The 10 Most Influential Folks in Hip-Hop History

As Black History Month comes to a close, the AHH Community – AllHipHop’s rabid not-so-secret secret society – would like to spotlight the top 10 Hip-Hop artists (in no specific order) who’ve had the biggest impact on America. From entrepreneurs to DJs and rappers. These artists represent the culture of Hip-Hop and embody black excellence.



It took way too long to convince the world at large that hip-hop was more of a legitimate art-form than simply “retards attempting poetry,” and the trio from Hollis, Queens, were no doubt the main pioneers in that regard. After releasing a stream of critically acclaimed albums, all the while schooling the world on fashion, the previously exclusive club of heavy metal guitarists on MTV became Run’s House. After permanently embedding their Adidas footprints on the globe to the tune of a groundbreaking $1.6 million endorsement deal, the group pulled a game changer collaborating with Aerosmith and essentially birthed mainstream hip-hop. Although Jam Master Jay was tragically murdered in 2002, the group was formally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. The first rap group to bring home a platinum plaque and get a major endorsement deal.



Regardless of how you feel about Hov, the man really started from the bottom and managed to mold himself into a multi-millionaire. Next to the phrase “Renaissance Man” in the dictionary there is a picture of Jay-Z (hopefully with a scantily-clad Beyonce by his side). Shawn Carter couldn’t get a record deal when he first started, so with the help of Dame, Biggs, and Irv Gotti, he created Roc-A-Fella records, and ascended to the heights of rap stardom by sampling the movie Annie with the smash single “Hard Knock Life.” Scores of successful summers followed suit, and now Jay-Z is regarded by many as one of the greatest rappers of all time– not to mention an extremely shrewd businessman, or business, man ! In his 2011 book, Decode, Jay speaks about how young executives get hype for board meetings by listening to “Public Service Announcement” from The Black Album. Jay showed that a former Marcy Projects hustler could climb the corporate ladder, most recently with his sports agency Roc Nation Sports.

Ice Cube


It may be shocking to hear this, but before Ice Cube made critical hood classic cinema like Friday and Barbershop, he was a rapper– and one of the greatest I might add. Just as Walter Kronkite’s frank reporting about Vietnam informed an otherwise ignorant nation of the horrors of war, Ice Cube’s raps (and the raps he wrote for NWA) exposed the world to the gritty everyday reality of living in Compton. His post-NWA work like AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and Death Certificate Cube spoke fearlessly about the racial prejudices of American society in the form of musical masterpieces. Nowadays some ignorant people regard Cube as a sell-out because he has elected to expand his artistic horizons, but anyone that has the mistaken notion that Cube isn’t one of the most influential rappers to black culture needs to immediately study their tape of NWA.

Lauryn Hill


Although there were examples of strong black female voices in hip-hop before the arrival of Lauryn Hill (Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, etc.) the former Refugee proved to be leaps and bounds above her talented predecessors. Even though Pras and Wyclef had skills on the mic, mostly everyone tends to agree with the notion that the princess was the one most were checking for. This feeling only magnified when Ms. Hill released one of the finest albums of all time in 1998, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, proving with songs like “Doo Wop (That Thing),” “Lost Ones,” and “Ex-Factor” that what she spit had the power to uplift and heal. Not only did Hill become the first black woman to secure 10 separate Grammy nominations, but the first woman period. To the misfortune of us all, she decided to take a hiatus almost immediately about her magnificent solo debut. Hill resurfaced in the early 2000s with an incredible MTV Unplugged performance, featuring new material like “The Mystery of Iniquity” which Kanye would “sample” for his smash hit “All Falls Down,” on College Dropout. Even if Lauryn decides never to release another project, her place as one of the most influential female artists is firmly established.

