My List of the Top 10 Mainstream Hip Hop Artists of Today II

By Wilfred Kanu Jr.


A list of today’s top 10 mainstream rappers. My top five mainstream emcees were Tupac, The Notorious BIG, Nas, Jay Z, and Snoop Dogg. Other times they were Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, and Treach (from Naughty By Nature). Some readers may wonder why I’ve mentioned few or no female emcees? My only answer to this is that I did not choose based on gender. I am a huge fan of Queen Latifa, MC Lyte, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Ms. Lauren Hill, Eve, Trina, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Megan Thee Stallion. Yet, newer emcees have become legends. Who is great and who are my best right now?

Like everyone else, I turn to Spotify or Apple for music entertainment. Frankly, my appetite is exhausting. Basically, I listen to…

It may not be politically correct but it has to be said. Some female emcees have stretched the definition of artistry. Today, female emcees give us a lot of glossy lips licking, booty twerking, and sexually suggestive images. That blends a stripper’s appeal with female emceeing. And… this makes it confusing for male fans. On the one hand, we are distancing ourselves from sexually objectifying females. On the other, we may experience shame for requesting such sexually charged performances. Men often don’t understand the conflicting messages around women’s sex appeal and our appreciation for debauchery.

I’ve been connecting to Rapsody a lot lately. At this point in time, I take scenic car journeys through Europe. In this digital age of Wifi and streaming, it’s no surprise. Like everyone else, I turn to Spotify or Apple for music entertainment. Frankly, my appetite is exhausting. Basically, I listen to almost everything. But mainly you would find Soul, Blues, R&B, Jazz, Zouk, Afrobeat, Pop, Dancehall, Reggae, Calypso, and Traditional African Music in my favorites. So, this is not the whole list of my favorite musicians much more than it is a list of the top ten rappers I’ve listened to a lot over the last few years. Without further ado, let’s move on to their albums and singles in my chronological order.

5. Lil Durk

Let’s talk about the main cultural changes that have brought about a new and influential subgenre. I may have missed a thing or two when it comes to the notable subgenres. In my experience, the dynamic of Hip Hop as a musical culture spilled from the Bronx to Los Angeles when Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg ushered us into the G-Funk era. Thanks to Master P’s No Limit and Birdman’s Cash Money Records, this musical culture moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans. The now global Hip Hop briefly returned to its New York roots before moving to Atlanta, where the Crunk and Trap eras gained prominence.

Hip Hop’s momentum seemed to have moved to Toronto in the early 2010s, but it quickly billowed in Chicago. It has stayed there for the last eight years. Like G-Funk and Trap, Drill influences the youth culture on a global scale. And it made Chief Keef and Lil Durk some of the pioneering figures in this Chicago phase of rap music. As I mentioned earlier, gun violence comes with Drill’s culture. Many Hiphoppas failed to show that they noticed the flood of Hip Hop trends from Chicago. At the same time, the other sub-genres of Hip Hop are loaded with seasoned veterans, while young newcomers are pioneering the Drill.

This is the valley of the shadow of death in which artists like Lil Durk must leave a towering legacy. And oh, did this young legend…

We can see the beauty of Chicago’s Hip Hop takeover. Now we’ve watched their newcomers perfect their art and sprout into mainstream domination. In 2010, not only were New York’s veteran Hiphoppas reluctant to let go of the Boom-bap, but Hiphoppas from the West Coast also clung to G-Funk. In the south, while Snap/Crunk was easier to get rid of, many were stubbornly hesitant to deviate from the prevailing Trap music. As an irony, we watched as Chicago’s Drill spread east, west and south. The artists received unconstructive criticism from all sides because their new methods were completely unconventional..

Chicago Drill has pushed the boundaries so far. Even the coolest Boom-bap, G-Funk, and Trap OGs have become YouTube preachers of morality. Gun violence, liberalism, social media, and female promiscuity have led to an astronomical transformation. We have become privy to gang information as social media. The use of high-end smartphones also gained importance in the same decade as the Drill. This is the valley of the shadow of death in which artists like Lil Durk must leave a towering legacy. And oh, did this young legend rise to that challenge. After I say this, I’ll let you research the rest on the internet.

Rappers from previous generations have a rep that is essentially hidden. Unfortunately, we don’t need VH1 to check Durk’s history. Whether alive or deceased, everyone associated with the “Remember My Name” artist is a legend. It doesn’t matter which side they represent. Whether they are his opp or his bro. Or if they appeared as active participators in his OBlock realm. They are legends. Of course, our hearts break when blood, and tears are involved. Yet, when we speak of his artistry, we must learn a new word that is slightly beyond legend when we refer to Lil Durk’s towering and bone-chilling legacy.

