Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]

Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]

If you’ve been out of the loop in hip-hop, The Root’s got you covered.

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Jason Koerner // Jeff Kravitz // Tim Mosenfelder (Getty Images)

Updated as of 11/23/2022 at 4:00 p.m. ET: 

You loved our list of rap artists you should know. So, we decided to give you more names, adding some old heads to the mix.

Here’s why learning the names and works of more rap artists can be great for the soul: We heard a doctor on Tiktok say regardless of age, you should continue to learn and listen to new music. It keeps the brain working. Why not start with new rap music since it is one of, if not, the most popular music genres in the United States currently? However, there is so much music coming from so many artists that it can oftentimes be hard to keep track if you stop paying attention for a month. No need to fear, the Root is here.

Hip-hop has always been a huge part of my life. Growing up, I was once obsessed with hearing the hit song on the radio. Although my parents weren’t down with me listening to rap, it didn’t stop me. Nowadays, because of the internet, there is so much dope music coming from so many new artists that I can’t hold back my excitement.

So instead of just listing them out, we’ll group these rap artists you should know into six categories: Old Heads, Veteran MCs, Established Superstars, The Young Mainstream, The Young Cats, The Backpackers and The Underground.

Advertisement

2 / 37

1. Hip-Hop Pioneers

1. Hip-Hop Pioneers

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Anthony Barboza (Getty Images)

These are the artists that help pave the way for what hip-hop is today. No, the production and the rhymes aren’t the same, but the essence of hip-hop came from these artists and was passed down through generations. A plethora of artists fit into this category such as DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, The Sugarhill Gang and many others.

Advertisement

3 / 37

MC Lyte

MC Lyte

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives (Getty Images)

MC Lyte paved the way for women in the future to be successful in hip-hop. Her single, “Ruffneck,” from the 1991 album Ain’t No Other made Lyte the first woman in rap to get a gold plaque.

Advertisement

4 / 37

Slick Rick

Slick Rick

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Raymond Boyd (Getty Images)

Any current MC who takes pride in their storytelling ability has to give props to the one and only Slick Rick, who was the king of telling interesting and genuine stories throughout his albums.

Advertisement

5 / 37

Grandmaster Flash

Grandmaster Flash

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Steve Grayson/WireImage (Getty Images)

A founding father in the rap game, DJ Grandmaster Flash has one arguably one of the first true “hits” in rap with the classic song, “The Message.” Flash also invented the scratch-mixing technique that’s used by DJs across the world and is heard in rap songs everywhere.

Advertisement

6 / 37

Kurtis Blow

Kurtis Blow

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives (Getty Images)

Kurtis Blow was the first rap artist to truly become a star in the music industry. He’s the first rapper to sign with a major label and the first to have a single certified gold. If not for Kurtis, maybe these other rapper’s below him don’t become nearly as popular as they ended up being.

Advertisement

7 / 37

2. Veteran MCs

2. Veteran MCs

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Johnny Nunez (Getty Images)

These are the rap artists that have been in the game for well over 20 years, and still putting out quality work. They’re less worried about making music that fits in with the current trends of hip-hop and more focused on writing raps that coincide with where they are in life. Other artists that fit in this category include Jay-Z, Big Boi, Royce da 5'9, Talib Kweli, Yasiin Bey, Ghostface Killah, Scarface and many others.

Advertisement

8 / 37

Nas

Nas

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Jerritt Clark (Getty Images)

Nas debuted in 1994 with one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, Illmatic. Nearly 30 years later, the Queens MC is putting out some of his best and most consistent work to date. His series of King’s Disease albums have been well-received by critics and fans alike. They’ve been so well-received that in 2021, King’s Disease won the Grammy for Rap Album of the Year, giving Nas his first Grammy ever.

Advertisement

9 / 37

Pusha T

Pusha T

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Momodu Mansaray (Getty Images)

Unlike Nas, Pusha T broke into the music industry as a member of the hip-hop duo Clipse. But, some of his inspired and complete work has come as a solo artist nearly two decades later. Ever since the release of the 2014 album, My Name Is My Name, Pusha has continued to drop exceptional project after exceptional project. His latest album, It’s Almost Dry, was most recently nominated for Best Rap Album.

Advertisement

10 / 37

Killer Mike

Killer Mike

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Matthew Baker (Getty Images)

Killer Mike has always stood front and center when it comes to national and local political issues that he cares about. But, don’t forget that Mike is one of the hardest rappers out right now. His career was reinvigorated thanks to the work he’s done with EL-P, which includes one solo album and multiple collaborative albums as apart of the group Run the Jewels.

Advertisement

11 / 37

Black Thought

Black Thought

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Erika Goldring (Getty Images)

Black Thought’s ability was always clear and at the forefront as a member of the The Roots. He has been the voice of some of the most thoughtful rap albums of all time. But, since the release of his first solo project in 2018, Streams of Thought, he’s been on a mission to prove that he may be the best rapper in the world when it comes to pure skill, and he may not be wrong. His latest album, Cheat Codes, is a cheat code because Thought can come up with rhymes that nobody else in the world can.

