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How Drake & 21 Savage Became Rap's In-Demand Duo: A Timeline Of Their Friendship, Collabs, Lawsuits And More
As Drake and 21 Savage embark on their highly anticipated It's All a Blur Tour, take a look at the evolution of their friendship — and how it spawned one of rap's most illustrious partnerships.
When 21 Savage emerged as a fresh face on the ever-changing rap scene in 2016, Drake crowned the tattooed, gold-toothed rapper "a young October king with all the juice right now." Seven years later, they're co-headlining one of the summer's hottest tours.
The rappers' friendship has resulted in a number of collaborations over the years, culminating in the blockbuster release of their frisky joint project, Her Loss, in November 2022. The pair will bring the album — as well as their respective hits — on the road with the It's All a Blur Tour, which kicks off July 5 in Chicago and runs through Oct. 9.
The 21-Drizzy partnership is more mutually beneficial than it might seem on the surface; even 21 Savage himself has compared their bond to that of Los Angeles Lakers legends Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. While Drake has long been rap's never-aging chameleon, he always challenges himself to keep up with the genre's new faces. And combining 21's street cred with Drake's commercial appeal, they've created a unique partnership that's hard to duplicate.
Whether or not you'll be catching Drake and 21 Savage on their 2023 tour, find out more about the history of their friendship and musical connection below.
2016: Drake Rents 21 Savage A Ferrari For His 24th Birthday
All 21 Savage wanted for his 24th birthday was to be in the driver's seat of a Ferrari while cruising the streets of Beverly Hills — and Drake made it happen.
Many thought Drizzy purchased the candy-red sports car for 21, but the gift ended up being a loaner for the weekend to help the Atlanta rapper move around L.A. in style. Savage loved it so much that he went and actually bought a Ferrari for himself.
"Nah, he ain't buy me no car," 21 later cleared up in an interview with Real 92.3. "He did some real s—. We was just talking, and I was like 'Man, I want a Ferrari or some s—.'
"So, he just got me one for the whole time I was in L.A. for my birthday. But I fell in love with the car, so I just went and bought one. He looked out. Shout-out to Drake. N—s ain't doing s— like that. N—s barely even tell n—s 'Happy birthday.'"
21 even told GQ that was the only gift he received altogether for his birthday that year.
2016: Drake & 21 Savage Drop First Collab With "Sneakin'"
"Sneakin" arrived in a care package shortly after Drake's 30th birthday, alongside "Fake Love" and "Two Birds, One Stone." The bristling track served as the first offering from the 6 God and 21, which drew rave reviews.
21 dishes out menacing rhymes and gives himself the fitting nickname of The Reaper while letting the world know "Baby, I'm a savage, I ain't a romantic."
2017: "Issa" Leaks Early & Doesn't Make 21's Issa Album
"Issa" was widely expected to land on 21 Savage's July 2017 album of the same name, but the Drake and Young Thug-assisted potential banger didn't end up making the cut. According to engineer Alex Tumay, 21's label didn't believe the tune would receive the proper love from the public since it was leaked in the months leading up to the LP.
Perhaps "Issa" will most widely be remembered for 21 reigniting his brief feud with Tyga and name-dropping his former boo Kylie Jenner. "Issa Kylie, might be Jenner — hold up," he raps.
2018: 21 Savage Says Drake Doesn't Get Enough Respect For Helping Emerging Artists
Drake makes dishing out assists look as easy as NBA legend (and fellow Canadian) Steve Nash did on the basketball court. Drizzy has laid out the tarmac for countless rappers to take off into stardom, from Migos ("Versace") to BlocBoy JB ("Look Alive") — and 21 is appreciative of the opportunity.
"Drake just a genuine-ass good-hearted person," Savage told GQ in 2018. "He did a lot of s— he didn't have to do. He do a lot of s— for up-and-coming rappers, period. I don't think he get his respect for that. Every f—ing year, he pull a new artist up. Ain't no other artist on his level do that s—."
Even 15 years into his decorated career, Drake is still willing to share lucrative real estate on various tracks with emerging artists and lend co-signs that lead to millions of dollars. (Most recently, Drake hopped on rising UK rapper J Hus' "Who Told You.")
2020: Drake Joins 21 Savage & Metro Boomin' For "Mr. Right Now"
After spending 2018 cementing his one-of-a-kind hitmaking ability with Scorpion, Drake joined forces with 21 once again in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic for "Mr. Right Now."
The bawdy track — from 21 Savage and Metro Boomin's Savage Mode II — sees Drizzy and 21 trade places, with the Slaughter Gang honcho handling hook duties this time around. They ruminate about their love for classic R&B over titillating Metro Boomin production.
"Mr. Right Now" has arguably become most memorable for Drake's revelation about dating SZA when she was just a teenager. "Yeah, said she wanna f— to some SZA, wait/' Cause I used to date SZA back in '08/ If you cool with it, baby, she can still play," he raps.
2021: "Knife Talk" Lands On Drake's Certified Lover Boy
Initially intended for Savage Mode II, Drake and 21 Savage completed "Knife Talk" in a race against the buzzer to make the cut for Drake's 2021 LP, Certified Lover Boy. It became an ominous album standout — and though it never became a single, "Knife Talk" is a prime example of the kind of commercial appeal this duo serves.
Built around Metro Boomin's icy piano keys and a cinematic Plain Pat-sampling backdrop, 21 repeats "gang s—hit that's all I'm on" in a sinister, almost hypnotic flow. Meanwhile, Drake raps with slight paranoia, while sending more subliminal shots in Kanye West's direction — but ultimately retreats to his mafioso persona.
2021: 21 Savage Admits He Wouldn't Listen To Drake If He Wasn't A Rapper
In Atlanta, there's a contingent of rap fans who believe Future is a bigger artist than Drake. In explaining this hot take to DJ Akademiks in 2021, Savage admitted that before they became friends, he didn't listen to Drake much.
"N—s don't be listenin' to Drake like that where we are," he said. "If I wasn't a rapper, I don't feel like I still would listen to Drake, for real. It's just I'm a rapper so I understand the work he puts in and how hard he goes. When you ain't no rapper, all them statistics don't mean s—."
21 went on to detail how his circle paired hip-hop culture relevance with who was getting played in the night clubs rather than using Billboard chart hits or streaming statistics to support their beliefs.
"A regular street n— don't give a f— about how many times you went No. 1, how many white people listen to your s— because them n-—s, the furthest they think is the club," Savage added. "Who's selling this club out? That's who they think is the biggest n—."
2022: 21 Savage's Manager Reveals His Drake Features Are Free Of Charge
The 6 God and Slaughter Gang bond organically grew to the point they don't even charge each other for features. And they actually never did in the past either, according to 21's manager Justin "Meezy" Williams.
"A lot of the artists, they are low-key peers," Meezy explained during a Clubhouse chat with Druski in early 2022. "So s— just be happening naturally. A n— might be in the studio, somebody ask, 'Ay, can you do this song?' And it happens, because n— f— with each other, so you ain't gonna talk about money."
21 added that considers Drake family at this point, as Meezy compared the rappers' relationship to what Savage has with Young Nudy, who is his cousin.
"Most of the time, when you bring up Drake or Nudy...if Nudy got a song, ain't nobody even thinking about no paperwork if Savage get on something," Meezy continued. "We know that's going to get handled whatever. It's relationship-based, a lot of times it's like that.
"N— ain't paying each other for verses. I think where [Drake's] at he's just choosing who he f—s with. I know anything we've ever done with him, there's never been money involved, ever."
2022: "Jimmy Cooks" Closes Out Drake's Honestly, Nevermind
Drake took his fans to a musical destination they'd never been with his dance-leaning album Honestly, Nevermind. But before haters could react, he brought them to a comfort zone to prove he was still at the top of the rap food chain — and of course, it involved 21.
"Jimmy Cooks" is an instant turn-up anthem, an opposite vibe to their sinister "Knife Talk" collab. The change was effective: "Jimmy Cooks" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, scoring Drake his 11th chart-topper and another win on the scoreboard alongside Savage.
The official music video arrived on 21's 30th birthday that October — the same day a release date for their surprise Her Loss album was revealed — though the joint project was delayed a week due to Drizzy's right-hand producer Noah "40" Shebib contracting COVID-19.
2022: 21 Savage Compares Himself And Drake To Shaquille O'Neal And Kobe Bryant
On the heels of "Jimmy Cooks" being crowned the standout moment of Honestly, Nevermind, the Atlanta-bred rapper took a victory lap on Twitter. He confidently compared himself and Drizzy to one of the best duos the NBA has ever seen: Laker legends Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
No words were even needed for the declaration, as Savage tweeted out a still from the "Sneakin'" music video alongside a photo of Shaq and Kobe celebrating their first NBA championship in 2000.
2022: An Album Rollout Filled With Spoofs
America was collectively trolled by the Her Loss rollout, as even some of the most nuanced of fans and news stations across the country were fooled by their fake press run. Not only did they spoof a Vogue cover, but they also pulled off a faux Tiny Desk concert, Saturday Night Live performance, and Howard Stern interview with headline-making "admissions" of Drake's porn fetishes.
It was mission accomplished for Drizzy and 21, who arguably made as big of a splash with the media tour that never was than if they actually did any of that. While Howard Stern saluted the shrewd spoofs, Vogue's parent company Condé Nast wasn't as thrilled — they filed a lawsuit over trademark infringement against the rappers. (More on that later.)
2022: Her Loss Arrives After A Short Delay
Her Loss arrived on Nov. 4, filled with 16 tracks that served up a little bit of everything. Drake stars front and center, with the OVO boss returning to his braggadocious rap post-Honestly, Nevermind; though 21 Savage takes more of a backseat, the two pick up where they left off on "Jimmy Cooks" as one of hip-hop's premier tag-teams.
Travis Scott is the lone credited feature on the track list ("Pussy & Millions") while collaborators like Lil Yachty played an integral role in the album's formation as he earned a handful of production credits.
Her Loss debuted atop the Billboard 200, earning Drake his second No. 1 album in less than five months. The album also held plenty of valuable real estate on the Billboard Hot 100, occupying the No. 2 through No. 9 spots on the chart's Top 10 — only for "Rich Flex" to be boxed out by Taylor Swift's "Anti-hero" for the top slot. (Never shying away from his pettiness, Drake blocked out Swift's name on the Hot 100 when celebrating his chart dominance in an Instagram Story post.)
2022: Drake And 21 Savage Helped Push Each Other's Pen Game
Any co-writing discussion is a touchy subject for Drake fans ever since Meek Mill's ghostwriting allegations in 2015. But that isn't the case with Drizzy and 21, as they admitted they helped each other with their verses for Her Loss during an interview on SiriusXM's Sound42 channel last year.
"I ain't gon cap, Drake wrote some of my verses on this album," the Atlanta rapper candidly revealed. "These facts. I don't give a f— what a n— say, Drake helped me with some of my verses on this album."
Drake returned the favor and gave 21 credit for helping push his pen on the joint project as well, adding, "By the way, you also helped me with s— too.
2023: Drake And 21 Savage Settle Lawsuit Over Fake Vogue Cover
After demanding $4 million in damages, Condé Nast and Drake's high-powered legal teams reached a settlement in February for an undisclosed sum, according to Variety.
The hefty check will allegedly go toward bolstering the company's "ongoing creative output, including Vogue editorial," per a memo sent out by Condé Nast's counsel.
Condé Nast's attorneys claimed that Vogue attempted to "resolve the matter amicably" but their efforts "were repeatedly ignored" by OVO and Slaughter Gang enterprises.
Drizzy and 21's fake Vogue cover duped fans across the globe as the magazine was posted to social media, and a limited number of copies were actually distributed to lucky fans in select U.S. cities. Who knows, it may just make another appearance on the It's All a Blur Tour.
Photos (L-R): The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins via Getty Images, Jody Dominigue, Jack Bridgland, courtesy of the artist, Michael Tranafp, Rodin Eckenroth via Getty Images, Paras Griffin via Getty Images
15 Must-Hear Albums This October: Troye Sivan, Drake, Blink 182, NCT 127 & More
Don't let the falling leaves bring you down — read on for 15 albums dropping in October from Taylor Swift, Gucci Mane and Riley Green.
Fall has already begun, and 2023 enters its final act with the beginning of October. However, that doesn't mean the music has to slow down — this month offers plenty of new releases for everyone from rap fans to country aficionados.
The month starts with Sufjan Stevens and the release of Javelin, his first fully-written album in eight years. On the same day, after several postponements, Drake will finally put forth For All the Dogs. Later in the month, blink-182 will make a long-awaited return with One More Time…, their first album featuring the original members since 2011, and Migos rapper Offset will drop his sophomore record, Set It Off.
Don't let the falling leaves bring you down — below, GRAMMY.com compiled a guide with 15 must-hear albums dropping October 2023.
Sufjan Stevens - Javelin
Release date: Oct. 6
The last time Sufjan Stevens released an album fully written by himself was 2015's Carrie & Lowell. Javelin, his upcoming tenth studio album, will finally break this spell.