If a Boom-bap, G-Funk, or Trap O. G. were very reluctant to greet a Drill artist, it would not be the case with Lil Durk. In his light, his music touches us with a comparable intensity as his biography. As I mentioned about Chief Keef, Drill artist’s strength is the unprecedented number of new releases they launch within a year or so. Durk is not only six exceptional albums in, the NAACP and Grammy-nominated artist also sits on at least twelve well-respected mixtapes. For me, this is probably one of the main reasons why Drill rappers are appealing. I came up listening to rappers like Gangsta Nip and Ice T.

 I couldn’t make a new top ten list without including Lil Durk

I enjoy melodies and I can easily shift to a “Ready to Die” kind of album. That eerie production sound. So, Drill is up there as a subgenre. As for the reason why Lil Durk made it into my top ten? It’s easy. I found out that he could spit. Durk is not only a rapper, he is a skilled musician. The prolific emcee is much more creative than you might expect. I’m at a point where I can go from Boom-bap to Drill on the same playlist without skipping a beat. Chicago blogger The TruthTeller put it best, Chief Keef suffers from his style being heavily mimicked. Like Lil Wayne, his sound has become a model for many Drill artists.

On the other hand, Lil Durk also approached the mic with his own brand of originality. He combines melodic rap flows with a Boom-bap cadence. That is completely different from many other rappers in Chicago. But I have to admit that I listen to at least 50 different Drill rappers from Chicago and Atlanta. I couldn’t make a new top ten list without including Lil Durk but there are many others. The sounds have transcended to New York, Texas, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Detroit, and practically every city on the mainland. However, Lil Durk and Chief Keef are flagbearers of this music and culture in the mainstream.

6. Chief Keef

One of the larger misconceptions about old skool Hiphoppas is that we don’t acknowledge the new emcees. This misunderstanding may have evolved from the widespread complaints that Generation Xers and Baby Boomers have on Generation Y and Generation Z. There is a well-documented criticism about unwritten rules regarding social and cultural norms. Especially when it comes to rules of engagement, street code, dating, and the form of sexes. Although the difference becomes ironic when you consider that while the bodies of the Xer generation may have gotten fat and wrinkled, our minds are still youthful.

Chicago rappers have redefined and updated the street culture and language. Suddenly, many of the older heads had to…

Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised by my pick of emcees. Let’s face it. Some old skool Hiphoppas are afraid of the Drill. We watched YouTube and social media posts and found that Drill culture runs parallel to street warfare. Where Gen Xers and Baby Boomers chose sides on the East Coast, West Coast beef in the 1990s, many fans often danced to “Who Shot Ya” with the same amusement they did at “Hit em Up.” We tiptoed over to “Take Over”, then nodded vigorously at “Ether.” In most cases, enjoying a single diss song didn’t mean a clear alliance with the artist or his gang. This is not necessarily the case with the Drill.

Since their fans connect on social media, it’s not uncommon to get unwanted attention if you strongly support a particular Drill artist. Even so, a Hiphoppa may find his or herself wanting if they choose to ignore the artists who came out in the 2010s. Hip Hop moved from New York to Atlanta, but when it departed from Atlanta to Chicago, everyone pretended not to be aware that it had shifted. Meanwhile, emcees like Chief Keef changed the game forever. Chicago rappers have redefined and updated the street culture and language. Suddenly, many of the older heads had to learn some new rules.

You could say, when it comes to new releases, this rapper and music producer could be one of the most prolific. But on the other hand, this is probably a part of Drill’s undocumented strengths. While many are focused on the gang wars, they may overlook the enormity of their work in the studio. Chief Keef has been a rap veteran for 20 years since he started rapping when he was just five. From his outset, his song “I Don’t Like” contained sophisticated metaphors related to the Drill mentality. This can often be seen in the way they have flipped irony to suggest meaning in ways that have never been expressed before.

Regarding his work ethic, the pioneer has so far released four studio albums, four EPs, and a whopping 36 mixtapes. That’s 44…

Chief Keef devised a blueprint for many future Drill artists. However, as a music fan, I can just say when the single is hot there is no denying it. Furthermore, that was in 2012. We should also commend Kanye West for not only recognizing but also cosigning new talent from his hometown. Chief Keef may not be the most commercial drill artist of all, but I respect that he works independently. Regarding his work ethic, the pioneer has so far released four studio albums, four EPs, and a whopping 36 mixtapes. That’s 44 novelties in the decade. His discography includes 8 entries from his “The Leak” mixtape series, alone.

