Here we are, then. This week, Hip-Hop reaches its big 5-0 and we wrap up a celebratory piece that shines the light on some influential, important figures that have made an impact on the culture, but may not be the first names that spring to mind. If you’ve been sleeping, the list so far is below, but feel free to hit us up if there are any names you think we missed. Or would like us to review in the future – now this fiftieth birthday is out of the way, I can get back to the reviews! Oh, and whatever happened to those Hip-Hop 50 records – we got a DJ Premier one last year, and a Swizz Beatz one back in May. Not sure what happened to the other eight!

  1. Busy Bee
  2. Schoolly D
  3. Tim Westwood
  4. Tony D
  5. Fat Boys
  6. Full Force
  7. King T
  8. DJ Mark the 45 King
  9. Coldcut
  10. Mantronix
  11. Rodney P
  12. Mac Dre
  13. Coolio
  14. Arrested Development
  15. Stereo MCs
  16. Spice-1
  17. DJ Screw
  18. Esham
  19. Digital Underground
  20. Cage
  21. DJ Cam
  22. Nine
  23. Funkmaster Flex
  24. Madchild
  25. Chino XL
  26. JT the Bigga Figga
  27. K-os
  28. MC Breed
  29. Dan the Automator
  30. Mystikal
  31. IAM
  32. Princess Superstar
  33. DZK
  34. Illmaculate
  35. Delinquent Habits
  36. Prince Paul
  37. Suga Free
  38. DJ Krush
  39. Brotha Lynch Hung
  40. Wiley

41 – Little Brother

9th Wonder, Phonte, and Rapper Big Pooh might be an obvious answer to the rap enthusiasts among us, but their impact can’t be overstated. Conscious hip-hop is a label that was thrown around in the early 2000s, but could often lack subtlety or humor. Little Brother provided a mature alternative to the mainstream, which was dominated by aggressive artists like Eminem, DMX, and Dipset. It was hip-hop for adults, and despite being young themselves, came through with two classic albums out the gate. It wasn’t overly lyrical, nor driven by political opinion, instead basking in their album formats with immersive, light-hearted hip-hop that will never go out of style. Their reunion in 2019 was a classy comeback, and they will go down in history as one of the great hip-hop groups. validating relatable rhymes and soulful production never go out of style.

42 – GZA

It’s wild how GZA, the sharpest sword in the Wu-Tang weapon-wheel, rarely gets brought up in elite emcee lists. He doesn’t help himself, touring his classic “Liquid Swords” album regularly, and he hasn’t dropped an album since 2008’s “Pro Tools”. The thing is, GZA has a dope discography. He gave us the excellent “Beneath the Surface”, the underrated “Legend of the Liquid Sword” in 2002, and the influential “Grandmasters” in 2005. Even “Pro Tools” ushered in Ka and Roc Marciano, but the wordy blend of science and chess starts with GZA. His esoteric style gave the Wu much of its wisdom. “Labels”, “Fame” and “Publicity” are essential examples of conceptual rhyme-writing, and if the Genius never makes another record, he’ll go down as one of the greats regardless.

43 – Blackalicious

The duo of Chief Xcel and Gift of Gab (R.I.P.) may be most familiar for the lyrical acrobatics of “Alphabet Aerobics”, but their output is much more than complex syllables. Granted, it’s part of the appeal, as Gab is a master of the microphone, but their albums are just as dense musically, providing personable storytelling, charming delivery, and accessibility that makes you wonder why they weren’t all over the radio. Much like fellow California lyricists Aceyalone and Chali 2na (Jurassic 5), there is a playfulness to their albums that seems to go underappreciated in a genre often wanting to celebrate the serious, hard-hitting moments. Gab and Xcel reminded us all that you can have fun with a hummable tune, while also spitting some highly technical bars.

44 – Fliptrix

When Grime blew up in the late 2000s, British hip-hop inevitably suffered. Without getting into the complexities of what the differences are between the two, the traditional beats and rhymes that fans were accustomed to seemed destined to go even deeper underground. A torch was passed in 2010 when Jehst suggested to up-and-comer Fliptrix to set up his own label – High Focus – which is now the go-to hip-hop label in the UK. It’s one thing to be an entrepreneur, but Fliptrix has put out some strong albums himself, providing a more level-headed counterweight to the wilder artists High Focus has introduced to the world. Leaf Dog, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Ocean Wisdom – Fliptrix has had a hand in all of their careers, and his latest album is one of 2023’s best releases.

