Top 5 Influential Hip-hop Artists - Melodie
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Top 5 Influential Hip-hop Artists

Hip-hop has grown through many changes since the late 1970s when it first hit the scene in New York City. In the decades since, an endless number of rappers and hip-hop artists in the US and around the world have brought their unique approach to continue its evolution. To celebrate Global Hip-hop Day, we’ve profiled five influential hip-hop artists who have made a significant impact on the genre.

Five Influential Hip-hop Artists You Should Know

Grandmaster Flash

We need to pay our respects to one of the founding fathers of hip-hop: Grandmaster Flash.  As a songwriter, DJ, rapper, and record producer, he played an important role in shaping the sound of hip-hop music. He is credited as having developed the technique of cutting and scratching in hip-hop by using two turntables. Flash also became the first hip-hop DJ to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

Flash and his group—Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five—represented the hip-hop movement in New York. They had a significant role in shaping both old school hip-hop (which was more fast-paced) and later hip-hop music (which was slower). Their use of turntablism, break-beating, and conscious lyricism can still be seen today.

Tupac Shakur

You can’t have a list without mentioning Tupac. He brought a level of rawness and poetic drive to hip-hop that made people want to listen. His raps told stories in the most intricate and detailed of ways. Tupac’s lyrics also had a social conscience. Years after his tragic death, Tupac is still a voice for people who feel marginalised by political and social systems. 

Tupac was a symbol of activism by addressing social issues that plagued the black community. His song Brenda’s Got A Baby is a great example of Tupac’s lyrical storytelling. The song details the life of a 12-year-old black girl who has a baby, falls into drugs and prostitution, and then is eventually killed. To this day, his music motivates other hip-hop artists to be more poetic, and socially conscious.

Jay Z

Even at the beginning of his career, Jay Z was ahead of his time and has been a prolific artist since 1996. He’s considered one of the greatest lyricists of all time. With the heart of a hustler and the words of a teacher, he gives a different meaning to being schooled. His debut album, Reasonable Doubt felt like a manifesto on how he pushed through his struggles and his ambitions as an artist. 

But Jay Z’s legacy as a hip-hop artist goes beyond his lines, flow, and wordplay. He created a hip-hop empire—music, luxury goods, and fashion. When Jay said, “I’m not a businessman / I’m a business, man / Let me handle my business,” he was spitting facts. Now, he is hip-hop’s first billionaire.

MC Lyte

MC Lyte is a pioneer of female rap. Lyte helped transition hip-hop from the feel-good, party vibe of the late 1970s to a socially conscious form of expression. Her social commentary was delivered with a sense of humour that made it more palatable for radio play. She is also the first female rapper ever to be nominated for a Grammy Award, the first rap artist to perform at Carnegie Hall, and the first female artist to earn a gold single. 

Lyte was one of the first female rappers to point out sexism and misogyny in the hip-hop industry. She railed against the male-dominated mainstream rap scene throughout her career, constantly pushed the boundaries, and cemented a place for women in hip-hop.

Salt-N-Pepa

Salt-N-Pepa are influential hip-hop artists for several reasons. It wasn’t just that they were talented rappers (and a turntablist) who were flaunting traditional gender roles—it was also that they were shattering rap’s lyrical stereotypes.  The group broke ground by paving the way for women in hip-hop and pop culture at large through their bold lyrics about sexual relationships and empowerment. Their two biggest hit songs –  Push It and Let’s Talk About Sex broke down barriers for female rappers and women everywhere.

Today, Salt-N-Pepa are widely recognised as feminist pioneers. The group has received awards from Billboard Magazine’s Women of the Year Award and has been featured in both Black Girls Rock! And BET Hip-hop Awards. But beyond these accolades, their legacy lives on through other female rappers who have built careers off their foundation as trailblazers for women in hip-hop culture.

One thing you should take away from this post is that hip-hop has been an extraordinary musical phenomenon.  Its influence extends all the way from the politics of urban streets to deep into pop culture, and, as the above artists show.

Louie Anne Mapa
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Louie’s a social-media-savvy marketing professional, creating engaging content for Melodie’s artist, client and ambassador communities.