“Glory Road”, “Back from the Dead” and “Glofiles” are the next entries that he has published in a trilogy. Given that, he produces most of his music, writes his lyrics, and raps three sixteen-bar verses plus hooks. Most of his releases contain more than twelve songs. We can conclude that from an artist’s and producer’s point of view, Chief Keef could easily go down as a godfather to the music of the Drill. He’s top ten in my playlist. If you had stayed in one of those extrinsic lodges along the scenic routes of Western Europe, you might run into me as I drove up playing a classic Chief Keef classic at a deafening amplification.

7. Young M.A.

Is this a case of another underrated female artist in Hip Hop? What causes one to be undervalued regardless of their creativity? Is it because people associate the artist’s lifestyle with their art and not with the objective appreciation of their artistry? Look, with the advancement of technology in music, it’s incredibly difficult for any serious artist to release a shitty project. Even so, it’s not uncommon for many creatives to expand their horizon by exploring unusual boundaries and experimenting. Over the past ten years, I’ve published several blogs with different artists as my top ten mainstream emcees at the time.

Of course, “Ooouuu” alone is enough to turn up. Then there are…

If I’m not mistaken, in 2009 I published my first one in Toronto. Know that I don’t only listen to rap. Depending on who I’m with and what we are doing, the music can be Dancehall, Reggaeton, Afrobeat, or Traditional African Music. As an artist, my newest record is Afrobeat powered by Krio raps. I see that, with age, I am even starting to lean towards Pop. Since taking a break from drinking, I’ve also revived my interest in R&B and Soul. There was a time when I binged on Kodak Black, 21 Savage, Future, Lil Durk, DaBaby, Lil Baby, French Montana, King Von, Pop Smoke, Young Thug, FBG Duck, and many other artists.

So, once again, this list is for the top ten mainstream emcees I’ve been rocking in the last few years. It’s also a list of those who are alive now. Where Young M.A. does not have a huge body of musical works, she spits silly punchlines and cadences. Her features gives us a wide variety of artists such as Nicki Minaj, Remy Ma, Jadakiss, Uncle Murda, and others. So far, she has dropped six solo projects – two mixtapes, two EPs, and two studio albums. They don’t disappoint. If your favorite rapper did half the things I do regularly, you’d build a statue of him. Trust me, I’ve posted a lot of photos on Facebook, but not everything.

Anyway, to amuse your imagination, think of the scenic 5 and a half hour rides from Brussels to Paris. What about the 4-hour night excursions from Brussels to Luxembourg? Or 2-hours zips from Brussels to Cologne. There are trips from Berlin to Prague or from Amsterdam to Rotterdam. They do not include first-class train rides to London or flights to Estonia. As part of the documentation of my time in Europe, this particular list is on the Hip Hop artists I returned to after listening to the hottest new mixes all the time. Am I bragging when I say there are days when I fill the scenic air with Al Green and John Legend?

Erykah Badu, Ray Charles, Bryson Tiller, Rihanna, The Weeknd, R. Kelly, The Isley Brothers, Boyz II Men, Sam Cooke, and Smokey Robinson are just a few who pop up frequently as I continue my eventful days. Of course, “Ooouuu” alone is enough to turn up. Then there are “PettyWap” and “Big”. If you ever had to go on a long journey instead of playing your favorite songs over and over, why not jump on something else? On one of my trips from Berlin to Leipzig, I bump all Young MA albums in chronological order. Since then, I’ve returned. As a side note, if you do this with 21 Savage, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

8. Styles P

There was a time when Hip Hop dubbed Styles P as the favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. He was already legendary from early LOX and D-Block records. “A Gangster and a Gentleman” is where he set himself apart, in my opinion. Styles, who is an Afropolitan, went on to serve the Kulture with some of the dopest features, mixtapes, and albums. Now and then, Hip Hop goes into a slump. The hottest trends become oversaturated while the creatives strive for a new wave. We saw that with Crunk. P does not get the credit he deserves. His music has provided fans with constant inspiration or conceivable distraction.

