Since I just sort of popped back up here unannounced, I think I should give a quick lil run-down of the changes I made to the Greatest Hip Hop Artists list (I'll do one for the Songs list, too, soon)
1. Run DMC
They cast the largest shadow, have the broadest influence and their 80s work is chiseled into Hip Hop 101's definitive discography. They redefined the genre; moving away from a funk/disco-dominated sound and glam look to a more street-oriented aesthetic with hardcore posturing over booming production--setting the stage for what would become recurring themes in hardcore hip hop. Their first four albums are classics, and they have a litany of unforgettable singles. They helped move hip hop away from a singles-oriented genre to a more artistically-realized and album-driven. More than anyone, they are responsible for the majority of the following 25 years of hip hop sound and style.
They are the Beatles of hip hop.
2. Public Enemy
If Run & Co. are the Beatles, these guys are the Stones. Pushing hip hop to it's artistic limit and amplifying the political and social awareness inherent in its ideology, P.E. influenced both the cultural awareness of later 'conscious' rappers and the antagonistic anger of 'gangsta' rappers. Chuck D.'s righteous rhymes were/are the most distinctive in hip hop, with the Bomb Squad's densely funky production providing the backdrop. Hip hop's most unique act and still touring and recording as a unit, Public Enemy's string of albums from 1987-1991 are among the best the genre has ever seen.
Hip hop's most iconic figure and mythologized voice, 2Pac emerged from the righteous anger of P.E. and f*ck the world antagonism of N.W.A. and added his own charisma and intelligence to become the voice of a generation. More than any rapper, he symbolized that dichotomy of idealism and nihilism inherent in so many young black males of the Reagan era. As he continued to grow and evolve as an artist, his final trilogy of albums before his death showcased remarkable clarity and growth and made him a legend.
4. Eric B. & Rakim
Rakim, obviously, revolutionized the art of emceeing. He is still the most heralded rhymer to rock the microphone and with his partner Eric B., pushed hip hop further into it's Golden Age, with deft wordplay and James Brown samples. Their discography is remarkably short but strong, with three of the four official albums still among the most critically-acclaimed and influential LPs in hip hop. Rakim's influence as an emcee can't be overstated.
The most influential figure in hip hop over the last 15 years, Jay has had a virtually-unprecedented career in hip hop. Emerging from the romanticized fatalism of mid-90s mainstream hip hop, Jay pushed hip hop into an ambitious new era as the new millennium dawned; inspiring countless others wanting to adopt the persona of the upwardly-mobile rapper. With dozens of hit singles, three consensus classic albums and an entire generation of imitators, his influence can't be denied. His commercial longevity is nearly unparalleled and his cultural relevance remains intact.
Quite simply hip hop's most fearless and consistent act to ever top the charts, OutKast introduced southern hip hop to the masses and were constantly pushing themselves artistically. Each album represents some type of sonic detour from the previous one and they succeeded (most of the time) in pushing their own creative boundaries. An acclaimed five album run from 1994-2003, and recognized as part of the vanguard of the southern hip hop emergence in the mid 90s, Grammy awards and monster sales, very few acts can match Kast's all-around success.
Probably the 2nd most influential act in hip hop history, behind Run DMC, N.W.A. launched gangsta rap into the national spotlight, also raising the visibility of West Coast hip hop in general. "Straight Outta Compton" is as earth-shattering and game-changing as "Paid In Full," and "Efil4zaggin" set the stage for how far hip hop could go to shock listeners. Dr. Dre's emergence as a producer and Ice Cube's beginnings as a writer are both rooted in this groundbreaking crew, and their short run of material is unbelievably strong.
8. Notorious B.I.G.
The most descriptive, witty and evocative rhymer to ever spit, Biggie, like N.W.A., has a brief-but-strong catalog of material. Two classic albums, plus a seemingly-endless string of scene-stealing guest appearances make for a quick-but-brilliant career. He also influenced an entire generation of east coast MCs/producers; moving the East back to the charts as more artists adopted his street-meets-pop approach and "Don" persona.
9. A Tribe Called Quest
They weren't the first alt-rap act, but they were most responsible for the genre's viability and early 90s explosion. Tribe took the quirky inventiveness of De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers and merged it with a gift for jazzy samples and hooks and became the 1990s most respected alternative rap crew. The early 1990s alt-rap 'mini-boom' (that saw the commercial emergence of Digable Planets, Arrested Development, the U.M.C.'s, Pharcyde, the Hieroglyphics, etc.) can be directly attributed to the success of Tribe's 2nd album. Their first three albums helped define the genre and they remain a beloved institution in hip hop.
Emerging from his groundbreaking group The Geto Boys, Scarface is the godfather of southern hip hop. 'Face's influence as a gritty storyteller with the ability to communicate the emotional core of the 'gangsta' sensibility can be heard in both 2Pac and Biggie's romanticized fatalism, and in the darker rhymes of Eminem and DMX. The rapper's remarkably consistent discography boasts two classic albums, 1994s "The Diary," and 2002s acclaimed "The Fix." Cited as a major influence by virtually every major southern rapper that has followed, including T.I., Jay Electronica and Bun B.