Contemporary Rapper Rankings

December 13, 2016

I saw someone post a spreadsheet of their rapper rankings today and it, of course, sparked a debate and made me think about how I would do it myself. This list is concerning contemporary rappers only – sorry, no deceased legends here. In order to qualify, an artist must have released at least one project between 2012 and 2016.

Tier One – The King: Kendrick Lamar

Comments: No one is touching Kendrick right now. He’s released two legit classic albums already and Section 80 is nothing but heat also. In all, he’s 5 for 5 and his guest appearances in 2016 have all been flames. All hail King Kunta.

Tier Two A – Next Up: Chance The Rapper, Isaiah Rashad, J.Cole, Joey Bada$$, Lupe Fiasco, ScHoolboy Q, Vince Staples, LE$

Comments: J.Cole had a chance to at least stand in Kendrick’s court, but his latest project comes up short for me. Chance, Rashad, and ScHoolboy Q all released albums that will make my top 10 of 2016 list. Joey Bada$$ and Vince Staples had top 5 albums last year and they both released material I liked in 2016 as well. Lupe has reestablished himself as a beast with a top 10 album last year.

Tier Two B – Relevant GOATs: Eminem, Andre 3000, Black Thought, Common, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Nas, Q-Tip, Scarface

Comments: Common, Kanye, and Q-Tip all released good albums this year and I believe The Roots will be releasing something shortly. Eminem has killed some verses in the past couple years on Yelawolf’s and Dr. Dre’s albums and The Marshall Mathers LP2 was better than you think it was. Apparently he’s working on something new as well and I honestly have no idea what to expect – the bar is kind of low. Jay and Nas qualify with albums in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but have been mostly MIA since 2013. Scarface has had an amazing career that has seen new music released in four different decades now and shows no signs of washing up.

Tier Three – Solid: Big K.R.I.T., Royce da 5’9″, Slug, Big Sean, Brother Ali, Childish Gambino, Cormega, Drake, Fashawn, Freddie Gibbs, The Game, Joe Budden, Killer Mike, Logic, Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky, Bun B, Dave East

Comments: Childish Gambino just released an amazing album, but it’s not a rap album and he has been trending in that direction for a few years now. He’s a solid rapper that has turned into a great musician. I feel like Drake is slightly underrated… by me… and tremendously overrated by the rest of the world. Slug keeps plugging along making enjoyable music, which he’s been doing since 1997 – dude probably has the most underrated hip-hop career of all-time, but I do think the older stuff is better than the new. Cormega is also severely overlooked and released a good album as recently as 2014. Joe Budden and Royce can sound elite at times and they can also be wildly disappointing – Budden released a good album in 2016 and Royce put out a dud. Logic and Freddie Gibbs have potential to climb up a tier, but their last projects didn’t elevate them. Travis Scott has a top 10 album of 2016 and I think I need to revisit Rodeo. I’m not sure how much of a rapper he is though. Brother Ali barely qualifies for these rankings – he released a 7 song EP in 2012 – but he was elite at one point.

Tier Four – Respectable:  Skyzoo, Big Boi, Talib Kweli, Crooked I, Devin The Dude, Elzhi, Phonte, Jay Rock, Joell Ortiz, Mac Miller, Macklemore, Murs, Pusha T, El-P, T.I., Tory Lanez, Wale, Yelawolf, YG, Bambu

Comments: These guys have all put out music I like in the past five years, but none of them are great rappers.  Talib peaked a decade ago and he’s just been above average since then. Crooked I is great at rapping verses, not so great at making songs, although his project with Statik Selektah this year was a good album. Big Boi is a legend that released good music last year, but I’ve never considered him particularly elite. Jay Rock and Wale have some potential to trend up.

Tier Five – Good Start: Bas, Cozz, Dame D.O.L.L.A., Earl Sweatshirt, Kamaiyah, Lil Dicky, Tut, Smoke DZA, Vic Mensa

Comments: I have only heard one project from everyone on this list, but they all have tier two or tier three potential except maybe Kamaiyah. Smoke DZA has multiple projects, but I’ve only listened to his most recent one and it has been very good. Bas and Cozz are both on J.Cole’s team and they are worthy lieutenants that have very good debut albums under their belts. Damian Lillard released an enjoyable rap album, which is something no other professional athlete has ever done to my knowledge. Sorry Shaq. Lil Dicky is hilarious and talented. I liked Kamaiyah’s album but she feels like more of a tier four rapper. Tut put out a great album last year. I like Earl Sweatshirt, but I need to hear more.

Tier Six – Undecided: Action Bronson, Ab-Soul, Danny Brown, Dej Loaf, Kevin Gates, Little Simz, Mick Jenkins, Dom Kennedy

Comments: I think everyone listed here has talent, but I don’t know that I really appreciate it. I’ve had trouble listening to the most recent stuff from Mick Jenkins, Ab-Soul and Danny Brown. I actually kind of liked Dej Loaf’s EP last year, but I’ve heard six total songs from her.

Tier Seven – Meh: Aesop Rock, B.o.B., Boosie Badazz, Future, E-40, Jadakiss, Lil Uzi Vert, Meek Mill, Noname, Rae Sremmurd, Ras Kass, Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Tyler The Creator, 2 Chainz

Comments: I’ve heard stuff I liked from everyone on this list, but for the most part, I could do without their music. A lot of people think Jadakiss is a G.O.A.T. but he’s never been a good solo artist. Sorry. Snoop isn’t a good rapper anymore and I couldn’t listen to his latest album, but Bush and 7 Days Of Funk were both very good.

Tier Eight – Trash: Everyone Else

Comments: I really don’t want to list all the bad rappers. There’s a lot of them. And I don’t listen to them anyway.

Notable Omissions: Kid Cudi, Gift Of Gab, Black Milk, Blu, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Flatbush Zombies, Warm Brew

Comments: All of these guys have good history and qualify for the list, but I either haven’t heard the material they released in the past five years or I can’t tell them apart – as is the case with Flatbush Zombies and Warm Brew, both of which released excellent projects this year.  Lastly, I cut someone from a list to place them somewhere else and then I forgot who it was, so I should have one glaring omission that one of you should be able to point out!

One comment

  1. […] that aren’t necessarily candidates for my Top 10. This will be different from my fluid 2016 Rapper Rankings, which is a breakdown of the current hip-hop scene […]

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