As the birthplace of hip hop, the East Coast has always been important to the rap and hip-hop community. From humble beginnings in the Bronx to a worldwide takeover, East Coast rappers changed the way we listen to music.
From the golden age in the 90s to today, here are the best East Coast rappers.
1. The Notorious B.I.G.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, The Notorious B.I.G is arguably the greatest East Coast rapper of all time.
B.I.G. transformed the rap game in the early 90s when he signed to Bad Boy Records and released his first solo album, Ready to Die, in 1994. This album made The Notorious B.I.G the figurehead of the East Coast rap scene.
Unfortunately, Biggie’s career ended after he died in 1997 in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, Ca. While his career was short, Biggie Small’s legacy will live on.
Nas burst onto the New York rap scene in the early 90s and is often regarded as one of the most influential rappers.
Right from his debut album, Illmatic, Nas showed his lyrical skills. As of 2012, The Source ranked Nas as the second greatest lyricist of all time.
Never one to back down from controversy, Nas is notorious for his diss records and feuds with other rappers. Over the years, Nas battled with Jay-z, Cam’ron, 2Pac, and Young Jeezy.
3. A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest is a rap group from Queens, NY. The original lineup of the Tribe includes:
- Phife Dawg
- Ali Shaheed Muhammad
- Jarobi White
Along with other local New York rap groups, A Tribe Called Quest pioneered alternative and conscious hip hop in the 1980s and 1990s.
Over the years, Tribe recorded six studio albums between 1990 and 2017. In 1996, the group broke into the mainstream as their album, Beats, Rhymes, and Life, peaked at number one on the US Billboard Charts.
A Tribe Called Quest is one of the most critically successful rap groups as well. The Tribe is known for its unique musical production and lyrical prowess.
4. Wu-Tang Clan
Hailing from Queens, Wu-Tang Clan features some of the most notorious rap artists. Each member has had massive success and helped shape the future of East Coast rap.
The original Clan included:
- Ol’ Dirty Bastard
- Ghostface Killah
- Method Man
- Inspectah Deck
- Masta Killa
Their albums popularized a harder sound compared to many other East Coast rappers of the 1990s.
Right from the release of their debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), The Wu-Tang Clan has helped shape the current state of hip hop worldwide.
5. Pete Rock & CL Smooth
Debuting in 1991, Pete Rock & CL Smooth were instrumental during the golden age of hip hop.
Producer Pete Rock pioneered using obscure jazz and soul records for the backing tracks on his records. CL Smooth delivered a smooth and stylistic rap flow over the beats.
While the duo never went on to massive pop chart success, Pete Rock & CL Smooth had a massive impact on East Coast rap’s popularity during the 1990s.
6. De La Soul
Along with A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul was instrumental in the conscious rap scene of the early 1990s. The group used jazz and disco samples to create fun and energetic songs that also had something to say.
De La Soul included members Posdnuos, Trugoy, and Maseo. Along with producer Prince Paul, the trio released their debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, in 1989. Their debut was a massive success, and they received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance the same year.
Since their debut, De La Soul released seven more albums but never had the same commercial success as their first album.
7. The Beastie Boys
In the 1980s, hip-Hop was traditionally dominated by the African-American community. Then the Beastie Boys burst onto the scene from New York City. Originally a punk band, the group teamed up with super producer Rick Ruben to release their first rap album in 1986.
Licensed to Ill was a huge success and brought The Beastie Boys international fame. While their first album was their biggest success, The Beastie Boys transformed from party guys into legitimate rappers on their subsequent albums.
Albums like Paul’s Boutique, Ill Communication, and Check Your Head are often cited as some of the most unique rap albums of all time.
8. Mobb Deep
While the West Coast is known for its gangster rap, Mobb Deep was busy creating its own East Coast version. Rappers Prodigy and Havoc brought their real-life gangster experiences in New York to the forefront of East Coast hip hop in the mid-1990s.
The duo released eight studio albums, with three albums charting during their career. The Infamous, Hell on Earth, and Murda Muzik showed that Mobb Deep could produce gangster rap better than anyone in the late 90s.
No East Coast rapper list would be complete without Jay-Z. Arguably the most successful East Coast rapper, Jay-Z became a central figure in the hip-hop scene in the late 1980s.
