Entertainment & Culture
The Ten Most Underrated Emcees of All Time

Last week we published a list of the ten most overrated rappers of all time. For a digital magazine that talks about race, culture and politics, our readers gave more feedback–both positive and negative–than any other subject we’ve ever covered (except for the wypipo still shedding tears over the infamous Black Lives Matter piece from over a year ago).

Because of the feedback from that article, we decided to examine the ten most underrated emcees. After much discussion, we had to establish some criteria for this list, which included:

  1. Someone must have heard of them We could not include obscure rappers because the list would just devolve into artists no one had ever heard of. The average person must know their music, so we had to leave out people only hip hop heads would know, like MF Doom, Royce da 5’9″ and that dude you went to high school with whose mixtape was fiyaaah.
  2.  No one-hit (or two-hit) wonders The emcee must have a catalog large enough to judge him as an emcee over a period of time.
  3. Mixtapes don’t count I hate when motherfuckers say “but you gotta listen to the mixtapes, though…” You have to be able to walk into Wal-Mart and purchase the album. This criterion even forced me to exclude one of my favorites, Lupe Fiasco.
  4. No perennial favorites Some people on the panel were Stans of a particular artist (Nas, Rakim, Andre 3000) that even though they are always in people’s top ten, their fans still think they aren’t rated high enough.
  5. We must know why they are underrated We will spell out the reasons for each emcees omission on people’s lists.

With this framework in place, we now present the NegusWhoRead list of the most underrated emcees of all time

10. Redman

Most people think of Redman as the funny rapper who once got some White people lit enough to convince them to make the movie How High. (Which I still contend is not as terrible as you’d think it might be. Meth and Red actually were pretty good actors, and the premise was stupid, but solid. And no, I wasn’t high when I watched the movie!)

Anyway, if you listen to Redman’s catalog, he made at least five dope albums. There still aren’t that many people who can hang with him lyrically, and he is one of the greatest examples of why I believe we overrate this generation of rappers. Redman was dope during the era of Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Jay-Z, Nas, etc., so he didn’t get much attention, even though he was a beast. Nowadays, if anyone with marginally decent lyrics emerges, he is hailed as the G.O.A.T. “Da Rockwilder” is one of the greatest party anthems in hip hop lore and Redman’s “Soopaman Lova” songs is the greatest recurring series in the history of rap. Plus, his appearance on MTV’s Cribs is one of the funniest things ever on TV.


Get More:
Redman, MTV Shows

Song that proves my point: Soopaman Luv 5

9. Ludacris

The reason Ludacris is never mentioned as one of the greats is threefold:

  • He wasn’t “hard” enough
  • He is from the south
  • The way he shapes up his beard

OK, that last one might just be me, but there is no doubt that Ludacris is one of the most slept-on rappers. His energetic delivery overshadows his well-crafted lyrics. He made party anthems that we all danced to, but if you listen to his albums, you get the full scope of a well-developed lyrical emcee. I believe much of his misfortune comes from the fact that he was a radio personality before his rap career took off, and that’s unfortunate, because if he had been a dope boy y’all would have eaten Ludacris up.  Pound for pound he is one of the best out there, and I mean that.

Mostly because Luda is about 5’0″ 110 lbs.

But still…

Song that Proves My Point: Hip Hop Quotables

8. Big Daddy Kane

OK, enough of these light-skinnedededed dudes. BDK was one of the greatest lyricists of all time. He was intricate, and simple. Hard and smooth. Kane was the prototype for all lyricists and would be in the Dark-Skinned Nigga Hall of Fame for his hairstyle alone.

But he was so much more than that. When Kane emerged, he was a “problem” for emcees because he had all the tools. Kool Moe Dee says he is still one of the “most imitated rappers in the game.” Kane eventually descended into a caricature of a smooth ladies man, and fell off. I believe it was because he posed in Playgirl magazine, but to this day, you still don’t wanna fuck with Kane on the mic.

Song That Proves My Point: Warm It Up Kane

7. MC Lyte

I’d put my money on Lyte against 90% of the male rappers of her era, and I’m not being patronizing when I say it. MC Lyte was not a female emcee. She was just an emcee.

If I had one wish for he world, it would be that we all came together to acknowledge that Salt-n-Pepa made shitty music and MC Lyte was the superior talent. The only thing Salt and Pepa had over Lyte was when they turned around in those Biker shorts.

But hey, it’s your thing. Do what you wanna do.

Song That Proves My Point: Cha Cha Cha

6. Scarface

Scarface is another emcee who suffers from being from the South. If you’re under 30, let me explain something to you:

There was a time when hip hop was only about New York. The world only thought New York niggas could rap, and if you wore sneakers instead of Timbs, you were thought to be trash. I know, I know–now New York rappers are thought to be trash, but there was a time before now, when a rap group with a chubby gangsta, a misdget and a man named Willie (no, not your uncle who sent you to the store for Newports and a bag of pork skins, I’m talking about Willie D) was one of the hottest groups in rap.

