21st century rap has grown from a relatively quiet entity to basically the mainstream genre for new artists to branch into. Rappers such as The Notorious B.I.G, Nas and Tupac paved the way for the new generation to come along and that wave came through in the early to mid 2000s when Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake and Eminem to make just a few became global superstars and helped reinvent the rap genre. It’s continual inevitable growth has passed through into very recent times and there is now a fresh batch of artists who have already shook the industry up in their short time of being recognised rappers. This is a top 10 list from my personal opinion as to who I think are the best and biggest rappers around today that first shot to prominence in the 2010s.
10. Childish Gambino
Biggest Hits: V. 3005, Sober, IV. sweatpants
Actor, Comedian, Producer, Director, Rapper, Singer, DJ. You name it and Donald Glover does it. He goes by the rap name of Childish Gambino and provides a mesmeric and pop style sound to his beats and lyrics which goes down well with those fans on the outskirts of hip-hop. He signed to Glassnote Records in 2011 and ‘Camp’ was released as a result. This was his debut studio album and a chance to show he’s not only a brilliant actor and comic, but also has flow he can add to his arsenal. The album went down well as a whole and contained big tracks such as Bonfire which is a literal explosion of sound, aggression and passion over a red hot rap beat. It was a respectable start to Gambino’s rap career as he placed 11th in the US Billboard 200 charts after the first week sales. In December 2013, ‘Because The Internet’ was released as his second studio album and took his genre of indie hip-hop to new levels. Undoubtedly his biggest and best song was released from this album in ‘V. 3005’ which had such a funky electronic beat on some incredible bars from Gambino himself. This set the tone for the whole album which was a story about a boy living in the future in regards to the world ending as we know it. It gave fans an insight into the bizarre but brilliant mind of Donald Glover and the story as a whole was made into a separate piece that you could read alongside the album itself. It’s futuristic sound and design was a real hit for all fans and is still to this day spoke about as a brilliant piece of work. Less than a year later on New Years Day of 2014 he released a short length album called Kauai which featured only 7 songs and was sprung as a surprise by the rapper. On this album was a much softer tone and also a demonstration of Gambino’s vocal range, as heard on the song ‘Sober’ where he reaches high notes in the chorus and provides a melodic sound unlike something we’ve previously heard from the rapper. New music has been announced for later this year and we can only hope it hits the heights of his other work. If it does, then he will soar up this list.
9. ScHoolboy Q
Biggest Hits: Collard Greens, Man Of The Year, Groovy Tony
Quincey Matthew Hanley, or ScHoolboy Q as he prefers to be known, is a German born rapper who grew up in Los Angeles, California. He moved there at a very young age and quickly developed his rap style from local cult heroes of the state such as Snoop Dogg. He has technically been in the music scene for longer than 6 years but his first recognisable music was released in 2011; thus making him eligible for this list. He is a part of the hardcore hip-hop group ‘Black Hippy’ which alongside Odd Future, flew the flag for American hip-hop groups after names such as N.W.A and OutKast had become so popular in their time of relevance. ‘Setbacks’ was released by Q in 2011 and was his debut studio album shortly after signing with Top Dawg Entertainment and Interscope Records. This along with his next release, ‘Habits and Contradictions’ which came a year later, were well spoke of and made sure people realised who he was, but neither of them hit the heights of his third album ‘Oxymoron’ which has often been described as the best rap album of 2014. ‘Collard Greens’ featuring fellow Black Hippy member Kendrick Lamar is one of the modern greats of rap music with its energetic and pulsating lyrics and varied but emphatic production. Kendrick raps an 8-bar in Spanish, that’s how wacky that song is. Other great songs such as ‘The Purge’ or the hugely acclaimed hit ‘Man Of The Year’ also feature on this powerhouse of a record which was nominated for Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards but fell short to Eminem’s ‘The Marshall Mathers LP2’ with many calling the awards biased to big names. Q just hasn’t stopped since then and has released many remix tracks from artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi as he puts his own unique spin on already brilliant hits. He’s now back and is very close to dropping his latest album ‘Blank Face LP’ which has the best album cover art I’ve ever seen (look out for it). We’ve already heard mind blowing hits from it such as ‘Groovy Tony’ and ‘THat Part’ and it’s just added to the anticipation for what could be another album of the year contender for Q.
