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Legendary Rappers from Brooklyn & Hip Hop Artists

In Brooklyn, Guides by Guest AuthorLeave a Comment

Some of the most legendary hip hop artists and rappers from Brooklyn are the biggest in the game and have been for some time. It’s no secret that the East Coast has hip hop down, originating in the 1970s in New York City we have been the stronghold of the genre for decades as the birthplace.

As a matter of fact, East Coast hip hop is even considered its own subgenre of music.

This guide covers some of the most influential and legendary rappers from Brooklyn whose work has been influenced by social and political environment and shifts that have happened in the borough and a way for artists to express their daily life, hardships and/or, celebrations through their lyrics and music not to mention those prideful Brooklyn anthems.

Brooklyn has some of the highest concentrations of rappers in the city, and here are a few of some of the most celebrated and greatest hip hop artists from Brooklyn from old-school legends to the younger artists emerging in the scene.

About the Author

Eric Garner is a Brooklyn-based writer who was raised down south who loves talking about film, TV, hip-hop, and fashion.

Brooklyn Hip Hop Artists

Yasiin Bey (Mos Def)

The Brooklyn hip-hop artist, formerly known as Mos Def, first garnered attention and critical acclaim in the late 90s after releasing the album “Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star” with fellow hip-hop Brooklyn artist Talib Kweli.

It was with this cult classic, the duo explored topics such as Pan-Africanism, philosophy, and also—their life and upbringing in Brooklyn.

Born Dante Terrell Smith on December 11, 1973, Yasiin grew up in Bedstuy (in the Roosevelt Houses on Dekalb). Rapping since the age of nine, Yasiin has dropped what many consider to be rap classics such as his 1999 debut record Black on Both Sides.

Not only has he enjoyed a long rap career, but an acting career as well; starring in films like Cadillac Records and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Yasiin has solidified his spot as not only one of the best conscious rappers, but one of the best Brooklyn hip-hop artists period! He’s an artist ever hip-hop fan should know.

Talib Kweli

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Following up with Yasiin, we have his frequent collaborator and fellow Brooklyn artist Talib Kweli. Born Talib Kweli Green on October 3rd 1975, Kweli grew up in Park Slope.

After his work with Yasiin Bey, Talib would go on to release his debut album in 2002’s Quality with commercial hits like “Get By”. Similar to Yasiin, Talib was always drawn to Afrocentric themes, which made it no surprise when he that he would eventually venture into activism.

He’s been a supporter of groups like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and has spoken at high schools like Berklee College of Music.

An underground king and highly influential among Brooklyn hip-hop artists, Talib Kweli has more than earned his status as a hip-hop legend!

Jay-Z

One of the most celebrated hip-hop artists from Brooklyn is none other than H.O.V.A. himself—Jay-Z. Not only has Jay been able to cultivate one of the most successful runs in hip-hop, but he’s also been able to facilitate the careers of other popular artists as well—like Kanye West, Rihanna, and J. Cole. Born Shawn Carter on December 4, 1969, the Roc-A-Fella mogul was raised in the Marcy Housing projects located in Bedstuy.

Using his upbringing and drug dealing past as a main source of inspiration for his lyrics, the hip-hop Brooklyn artist has dropped undisputed classic hip-hop records. These classics would include Reasonable Doubt (1996), The Blueprint (2001), and The Black Album (2003).

Besides his rap career, Jay-Z has firmly established himself as a successful business man being the founder of many entities such as Rocawear, 40/40 Club, and the streaming service Tidal.

Jay-Z has laid out the blueprint for future artists to transcend the hip-hop genre and go on to become business entrepreneurs in their own right. He’s also carved out his own spot among the rap legends for his unique style and abilities.

Those two feats alone make Jay one of the greatest Brooklyn rappers of all time! (Side note: It is rumored that Jay-Z’s name was derived from the J and Z train lines, which is in close proximity of the Marcy projects.)

Pop Smoke

Bringing Brooklyn drill (Subgenre of rap music) to the mainstream, the late Pop Smoke was one of the most prominent Brooklyn rappers of the modern era. Born Bashar Barakah Jackson on July 20, 1999, Smoke was raised in Canarsie, Brooklyn.

He would begin his career in rap music in 2018, but it wasn’t until 2019 that he would reach mainstream success with songs like “Dior” and “Welcome to the Party”.

Sadly, his life was cut short during a home invasion that occurred in Los Angeles in early 2020. However, his music has been continually used during Black Lives Matter protests in New York. A mural can be seen in Canarsie (Located at 8125 Flatlands Ave) for all to see!

You can also visit and pay respects to his gravesite at Green-Wood Cemetery in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Big Daddy Kane

 

 
 
 
 
 
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One of the most influential hip-hop artists from Brooklyn, Big Daddy Kane was born Antonio Hardy on September 10th 1968. Similar to other rappers from Brooklyn, Kane grew up in Bedstuy.

