Historically, Philadelphia rappers haven’t fared very well commercially. A few Philly artists have of course broken through nationally, recording platinum and gold CDs and earning Grammy and American Music awards. However, as a rap community, Philadelphia MCs have failed miserably throughout the years to garner mainstream appeal.
Philadelphia rappers have truthfully been their own worst enemies over the years. Some aspiring artists have found it extremely difficult to step away from the apparently addicting city life and end up ruining their own promising music careers. Some of the city’s best lyricists have actually dimmed their own bright futures because of foolish gun and drug possession charges.
Regardless of the overall disappointing commercial success of the city, Philadelphia rappers are truly some of the purist lyricists in the game. Hip-hop music has always resonated loud in the city’s streets and on the avenue corners, and Philly MCs have always creatively embraced it with open arms. So while it was a difficult task because of the wealth of musical talent in the city throughout the years, here’s my list of the Top 10 Philadelphia rappers of all-time.
10. Steady B. “MC to the death, my last breath/Will be kicking the rhyme ’til there ain’t none left.” – “Serious”
Although he’s currently serving a life sentence for his role in a botched bank robbery in which a Philadelphia police officer was tragically killed, he still makes my list. The fearless Steady B could go lyrically line-for-line with the best old-school artists of the mid and late 1980s. He released five underappreciated solo rap albums, Bring The Beat Back, What’s My Name, Let The Hustler’s Play, Going Steady, and V. He also briefly collaborated with fellow Hilltop Hustlers Cool C and Ultimate Eaze (CEB) to record Countin’ Endless Bank in 1993.
9. Eve. “Puttin’ it down, Ruff Ryders put in they work/Snatched up the illest vicious pitbull in a skirt.” –“What Y’all Want”
The First Lady of the Ruff Ryders camp should be considered one of the top female rappers of all-time. Eve’s innate ability to keep it “gangsta” as well as stay sexy secure her on my list. Her vocal range is seemingly unlimited. While she lyrically sparred with the loudmouth DMX on “Dog Match,” she later emotionally reflected upon her past on “Heaven Only Knows” off her highly-acclaimed debut CD in1999. Throughout her music career, the Philadelphia MC has successfully rocked with prominent pop singers like Gwen Stefani (“Let Me Blow Ya Mind”), Kelly Rowland (“Like This”), and Mary J. Blige (“Not Today”).
8. Elliot Ness. “Playboy, I’m way ahead of my time/You’ll find another flow betta than mine? Neva mind.”– “My
Probably best known nationally for his appearance in the MTV hit reality series Making The Band 2, Elliot Ness was the first selected member of P. Diddy’s Da Band for good reason. His obvious bravado and clever word play have made him a Philadelphia star in freestyle battles. Though those skills haven’t translated commercially (Da Band recorded only one album), E. Ness’ lyrically dissection of foes over his career have left many observers speechless. The Philly MC will simply eat a “wack” rapper alive and spit him back out.
7. Schoolly D. “Don’t got my dough, we don’t have to fight/But I tell you one thing, I won’t touch the mic.” – Get ‘N’ Paid
The Philadelphia hip-hop pioneer is oftentimes branded the originator of “gangsta” rap. Schoolly D certainly can’t compete long lyrically verse-for-verse with the other great rappers representing the city, but he recorded some classic hip-hop work like “Gucci Time,” “Saturday Night,” and “PSK” that none will ever be able to duplicate in terms of their impact on rap music. While his verses were often simplistic, Schoolly D was a very influential rapper during the music’s Golden Era who simply communicated how he felt to his fans. The Philly artist set the table for the majority of past and present controversial rappers to eat at.
6. Cassidy. “I caught a case but at least I ain’t a rat/I might not of went plat but at least I ain’t wack.”– “I Run Philly”
Similar to E. Ness,Cassidy’s lyrical gifts are sometimes so amazing. But unlike Ness, the Philadelphia rapper has found a way to effectively transfer those gritty skills into a few solid albums and radio-friendly hits. Hot singles like “Hotel,” “I’m A Hustla'” and “My Drink N’ My 2 Step” have gained some national notoriety. However, it’s his effortless knack to construct sharp rhymes without the aid of any music that cements him on my list. If Cass can stay out of legal troubles (he served 15 months for involuntary murder), expect him to open more eyes in the near future.
5. Bahamadia. “I’m sly-er than Stallone/Basic instincts like Sharon Stone.”– “Rugged Ruff”
Every time you hear Bahamadia’s metaphoric phrases, you instantly have to bob your head. In truth, that’s what real hip-hop music should entice fans to do, and that’s essentially why the Philadelphia MC’s ranked so high on my list. So calm, smooth and intelligent on the microphone, Bahamadia has a way of making rap listeners just feel her words and music. As the author of classic Philly songs like “Funk Vibe,” “Uknowhowwedu,” and “True Honey Buns,” Bahamadia should be mentioned in any serious discussion about the best female rappers to ever touch a microphone.
4. Will Smith (The Fresh Prince). “All you rappers yellin’ about who you put in a hearse/Do me a favor write a verse without one curse.”– “Freakin It”
It’s truthfully hard to image an Oscar-nominated actor can be overlooked in anything he does. Will Smith, known as the Fresh Prince in his earlier days alongside D.J. Jazzy Jeff, is oftentimes completely ignored in most discussions about major contributions to rap music. It may be because of his comical, radio-friendly songs. It may be because of the simple fact he’s from Philadelphia. Nonetheless, Will Smith’s one of the top rappers from the city and one of the best original storytellers in rap music’s history.
3. Gillie Da Kid. “It’s the King of Philly keep the club rockin’/Gillie’s flow is heroin I keep your head noddin”– “Get Down on the Ground”
As the self-proclaimed “K.O.P,” Gillie Da Kid has been grinding productively in the city’s streets along with his crew Major Figgas for many years. He departed Philadelphia for a brief minute, heading down south to collaborate with Cash Money in New Orleans, La. Never one to back down from anyone, Gillie later called Lil’ Wayne a fraud, saying he wrote Wayne’s raps and spearheaded his rapid rise to stardom. Gillie went lyrically toe-to-toe on “Frontin’ Like Ya Daddy” in the beef against arguably the best rapper in the business and to some listeners came out victorious.
2. Black Thought. “The principles of true hip-hop have been forsaken/It’s all contractual and about money makin'” – “What They Do”
After continuously releasing dope albums,The Roots’ front man Black Thought is now deservingly recognized nationally as well as worldwide for his precise, intricate lyrical abilities. No one in the entire hip-hop game does it better on stage than The Roots and Black Thought. The Philadelphia MC can battle the greatest in rap ciphers as well as deliver a hot single to radio stations. It’s his versatility and completeness not just as a rap artist but as a musical artist that secure Black Thought on my list. A truly complex artist at times, it might take a minute for listeners to fully grasp and appreciate a Black Thought verse.
1. Beanie Sigel. “Hit the studio, jars of dro, bars to blow/It’s B. Sigel with that arsenic flow.” — “The Truth”
Maybe it’s his husky voice and concrete delivery. Maybe it’s his close affiliation with rap kingpin Jay Z and the Roc-A-Fella Records family. Maybe it’s just “The Truth” a
nd real talk he spits frequently to his fans. In reality, it’s just the combination of all these strengths as well as a few others that land Beanie Sigel in the No. 1 spot on my list of the Top 10 Philadelphia rappers of all-time. Admittedly, the rugged Philly MC never envisioned being a rap star as a youngster. That’s especially what makes hearing him deliver consistently memorable verses on a multitude of mixtapes, his four solo efforts and other artists’ projects even more impressive.