Regardless of being within the mainstream consciousness for over twenty years now, Hip-Hop continues to be largely thought to consist solely of idiotic, crude and sometimes pointlessly violent lyrics that debase and malign the English language. Though to be honest, that’s nonetheless the vast majority of the Hip-Hop music being shoved down our throats by the massive music labels and radio. Nevertheless, there’s an more and more giant presence of extraordinarily clever Hip-Hop pushing the style’s boundaries and remodeling rap into academically and artistically viable poetry.

NOTE: Judging intelligence is a particularly subjective matter and can all the time spark debate, nevertheless I did abide by some standards when making my picks. My judgments have been made solely primarily based on their lyricism (not their intelligence as a human being, not figuring out any of the rappers on this checklist personally) concerning (a.) mastery and exemplary use of language, (b.) literacy and knowledgeability, and (c.) general material, idea and creative assertion. Components that I did NOT embody when making my selections have been issues like social consciousness, technical talent in supply, potential to learn a thesaurus, manufacturing, nor their perceived affect and legacy. The aim of this checklist was to hopefully educate these with preconceived notions in regards to the style and maybe present those that are already followers of the style a couple of new artists they will not be conversant in. Additionally, you will need to observe that “clever” is just not essentially synonymous with “greatest.”


Andre 3000

From OutKast


One of many few rappers on this checklist you must already in all probability pay attention to on this checklist, Andre 3000, rapper from the critically acclaimed and extremely well-liked Hip-Hop Duo, “OutKast,” is without doubt one of the most popular and revered rappers within the business from non-followers. And for good purpose too; whereas his slang-heavy southern dialect might flip some listeners away, he has expressed untold potential to make use of language to color lovely photos and make poignant statements, and he stays a beautiful story-teller. As his group progressed with its music, Andre 3000 turned more and more cerebral in his raps, usually dipping into summary lyricism and existentialism, and his unconventional use of language started to change into extra metaphorical than ever, making the common listener hear twice earlier than persevering with to groove out and have enjoyable. Certainly, Andre’s penchant for funk and “prince-esque” musical manufacturing led many to know him for his catchy and funky, non-rap single, “Hey Ya!” nevertheless he’ll all the time be remembered by these unique followers as a grasp emcee and highly effective poet. Test him out on the primary verse in this link.


Slug, from his Producer and Emcee duo Ambiance, has change into, through the years, the poster boy for Underground Hip Hop. He blends spoken phrase poetry with good ol’ normal rapping to create one thing that, in its early years, was an uncommon however highly effective mixture of straight-ahead honesty and summary expression. In his later years he has moved on to telling unhappy, on a regular basis life tales from a common perspective in his continuous journey to discover the human psyche. Nevertheless, I discovered his raps most unpredictable and creative again within the days when he was merely simply making an attempt to discover his personal psyche. Slug takes us on a painful, cathartic, and sometimes instances humorous journey by way of the caverns of his personal thoughts, simply looking for out who he’s, justifying it, apologizing for it, and ultimately accepting himself. [Youtube]

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Kool Keith paved the best way for lots of oddball rappers succeeding him. His lyrics have been unusual, oddly literate, all the time vulgar, and infrequently his free associative model dipped into the simply plain nonsensical. And but, he was all the time charming, and he was distinctive and nonetheless is. Typically instances when listening to his tracks you can simply think about the grin on Kool Keith’s face; the person *cherished* to play with language, and infrequently you’d catch the obscure pun in rhymes and at others his frustratingly summary but crude model managed to be lovely earlier than resuming repulsive as soon as once more. Actually Hip-Hop’s most peculiar export, Kool Keith additionally proved, from his lyricism, to be probably the most clever. *NOTE: Kook Keith rapped beneath many different pseudonyms, within the beneath hyperlink he went beneath the title of Dr. Octagon. [Youtube]