Mostly recorded at Stevens' home studio and featuring contributions from several friends (including the National's Bryce Dessner), the 10 tracks of Javelin bring back sounds of "70s Los Angeles' studio opulence" and vibes of a "detailed yet plain" self-portrait, according to a press release.
The album also features a cover of Neil Young's "There's a World" and an ambitious, 48-page art book with collages and essays written by Stevens. Javelin is preceded by the soothing single "So You Are Tired" and the spaced-out "Will Anybody Ever Love Me?"
NCT 127 - Fact Check
Release date: Oct. 6
Within the NCT constellation, NCT 127 is the subgroup anchored in South Korea's buzzing capital, Seoul. Since debuting in 2016, the nine-member ensemble has been infusing the city's vibrancy with innovative EDM and hip hop mixes.
On Oct. 6, NCT 127 will return with their fifth studio album, Fact Check, bringing in another round of their experimental K-pop sound. Consisting of nine songs, including lead single "Fact
Check (Mysterious; 不可思議)," the album expresses 127's confidence.
So far, they released a wealth of teasers that are linked to NCT's overall "dream" concept, video contents, and a highlight medley of the album tracks. After the recent ronclusion of NCT Nation, NCT's first full-group concert in South Korea and Japan, fans are expecting 127 to announce tour dates.
BoyWithUke - Lucid Dreams
Release date: Oct. 6
Mysterious masked singer and TikTok phenomenon BoyWithUke will continue his dream-themed saga with the release of Lucid Dreams, his fourth studio album.
According to a statement by the Korean American star, Lucid Dreams is meant to express "my desires, my fears, my past, and my dreams." He also adds that the each song on the album is "like a different step on the path. I'm facing past traumas, making the music I want to make, and figuring out who I am."
That development can be seen on pre-releases "Migraine" and "Trauma," where he opens up about mental health and childhood struggles over signature ukulele strings. In his own words, this album is truly "BoyWithUke blossoming, spreading his wings, and finding himself."
Drake - For All the Dogs
Release date: Oct. 6
The album's tracklist is still a mystery, but it will reportedly feature names like Nicki Minaj, Bad Bunny, and Yeat, with production credits from 40, Bnyx, and Lil Yachty, among others. For All the Dogs is also linked to the Canadian rapper's debut poetry book, Titles Ruin Everything: A Stream of Consciousness — a 168-page collection written in partnership with longtime friend and songwriter Kenza Samir.
The album follows Drake's two 2022 studio albums: Honestly, Nevermind and Her Loss, in collaboration with 21 Savage. Currently, Drake is finishing up his It's All A Blur North American tour — one of the reasons why the album has been postponed before.
Troye Sivan - Something to Give Each Other
Release date: Oct. 13
On an Instagram post, Australian singer Troye Sivan stated: "This album is my something to give you — a kiss on a dancefloor, a date turned into a weekend, a crush, a winter, a summer. Party after party, after party after after party. Heartbreak, freedom. Community, sisterhood, friendship. All that."
Something to Give Each Other is Sivan's first full-length album in five years, following 2018's Bloom. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he revealed many of the inspirations behind this work, including partying, movies like Lost in Translation and Before Sunrise, and simple, ice-cold glasses of beer.
The trippy atmosphere of the album can be felt through pre-release singles "Rush" and "Got Me Started" — which features a sample of Bag Raider's omnipresent 2011 hit, "Shooting Stars."
Offset - Set It Off
Release date: Oct. 13
Migos rapper Offset said in a statement that his sophomore album, Set It Off, took over two years to finalize. "This season is personal for me. It marks a new chapter in my life," he added.
A follow-up to his 2019 debut LP, Father of 4, the album will feature appearances by stellar names such as rapper Future, Travis Scott, Chloe Bailey, and Latto, as well as Offset's wife Cardi B, who appears on single "Jealousy."
Later in the statement, Offset said he feels "like Michael Jackson coming from a successful group breaking records to superstardom on my own. This body of work is healing for me and a letter to my fans and supporters." Lead single "Fan" brings back that comparison through many Michael Jackson references in the music video — a clever choice for the rapper's keen self-awareness.
Metric - Formentera II
Release date: Oct. 13
Exactly one year after the release of Formentera, indie royalty Metric took to social media to announce their ninth studio album, Formentera II. "Sometimes I feel like I'm in a damn maze and maybe you do too, or maybe you have it totally together, or maybe you feel like you're always floating somewhere in between," they wrote. "Wherever you're at right now, I am here to guide you to the rocking️ conclusion of our Formentera I & II odyssey."
The Canadian band also shared lead single "Just the Once," which was described by vocalist Emily Haines as a "regret disco" song in a press statement. "It's a song for when you need to dance yourself clean," she added. "Beneath the sparkling surface, there's a lyrical exploration of a simple word with many meanings. Once is a word that plays a game of opposites."
In support of the release, Metric revealed another single, "Who Would You Be For Me," and will be playing special concerts in NYC, L.A., Toronto, London, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Monterrey, and Santiago starting Oct. 10. The concerts will also celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut LP, Old World Underground, Where Are You?
Riley Green - Ain't My Last Rodeo
Release date: Oct. 13
Alabama country star Riley Green has a moving story behind his second full-length album. Echoing the 2019 hit "I Wish Grandpas Never Died," Ain't My Last Rodeo came from one of the last conversations the singer shared with his late grandfather, Buford Green, who was an essential figure shaping his love for music and nature.
"I was fortunate enough to grow up within about three miles of my grandparents, so they were a huge part of my growing up and who I am — and this album is a lot of who I am," Green said in a press release. "This is really the first time I was able to really take my time, write and record songs that really felt like a cohesive album."
Ain't My Last Rodeo features 12 tracks (including a cover of Tim McGraw's "Damn Country Music") and collaborations with Jelly Roll and Luke Combs. In February 2024, Green will embark on a 34-stop tour throughout the U.S.
The Drums - Jonny
Release date: Oct. 13
As its title suggests, the Drums' upcoming sixth studio album, Jonny, dives deep into current solo member Jonny Pierce's life. According to a press release, the album mainly explores "the deep-rooted childhood trauma Pierce experienced growing up in a cult-like religious community in upstate New York."
The singer explains further: "When I finished Jonny, I listened to it, and I heard my soul reflected back at me. It is devastating and triumphant, it is lost and found, it is confused and certain, it is wise and foolish. It is male and female, it is hard and gentle.
"To encapsulate one's whole self in an album, to honor each and every part of you, even the parts that feel at odds with each other, is to make something deeply human, and because my religion is humanism, the album becomes a sacred place for me to worship. Each feeling a different pew, each song a hymn to the human heart."
In the past few months, Pierce gave insight into the 16-track, indie-pop collection through singles "I Want It All," "Plastic Envelope," "Protect Him Always," "Obvious," and "Better." Jonny is the band's first full release since 2019's Brutalism.
Gucci Mane - A Breath of Fresh Air
Release date: Oct. 17
Following 2016's Ice Daddy, Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane's sixteenth studio album will be named A Breath of Fresh Air.
In it, Mane is likely in his most vulnerable, relatable state yet. "I kind of wanted to let people know that I go through pain," he stated in an interview for Apple Music (via Revolt). "Like I said, I didn't want to have so much just superficial topics. I hit people and let them know, 'Hey, this was going on,' but it ain't a bad thing. It's okay to be happy. You know what I'm saying?"
According to iTunes, the album is set to have two discs and 24 songs, including singles "Bluffin" featuring Lil Baby, "Pissy" featuring Roddy Ricch and Nardo Wick, "King Snipe" with Kodak Black, and "06 Gucci" with DaBaby and 21 Savage.
blink-182 - One More Time…
Release date: Oct. 20
blink-182's newest single, "One More Time," is a hard-earned reflection about what really matters in life. The punk rock trio, which hadn't been reunited since 2011's Neighborhoods, now realizes how personal struggles impacted their friendship, and how they hope to make it different in the future.
"I wish they told us, it shouldn't take a sickness/ or airplanes falling out of the sky," they sing, referencing Travis Barker's 2008 plane crash and Mark Hoppus' 2021 cancer diagnosis. "I miss you, took time, but I admit it/ It still hurts even after all these years."
A proof of maturity since they stepped into music in 1992, the heartfelt single is also the title track off upcoming LP One More Time... Featuring 2022's "Edging" and "More Than You Know" as well, the album was recorded mostly during their reunion tour this year, and boasts 17 tracks in total.
Sampha - Lahai
Release date: Oct. 20
Lahai is Sampha's grandfather's name and his own middle name. Now, it will become part of his musical history — the singer's sophomore studio album and follow up to 2017's acclaimed Process is due Oct. 20.
Over social media, Sampha described the record through a series of words as intriguing as his music: "Fever Dreams. Continuums. Dancing. Generations. Syncopation. Bridges. Grief. Motherlands. Love. Spirit. Fear. Flesh. Flight." Featuring contributions from singers like Yaeji, El Guincho and Yussef Dayes, it will feature 14 tracks that seemingly take a more positive tone than his previous work.
In a statement about lead single "Spirit 2.0," the south London singer said "it's about the importance of connection to both myself and others, and the beauty and harsh realities of just existing. It's about acknowledging those moments when you need help — that requires real strength."
Starting Oct. 12 in his hometown, Sampha will play a string of concerts throughout the U.K., Europe, and North America, wrapping it up on December 4 in Berlin, Germany.
Poolside - Blame It All On Love
Release date: Oct. 20
"I've spent 15 years being like, 'f—your rules,' and I finally feel like I'm not trying to prove anything or anyone wrong," says Jeffrey Paradise, the man behind "daytime disco" project Poolside, in a statement about his upcoming album, Blame It All On Love.
"It's just pure, unfiltered expression, and that's why I'm really excited about this record," he adds. The album bears 11 tracks described as "funky, soulful, laidback, and full of hooks" — as can be seen in singles like "Float Away," "Each Night" featuring Mazy, and "Back To Life" with Panama. According to the same statement, "the production marks a return to his live music roots and finds ease in simple and radiant layers of sound, even as it comes face-to-face with the complex reality of one's dreams come true."
Blame It All On Love is the follow-up to 2020 and 2021's duo Low Season and High Season. Poolside is on tour across the U.S. until Oct. 14.
Black Pumas - Chronicles of a Diamond
Release date: Oct. 27
Black Pumas' long-awaited second studio album, Chronicles of a Diamond, is "wilder and weirder" than its predecessor, according to an official statement. It is also the Austin-based duo's "fullest expression" of "frenetic creativity and limitless vision."
The album contains 10 tracks that expand on their trademark psychedelic soul sounds, as it can be seen in singles "More Than a Love Song" and "Mrs. Postman." "I wanted to make something we'd be thrilled to play live 200 days a year," says singer/songwriter Eric Burton in the same statement. "I wanted to be able to laugh, cry, bob my head, do the thing: it was all very much a selfish endeavor."
After the release, the Black Pumas will embark on a U.S. tour starting Dec. 4 in Austin, Texas, and follow into an European tour starting March 15 in Paris.
Taylor Swift - 1989 (Taylor's Version)
Release date: Oct. 27
Just three months after the release of Speak Now (Taylor's Version), Swifties will be treated to the singer's fourth re-recorded album this month: 2014's 1989. "To be perfectly honest, this is my most FAVORITE re-record I've ever done because the five From The Vault tracks are so insane," she revealed over social media.
As usual with Swift, the announcement of the album was marked by a slew of hints, starting with the news' date — Aug. 9, or 8/9 — during the final U.S. stop of her Eras Tour at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium. On that day, she also debuted new, blue outfits that alluded to 1989's assigned color. Afterwards, the discovery continued through a partnership with Google Search for fans to solve word puzzles in order to discover the titles of the five "From the Vault" tracks.
The album, which Swift said "changed my life in countless ways" will be available in digital, cassette, CD, and vinyl. She will also release deluxe versions in four different colors: crystal skies blue, rose garden pink, aquamarine green, and sunrise boulevard yellow.
Photo: Andrew Chin/Getty Images
New Music Friday: Listen To New Songs From SZA With Drake & Justin Bieber, Offset, Tate McRae & More
From highly anticipated collabs to long-awaited album teasers, take a listen to six new tracks that arrived on Sept. 15.
It’s yet another big day for music enthusiasts, as listeners were gifted with unexpected collaborations and fresh new melodies from artists of every genre on Sept. 15.
With an Instagram caption-worthy single from Drake and SZA , a playful, self-confident anthem from Tate McRae, and a chill, euphoric vibe from Noah Kahan & Lizzy McAlphine, there’s plenty of different sounds to dive into.
As you’re putting together your autumn 2023 playlist, add these six new tracks to the mix.
Drake feat. SZA - "Slime You Out"
Just hours after GRAMMY winners Drake and SZA announced they’d be teaming up for a new track, the pair unleashed "Slime You Out" promptly at noon ET on Sept. 15.