On one of my trips from Berlin to Leipzig, I bump…

It’s no secret, one of the best ways to listen to Hip Hop music is in the car. In today’s society, the average person has more than one occupation. We use our social media, cell phones, and computers to connect with the world. There is little time to focus on one thing for a long time. People spend a lot of time in commute. This means rocking JBL, Beats, or Airpod headphones, or sitting in a car letting the music rip. Travel time is enough to digest a musician’s offering. Styles is at the core of this. When you look at the early careers of Akon, Rick Ross, or Dave East, for example, you could argue that his cosign is ironclad.

I remember starving for new street music. in Toronto, binging on every album by Nas, Snoop, Tupac, NWA, Jay Z, Biggie, Scarface, Mobb, Shyne, Wu-Tang, or DMX album. I wanted to hear something of the same nature that was fresh from the press. Styles P delivered, “Masters of Ceremony.” The same thing happened to me in Brussels when he dropped “G-Host.” While in Berlin, he released “Dime Bag”, “S. P. the GOAT: Ghost of All Time”, “Presence”, “Styles David: Ghost Your Enthusiasm” and “Ghosting”. P is in my bag, so I think he is underestimated when he is easily one of the greatest emcees of all time.

9. Sa-Roc

Does is seem like there is a shortage of dope female emcees in this culture? Trust me, Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, and Nicki Minaj are sic. There are a few others whom we should also know and celebrate. Sa-Roc is a lyrical beast. She rocks her microphone without a feature, most of the time. Roc spits firey sixteens with ill cadences in her hooks. Her joints are guaranteed to let it knock. I could not emphasize my points more. Even though most men appreciate a woman’s sexual attraction, we are also conflicted when female rappers objectify themselves. And there is a place for art that embraces the allure of sex appeal.

Ms. Lauryn Hill showed us that a talented emcee does not have to rap about how amazing her parts are in every song.

Again, beautiful women, do not need to constantly objectify themselves to have male validation. Sa-Roc is proof. Beauty and attractiveness shine regardless of whether one uses them or not. This is why I appreciate female rappers who do not perform their music while dressed half-naked. Ms. Lauryn Hill showed us that a talented emcee does not have to rap about how amazing her parts are in every song. Again, do not misunderstand me, as mothers of humanity, a woman’s beauty, and fertility is an invaluable trait worth adoring. It’s similar to the fine line between the advocation for women’s rights and man hate.

One can show feminine nature, charm, and attractiveness without this overshadowing one’s artistry. This emcee has released eleven albums. She also has an EP and a mixtape, which equates to thirteen dope releases. Sa-Roc is one of those spitters who makes the speakers jump with nothing less than the most compelling lyrical elixir. In my book, there is no need to crave mainstream attention as a veteran. Your lyrics, your flow, your production and your work will speak for themselves. You define success on your terms. Fans only have to listen to the artist’s voice to know that she’s not an amateur in this rap shit.

Sa-Roc’s Forever will hit a true Hiphoppa’s speakers hard. I’d rock her whole album, but if you want to pick one or two tracks allow me to recommend Code Of Hammurabi, r(E)volution, and The Black Renaissance feat. Black Thought.

10. Rapsody

This socially and politically conscious lyricist gets lost in the shuffling. But she will always spit out of the speakers in my truck or my headphones. I was not exaggerating when I said at this point in my hustle, I go on scenic road trips around Europe. That’s probably one of the best times when I take in an emcee’s body of work. So far, Rapsody has released four mixtapes, three EPs, and three solid albums. My words do not do any justice to describe the wonderful experience of immersing myself in her lyrical world as I pass through these iconic municipalities. These European road trips aren’t just epic.

If any of your favorite rappers have done them regularly, they’ll likely get a special Netflix episode made public that focuses on the journey itself. Not to mention the people, resorts, and cuisine, as well as picturesque landscapes, monuments, and affinities. I never imagined how cute it is to fly around the world with a G5 jet, but you might miss a lot if you haven’t made a few road trips to get to know these countries in-depth. When it comes to conflicting messages about female sex appeal and male reaction, many guys feel the tension from our sexual and romantic interest in North American women.

It’s the nagging question of what is harassment and what is seduction? Or the desire to build a lasting bond with that beautiful woman who has stepped into your panorama. Rapsody reminds us that there are people who still value the traditional concept of relationships between men and women. Speaking sense to women who objectify themselves and men who engage in lawlessness. I appreciate, “The Man”, “Power ft. Kendrick Lamar, & Lance Skiiiwalker” and “Ibtihaj ft. D’Angelo, & GZA”. A true emcee who deserve to be heard. *

About Wilfred Kanu Jr.

Leave a Reply