Public Enemy

Yo! Bum Rush The Show is the title of Public Enemy’s first album, and it couldn’t be more fitting. Although previously rappers had made conscious material, nobody ever came close to doing it with the sheer tenacity of Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, and the rest of PE. On the heels of their debut album, the group released what many refer to as the greatest hip-hop record ever made with 1988’s “It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back”. In terms of lyrical content, it’s a bit of an understatement to say that Chuck D didn’t mince words, because the songs featured on the album are along the lines of what Malcolm X would create if he were an emcee, especially “Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos.” Their 1990 follow-up Fear of a Black Planet continued in the same vein, with the singles “911 is a Joke” and “Fight The Power,” the latter of which provided the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s magnum opus, “Do The Right Thing”. We will not get into “Flavor of Love,” but the group’s strikingly consistent catalogue and fearless lyrics make them unarguably one of the greatest and most influential hip-hop groups of all time.



There are some artists that simply transcend whatever music genre they come to prominence, and in terms of hip-hop, there is no single artist that represents this phenomenon more than 2pac. Mired in controversy for the entirety of his career, 2pac was able to touch on issues plaguing African-Americans while at the same time crafting some of the greatest party anthems to date. In terms of being a role model for young black males, 2pac’s actions were not always the most sound, but his voice arguably did more to heighten the collective self-esteem of oppressed, impoverished minorities the world over. However, 2pac was not only a talented musician, but a great poet The Rose That Grew From Concrete as well as a great actor (“Poetic Justice, Juice, etc.). When one looks through the vast catalogue of 2pac’s art, it seems almost impossible that a man was able to create so much poignant content in a mere 25 years. Since his demise, great hip-hop artists have come to fruition, but there will never be another quite like ‘Pac.



Just like Lauryn Hill took the work of her predecessors to the next level, Rakim’s dynamic way of reciting rhymes ultimately led to the creation of Illmatic– an album that is the true definition of perfect. From the tone-setting sample from the film Wild Style on “Genesis” to the braggadocio rhymes of “It Ain’t Hard To Tell,” Nas’ debut album provided a perfect blend of realistic storytelling and a level of lyricism fans were not accustomed to. Even though the “Takeover” version of Jay-Z would dare to differ, Nas kept the fire ignited throughout his career, with only a few creative stumbles along the way. While most artists seem to lose that fire when they hit a certain age, Nas has shown no signs of slowing down as his critically acclaimed latest effort Life is Good attests to.

Russell Simmons


The legendary founder of Hip-Hop’s crown jewel Def Jam, Russell Simmons co-founded the iconic label with college friend Rick Rubin. Together the two went on to build a powerhouse of some of Hip-Hop’s Greatest Names such as LL Cool J, Public Enemy, EPMD, and the legendary Roc-A-Fella Records. Russell Simmons later went on to pave the way for entrepreneurship in Hip-Hop by starting Phat Farm fashions and Baby Phat with wife Kimora Lee and even financial service companies like the Rush Card. Today Russell volunteers his time penning New York Times Best Sellers, and voicing awareness to promote voting within the black community and financial freedom. Russell Simmons is the ambassador for Hip-Hop all around the world.

Afrika Bambaataa


The originator of breakbeat Djing and also one of the first to introduce and revolutionize turntables in Hip-Hop. Afrika Bambaataa (or Kevin Donovan) was heavily influenced by the black liberation movement and civil rights which would later serve as a staple in his music and bring social commentary to the black community. A former gang member, Afrika Bambaataa turned a negative into a positive, leaving his gang background behind to become a musician and using his influence to spread positivity. Bambaataa helped launch the careers of Fab Five Freddy, Run DMC, and the Rock Steady crew among others. Afrika Bambaataa single handedly created 2 of the four key elements in Hip-Hop – DJing and breakdancing.

DJ Kool Herc


Often regarded as the originator of Hip-Hop in 1973, the Jamaican born DJ started Hip-Hop August 11th, 1973. Kool Herc decided to throw a party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue where Grandmaster Caz, Grandmaster Flash, Busy Bee, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Red Alert, Sheri Sher, Mean Gene and KRS-One would show up to perform. The famous party from then on influenced a cultural movement which would later serve as a platform for urban youth to overcome all odds within their communities and use the power of music to craft a way of life. Today Kool Herc still DJs and also acts as an ambassador for Hip-Hop educating people on the history of Hip-Hop and it’s significance. The famous 1520 Sedgwick Avenue also serves as a New York landmark being called “the birthplace of Hip-Hop”.

