Before I get into my list of top 10 mainstream Hip Hop artists today, I’d like to share a report on some developments. Of course, as a rapper, I should say that I am one of the best emcees. As an independent, I’ve essentially been a lifelong Hiphoppa. Last year, unostentatiously, I launched a studio album in Germany. I’m ecstatic to understand that without much promotion, various radio stations play more than one song from the album. One of the songs have reached the coveted National Playlist in Sierra Leone. As the music from this album catches more ears, it feels great to see people dancing and having fun with it.
Now we consider a new rat-race in the European Union.”
I’ve also appeared in some new tunes from other artists. Badson Publishing has three very exciting new books in the works. Thought I’d announce that before getting to my list. Not to mention, I’m appreciative that Freddy Will Industries Inc. is fully manifested in Estonia. We’ve come a long way on a grassroots level stretching from the US to Canada, Africa, and India. Now we consider a new rat-race in the European Union. It may not be much compared to what other more renowned artists do, but I commend the Most-High for allowing these activities. I will drop a link to the said album somewhere at the end of this blog.
Okay. Now the list. It’s extremely complicated to list the top emcees of the day. Hip Hop has evolved so beautifully that it fused with R&B and Soul to formed the Drill sub-genre. This has given us a massive array of multitalented creatives and entertainers of all sorts. We have distinct subspecies which includes Afrobeat and Zouk music. As music lovers, we all have varying ways of judging the best. That’s according to our assessment of their skill level and reliability. In 2021, after receiving new music from NAS, Kanye West, and Drake, I can say that I am ready to announce my new list of the top ten major emcees right now.
It should come as no surprise that Drake is number one on my contemporary top ten list. To say that the only certified legend or possibly icon on this list has an impressive catalog is an understatement. Those who are disappointed with my top ten should understand that I regularly listen to at least 50 Hip Hop artists, including myself. My playlist may include all of the artists in your top ten. Well, I hearken to a lot of genres in general, but now we’re talking about Hip Hop. Drake comes from the same decade as most of the artists on this file, even though he has collaborated with them as a cosign.
Far back in 2007, I was among the people who held high hopes that he would be the next most becoming sensation in the culture. After hearing his lyrical perspective on a few of his songs, I even predicted that he would change the game. As it turned out, we were absolutely correct. He has surpassed our expectations at that time. Remember that I am also densely involved in certain pockets of the international Hip Hop community. For example, I came across an interesting coincidence. If you live in Toronto, you may know that one of the GOAT emcees in Canadian Hip Hop is Maestro Fresh Wes or Maestro.
Get this. In Brussels, one of their GOATs is an artist called Stromae. His stage name is a French verlan of the word, Maestro. Get it? Mae-stro and Sto-Mae. Living in both cities, I often wondered how a musical collaboration of the Canadian, and the Belgian would overlap. One of the perks of traveling is getting to discover things like that. I am also involved in Sierra Leone Hip Hop where I’ve collaborated with Kao Denero and King Boss LA. West African Hip Hop is unprecedented in the sense that we figured out a way to merge with Afrobeat. You wouldn’t imagine the impact this has had on fashion and slang.
You may have heard me refer to Senegalese Hip Hop and Hip Hop scenes in France, Germany, Russia, England, Australia, the Middle East, South America, and China. I also noticed a very strong presence when I visited India. I said all this to say that I listen to many different variations of Hip Hop music from all over the world. My top ten artists literally have a global presence among today’s youth. Since we are all fans and there is little I can say about Drake that you don’t know yet. Many people even crown him the new King of Pop. My favorite Drake albums are “Take Care”, “Nothing Was the Same” and “More Life”.
Grabbed my iPhone, opened Apple Music, and switched the music from NBA YoungBoy to Beanie Sigel’s “The Truth”.
But, I damn well listen to all of his albums and mixtapes almost routinely. What if you were resting somewhere and a car drove by playing “So Far Gone”? It’s probably me. No, I seriously remember being in my room at my grandmother’s house in Finsbury Park, London, and almost every passing car was playing a Drake song. Being from Canada, you wouldn’t know how thrilled I was to see ordinary people in Great Britain vibing to Drake’s music. The crazy part is it doesn’t matter what the local language is in that country, you could pull off a seemly date night with “Take Care”, “Nothing Was the Same” and “More Life”.