As the song’s title insinuates, the duo seem to express their thoughts on someone "sliming" them out — which, in this case, refers to someone playing with their feelings. "Tryna build trust, showin’ me your DMS, how they tryna bag you / Ironic how the news I got about you ended up bein’ bad news."
Drake’s clever wordplay paired with SZA’s mellow, hypnotic voice make the single a memorable one. But perhaps it’s even more memorable because it’s been a team-up long in the making: according to Drake’s eyebrow-raising line in his 21 Savage collab "Mr. Right Now," the two used to date "back in '08."
SZA feat. Justin Bieber - "Snooze (Acoustic Remix)"
As SZA fans awaited her song with Drake, she gave them another high-profile collab in the form of a "Snooze" remix with Justin Bieber. An alluring, stripped-down version of the original SOS track, the "Snooze" remix sees SZA and Bieber passionately harmonize; added guitar chords add a dreamy touch to the song.
The remix also marks a full-circle moment for the pair, as Bieber starred in the original "Snooze" music video, which was released on Aug. 25.
Offset - "Fan"
Kicking off what seems to be his Michael Jackson era, Offset has released this newest single, "Fan." This song features an infectious, hype beat with lyrics presenting a nonchalant ‘IDGAF’ attitude: "You supposed to hold me down, but it didn't happen (You supposed to hold me down)/ Now I'm over it."
"Fan" is a taste of Offset’s forthcoming second album, Set It Off, which he will release on October 13. The LP follows his debut solo album, 2019’s Father of 4, which landed him a Best Rap Performance GRAMMY nomination for the single "Clout" featuring his wife, Cardi B.
In the "Fan" music video, Michael Jackson is heavily referenced, with moments including Offset transforming into werewolf and zombie, and dance moves like the reverse moonwalk.
Tate McRae - "Greedy"
self-confidence single "greedy." This song is a testament to McRae’s inner thoughts, as the lyrics let listeners know she’s not tolerating insecurities — and definitely not enabling any "greedy" men.
"I would want myself/ Baby, please believe me/ I'll put you through hell/ Just to know me, yeah, yeah," she sings on the chorus.
Noah Kahan feat. Lizzy McAlpine - "Call Your Mom"
Folk-pop favorite Noah Kahan teamed up with rising pop singer Lizzy McAlpine to create a new version of "Call Your Mom," an emotional track from his hit 2022 album Stick Season.
Kahan recently brought McAlpine out as a surprise guest during his sold-out show at L.A.'s Greek Theatre on Aug.11, where the two singer/songwriters performed the song for the first time together.
Written about giving unconditional support to a loved one struggling with mental health issues and depression, the moving song reaches new heights with two voices on it. Kahan’s and McAlpine’s voices perfectly blend together and capture the lyrics’ powerful emotions.
Maren Morris - The Bridge
Maren Morris dropped not one, but two new songs, "The Tree" and "Get The Hell Out of Here," which both seem to focus on a new chapter in Morris’s life. "The Tree" feels like a farewell, as she proudly sings,"I'm done fillin' a cup with a hole in the bottom/ I'm takin' an axe to the tree/ The rot at the roots is the root of the problem/ But you wanna blame it on me."
"Get The Hell Out of Here" has a more mellow country melody that also talks about growth and navigating different areas of her life. Both songs share a different story, yet share the same theme of a transitional period in her life — and tease what’s to come on her next album, which will follow 2022’s Humble Quest.
As Morris said in a statement, "These two songs are incredibly key to my next step because they express a very righteously angry and liberating phase of my life these last couple of years, but also how my navigation is finally pointing toward the future."
Source Images (Clockwise, L-R): Raymond Boyd/Getty Images; Astrida Valigorsky/Getty Images; Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy; Gregory Bojorquez/Getty Images; Paul Natkin/WireImage; Anthony Barboza/Getty Images; JC Olivera/WireImage; Kevin Kane/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images; Jason Koerner/Getty Images
50 Artists Who Changed Rap: Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem & More
In honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop this year, GRAMMY.com is celebrating some of the genre's most impactful artists across the decades. From Drake to OutKast, Lauryn Hill to Lil Wayne, these pioneers shaped rap over the past 50 years of hip-hop.
At its core, hip-hop began as a joyful expression, a grassroots community-organizing method, and an outlet to creatively and freely rebel against the socioeconomic turmoil happening across America in the early '70s. The genre's mythical-like origin remains an integral part of American history: From the recreation room of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, an 18-story apartment building in the South Bronx, New York City, DJ Kool Herc captivated audiences young and old as he commanded the turntables at a birthday party for his sister, Cindy Campbell, while MCs Theodore Puccio and Coke La Rock shouted out rhymes over Herc's instrumental beats.
While there is evidence that foundational elements of hip-hop emerged long before it boomed out of that South Bronx party — listen to Pigmeat Markham's "Here Comes The Judge" from 1968, for example — this momentous day, Aug. 11, 1973, would become known as the origin of hip-hop, with Herc being anointed the genre's founding father.
What began as a local sound and burgeoning scene in the "Boogie Down Bronx" has since evolved into a global movement. Hip-hop today is a powerful, unapologetic force that has influenced every genre of music and impacted every facet of society and pop culture around the world. Over the past five decades, the sound has expanded as a multi-genre invention. The party-starting, feel-good rhymes of the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," the first global rap hit, paved the way for the piercing social commentary and "reality rap" fueling Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five's hit single "The Message," the latter of which can be traced to current-day rap prophets like Kendrick Lamar and Noname.
As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of hip-hop this year, GRAMMY.com is honoring some of the genre's most impactful artists, producers and creators in our inaugural 50 Artists Who Changed Rap list. Through this wide-spanning list, we are paying tribute to the pioneers, originators and futurists who have shaped hip-hop culture, pushed the artistic boundaries of rap over the past five decades, and continued to evolve the sound into the future.
To be clear, this list is not a ranking of the "best" rappers, nor is it a voting-based compilation of the top-selling artists in hip-hop. Rather, it is meant to serve as a survey of some of the most influential and impactful artists who have shaped rap music and hip-hop culture over the past 50 years.
To help compile our list of these 50 influential artists, GRAMMY.com invited an industry panel of established music veterans, cultural and music journalists, published authors, and music historians, who collectively submitted hundreds of artists suggestions. (See the full list of contributors below.) Based on these initial submissions from our industry panel, the artists comprising the final list, presented below in no ranking order, were selected based on a wide yet loose range of indicators: creative and artistic impact; career evolution and longevity; classic and influential albums; and beyond.
Of course, no one list could ever contain the whole of hip-hop and its ever-expansive reach. Nor could any list of influential rappers be whittled down to a mere list of 50. That's an impossible feat. Rather, our 50 Artists Who Changed Rap list stands as a love letter to some of the culture's defining moments and impactful voices that have helped create a global movement that continues to inspire and ignite future generations from all walks of life.
"As we approach hip-hop's 50th anniversary, it's important to acknowledge all of its accomplishments and the people in it," Len Brown, Senior Project Manager of Awards and Rap, Reggae, and R&B Genre Manager for the Recording Academy, shares. "What was once thought of as a passing fad has become the world's biggest genre despite it being the youngest — all made possible by the ingenious minds that continuously push the boundaries of music. There are countless individuals who got us this far and countless more who'll continue to carry the culture for the next 50 years and beyond."
There is so more to be said about our beloved hip-hop culture. Its history is rich and deep, while its future is still being written by today's leading lights and new, emerging voices revolutionizing rap. Today, we offer you this list as your jump-off to celebrate hip-hop in all its glory as we honor 50 Years of Hip-Hop all year long.
Explore the music from every artist featured in our 50 Artists Who Changed Rap list in an exclusive playlist, curated by longtime GRAMMY.com contributor and hip-hop tastemaker Kevin L. Clark, on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.
Visit our Rap genre page for more exclusive content and to explore some of the rap's most memorable moments in GRAMMY history across the decades. Continue to visit GRAMMY.com for more exclusive 50 Years of Hip-Hop content throughout the year.
— Kevin L. Clark & John Ochoa
2 Live Crew
All titillating, risqué elements of hip-hop's artistry — hits from Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" to Cardi B's and Megan Thee Stallion's "WAP" to Sexyy Red's "Pound Town" — owe a sizeable debt to Miami rap quartet 2 Live Crew. As regions in the American West and South first made their presence known in hip-hop during the late 1980s, 2 Live Crew — "Uncle Luke" Campbell, the late Fresh Kid Ice, Brother Marquis, DJ Mr. Mixx — introduced the bottom-heavy Miami bass sound to the culture with their ribald 1986 single, "Throw the D." Pioneering a frat-party climate incorporating stripper-influenced female stage performers and comical, sexually explicit material on The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are (1986) and Move Somethin' (1988), the group soon ran afoul of authorities who deemed their albums legally obscene, becoming the first act to release the first sound recording to be declared obscene.
The first act in music history to release profanity-free, "clean" versions of their albums, 2 Live Crew soldiered through legal battles fighting for their freedom of speech that eventually ruled in the group's favor. In obscenity trials across the early '90s tied to the Crew's hit 1989 album, As Nasty as They Wanna Be, which was ruled obscene and illegal to sell in 1990, the group was ultimately acquitted of the charges, with the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the music held artistic value, despite its graphic contents. Through these legal cases, 2 Live Crew arose as the unlikeliest champions of freedom of speech, with First Amendment advocates and major artists, including David Bowie, alike defending the group's artistic freedom and protected speech.
A separate legal skirmish, in which the group was sued for copyright infringement over a parody they recorded of Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman," made its way to the Supreme Court. The Court held the music as parody and therefore cleared as fair use rather than copyright infringement; this case against 2 Live Crew ultimately established that a commercial parody is covered under fair use laws.
Today, 2 Live Crew albums allow hip-hop a sexual freedom of expression that infuses the work of current acts from Plies to City Girls. — Miles Marshall Lewis
2Pac, born Tupac Amaru Shakur, was born into activism; his mother, Afeni Shakur, and biological father, William Garland, were both Black Panthers. He once famously said, "I'm not saying I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world," a hip-hop quotable that suggests his influence is still igniting brains for metamorphosis.
Shakur's rap career was incubated by Oakland's Digital Underground, who took him on tour as a roadie and dancer and collaborated with him. DU's politically aware yet party-loving ethos helped inject some fun into Shakur's edge. He'd later define this as "THUG LIFE," standing for "the hate u give little infants f— everyone," an eternal hip-hop mantra, also emblazoned as an iconic tattoo across this torso, that would become highly mimicked by rappers who wished to follow in his footsteps.
Known for working furiously in the studio, Shakur sensed he would die young and he wanted to leave a lot behind. He released four albums between 1991 and 1996: 2Pacalypse Now, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z…, Me Against the World, and All Eyez on Me. He also left behind enough material for seven posthumous albums — six solo works and one collaborative album with Tha Outlawz. Throughout his discography, he spoke truth to power, rapping about the harsh realities of hood life ("Changes"), female empowerment ("Keep Ya Head Up"), and eternal maternal love ("Dear Mama"). He also knew how to throw down a party anthem as heard on "California Love" and "I Get Around."
The life and legacy of Shakur, who was killed in 1996, continues to be studied and valued in the present. From his never-before-heard appearance in Kendrick Lamar's instant classic, To Pimp A Butterfly, to Dear Mama, an acclaimed docuseries about his relationship with his mom, which premiered in April on FX, Pac's influence will never wane; his recent Hollywood Walk of Fame star unveiling is a testament to that fact. — Tamara Palmer
Queens, New York, native Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's impact on hip-hop is undeniable — and far-reaching. In a span of roughly 20 years, the rapper has released five successful studio albums, produced a slew of successful television shows, created a record label, G-Unit Records, founded his own cognac brand, and had a hand in other fruitful business ventures. His placement on this list is palpable.
Before his major-label debut, 50's mixtapes, including Guess Who's Back?, flooded the streets and generated a large fanbase that helped aid his breakthrough success. After being discovered by Eminem and signed to Shady/Aftermath Records, 50 worked with legendary producer Dr. Dre to create his blockbuster debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin' in 2003. A commercial success, going 9x platinum, the seminal album showed audiences 50's lyrical prowess as well as his mainstream crossover reach. 50 Cent's career evolution, talent and success have left an indelible mark that will be seen and felt for generations to come. — Rachel McCain
A Tribe Called Quest
Composed of Q-Tip, the late Phife Dawg, occasional member Jarobi White, and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, A Tribe Called Quest helped carve a space for rappers (and rap listeners) with a bohemian bent to their hip-hop aesthetic. Formed by high school friends from Queens, New York, the group established its own unique sound through the use of jazz and rock samples, a practice then unorthodox for hip-hop in the early 1990s. Early on, they helped create a bridge between jazz and hip-hop, two worlds then often seen as distantly disconnected. Legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter, for example, guested on A Tribe Called Quest's seminal sophomore album, The Low End Theory, marking one of the earliest collaborations between jazz and hip-hop musicians.
Widely considered to be masterpieces of the genre, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990), The Low End Theory (1991), and Midnight Marauders (1993) — their initial trio of albums — established A Tribe Called Quest as mavericks of sound and sonic visionaries.The group's final studio album, We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service (2016), featured appearances by Elton John and Jack White — exemplifying the group's reputation as genre-inclusive pioneers of alternative hip-hop.