As CEO of Def Jam Recordings, Jay-Z has been vital to the success of many modern-day superstars, including Kanye West, Rihanna, and J. Cole.
As a rapper, Jay-Z has lyrics that can outshine almost every other MC. He released his first studio album, Reasonable Doubt, in 1995 on Roc-A-Fella Records. Ever since the first release, Jay-Z’s continues to top the charts and sell millions of records worldwide.
Between his rap, record label, and business success, Jay-Z is one of the most influential East Coast rappers of all time.
Born and raised in Mount Vernon, NY, DMX burst onto the hip hop scene in the early 1990s. By 1998, DMX became a household name after releasing two albums, It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, and And Then There Was X.
After mastering his rap career, DMX turned to acting and had a string of successful films during the 2000s. Belly, Romeo Must Die, and Exit Wounds were all modest hits and have since turned into cult classics.
DMX returned to music to record a total of eight studio albums. Unfortunately, DMX passed away due to complications after a heart attack in 2021.
11. Eric B. & Rakim
Rakim often turns up on the greatest rapper of all time lists. Born and raised in Long Island, Eric B & Rakim were at the forefront of the golden age of hip hop during the late 1980s.
Producer and DJ Eric B. provided the unique backing tracks and beats for Rakim’s flawless rap flow. Whether in Rolling Stone Magazine or The Source, Eric B. & Rakim always get brought up as some of the most influential rappers.
From their debut album, Paid in Full, Eric B. & Rakim had a huge impact on hip-hop and rap music.
12. 50 Cent
Born in South Jamaica Queens, 50 Cent started rapping after a tough childhood and selling drugs from the age of 12. 50 Cent started finding fame in the late 1990s after releasing several mix tapes.
By 2002, 50 Cent finally broke through to the mainstream after releasing Get Rich or Die Tryin’. This album had several massive hits, including In da Club, 21 Questions, and P.I.M.P.
Since his initial success, 50 Cent became a household name and released four studio albums. He’s also had an extensive film career since the mid-2000s and was recently featured in the 2022 Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Born and raised in Hollis, Queens, RUN-D.M.C were the first rap act to crossover to mainstream success in the 1980s.
Founded by members Jam Master Jay, Joseph Summons, and Darryl McDaniels, the group leveraged appearances on MTV and collaboration with Aerosmith to revolutionize hip hop in 1984. Their cover of Walk This Way opened doors for other rappers and changed how the world viewed the genre.
Cited as the 48th Greatest Artist of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine, the legacy of RUN-D.M.C is still felt today.
As part of Boogie Down Productions, KRS-One is one of the most influential and controversial rap musicians on the East Coast.
Born and raised in New York City, KRS-One found critical acclaim early in his career thanks to his hard and conscious rap style.
After underground success with Boogie Down Productions, KRS-One broke out on his own and released his first solo album, Return of the Boom Bap, in 1993. During a time when gangster rap reigned supreme, KRS-One instead spoke about civil rights, police abuse, and other controversial topics.
15. Public Enemy
Chuck D and Flavor Flav formed Public Enemy in Long Island, NY in 1985. Thanks to their politically charged music and videos, the group quickly gained popularity.
The duo released their debut studio album Yo! Bum Rush the Show in 1987. The album was a critical success, and Public Enemy followed it up with It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in 1988.
Their second album is often regarded as one of the greatest and most influential records of all time.
By the mid-90s, Public Enemy went through several member changes, and the group disbanded. In 2020, Public Enemy appeared back on stage at a campaign rally for Bernie Sanders and is now back touring.
16. Big Pun
Big Pun was an East Coast rapper from New York City. Starting in the underground NY scene, Big Pun rose to mainstream success in the early 1990s after working with Fat Joe and the Terror Squad.
Big Pun released his first studio album, Capital Punishment, in 1997. The album was a critical and commercial success and received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album.
After his initial success, Big Pun released one more solo album, Yeeeah Baby, in 2000.
17. Puff Daddy
Puff Daddy was born Sean Combs in New York City. As a rapper and producer, Combs had a huge part to play in the East Coast hip-hop scene.
