Nothing pisses me off more than untalented people getting praise, while talented artists go unnoticed. When hip hop went "pop" in the late ‘90s, it changed the rap game forever. The MTV machine pushed numerous wack-ass rappers into the limelight while real hip hop acts were overshadowed by pop garbage. The backlash to this movement fueled true MCs to make real hip hop records and thanks to the internetz, most of these artists are getting’ some love.
Here are our picks for the Top 7 most underrated MCs of all time...
7. Busta Rhymes
I’m sure everybody loves Busta Rhymes, but I still feel like we take this dude for granted. We tend to forget that this man has been in the hip hop game for a very long time and has put out some really amazing rap tracks.
Trevor Smith, Jr was giving his rap name by Chuck D of Public Enemy after he saw him perform in the late ‘80s. Busta Rhymes started his professional rap career as a member of Leaders of the New School in the early ‘90s and released two albums with the crew before breaking out with his 1996 solo classic “The Coming.” I can still remember how blown away I was the first time I heard "Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check." Busta was so unique and he had one of the sickest flows on the planet. ”I make sure everything we make is raw!”
Mr. Rhymes showed his true genius when he released E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front in 1998. I’ve always felt that Busta was fearless as an MC and never got true respect he deserves. He’s the mad-hatter of the game! Very few mainstream rappers take chances anymore.
Here's Busta and ODB doin' a wacky remix of "Woo Hah!!"...
6. Black Thought
This man is so underrated it’s ridiculous.
Tariq Luqmaan Trotter, better known as Black Thought, is the lead MC of the legendary Philadelphia hip hop group The Roots. Not only has Thought and the Roots crew put done some of the greatest hip hop records of all time, he has also stayed true to the art. Very few MCs are rapping about African child soldiers and the violence they have to deal with. He spits complex and politically aware lyrical content like no one else. Black Thought in a league by himself. He’s got crazy freestyle ability, intelligence and puts down enthralling live performances. What can I say?
Here’s Black Thought spitting a freestlye that will surely make your head explode…
5. Del tha Funkee Homosapien
Damn is this man dope on the mic.
Cousin of west coast legend Ice Cube, Del tha Funkee Homosapien began his career writing lyrics for Cube's backing band, Da Lench Mob. In 1991, at the age of 19 and with the help of Ice Cube, Del released his first solo album, I Wish My Brother George Was Here. Even though the album was a commercial success, Del decided to take matters into his own hands and go completely solo.
With his sophomore release of No Need for Alarm, Del began his collaboration with the famous Oakland outfit Hieroglyphics, whose original members included the acclaimed Souls of Mischief, Domino, Casual, Snupe, and Pep Love.
The 1998 Hieroglyphics LP 3rd Eye Vision is one of the most underrated rap records of all-time. One of the standout tracks “At The Helm,” has a solo Mr. Homosapien tearing the mic a new one. This cat is so versatile it’s absolutely ridiculous. Del has rapped on tracks with Handsome Boy Modeling School, Gorillaz and even Dinosaur Jr. I’m convinced that this dude could rap over anything. Very few MCs can accomplish that these days. With all of the wack one dimensional rappers on the scene, Del has always been a breath of fresh air to the genre.
Here’s a Del “At The Helm”…
Brooklyn native Anthony Cruz is a favorite among diehard hip hop heads, but is lesser known by the mainstream rap crowd. And it’s a damn shame.
AZ first appeared on Nas' Illmatic track "Life's a Bitch" in 1994 and soon released his underground classic Doe Or Die in 1995. This record got more critical acclaim than commercial sales, but it’s unbelievable all the same. He also had a short-lived stint with the Dr. Dre super group The Firm.
I definitely think AZ one of the greatest rappers as far as lyrical skill and hip hop longevity. AZ’s style and flow are instantly recognizable and his skills are almost on par with his friend and fellow New Yorker Nas. Yeah, I said it! Life’s a Bitch and then you die!
