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VOICE OVER: Rudolph Strong WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
When it comes to crafting intricate stories and memorable lines, these rappers are second to none. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're counting down our picks for the most influential and dynamic wordsmiths in hip-hop. Our countdown of the best rap lyricists of all time includes MF DOOM, Eminem, Jay-Z, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, and more!

#20: Ghostface Killah

The overarching lineup of Wu-Tang Clan is a veritable murderer’s row of MCs, from Method Man and GZA to Inspectah Deck. However, for us, there’s one Wu member who rises above the rest when it comes to lyricism: Ghostface Killah. This is due, in part, to his solo work outside the Clan, from his landmark “Ironman” LP from ‘96 to more recent efforts like his “Twelve Reasons to Die” series. His collaborations with fellow members like Raekwon also highlight Ghostface Killah’s narrative imagination. This is an MC whose lyrics feel cinematic and expansive, the sort of words that fuel stories in our minds, and magic on the mic.

#19: MF DOOM

The much-missed MF DOOM was much more than just an MC in a dope mask. This British-born rapper never saw a rhyme he couldn’t improve via his thesaurus mind, nor a beat he couldn’t make better with his flow. DOOM’s knowledge of pop culture, particularly comic books and genre cinema, shined through his writing and influenced countless MCs in his wake. This was rap that was unafraid to be anything and everything all at once. Fantastical, conversational, even con-frontational when the need arose. MF DOOM was a truly unique voice in hip-hop and one that will never be forgotten.

#18: Ice Cube

N.W.A. was another hip-hop mega-group that featured an array of talent within its ranks. Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren are all considered legends today, but Ice Cube was perhaps the group’s greatest weapon. After all, it’s since been revealed that Cube helped write a lot of the words on N.W.A.’s landmark “Straight Outta Compton” LP, but the man’s definitely not just a ghostwriter. Cube’s own solo career has seen the California native become a defining lyrical voice for gangsta rap in the ‘90s, a bold ‘n brash lyrical maestro with aggro to spare. We can always feel the energy when Cube is on the mic: then, now, and forever.

#17: Chuck D

Hip-Hop, like many of music’s great art forms, has worn multiple creative hats throughout its existence. For every block party MC in the ‘80s, there was a visceral gangsta rapper in the ‘90s. There are very few voices more closely associated with politically motivated rap than Chuck D., however, thanks to his pioneering work with Public Enemy. This is an MC who’s motivated to educate, and encourage questioning thought in his audience. Chuck D also held an open mind to combining hip-hop with seemingly disparate musical genres like heavy metal. This was seen with PE’s ‘90s collaboration with thrash metal band Anthrax. Chuck D’s insightful lyrics shined through it all, too, sending a powerful message to all who would listen.

#16: Scarface

There’s a raw realness to the delivery of Scarface from the Geto Boys. A vocal attack that speaks to the group’s desperate living while coming up in Houston, Texas. Scarface and his Geto Boys bandmates were firebrands for controversy throughout their career, yet it’s this habitual edge-stepping that also helped make them legends. No topic is off-limits for Scarface, from stories of boundary-pushing violence to more fictional flows that feel like lurid crime stories come to life. Scarface could do pretty much anything he set his mind to, and he did so with the Geto Boys… all the way to the bank.

#15: Black Thought

It doesn’t matter whether you’re enjoying Black Thought’s lyricism as a member of The Roots, or with his solo career: the man is beyond talented. Black Thought challenges his audience with complex rhymes and wordplay that practically demands a thesaurus. His live performances are electric, as well, showcasing Black Thought’s ridiculous breath control and magnetic connection with the crowd. He’s gone on to influence a ton of rappers over the years with no sign of slowing down, and even entertains on a nightly basis over on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Black Thought is the real deal.