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Most likely the final entry on this checklist that the common reader could have heard of, Lupe Fiasco is a particularly well-liked artist regardless of having a number of the most deeply multi-layered lyrics the style has ever seen. Usually I’d see this as a constructive factor for the business, nevertheless his final album was a horrible, pandering piece of labor because of individuals working on the label (I’m not a man who rails towards mainstream evil hampering creative integrity and even like different individuals who spew such issues, however on this case I used to be very angered). That final tidbit apart, nevertheless, his earlier work was wonderful. He all the time had a socially accountable message in his agenda, however his rhymes have been greater than that. He would paint lovely, detailed photos, usually instances listening to him supplied an expertise akin to lucid dreaming, the best way he delivered his fantastical traces in his trademark laid again method. But, his lyrics weren’t simply free-associative “mush,” he all the time rapped with substance, usually instances only one couplet would supply three completely different that means concurrently, and but his command of language by no means allowed the listener to be overwhelmed or annoyed. Even should you didn’t all the time know what he meant you all the time felt it. And rattling… the person had a approach with phrases. [Youtube]



From Eyedea & Talents


It’s certainly one of my nice regrets in life is that I by no means noticed this man carry out stay earlier than he handed away, only in the near past. Eyedea was a formidable wordsmith, whose notoriously witty freestyling skills made him probably the most feared opponent to be reverse of in a battle rap. And but, it was in his precise songs the place his true achievements lay. Collaborating with DJ Talents (who, by the best way, would simply make any high ten DJ’s checklist) he rapped about philosophical themes comparable to existentialism and social economics, and he was in a position to preserve a story by way of using extraordinarily intelligent use of phrases. Certainly his model of rapping caught most of the uninitiated off guard however attracted a dedicated following from those that devoted their time to actually listening. Whereas he might tragically not be with us, his phrases will stay immortalized. [Youtube]


Again within the mid nineties El-P fashioned the group, Firm Move, which might introduce to the world his self-coined “unbiased as fuck” music which might single-handedly reform the underground Hip-Hop motion with its sparse, dangerously witty, clever rhymes and manufacturing, which was all coated with an angle so fierce it will outmatch early nineties “gangsta rap” when it comes to depth. Not that the 2 have been ever in contrast earlier than, nor did they ever element excessively graphic violence in his rhymes (which might not make them any worse if it did, I’m not biased towards violent rap) however he all the time spoke with such defiance and delight, in addition to with cynicism that may freeze the guts of a divine angel. Even far into his solo profession, lengthy after he based one of the vital effectively revered underground Hip-Hop labels, Definitive Jux (which is simply matched by Ambiance’s Rhymesayers), El-P would by no means hassle making his music the slightest bit accessible. His lyricism was all the time summary and intense, and he all the time rapped in a fashion which might make one suppose he was conscious of some imprecise, impending apocalypse, nevertheless science fiction buffs would respect his references and people prepared to dig deeper could be stunned by the preconceived nature of his symbolism. Typically it appeared El-P was extra serious about attacking the listener than anything, however to his profit, after a number of listens, El-P would supply a particularly deep listening expertise to those that took the time to present him the time of day. [Youtube]

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Up-Sage Francis

Sage Francis is an asshole, there’s little doubt about that, which is why so many individuals have taken to hating him. Nevertheless there’s additionally little doubt that Sage Francis might go for the remainder of his life successful each poetry slam he rattling effectively pleases, making individuals sound like idiots as a result of he has the intelligence and merciless wit to take action, and general feeding his ego with delusions of being the self-tortured artist. However he doesn’t. Sage Francis as a substitute chooses to proceed make music in a style the place he won’t ever have an viewers, and but nonetheless attracts followers, and makes data which can be so deep, so haunting, and so achingly nihilistic that his music types a deep reference to anybody who dares hearken to it. And the person is so witty, he makes performs with language, takes well-liked phrases and abuses them, twists them and divulges them to be nothing within the first place. There’s a deep rooted respect I’ve for the person, as huge of a self-proclaimed “asshole” as he could also be. [Youtube]

Saul Williams 061 Imagelarge

To be honest, Saul Williams was a famous and effectively-embellished poet earlier than he went into Hip-Hop. Nevertheless, his output as a “rapper” has given the style a few of its most thought upsetting materials but. He all the time had an agenda way more political and impressive than simply private poetry might present, however his suave use of phrases and the sheer pressure he might muster supplied a cathartic listening expertise. Ever since permitting himself to change into part of Hip-Hop, he had endlessly modified how individuals percieved it and blurred the traces between poetry and rap to the purpose the place individuals can truthfully argue that rap has the potential to be true poetry with out having to place up an excessive amount of of a battle. [Youtube]