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96 Responses to “The 10 Most Influential Folks in Hip-Hop History”

  1. Dope

    Ice Cube doesn’t really fit on here. He is a legend for sure, but not on the level of these other dudes. His contribution is simply too average to be on a list like this one. That’s just being real and coming from a Cube fan..
    Also, it’s painfully obvious this is supposed to be a ”black list”. At least The Beastie Boys belong up there instead of Cube for breaking the color boundaries of hip hop music and paving the way for the likes of Eminem. Or maybe Eminem himself instead, for bringing in more audience to hip hop than most average rappers combined. Hate him or love him, he did influence a lot of people (sure, white people mostly and that’s why it doesn’t count, right?) to listen to rap and buy the records which is what enabled any average rapper back in early 00’s to go platinum with their shit.

  2. $18592567

    No Puff Daddy? No Rakim? No Biggie? No Ma$e? No UGK? No Scarface? No Dr. Dre? No A Tribe Called Quest? No Kanye West? No Wu Tang Clan? No Boogie Down Productions? No Hypnotize Minds 3-6?

    This list is wack af…

      • reg joe

        The name of the group is ” A Tribe called Quest,” hence their usual abbreviation ATCQ. That’s why he put the A in there. Its awkward that you would try and change their name instead of saying it as it actually is.

      • Brindle

        I agree with the technical name of the group… never hear no one use the “A” in convo… you hear Tribe Called Quest, Tribe, or Quest… its kinda like saying Notorious B.I.G, instead of biggie… should i say biggie’s name exactly how it is?

      • B. Graham

        Technically, Really23 is correct. It’s “A Tribe Called Quest”. That’s why folks always abbreviate it w/ ATCQ and not TCQ. But throwing out Diddy, Ma$e and Kanye is some questionable ish however!!

      • Brindle

        I agree with the technical name of the group… never hear no one use the “A” in convo… you hear Tribe Called Quest, Tribe, or Quest… its kinda like saying Notorious B.I.G, instead of biggie…

    • water_ur_seeds

      Why would Puff make the list when Russell Simmons is on the list, Russ laid the blueprint for Puff? Y

      You could also argue King T should be on the list as he influenced BIG to use his style…

      Dre or Above the Law could be on here for making the new skool West Coast sound with the high synths… Even Warren G for his G Funk movement…

    • reg joe

      What? I disagree. L-Boogie is one of the greatest Femcees to grace it. What IceCube did for NWA alone makes him worthy of this list

      • B. Graham

        Lauren Hill is a traveler through HIpHop. No way she can spit verses like MC Lyte or Jean Grey.

      • ZUBU

        “MC Lyte or Jean Grey”
        I concur the best two female rappers possibly all-time. None of these women can touch either of them!

  3. yesanditcounts

    Good list, but you gotta add Rakim. Rakim’s importance can’t be denied. He is the father of the new style of rap. Before him it was mostly party style rapping. He came with the lyrical laid back style that’s still in use today. Without him you don’t have a Nas, Jay-Z or Biggie. The 1987 album “Paid in Full” was one of, if not the starting point of the “Golden Era of Hip-Hop”.

    • water_ur_seeds

      I agree to an extent, but for me G Rap was the first of the ‘new style’ rapping, his flow was totally new and pretty much new skool, plus it was the first of the ‘mafiaso’ style rap… But yeah Rakim changed the game with his style and content, but you could say Chuck D was spitting his kinda content first…

      • yesanditcounts

        I love Kool G. too, but he didn’t record his first studio album until 1989. By then Rakim had already been out two years with two studio albums that were huge hits.

      • water_ur_seeds

        I know man but that doesnt change what G Rap done, his flow and content was still new…

    • Opposite Of Everyone

      Ultra had changed the game via T La Rocks diversion a few years before Ra came out the burbs…

  4. Mike

    Master P changed the game and showed artist you can make hundreds of millions being independent . P was and is the only artist to get a 80/20 deal and keep his masters. P is the best hustler in Rap History dude always finding a new venture to get paper.P was the first hip hop artist worth $600 Million in his prime. He was the first rapper you heard making movies, phone sex lines, gas stations, cloths, rims, car audio, and etc.

