Rap is popular in the UK, but it’s nowhere near as popular as it is across the US. After all, the US is the home of rap and hip hop.

DJ Kool Herc known as the Founder of Hip-Hop as he focused on the instrumental breaks and rhythmically spoke over them. Rap originated from African-American and Jamaican culture through jazz and funk.

This is how rap got its start.

In this article, we’ll look at the best rappers in the US. Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the most successful American rappers.

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Jay-Z

Jay-Z is more than just a rapper. He’s a businessman and America’s highest-earning rapper. With an estimated worth of 1 billion dollars, he’s considered one of rap’s legends.

Who are the most successful rappers of all time?
Jay-Z is one of the most successful rappers of all time. (Source: freestocks-photos)
  • 21 Grammy Awards
  • Over 100 million albums sold
  • At least 3 albums that are considered absolute classics.

Real name Shawn Corey Carter, Jay-Z is an accomplished rapper and producer who’s worked with artists such as Rihanna, Iggy Azalea, DJ Khaled, Calvin Harris, Timbaland, Shakira, and Demi Lovato.

However, he’s most famous for his rapping and across his many successful albums, he's covered themes such as racism in American society.

He’s known for tracks like Dead Presidents II, Brooklyn’s Finest, Big Pimpin’, Can’t Know the Hustle, Empire State of Mind, and APESHIT.

Find out more about rap

Eminem

How can we talk about rap without mentioning Marshall Bruce Mathers III, also known as Eminem?

This legendary rapper grew up in the American Midwest and as a child, he was often bullied and even suffered severe head injuries at the hands of one of his bullies. To put it simply, Eminem’s childhood was complicated.

Where is Eminem from?
Eminem grew up in the American Midwest and spent a lot of time in Detroit. (Source: geniuserp)

“The truth is you don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.” - Eminem

He started rapping aged 14 and would take part in rap battles in Detroit where he found some success. It was a slow start and his debut album Infinite wasn’t much of a success but the Slim Shady EP was.

In 1999, The Slim Shady LP was one of the most popular albums of the year with the hit My Name Is. He worked with Dr. Dre on several songs. Eminem’s success continued with The Marshall Mathers LP in 2000.

He remained popular throughout the 2000s until taking a break in 2007 with the comeback album Relapse in 2008. Since then, he's released six more albums and is one of the biggest rap artists and was dubbed the King of hip-hop by Rolling Stone magazine.

Lose Yourself, which was featured in the film 8 Mile, is one of his biggest hits.

Check out our favourite British rap songs

Kanye West

Kanye West is more than just the guy that married Kim Kardashian and supported Donald Trump. He rose to fame as a rapper and won several Grammy Awards for his works as a producer at Roc-A-Fella records and Jay-Z’s 2001 The Blueprint album.

His career as a rapper started in 2002 when he recorded Through the Wire, a song that he recorded while his jaw was wired shut following a car accident. Two years later, his album The College Dropout was released to critical acclaim.

In 2010, he released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Throughout his career, he’s created and worked on songs such as Stronger, POWER, Runaway, Fade, Love Lockdown and Gold Digger with Jamie Foxx.

Kanye West is also known for his issues with bipolar disorder and outrageous claims. He’s also known for causing controversies and clashes with artists like Wiz Khalifa, Drake, and his ex-girlfriend Amber Rose.

One of his most popular songs, Stronger, sampled Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

2Pac

2Pas is probably a rapper deserving of the title “legendary”. Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in Harlem, New York City, and was successful during the early 90s until his murder in 1996 in Las Vegas.

Starting with his 1991 album 2Pacalypse Now, 2Pac released several albums. He’s known for his feuds with rappers like his former friend Biggie Smalls. His last album All Eyez on Me is considered one of the greatest rap albums of all time.

He’s remembered as a rap genius and there were even albums posthumously released with previously unreleased tracks on them.

Check out our favourite British rappers

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Snoop Dogg

Calvin Cordozar Broadus is better known as Snoop Dogg (Snoop Doggy Dogg, Snoop Lion, Snoopzilla, etc.) is a West Coast rapper and one of the most famous American rappers of all time. He’s known for his rapping, acting, and other hobbies.

When did Snoop Dogg release his first album?
Snoop Dogg's first album was released way back in 1993! (Source: Positive_Images)

In addition to his music and 18 albums across 3 decades, he’s also known for his fondness for drugs including cannabis. He’s famous for his lethargic and slow style of rapping.

He’s collaborated with plenty of other artists on tracks including:

  • Still D.R.E. with Dr. Dre
  • Drop It Like It’s Hot with Pharrell Williams
  • Young, Wild and Free with Wiz Khalifa and Bruno Mars
  • Sweat with David Guetta
  • Big Pimpin’ with Daz Dillinger
  • All About U with 2Pac, Outlawz, and Nate Dogg
  • Crybaby with Mariah Carey
  • P.I.M.P. with 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, and Young Buck
  • California Gurls with Katy Perry
  • All I Do Is Win with DJ Khaled, T-Pain, Ludacris, and Rick Ross
  • I Wanna Love You with Akon
  • Signs with Justin Timberlake and Charlie Wilson
  • Wiggle with Jason Derulo
  • Buttons with Pussycat Dolls
  • HANGOVER with PSY

The Notorious B.I.G.

Christopher George Latore Wallace, more commonly known as The Notorious B.I.G or Biggie is an American rap legend. He was also Tupac’s rival. He was considered one of the greatest rappers of all time and following his murder, he became the stuff of legend.