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Hip-Hop’s true mental, one needs that he wasn’t as rattling obscure as he at present is and (sadly) in all probability all the time shall be. I suppose some would write him off as pretentious, however I solely have two buddies who really know of him and all of us love him. His language is so detailed and exact, but uncommon. It takes a real grasp of the language to make use of phrases within the method that he does, and his diction is (practically) unparalleled. Not that utilizing huge phrases mechanically makes you an clever rapper, but when you can also make a rhyme sound as fairly as he does you’d mechanically go down in historical past. He can rap about one thing so easy and mundane and but discover deep that means from inside it, he can deal with subjects so broad, ask questions so huge, it’s practically scary within the methods he offers solutions. He references every little thing from Shakespeare to spiritual doctrine to well-known scientific proceedings. I would not have the vocabulary that Illogic has, so I’ll use this adjective as soon as once more, his lyrics are so god rattling fairly. Like on on-line commenter mentioned higher than I might ever, “It’s like HDTV to the ears.” Illogic a type of ever uncommon, ever beneficial gems that you’ll often stumble throughout in music. [Youtube]

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This artist rides the road of you both heard of him or you realize all about him simply as a lot as he attracts between those that passionately love him and people who passionately hate him. Meet Aesop Rock, probably the most clever rapper to have ever lived. Effectively, first meet the massive quantity of dismissive individuals and confounded critics who will let you know he’s nonsensical and appears like he’s studying a dictionary as a result of -obviously- something they don’t perceive should not make any sense. Truly, probably the most irritating factor about Aesop Rock is that he’s hardly ever ever, in all probability by no means, nonsensical. His lyrics are so intricately detailed that after the primary line is spit it isn’t unusual to be fully misplaced. And his summary use of language doesn’t assist both, he alway does away with putting phrases in linear order, and sometimes instances makes use of phrases as he intends for them to imply, not the way it was initially supposed to be heard. And it will take the entire web’s assets to comply with every certainly one of his references, whether or not it’s an historical Greek tragedy or an episode of Dragon Ball Z.

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Overwhelmed? Don’t be. He’s not as intimidating as I could also be describing him to be, oftentimes I don’t know what he’s speaking about and but the pictures that he paints and the best way by which says them nonetheless depart a powerful emotional response. He adopts an summary (I concern I’ve been abusing that phrase a lot an excessive amount of over the course of this checklist) and fractured method of phrasing, that every one contributes to 1 basic theme which may vary from a grounded examination of twenty first century People or might be extra off the sting like an existential contemplation on the character of human’s disillusionment with the imagined forces that be. Don’t attempt to decipher all of the lyrics in certainly one of his songs without delay as that may be as irritating as wading by way of Joyce’s “Ulysses” or as futile as making an attempt learn “Finnegans Wake” cowl to cowl. However every time one thing clicks, and the that means to certainly one of his traces unlocks its that means it may be probably the most satisfying experiences attainable to reap from any artwork type.

And but someway, even with all of this, he can nonetheless handle to make his lyrics sound pure and unpretentious. It’s onerous for listeners to persuade themselves that his work is just not someway real, which is presumably his best achievement of all. Aesop Rock will in all probability be remembered in a extra important stature than the style itself when it’s all mentioned and executed, even when for now he’ll solely play to a smaller, area of interest market. In honor of his stature at primary, I’m offering three examples, nevertheless the primary one might be probably the most definitive of his physique of labor and greatest place to begin for brand spanking new listeners, examine the opposite two out afterwards if nonetheless . [Youtube, Clip2, Clip3]


I had a number of Hip-Hop artists that I thought-about for this, however since I used to be adamant in trimming the checklist down to simply what I thought-about to be the highest ten when it comes to intelligence, I needed to make a number of omissions. I checklist a few of them right here, in no specific order.

Pharoahe Monch (pictured)
Mos Def
Talib Kwali
Immortal Method
C Ray Walz
Del the Funkee Homosapien
Reward of Gab

I hope you loved this checklist, or maybe might need been educated by it. On the finish of the day, it’s nonetheless pretty subjective, so anybody with their very own opinion and information could have a distinct checklist. Once more, probably the most clever rappers aren’t essentially an inventory of the most effective ones, certainly an inventory of my favourite, or what I take into account to be greatest, Hip-Hop artists would certainly look completely different than this (though neither could be acceptable for this web site). Suggestions and opinions appreciated!


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