    • Whodi

      Man this list was made by a New York nigga for New York niggas. There are folk outta the south the lay ground work that should be on that list as far as influence goes. People like ugk, outcast, scare face even my nigga wayne left a big mark on the game.

    • R. Marshall

      Cube had faaar more influence that Rakim. Ra’s got better bars, but Cube’s reach went far – especially when you consider that he took on NWA and won.

  5. Immortal

    I can’t get behind Lauren Hill being on this list. She has some verses with the FuGee’s, and ONE album that was a classic. Got it. McLyte…how long in the game, with multiple albums with classics galore? You could’ve added Soulja Boy because he pioneered the use of social media that everyone uses today. Have to give the scrub credit. Rakim is a no brainer. BD Kane also. He proved that you don’t have to be a “thug” to make good music at the time, and many wrappers today are like him. Drake anyone? You could even add the US Penal system being for awhile to make a serious album you had to do at least a year in PC in some cases with a bodyguard doing time with you to make a hit. Everyone that went in, came out with a hit…except Lil Kim. She just got more surgery and bleaching cream. 50 because he took hating on another to new levels. Tipper Gore for the lovely label that has appeared on every stinkin ablum since the late 80’s with any questionable language on it. Al Gore, the “father….BS BS” of the internet. Each and everyone had a impact on wrap and Hip Hop, so it’s too hard to narrow it down to just 10

    • Bryan Kyser

      It don’t matter how many albums Mc lyte has. If no one hears them, it don’t mean shit. That dyke is garbage either way.

      • B. Graham

        @bryankyser:disqus-You are an IDIOT!!! You prob a dude that thinks Nikki Minaj is GOAT cuz she has some ass! GTFOH!!!

      • Bryan Kyser

        Nicki Minaj is even more garbage than Mc lyte. Lauryn Hill shits on both of them

        Mc lyte released lyte as a rock and has been irrelevant ever since.

        IDGAF if she continues loitering and lingering around preaching bullshit begging for as many awards as she can – she could NEVER touch Ms. Lauryn Hill, even on her best day! #FACTS!

      • Immortal

        I had to think a second before even responding to ignorance like what you just said. If you have to regress to name calling, then what you said really doesn’t make a bit of difference and only shows the ignorance, ineptitude, and incompetence of the writer. You even showed your homophobic card by calling her a dyke. What she does in her spare time has nothing to do with you, nor anyone you know, so why call her that? Upset that she’s not into you, or are you not man enough for her? I’m not even going to vote you down because that would validate what you said. You take care and have a good day sir.

  6. World Dominator

    You LEFT OFF one of NOT only the most foundational characters in Hip Hop history, but today is influencing in more ways than the rest….. RUSSELL SIMMONS, who STARTED DEF JAM Records in his college dorm room, & HE, NOT Russell signed & produced LL COOL J, PUBLIC ENEMY, BEASTIE BOYS & single handedly crossed Hip Hop over to the mainstream that we have Worldwide today, when he matched RUN-DMC up with rock legends AEROSMITH & crushed MTV, Radio & the World with ‘Walk This Way’! RICK RUBIN is one of the MOST INFLUENTIAL Folks in Hip Hop & Music history!


    Busta Rhymes deserves a place… He raised the bar when it comes to music videos performance… I still don’t see any nigga doing anything close to what he was doing… And a lot of artists (Eminem, Ludacris, Lil wayne, etc…) were influenced by it…

  8. ZUBU

    “Kool Herc decided to throw a party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue where Grandmaster Caz, Grandmaster Flash, Busy Bee, Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Red Alert, Sheri Sher, Mean Gene and KRS-One would show up to perform.”