In 1994, Biggie released his first album Ready to Die, a fine example of East Coast rap. The East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry escalated with Biggie’s shooting in Los Angeles in 1997 just 16 days before the release of his second album, Life After Death.

Biggie was at the top of his game when he died and his tracks will be remembered as classics.

Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar is a popular Californian rapper who first experienced success in the early 2000s and with critical acclaim coming in the 2010s with his album To Pimp A Butterfly in 2015 and DAMN. in 2017 earning him Grammy Awards, American Music Awards, a Brit Award, and MTV Video Music Awards.

Where is Kendrick Lamar from?
Kendrick Lamar, like many other successful rappers, hails from Compton.

Lamar was included in Billboard’s list of the 10 greatest rappers of all time and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018.

His most popular songs include HUMBLE., Pray for Me, DNA. and Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.

Check out our favourite American rap songs

Nas

Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones is better known as Nas, an East Coast rapper who got his start in 1991. His first album Illmatic went double platinum.

He released iconic songs like Nas Is Like, The Message, I Can, and Hate Me Now on the Columbia and Def Jam labels.

Dr. Dre

Dr. Dre is an American rap legend. Andre Romelle Young, better known as Dr. Dre is a rapper from Compton in California, much like Ice Cube and Easy-E, and is famous for being a member of N.W.A.

He’s the first hip-hop producer to win a Grammy Award for Producer of the Year in 2001. Before that, he’d made a name for himself with successes like the 1992 The Chronic album that went quadruple platinum.

He’s launched the careers of artists and Eminem, Snoop Dog, The Game, 2Pac, and Mary J. Blige are just a few of the artists that owe their careers to him.

Nicki Minaj

Onika Tanya Maraj is better known as Nicki Minaj, a Trinidadian-American rapper who grew up in New York. Her career began in 2005 but it really took off with a mixtape in 2007 and joining Young Money Entertainment in 2009.

Her success has been non-stop since the release of her first album Pink Friday to her latest (as of 2021) Queen. She’s collaborated with artists like Tyga, Young Thug, Gucci, Mane, French Montana, Lil’ Wayne, Drake, Ariana Grande, KAROL G, Major Lazer, and BTS.

Her music videos have millions of views on YouTube and each of her collaborations have been hugely successful. While there are plenty of other rappers out there, she’s still often considered the queen of rap.

These aren’t the only American rappers we could have mentioned, though. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

  • Ice Cube
  • Missy Elliott
  • Lil’ Kim
  • Lil’ Wayne
  • Queen Latifah
  • 50 Cent
  • Cardi B
  • Easy-E
  • Wu-Tang Clan
  • Rakim
  • Lauryn Hill
  • P. Diddy
  • André 3000
  • Megan Thee Stallion

Here are some of the biggest American rappers and some of their most famous songs.

ArtistYears ActiveBest AlbumFirst SongLatest Song (as of April 2021)Best Song
Dr. Dre1984-presentThe ChronicDeep CoverTalk About ItStill D.R.E.
Ice Cube1984-presentDeath CertificateAmeriKKKa's Most WantedTrying to MaintainIt Was a Good Day
Rakim1985-presentThe 18th LetterEric B. Is PresidentWalk These StreetsWhen I B On Tha Mic
Eazy-E1986-1995Eazy-Duz-ItEazy-Duz-ItIt's OnReal Muthaphuckkin G's
Eminem1988-presentThe Marshall Mathers LPInfiniteTone DeafLose Yourself
Queen Latifah1988-presentBlack ReignDance For MeFast CarU.N.I.T.Y.
Tupac Shakur1989-1996All Eyez On MeTrappedPac's LifeHit 'Em Up
Jay Z1990-presentReasonable DoubtIn My LifetimeApeshitDead Presidents II
The Notorious B.I.G.1991-1997Ready To DieJuicyReady To DieJuicy
Snoop Dogg1991-presentDoggystyleWho Am I (What's My Name)?Look AroundWho Am I (What's My Name)?
Missy Elliott1991-presentUnder ConstructionThe Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)Cool OffWork It
Nas1991-presentlllmaticHalftimeEPMDThe Message
Lil Kim1991-presentThe Naked TruthNo TimePray For MeCrush On You
P. Diddy (Sean Combs)1991-presentForeverCan't Nobody Hold Me DownWatcha Gon' Do?I'll Be Missing You
André 3000 (Outkast)1991-presentAquemniPlayer's BallMe&My (To Bury Your Parents)Mrs. Jackson
Wu-Tang Clan1992-presentEnter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)Protect Ya NeckLesson Learn'dC.R.E.A.M.
Lauryn Hill1994-presentThe Miseducation Of Lauryn HillLost OnesNeurotic SocietyDoo Wop (That Thing)
Lil Wayne1995-presentTha Carter IIITha Blcok is HotAin't Got TimeA Milli
Kanye West1996-presentMy Beautiful Dark Twisted FantastyThrough the Wire Wash Us In The Blood Ni**as in Paris
50 Cent 1996-presentGet Rich or Die Tryin' Your Life On The Line Part of the Game What Up Gangsta
Kendrick Lamar 2002-presentTo Pimp A ButterflyIgnorance Is BlissPray For MeMoney Trees
Nicki Minaj2005-presentQueenMassive AttackYikesStarships
Cardi B2013-presentInvasion of PrivacyCheap Ass WeaveUpI Like It
Megan Thee Stallion2016-presentGood NewsLike a StallionMovieSavage

Now you should know a little more about American rappers. To find out more about rap from both sides of the pond, check out our other articles. You can also get help with rapping and music from a private tutor on Superprof.

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Joseph

Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.