A History of Rap As Literature

See Also: How a Language Dork Finally Falls in Love With Rap

1979: Melle Mel
THE VISIONARY
First to escape the cul-de-sac of simplistic Old School rhymes. Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images

1984: Run-DMC
THE ORIGINAL SUPERSTARS
Turned rap into a global phenomenon, but not the strongest rhymers. Photo: Michae Ochs Archives/Getty Images

1987: Rakim
THE FIRST POET
“God MC” brought a new level of lyrical artistry, particularly internal rhymes. Photo: Michae Ochs Archives/Getty Images

1988: Big Daddy Kane
THE RADICAL
Erected crazy towers of stacked rhymes, including rhymes across multiple words. Photo: Richard Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

1988: N.W.A
THE GANGSTAS
Ushered in West Coast sound of Dr. Dre: violent content, simple style. Photo: Janette Beckman/Redferns/Getty Images

1994: Notorious B.I.G.
THE GREATEST?
Arguably the widest lyrical range of any MC; one of the first to articulate his rags-to-riches story. Photo: Clarence Davis/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

1996: Chino XL
THE METAPHOR MEPHISTOPHELES
A “punch line” rapper whose relentless cleverness has earned him a cult following. Photo: Newscom

1996: Jay-Z
THE GOLDEN MEAN
A lucrative fusion of Rakim-style complexity and Old School appeal. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Wire Image

1998: Canibus
THE METAPHYSICAL ABSTRACTIONIST
A master of gnomic weirdness: “The Law of Attraction is attracted to me.” Photo: Hayley Madden/Redferns

1999: Eminem
THE CROSSOVER TITAN
Best-selling artist of the aughts and king of the compound rhyme. Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage

2006: Lupe Fiasco
THE NEW GUARD
Keeping literary lyricism alive in an era of hook-driven “ringtone” rap. Photo: Johnny Nunez/WireImage

A History of Rap As Literature