The ten greatest Midwest rappers of all time
The Midwest is the bastard child of the American rap scene at large -- unsung and independent, with a massive chip on its shoulder. The most talented artists from the Midwest have succeeded each with their own unique style and flavor, regardless of what was making money elsewhere in the country at any particular time, so it's not surprising that areas like Minneapolis, Detroit and Chicago have become breeding grounds for new, innovative alternative rappers like Dessa, Danny Brown and Chance the Rapper. But those names are new and still relatively unproven. The following artists have been battle tested and have not only survived, but thrived. Continue reading for the ten greatest Midwest rappers of all time.
10. Twista Granted, if Twista had never come up with his rapid-fire delivery, he most likely wouldn't have made as much noise. But it's not only his fast tongue and incredible breath control that make him notable, it's his originality and deep understanding of individual phonemes and how they flow together. You can't just say anything fast and have it sound good, you have to write the verse to be fast-adaptable, and that's a skill that Twista has mastered.
9. Atmosphere Atmosphere has had an immeasurable influence on independent hip-hop. Slug may not have the cleanest, most pleasing flow around, but alternative white rappers from here to Timbuktu have been jacking his swagger for years. His melancholy lyrics resonate powerfully with the growing pains of an angst-ridden young adult. And the importance of Ant's production cannot be understated; without his ambivalent, moody, but ultimately catchy beats, Slug could never have gained traction because, let's face it, with an MC as inwardly focused as Slug, somebody else has to provide the access point.
8. Royce da 5'9 Royce came up with Eminem in the Detroit duo Bad Meets Evil (Royce is Bad and Eminem is Evil), known mostly for their self-titled song on Eminem's major debut, The Slim Shady LP, as well as their EP, Hell: The Sequel, released in 2011. Now, Royce is best known for his role in Slaughterhouse, the Shady outfit with Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz and Crooked I. Though his work in groups has received a lot of attention, his best, most consistent work has probably come as a solo artist.
7. Brother Ali Brother Ali grew up Christian, though not in a fervently religious household. He describes himself as more spiritual than his parents, which makes sense because he delivers his rhymes with the fiery conviction and focus of a pastor on Sunday morning, though he has since converted to Islam. Not only is Ali a remarkable lyricist and storyteller, he's a true lover of hip-hop: its history, its people and its culture. Not only that, he respects it. He recognizes the power of words and tries to make his count with honesty, courage and grace.
6. Lupe Fiasco Lupe's career has had some ups and downs, or, more specifically, a lot of ups and then a lot of downs, but at any and every moment, he is a dynamic ball of talent on the verge of blowing up. He put together arguably the greatest, most epic story hip-hop has ever told across at least two albums, the tale of Michael Young History. Recently, Lupe hasn't been able to catch a break; he was too mainstream with Lasers, and too preachy with Food and Liquor II. But you have to admire the heart. And when he finds a compelling delivery device -- like MYH or skate culture like he has before -- he'll be right back on top of the game again.
5. Common Common has long been thought of as hip-hop's shining example of what an MC should be (which is what made it so hilarious when Fox went after Obama for inviting him to the White House), but he does have teeth, and he's not afraid to make himself heard, even when his opinion is not necessarily the most popular. For example, with "Retrospect for Life," Common teams up with Lauryn Hill to deliver a sobering song about pre-birth parental responsibility and the morality of abortion. But regardless of whether you agree with Common on individual points, he must be commended for refusing to stop thinking and never walk away from his conscience.
4. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony Just think about the name for a second: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. A more unlikely combination of words has never been uttered, and that's the wonder of this group. One moment, they're singing in perfect unison like a bunch of softies, and the next moment, they're all gangster again. It's one of the true marvels of hip-hop. They wrote "Tha Crossroads," one of the most affecting and moving songs in rap, which won a Grammy in 1997, and have sold more than sixteen million records together.
3. Tech N9ne Tech is an incredibly gifted rapper technically and a good lyricist, but the most impressive thing about his rise from obscurity to being a household name has been that he's done it by himself, without the help of a major label. He's always traveling, which you've probably noticed, as Denver is one of his favorite places to come, and by all accounts, he puts on an incredible live show -- so incredible that he was famously said to be lip synching by the L.A. Times, an accusation he didn't take kindly to. To say that Tech is one of the hardest working rappers is an understatement. He's one of the hardest working musicians, period.
2. Kanye West Yes, at the end of the day, we will remember Yeezus for his incredible production before his pretty good rapping, but when you look at the total cohesiveness of his projects and the consistency from album to album, in Kanye's own words: "It's amazing." Even from College Dropout, Kanye had a way of putting together poignant rhymes. On Late Registration, he was churning out hits like sticks of butter. By Graduation, his weighty-industrial but classical-inflected sound became more pronounced than ever. His only "miss" has been 808s & Heartbreak, but even that has been so influential on artists like Frank Ocean, Drake and the Weeknd, that it's hard to write it off completely. With My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he reached his artistic peak, creating something truly original and epic. Only in the last few years with Watch the Throne and Cruel Summer has he begun to let his foot off the gas and bask in his well-deserved glory.
1. Eminem From a technical standpoint, Em is the greatest to touch a mic, bar none. The constantly shifting rhyme schemes and intricately layered internal rhyme seems so meticulously planned, it's hard to imagine how it could be improved upon. But then, Nas's "Memory Lane" seemed that way, too, and Eminem went and topped it with his immaculate flow in "The Way I Am," and then he topped that with "Lose Yourself." Eminem's not at the top of his game right now, but he's got three albums that are unbelievably good. The Slim Shady LP challenges The Great Adventures of Slick Rick as the best storytelling album ever. The Marshall Mathers LP was a commercial masterpiece yet was still ballsy enough to include a track like "Kim." The Eminem Show has all the talent and swagger of Slim Shady with the insecurities left at the door. Even though his last three albums can't come close to standing up to his three best albums, they can't undercut his position as the finest wordsmith hip-hop has ever seen.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.