#14: Big Pun

The lyricism of Big Pun feels simultaneously dedicated to hip-hop’s heritage, while also paving the way to its future. It’s clear that the NYC native loved the lyricism of legends that came before, and combined this nostalgia with a flow that was laser-focused. Big Pun could effortlessly hopscotch his way through a rhyme scheme, utilizing speed and intricacy to make his creative mark. Pun’s solo career and his work with the group Terror Squad possessed an appeal that cast a wide net, incorporating reality, fantasy, and more personal tales into a delicious musical stew that always tasted one hundred percent Pun.

#13: Big Daddy Kane

The story of Brooklyn’s Big Daddy Kane is a tale of duality: two sides of an MC who could do it all, and do it with style. The softer, more romantic side of Big Daddy Kane was well-documented with songs like “Smooth Operator,” but other tracks like “Ain't No Half-Steppin’” prove that there was much more to the man than romance. Big Daddy Kane could indeed battle with the best of them, delivering rhythms and wordplay that got the point across with the sweeping brush strokes of an artiste. The legacy here is one that links the old and new schools in the best possible way.

#12: Kool G Rap

New York City was an embarrassment of riches when it came to talented MCs. Kool G Rap is a name from the classic, old school, yet also one that continues to resonate when it comes to being an influence today. This is thanks largely to the man’s pioneering work developing multisyllabic rhymes, and bringing them to the masses. The sound of Kool G Rap (as well as his work with Juice Crew) was a sound of flux, a bridge (pun intended) from the block parties of old to the street knowledge style of the late ‘80s. The stories that Kool G Rap tells feel easy to imagine in our mind’s eye, and his technical skill would go on to influence many NYC rappers in his wake.

#11: André 3000

One half of the group OutKast, André 3000 may just be the most unorthodox lyricist out there. As much a poet as he is a rapper, 3000 innovates with his delivery, following no specific pattern other than what his stream of thought dictates. He’s also highly introspective, bringing an intellectualism to his lyrics that separates him from those rappers bogged down by the possibly overplayed gangster and money driven rap subgenres. André's output may have slowed down over the years, but when he drops a guest verse you just have to sit back and appreciate.

#10: Lil Wayne

Lil Wayne earned all of his success the old fashioned way: by putting in some hard work. The New Orleans native recorded a lot of collaborations, and even experimented with hard rock and heavy metal along the way. Through it all, Lil Wayne honed a lyricism that wasn’t afraid to thrill and offend in equal measure. Additionally, his utilization of autotune helped expose the technique to commercial audiences, but make no mistake: Lil Wayne was no gimmick. Instead, this MC combined a unique visual aesthetic, dizzying flow and wordplay that set him apart from all of his peers.

#9: KRS-One

If there’s one legendary MC that can be considered something of a hip-hop historian, it might be KRS-One. That’s because this is a creative voice that speaks to generations, informing the young while thrilling the old with lyricism that feels timeless. It may feel like an obvious statement, but KRS-One just has a great voice. It’s deep, rich, gritty, and raw, with righteous energy and a legitimate love that feels palpable with each word. Meanwhile, KRS-One can just as easily point out political points as socio-cultural ones, making music that’s simultaneously educational and entertaining. Additionally, KRS-One also found the time to collaborate outside the hip-hop spectrum, dropping a classic intro for hardcore punk icons, Sick Of It All.

#8: Yasiin Bey a.k.a. Mos Def

The artist formerly known as Mos Def is a living legend, and perhaps one of the greatest examples of conscious rapping to ever hold a microphone. Bey, while performing as Def, vacillated easily between intensely personal conversations to larger, more politically-driven lyrical diatribes. Through it all, the voice at play is unique and defiant, whether it’s rapping with Talib Kweli in the group Black Star, or within a solo career. His hit “Mathematics” is a great example of the master Mos Def at work, but honestly, any place is a good place to start when it comes to the recorded work of this MC.

