D.R.E.S. tha Beatnik and the crowd at Red Bull EmSee in Atlanta Carlo Cruz/Red Bull Photofiles

In an era where the beats are gaining more interest than the rhymes, we take a look at the most overlooked wordsmiths in the game.

Red Bull Emsee and Big Tune are revolutionizing the rap game by fostering the creativity of cunning freestyle rappers and skillful beatmakers of the world. But while we enjoy the young and talented competing in these events, we should consider those who established the foundation.

We decided to take a look at the Top 10 Overlooked Rap Lyricists – it’s not a typical list, so be warned. It doesn’t include artists considered lyricists whose mainstream appeal never came close to equaling their skill (Chino XL, Ras Kass and the like), or rappers respected as lyricists who simply never made it to true A-List level (Jadakiss, Fabolous), or rappers who are still rising through the ranks (Jay Electronica, J. Cole). 

Now that you know the rules, let the fun begin.

10. Project Pat  Say what you want about this Memphis rhyme slinger, but when Jay-Z jacked his signature flow on “Run This Town,” fans of this Three 6 Mafia affiliate got some vindication. Pat is truly a rare rap specimen: a gangster rapper who spits about the glory and the pain of the game, something he often does with a wicked sense of humor. 


9. Twista  Rap critics usually look at the former Tung Twista as a gimmick.  Of course, they miss the point.  He crams so much into his quadruple-time raps that for the lazy listener, it’s all flash.  But when his rhymes are examined for merit, the real appreciation grows for this Chi-Town legend.  So stop listening so slow.


8. OutKast’s Big Boi  When your partner-in-rhyme is Andre 3000, you’re bound to be overlooked.  But Daddy Fat Sacks bobs and weaves through tracks like a prize fighter, dropping lyrical haymakers at virtually every turn.  He can drop a mind-numbing stream-of-consciousness flow or a rapid-fire rumble with equal aplomb.


7. Devin The Dude  Rap’s first blues artist is also one of its funniest.  This Houston trailblazer sings as much as he raps, but it really doesn’t matter how Devin approaches a track, because he typically leaves the listener smiling by the time the music fades.  He’s willing to poke fun at himself, which brings an endearing element rare to rap.


6. 8Ball & MJG  OK, so this is a duo and rap’s original yin and yang are hardly twins, but they are both deadly on the mic.  8Ball’s typically measured, assured flow serves as a perfect complement to MJG’s animated and unpredictable aural presentations.  Pimp tight throughout the years, this Memphis duo were coming out hard out the gate and have yet to let up.


5. DJ Quik  More recognized through his beat work with Jay-Z, 2Pac, himself and others, this Compton double threat deserves more acclaim for his poetry.  Quik’s adept at boasting, running game on the ladies or discussing the tumultuous life on gang-infested ghetto streets.  Plus, he’s been doing it, doing it and doing it well since the 1990s.


4. Scarface  Yes, he’s regularly gone platinum throughout his career, but Brad Jordan still gets overlooked when top lyricists are discussed.  Maybe it’s because he’s a Southern pioneer or maybe it’s because he’s never has a smash single.  Regardless, this Houston great brought new dimensions to rap by dissecting violence, paranoia and pain in ways that remain unmatched.  His haunting first-person narratives place him among the Top 5 Dead or Alive.  Period.


3. Masta Ace  Maybe it’s because he came out in a crew with such lyrical heavyweights as Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap, but the original Inc. boss has been dropping some of the most clever, sly and biting lyrics since the late 1980s.  As witty as he is with the punchlines, Ace also excels when he’s examining the evolution of rap as a disposable art, exploring new sounds and delivering some of rap’s best conceptual material.


2. Too $hort  Often overlooked because of his simplistic flow, the Oaktown Mack has been putting it down since the mid-1980s.  His penchant for sexually-themed music may also obscure the fact that Todd Shaw has consistently found new and interesting ways on wax to describe the bump and grind for more than two decades.  Plus, his catalog is also filled with some of the most insightful social commentary songs in rap history.


1. LL Cool J  Before you question Uncle L’s position on the top of this list, consider this:  Cool James had been releasing albums for 11 years before Jay-Z released his first project.  Going on his twenty-sixth year in the game, LL Cool J is still relevant and just because he focuses much of his attention on the ladies doesn’t mean that his pen game has suffered.  Study up.


Follow Soren Baker on Twitter: @SorenBaker


Did we miss anything? Let us know what you think in the comments section.




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