style, earning him the top spot.

The 2000s: New Century, New Icons (2000-2009)

  • 2000 and 2002: Eminem – Eminem stood out twice with his sharp words and bold themes.
  • 2003: 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’ brought 50 Cent to the forefront of rap.
  • 2007 and 2010: Kanye West – Kanye earned the award of the year’s best rapper twice during this decade, thanks to his innovative sounds and albums.
  • 2008: Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III broke records, making Lil Wayne the year’s leading artist.

The 2010s: The Birth of a New Era (2010-2019)

  • 2011 and 2012: Drake – Drake led the early 2010s with his hits topping the charts.
  • 2013: Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city confirmed Kendrick’s top spot as the year’s leading rapper.
  • 2014: Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint and her chart success made Nicki Minaj the first woman to claim the title.
  • 2018 and 2023: J. Cole – J. Cole stood out during both years for his significant role in rap, sparking debates but earning respect for his work.

Best Rapper of All Time – Wrapping It Up!

Looking back, it’s clear that rap is more than just music; it’s a story of struggle, joy, and everything in between, told by artists who bring their unique flavor.

From the streets of New York to stages worldwide, these rappers have made us dance, think, and feel.

The debate over who’s the best of all time might never end, but that’s part of what makes rap so exciting.

As we move forward, we can’t help but wonder who’ll be next to take the title and add their chapter to rap’s ongoing story.

Grace Angelique

An accomplished Art News Journalist with a decade of experience, Grace has passionately covered global art events, exhibitions, and emerging trends. With a keen eye for aesthetics and a pulse on the art world's undercurrents, Grace has crafted compelling narratives that bridge art and its societal impacts. Her work has graced major publications, offering readers a fresh perspective on contemporary art and its evolving landscape.

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