#7: Eminem

Fans may argue Eminem has the most range compared to other rappers. He can be fast, sharp, and ferocious on the mic, while other times he can be emotional and vulnerable. A long career has seen his lyrics evolve over time; in his early days, Slim Shady had downright nasty metaphors and similes, and anyone who dared diss him was brutally beaten down. However, in recent years, particularly on the Marshal Mathers LP II, Em has found an affinity for double entendres, which grow more and more clever. Fans who sift through his lyrics over and over are rewarded with new surprises every time they plug in their earbuds.

#6: Rakim

One of the most important pioneers in hip hop history, Rakim is widely considered to be one of the most, if not the most, influential rappers of all time. Abandoning the schoolyard and abrasive lyrical and rhyming patterns of MC’s before him, Rakim turned to smart, meaningful lyrics delivered through his work with DJ Eric B.. Using internal and multisyllabic rhymes, Rakim channeled his Jazz background to rap with a free rhythm style, spitting lines calmly and smoothly. Many of the greats have credited Rakim as an important influence, including the likes of Tupac, Nas, Eminem and Biggie…to name just a few.

#5: Jay-Z

He doesn’t do as much rapping these days, but in his prime HOV dominated the game. Jay Z has his own unique rapping style, which heavily relies on flow to emphasize the lyrical content. The book “How to Rap,” compliments Z's ability to use rests, as well as partial linking, to provide structure to verses and smoothly incorporate rhymes. Ultimately, verses string together like silk, enhancing both the listening quality and content of the rhymes. And with that, his lyrical content is not to be ignored either. Always walking a tight rope between gangster and suave business man, Jay-Z’s lyrics reflect a rough upbringing and a grounded perspective on reality.

#4: The Notorious B.I.G.

Widely considered one of the greatest rappers of all time, Biggie’s life was tragically cut short, but while he may not have a list ofcontent as long as other MC’s, the quality of his work is undeniable. Biggie Smalls had a wide range of talents: he was powerful, wickedly clever, and descriptively vivid all at the same time. He delivered smart lyrics, often deploying idioms to craft purposeful lines. He also had a penchant for dishing out strong punch lines, which always landed with precision, whether or not they were designed to be funny or brutal. At times aggressive, others vulnerable, at the height of his powers Biggie’s lyrics did nothing short ofamaze.

#3: Kendrick Lamar

The golden voice and saving grace of a new generation of rappers, Kendrick Lamar has learned from the greats and built on their lessons to dominate the modern game without sacrificing his integrity. Rather, it’s his commitment to authenticity and a critical awareness of both the rap game and the world at large that have gained him popularity. Fearless and highly intelligent, the Compton native tackles societal issues with unique skill, sometimes taking the role of a storyteller, while other times playing critic. Songs like “Alright” and “Swimming Pools” take on societal problems on both a micro and macro level with a creative vibe only Lamar can pull off.

#2: Tupac Shakur

Another rapper to have his life cut tragically short, Tupac differs from Biggie, the counterpart with whom he’s usually compared, in that he channeled his energies primarily on societal issues. Both his parents, as well as several other family members, were involved members of the Black Panthers, which Shakur’s lyrical content heavily reflects. Additionally, Pac was a student both ofpoetry and theater, which gracefully shined through in his own work. With a keen critical eye, Tupac engaged with the problems he saw in his own community and the world. Songs like “Brenda’s Got a Baby” and “Dear Mama” remind us of Pac’s unique abilities to tug at our heart strings and make us think with just a few lines.

#1: Nas

When he first broke onto the scene with Illmatic, the rap game knew Nas was going to be something special. They weren’t wrong. While his social and cultural awareness give his lyrics meaningful content, it’s his lyrical construction and creative storytelling that land Nasty Nas the number one spot on this list. He pioneered what has been labeled a conversational flow, meaning Nas isn’t restricted by beats; he follows his heart and mind. His raps tell stories unconventionally and from unique perspectives. Consider this: how many MC’s have rapped from the point of view of a gun? Not many have the skill or willingness to challenge themselves like that. Thankfully, Nas can.

Who’s your all-time favorite MC? Let us know in the comments!