A Tribe Called Quest's Afrocentric, left-of-center, cultural nationalist aesthetic set them apart as iconoclasts, clear antecedents to the likes of OutKast, Kanye West, Tyler, the Creator, and so many others. — Miles Marshall Lewis
Big Daddy Kane
Antonio Hardy, aka Big Daddy Kane, is your favorite rapper's favorite rapper — a skilled, all-around technician with an unrelentingly charismatic appeal. His impeccable '80s styling – replete with velour suits, gold accessories, and a high-top fade — accentuated his innovative rhyme schemes, honed from his time as a battle rapper from Brooklyn prior to linking with Marley Marl's Juice Crew alongside friend and collaborator Biz Markie. His debut single, "Raw," was an underground sensation, introducing a new style of rhyming: quick and in syncopation with complex drum schemes without sacrificing articulation. Long Live the Kane, Kane's first album, is a showcase of his prodigious talents on the microphone: Where "Set It Off" unleashed his array of dizzying rhymes with locomotive speed, "Ain't No Half-Stepping" was a casual stroll through extended metaphors, maximizing the suave and commanding texture of his voice as it lingered on the beat.
Kane was simultaneously a powerful MC and a sex symbol; he would lean into his "loverman" appeal with hits such as his chart-topping "Smooth Operator," a relaxed and polished display of lyrical finesse over a blend of samples including "All Night Long" by the Mary Jane Girls, Isaac Hayes' "Do Your Thing and Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing." Kane succeeded at being the player, lyrical assassin, an Afrocentric rhyme-spitter all in one — a level of dexterity that would influence a number of greats that followed him, from Jay-Z to Eminem to Black Thought to Notorious B.I.G. — Shamira Ibrahim
Chief Keef started his career as rap's Ozzy Osbourne, the most visible figure in a burgeoning scene as exciting as it was controversial. But over the last decade, he has morphed into hip-hop's Brian Eno, making ever weirder projects while retaining something close to A-list name recognition. When Keef emerged in the early 2010s thanks to thundering singles "I Don't Like" and "Love Sosa" and support from stars like Kanye West and 50 Cent, the music industry seemed hellbent on sanding down his edges. The resulting album, 2012's Finally Rich, went platinum, but it gave fans little indication of the auteurist approach that would come to define the rest of Chief Keef's career.
Since eschewing mainstream success, Keef has honed his eccentricities on a series of excellent mixtapes, including Thot Breaker (2017), a delightfully strange project filled with slurred melodies and chirping synths. As one of the chief pioneers of drill, his most palatable impact on rap is perhaps heard across the international drill scenes bubbling up across underground scenes around the world. Without Keef, drill would not be the dominating subgenre in rap it is today. Still just 27, Keef has settled into a role not just as your favorite rapper's favorite rapper, but as one of their go-to producers: He's crafted wonderfully bizarre soundscapes for Lil Uzi Vert, Coi Leray, and YoungBoy Never Broke Again. — Grant Rindner
De La Soul
Completely innovative for their era, De La Soul heralded the entrance of nerdy wunderkinds into a hip-hop culture then full of machismo and blustering bravado. High school friends from suburban Long Island, New York, Kelvin "Posdnuos" Mercer, the late Dave "Trugoy the Dove" Jolicoeur, and Vincent Mason, aka DJ Maseo, debuted as teenagers with 1988's verbally obstruse "Plug Tunin'." A masterful full-length debut, 3 Feet High and Rising (1989), contained a wide-ranging sonic collage of stacked samples and highly diversified snippets of sounds, placing Sly Stone alongside Steely Dan and beyond.
The groundbreaking production style led to a lawsuit by the Turtles, the 1960s rock band who demanded royalties for the use of 12 seconds of their music on the album. A legal decision in the Turtles' favor changed sampling laws forever, but De La Soul kept the innovation coming throughout a catalog of classics, including De La Soul Is Dead, Buhloone Mindstate and Stakes Is High, which is now, thankfully, available on all DSPs to inspire future generations to come. — Miles Marshall Lewis
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
"We wanna let everybody know where it's at. It's right here — ‘Yo! MTV Raps.’" The skinny guy in the orange tank top and MTV baseball cap rapping into the camera was still years away from having his own sitcom, and further still from being one of the most bankable movie actors on the planet. But if you happened to be watching the premiere episode of “Yo! MTV Raps” on Aug. 6, 1988, you would see one thing clearly: Will Smith exploded off the screen. The guy was a star.
Will teamed up with the virtuosic DJ Jazzy Jeff, and the group's beatboxer Ready Rock C, back in 1985. By the time of the “Yo!” appearance, they already had two albums under their belt, including He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper (1988). That record, hip-hop's first-ever double album, ensured the group's place in history. Jeff's innovative DJ skills were front and center on songs like "Jazzy's In The House" and "DJ On Wheels," while Will brought his storytelling charm to "Parents Just Don't Understand" and "A Nightmare on My Street." Will's lyrics were funny and universal — you didn't have to be from the Bronx, or even West Philly, to relate to being scared of Freddy Kreuger. Plus, as Ann Carli, then a Jive Records exec, recalls during the "Parents…" video shoot, as quoted in Brian Coleman's indispensable tome, Check the Technique, Vol. 2, "The camera loves him."
From there, it was off to the races. More hit songs, TV and movie stardom, jumping out of planes, and all the rest. But it all started with a rap group that combined two world-class talents into a GRAMMY-winning package that all the world could love. — Shawn Setaro
DJ Kool Herc
Clive "DJ Kool Herc" Campbell is an essential part of hip-hop's origin story. His younger sister, Cindy Campbell, asked him to play at a "Back to School Jam" she organized for Aug. 11, 1973, much like the ones she organized within the 1520 Sedgwick Avenue recreation room. At the party, today considered the day when hip-hop was born, Campbell introduced his "merry-go-round" turntable method in which he isolated the instrumental breakdowns in funk records for the "beat boys" in attendance. Over the next few years, as the legend of the party grew, Campbell established himself as a top DJ in the area, thanks in no small part to a massive sound system he built and the presence of helpers — dancers, fledging MCs and DJs, security — called the Herculoids, named after the Hanna-Barbera cartoon. In 1977, Herc was the victim of a stabbing at a local nightclub, an incident Bronx pioneers believe marked the end of his dominance and allowed rivals to surpass him. However, DJ Kool Herc remains a Promethean figure who sparked the beginning of what would later be known as hip-hop. He's the ultimate reason we're all celebrating 50 Years of Hip-Hop this year. In November, he will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. — Mosi Reeves
Less than 20 years after the 1977 New York City blackout, where Black youth across the boroughs of New York City came upon DJ equipment and found ways to use technology to achieve their dreams, a man named Robert Earl Davis Jr., also known as DJ Screw, used two turntables to fulfill his artistic dreams, while simultaneously establishing Houston a rap capital. When DJ Screw emerged in the 1990s, the predominant rap sound and DJ technique were East- and West Coast-focused. But when DJ Screw introduced his "chopped and screwed" style, his signature DJ technique that slowed records to create pockets for the beats to flow, windows of opportunity opened for rappers across Houston to join the fold.
He created a kaleidoscope, a purple-tinted portal where Southern rappers traveled through region and time to tell their stories. There was not a street or avenue in Houston or the South where chopped and screwed could not be heard from a nearby car or window. He gave Houston and the South an opportunity to be heard within the boisterous noise of bicoastal hip-hop. In the 23 years since his passing, his chopped and screwed sound has been used by the world's greatest entertainers — horror auteur Jordan Peele has used chopped and screwed sounds in scenes and trailers for hit films like Nope and Us — and created an entry point for Houston to achieve worldwide cultural and musical success. All because of one man and his turntables. — Taylor Crumpton
Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick
Throughout the early 80s, Douglas "Doug E. Fresh" Davis built a reputation for vocal percussion, or "beatboxing," and recorded a few 12-inch singles while collaborating with the likes of Kurtis Blow and others. In 1984, he recruited a teenage MC, Ricky "Slick Rick" Walters, to join Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew. In 1985, the group released "The Show / La-Di-Da-Di," a gold-certified 12-inch that highlighted both Fresh's talents as a Master of Ceremonies and Rick's unforgettably British-inflected voice and sly, witty lyrics.
After going their separate ways, the two continued to have a major impact during the early years of rap's golden age. One of hip-hop's great entertainers, Doug E. Fresh scored several hits over the next few years like the spiritually inspired "All the Way to Heaven" (1986), the anti-drug protest "Nuthin'," and "I-Ight (Alright)" (1993). Slick Rick's storytelling prowess and use of off-key vocal harmonies, as showcased on his platinum solo album The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, made him a major influence on subsequent generations of rappers. This year, he received a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award. — Mosi Reeves
Born Andre Young in Compton, California, Dr. Dre is one of hip-hop's definitive and standard-setting pioneers. Now a veteran DJ, artist and producer, Dr. Dre's public story began as a member of two very different, influential L.A. groups in the '80s: electro stars World Class Wreckin' Cru and gangster rap icons N.W.A; the latter is the subject of a popular 2015 biopic, Straight Outta Compton, and earned Dre international recognition for bringing the reality and struggles of inner-city street life to mainstream America.
Dr. Dre took home the first of his seven GRAMMY wins to date in 1994. That year, he won the GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance for "Let Me Ride" from The Chronic, his groundbreaking, triple-platinum album, which has launched official international Dre Day celebrations every year since its release and helped normalize weed culture around the world. More golden gramophones have followed for his work with Eminem and Anderson .Paak, and he's also been nominated for his productions for Kendrick Lamar, 2Pac, 50 Cent, Gwen Stefani, and more.
Dr. Dre's ear for music has helped him become a billion-dollar entrepreneur as well. In 2006, he and his close business associate, Interscope label head Jimmy Iovine, created Beats Electronics to sell Beats By Dre headphones, which quickly set style and sales trends in the audio technology sector. Eight years later, Apple acquired Beats for a reported $3 billion. But with his GOAT-status secured, Dre didn't stop there. Over the years, he's helped carve the future for the next generation of music minds. He opened a magnet school in South Central's historic Leimert Park and co-founded the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy at the University of Southern California. At the 2023 GRAMMYs, Dre received the inaugural Dr. Dre Global Impact Award for his innovations and achievements throughout decades-long career. — Tamara Palmer
Who would've thought an actor from the Great White North would end up becoming one of the world's biggest pop culture icons? Drake's role on the popular Canadian teen drama series "Degrassi: The Next Generation" was simply a launching pad for a music career that would not only cross Canadian-American borders, but showcase the true universality of hip-hop. His signature R&B crooning melting over melodic rap beats, which began with his breakthrough mixtape So Far Gone (2009), halted the gangster mentality that ruled hip-hop in the late '00s.
From there, Drake surged as rap's global leader with classics like Take Care (2011) and If You're Reading This It's Too Late (2015). And while not his most acclaimed album, the commercial and international success of his 2016 blockbuster, Views, paired with a thrilling foray into dancehall and Afrobeats proved that he could take hip-hop into different pockets around the globe. He perfected his formula — a mix of tearful emotions, flirtatious loverboy charm, a braggadocio attitude, viral one-liners, and the ability to mold to various cultural sounds — and spun it into gold and platinum success. From currently holding the record for the most Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 to building his OVO Music empire, Drake still holds the mainstream industry in the palm of his hand to this day. — Bianca Gracie
With his colorful "slanguage" and consummate cool, E-40 has influenced MCs all over the world. The rapper, born Earl Stevens, built his label Sick Wid It through independent record sales, a hustle he learned from his uncle, the soul singer Saint Charles Thurman, who started the first distribution company for Black music in the Bay Area.
That independent strategy inspired like-minded artists to follow E-40's path: make millions on the streets and in the boardrooms. Most prominently, labels such as Cash Money Records and No Limit Records in New Orleans gave him foundational props; Master P started his No Limit Records inside a record store in Richmond, California, before returning to the South. After signing with Jive Records, E-40 released an impressive discography that includes three gold albums and one platinum album.
Continuing to expand his artistry in more recent years, E-40 has released songs and toured as one-quarter of the rap supergroup Mount Westmore alongside Too $hort, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg. He has parlayed that independent hustle into building his own companies to sell alcoholic spirits and food, now stocked in liquor stores, grocery markets and big box stores like Costco. His debut cookbook, Goons With Spoons, created in conjunction with Snoop Dogg, will be released in November.
A community-minded philanthropist, E-40 has long given back to his communities. In 2023, he donated $100,000 to Grambling University, which he attended, to create the Earl "E-40" Stevens Sound Recording Studio on campus. And his do-it-yourself ethos continues to be seen today in the likes of fellow Bay Area rappers, including LaRussell and Larry June, and the next generation of MCs. — Tamara Palmer
The career of Eminem, born Marshall Bruce Mathers III, is unprecedented. The two biggest rap albums in American history are both his. Out of the 20 rap albums with the largest first-week sales, he has six. He is the best-selling rapper of all time and the best-selling artist of any type in the 2000s.
