Today we are going to handle one of the most heated debate in all Hip-hop history: who is the GOAT of New York? Even in France, this debate pops up sometimes and nobody can agree, everyone has a strong position and doesn’t want to move from it, friends argue and fight… So, today, I’ll give you my personal Top 5 of the best rappers and rap bands from New York City. Be prepared for a 100% subjective ranking and to insult me in the comments saying that I don’t know anything about rap, that I’m not from New York and that I should shut my French mouth! Let’s go!
Before ranking my personal top 5, here are the rappers or bands that I have to mention as they didn’t make it. It’s the part where I expect the most debate and the most tears of rage as I willingly forgot to put your favourite rapper.
Cam’Ron: Killa Cam from Harlem and the Diplomats deserve to be mentioned, but I can’t put them in this top as I don’t think their influence was big enough. Except the single Oh Boy, none of his songs really crossed the ocean, not enough classic songs in my opinion and the movie Paid in Full was not that good even if Rico is the best character.
Tekashi 6ix9ine: I know some people are talking about him as the new King of New York, but let us be serious two minutes here. I like the guy’s energy but he’s been here for 6 month and probably going to jail for the next 30 years when I write this article. Of course, I won’t put Bobby Schmurda in this top either. Side debate tho: who created the biggest future classic between Gummo and Hot N*gga?
Wu Tang Clan: Now we’re starting with the controversial choices, I didn’t put the legendary band from Staten Island in the Top 5 New York. First, I personally really like some of the members (Method Man, Raekwon, ODB) but there are some others that I don’t find that good or charismatic. Also, even if they have some classic albums, I didn’t really care about their most recent activities, like the Reunited album or the unique 2 million dollars album. I didn’t think all of that was relevant and it just looked like riding on the wave of their diehard fans. In addition, I think that except some songs like Triumph or C.R.E.A.M their albums didn’t age that well. For those reasons, they’ll stay a very strong honorable mention!
P Diddy: He could actually be in this top because of the whole influence he had on the music industry in general with his label Bad Boy Records, but he still is more a dancer or a label boss than a rapper.
2Pac: Just because, while he was technically born in New York, nobody really associates 2pac with New York City. His affiliations with Death Row make him more of a symbol of the West Coast in most rap fans mind. Otherwise, he would have make the Top 5 with no problem as he is one of my personal favourites.
Cormega: Obviously, he doesn’t make the Top 5 but I wanted to talk about this artist I really like. That’s a shame he was fired from The Firm because he was outshining Nas on every song…
Rakim: There are so many purists that are going to get mad for it, but I don’t put Rakim in this top. The Hip-Hop media dictatorship wants all of us to like Rakim for some reason, saying he is “the greatest MC of all times” and “the best lyricist of all time”. First, I’ll tell you as a French listener that the lyrical level in the whole American Rap is not that impressive, and the way our languages are done make lyrics are way more important in French music than in English. Therefore, I think the “best lyricist” in US rap have the lyrical level of a medium/pretty good writing French Rapper, which explains why I don’t put so much importance on that aspect (and also because I understand half the lyrics of course). Anyway, Rakim is legendary but his music aged really bad, way worse than Wu Tang if you ask me. Also, a lot of people interested in Hip-hop but not that knowledgeable have no idea who he is, which means his influence on the mainstream public wasn’t big enough to last.
Jay-Z: Yes, Jay-Z doesn’t make my top 5 best rappers/rap bands of New York, what are you gonna do about it? Let me explain why I don’t put the legend of Brooklyn into this ranking while you’ll see him as number one in almost all NY top 5 you’ll find. First, even worse than with Rakim, there’s some rap media dictatorship telling us we should love Jaz-Z because he is the best and I don’t like that. Personally, I didn’t grow up with Jay-Z that much and each time I ask one of his fans to give me 5 Jay-Z classics they stop at 3 at best (Hard Knock Life, Izzo, Big Pimpin, I know there are more I am just quoting the ones I hear the most). So yeah, I’ll say it now and never again, Jay-Z is the most overrated rapper of all time (along with Kendrick Lamar, but that’s a debate for another day). He would have appeared on this top easily if it was about the 10 best, but you have at least 5 New York bands or rappers that are in front of him for me.
Capone-N-Noreaga: The legendary band CNN from Queens doesn’t make my top 5, but they really were scratching the door! I personally think this band and its influence on international rap is minimized. They are part of this really street, thug and quite dark NY rap from the Queens during the end of the 90s, and they are the second best at that after a band we’ll talk about later!
Alright, now that we distributed the honorable mentions, let’s get to the actual Top 5!
This picture is cool but Shawn Carter doesn't make it to the Top 5!