Biggest Hits: Thrift Shop, Can’t Hold Us, Downtown
Not quite doing what Eminem has done for white rappers, but Ben Haggerty, otherwise known as Macklemore, is a Seattle born artist who dares to say things and challenge issues others won’t. He often speaks of cleaning up the image of hip-hop and sending positive messages to the new era’s influx of young people who listen to the genre. Songwriting at the start of his career had limited success but the base was there for improvement. This improvement appeared when he teamed up with producer Ryan Lewis to form a new sound and new image to the rapper. Their debut album ‘The Heist’ went straight to number one in the US Billboard charts thanks to infectious pop-rap songs such as Thrift Shop and Can’t Hold Us. It also iconically won the Best Rap Album award at the Grammy’s, beating huge names like Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Kanye West. This sparked mass controversy but also provided a huge influence to Macklemore, who had soared to overnight fame and was now tipped to have a long and prosperous career. His second album, ‘This Unruly Mess I’ve Made’ speaks of the fallout regarding that award and what it did to his career and lifestyle. He also has the talent and bravery to release songs such as ‘Same Love’ and ‘White Privilege’ where he tackles issues such as homophobia and the Black Lives Matter movement in America. His positive message is given a huge platform to be recognised due to his widespread fame and he’s paved the way for more rappers to speak out about these terrible issues.
7. Tyler, The Creator
Biggest Hits: Yonkers, Smuckers, Oldie (as part of Odd Future)
Rebellious, care-free, at times offensive but never dull. Tyler, The Creator was born in California in 1991 so is still in the early years of adulthood yet still contains a huge arsenal of success and critically acclaimed work. His music career began with his friends in a hip-hop group known as Odd Future, a group who soared to stardom in 2010 with the Odd Future mixtape, which was released and streamed online for free for listeners to hear. They get their profit from merchandise thanks to the die hard fans they possess. With Odd Future still going strong, Tyler made a huge decision in going solo and releasing ‘Wolf’ in 2011. His aggressive and raspy vocals went down a treat and it resulted in him winning the Best New Rap Artist award at the 2011 Grammy’s. Just a year later, ‘Goblin’ was released and showed a darker side to Tyler, with songs relating to suicide and clinical depression. It also sparked his biggest hit to date, Yonkers which became a modern classic. His rise was immediate and he was being praised by huge artists such as Jay-Z and Lil Wayne who were fighting to sign him onto their respective record labels. After a short break, he returned in 2015 with ‘Cherrybomb’ which was heavily influenced by the sounds of N.E.R.D and provided fans with a pulsating production heavy album. We are all eager to see what comes next in this young man’s sure to be huge career.
6. Chance The Rapper
Biggest Hits: Angels, Cocoa Butter Kisses, No Problem
“Kanye’s greatest prodigy” were lyrics Chance The Rapper used in his latest mixtape ‘Coloring Book’ and they got pretty well for this Chicago born rapper. Following in the footsteps of his idol, Chance was fearless yet respectful in his lyrics from his early days of rap. What sets this man apart from his rivals is his pure honesty in his lyrics, there’s no falseness to Chance and he makes sure people know that. He is often critical of rappers pretending to be someone they aren’t and that has earned him a lot of plaudits. The first of his three mixtapes was released in 2012 and titled ’10 Day’. It was all put together during Chance’s suspended sentence from his senior year at college for possession of marijuana on campus so he had plenty of time on his hands to write the project. It was a demonstration of his ability and contained very few features and writing credits, the biggest feature coming from up-and-coming hip-hop artist Vic Mensa who provided a great verse on “Family”. That project went down quite well but it was the next year when ‘Acid Rap’ was released where Lil Chano from 79th Street became a national phenomenon. Yet another free download mixtape but this time he went big. He was certified with a diamond mixtape after it had been streamed over 1,000,000 times online, showing his growth in fame over a short period of time. He had features on just about every song to add this new spice to his music, including an incredible feature by Childish Gambino. After a couple of years performing all over the world Chance returned in the most emphatic way possible, fulfilling his dream and featuring on his hero’s latest album. Kanye West’s ‘The Life Of Pablo’ has been one of the hits of 2016 and it’s opening track ‘Ultralight Beam’ has been plaited not only for its beautiful gospel message, but also the astonishing verse provided by Chance on it. This was his springboard, he made the best verse and performance on one of the best albums of the year so far, he was well and truly a huge name now. Just a few months later and we were treated to his latest project ‘Coloring Book’ which was promised to be a gospel hip-hop album dedicated to God and all he stands for. It well and truly delivered. A triumphant mix of energy and beauty along with soul and desire, it was not only the best thing Chance has ever done, but also one of the best projects created by anybody on this list. Uber-talented and now recognised as a modern great, how can things possibly get better for this young man from the south side of Chicago?