45 – Bass Mekanik

Considered a pioneer in bass music, Bass Mekanik (aka Neil Case) is a key name in the scene that hip-hop seemed to leave behind. Originating from sound system parties, hip-hop flirted with bass music via 2 Live Crew in the early 1990s, but by the end of the decade, it fell to the likes of Bass Mekanik to keep those trunks rattling. Designed to push your speakers to the limits, specifically car audio systems, it’s easy to see both the appeal and the limited reach. Maybe I’m no longer the demographic, but you don’t see cars with ridiculously loud music playing like you used to. A strange complaint, but given the focus on lyrics in hip-hop, the fact a producer like Mekanik is pushing the limits of audio, specifically bass, is an admirable feat and with a career spanning thirty years, I’m surprised he’s not rocking back and forth in a chair somewhere, rocking the world’s biggest hearing aid.

46 – Ant

The producer responsible for Atmosphere AND Brother Ali’s acclaimed catalogs is simply named Ant. Instrumental (pun intended) to underground hip-hop, he must be the most underrated of all producers, considering he’s also a co-founder of Rhymesayers Entertainment, the influential record label based in Minneapolis. Soulful, jazzy, and incredibly versatile, Ant has multiple classic albums to his name, able to create the perfect backdrop to emotionally powerful hip-hop like few can do. In a world of beat-makers churning out their latest formula, Ant still feels like fresh air whenever a new Atmosphere album drops. Slug gets his props, as does Ali, but Ant is the secret sauce behind so many great records, it’s almost criminal how slept on he remains.

47 – Marcus Frasier

The founder of the online mixtape website DatPiff, Marcus Frasier popularised the digital mixtape just as the music industry was adapting to a digital sales model, with albums available to download via iTunes. The difference here though, was that DatPiff was free for users to listen to all sorts of mixtapes, ranging from official partnerships with prominent rappers (Lil’ Wayne, 50 Cent) to amateur compilations compiled by bedroom DJs. It was like record hunting for a new generation, as you sifted through mashups and remixes trying to find a hidden gem. Somehow, it still survives today, and is an archive from a period in hip-hop just as blogs were starting, CDs were being usurped and streaming was in its infancy. In fact, DatPiff was one of the early proponents for streaming hip-hop and remains an important part of its history.

48 – Will Smith

Yeah, yeah, Mr. Smith is now a bit of a laughing stock after his public fall from grace, but he’s one of the most important figures in hip-hop. Even ignoring the huge success of his run with DJ Jazzy Jeff as The Fresh Prince, and the corresponding sitcom that is now a TV classic, Will Smith managed to become a movie star whilst becoming a chart-topping rapper. He changed up his brand, providing a family-friendly approach that often relied on beats with familiar samples which broadened the appeal of hip-hop in the late 1990s after the furor surrounding Pac and Biggie’s murders was still in the public consciousness.

49 – Immortal Technique

There are not many artists that you listen to their music, and you come away from it having learned something. And there isn’t a voice as powerful and attention-grabbing outside of Chuck D, with the education behind his words to back up his rhymes. His severe lack of output in the last decade has been frustrating, but you can’t deny he’s crafted classic material when he continues to tour the world off of his popular “Revolutionary Vol. 2” album from 20 years ago. It’s the type of music the world is crying out for in 2023, and his contributions have been necessary in highlighting, and enlightening rap fans on world events when the majority of best-selling rappers are filling their verses with details about how much their jewelry costs. “You Never Know”, “Peruvian Cocaine” and “Dance with the Devil” are some of the best examples of rap, period.

50 – Steve ‘Flash’ Juon

Our very own self-professed rap nerd closes out this list, as one of the longest-serving journalists in hip-hop who, surely, has written the most reviews in the genre. We have over three and a half thousand reviews in the database, dating back to 1996 just from Steve. Not only has Steve written honest, digestible content every week for the last thirty years, but he’s also a pioneer in rap coverage on the Internet, tracing back to 1992 when he would form what would become the Original Hip Hop Lyrics Archive (OHHLA). For over a decade, this enormous database was the go-to website for checking, submitting, and printing lyrics of rap songs, before it was controversially pillaged by RapGenius (now Genius). It contributed immensely, aiding a global audience that wished to learn and understand the intricacies, references, and structures of American rap lyrics, and its legacy will not be forgotten.

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Happy Birthday, Hip-Hop!