2: NBA YoungBoy
I remember the exact moment when I realized it was over for the older minds. I was on Vodičkova Street, around Charles and Wenceslas Square in Prague. My gray Yankee fitted was low. Carhart sweater, crisp. White gold Cuban links, white gold Diesel watch, white gold pinky bling. Navy blue Karl Lagerfeld sweats, white Fila sneaks, sharp. I’m in a 2020 Peugeot, NBA YoungBoy’s “Until Death Calls My Name” was knocking, and the sweethearts were gawking. I decided to turn it up a bit. Grabbed my iPhone, opened Apple Music, and switched the music from NBA YoungBoy to Beanie Sigel’s “The Truth”.
If you’d asked me about my top 5 emcees back then, I would have said Jay Z, Nas, Snoop, Biggie, and Pac. You have to realize that those legendary emcees are icons now. Whenever I wanted to crank up, my favorite drink was Hennessey and my favorite albums were either Prodigy’s “HNIC”, Camron’s “Purple Haze”, or Beanie Sigel’s “The Truth”. That’s where I would start before graduating to “The Black Album”, “God’s Son”, or “Soul Survivor” By Jeezy featuring Akon. I’d go from The Game to Gucci Mane in a heartbeat. So… here I was in a 2019 traffic in looking for a parking space on Vodičkova Street in downtown Prague.
Another may wonder why MC Lyte, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, or Megan Thee Stallion never appear in this discussion?
If you’ve ever been to this area, you’d know it’s flooded with groschen (or what you’d call dimes or 8s, 9s, and 10s). That evening, as I crept through, they were all staring directly at my whip. I felt like a street stopper in slow motion. NBA YoungBoy’s “Until Death Calls My Name” was playing, “Diamond Teeth Samurai” boomed from the speakers. At that moment I decided to improve the situation by switching to Beanie Sigel’s ‘The Truth’ as everyone watched. You could see the disappointment in their body language when they dropped their shoulders and turned to continue their day. The street stopper was now being ignored!
It’s not that they don’t appreciate Beanie Sigel’s music. The fact was that was an album from over fifteen years prior to that time. It was a 2019 Saturday evening in one of the hottest locations in Prague. Most of those sweathearts were no more than 25 to 30 years old. Some of them were toddlers when Beanie Sigel was hot. Eversince that night, I realized that the tide had turned on the momentum in the steets. I remembered my young homies drilling and grinding hard in London. And it hit me. The youth were moving forward. Anyone who didn’t get on board was going to be left behind and forgotten.
3: J. Cole
Whenever you bring the “Born Sinner” up, someone asks about Kendrick Lamar. It’s like highlighting Rakim on your top ten emcee’s list without mentioning Big Daddy Kane, KRS One, LL Cool J, Scarface, Q-Tip, or Ice Cube. Can J. Cole be the main feature without Kendrick Lamar on the same list? Then there’s an equally endless dilemma of whether a top ten list is authentic without Jay Z, Nas, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Tupac, Busta Rhymes, DMX, The Notorious BIG, Snoop Dogg, Cam’ron, or at least one Wu-Tang member? That must speak to the impact those artists had on the culture.
Hip Hop music is a fascinating art. The number of phenomenal artists grow tremendously with each decade. I’ve been in debates where Immortal Technique, T.I. Black Thought, Cassidy, 50 Cent, Andre 3000, The Game, or Rick Ross are said to be among the top 10. Jadakiss declared that he is definitely a top 5. Meek Mill too. Another may wonder why MC Lyte, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, or Megan Thee Stallion never appear in this discussion? My 2021 list includes two dope female artists, one sic Boom-bap legend and proven emcees from the relevant subgenre of the decade of the 2010s.
Let’s face it, a lot of our favorite 90s and 00s legends should have retired by now. At least to give way for younger or less popular independent artists to have a chance to propel the culture. I’ve gone back to listen to music from every artist on this list. That doesn’t mean that I stopped checking for old school legends. In my humble opinion, respectfully, Hip Hop as a mainstream music culture is a sport for the youth. That doesn’t mean legends should stop creating. We haven’t even gone into the independent circle or left the United States to ponder on the thousands from the international community.