5. Pusha T
Biggest Hits: Trouble On My Mind, Mercy, Untouchable
The reason he is on this list is because he has put the days of Clipse behind him and is now being judged solely as a solo artist. You don’t get elected as the present of the G.O.O.D Music record label if you’re a naff rapper. Pusha has brought back this hard arrogance to his raps along with lyrics which weave stories out of next to nothing. Ever since his breakout huge hit ‘Trouble On My Mind’ was released he hasn’t looked back and has not only produced high quality albums which seem to be getting better and better, but he’s also providing incredible verses on feature tracks for artists such as Kanye West, Rick Ross and Jay Z. He also provided a major contribution for the G.O.O.D music collaboration album ‘Cruel Summer’ in which he held his own against huge names from all over the industry. ‘Mercy’, ‘Don’t Like’ and ‘Clique’ became some of the biggest summer bangers in America in 2012 and propelled Pusha to a new level of money and fame. People were now anticipating his song and album releases and seeing how his throwback style could hold up against the ever changing rap sound. ‘My Name is My Name’ was released in 2013 and was a huge commercial release, debuting at number 4 on the US Billboard 200 chart and selling 74,000 copies in its first week of release. Huge hits such as ‘Pain’ and ‘Numbers On The Board’ were released from this album as singles but none were as brilliant as perhaps his best song to date, ‘Sweet Serenade’ which featured Chris Brown. It was nothing like we had ever heard before from Push and was a stalwart chart hit in his discography. This widespread fame provided Pusha T with the lifestyle he raps about and more. Fast cars, models, mansions and expensive clothes, it was the life he had always dreamed of and now he was one of the best rappers around too. Excitement rose for his next project as he released ‘Untouchable’ in late 2015, a song which describes his phenomenal lyricism and self-belief along with that underground New York production value. Soon after this single was out, ‘Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude’ was released and was a late contender for one of the best rap albums of 2015. ‘M.P.A’ was a standout track with its beautifully soft tones, provided by huge feature artists A$AP Rocky and Kanye West. It was complimented brilliantly by Pusha’s flow and delivery which was, as always, down to a T. With that only being the prelude, we can only imagine how good the full thing is going to sound and with it scheduled for summer of 2016, bring it on.
Biggest Hits: Where Ya At, Low Life, Jumpman (part of a collaboration project with Drake)
He’s released NINE projects since Frank Ocean last dropped an album. NINE. That’s the phenomenal work ethic of Future which allows fans to be treated to consistently fresh and hot material. The thing with Future is that he has a very specific sound and taste, his snare and bass heavy instrumentals create club banger after club banger, but if you’re after heartfelt passionate tones, then steer clear of Future. His most noticeable feature is without doubt his bizarre vocals, which are so heavily auto tuned that you can barely understand a word he is saying at the best of times. Nobody knows how it works, but it does and every rap fan loves him. After his most famous album, DS2 came in for immense positivity and acclaim, Drake noticed the rapper’s work and worked with him on a collaboration album. What A Time To Be Alive was released towards the end of 2015 and boasted one of the biggest tracks of the year in Jumpman. This only made Future more popular and helped him on his way to the top. With EVOL released at the start of 2016 and more music on the way, Future’s only direction is up.
3. A$AP Rocky
Biggest Hits: Fuckin’ Problems, Goldie, Everyday
The work that this Harlem born rapper has done in just 4 short years is nothing short of remarkable. He’s brought back the image of Harlem, New York and it’s rap scene with his fantastic flow and underground beats. His fame didn’t really spring into prominence until 2013 when he released the album ‘Long Live A$AP’ which contained so much energy and swagger within the lyrics and the production of the tracks. The feature list on this album is also what stood out in that he had the respect of so many top class hip hop artists, not only that but also that he could hold his own against the very best. An example of this was in his biggest hit, Fuckin’ Problems which featured Drake, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar. In terms of verses, he arguably edged it over two of the 21st century’s most talented rappers in Drake and Kendrick. Along with that there is 1train, which has a list far too long to even comprehend of rappers which feature on it. Goldie is an exception to this and is simply genius, incredible from start to finish. The tricky follow up album was then released mid-way through 2015 and was named ‘At Long Last A$AP’ to follow suit with the previous title. This album took a different stance, it showed a softer side to Rocky and gave him a chance to add more variety to his music. Songs like Everyday and L$D were melodic and at times beautiful while there were songs such as LPFJ (Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye) and Electric Body which had that arrogance about them which everyone came to love about Rocky’s musical style. Now back with his A$AP Mob working on music, we are all excited to see how Rocky, Ferg and co. can respect the recently deceased A$AP Yams in the best way possible.
