As hip hop’s birthplace, New York City has cultivated iconic rap talent representing the spectrum from underground purists to massive mainstream stars. The MCs featured here earned their spots among the best NYC rappers ever through skilled lyricism narrating both hardship and triumph.
From the Boogie Down Bronx to Queensbridge, Brooklyn, and beyond, these rappers epitomize the city that never sleeps. Their flows showcase NYC’S diverse landscape and personalities. Together they built pillar’s of hip hop history with their raw aesthetics and intricate rhyming.
Let’s count down NYC’s finest MCs starting from #25 down to the #1 top New York rapper of all time.
#25: Big L
Raised in Harlem, Big L brought ferocious punchlines and rhyme schemes through seminal underground classics like Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous before his death at age 24. Songs like “Ebonics” and “MVP” established him as one of rap’s sharpest lyricists with elite wordplay. Big L blazed a trail upholding lyric-focused New York hip hop.
#24: Big Pun
As the first Latino solo MC to achieve platinum sales, Big Pun had flows that could aurally assault. Tracks like “Still Not a Player” and “Twinz (Deep Cover 98)” highlighted his technical prowess and signature rapid-fire delivery. Despite passing in 2000, Pun made history repping for NYC’s Puerto Rican hip hop community.
#23: Lloyd Banks
As a member of 50 Cent and Eminem’s mighty G-Unit, Lloyd Banks exhibited focused charisma and talent. His 2004 debut The Hunger For More went platinum on standouts like “On Fire” and “Karma.” Consistent mixtapes and features furthered Banks’ reputation as an elite wordsmith keeping New York’s uncompromising lyrical lineage alive.
#22: Lil Kim
Brooklyn’s Lil Kim ushered in a sexually provocative era for female MCs. From her scene-stealing cameos on Biggie’s tracks to multi-platinum album Hard Core, Kim’s clever cinematic bars changed the game for women in hip hop. Her raunchy magnetism on cuts like “Crush on You” cemented Kim as rap’s unfiltered queen bee.
#21: A$AP Rocky
The flashy and fashion-forward A$AP Rocky rose up with crew A$AP Mob to become one of NYC’s current stars. Projects like LONG.LIVE.A$AP and Testing established his artsy style blending underground and mainstream rap. Turn-up anthems like “Goldie” and “F**kin’ Problems” display Rocky’s playful swagger and infectious flows.
As one of the Wu-Tang Clan’s prime voices, Raekwon earned status as rap’s top crime storyteller. His cinematic 1995 solo debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… remains influential for pioneering mafioso rap concepts. Tracks like “Ice Cream” and “Criminology” immersed listeners in chilling underworld tales. Raekwon brought the experience of street life to poetic heights.
As the Wu-Tang Clan’s chief lyricist, GZA introduced a cerebral, chess-influenced technical style to hardcore NYC rap. His 1992 track “Clan in da Front” proved his five-percenter knowledge could be cool. GZA’s vivid conceptual lyrics on classics like Liquid Swords established him as a sharply abstract yet visual storyteller.
#18: Busta Rhymes
With his animated, hyperspeed rhyme delivery, Busta Rhymes brought a dynamic energy to 1990s hip hop. As part of Leaders of the New School and through solo smashes like “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See,” his rambunctious style became iconic. Collaborating with legends from Biggie to Eminem, Busta earned rep as one of rap’s greatest technicians.
#17: Joey Bada$$
Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$ arrived as a throwback revivalist upholding the dense lyricism of 90s underground rap. His mixtape 1999 brought acclaim through verbal dexterity beyond his years. Tracks like “Devastated” and “Rockabye Baby” showcase Joey’s fluid flow, soulful production, and old school influences. Still just 27, his future shines bright to keep NYC rap traditions alive.