But sales are only the beginning of the story. For a few years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Eminem was the center of pop culture. His songs and antics created heated debates, which created even more songs and even more antics, in a feedback loop that grew giant enough to eventually include a still-powerful duet from Elton John and Em the GRAMMYs. Eminem brought the singer with him to perform at the 2001 GRAMMYs ceremony as an implicit answer to charges of homophobia that had been dogging him since he first exploded into the mainstream with controversial lyrics.
Eminem was always more than controversy, though. While his sales, as he was the first to admit, were boosted by his race, his skill level was never at issue. His blazingly technical raps were in service of a captivating life story. Before he was rhyming about reporters and politicians reacting to his contentious raps, he was spitting about being at "rock bottom" — depressed, hopeless, and struggling to get by. If there were something that fans of all backgrounds could relate to, it was not giving a f—. — Shawn Setaro
Eric B. & Rakim
One of the greatest hip-hops duos ever, Long Island duo Eric B. & Rakim symbolized hip-hop music at its most refined. Thanks to his late-'80s recordings with DJ/producer "Eric B." Barrier, William "Rakim" Griffin is often mentioned as the greatest MC of all time. His relaxed vocal presence, subtle use of Five Percenter Nation teachings, storytelling prowess, and ability to weave complex ideas into accessible lyrics have been mimicked by countless others. Considered an essential artifact of hip-hop's late-80s golden age, Paid in Full, the duo's 1987 debut album, is packed with hits like "Eric B. Is President," "My Melody," "I Know You Got Soul" — which popularized the use of James Brown samples in rap records — and "Move the Crowd."
Their second album, Follow the Leader (1988), marked a new peak in Rakim's lyrical abilities, while Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em (1990) was one of the most anticipated albums of the era. Before the group split and Rakim embarked on a solo career, they released Don't Sweat the Technique, which has recently achieved new popularity due to its use on television and in film. — Mosi Reeves
Atlanta had a major resurgence in the 2010s — and Future led the charge. A Dungeon Family member, he used Auto-Tune to create a dreary version of trap blues as he warbles about addiction, depression, manipulative relationships, and heartache. He solidified his legacy in 2015 when he unleashed a string of projects: the Beast Mode and 56 Nights mixtapes, the chopped-not-slopped DS2 album, and the What a Time to Be Alive collaborative mixtape with Drake, which highlighted Future's brilliant chemistry with rap's current titans. The onslaught of music spun a dark cloud over the rap genre, giving the green light for male rappers to be just as emotional as they are vengeful. Future's hot streak continues to this day: He's experimenting with new genres, including pop star collaborations with Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift; churning out hits, most recently the GRAMMY-winning "Wait For U" with partner-in-music Drake; and still confidently wearing his broken heart on his sleeve. — Bianca Gracie
Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
As one of many who followed in DJ Kool Herc's wake, Joseph "Grandmaster Flash" Saddler is a key innovator in the art of DJing, particularly in the way he mixed records and expanded on scratching, a technique first invented by Grand Wizzard Theodore. In the late 1970s, he assembled the crew of MCs who became the Furious Five and who would go on to release several classic hip-hop records: Keith "Cowboy" Wiggins, who is credited with the first use of the phrase "hip-hop," Melvin "Melle Mel" Glover, Mel's brother Kidd Creole, Guy "Raheim" Williams, and Eddie "Scorpio" Morris.
In 1979, the group recorded "Superrappin'," which many consider the first "real" Bronx hip-hop record. They then released several popular 12-inches that culminated in "The Message" (1982), a watershed moment in rap's development into a full-fledged musical artform. Meanwhile, Grandmaster Flash created "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel," a showcase for his historic DJ skills that's considered the first turntablism record. In 2007, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five became the first hip-hop group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2021, the group received a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award. — Mosi Reeves
Though Tracy "Ice-T" Morrow wasn't the first L.A. rapper to make a song about street life — he prefers the term "reality rap" instead of the mainstreamed moniker "gangsta rap" — he was arguably the most important. After a few years in the electro scene, marked by a performance in the 1984 film Breakin', Ice-T's "6 in the Mornin'," a vivid tale about a young hustler slanging dope and avoiding cops, made a huge local impact; it continues to influence rap artists to this day. In 1987, he became the first West Coast rapper to release an album on a major label with the gold-certified Rhyme Pays. By the time of his second album, Power (1988), Ice-T was widely considered the top solo rapper on the West Coast, while The Iceberg (Freedom of Speech..Just Watch What You Say) (1989) saw him expanding into social commentary and hard-rock experiments. His fourth album, O.G. Original Gangster (1992) introduced Body Count, a pioneering heavy metal/rap band that predicted the rise of rap rock. — Mosi Reeves
Watch: Hip-Hop History On Full Display During A Star-Studded Tribute To The 50th Anniversary Of Hip-Hop Featuring Performances By Missy Elliott, LL COOL J, Ice-T, Method Man, Big Boi, Busta Rhymes & More | 2023 GRAMMYs
Inimitable in sound and rhyme, Detroit's own James Yancey, also known as J Dilla, is respected around the world as "your favorite producer's favorite producer." A beloved and highly esteemed songwriter, producer, rapper, and drummer, he is a great influence on some of hip-hop's most diverse voices across the decades and to this day.
As a member of Slum Village, Dilla would quietly lace beats from his mother's basement for the likes of A Tribe Called Quest ("Find A Way"), Erykah Badu ("Didn't Cha Know"), MF DOOM ("Gazzillion Ear"), and countless others. Umpteen tributes on tracks and in concerts and from groups such as NxWorries (consisting of Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge), television programs (Cartoon Network's Adult Swim), and institutions (Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture) harken to his significant contribution to this thing we love called hip-hop.
Considered one of the greatest creatives in hip-hop history, J Dilla made innovative use of sound and imagination by employing real-time rhythms that may better translate as "a vibe" for listeners. He is directly responsible for bridging the soul and the sonic that distinguish rap as one of the most inventive art forms in recent history. Proving that his energetic beats matched his rhymes, Dilla's legacy continues to inspire and resonate within the hip-hop community today, and on hip-hop's milestone anniversary, his innovations and impact prove to be immortal, too. — Kevin L. Clark
Born Shawn Corey Carter in Brooklyn, New York, Jay-Z has made an indelible mark on hip-hop culture over three decades by marrying superlative lyrical creativity with an acute business acumen. Storming the gates of the record industry as co-owner and marquee artist of the independent Roc-a-Fella Records label, Jay-Z released the seminal Reasonable Doubt — a debut that instantly placed him among the top rappers of the 1990s. A consistent release schedule of unforgettable material, including Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life, The Blueprint, The Black Album, and 4:44, created summertime classics for a whole generation while establishing him as one of the greatest rappers the culture has ever produced.
Jay-Z occupies a unique space in hip-hop as both a billionaire mogul and a rapper consistently recognized as one of the art form's all-time most talented. His stakes in various entrepreneurial ventures — the music streaming platform Tidal; the entertainment agency Roc Nation; the 40/40 Club sports lounge — lend as much to his legacy as his one-time rivalry with Nas, which resulted in hip-hop's most notorious battle between livi de ng MCs to date. His marriage to Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, one of the most iconic pop performers of the modern era, has also produced artistic contributions — see their joint album, Everything Is Love — as well as an enduring symbol of Black excellence. — Miles Marshall Lewis
The son of storied music executive Micheal Mauldin, Jermaine Dupri has contributed to hip-hop as a producer, songwriter, and executive. Most importantly, the GRAMMY winner, who started dancing for the likes of Diana Ross and Whodini, helped cultivate Atlanta into the rap capital it is today.
As the founder of So So Def Records, Dupri helped make Kris Kross and Lil Bow Wow hit-making teen heartthrobs in a music genre that leaned on more adult personas; he also played a major role in helping Da Brat become the first female rapper to go platinum. Even today, his time as an executive producer of the reality competition series The Rap Game gave way to the eventual rise of next-gen rapper Latto. That doesn't even count collaborations that have reached nearly every corner of hip-hop, including classics with Jay-Z, UGK, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Snoop Dogg, and more.
Dupri's legacy in hip-hop can also be heard in the musical bridge connecting rap and R&B. He's written and produced hit albums for Mariah Carey, Usher, Xscape, Jagged Edge, and countless more, his contributions furthering the bond between the two genres. — Ural Garrett
Where do we even begin? From producing some of the greatest rap songs of the 2000s as Jay-Z's protégé to emerging as one of the most critically and commercially successful rappers of all time, Kanye West might be the most important musician of the 21st century — genre irrelevant. His ability to toggle between incisive commentary ("All Falls Down," "Heard 'Em Say"), all-time braggadocio ("Can't Tell Me Nothing," "Power"), and wry humor ("Gorgeous," "Otis") made his every verse an event, and his blockbuster albums consistently showcased an expert sense of talent curation. In the early 2010s, when West made a hard pivot from the maximalism of his magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010), to the industrial brutality of Yeezus (2013), he showed the kind of fearlessness that truly great artists possess, as he continued to push boundaries even in the face of skepticism.
The last several years of the Kanye West experience have been difficult and disturbing for many music fans. He's praised Adolf Hitler and made antisemitic comments, only to seemingly walk it all back, in a trollish fashion, albeit. A generational talent who has evolved his creative legacy in more ways than one, West's impact on music is clear and undeniable. Has he gone from industry iconoclast to outright outlier? Who's story is it to tell? But any attempt to wrap your mind around the first half-century of hip-hop history, and music in general, must include a reference to Kanye, whose DNA will be present in rap music for the next 50 years, at least. — Grant Rindner
In retrospect, Kendrick Lamar's renowned verse on "Control" might be better described as a manifesto rather than a call to war. After name-dropping nearly a dozen of the hottest rappers of the time, including the likes of Drake and J. Cole, Lamar challenges, "What is competition? I'm tryna raise the bar high. Who tryna jump and get it?" Ten years and one legendary career later, Lamar's three minutes of rhymes come off as less of a widespread diss and more of a statement of intent.
The Compton native went on to reach heights hip-hop had never seen before. In 2018, the 17-time GRAMMY winner won the Pulitzer Prize for DAMN., an achievement once described as "a watershed moment … and a sign of the American cultural elite's recognition of hip-hop as a legitimate artistic medium."
Still, despite such momentous contributions to the genre and culture at large, pinning down Lamar's direct influence on hip-hop really makes you stop and think. Perhaps that difficulty stems from the fact that so much of what makes Lamar great is his ability to combine the top traits of those who came before him. Whether it be channeling the narrative superpower of Nas on good kid, m.A.A.d city, the powerful social commentary of 2Pac on To Pimp A Butterfly, or the vulnerability of Jay-Z on tracks like "Mother I Sober," Lamar's biggest impact on hip-hop may just be the fact that he indeed raised the bar high for rap while embodying those who laid its foundation. — Taj Mayfield
A standard-setter who foreshadowed the international success of hip-hop, Kurtis "Blow" Walker is the genre's first superstar. Of his notable achievements, he became the first rapper to sign a major label deal (with Mercury Records) and the first to go gold via his 1980 single "The Breaks," which is recognized as one of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time and remains his signature calling card.
Blow's enormous influence on the culture is directly tied to his ability to expand the boundaries of hip-hop and foster talent within and beyond his creative circles. His early DJ on the road was Joseph Simmons, who was nicknamed "Run, the Son of Kurtis Blow" and who later carved his own iconic career as one-third of the hip-hop trio Run-D.M.C. Blow and Run-D.M.C. starred in the 1985 movie Krush Groove, a fictional story that parallels that of New York label Def Jam Recordings, making Kurtis Blow essentially the first famous face in hip-hop to cross over into Hollywood.
In the mid-'90s, Blow became a radio DJ and hosted "The Old School Show" on Los Angeles radio station, Power 106. He was also ordained as a Christian minister, co-founded Hip-Hop Church, and released faith-based albums with his group, Kurtis Blow and the Trinity. Proving that hip-hop can coexist with gospel, Blow's spiritual-inspired music helped expand the audience for Christian music across genres and audiences. — Tamara Palmer
Ms. Lauryn Hill
With a pen in her hand, a song in her heart, and a story to tell, Ms. Lauryn Hill elevated hip-hop for the better during the '90s. Hill's work expertly blurs the lines between genres, often fusing doo-wop-flavored harmonies and '70s R&B with hip-hop swagger and the airiness of neo-soul. A Jersey native and member of the iconic rap group the Fugees, she became a household name after the international breakout success of her debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998). The project sees the musician exploring themes of love, heartbreak and family through a personal lens with universal impact. A commercial and critical success around the world, the album won the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year in 1999, making Hill the first-ever rap artist to win that category. To this day, she counts eight GRAMMYs, the most of any woman in hip-hop.
