As with every industry or segment of entertainment, the world is heavily fixated on who the best to ever do it, is. When it comes to rap, there are many regular names that come up in “goat conversations”, with their own fair share of controversy and litigious points. Whilst the names of the likes of Jay Z, Eminem, Tupac, Biggie and Nas often get thrown up, there are a great many top tier wordsmiths that often get overlooked, largely because they are not nearly as “influential” or widely popular in the “mainstream”. However, these emcees are equally, or in some instances arguably better than some of the common contenders for the title of “G.O.A.T”, ESPECIALLY when we streamline our criteria to focus on: skill, longevity, creativity, quality of music, respect among peers, and discography. Here are the reserve G.O.A.T.S:


  1. KXNG Crooked

Any avid rap purist or hip hop head, would find it very difficult to listen to KXNG Crooked verse and not have the screwface. Formerly known as “Crooked I”, KXNG Crooked is an extremely technically proficient rapper. A former member of the now defunct supergroup- Slaughterhouse, Crooked’s a constant feature on many tracks with top tier rappers and regularly holds his own. Eminem recently stated in an interview that when he’s on a track with Crooked, he knows in advance that he won’t be able to top Crooked’s verse, and that at best he’ll simply try to match it. Crooked has suffered from a lack of mainstream appeal, lack of a solid discography, and the ability to make great songs (albeit rapping well), however, if we’re talking just skills (as we are now), he is easily a tier 1 rapper, whose verses are so intelligently written and incorporate such a wide variety of skills, mechanisms and literary devices, that make them exceptional. Here’s an example which he spat on the track “Sickology 101” where he utilizes his flow and delivery to drop a crazy display of alliteration –

My killer Daytons can keep me crushin the competition/
Comin correct when creatin the crazy composition/
Cannibal character, Calico carrier, got a crooked copper missin/
Cali killers on candid cock emissions/
That was constant consonant wordplay/
Wordplay rhymes with Thursday and thirsty – if I’m thirst-ay!/
I change the pronunciation of words, per se/
The English language got to do whatever my verse say/


Timeline: 22 years

Strengths: Poly syllabic rhyming, punchlines, flow, delivery

Essential Albums: Slaughterhouse, Good vs. Evil, Apex Predator

Notable “Songs”: Loud Noises, Beast (Southpaw), LAF (Remix), Monsters In My Head, Shady XV Cypher, Shady 2.0 BET Cypher


  1. Talib Kweli

A member of the Black Star duo with Mos Def, Talib Kweli is an extremely highly skilled emcee. I still remember how in awe I was as a kid the first day I heard Talib rap on BET. By no means a mainstream banger, he has been largely underground for most of his career, but has been exceptionally adept at proving his elite lyricism. Not one who twists and turns you with dizzying technical bars, Talib’s number one weapon is his Intelligence, which he projects with great charisma. A truly conscious rapper

Timeline: 23 years

Strengths: Content, Flow, Compelling Introspection

Essential Albums: Black Star, Train of Thought, Quality

Notable Songs: Cold Rain, Africa Dream, Respiration


  1. Mos Def

A member of the Black Star duo with, Talib Kweli, Mos Def (or Yasasin Bey) is AMAZING.  I don’t think I can stress this enough. A wordsmith in every sense of the word.  Mos Def’s career with Black Star was great, but his solo album Black On Both Sides showed how much of a stalwart he really is on his own. Just like Talib Kweli, his intelligence is remarkable, and he has a very dynamic array of styles and gears to go through. He voices the character Gangstalicious on The Boondocks His biggest demerit is the fact that he doesn’t have a lot of music that he can be judged by, in terms of the quantity of his releases, the quality however….never in doubt. A truly conscious rapper

Timeline:  23 years

Strengths: Internal Rhyming, Content, Flow

Essential Albums: Black Star, Black On Both Sides

Notable Songs: Mathematics, Casa Bey, Re:Definition


  1. Tech N9ne

Tech nina. An incredible lyricist, with a very vast skillset. Largely an indie rapper, he has garnered a great deal of respect from the top emcees in the game because of dexterity in the booth.  He founded his record label – Strange Music and ever since has sold over two million albums. His stage name’s etymology is derived from a TEC-9 which is a semi-automatic handgun. Any listener of Tech N9ne would see the obvious reason why he’s named after a gun, because his fast rhyming style can make the listener feel like they were being riddled with bullets.

