New Jersey is known for producing countless musical legends, with many more in the making. While rock artists like Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi are the most revered, the state has produced its fair share of iconic rappers.
Read on to learn more about the best New Jersey rappers ever.
Queen Latifah is a pioneer for female hip-hop artists, with a projected induction into the Rock Hall of Fame in 2038. The multi-Grammy-winning rapper was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1970. She did not just pave the way for female rappers–She was the first hip-hop artist of any gender to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
New Jersey should be proud to have Queen Latifah representing the state as a widely-loved rapper and revered actress.
Russell James Vitale hails from Secaucus, NJ. Due to his father’s career, his family did not stay in the state for much of his childhood. They moved to Atlanta when he was a boy, where Russ started to come into his own as a rapper. He began writing rap lyrics as early as seven and recorded his first single at 18.
He may have found inspiration in Atlanta, but he will be a Jersey boy at heart.
The artist Treach comes from East Orange, New Jersey, a town in the state’s northeast. The rapper is known for a fruitful entertainment career that spans music and film. His most notorious work is as the frontman of the Jersey-based band Naughty by Nature, where he worked with fellow rappers Vin Rock and DJ Kay Gee to produce albums like 19 Naughty III and Nineteen Naughty Nine: Nature's Fury.
Lauryn Noelle Hill is from East Rutherford, New Jersey, but fans everywhere often regard her as one of the best rappers in the world. After a brief stint in New York as a child, she and her family ultimately settled in South Orange.
Lauryn has come a long way since she joined her first music group in high school. Her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill debuted in 1998, and listeners immediately brought it to number one on the Billboard charts.
The rapper and actor Chino XL was born in New York City but later hopped over to the neighboring state of New Jersey with his family. He lived in a few different NJ cities while pursuing his musical career.
His 1996 debut album, Here To Save You All, got his career off the ground. A fan-favorite is the tune “Kreep,” which samples Radiohead’s iconic song “Creep.” He soon became known for calling out controversial public figures in his songs, such as O.J. Simpson.
The well-known entertainment industry professional Ice-T is a born-and-raised New Jerseyan. He was born in Newark and currently resides in Edgewater. His career spans decades, as he started rapping in the 1980s and performed at a Fox New Year’s Eve toast in 2021.
After he received proper recognition in the music industry, he segued into the film and television world. His film debut was in the 1984 film Breakin’, and he later starred in the 1999 HBO movie Stealth Fighter.
The hip-hop artist Akon was born in St. Louis and spent much of his childhood in Senegal until he and his family permanently moved to Union City, New Jersey. By the time he hit high school, he lived independently in Jersey City.
Akon’s debut album was Trouble, which encompassed influences from everywhere the artist lived as a child. There were east coast hip-hop elements, southern beats, and his essential West-African vocals. The artist has come a long way since the start, with several Grammy wins and a long-lasting impact on the hip-hop industry.
Redman made a come-up on the early 90s hip-hop scene with the record label Def Jam. The rapper-producer was born Reginald Noble in 1970 in none other than Newark. He loved listening to music during his childhood, and he started DJing at 18. Erick Sermon took him under his wing, kickstarting Redman’s prolific career.
The artist’s most iconic works are with his friend and collaborator, the revered Method Man. Together, they made the rap duo Method Man & Redman.
The artist Mike Zombie hails from Willingboro Township, a town in central Jersey. Most rap fans know Mike Zombie as a producer for Drake’s label, with his most famous production being “Started From the Bottom Now We Here.”
Not many fans know that the producer has a career as a rapper-songwriter. Mike Zombie has released several mixtapes, including The End of the Beginning, Rebel Without a Cause, Humble Genius, Eastside Stories, and The Silver Tape.
The Haitian hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean moved from Haiti to Newark with his family at a young age. His career took off after he joined the Fugees, a Jersey-based rap group. His notoriety has skyrocketed since his first album Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival.
Wyclef Jean has received several Grammy nominations and wins, including “Best Rap Album” for Killing Me Softly and “Album of the Year” for producing Supernatural.
The rapper-songwriter Miilkbone comes from Perth Amboy, NJ. He released his first studio album, Da' Miilkrate, in 1995 and two more albums afterward, U Got Miilk and Voice of Reason.
The 2015 work Voice of Reason, his most recent album, shows NJ pride by featuring other Jersey rappers on the tracks, like Chino XL and Treach.
Darien Corey Dash Jr. is from Hackensack, where he first fell in love with music and the signature sound of east coast hip-hop. He earned a spot working with the rap group ASAP Mob, leading to his first large-scale feature on Lords Never Worry.
Dash has released four critically acclaimed albums: Loose Skrew, 5 Deadly Venoms, Walk the Plank, and Beta. He has collaborated with notorious talents like Mac Miller and Vince Staples.