Hill's melodic rap technique and artistic versatility have inspired acts across genre lines in the years since, from Drake to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who credits several elements in his Broadway hit "Hamilton" to her art. — J'na Jefferson
Don't let her petite frame fool you: Lil' Kim has been larger than life since her 1994 debut as a member of Junior M.A.F.I.A. and mentee of the Notorious B.I.G. The Brooklyn native unlocked a next level for female rap with her 1996 debut solo album Hard Core. Even before the world heard the album, her seductive pose on the cover itself signaled a shift: It was time for women to take the lead. Hit singles like "No Time," "Crush on You" and "Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)" established the rapper's signature raunchy lyrics and guttural tone, flipping the male-dominated, often misogynistic genre on its head as she reclaimed her sexuality. She also knows how to command respect, spitting ferocious bars on songs like Diddy's "It's All About the Benjamins" and Mobb Deep's "Quiet Storm (Remix)" alongside her male counterparts.
A bonafide hip-hop icon, Lil' Kim's influence spans generations and industries. A muse for countless rising female rap stars and designers like Versace and Marc Jacobs alike, she carved a safe space for Black women in the often exclusive, white- and male-dominant fashion and music industires. Her sartorial choices, as eye-popping as her naughty rhymes, still give next-gen female rappers like Baby Tate, GloRilla, and Cardi B the Queen Bee-confidence to exude the same sense of sexual liberation she pioneered in rap in the '90s. Her path in both music and fashion have made her one of rap's most impactful voices with an undeniable legacy. — Bianca Gracie
Lil Uzi Vert
Despite being a relatively new major player in the game, Lil Uzi Vert is an undeniable needle-mover in hip-hop. If that influence is hard to pin down, it's because Uzi has somehow made the existence of a quirky, emotional, rock-inspired rapper a common thing in 2023.
Similar to other breakout stars of the SoundCloud rap era who came up with them, including Lil Peep, XXXTentacion and Juice WRLD, Lil Uzi Vert brought their unadulterated self into their music. The result? A steady flow of evocative, genre-defying hits and deep cuts. From anthems like "XO TOUR Lif3" (2017) to "Rehab," a standout track off their recently released Pink Tape, the 27-year-old Philadelphia native consistently wears their heart and inspirations on their sleeve. Years worth of quality music coupled with their unwavering authenticity have forever broadened the horizons of hip-hop, making way for many future Lil Uzi Verts. — Taj Mayfield
There are two distinguishable eras in rap history: before Tha Carter and after Tha Carter. Lil Wayne, who's impact on the evolution of the genre is immeasurable, has taken rap to rare heights and forever changed its influence in and from the South. With an undeniable and almost insurmountable work ethic, New Orleans' native son has delivered infinite memorable moments that have spanned decades. From his show-stealing turns with Cash Money's the Hot Boys to his chart-decimating hits like "A Milli" to his genre-defining Tha Carter album series, Weezy F. has lived up to his reign as the "Best Rapper Alive" for decades.
Boasting a deep appreciation for the culture, Wayne willed a layer of intuition and imagination that pushed rap to the next level. With a strength tougher than Nigerian hair, his impression can be heard throughout every era of modern hip-hop, from his own musical family tree with Young Money (Drake, Nicki Minaj) traced through to next-gen superstars (Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole).
Otherworldly, diverse, and an omnipresent influence in today's scene, Lil Wayne has been a blessing to rap, consistently pushing the game and growing the culture in immeasurable ways. — Kevin L. Clark
LL Cool J
There were rap albums before LL Cool J's Radio. But the genre was still largely singles-driven, and the albums then were usually stuffed with the hits, some filler, and a few unique experiments. It was Radio that turned the rap album into a work of art and kick-started the genre's golden age.
LL was nothing if not versatile. He put out iconic singles like "I Need a Beat" and "Rock the Bells." His genre-shifting music videos, such as "Around the Way Girl," "Hey Lover," and the seminal classic, "I Need Love," added breadth to the male-dominated industry. And his show-stopping appearance in the film Krush Groove aided in turning the young MC into a king from Queens.
He also set yet another trend: the "don't-call-it-a-comeback" comeback. After releasing two killer albums, LL dropped Walking With A Panther in 1989. While it was a commercial success, Panther was shunned by hip-hop artists and fans at the time, due to its mainstream crossover appeal, and LL was deemed over by the hip-hop community, out of touch with a conscious, Afrocentric age of the time. Barely into his 20s, it seemed his time was up. And then, he had rap music's first major comeback — lyrical protestation notwithstanding. Mama Said Knock You Out was a return to form that set LL Cool J up for a lifelong career in music, TV, movies, and even that whimsical song about his shark-fin-like hat. — Shawn Setaro
Thanks to songs like "Thizzelle Dance" and "Feelin' Myself," Vallejo rapper Andre "Mac Dre" Hicks was the pied piper of hyphy, an innovation marked by bouncy bass and skittering funk rhythms. It dominated the Bay Area throughout the 2000s and remains a key component of the region's distinctive hip-hop scene.
Mac Dre's career dated back to 1989 with the local hit "Too Hard for the F—in' Radio." But in a case that made national headlines, he was arrested and convicted for allegedly being involved in bank robberies — his supporters continue to claim his innocence — and became the first rapper to make music, Back N Da Hood, while imprisoned. (He recorded his vocals over the phone.) When he finally returned to rap in the late '90s, he began refining his idiosyncratic style using P-funk tones and a droll and witty vocal tone. As expressed through songs like "Get Stupid" and "Not My Job," it was a style that eventually shook up the world and led to the foundation and popularization of the hyphy movement.
Unfortunately, Mac Dre didn't get to witness the peak and great success of his music, which was ultimately used in television and film as well as at sporting events. His unsolved killing in 2004 happened just as he seemed poised for a national breakthrough. — Mosi Reeves
The history of hip-hop is dotted with great business minds, but it's rare that someone's boardroom acumen proved so strong that their run of multiplatinum albums and smash singles feels entirely secondary. Such is the case with Master P, the New Orleans native who founded No Limit Records and, along with Cash Money's sibling duo of Bryan "Birdman" and Ronald "Slim" Williams, changed the paradigm of the rap mogul forever. In 1995, P partnered No Limit with Priority Records in a deal that saw him cover the brunt of the creative costs in exchange for greater creative control and backend profits.
He broke through as an MC with Ice Cream Man and Ghetto D, albums that served more as showcases for the No Limit collective than P himself. Ceding the showier roles and technical flair to collaborators like Silkk the Shocker, Mia X and Mystikal, Master P brought a kind of brute force charisma that's easy to see working for him wheeling and dealing behind the scenes. No Limit has evolved into an entity where pioneers like Mia X can celebrate women in hip-hop, while P continues to expand the empire through winning partnerships (Snoop Cereal) and new offerings (Rap Snacks) that created the reason this music industry owes gratitude to Master P. — Grant Rindner
Though she may not always receive the fanfare of her more mainstream cohorts, MC Sha-Rock changed the hip-hop ecosystem forever when she hit the booth in the late '70s. Largely considered to be the first female rapper, Sha-Rock, known as the "Mother of the Mic," helped pave the way for every woman rapper on this list — and beyond. Though she has B-girl origins, the South-Bronx-bred spitter showcased her raw talent and confidence behind the mic. As a member of Funky 4+1, her natural charisma and ability established the blueprint for the future of women in rap. Though Funky 4+1 was the first hip-hop group to appear on national television, it wasn't until the '80s when women rappers began to break through on an international scale. You can thank Sha-Rock for first opening that door, shattering the glass ceiling, and ushering in a gender breakthrough that's helped women dominate rap today. — J'na Jefferson
Explore More: Ladies First: 10 Essential Albums By Female Rappers
Whether fans tuned into MF DOOM or aliases such as Viktor Vaughn or King Gedorah, the rapper/producer born Dumile Daniel Thompson offered some of the most memorable art found in hip-hop.
A London native transplanted to Long Island, New York, Dumile began his career as Zev Love X, forming the group KMD with his brother DJ Subroc. But after Subroc's sudden death and their record label's refusal to release their album, Zev Love X went on hiatus — and returned as MF DOOM, donning a mask to combat the music industry's corruption. He built a prolific catalog inspired by comic books, cartoons, and the absurdities and mundanities of life, creating worlds that brimmed with vibrant wordplay. His husky voice, conversational flow, and impossibly intricate rhyme schemes comprised his calling card, along with equally absurd references and unpredictable punchlines.
DOOM earned a rep among indie rap's best in the early 2000s, but he became a rap deity with Madvillainy, the album that smartly paired him with producer Madlib's collection of obtuse jazz and TV samples that were just as mercurial. The record elevated DOOM's iconography and solidified him as one of rap's most distinctive creators ever, with fans and other MCs alike paying reverence. — William E. Ketchum
In the late '90s, thin was "in" and hypersexualized female rappers became commonplace. But a big woman with big talent — and an even bigger patent-leather blowup suit — snuck in to extinguish these industry standards, becoming the people's champ and an undisputed icon in the process. Missy Elliott's pleasingly off-kilter brand of bravado is marked by eye-catchingly creative music videos, like the aforementioned, star-making "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," entertaining performance techniques, and next-level beats crafted by her and her longtime friend and fellow Virginian, Timbaland. She's created works of art that have stood the test of time, allowing her to see and receive her flowers while she can still smell them: During GRAMMY Week 2023, Missy received the Recording Academy Global Impact Award at the Recording Academy Honors Presented By The Black Music Collective event; later this year, she will become the first woman rapper inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. By dismantling boundaries, Missy Elliott paved the way for hip-hop artists to be unapologetically themselves. — J'na Jefferson
Dubbed the "world's most dangerous group," gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A put Compton, California, on the map in the late '80s with their provocative music and a name that embodied their unflinching bravado: N—z With Attitudes.
At the time, acts like Public Enemy, Kool Moe Dee, LL Cool J, and Eric B. & Rakim dominated the airwaves, with songs about everything from love, partying and lyrical prowess to race and politics. However, few were as overly explicit and provocative as the rising stars from the West Coast who disrupted the industry with the release of their hard-hitting debut album, Straight Outta Compton, in 1988.
With a stacked lineup consisting of Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, Ice Cube, and MC Ren, the L.A. natives rapped about gang violence, police brutality, street life, and hood experiences. They were accused of demeaning women and glorifying violence and drug use, and as their music continues to stoke controversy as hip-hop lyrics in court proceedings are subject to debate today, N.W.A's provocative debut resonates to this day through new generations of fans. While the group would go on to sell millions of records and produce three superstar solo acts, their timeless album and its definitive protest anthem, "F— tha Police," cemented their place in the pantheon of hip-hop, forever changing the culture and the world at large with its powerful message. The emotionally charged song offers a scathing critique of systemic inequality that reflects the frustrations that marginalized communities harness for the discrimination they continue to face decades after the track dropped.
While their tenure was short-lived, N.W.A's paradigm-shifting music inspired a slew of acts that would leave their own stamp on the culture, including 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, the Game, and DJ Quik. — Desiree Bowie
A perennial member of every hip-hop lover's top five rappers of all time lists, Nas inherited the crown of rap's greatest golden-age wordsmiths upon releasing his 1994 debut album, Illmatic, which helped establish the legend's nearly 30-year stellar reputation for MCing. Son of jazz cornetist Olu Dara, Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones grew up in the Queensbridge housing projects in Queens, New York, also the home of fellow hip-hop luminaries like Roxanne Shanté and producer Marley Marl. During a period when the hip-hop aesthetic seemed forever redirected to the West Coast, Nas helped refocus attention back on New York City, the birthplace of the culture.
Following the killings of both 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G., concerns rang out when a long-simmering rivalry between Nas and Jay-Z went public on diss tracks like "Ether" (2001) and "Takeover" (2001). Defying the worst of expectations, their war of words eventually morphed into both a professional relationship — Nas signed to Def Jam in 2006 with Jay-Z as the label's then-president — and creative bond, with the duo releasing a joint song, "Black Republican," in 2007). On a recent string of collaborations with producer Hit-Boy — including the GRAMMY-winning King's Disease (2020) — Nas has helped alter expectations around career longevity in hip-hop. — Miles Marshall Lewis
The Neptunes — the production duo powered by the genius of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo — changed the sound of late-'90s and early-2000s hip-hop, jump-starting and transforming the careers of countless artists across every genre imaginable in the process.
After getting their start with New Jack Swing pioneer Teddy Riley, the Neptunes made a name for themselves by producing N.O.R.E.'s "Superthug" and Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Your Money" as well as albums for Clipse and Kelis.
The start of their hip-hop takeover can, perhaps, be traced to 2000, when they produced Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)." The song, which features Pharrell's memorable voice on the hook, became Hov's first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart.
The hit also caught Britney Spears' attention, prompting her to enlist the Virginia Beach duo to write and produce "I'm A Slave 4 U," which marked a major turning point in her mature, new sound. The Neptunes also helped Justin Timberlake craft a new sound and image, producing much of his debut solo album, Justified.