Timeline: 21 years

Strengths: Flow, Speed, Poly-syllabic rhyme schemes

Essential Albums: Welcome to Strangeland, All 6s and 7s, Anghellic, Killer, Sickology 101

Notable Songs: Sickology 101, Worldwide Choppers, Speedom, Am I a Psycho?, Dysfunctional


  1. Pharaoh Monch

Pharaoh Monch is a member of Organized Konfusion, and is a certified top tier lyricist. Known for possessing an incredibly complex and difficult skillset, he has quite simply been an underground legend for decades. The great Kool Moe Dee names him as one of his 26 best emcees of all time. Eminem has notably stated that Pharaoh’s verse on “Bring It On” is what inspired him to write “Rap God”.

Timeline: 29 years

Strengths: Complexity, Polysyllabic Rhyme schemes, Delivery, Internal Rhyming,

Essential Albums: Organised Konfusion, Internal Affairs, Desire

Notable Songs: Simon Says, Bring It On, Stray Bullet


  1. Common

Common a.k.a Common Sense is such a phenomenal emcee. The man oozes so much class and intelligence, but is a savage on the microphone. A Grammy winner and a Gold selling artist, Common has a good enough amount of mainstream success to be happy. He also contributed to Fela Kuti’s tribute album “Red Hot and Riot”. Common is however often overlooked when goat conversations occur, despite the fact that he is quite simply one of the best to ever do it. Jay Z himself when responding to criticism that his (Jay Z’s) rapping was no longer at a high level, replied on the song “Moment of Clarity” with these bars – Truthfully I want to rhyme like Common Sense, But I sold 5 Mill, I aint been rhyming like Common since”.  Common is regarded by many as having 2 or 3 classic albums to his name. A truly conscious rapper

Timeline: 28 years

Strengths: Freestyling, Quotables, Concepts, Flow, Content

Essential Albums: Be, Resurrection, Like Water for Chocolate

Notable Songs: I Used to Love H.E.R, The Corner, The 6th Sense


  1. Royce Da 5’9

Royce da 5’9 is an alien, an absolutely phenomenal wordsmith. He’s also very unique, in the sense that most artists drop their best ever music in the first few years of their career, whilst Royce is the absolute reverse. He’s simply been getting better with time. An erstwhile member of the now defunct rap supergroup- Slaughterhouse, Royce regularly held his own and sometimes stole the show despite rhyming in concert with 3 other lyrical animals. Add to the fact that on the “Hell: The Sequel” which was a joint EP with Eminem, Royce actually matched or sometimes even outrapped Eminem on many parts of the 11 song project. An extremely versatile emcee who can be zany or conscious in a heartbeat, and be a monster either way.

Timeline: 22 years

Strengths: Flow, Punchlines, Similes, Mutli-syllabic rhyming, internal rhyming, Ear for beats, Creativity

Essential Albums: PRhyme, Death Is Certain, The Book of Ryan, Bar Exam 3, Hell: The Sequel

Notable Songs:  Microphone, Boom, Writers Block, Fast Lane, Flirt


  1. Black Thought

Tariq Trotter a.k.a Black Thought. The lead vocal artist (rapper) for the legendary rap group – The Roots, and resident band for the Jimmy Fallon’s TV show. Black Thought is an incredible emcee with a skillset that ticks practically every single box. His biggest issue may simply be the fact that he has not directly influenced the culture, however, he most certainly is a rapper’s rapper. His Funkmaster Flex freestyle is LEGENDARY (you should totally check it out), and reminded the world just how extra-terrestrial he is. Very few can do poly-syllables as well as Thought. Here’s an example from his most recent verse on “Yah Yah” –