Ok, a bit of a curve ball here. Shaquille O’Neal, better known as “Shaq,” encompasses New Jersey’s multitudes with his multifaceted career. While he now raps, the artist, born in Newark, is a widely respected basketball player with copious impressive accolades. He is among the most respected athletes in the NBA’s history, even holding a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
In addition to his athletic career, Shaq has released four rap albums: Shaq Diesel, Shaq Fu: Da Return, You Can’t Stop the Reign, and Respect.
The single “Candy Land” is Justina Valentine’s claim to fame, but she is not from the mystical candy land. Instead, she is from Passaic County, New Jersey. She grew up as a dancer and musical theater performer, and hip-hop had her heart from an early age.
“Bubble Gum” and “Hip-Hop Joan Jett” were two of the first singles she released online. Fans and critics alike revered the jams, and she was able to continue pursuing music. She used her success as a rapper to dip her toe into the TV world, becoming a recurring cast member on Wild ‘N Out and Nick Cannon.
Pace Won, or Pacewon, is an international talent born in New Brunswick and moved to Newark. He worked with Rah Digga, Young Zee, Slang Ton, Yah Yah, Loon, Axe, and Lil boyzazz to form the rap group “Outsidaz.”
Pacewon earned a solo career after the group split, releasing singles like “I Declare War” and “Do My Thing.” He moved to full-time production for other artists later in his career, releasing less music as he got older.
The artist Lady Luck got an early start in the game, signing a near-million-dollar record deal at 17. She comes from Englewood, but fans everywhere have been interested in her from the start of her career. The Source, a hip-hop magazine, included a section with monthly updates on her success.
She collaborated with Method Man and Redman on “Symphony 2000,” which peaked at number 28 on the charts. In 2017, she appeared on the reality TV show The First Family of Hip-Hop to discuss Sylvia Robinson.
Musician Audrey Nuna is a born-and-raised New Jerseyan with roots in the central town of Manalapan. Born Audrey Chu, she decided to pursue a hip-hop career at a young age. She doubled down on her quest for musical knowledge by attending the Clive Davis Music Institute of NYU.
The Arista Records artist is known to fuse several music genres, like many other modern hip-hop artists–rap, trap, pop, and r&b. Her most famous singles include “Damn Right,” “Long Night,” “Comic Sans,” and “Space.”
Flipmode Squad member Rah Digga comes from Newark, where she got her start in the hip-hop industry. Before she joined Busta Rhymes’s squad, she released her debut album, Dirty Harriet, in 2000.
The album earned a spot on Billboard’s top 20, allowing her to work with respected artists such as Bahamadia, Common Sense, and Foxy Brown.
Rah Digga proved her versatility by stepping into the film world early in her career. She played Maggie in Steve Beck’s 2001 horror film Thirteen Ghosts.
“Banji” and “Smash up the Place” are two of the most popular singles from the stylish Sharaya J’s discography. She was born in Honolulu but later moved to the mainland U.S. and settled in New Jersey.
The rapper has a way with words, as demonstrated by her song lyrics and former screenwriting career. Her first public work was a self-released mixtape titled Dope Product. She works closely with Missy Elliot, releasing music under the rapper-producer’s label, The Goldmind Inc.
The Somerville native Skinnyfromthe9 was born David Alex Villegas before taking on the unique stage name. The name has Jersey roots. He grew up with the area code 908, which is the meaning behind the “9” at the end of his rap name.
He spent most of his childhood in Somerville, but he moved around with his family to different U.S. cities until his parents both went to jail. He lived in homeless shelters for much of his youth.
Those with a propensity for absorbing rap lyrics will instantly take a liking to Kosha Dillz. Since his beginnings in Perth Amboy, the lyricist has received international recognition after touring with rap legends like the Wutang Clan’s Rza and Matisyahu.
His lyrics come from lived experience, creating focused, intriguing, and whimsical meanings in his songs. He enjoys tackling pressing social issues, leading to works like his single “Rise Up,” which deals with antisemitism. It is not the only time he references his Israeli roots, as he has another popular song, “The Hannukah Song 2.0.”
The singer-songwriter Danielle Balbuena won over the hearts of rap lovers when she stepped into the game using her stage name, 070 Shake. Kanye West was the North Bergen native’s claim to fame, as she worked with him on the production process, and he later signed her to his label.
Her first studio album was Modus Vivendi, and You Can’t Kill Me came shortly after. Both works were well-received by listeners, with her debut album peaking at 70 on the charts.
The hip-hop emcee Lakim Shabazz no longer creates music but has left a permanent mark on the industry. Like many other notorious rap artists, Lakim Shabazz comes from Newark, New Jersey.
His hometown coincides with his career, as he is a founding member of an early version of the Flavor Unit–a well-known NJ/NYC-based group of DJs and MCs. Among his more notable works are his 1988 singles, Pure Righteousness, and Black is Back.
Top New Jersey Rappers, Final Thoughts
Rap lovers can thank the Garden State for hosting some of the most influential rappers ever. Some of the rappers on the list have paved the way for future artists. The State of New Jersey has a knack for creating talented musicians, and its hip-hop scene deserves a seat at the table.