The duo's off-kilter, funk-influenced sound made them sought-after — and heavily imitated — producers for much of the aughts. Some of their 2000s hits include "Hot in Herre" by Nelly, "Drop It Like It's Hot" by Snoop Dogg, "Money Maker" by Ludacris and "Milkshake" by Kelis. Pharrell also helped usher in the era when producers came to the forefront of the spotlight, rapping and singing in songs and appearing in music videos for the artists they produced.
Counting four GRAMMY wins, the pair won Producer of the Year in 2003 and Producer of the Decade in 2009 at the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards. In 2022, the Neptunes were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, a distinction that proves just how much they changed the sound of the culture and music as a whole. — Victoria Moorwood
Nicki Minaj rewrote the rules of hip-hop through her unparalleled rhyming ability, an arsenal of flows, a collection of character-driven voices, and crossover success. As a result, she single-handedly elevated female rap in the mainstream in the 2010s. Her reign came during a time when hip-hop was still considered to be a male-dominated terrain. Nonetheless, she proved female rappers can keep up with the boys, though she regularly surpassed them in skill level. Her genre-bending hits showcase her versatility, and her writing and performance talents make her one of the hottest commodities in music. She not only took risks, she made hits: Counting 132 entries, Nicki Minaj holds the record for the most Billboard Hot 100 hits by a woman rapper. Thanks to Nicki Minaj — or Nicki Lewinsky, Nicki the Ninja, you know what it is — a new generation of female rap superstars gained the courage to make their own magic. — J'na Jefferson
The Notorious B.I.G.
Christopher "Biggie Smalls" Wallace, aka the Notorious B.I.G., is a titan in hip-hop history, a wordsmith whose lyrical potency is intensified by the brevity of his career. Wallace's gravitas — in physical stature and in reputation — belied his youth; as a Jamaican-American who grew up in Brooklyn's Clinton Hill neighborhood, bordering Bedford-Stuyvesant at the height of the crack era, he spent his early years navigating the threshold between civilian life and street life and brought those complexities to his songwriting and vivid storytelling. With the guidance of Sean Combs — who then went by the moniker Puff Daddy – Wallace quickly went from "Unsigned Hype" in The Source magazine to Bad Boy's marquee artist, crashing onto the charts in 1994 with his debut album, Ready to Die, at just 21 years old.
The album is a balance of massive, radio-friendly singles with quasi-autographical, introspective records that are bracing in their emotional range and attention to detail: For every "Juicy," "Big Poppa," and "One More Chance," there's "Warning," "Gimme the Loot," and "Suicidal Thoughts." In each track, Biggie played with the morphology of words and rhyming cadences at will, stretching vowels and contracting them to a staccato-like delivery with the proficiency of a jazz musician. Wallace's cinematic approach to rapping became his signature. He would form the crew Junior M.A.F.I.A. in this image, crafting records such as "Get Money" and "Player's Anthem" — songs as entertaining as they were illustrative that also introduced the world to the force of nature that was Lil' Kim.
His posthumous second album, presciently titled Life After Death (1997), is a sprawling double album replete with gangster epics such as "Somebody's Gotta Die," "N—s Bleed," and "What's Beef?" Released sixteen days after his killing in 1997, Biggie's mainstream crossover singles hit like a tidal wave. The chart-topping singles, "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems" and "Hypnotize," launched the patented Bad Boys formula of the renowned Hitmen production team into the stratosphere, eventually inspiring the likes of Kanye West and others to speed up soul samples to achieve similar success. Wallace's own vocals — heavy and lush, with the ability to glide like butter via a cascade of internal rhyme schemes — still sound as fresh today as they did when the project initially released to critical acclaim on March 25. And despite the tragic coda that cut short the life of this king from Kings County, the Notorious B.I.G.'s narrative prowess remains eternal.— Shamira Ibrahim
When OutKast's André 3000 proudly proclaimed "the South got something to say" at the 1995 Source Awards, the Atlanta rapper and his creative partner, Big Boi, had no idea of the significance those words would have on rap music today. At the time of their 1994 debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, the South was regarded as country, "backwards," and behind the times. Those words, a whistleblow, could've been misinterpreted by white and rural communities that these artists and their regions were not deemed "hip-hop." Hip-hop was cool, coastal, and cosmopolitan — not country. Yet, André 3000 and Big Boi did not mind being regarded as country; in fact, they embraced it.
Their music and Southern hip-hop overall incorporated the stylings of blues and gospel. Their delivery had a twang to it. They were not here to duplicate East Coast or West Coast hip-hop. They were on a mission to give young, Black, working-class people in the South something to say. Although based in Atlanta, their perspectives and reflections on Black life in the South took root in states across the region. Eventually, they became the leaders of the Southern hip-hop scene. So, when the duo won the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year, for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, at the 2004 GRAMMYs — almost 10 years after their declaration at the Source Awards — the South was not only respected in hip-hop, but it became a contender for its rightful title. — Taylor Crumpton
One of the most profound and prolific groups in hip-hop's storied history, Public Enemy continues to be studied and applied to moments impacting music and culture today. Once Chuck D and Flava Flav connected with Terminator X and the Bomb Squad, the ethos and foundational tenets upon which hip-hop was founded — peace, love, unity, and having fun — finally came into realization. Their boom merged with the bap of the streets to showcase the reasons why hip-hop's culture should not only be championed but cherished — never allowing history to be erased or revised.
Members would go on to leave their imprint all over the then-burgeoning sound coming out of America. From producing Bel Biv Devoe's triple-platinum album, Poison, to contributing to one of the defining hip-hop albums of the 1990s, Ice Cube's AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, Public Enemy has resonated through time as thought-proving and spark-inducing revolutionaries of sound that still challenge people to know that loud is not enough. — Kevin L. Clark
The Roots' longevity and artistic creativity have made a lasting impact on hip-hop. Illadelph's own are trailblazers of the genre, pioneers of a distinctive, alternative sound that combined rap with live instruments, conscious lyrics and jazz-influenced beats.
The Roots have not been afraid to tackle important topics and challenge societal norms: The video for their song "What They Do," off their third album Illadelph Halflife, mocks stereotypes seen in the music industry. Their most successful album, Things Fall Apart, is a nod to Chinua Achebe's critically acclaimed book by the same name. The album originally had five different covers, one of which features teenagers running from police during the Civil Rights Movement era. The stark black-and-white image, alongside the album's themes, provided an artistic cohesion and political poignancy that solidified the group's impactful message.
All told, the Roots have 14 studio albums under their belt. Aside from music, the group's career evolution spans various ventures, including publishing (Black Thought's upcoming memoir, The Upcycled Self), music festivals (the annual Roots Picnic festival), and film (Questlove's GRAMMY-winning Summer of Soul). Not to mention mainstream TV: The Roots also hold down late night as the house band for NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon." The group's unique sound and its expression of pressing issues solidify the Legendary Roots Crew as important game-changers. — Rachel McCain
Historically, hip-hop has always been heralded as a young person's sport — and perhaps no one exemplifies that archetype better than Queensbridge's Roxanne Shanté. At merely 14, the upstart member of the Juice Crew led one of hip-hop's first rap beefs, responding to the U.T.F.O.'s (Untouchable Force Organization) "Roxanne Roxanne" with the searing "Roxanne's Revenge." Where U.T.F.O. detailed the saga of a woman who rejected their overtures, Shanté rebutted with a sharply constructed counternarrative, freestyling a story from the viewpoint of Roxanne being pestered by inadequate suitors who paled in comparison to her MC skills.
While the initial response made her famous, it would be her unflappable ability to hold her own in the flood of response tracks that would cement her legacy as a battle rapper and recording artist. Tracks such as "Queen of Rox (Shanté Rox On)" and "Bite This" would extend her victory streak against U.T.F.O. and the bevy of opponents who stepped up to the plate as the city raced to cash in on the so-called "Roxanne Wars." When KRS-One crudely attacked her in "The Bridge is Over" — in which he declared, "Roxanne Shanté is only good for steady fucking" — she rebutted on "Have a Nice Day": "Step back, peasants, popping all that junk/Or else BDP will stand for Broken Down Punks/'Cause I'm an all-star just like Julius Erving/And Roxanne Shanté is only good for steady serving." Not only was Shanté able to best the guys at their own game, but she also made a point to embarrass their misogynistic attacks while doing so. Further etching her impact on rap, this legacy would echo through the ages to be reflected in the likes of Megan Thee Stallion and Noname, even finding a spiritual namesake in Nicki Minaj's 2010 single, "Roman's Revenge." — Shamira Ibrahim
With two MCs (Joseph Simmons, aka Run, and Darryl McDaniels, aka D.M.C.), one DJ (Jason Mizell, aka Jam Master Jay), and a whole lot of Adidas, Run-D.M.C. became one of hip-hop's earliest music and style ambassadors to the world. It only took a few years after their 1984 debut for fans across the globe to know about their New York hometown of Hollis, Queens.
In 1986, Run-D.M.C. collaborated with Aerosmith on a new version of the Boston rock act's 1975 cut "Walk This Way." The unexpected, groundbreaking pairing became a No. 4 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. MTV put the song's music video, which shows the two groups literally smashing down walls, in heavy rotation and positioned the rappers as the genre-bending superheroes they're still seen as today, as their GRAMMY Hall Of Fame induction attests.
Before there were hip-hop categories at the GRAMMYs, Run-D.M.C. was nominated for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal at the 1987 GRAMMYs for their 1986 album, Raising Hell. After releasing seven albums and starring in the seminal hip-hop movies Krush Groove and Tougher Than Leather, Run-D.M.C. became the first rappers to receive the Recording Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor they received in 2016.
After surviving decades of the world insisting that hip-hop was a fad that would fade away, the natural course of Run-D.M.C. was cut short when Jam Master Jay was killed in his Queens, New York, recording studio in October 2002. Unforeseen violence cut the band's physical life short, but Run-D.M.C. remains an immortal mainstay in the pantheon of hip-hop history, a blueprint for countless rap tandems, and an essential part of the culture. — Tamara Palmer
There is no one quite like Scarface when it comes to this rap game. An innovator in rap subgenres like horrorcore and gangsta rap, he is one of hip-hop's most poignant storytellers and pioneers. Both as a member of the legendary Geto Boys — one of the most successful Southern hip-hop groups at a time when the spotlight was focused on East Coast and West Coast rap — and as a solo artist, he proved to be a last of a dying breed. His signature songs, like "I Seen a Die," off the five-mic, Source-certified classic album, The Diary, proved to listeners that there were more layers and depths to experience in rap.
As both a commercial chart-topper — his 1997 album, The Untouchable, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart — and the ear of the streets nationwide, Scarface helped establish Houston as a certified rap capital and an early hotbed for innovative independent record labels. Beloved by fans, students of hip-hop and critics alike, 'Face has showcased what it means to craft a complete body of work that stands exemplary above its predecessors. He is one of the best at making the mood move within the melody. Beyond his platinum- and gold-certified album successes, he also excelled at mixing business acumen with artistic vision: As president of Def Jam South in the early 2000s, he helped foster the career of Ludacris and other rising Southern rappers. Today, his continued influence reaches modern veterans like the Game and next-gen stars like Isaiah Rashad alike. — Kevin L. Clark
Few music artists have showcased the versatility and decades-long career evolutions of prolific multihyphenate Snoop Dogg. Hailing from from Long Beach, California, his rap career took off in 1992 when his stepbrother Warren G, of "Regulate" fame, gave one of his mixtapes to Dr. Dre. Fresh off his stint with N.W.A, Dre recognized the young rapper's potential and invited him to the studio — where he was laying down tracks for The Chronic — for an audition. Snoop seized the moment and conquered: He's featured on 11 of the classic album's tracks, including the prolific hit single that would skyrocket him into the mainstream, "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang."
Still going strong decades later, the influential rapper has sold more than 37 million albums worldwide and has dropped 19 studio albums and countless cross-genre collabs. Snoop's laid-back persona and distinctive West Coast slang have become hallmarks of his music career. His expansion into other business and artistic pursuits, which include films, fast-food takeovers, and TV shows with lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, and impact on his community are among the main reasons he's maintained cultural relevance across three decades.
While his list of musical achievements is staggering, Snoop's greatest contribution to hip-hop lies in his ability to authentically infuse elements of his life into non-musical spaces. By simply staying true to himself, the legendary rapper has helped to further legitimize hip-hop as an art form with global impact and recognition, simultaneously influencing the music industry and people across international borders.
And he's even left his mark on the English language. Using his signature "izzle" style (e.g., "fo shizzle" meaing "for sure"), which originated in Northern California and was popularized by Bay Area rap acts like E-40 and 3X Krazy, Snoop has created a slew of catchy and memorable phrases. This rap "slanguage" development helped innovate distinct rap styles and solidified his place as an evolutionary icon. — Desiree Bowie
Soulja Boy made a lasting impact on hip-hop culture with his very first single. As one of the first in a wave of artists who used internet culture to market themselves directly to fans, the Chicago native created rap's first true internet sensation with "Crank That (Soulja Boy)." The song — fueled by simplistic lyrics, a catchy beat, and an inescapable hook — skyrocketed throughout the global internet via its complementary viral dance. Subverting the label-to-audience pipeline, Soulja Boy capitalized on tools like YouTube and MySpace to propel his popularity and connect with new listeners directly. Millions watched the song's music video on YouTube, where it has amassed more than 556 million views to date, and shared it widely on social media.