These preferences are reinforced by the music of the Drill.
My point? There are a large number of ’90s and ’00s Boom-bap, G-Funk, and Trap rappers that are relevant today. Nah? I should remove Chief Keef and put Jay Z back? My only regret is that Hip Hop music pumps an extremely toxic psychological and emotional poison into the black community. I often admire Will Smith for having the presence of mind and the restraint to never use the N, B, M, or F words in his music. Only if I could go back to 1991 and rewrite my lyrical DNA. Beef, materialism, sexual promiscuity, and profanity are practically the tiny tip of this giant negativity that plagues this culture we love so much.
On the other hand, right now, while there is a whole subspecies of conscious emcees, I can’t name a single conscious rapper from the new generation. I mean, I was a part of the problem. My first mixtape and debut studio album are overloaded with the most outlandish lyrical contexts that carry on the classic misogynistic, homophobic, and insane sensations we enjoyed in the music of Boom-bap, G-Funk, and Trap. These preferences are reinforced by the music of the Drill. Due to the enormous range of awesome music in Hip Hop, it becomes increasingly unmanageable to hear an artist’s previous album again.
That is the difficulty I face with Kendrick Lamar. Although I like his music, his new albums are always monumental when they’re hot off the press. However, a year later, I forget to look for them. I can’t tell when I last heard “To Pimp a Butterfly” or “Damn” in full. A plethora of new mixtapes and albums by Drill artists comes on my radar, and I still remember to play “2014 Forest Hills Drive” or “KOD”. Trust me, I’ve heard every album from Future, Roddy Ricch, Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Baby, ASAP Rocky, DaBaby, Young Thug, Pop Smoke, Casanova, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, NBA Youngboy, and them.
The most popular songs from the newest rappers of the last decade are on my playlists. In terms of the Chicago Drill scene, I’ve also looked for King Von and FBG Duck videos on YouTube. Though I have to admit that since most of the Drill songs are directed at the artist’s “opp”, I have felt no connection. I prefer music with a general context that I can think of as applicable to my life. Remember, these are the songs I get hyped to, while I’m on the road handling my handle. When a rapper gets too specific about their beef, I rarely come back to the song. Remember, this is business but it’s also entertainment.
In my book, coupled with authenticity, being different is one of the foremost qualities that sets an emcee apart from…
That was what happened to Tupac’s later albums where he rapped extensively about his beef and the situation between him and his “enemmmmies.” The simplest conclusion for everyone is their own. For me, I can truly say that I’ve come back to listen to the entire “Born Sinner” or “4 Your Eyez Only” albums with almost the same fervor as a Jay Z, T.I., or 50 Cent classic. J. Cole has kept a mild but respectable hum. His music seems to be maturing and they have the stamina to stand the test of time.
4: 21 Savage
While an extensive work ethic and amount of studio releases are one of the attributes that impress me about Drill artists, it doesn’t end there. The Notorious BIG, who is arguably the best rapper of all time, only released two albums. He was in my top five for a very long time. Jay Z, Nas, Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and Biggie were on that list, even though, unfortunately, everyone else has released twice as many albums as BIG. I’m not claiming 21 Savage is Biggie. I think, compared to other Drill legends, 21’s relatively smaller body of work does not obscure his uniqueness and that is why he is in my current top five.
In my book, coupled with authenticity, being different is one of the foremost qualities that sets an emcee apart from his or her peers. On the other hand, Drill artists are so genuine that their fans are frequently conflicted as to whether heavy drug use, blatant criminality, jail time, and alleged involvement in street violence are worth it for a successful artist in the long run. Again, I believe that is probably the main reason why it took a long time for Hip Hop to admit that Trap music was now succeeded by Drill culture. The Feds were indicting entire clicks. Today’s rappers are some of the biggest tycoons.
Not to mention he’s also a music producer in a market where many rely on their voice as their only musical instrument.