Advertisement

12 / 37

3. Established Superstars

3. Established Superstars

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Josh Brasted/FilmMagic (Getty Images)

These are the artists who’ve had sustained success for the past decade. No matter what they put out, they’re going to put up numbers and are usually at the top of the charts. Other artists that fit in the category include Travis Scott, Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi and many others.

Advertisement

13 / 37

Drake

Drake

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Amy Sussman (Getty Images)

The most popular in the world. Pretty much everybody knows who Drake is, even if you’re not attuned to current hip-hop. Just weeks ago he released Her Loss, in collaboration with 21 Savage and it had the best first-week sales of any rap album of the year.

Advertisement

14 / 37

Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Santiago Bluguermann (Getty Images)

He doesn’t pop into the public spotlight as much, but when he does all of hip-hop listens. You can ensure that every album Kendrick Lamar drops is going to be thoughtful, interesting and different from the last one. His latest album, Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers, is one of the most talked about projects of the year and was recently nominated for Best Rap Album by the Recording Academy.

Advertisement

15 / 37

J. Cole

J. Cole

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Paras Griffin (Getty Images)

People try to act like J. Cole isn’t on K. Dot’s level, but he is. The trio of Drake, Kendrick and Cole make up the Big 3 of rap and have been representative of the best in mainstream hip-hop for the past decade. Cole is known for his thought-provoking lyrics and relatable subject matter, which has amassed a huge loyal following.

Advertisement

16 / 37

Future

Future

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Paras Griffin/WireImage (Getty Images)

Not nearly on the level of the “Big 3” but Future has been at the forefront of trap in the 2010s going into the 2020s. To show he’s still got it, he dropped his latest album, I NEVER LIKED YOU. It was met with nationwide acclaim and was nominated for Best Rap Album by the Recording Academy.

Advertisement

17 / 37

4. The New Mainstream

4. The New Mainstream

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Amanda Edwards (Getty Images)

These artists are superstars in their own right but haven’t reached the level of sustainability as the “Established” who have been in the game for more than a decade. Right now, these artists are hot and could be some of the faces of the genre by the end of the 2020s. Other artists that fit in this category include Gunna, Roddy Ricch, Lil Durk, 21 Savage and many others.

Advertisement

18 / 37

Megan Thee Stallion

Megan Thee Stallion

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Carmen Mandato (Getty Images)

Megan Thee Stallion is the next superstar in rap and she already has countless hits under her belt including “Savage,” “Big Ole Freak,” and “Body.” She’s been a star in the industry thanks to her rapping ability and her radiant personality that always comes through when she’s performing and being interviewed.

Advertisement

19 / 37

Lil Baby

Lil Baby

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Rich Fury (Getty Images)

Lil Baby has been putting on for the city of Atlanta ever since he’s broken into the industry. There’s a strong argument for him to be included in the grouping above, but he hasn;t been doing it long enough, yet. Just this year alone, he won his first grammy for his work on Kanye West’s “Hurricane” featuring the Weeknd. He was awarded the songwriter of the year at the 2022 ASCAP Rhythm and Soul Music Awards. He announced the launch of his own clothing line. Most importantly, he also released one of the best-selling albums of the year, It’s Only Me, and debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 for the second time in his career.

Advertisement

20 / 37

Doja Cat

Doja Cat

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic (Getty Images)

Some may consider Doja Cat pop, but when she blew up she was considered a rapper so I’m including her here. The fact that so many consider her a pop star speaks to her talent and reach. At one point in time, damn near the only songs you heard on TikTok were made by Doja cat such as “Streets,” “Kiss Me More” and “Say So.” Her trajectory is super high.

Advertisement

21 / 37

Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns (Getty Images)

Many thought, including me, that Lil Nas X would be a one-hit wonder thanks to the smash hit that was, “Old Town Road.” Thankfully, he’s proved those doubters wrong and has been able to maintain a high level of success up to this point. In 2021, he released his debut album, MONTERO, which included the hit singles “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” and “INDUSTRY BABY.”

Advertisement

22 / 37

5. The Young Cats

5. The Young Cats

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Paras Griffin (Getty Images)

This group of artists are just tapping into mainstream success and could be running the game in a decade. Each artist might just have one or two hits, with more on the way, but they have the talent and staying power. Other artists that fit in this category include NLE Choppa, 42 Dugg, GloRilla, Ice Spice, Nardo Wick and others.

Advertisement

23 / 37

NBA Youngboy

NBA Youngboy

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Paras Griffin (Getty Images)

NBA Youngboy aka YoungBoy Never Broke Again leads the wave with this group of artists. Although he’s only 23 , YoungBoy has amassed a huge fan following and is always among the most streamed rap artists in the game. He’s not seen as much on award shows possibly due to his mainstream appeal, but teenagers across the country love listening to this Lousiana rapper

Advertisement

24 / 37

Polo G

Polo G

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Matthew Baker (Getty Images)

Chicago’s own Polo G doesn’t make headlines, he just makes music and he’s pretty damn good at it. He’s slowly becoming one of the brightest rising stars in the game thanks to his real and authentic lyrics. He follows in the footsteps of other Chicago rappers including Lil Durk, G Herbo and Chief Keef.