Here's a Do Or Die Classic...
3. Big L
Harlem MC Lamont Coleman, AKA Big L was known for his sick freestyle abilities, vivid storytelling genius and wicked humor. L was a classic New York MC in every sense of the word and was on track to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Unfortunately, he left us far too soon.
Big L signed to Columbia records in 1993 and released his first single, Devil’s Son, but the song was banned from radio due to the controversial lyrics. Due to the animosity of the song, Lamont’s debut album, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous, was hardly promoted and didn’t make a dent on the charts. Eventually, he was dropped from the label. Idiots.
Big L founded his own label, Flamboyant Entertainment, and released the classic street singles “Ebonics,” “Size ‘Em Up” and “Flamboyant.” These tracks eventually made their way on to his posthumous sophomore Rawkus Records release The Big Picture. Even with somewhat dated production, both of these records are classics and they show the true genius Big L.
There are few mainstream hip hop acts out today that can even touch this dude. Jay-Z was even going to sign him to his Roc-A-Fella label, but L was fatally shot a week before at the age of 24. Damn shame. RIP Big L.
Listen to L slay Jay-Z in a freestyle…
2. Mos Def
The reason why Mos is so high on this list is because Black on Both Sides is hands down one of the greatest hip hop records ever made, and more people need to recognize that sh*t. He’s also one of the greatest lyricists ever. Ever.
At a time when rappers were trying to mimic Tupac and Biggie, Mos decided to make his own way.
Mos Def began his professional music career in 1996 in the short-lived group Urban Thermo Dynamics with his younger brother DCQ and his younger sister Ces. After signing with Rawkus Records, Mos Def and Talib Kweli formed the group Black Star, and released the full-length classic Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star. The combination of Mos, Talib and Hi-Tek was an instant hip hop super group.
In 1999, Mos released his solo debut Black on Both Sides. I consider this album one of the few ‘perfect’ hip hop records ever made. I say this because Mos pretty much hits every musically mark on the map. His LP has street songs, smooth soul tunes and even a punk track. What other single MCs were trying to attempt this at the time? Or better yet, how many rappers could pull it off? The guy was rapping about numeral systems and world water shortages craps sake!
Like I got, sixteen to thirty-two bars to rock it
but only 15% of profits, ever see my pockets like
sixty-nine billion in the last twenty years
spent on national defense but folks still live in fear
This freestyle always gives me chills…
1. MF Doom
I might get a lot of crap for putting Doom on the top of this list, but I honestly don’t care. You’re probably just mad because he sends imposters to his live shows.
Daniel Dumile also know as MF Doom, King Geedorah, Metal Fingers and Viktor Vaughn has been doin’ his thing since the early ‘90s. As Zev Love X, he formed the political hip hop trio KMD with his younger brother DJ Subroc and Onyx the Birthstone Kid. After their second record Black Bastards was shelved due to the album's controversial cover art, the group was subsequently dropped from their label. Too cold.
After losing his brother in 1993 to a freak traffic accident, Dumile dropped out of the hip hop scene completely and basically became homeless. In the late ‘90s, he settled in Atlanta to recover from his wounds and swore revenge against the “industry that so badly deformed him." Enter the mask!
Doom went on to release a handful of underground hip hop records under a number of different aliases. In March 2004, Doom teamed up with the multitalented Malib and dropped the instant classic Madvillainy. This album is pure gold. If you can’t appreciate this record you don’t deserve to listen to hip hop.
Doom has one of the most unique flows in the business. He took the rhyme style handbook and rewrote the damn thing. The man is a genius. Doom has gone on to work with DANGERDOOM/Danger Mouse), Gorillaz, and even Ghostface Killa.
Here’s "All Caps"…
Honorable Mentions: Royce Da 5'9, Canibus, Redman, Treach, Krayzie Bone, Jadakiss, MURS, Pharoah Monch, Kool Keith, Lupe Fiasco, Andre 3000