The legendary Biggie from Brooklyn is number 5 of my top list. Notorious is maybe the most iconic rapper in the history of New York, because among other things of the 90s feud between B.I.G and 2pac (East Coast vs. West Coast), the whole pop culture cult about him (movies, tv shows, posters…), his whole influence that is still huge nowadays, the fact that he is one of the first names that come out when people talk about the GOAT and, obviously, his tragic personal story. And while I love Biggie Smalls and his music, I can’t put him higher in this top for one good reason. His career was just too short, he released only Ready to Die and Life After Death as albums and didn’t release enough titles. Nowadays, we can only imagine what would have been B.I.G’s influence on Hip-hop if he didn’t lose his life so young…
The King of Brooklyn
Earl Simmons from Yonkers, aka Dark Man X, is a New York legend and completely deserves this 4th position. While he might be the less technical, less talented and definitely the less lyrical artist of this list (DMX is one the rappers using the smallest vocabulary), we don’t really care about that. Because when you have this broken voice and when you are so sincere and can express feelings so strongly just with your singing, that’s all what music is supposed to be about. If you ever listened to DMX, you know you can feel all of his fucked-up life, struggles and personal demons in a 3mn song, way better than any other rapper in the world. On the downside, I think DMX had trouble choosing the right instrumentals and surrounding himself with good producers in his career. Also, the movie Belly pretty much sucked (Nas is also guilty of this one), watch it today and try to tell me the opposite. Anyway, DMX is the strongest and most powerful voice of New York and we all hope he can find a way to overcome his demons and find peace in the future!
DMX, most sincere rapper in the game and father of 15 children
In number 3, I put Nasir Jones of Queens. You probably know all about Nas already. Arguably the best flow in Rap History as he demonstrated on Represent for instance, the album Illmatic which might be top 3 rap albums of all time and a complete dominance on other rappers during the 1994-1996 period. He continued delivering masterful music the years after and he is still active nowadays, but I still think he never matched the level he had during this period, except maybe on It Was Written with The Message or Affirmative Action. He also decided to utterly destroy poor Jay-Z on Stillmatic with the classic beef song Ether, which some people deem the most violent of all time. It would take 10 pages to describe Nas’ career so I’ll stay short, you could actually put him first on this list and nobody would find much to say against it.
The famous Nasir Jones
Havoc and Prodigy created one of the most legendary band in the whole Hip-hop industry. Nowadays, all young rappers still freestyle on Mobb Deeps instrumentals, because everything sound better on a Havoc prod. They are the main representant of the dark/thug rap style of the New York industry of the 90s, making you feel the atmosphere of the projects during a cold New York winter night. Mobb Deep is the band that had the biggest influence on French rap (the 2nb biggest rap industry in the world, before UK) with all rappers trying to do some Mobb Deep until the beginning of the 2000s, especially around Paris. Anyway, Mobb Deep released so many classic songs it would be impossible to quote them all. Just take their first album Infamous and choose a song randomly, it is a timeless classic. They deserve the 2nd place because their music didn’t get old in 2018 and I think it’s because of the sheer simplicity of their instrumental and their flows.
The infamous M.O.B.B.
50 Cent and G-Unit
Yes, Curtis Jackson aka 50 Cent is number one of my personal top of the best NYC rappers of all time! I didn’t put him there because I think he is the best technically, the best lyricist or even the best at choosing his producers but because of the whole impact he had on the industry and my generation as a whole. When Get Rich or Die Trying was released in early 2003 with Eminem and Dr Dre’s support it was an international earthquake and 50 cent became almost instantly the iconic image of the American rapper for the rest of the world. From 2003 to 2008, 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, Young Buck and Tony Yayo were everywhere. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a crew imposing such a domination on the whole American rap industry like the G-unit did in the 2000s. They were beefing with everyone and always winning (from Fat Joe to Cam’Ron and poor Ja Rule that got his career ruined because of that), releasing lit mixtapes all the time with DJ Whoo Kid and DJ Green Lantern and using any media possible to have a lasting presence. Both GRODT and The Massacre are classic albums, as well as Beg for Mercy from G-Unit and 50 Cent still have a big influence today (more from movies and tv shows like Power than for his recent music). For all those reasons, it’s time to officially that 50 Cent and the G-Unit are the real Kings of New York!
From left to right, Young Buck, Kidd Kidd (joined after the golden age), 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo
Thank you for reading this top! It’s harder to do more subjective than a musical top as it goes with your personal tastes, the influence music had on your personal life and a bit of nostalgia. That’s why I know you probably have a completely different top than me, so don’t hesitate to share it in the comments! If you enjoyed this article or found it interesting, please check our clothing collections! If you also enjoy rap from Detroit or Los Angeles, check out our 8 Mile T-shirt and our Straight Outta Compton T-shirt as well!