The Greatest of All Time, aka the GOAT. That’s a distinguished — and also contentious — honor when it comes to ranking who or what is the ultimate best, whether you’re talking films, TV shows, restaurants or any other subject.
In early 2023, Billboard/Vibes is ranking the Top 50 Greatest Rappers of All Time as part of our salute to this year’s golden anniversary of hip-hop. (The genre dates back to 1973, when DJ Kool Herc first set up his two turntables to rock a Bronx party.) The rollout begins with today’s (Jan. 11) reveal of the rappers ranked 50-41. Each succeeding week, 10 more rappers will be unveiled as we move further up the list. Then the final top 10 will be announced during the week of Feb. 6.
In determining these rankings, the Billboard and Vibes editorial teams opted first to limit the rap arena to North America. So for example, as estimable as his career is, British rapper Slick Rick isn’t on this list. We also opted not to include the significant contributions of reggaetón and dancehall MCs on this list, just to keep our pool of nominees a little more focused.
From there, the teams took into account the following criteria, not in any particular order: body of work/achievements (charted singles/albums, gold/platinum certifications), cultural impact/influence (how the artist’s work fostered the genre’s evolution), longevity (years at the mic), lyrics (storytelling skills) and flow (vocal prowess).
As is well known, GOAT and similar best-of lists always draw their share of criticism and praise from industry pundits and the public alike. So it took a lot of deliberation and deep discussion to reason our way to what we believe is a well-thought-out, authentic list that reflects hip-hop’s foundational pioneers, evolutionary trailblazers and contemporary mainstays. In addition, that mix also encompasses 50 years of cultural milestones for a genre initially dismissed as a passing fad — and now recognized as the industry’s market share leader.
Let’s reveal Nose. 50-41 of Billboard/Vibes‘s Top 50 Greatest Rappers of All Time … and let the debate begin.