2. J Cole
Biggest Hits: Work Out, Power Trip, No Role Modelz
Jermaine Cole, born in Frankfurt Germany in 1985 has become one of the biggest names in rap in recent times thanks to his incredible music and genius production which he has done entirely on his own, an achievement nobody on this list has achieved before him to this level of success. Similar to most on this list, Cole started before 2010 with mixtapes here and there but it wasn’t until he was signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label in 2010 when he began his studio work. His first album, ‘Cole World’ was released in 2011 and debuted straight at number 1 in the US Billboard charts thanks to his different and cool sounding approach to the rap industry. He made it clear he wasn’t there for money and fame he was doing it for the love of music and so man people could relate to that and were therefore sold on his story. 218,000 first week sales followed and he was then Grammy Nominated for the album. He then released Born Sinner in 2013, an alum which contained the magnificent ‘Power Trip’ which featured the extremely talented Jeremih and was about a girl and the affect she has had on his life. It was a beautiful track with a filthy rap beat and somehow he found that perfect ground in between the two. This album debuted at number 2 but then moved to number one in the charts, giving Cole successive top albums and worldwide recognition. Soon after came his best work and perhaps some of the best work hip-hop has ever seen. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is pretty self explanatory as to when it was released and became an instant classic thanks to it’s jazz influenced slow jams and classic rap influences such as Biggie Smalls and Tupac. ‘Wet Dreamz’ was the hilarious yet fantastic story about how he lost his virginity and is put into song form with absolutely textbook execution. ‘No Role Modelz’ was a dedication to his Uncle Phil who looked after him more than his father ever did in his opinion. ‘G.O.M.D’ is Cole’s way of mocking the rap industry and puts a genius part in the song where he raps about love but before he says it goes “this is the part that the thugs skip”. It’s true mastery and an album which will stand the test of time and easily join the hallmarks of truly world class rap albums. He is perhaps, bar Kendrick Lamar, the most naturally gifted rapper since Biggie and Pac days and will be sure to bless us with even more incredible moments in what is sure to be a long and prosperous career.
1. Kendrick Lamar
Biggest Hits: Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, Swimming Pools (Drank), Alright
Only been in the rap scene for 5 years and is already being spoke about in the same breath as legendary artists such as Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. Four albums deep into his discography and there are no blemishes on his record, timeless classics which have taken him from strength to strength. Hailing from the city of Compton and being signed to Dr Dre’s label, touted to be the next big thing in rap can provide all sorts of pressure but there’s no question about it that Kendrick has grasped his opportunity and ran with it. Overly Dedicated and Section.80 were his first two studio albums and reached moderate levels of success, but it wasn’t until the sure to be legendary album ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ was released in 2013 when Kendrick found his supreme levels of fame. Sheer, unbridled talent of rap and production were documented here but what made this album stand out was the incredibly personal anecdote he told throughout the album, all of which is dedicated to his childhood and teenage years growing up on the rough, crime filled streets of Compton. Bangers such as ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ and ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ became noticed first tracks with a much deeper meaning such as ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst’ were recognised later as some of his best work. The huge question followed of how he could possibly follow such a prestigious album, well what followed was perhaps one of the truly greatest rap albums the genre has ever seen. ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ was released early in 2015 and was a statement to end all statements. Apartheid and deep hatred of racism are often very difficult topics to challenge in hip-hop, but Kendrick wasn’t fazed. ‘i’ was released as the lead single and was a groovy jive beat filled with positive energy and good vibrations but when fans heard the rest of the album there was no sign of positivity and smiling from Kendrick’s viewpoint. ‘How Much A Dollar Cost’ was so good even Barack Obama called it the best song of the year, it propelled him to new heights of musical symmetry and announced his intentions and talent as a true prophet of our generation. The whole album was poetry in motion, which was concluded fantastically by an 8 minute sound bite of his hero Tupac Shakur answering questions back when he was alive. After sweeping the Grammy awards thanks to this album, he completely out of the blue released a new project, named ‘untitled unmastered’ which we soon discovered was a B-side album which didn’t quite make the cut of his two previous albums. Despite this, it can still be considered as one of the more higher quality releases of 2016 so far. Simply the biggest name in rap right now and surely destined for even bigger and better achievements. All hail King Kendrick.