Combs founded Bad Boy Records in 1993. It was here that Combs produced records for some of the biggest hip-hop musicians of all time, including The Notorious B.I.G. and Mary J. Blige.
As a rapper, Puff Daddy created memorable sing-along hip-hop tracks. His debut album, No Way Out, was a massive success and won the Grammy for Best Rap Album in 1998.
Since his debut, Puff Daddy went on to record three more studio albums. Combs is also busy in the studio still and received a Grammy nomination as a songwriter for Kanye West’s song All Day in 2016.
18. A$AP Rocky
While East Coast rap’s golden age was from the late 1980s to the 1990s, A$Ap Rocky wasn’t born yet. Still, this young rapper can hold his own with some of the greatest rappers of all time.
Raised in New York City, A$AP Rocky released his first album, Long. Live. A$AP in 2013. The album was an instant success and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 charts, cementing his popularity.
A$AP released two more albums since his debut, and both have achieved commercial and critical success.
19. The Fugees
The Fugees were a trio of rappers from South Orange, NJ. The group included Wyclef Jean, Pras Michel, and Lauryn Hill.
The trio found mainstream success after their second release, The Score, in 1996. The album featured alternative hip hop combined with conscious rap and struck a chord with the fans.
The Score is often on lists of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Lauryn Hill also finds her way onto the greatest rappers of all time lists.
The group disbanded, and each member went on successful solo careers. As of 2022, the group is back together and performing a reunion tour.
20. MF Doom
Born in London, MF Doom moved to Long Island, NY as a child. It was here Doom began his rap career in the 1990s.
MF Doom rose to prominence performing at open mic nights in a Dr. Doom mask. He finally released his debut album in 1999. Operation Doomsday was an underground success and found critical acclaim.
Throughout the 2000s, MF Doom released a string of underground hip-hop albums that have since achieved a cult-like status. He’s often regarded as one of the most influential rappers of the 2000s despite never achieving commercial success.
21. Mac Miller
Not every East Coast rapper is from New York. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Mac Miller started his rap career at the age of 15.
After releasing a string of independent mix tapes, Miller released his first studio album, Blue Slide Park, in 2011. Blue Slide Park was a huge hit. It also made a splash as it was the first independently-distributed album at the top of the Billboard 200 since 1995.
By 2013, Miller founded his label, REMember Music. Here he released the notable Watching Movies with the Sound Off.
Unfortunately, Mac Miller passed away due to an accidental drug overdose in 2018.
Logic is an East Coast rapper from Rockville, Maryland. He began his musical career in 2010 after releasing a mixtape titled Young, Broke, & Infamous.
Logic cites other East Coast rappers like A Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang Clan as his inspiration.
After a string of successful mixtape releases, Logic signed to Def Jam Recordings in 2013. At Def Jam, he released two studio albums that reached the top five on the Billboard 200. By 2017, he released his third album, Everybody, which peaked at number one.
23. Meek Mill
Born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, Meek Mill started his career as a battle rapper. From here, he would sign with a few labels before finding success with Maybach Music Group.
Mill’s debut album, Dreams and Nightmares, was a huge hit and reached number two on the Billboard 200. After several releases, Mill launched his label, Dream Chaser Records, in 2012.
Like other rappers on the list, Mill is notorious for feuding with other rappers and has spent time battling Drake, The Game, 6ix9ine, and other rappers on his tracks.
24. Cardi B
While men traditionally dominate the East Coast rap scene, Cardi B shows that women are just as important to East Coast rap.
Known for her lewd rhymes and candid lyrics, Cardi B is arguably one of the most successful and influential female rappers of all time. If you don’t like songs about sex, you should avoid Cardi B’s discography.
Born and raised in New York City, Cardi B rose to prominence thanks to her internet celebrity. From here, she released several mix tapes and her first album in 2018. Invasion of Privacy debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.
Since then, Cardi B has had a huge impact on hip-hop culture and is one of the most influential artists of this generation.
25. R.A. the Rugged Man
Rapping since he was 12, R.A. the Rugged Man signed to his first label by 18. Born and raised in Suffolk County, NY, R.A. found underground success in the local NY hip hop scene in the 1990s.