    I don’t agree with the entire list some people are missing. Yet when I read the above statement and KRS-1 was listed as having performed at the initial party. I had to check who wrote this hmm… If I recall KRS-1 was born in 1965, so that would have made him approx. 8 years old in 1973. As great as KRS is I don’t think Chris was rocking the mic at 8. Editing, Proof-read,Peace………

    • A.D

      KR-S One what i heard from a interview of him as well he accidentally become a rapper he went to a show were people were battling each other and a Mc picked him or somthing like that he got on stage and then the guy was ripping it out of him or somthing on them line its in the film what ice-T made something from nothing art of rap

  9. water_ur_seeds

    Lauryn was one of the first female mc’s to sing and rap from what I can think of off the top… Plus it had a mix of consciousness and soul, defo influential…

    Beastie Boys or MC Serch could have a spot for influencing white MC’s…

    G Rap should be on the list to, he was a game changer and the first to be spitting mafia style rhymes with a totally new style, using multisyllables and mc-ing in a new skool way…

    Coke La Rock is credited as being the first rapper/MC, so I think he should have a spot to IMO, he was Herc’s best friend to from what I can remember…

    • Opposite Of Everyone

      dimples d sang and rapped so could say she was first in that respect; although I think Lisa Lee did as well before that…

      names that should’ve been mentioned for their influence on the artform include –
      T La Rock
      G rap
      Marley Marl

      • water_ur_seeds

        Not in the style that Lauryn done though, in soulful and conscious style and like the article says:

        ‘Not only did Hill become the first black woman to secure 10 separate Grammy nominations, but the first woman period.’

        Thats pretty influential haha

      • Joe

        Nas is one of the greatest and deserves a spot, but Eminem more so. It’s 2014 and after the legendary career Em has had, it is hard to believe that a good portion of Hip Hop culture is still trying to downplay his enormous accomplishments. In my opinion he is only behind Pac in legendary status and impact. Eminem has been a movement, but since he impacted the white audience the most, these little bullshit websites like to downplay his impact. My favorite comment about Em is that when people acknowledge that he will murder the best rappers in the game, but his subject matter doesn’t appeal to me. Who gives a shit if his subject matter appeals to you, it appeals to millions of others and he is a better rapper than your favorite rapper. Of course he isn’t black though.

  10. Isaac Hayes

    Kool Herc and Public Enemy should always be on the list. Shout out to the Geto Boys , Suave House Records, 2 Live Crew and Uncle Luke.

      • Isaac Hayes

        I’m not mad at Lauryn Hill being on the list she is nice. You are entitled to your opinion but keep the album sales out the convo. Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer sold more records than most of the kats on this list. You don’t have to dis Lyte to make your point but with that said their would not be a Lauryn Hill without MC Lyte and others.

      • Bryan Kyser

        Ok, we won’t mention album sales. Like was stated, Ms. Lauryn Hill’s one album destroys lyte’s.


    How you can measure one damn Lauren Hill to the accomplishments of Queen Latifah in the entire game of Hip Hop and Entertainment is beyond me. Positive rap, Flava Unit Records-Film, Naughty By Nature, film, Jazz singer, executive produces her own films and tv shows (the Steve Martin film and Single Ladies) Cover girl Queen collection, her foundation… one damn album!! Really? That’s some personal “like” and not a power influence. Come on and do your homework young journalist. This is semi-booty.
    And I would have gone NWA over Cube as that movement changed RAP as we know it–and birthed Dre, Cube and even Snoop. HELL–even P. Diddy! This is like saying Lincoln was the first U.S. President and not Washington. CHECK ya REAL History-Herstory. Disappointing.

    • Opposite Of Everyone

      Agreed; Lauren ain’t strictly hip-hop in my book either for that matter… never heard her embrace the other elements of the culture..

      BUT, NWA didn’t birth DRE; he was 10 years deep in the game prior to that; and Cube came out in what, 85 with C.I.A? Whilst the influence of NWA was highly significant (even though they were directly influenced by Ice T and Schooly D in their stylings) it was unfortunately not a positive influence. For it was through them that MCA craftily plotted the rise and takeover of Gangsta rap, and those of us who lived in the eras of hip-hop prior to it know exactly how that worked out for hip-hop culture…

      on the matter of Femcees however; I tend to concur with the succinct utterances of Richie Balance on the matter – “tyin up female rappers with extension cords, duct tape they mouth, they don’t need to by rhymin”.

    • R. Marshall

      You must be mad young. Off the top of my head, LL, Will Smith and Ice-T were all multi-plat and acting before Snoop even dropped a demo.

      And his influence is minimal at best outside of Cali and weed spots.

      KRS, the Beasties, and the the rappers I mentioned are the only cats missing from this list – but there’s no one I would remove.