Makin’ plaques outta they head like dead venison/
Used to be the bad lieutenant with M-ilitants/
Spillin’ over fabulous jams my man Dilla sent/
Rap speak for me, I am the ventriloquist/

Timeline: 27 years

Strength: Poly-syllabic rhymes, internal rhyming, flow, content, metaphors

Essential Albums: Things Fall Apart, Streams of Thought Vol. 1, Illadelph Halflife,

Notable Songs:  You Got Me, The Next Movement, Twofifteen


  1. Lupe Fiasco

Lupe writes rhymes like a true poet. Quadruple entendres, silky flows, wonderful subject matter etc he’s got it all. A very intelligent man, and a true student of the game, which reflects in his superior penmanship. He’s strayed well away from the commercial/mainstream scene, quite simply because he doesn’t dumb down his lyrics enough for the masses. Anytime you listen to a Lupe song, before you dare pass judgement, you better head to genius.com, to even be sure that you got up to half of the bars, becasue a ton is certainly going to go over your head. Like Talib Kweli, Mos Def and Common above, Lupe is incredibly astute regularly speaking out against topics such as misogyny, war, social justice etc, yet being very lyrical in the execution.

Timeline: 16 years

Strengths: Storytelling, Metaphors, Flow, Content, Wordplay, Double Entendres

Essential Albums: The Cool, Food and Liquor, Tetsuo and Youth

Notable Songs: Kick Push, Little Weapon, Dumb It Down, Streets on Fire, Mural


  1. MF DOOM

The man in the mask, MF DOOM is one of the best rappers to ever live. His incredibly complex rhyme schemes, concepts and flow, are worthy of tertiary level studying. He’s also unique as he regularly incorporates fictional characters as the mainstay of his bars. Extremely highly critically acclaimed, the vast majority of MF Doom’s releases receive Metacritic scores of at least 75/100. The biggest check against his name/status/legacy is simply the fact that he does not have mass appeal/commercial success, and as such, despite having been in the game for over 2 decades, very few people (including probably you that’s reading this) have ever heard of him. Really and truly, MF DOOM is for the ears of rap pursits and surreal hip heads, who are in love with the actual art and minutiae behind the crafting of rhymes. And similar to Lupe, make sure your genius.com is nearby when youre about to listen to an MF DOOM track.  MF and internals? Oh man, see an example:

“I used to cop a lot but never copped no drop/ Hold mics like pony tails tied in bobbalobs/ stop and stick around, come through and dig the sound/ of the fly brown 6-0 psycho who throws his d*** around…”

One more…

“Sickest ninja injury this century, enter plea/ Lend sympathy to limper Simple Simon rhyming emcees

Alright last one…..

“The worst hated god who perpetrated odd favours demonstrated in the perforated Rod Lavers, In all quad flavors, Lord save us”

Timeline: 22 years

Strengths: Humour, Poly-syllabic rhyming, originality, obscure, holorime, wordplay, double entendres

Essential Albums: Madvillainy, MM…Food, Operation:Doomsday

Notable songs: Gas Drawls, Go with the flow/Rhymes like dimes, Viktor Vauhgn






P.s – KXNG Crooked doesn’t really have any business being on this list, (skillwise he’s better than most, but he isn’t exactly critically acclaimed) I just wanted to big him up. Mandem like Ghostface Killah, Method Man or Redman would/should ordinarily take that spot instead.

One comment
  1. Tumie

    Great read👌🏾👌🏾👌🏾
    I may not be familiar with most of the rappers, but the descriptions makes me keen on wanting to know more about them.
    Well done 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾

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