Advertisement

25 / 37

Latto

Latto

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Robin L Marshall (Getty Images)

You can’t go anywhere these days without hearing Latto’s “Big Energy.” She is a rising star that released her debut studio album, 777, earlier this year. All she has to do is stay consistent and she could end up being one of the biggest stars in the industry.

Advertisement

26 / 37

Rod Wave

Rod Wave

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Prince Williams/Wireimage (Getty Images)

Unless you’re on TikTok, you may have never heard of Rod Wave, who’s another rising star who has continued to drop albums that have impressive sales numbers and go number one on Billboard 200. The Flordia rapper just has to stay out of trouble and he could have a long career ahead of him.

Advertisement

27 / 37

6. The Backpackers

6. The Backpackers

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/FilmMagic (Getty Images)

Backpackers are fans of underground or non-mainstream hip-hop. While these artists can definitely fit in that crowd, they sometimes collab with some of the biggest mainstream artists in the game. While they definitely aim to appease underground crowds, they still have millions of fans. Other artists that fit in this category include Joey Bada$$, Vince Staples, Denzel Curry, Earl Sweatshirt, Jay Rock, Isaiah Rashad, Smino, Saba and many others.

Advertisement

28 / 37

Griselda Records

Griselda Records

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Screenshot: Griselda Records/Instagram

I couldn’t just mention one artist from this label. Griselda Records has been blazing a trail for the hardest, most rugged, gruff and grimiest street rap out right now. I don’t know a label that works as hard as this group, as each artist puts out two to three projects each year. Artists on the label include Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, Armani Caesar, Rome Streetz and Boldy James. If there’s a conversation about street rap, Griselda is the first thing to that comes to mind.

Advertisement

29 / 37

Joey Bada$$

Joey Bada$$

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Terence Rushin (Getty Images)

Joey Bada$$ is the MC that got a lot of hip-hop listeners around my age into underground rap. His classic 2012 mixtape, 1999, introduced a group of fans to 90s hip-hop in the 2010s. Joey is just so New York and should be loved by anybody who loved the 90s era of hip-hop. Although he’s made music that’s not necessarily considered boom-bap, he still taps into that when he needs to.

Advertisement

30 / 37

Freddie Gibbs

Freddie Gibbs

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Scott Dudelson (Getty Images)

One signed to Young Jeezy’s CTE World, Freddie Gibbs wanted to make music for a mainstream crowd. But, I think he released he’s best suited to make music for the backpackers. Ever since the release of his 2014 album, Piñata, Gibbs has an argument to be one of the best rappers in the game. The man does not release a bad project and continues to impress with his rapping skills. Although he turned 40 this year, Gibbs is just hitting his prime.

Advertisement

31 / 37

JID

JID

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Theo Wargo (Getty Images)

There’s a strong argument for JID or J.I.D to be in the “up-and-coming superstars” group, but he just hasn’t had mainstream success yet. Signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville imprint, JID is one of the best and most talented lyricists in the game and you would have no idea he’s a superstar considering the type of live performances he puts on. His latest album, The Forever Story, reminded all of hip-hop that JID is here to stay.

Advertisement

32 / 37

The Underground

The Underground

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: AP the Angel

The “Backpackers” group sometimes works with some big-time artists and in some cases wants to be acknowledged by the mainstream. This group of guys in the Underground does not. They strictly make music for that one friend who says, “I’m listening to his new rapper you’ve probably never heard of.” But, these guys in no way are new. They’ve had sustainable and successful careers as underground artists and continue to appease their loyal group of fans. Other rappers that fin this category include Roc Marciano, MIKE, MAVI, Quelle Chris, Billy Woods, Fly Anakin, Maxo, Wiki, Tha God Fahim and many others.

Advertisement

33 / 37

Navy Blue

Navy Blue

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Badcamp

This New York MC also Twilights as a model for the streetwear brand Supreme and a skateboarder. His Avant-guard style of rap has been making waves in the Underground and maybe nobody outside of Earl Sweatshirt is doing it better.

Advertisement

34 / 37

Mach-Hommy

Mach-Hommy

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Screenshot: Pray For Haiti Trust Fund

One of the most creative wordsmiths out right now. Mach-Hommy is one of the most prolific rappers out right now who somehow continues to create so many different rhyme flows and patterns, it’s insane. He’s also worked with many artists in the “Backpackers” category including Westside Gunn and Earl Sweatshirt.

Advertisement

35 / 37

Pink Siifu

Pink Siifu

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Screenshot: YouTube

Pink Siifu has been doing it better. If you plan on diving into his catalog it will take you months to finish it considering the man has dozens of mixtapes and albums he’s released through the years.

Advertisement

36 / 37

Blu

Blu

Image for article titled Over the Holiday, Update Your Rap Game With These Artists You Must Know [UPDATED]
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Blu’s debut album, Below the Heavens, is considered by many in the know to be the greatest hip-hop album of all time. Although he’s happily been one of the most successful underground artists for the past 15 years, he’s worked with some big-time artists including Miguel and Aloe Blacc, who he knew before the fame.

Advertisement

37 / 37