Throughout the 2000s, R.A. continued to release albums to critical acclaim but always stayed an underground rapper. The Rugged Man tackles controversial topics in many of his songs, while other tracks are lewd and outlandish.
R.A. the Rugged Man has seen a resurgence with his latest release, All My Heroes Are Dead, in 2020.
26. Queen Latifah
One of the first women rappers to find commercial success, Queen Latifah is a rapper and actress from Newark, NJ.
In the late 1980s, Latifah signed to Tommy Boy Records and released her debut album, All Hail the Queen. Latifah went on to record four albums in the 1990s.
While an excellent rapper, Latifah found success in the 90s as an actress. Over her 30-year acting career, Latifah starred in countless films, including Beauty Shop, 22 Jump Street, and House Party 2.
27. Princess Nokia
Relatively new to the East Coast rap scene, Princess Nokia found critical success in 2010. Born and raised in New York City, Nokia released her first studio album, Metallic Butterfly, in 2014.
Princess Nokia is known for her unique rhyming style and experimental music production. Many of her tracks combine prevalent NYC subcultures, including the rave, hardcore, and punk scenes.
While never achieving massive commercial success, critics cite Nokia as an up-and-coming artist to watch.
28. Aesop Rock
Don’t confuse A$AP Rocky with Aesop Rock. While they’re both incredible rappers, they offer a unique take on hip hop. Born and raised on Long Island, Aesop Rock is one of the most influential underground rappers on the East Coast scene.
Aesop Rock began his career in the late 90s and produced a string of artistically creative albums. His lyrical style is impressive, and not many other rappers use as large a vocabulary as Aesop.
Aesop Rock is an underground favorite and also performs alongside The Weathermen, Hail Mary Mallon, The Uncluded, and Malibu Ken.
29. J. Cole
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, J. Cole started his musical career at age 14. By 2009, Cole released his second mixtape, The Warm Up.
After several mixtapes and features with artists like Mos Def and Talib Kweli, J. Cole released his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story, in 2011. The album peaked at number one on the US Billboard 200, and J.Cole’s career hit the mainstream.
Since his first release, J. Cole is now one of the most influential rap musicians in the scene. He’s also been featured on countless other albums, including releases from Drake, Missy Elliott, and Jay-Z.
J. Cole is also critically successful. Over his career, he’s received 15 Grammy nominations and won Best Rap song for A Lot in 2020.
30. Lil Uzi Vert
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Lil Uzi Vert is quickly becoming one of the most influential rappers of the current generation.
Popularizing emo rap and trap music, Lil Uzi Vert rose to prominence after the release of his debut single, Money Longer, in 2016. With the help of viral internet success, Lil Uzi Vert burst onto the scene.
Lil Uzi Vert’s music took a new approach to hip hop. The songs mixed psychedelic sounds, lo-fi drum beats, and trap bass lines to create a new take on hip-hop music. Combined with depressing lyrics, the sound is often referred to as emo rap.
From a modest start, Vert found critical and commercial success. His duet with Migos, Bad and Boujee, received a grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance in 2018.
31. Lil’ Kim
If it wasn’t for Lil’ Kim, we might not have Cardi B or Nick Minaj. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Kim started freestyle rapping in the mid-1990s. Her big break came after Notorious B.I.G invited her to join his rap supergroup Junior M.A.F.I.A.
As part of Junior M.A.F.I.A, Kim performed on two top 20 singles. She released her debut album, Hard Core, in 1996. From here, Lil’ Kim had several hits and went on to major success throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
Lil Kim also found success when teaming up with some of the biggest artists of the past 30 years. Throughout her career, she teamed up with Mya, Pink, Christina Aguilera, 50 Cent, and more.
Know for her hardcore and lewd lyrics, Lil Kim’ paved the way for many female rappers and is still a notable figure in the East Coast rap scene. The Queen Bee of rap, Lil’ Kim is a hip-hop icon.
Top East Coast Rappers, Final Thoughts
The East Coast has a long history with hip hop. From the birth of the genre in the Bronx to modern-day rappers changing the game, there are countless rappers we could add to this list.
Hopefully, this list is diverse and gives you a few new artists to listen to. Did we miss one of your favorite East Coast rappers? Let us know!