      • CJ MAC

        Naw bro. You must’ve slept through the 90’s. The Chronic was really Snoops debut album. How much did that sell? Then doggystyle and Murder was the case. Nobody had a name that big until Snoop. LL definitely comes close. But even grannies know Snoop and will go to his concerts. lol.

      • MixtapeDJs.Net

        Run DMC & LL were huge stars before Snoop and heavily influential

      • nmnjmnmn

        lol Tupac and biggie easily outsold snoop. Tupac made 5 million in two months of all eyez on me

      • R. Marshall

        I named cats from the 80s and you’re calling me out on the 90s.

        I was lecturing about rap’s megastars when Deep Cover dropped. One of us missed alot hip-hop history, and its not me.


  12. trilltalk1

    we can all say who we would put on the list, cause there is always someone who will be left off. but all and all this is a good list.

  13. Tyray Bullet Proof Diggins

    bone was the offspring to nwa in some opinion they surpassed nwa eazy, dre, pick bone ,snoop , to carry that torch to go further than them that whole nwa family tree is the greatest em,50,snoop,bone,

  14. Carlos

    i would have added Ice T, without him, there would be no n.w.a or gangsta rap and Dr. Dre, also Kanye, he is the reason why rappers dont have to be gangsta anymore to get on.



    • nmnjmnmn

      WHAT DID KRS ONE DO? Sure he was a great rapper but what did he bring? It’s not about skill it’s what you brought. I’d rather see P diddy and his production before KRS one or any of these guys you want. If it was about skill biggie and them would be here it’s not though

  16. Craig

    U put sell out ass Russell Simmons on here and no KRS ONE? ARE U CRAZY! Remove Russell and Nas add KRS ONE and Kanye.

  17. Joe

    Eminem not being here is ridiculous and wreaks of reverse racism. Em has done more for the diversification of hip hop than any artist on this list. He is the highest selling artist in hip hop history and can out rap 99% of rappers in history. Of course he is white, so a good portion of hip hop culture is STILL downplaying his enormous accomplishments and impact on the history of hip hop. Also where the hell are Biggie and Rakim?

    • nmnjmnmn

      Em did nothing. Sure he brought a lot of fans,but those same fans are the most annoying. It isn’t about skill. It’s about what you brung. You could see kanye up here for production or P diddy for fashion. Rakim should be up here for multis.

      Tupac-he drew te line on hard and emotional
      Ice Cube-He started gangsta rap and became the first artist to leave a group and still sell.
      Nas-He started a whole new way of flow.

      • Jack

        First off were talking about the most influential rappers here, not what they’ve “brung.” Eminem had almost no support when growing up, and was bullied for trying to compete in an industry where almost everyone was black when he was white. Being that, he made it to the point where he was the most successful musical artist of any genre during the whole first decade of the 2000’s. He has the second most sold rap album EVER, he did this with the help of his friends of course, but if it wasn’t for his amazing perseverance he wouldn’t have been able to make it this far. He would have just been another loser “white boy” trying to make it in the rap industry. If that isn’t influential, then I don’t know what is.

  18. Parker

    Saying no one had conscious raps until Public Enemy is wrong because the same time they were doing it their close friend KRS One was doing the same thing. Rakim should be on here no doubt, Paid in Full was a very influential album in the rap game. Slick Rick is top 3 most influential rappers of all time solely on flow, lyricism, and story telling. Big L not being mentioned here is atrocious. Jay Z should not be on here at all considering he jocked Nas’s style and flow. 2pac influence in the west was miniscule compared to NWA, also Cube and Dre after they went solo. Completely leaving out Wu Tang and all of its members is a sin. You have to put someone from the dirty south on here or you’re leaving out a whole chunk of rap, I would consider Pimp C or three six mafia to rep for the south. Fat joe, EPMD, Das EFX, DITC, Rappin Duke, Kid Capri, Lord Finesse, MF Doom, Grand Puba, Pun, De la soul, A tribe called quest, Naughty by nature, The roots, Nate Dogg, Native Tongues, House of pain, Awesome 2, Nice and smooth, Chubb rock, scarface are all honorable mentions to say the least.

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