#16: Big Daddy Kane
Widely considered one of hip hop’s greatest MCs, Big Daddy Kane unleashed sonic devastation through the 80s alongside producer Marley Marl. Hits like “Raw” and “Ain’t No Half-Steppin'” proved him a quick-witted lyricist with innovative rhythmic patterns. Kane’s suave style also situated him as a sex symbol. His legacy earned Big Daddy Kane undeniable all-time honors.
DMX’s gritty, uncompromising brand of rap from Yonkers took over hip hop in the late 90s through multi-platinum LP’s like It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. His gruff delivery and dark narratives cemented DMX as one of rap’s most intense forces, especially on timeless hits like “Party Up (Up In Here).”
#14: Eric B. & Rakim
Eric B. & Rakim’s 1987 debut Paid in Full revolutionized flows and lyricism in the Golden Age. Rakim’s thought-provoking rhymes and laidback, velvet-smooth delivery over Eric B.’s innovative DJing fostered intellectual hip hop. Songs like “Microphone Fiend” and “I Know You Got Soul” influenced generations of MCs to this day.
Together with Havoc in Mobb Deep, Prodigy brought an uncompromising perspective on Queensbridge projects street life. His battle-ready snarls on 1990s classics like “Shook Ones Pt. II” and “Quiet Storm” became hip hop’s coldest threats. Despite his death in 2017, Prodigy remains immortal through Mobb Deep’s grit and his solo triumphs.
#12: 50 Cent
50 Cent dominated the 2000s as hip hop’s reigning hitmaker and hookmaster. After signing with Eminem’s Shady Records, his 2003 debut Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and its monstrous single “In Da Club” made 50 a global force. His business savvy and tireless work ethic cemented 50 Cent as a rap icon. Even after becoming more an entrepreneur than active MC, 50’s legacy persists.
The God MC stands out among NYC legends for elevating rhyming complexity to new heights alongside producer Eric B. Tracks like “Microphone Fiend,” “Lyrics of Fury” and “I Ain’t No Joke” pioneered intricately constructed lines and fluid delivery. His records remain studied as sacred texts of lyricism. With four classic albums, Rakim set a standard few can touch.
#10: Big Pun
As the first Latino rapper to achieve platinum sales, Big Pun brought overwhelming technical prowess and a signature rapid-fire flow to late 1990s hip hop. Despite his death in 2000, Harlem-born Big Pun’s raucous party anthems like “Still Not a Player” and “Twinz (Deep Cover 98)” remain enduring classics thanks to his tongue-twisting rhymes over bombastic beats.
#9: Lloyd Banks
Raised in Queens as a member of 50 Cent and Eminem’s dominant rap group G-Unit, Lloyd Banks emerged as a star solo MC in the 2000s through his cold flow and punchline-driven rhymes. His 2004 major label debut The Hunger for More reached #1 and multi-platinum status fueled by menacing street bangers like “On Fire” and “I’m So Fly.” Lloyd Banks remains one of NYC’s sharpest and most consistent lyricists.
#8: A$AP Rocky
The flashy Harlem MC A$AP Rocky rose to fame in the early 2010s blending art house and street aesthetics into masterfully curated albums like Long.Live.A$AP and TESTING. Mixtape standout “Peso” built hype, but crossover smashes like “F**kin Problems” and “Goldie” turned Rocky into a superstar. For repping NYC hip hop fashion and culture globally, A$AP Rocky shines bright among modern NYC greats.
#7: Busta Rhymes
With his animated, hyperspeed delivery, Leaders of the New School alum Busta Rhymes brought a vibrant energy to hip hop starting in the 90s. Multi-platinum solo hits like “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” and “Pass the Courvoisier Pt. 2” showcased his rambunctious, rapid-fire flow. For legendary technique and beloved party anthems, Busta Rhymes sits among the most skilled NYC spitters ever.
