Ranking The Best Rappers Of All Time: A Quantitative Approach

Everyone has a top 5 best rappers list. It normally looks like:

  1. 2pac
  2. Biggie
  3. Jay-z
  4. Eminem
  5. Nas

Give or take a few people… How does one arrive at a top 5 list to begin with?

Well, Rap Genius made a top 99 list , 2pac and Biggie took one and two respectively. Their metrics of evaluation were based off the 2015 billboard ranking  They made the list based on the following:

  1. The opinion of rapper’s; because who better to judge than other professionals?
  2. The opinion of the public; because it’s the largest population sample
  3. The opinion of critics; because they’re experts who put extra thought into it.

PinkCookies (a top rated user on Rap Genius) went through these categories and gave a rapper 10 points for being 1st, 1 point for being last or mentioned, factored in the number of appearances and came up with lists for each category. After a lot of informal interviews and messy math, they came up with their list (link up above).

I thought I’d take a more systematic approach in creating a list. The problem with the methodology above is people can easily name their top 10 but its tough after that. So I figured I’d come up with all the artist and then come up with categories to score from 1 to 10. From there, you could add the different parties to the mix ( rappers, public, and critics) but they’d have a more structured way of thinking about it which would most likely produce a radically different list from what they have now.

  • Longevity – How long have you been making music?
  • Discography – How many songs / albums do they have?
  • Underground Relevance – how well are they known by the connoisseurs of rap.
  •  Originality- Did they bring a new twist to rap? Do they have a style that’s theirs alone?
  • Concepts- Do they bring interesting concepts to life? Are their stories unique?
  • Versatility-  How well can the artist carry on a new style, use different beats and do things that are outside of their normal ability.
  • Vocabulary – How good is the artist vocabulary?
  • Substance- Are they saying anything worthwhile?
  • Flow-  How well can they put pars together and how long can they keep it going? Also could include speed in the conversation.
  • Flavor- Do they have that unique swag to their artistry that sets differentiates them from other rappers?
  • Freestyle- Ability to make things happen on the fly/ off the dome.
  • Vocal Presence- Can they hold a note or two?  
  • Live Performance- Can they carry a concert? How is their stage presence?
  • Poetic Value- How effective are they in using poetic structures in their writing/ music?
  • Industry Impact- How have they change the rap/music industry?
  • Social Impact- What has the artist done to impact the society.
  • Lyrics- What are they saying and how are they saying it?
  • Battle Skills –  Ability to beat other rappers in lyrical war

I figured I’d name a bunch of rappers from the beginning of rap until now and score it out. I hope by creating categories, I could be more inclusive to all types of rappers, people who are purely battle rappers and crossed over, those who have been in the game for a while vs those that were in it for a short time, and any other kind of group you can think of. One major challenge I foresee is my bias toward recent memory which could be mitigated by crowd-sourcing the list from people of all ages groups and taste.

What else should be included? I was thinking of using album sales/ ticket sales/ streaming data to evaluate but it’s tough to get your hands on that information.

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