There’s no denying that hip-hop music has become fully mainstream over the years thanks to early work by the likes of RUN DMC, the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, and others. It’s continued to survive and thrive even into the digital age of music, taking advantage of the different ways of distribution. Recently, Complex provided a year-by-year look at the best rapper alive for each year since 1979.
Among those on the list are hip-hop legends like Cool J, Run of Run DMC, 2PAC, Biggie, and Rakim. According to the Complex list, the Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur traded that “best rapper alive” distinction from 1995 through 1997. BIG took the 95 and 97 distinctions while Tupac was considered best of the genre in 96. From 1999 through 2002, rappers Jay-Z and Eminem dominated the hip-hop scene as the best rapper alive in alternating years.
Jay-Z, real name Shawn Carter, returned to take the distinction again in 2009. That was the release of “The Blueprint III” which gave him his 11th No. 1 album in his career. It was also the album featuring his first No. 1 hit with “Empire State of Mind.” The track which features Alicia Keys on vocals was a crossover smash for the mainstream. Another hit from the album included “Run This Town” with Rihanna and Kanye West.
In more recent times, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and now Pusha-T have ruled the hip-hop scene. Complex listed Kendrick as their 2017 choice with Pusha-T taking the 2018 Best Rapper Alive title. Pusha spoke to Complex after being named their choice for 2018. He said of his newest album, “Daytona,” that the best track on the entire seven-song project is “Games We Play.” That successful album from Pusha T had the benefit of Kanye West production throughout, as well as guest spots featuring West and Rick Ross.
It should be interesting to see which artist from the hip-hop genre will take the honor for 2019. Drake has shown his staying power over the years, but with Kendrick Lamar and Pusha-T in the conversation, as well as new emerging stars, there could be some competition.