The innovative formula worked: "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for several weeks, set a record for the most digital downloads ever with more than 3 million units sold, and secured a GRAMMY nomination for Best Rap Song at the 2008 GRAMMYs.
Soulja Boy proved one-hit-wonder naysayers wrong. His second album, iSouljaBoyTellem, delivered 2000s classics like "Kiss Me Thru the Phone" featuring Sammie and "Turn My Swag On," while his grassroots tactic ushered in a new era of fan engagement and user-generated content, creating a formula still used by internet-savvy, next-gen artists like Lil Nas X and the wider music industry to market hip-hop hits today. — Victoria Moorwood
Virginia native Timbaland spent the mid- to late-'90s cultivating an experimental sound that blended futuristic drum patterns with unique sampling techniques. When he wasn't pushing sonic boundaries for R&B artists like Aaliyah and Ginuwine, the four-time GRAMMY winner proved his creativity could extend to hip-hop as well.
There isn't a better example than his legendary run of genre-busting albums produced for fellow Virginian trailblazer Missy Elliott, including Supa Dupa Fly, Da Real World, Miss E… So Addictive, and Under Construction. Timbaland even helped usher in the country rap subgenre thanks to his production work on the hip-hop/bluegrass fusion album Deliverance from Bubba Sparxxx. Eventually, he would expand far and wide across genres to create mega-hits with pop artists ranging from Nelly Furtado to Justin Timberlake. Between that time, he continued working with legendary rappers, including LL Cool J, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Lil' Kim, and many more.
Throughout the years, he's worked on multiple classic albums, which have garnered Album of the Year GRAMMY nominations, including Beyoncé, Timberlake's Justified and FutureSex/LoveSounds, The Diary Of Alicia Keys, and Elliott's Under Construction. Timbaland was also nominated for Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical at the 2008 GRAMMYs.
Now, Timbaland is making quality production easily available to aspiring artists and producers through his BeatClub service, showcasing how indispensible and intergenerational the creative mind of Timothy Mosley is to the culture. — Ural Garrett
Wu-Tang Clan was one of rap's seminal groups, both for their impact in the booth and in the boardroom. Enter The 36 Chambers, their 1993 debut album, saw superproducer RZA unite nine of the most unique personalities in rap ever for a lightning-in-a-bottle explosion. The crew traded nimble-footed bars and pro-Black philosophies over a discordant combination of rugged beats and samples from martial arts flicks, with each voice and rhyme style completely different from the last. But after their call to arms, they revolutionized the game with their business empires: The Wu was the first group to have its members sign solo deals with varying labels.
From there, they brought new meaning to the term divide and conquer: RZA, GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, U-God, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Cappadonna, and Masta Killa would each go on to drop classic records over the years, all of them earning varying spots in the rap hall of fame. In subsequent decades, they'd reunite on occasion to duplicate the group magic in new and creative ways.
After that, changing the game just became part of the Wu-Tang Clan playboook. Clothing lines, video games, TV shows — you name it and the Wu tried it, and likely surmounted it. In 2015, they created Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, a single-copy album that was sold off in an auction to a pharmacy exec for more than $1 million dollars … before that exec was arrested and imprisoned, with the record being seized by the government in the process. Oh well. Wu-Tang Clan has made history plenty of times, and before all is said and done, they'll likely do it again. — William E. Ketchum III
The below is a list of artists who we'd like to celebrate in addition to the artists featured in our 50 Artists Who Changed Rap list. Submitted by our industry panel, these honorable mentions have impacted hip-hop in ways that are immeasurable.
The Hot Boys
Three 6 Mafia
The artists featured on GRAMMY.com's 50 Artists Who Changed Rap list were compiled from artist submissions submitted by an industry panel of rap experts, which includes:
Andrew Barber, Owner, Fake Shore Drive
April Reign, Senior Advisor for Entertainment & Media, Gauge
Carl Chery, Creative Director, Head of Urban, Spotify
Datwon Thomas, Editor-In-Chief, VIBE
Jeff Weiss, Editor, Passion of the Weiss
Jeff and Eric Rosenthal, Co-owners, ItsTheReal
Justin Hunte, music360 journalist, BTSN
Justin Tinsley, Senior Sports and Culture Reporter, Andscape
Kathy Iandoli, Author of ‘God Save The Queens: The Essential History of Women In Hip-Hop’ and co-author of ‘Lil' Kim's The Queen Bee’
Kevin L. Clark, Subject To Change LLC, Producer / The Recording Academy/GRAMMY.com, Contributing writer
Mankaprr Conteh, Cultural Journalist and Rolling Stone Staff Writer
Meka Udoh, Co-founder, 2DopeBoyz / Ingrooves Music Group
Miles Marshall Lewis, Author
Naima Cochrane, Music & Culture Journalist
Roderick Scott, Vice President, Marketing Strategy, Republic Records
Shaheem Reid, Legendary journalist
Shamira Ibrahim, Culture writer & critic
Shawn Setaro, Freelance Writer and podcaster
Sowmya Krishnamurthy, Author of ‘Fashion Killa: How Hip-Hop Revolutionized High Fashion’
Ural Garrett, Freelance Journalist
William E. Ketchum III, Music & Culture Journalist
Yoh Phillips, Documentarian/music journalist, Rap Portraits
Zini Tahsini, Hip-Hop Editorial Programmer, Apple Music
GRAMMY.com's 50 Artists Who Changed Rap list was conceived and developed by:
John Ochoa: Managing Editor of Digital Media for the Recording Academy
Len Brown: Senior Project Manager of Awards and Rap, Reggae, and R&B Genre Manager for the Recording Academy
5 Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 2020s: Drake, Lil Baby, Ice Spice, 21 Savage & More
The 2020s swapped record sales for big personalities and artists with a penchant for virality. Read on for five crucial songs and albums that defined the decade.
It’s only been three years into the new decade, but a new era of hip-hop artists have already made their mark on the ever-evolving genre.
In the 2020s, social media platforms like TikTok have played a growing role in the trajectory of an artist's career. Social media has given artists like Finesse2tymes, Coi Leray, Baby Keem, Ice Spice, and others their first sign of momentum, and they have all ascended to stardom by following the same formula.
The decade has also proven to be a golden age for female rap stars, with emerging talents like Latto, Megan Thee Stallion, Sexyy Red, GloRilla, and others adding to the femme-powered charge. Male artists including Lil Durk, Fivio Foreign, Lil Baby, and others have become the leading voices of their respective cities.
Meanwhile, now-veteran MC Drake remains one of the genre's biggest names and most consistent hit-makers. Rap supernovas J. Cole, Tyler, the Creator, and Kendrick Lamar have continued to flex their culture-shifting powers in the '20s, while the legacies of late artists Nipsey Hussle, Pop Smoke, DMX, PnB Rock, Takeoff, and others have been immortalized by musical dedications, video tributes, and posthumous projects supported by those that cherished their contributions.
Sounds and styles of other regions continue to meld with those of domestic hip-hop artists. Among the biggest cross-genre trends, afrobeat, reggaeton, and afro-swing hits like Travis Scott and Rosalia’s "TKN," J Hus and Drake’s collab "Who Told You," and Chris Brown and WizKid’s "Call Me Every Day" showcase hip-hop’s musical expansion. While the 2010s pointed to the boundless nature of rap music, the genre is as socially diverse as ever in the 2020s.
From new flows, collabs, and incredible beats, hip-hop will undoubtedly continue to evolve over the next six and a half years. Read on for five releases that have defined the 2020s thus far.
Lil Baby - My Turn (2020)
Lil Baby has blossomed into one of the leading figures in Atlanta rap. He built up momentum with mixtapes Too Hard, Street Gospel, and his collaborative project with Gunna, Drip Harder. But Baby’s full ascension came with the delivery of My Turn, a culmination of his biggest street anthems and most conceptualized hits.
The 20-track project was filled with the year’s biggest trap records, which featured fellow rap stars Lil Uzi Vert, Moneybagg Yo, Future, Young Thug, Rylo Rodriguez, Lil Wayne, and 4 Pockets Full signee 42 Dugg. The album drew an all-star ensemble of beat makers too, with super-producer Hit-Boy, Murda Beatz, Tay Keith, Quay Global, Twysted Genius, and others lending a hand in the production.
My Turn earned Lil Baby his first No.1 album and topped the charts in 10 countries. And along with major sales, the single "Bigger Picture" was nominated for two GRAMMY Awards in 2021 and introduced the world to the Quality Control Music rapper on a global scale.
Tyler, the Creator - Call Me If You Get Lost (2021)
Tyler, the Creator took a sonic pivot on Flower Boy and 2019’s Igor, which earned the "See You Again" artist a broader audience and new hardware for his trophy collection. The two albums were deeply transient, personal bodies of work that showed Tyler’s artistry in ways previously unseen.
He embraced a more alternative sound that was led by harmony-driven romantic tales, punk-ish "f–you" records, and occasional flashes of the Tyler of old. But 2021’s Call Me If You Get Lost ( (hosted by legendary music executive DJ Drama) was the full return of Tyler, the MC. Although it had been years since the California-based artist showcased his lyrical prowess on a full-length project, his skills never faltered.
Tyler regained his distinct delivery from 2013’s Wolf and his older works. He flaunted his riches on the braggadocio-fueled "Runitup" and "Lemonhead," explored romanticism on "Wusyaname," and addressed his rise from unknown artist to international fixture on "Massa."
The sound of the project was largely crafted by Tyler himself with other contributions from producers Jay Versace, Madlib, and Jamie xx. The finished product was praised by critics and notched Tyler his second award for Best Rap Album at the 2022 GRAMMYs. And nearly two years after the album’s release, Tyler released a deluxe version of the album that featured eight additional songs with appearances from artists A$AP Rocky, YG, and Vince Staples.
Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022)
Before Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, it had been five years since fans heard a full-length project from Kendrick Lamar. The Compton rapper took his time with the release of his fifth studio, which was a particularly sentimental one for the "DNA." artist. Not only did it mark his first project under his new creative collective PGLang, but it also closed the book on his time at Top Dawg Entertainment.
With major changes brewing, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers was a masterful reflective body of work that mirrored Lamar’s journey in therapy. Themes surrounding alcoholism, grief, celebrity worship, infidelity and childhood trauma are sprinkled throughout the album. The conscious undertones were overlaid with richly-crafted beats by long-time collaborators DJ Dahi, J. Lbs, DJ Dahi, Sounwave, and Bekon, with additional contributions from Boi-1da, the Alchemist, and others.
The album was led by three singles, "N95," "Die Hard," and "Silent Hill" featuring Kodak Black, which helped the album shoot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was the "Alright" artist’s fourth chart-topping project and went on to earn him Best Rap Album at the 65th GRAMMY Awards and re-established his dominance in the genre.
Drake and 21 Savage - Her Loss (2022)
When one of the South’s biggest stars links up with rap’s most consistent hitmaker, it’s bound to shake up the genre. And after collaborating on songs like "Sneakin," "Issa," Mr. Right Now" and others, that’s exactly what Drake and 21 Savage’s Her Loss managed to do.
The collab came at a good time for 21 Savage, who was two years removed from Savage Mode II, and for Drake, who had just released the critically mixed dance album, Honestly, Nevermind. The 16-track album was riddled with street hits like "BackOutsideBoyz," "Rich Flex" and "Treacherous Twins."
For all the album’s peaks, controversy loomed over the project immediately after its release. On the song "Circo Loco," many fans claimed Drake dissed fellow rap star Megan Thee Stallion on the song with the lyrics, "This bitch lie 'bout gettin' shots but she still a stallion / She don't even get the joke, but she still smilin'." The story was picked up by several publications, and fan theories circulated for weeks following the album’s release.
Still, the album topped Billboard 200 with more than 400,000 album-equivalent units, replacing Taylor Swift’s Midnights from the top spot. All tracks debuted on the Billboard Hot 100, with eight of them landing in the top 10.
Ice Spice and Nicki Minaj - "Princess Diana" (2023)
Ice Spice’s "Munch (Feelin’ U)" had fans gravitating to the curly-haired Bronx native, who struck gold with the viral hit that left a new generation of men questioning whether they’re called strictly for pleasure or genuine affection. The sudden stardom opened doors for the "Bikini Bottom" MC.
After landing on magazine covers and appearing at the illustrious Met Gala, she collaborated with her idol Nicki Minaj on the hit "Princess Diana." The song was the second track on Spice’s debut EP, Like..?, but the addition of Minaj boosted her twerk-obsessed, oats-loving brand to new heights.
With the success of "Princess Diana," the two artists collaborated again on the Barbie movie soundtrack song "Barber World (with Aqua)." The collabs only added to her series of Internet smashes, a list that includes records like "Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2" and "In Ha Mood." She still has a long way to go for her success to be proven substantial, but Spice has already established herself as the hottest commodity in the 2020s.