He would first gain recognition with his verse on the rap posse cut “The Symphony” along with his fellow Juice Crew members. As a pioneer of fast rapping, Kane ushered in a whole new era of hardcore rap.

His song “Ain’t No Half-Steppin” is frequently regarded as one of the best rap songs of all time.

Kane has influenced many hip-hop artists like Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, Nas and Jay-Z, and can easily be considered one of the most quintessential rappers from Brooklyn!

Young M.A

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Born Katonah Marrero on April 3, 1992, in Brooklyn, Young M.A spent much of her early childhood in East New York until her mother decided to move Virginia in hopes of finding a safer environment.

She started writing rap lyrics at the early of 10 years old. She gained some viral attention as early as 2014 via her freestyle over the instrumental for “Chi-Raq” (A song by Nicki Minaj and G Herbo).

However, it wasn’t until the release of her 2016 hit song “Ooouuu” that she would garner widespread recognition and success.

Losing her brother to violence, M.A founded the KWEENZ Foundation which aims to East New York residents overcome the struggles and trauma related to violence and grief.

Fabolous

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Born by the name John David Jackson on November 18th, 1977, Fabolous is another Brooklyn hip-hop artist who’s enjoyed a long and memorable career.

Raised in the Breevort Houses of Bedstuy, Fab has been pursuing a rap career since his high school days. His debut record Ghetto Fabulous spawned his first top 100 hit “I Can’t Deny It” in 2001.

He’s since come out with 6 albums (2003’s Street Dreams, 2004’s Real Talk, 2007’s From Nothin’ to Somethin’,  2009’s Loso’s Way, 2014’s The Young OG Project, and 2019’s Summertime Shootout 3: Coldest Summer Ever).

He also did a music video in 2019 with rapper Casanova called “So Brooklyn” which showcases Coney Island, Church Avenue, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge.

Fabolous was one of the few rappers from Brooklyn to maintain and flourish in a decade primarily dominated by southern rap music. For that alone, he stands out as one of the best Brooklyn hip-hop artists of his generation!

MC Lyte

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Raised in East Flatbush, MC Lyte is highly regarded as a legend from hip-hop’s golden age. Born Lana Michele Moorer on October 11, 1970, Lyte started rapping at the young age of 12.

She would go onto to make history in 1988, by being the first female rapper to drop a full studio album with Lyte as a Rock. From there she would release some of the best hits of that era with songs like “Cha Cha Cha”, “Paper Thin”, “10% Dis”, “Ruffneck”.

Not only was she able to create a successful career for herself, but also pave the way for many female rappers to come after her such as Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, Missy Eliot and Lil’ Kim. A pioneer from the rap’s early period, MC Lyte has stood the test of time and is a legendary hip-hop Brooklyn artist!

Jeru Da Damaja

There’s strong chance you may not know who Jeru Da Damaja is. And that’s okay! Although he’s never gained a lot mainstream success and attention, he’s still an important Brooklyn hip-hop figure in regards to underground rap.

Born Kendrick Jeru Davis on February 14, 1972, Jeru was raised in East New York and started off his rap career by preforming at local block parties. However, it wasn’t until he began collaborating with producer legend DJ Premier, where he would gain attention from critics with his debut record The Sun Rises in the East in 1994.

Jeru is an underground legend and his cult classic The Sun Rises in the East is widely considered to be one of the best hip-hop albums ever and a big part for the renaissance of East Coast rap in the mid-90s. If you haven’t checked out this Brooklyn hip-hop artist’s work yet, now is a good time to start!  

Joey Bada$$

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Another underground king—Joey Bada$$ was born Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott on January 20, 1995 and grew up in Bedstuy. Joey started rapping during his early high school years, and gained wider recognition through the release of his 2012 critically acclaimed mixtape 1999 which served as a love letter to golden age hip-hop.

Compared to other Brooklyn rappers in his age group, Joey has paid the most homage to his roots. He has continued to borrow a lot of sounds and styles from 90s Brooklyn hip-hop and made it his own.

Not only has he been able to maintain a rap career using his old-school sensibilities, but he’s also dived into acting; appearing the USA drama Mr. Robot, one of the best shows based in Coney Island, as a supporting role. This multi-talented artist is one of the best and brightest of all Brooklyn rappers—and worth looking into!

Lil’ Kim

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Frequently referred to as the “Queen of Rap”, Lil’ Kim was born Kimberly Denise Jones on July 11, 1974. Growing up in Bedstuy, she would eventually meet the Notorious B.I.G. as a teenager.

It would be through the rap group Junior Mafia (Founded by B.I.G.) that Kim would start gaining recognition for songs like “I Need You Tonight” and “Get Money”.

