20. Talib Kweli
Talib Kweli’s albums are a textbook example of a brilliant songwriter living or dying by his production. While his skills are practically unassailable, his music is capable of being completely brilliant or completely boring, depending on his beat selection. It’s an affliction that’s affected more artists in the upper echelon of this list than you might think. Despite the occasional beat-related mishaps, it’s hard to say anything bad about Kweli from a mic controller’s perspective. Always sharp and energetic, he’s one of the last true rhyme geniuses to emerge from Brooklyn.
19. Busta Rhymes
Representing: Long Island (and Brooklyn, kinda)
This was a hard one for me, as I had to put personal biases aside and focus squarely on Busta’s rhyme skills. I’ve got no use for him as a person (not only due to personal interaction, but because anyone who witnesses a murder yet doesn’t work towards putting the killer to justice isn’t a real man or not-fuck the law of the streets. He has enough money to protect himself), but it’s obvious that since the Leaders of the New School days, this man has been one of the illest to ever do it. The first LONS album (and his more recent work) has proven that he can go a more traditional route than needed. His work in between has proven that he’s one of the more creative rappers to exist in this business.
Also, Busta kills EVERY SINGLE posse cut he appears on.
Representing: The Bronx/New Rochelle
Quite possibly the most underrated MC *of ALL TIME!* (in Kanye voice), Brand Nubian’s most talented emcee needs to be recognized as not only a lyrical beast, but as one of the most creatively offbeat rappers in the genre’s history. He rhymes off-beat and it sounds great. He doesn’t even have to RHYME to sound dope. Additionally, his nasal whine is one of the more recognizable voices in hip-hop (at least for the true heads.) The mainstream might not recognize him when compiling lists like this (and really, who gives a fuck what MTV has to say), but whether you call him Derrick X or Sadat X, the man is a legend.
17. Ice Cube
Representing: South Central Los Angeles
Best West Coast emcee ever. Although Cube fell off hard once he decided to devote as much time to his silver screen pursuits as he did to his emceeing, his early work set the tone for much of what was to follow, whether it was gangsta rap or so-called conscious rap. He was the best emcee (and it wasn’t even close) in one of hip-hop’s most seminal groups, and his first handful of solo albums are classics. It would have been nice if he’d retained some of his original fire for a couple more albums (and probably would have vaulted him into the Top Ten), but Hollywood came calling and Cube’s certainly benefited financially from answering that call. Besides, being recognized as one of the twenty best to ever do it is not too shabby.
16. Chuck D.
Representing: Long Island
In the “WTF?” file, Public Enemy’s rhyme animal’s flow was inspired by…Marv Albert? YES!, the legendary sportscaster is one of the folks responsible for the sound of Mistachuck. Actually, listening to some PE records, it’s not hard to make that connection. Much like Marveloso, Chuck has a booming baritone that grabs you by the collar and forces you to listen. His style was an obvious influence on 2Pac, which in turn makes Chuck D. the godfather of contemporary Top 40 rap (a title he’d probably not be too cool with, but I’m saying…)