Where previously, only one deceased member was a victim of gun violence, we saw a bloodbath with opposing crews losing multiple comrades who were taken too soon. The lyrics got colder and the urge for instant retaliation gave rise to unusual and shocking levels of disrespect. Drill emcees were also releasing an astronomical amount of new projects. Long gone were the days when a Hip Hop musician waited two years to release their next project. I mean, Chief Keef dropped eleven new records in 2015. That’s more than many artist’s entire discographies over the span of twenty years of their career.
Keef dropped another five new releases in 2017, seven more in 2018, and another five in 2019. As that was happening, Lil Durk released five new projects in 2017 alone. At that rate, one would be surprised how fans remember the names of their favorite artist’s new songs. And these artists have a cult following of millions of fans while their projects stream in the hundreds of millions. So compared to Chief Keef and Lil Durk, it can be said that 21 Savage’s four new projects in 2016 and another three in 2017 pales in comparison. However, the Grammy Award winner raps with tact that is practically unforgettable.
You do not have to agree with me on this one. I believe 21 Savage’s Dominican, Saint Vincent, and the Grenadines, and British plus American upbringing all play a major role in why he stands out from his peers. Not to mention he’s also a music producer in a market where many rely on their voice as their only musical instrument. Another very impressive aspect of his being is that he is not like most of us who have an Abrahamic faith mentality. He is not a Christian or a Muslim. The Atlanta rapper practices Ifá, which is of Yorubian origin. Instead of Yahweh, Allah or Jehovah, 21 Savage looks to Orunmila and Ifá.
I find that very interesting because many people of African descent often turn away from African religions and turn to Arab, Jewish, European or Indian gods. A brief study of the Ifá religion shows that it is a maternal belief for combined religious systems such as Traditional African Religions, Vodou, Santería, and other African American spiritual convictions including Candomblé and Palo. This takes the Atlanta rapper into an unconventional expanse when observed from a spiritual or psychological point of view. In 2016 a climatic transformation took place in my private life. It was really unexpected as well.
It was a year after Chief Keef and Lil Durk released their massive works that DJ Akademiks rose to become a universal star.
After accepting Toronto as my city, where I wrote three books and published four studio projects, my Afropolitan trip switched to a diplomatic phase in Europe. I traveled from Canada to England, Scotland, Belgium and Granada. That same year, I published my fourth and fifth books. The Chicago Drill culture was on the rise and in bloody times with gun abuse. Trap music changed the landscape and the sound but, I noticed another change in Drill. Hip-hop musicians in traditional boom-bap cities like Toronto, New York, Detriot, and Philadelphia performed the drill dance while echoing the music of the Drill.
It was a year after Chief Keef and Lil Durk released their massive works that DJ Akademiks rose to become a universal star. Put simply, I saw a dramatic change between 2015 and 2016. In my opinion, that was also the time when 21 Savage established himself as a legend with his four successive classics “The Slaughter Tape”, “Slaughter King”, “Savage Mode” and “21 Gang”. I got to the point where I stopped checking the song titles. Although I released an album in 2017, music took a backseat to the power moves in Baku, Antwerp, Paris, Amsterdam, Casablanca, Brussels, Freetown, and Telaviv. I was in a different world.
Savage’s “Issa Album” and “Without Warning” became part of the soundtrack of my endless journeys through the windy and picturesque cities of Europe and Africa. The following year I published the next 3 volumes of The Sandmann’s Journal. When Berlin and Prague became permanent, I broke my book publishing record from 2016. If you ask my neighbors in Brussels, Prague, or Berlin, they will tell you that I hear a lot of Boom-bap, G-funk, and Trap. Thank goodness my European neighbors prefer to listen to music with me, unlike the neighbors in Toronto who knocked on the wall or called the police.
I’m often caught vibrating to Styles P, Jadakiss, or Biggie. I’m also in love with the Berlin station “Energy Radio”, so a lot of old-school Soft Rock, Soul, and Pop comes out of my speakers. I have my days listening to Classical music, Afrobeat, Dancehall, Reggae, and of course Traditional African Music. But if I wanted a more up-to-date Hip Hop atmosphere, 21 Savage’s “Savage Mode” always does the trick.