Using her sexually charged rap persona, she would go onto to release several solo albums such as Hardcore (1996), The Notorious Kim (2000), La Bella Mafia (2003), and The Naked Truth (2005).

Lil’ Kim has been credited for bringing sex-positivity to the mainstream rap and it’s easy to see her influences in modern artists like Cardi B and Meg the Stallion. Her impact on hip-hop and particularly female hip-hop artists solidifies her status as one of the most legendary rappers from Brooklyn!

GZA/The Genius

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A core member of the illustrious group Wu-Tang Clan, GZA was born Gary Earl Grice on August 22, 1966 in Brooklyn. The hip-hop Brooklyn artist would drop out of school in the 10th grade to work on his craft as a lyricist. In 1992 GZA would form the group Wu-Tang Clan with his cousins (RZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard) and the group subsequently released the highly influential Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993. 

The Brooklyn hip-hop artist would then further showcase is sharp rapping ability with his solo record Liquid Swords in 1995.

Contrary to the typical topics used during his era of rap, GZA has always shown an affinity for science and philosophy in his lyrics.

This would eventually lead him into creating a pilot program called Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. This program aimed to motivate New York high school students of color to learn about science by incorporating it into rap music. One school the program was brought to was Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School (Located at 300 Willoughby Ave).

With his large vocabulary and emphasis on lyricism, GZA is one of the most highly influential rappers from Brooklyn and a legend in hip-hop genre!

Papoose

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Papoose is another artist that, unless you’re a hardcore hip-hop fan, may never have heard of. However, he is highly revered in the hip-hop and rap battle community.

Raised in Bedstuy, Papoose was born Shamele Mackie on March 5th, 1978. The hip-hop Brooklyn artist would begin rapping at age 11, but wouldn’t make his debut until 1998 as a featured on Kool G Rap’s record Roots of Evil.

He has since made a career of releasing mixtapes rapping over popular hip-hop instrumentals. One such instrumental would be the earlier mentioned “So Brooklyn”.

From 2004 through 2021, the Brooklyn hip-hop artist would release 29 mixtapes—an impressive feat to say the least.

There are many hip-hop artists from Brooklyn who don’t get the shine and recognition they deserve, but in the case of Papoose—he is particularly overlooked. If you haven’t had the chance to check out his work, it’d be in your best interest to do so.

Sean Price

Speaking of overlooked legends, Sean Price is yet another underground legend among hip-hop artists from Brooklyn. Being a member of the rap group Boot Camp Clik and one half of the duo Heltah Skeltah, this hip-hop Brooklyn artist has a lot under his belt.

Born Sean Duval Price on March 17, 1972, Price was raised in Brooklyn. By the 2000s, Price would develop a strong presence in the underground rap scene with a series of critically acclaimed albums such as Monkey Bars (2005), Jesus Price Supastar (2007), and Mike Tyson (2012).

Sadly, the highly respected artist passed away in 2015, but a mural for him can be seen in Crown Heights (Located at the corner of Bergen Street and Kingston Avenue). Gone, but not forgotten; Sean Price is one of the most highly regarded Brooklyn hip-hop artists of his era!

The Notorious B.I.G.

king-of-ny-biggie-smalls-mural-in-bed-stuy-brooklyn

Mural by artists Scoot Zimmerman and Maoufal Alaoui

Come on, you knew this one was coming! As far as hip-hop artists from Brooklyn go—B.I.G. is probably the first rapper that pops in your mind. Of all the Brooklyn hip-hop artists on this list, no rapper is more synonymous with the hip-hop genre itself than The Notorious B.I.G.

Born Christopher George Latore Wallace on May 21, 1972, Biggie grew up in Bedstuy. He would begin rapping as a teenager right on the streets of Brooklyn.

After hearing his demo tapes, Biggie would eventually cross paths with Sean “Puffy” Combs and the rest was history. The Notorious B.I.G. would drop two hip-hop classics in 1994’s Ready to Die and 1997’s Life After Death.

Unfortunately, due to the infamous East-coast/West-coast conflict—Biggie lost his life in a shooting while traveling in California in 1997.

There are plenty of Biggie Brooklyn landmarks in reference to the late great rapper such as the street corner being named Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace Way (At Fulton & St. James Pl.), Biggie’s childhood home the Notorious BIG house (at 226 St James Place), and his go-to restaurant Country House Diner (At 887 Fulton St).

His flow, style and delivery have been imitated by not only Brooklyn rappers—but rappers from all regions. Given his enormous impact and influence on the genre, it should go without saying that Biggie is one of the most (If not the most) legendary rappers from Brooklyn!


Did we miss your favorite hip hop artists from Brooklyn or Brooklyn rappers? Let us know in the comments below, bonus if you share your favorite track.

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