Scarface has almost 30 years in the game, and is one of the most respected artist in hip hop. So why is he never mentioned with the greatest?

Because he’s from Texas, and no one wears Timberlands in Texas unless they’re hunting.

Song that proves my point: My Block

5. Will Smith

I know you think I’m tripping, but hear me out, because I am about to reveal one of the greatest conspiracies in hip hop.

White people ruined Will Smith.

Yep. Before “Parents Just Don’t Understand” Will Smith was an excellent crafter of lyrics and funny stories. Then wypipo found out there was a charismatic, good-looking, light-skinned (yes, that too) prodigy and came and stole Will Smith from us. Then they paired him up with Jada and the rest is history.

Let’s set aside for a moment that he had the greatest DJ in the history of rap (for this there is no debate).  Let’s forget that he wrote the greatest sitcom anthem in history. Not to mention that he gave us what still stands as the national anthem for an entire season–Summertime (which I still believe Rakim wrote, but that’s another story). If Will never made ‘Parents Just…” he’d be recognized as the best thing to ever come out of Philly (until we get further down on the list). Now all they are left with is Meek Mills.

See how wypipo do us?

Song that proves my point: Brand New Funk

4. Big Pun

The greatest Latino rapper of all time created lyrics interwoven into each other like the wicker chairs we perched in to take club pictures in the 90’s. I actually don’t think Pun breathed when he rapped, because there were no spaces between his words.

Big Pun was underrated because he left too soon, and because he wasn’t Black. No, that is not reverse racism. That’s just hip hop. I also think a lot of people in NY didn’t like Pun because he probably spilled gravy on their Timbs, and that’s just not cool, B… Facts.

Too soon?

Song That Proves My Point: Superlyrical

3. Cee-Lo Green

Cee-Lo might look like he escaped from the land of munchkins, but he is superlyrical. He anchored Goodie Mobb, and in many of their songs, his is the only verse I care about (listen to the last verse of “Fly Away”, the first verse of “Soul Food” or his  verse on “Get Up, Git Out”). Cee-Lo isn’t outshone by his Goodie Mob mates or even Outkast, so why is he so underrated?

Because he is too talented. For as great an emcee as Cee-Lo may be, he is an even greater singer, and women love singers. Just like the curse of Big Daddy Kane, men will eventually do what gets them the most play with women. If not for his incredible voice, Cee-Lo would have blown up bigger than his Samsung phone.

Ok, I admit that was too soon.

Song that proves my point: Gaining One’s Definition (GOD)

2. Ice Cube

I believe Ice Cube is the most important person in the history of hip hop. Hear me out:

If there was no Ice Cube, there would have been no NWA (he connected Dre with Eazy E, Ren and Yella). If there was no NWA West coast hip hop wouldn’t have taken off. There’d be no Snoop, there’d be no Death Row, Tupac would have stayed in jail and there’d be no Eminem. And it’s all because of the connective tissue of Ice Cube.

I also rank Ice Cube is the greatest storyteller in the history of Hip Hop (even above Slick Rick). Here is a playlist I listen to with only Ice Cube stories:

  • Dopeman
  • Once Upon A Time In The Projects
  • Who’s The Mack
  • Gangsta Fairy Tale
  • My Summer Vacation
  • Nappy DugOut
  • Doing Dumb Shit
  • Alive On Arrival
  • Robbin Hood
  • It was a Good Day
  • Once Upon A Time In The Projects 2
  • Lil Ass Gee
  • What Can I Do?
  • Ghetto Vet

And that’s not all of them!

So why is Ice Cube so underrated?

Because he used to have a jheri curl.

Song that proves my point: Ghetto Vet

1. Black Thought

The most underrated MC of all time. I know some people have him in their top 10, but everyone on your list made some wack songs too. Not Black Thought. Black Thought’s catalog is flawless. His worst song could be listed among your other favorite emcee’s greatest hits.

And Black Thought is an emcee in the purest sense of the word. I’ve always thought he rapped like a waterfall–the words come gushing out of him and tumble into the microphone. I could dissect the references and metaphors Black Thought uses as if it were a term paper or literary analysis. I think much of his interwoven wordplay goes over the audiences’ heads. A friend of mine who has a doctorate degree and is a hip hop head told me that Things Fall Apart was too “progressive” for him.

Black Thought is underrated because he is a part of a collective. I’m not even sure if he is the most important part of The Roots, but he is definitely the most slept on Emcee of all time.

Song that Proves My Point: Water

Honorable Mentions:

  • Kurupt
  • Mos Def
  • Beanie Siegel
  • AZ

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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