#6: Lil Kim
The brazen Queen Bee Lil Kim became rap’s first female crossover superstar in the 1990s through bold sexuality, charisma, and lyricism. Her classic debut Hard Core went double platinum, featuring Kim stealing the show on hits like “Crush on You (Remix).” Despite turbulence later on, Kim’s raunchy magnetism on songs about power and sex forever changed the game for women in hip hop.
With his deep, growling delivery forming menacing hooks, DMX exploded as a star in the late 90s representing NYC rap’s raw street edge. His 1998 debut It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot began a chart-topping streak fueled by hard-hitting anthems like “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” and “Party Up (Up In Here).” Even through personal troubles, DMX remains one of NYC’s most influential icons.
#4: The Notorious B.I.G.
Brooklyn’s undisputed King, Notorious B.I.G. elevated rap as lyricist, storyteller and pop hitmaker across just two classic albums before his 1997 murder. Effortless charisma dripped from hit singles like “Juicy” and “Big Poppa” off 1994’s Ready to Die. The Notorious B.I.G.’s prowess and persona helped New York rule hip hop’s 1990s explosion into the mainstream.
Since the 1994 release of lyrical masterpiece Illmatic as a young prodigy, Nas has become one of hip hop’s most revered MCs for vivid introspective storytelling. Tracks like “N.Y. State of Mind” and “The World Is Yours” were just the start. With a prolific discography and verbal skills sharpened by the Queensbridge projects, Nas’ poignant writing influenced generations.
Born Shawn Carter in Brooklyn, Jay-Z ascended from an NYC hustler to become one of music’s wealthiest moguls and greatest rappers ever. His slick wordplay and business savvy yielded 14 chart-topping albums and over 100 million records sold. Classics like The Blueprint and Reasonable Doubt coupled rugged lyrical mastery with anthemic hits like “Big Pimpin’” and “99 Problems.” For over 25 years, Jigga has defined hip hop excellence.
With intricately constructed verses and silky delivery alongside DJ Eric B., Rakim elevated lyricism and flow like no other MC during hip hop’s 1980s Golden Age. His tracks “Follow the Leader” and “Microphone Fiend” took rapping to new heights through complex internal rhymes and lyrical techniques that awed listeners. Ra’s revolutionary style changed rap forever, establishing him as the greatest NYC rapper of all time.
Summarizing NYC’s Lasting Rap Legacy
New York City birthed hip hop culture, so its massive contributions through pioneering rap legends are unsurprising. The diversity of sounds between gritty street rap and jazz-infused boom-bap production echoes NYC’s vibrant fabric. These MCs encapsulate the city’s many eras, neighborhoods, fashions and attitudes. NYC rap legacy endures thanks to lyrical craftsmen continually progressing the culture. From underground purists to global pop stars, New York rap dynamism shines through.
Frequently Asked Questions
When did New York hip hop first start?
Hip hop traces back to DJ block parties in the 1970s within the Bronx. Pioneering DJs like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa created the foundation for rapping and hip hop music to evolve.
Which New York rappers helped hip hop go mainstream?
Artists like Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys expanded rap’s commercial appeal in the 1980s through songs crossing over to pop and rock radio. Later stars like Jay-Z brought new levels of financial success.
What different styles exist within New York rap?
Gritty boom-bap with dense lyricism defined 90s NYC icons. Experimental alternative rappers like the Wu-Tang Clan also emerged. Modern stars like A$AP Rocky and Joey Bada$$ fuse influences from past and present.
Who are considered the greatest New York rappers?
While subjective, MCs like Rakim, Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, DMX, and others featured on this list frequently rank high among the best ever for their cultural impact and lyricism representing NYC rap’s elite artistic legacy.
How has New York rap evolved?
The old school 80s foundation of acts like Eric B. & Rakim and Run-D.M.C. progressed into diverse 1990s styles through Nas, Notorious B.I.G. and Wu-Tang Clan. Today A$AP Rocky, Joey Bada$$, Pop Smoke and others blend classic ideals with modern sensibilities.