Hip hop is no longer seen as a young man’s game. You can thank rap legends and OGs like Nas, Jay-Z, Black Thought, Freddie Gibbs, Lupe Fiasco and Lil Wayne for that.
But let’s not get it twisted, the direction of the culture is still dictated by rappers in their 20s. For as long as it’s been around, hip hop has thrived on innovation and creativity, and every year we see new waves of talented young artists emerging onto the scene with their unique voice, flow and flavour. Striking the perfect balance between youthful energy and just enough life experience, these rappers possess all the qualities that enable hip hop culture to keep pushing forward.
From Polo G, 42 Dugg, Baby Keem and NBA YoungBoy to Vince Staples, Denzel Curry, Earl Sweatshirt and Joey Badass, we rank the 20 best rappers in their 20s.
20. EST Gee
Born: May 11, 1994 (age 28)
Recent releases: Ion Feel Nun, I Still Don’t Feel Nun, Bigger Than Life or Death, Bigger Than Life or Death, Pt. 2, Last Ones Left (with 42 Dugg), I Never Felt Nun
If you’re looking for a trap artist with an unforgettable delivery, look no further than EST Gee. He treats each verse like it’s battle rap, taking breaths between bars to recover from the amount of passion he spits on the mic. After 2020’s Ion Feel Nun and I Still Don’t Feel Nun mixtapes, EST Gee caught the eyes of Yo Gotti who signed him to the Collective Music Group, where he would double his success. With his star-studded mixtape, Bigger Than Life or Death, Gee shot himself into the mainstream while keeping that hunger that makes his sound so hard-hitting.
19. Roddy Ricch
Born: October 22, 1998 (age 24)
Recent releases: Live Life Fast, Feed Tha Streets III
Even if you don’t know the name Roddy Ricch, there’s no doubt you know his music. Back when his hit single “The Box” came out, you couldn’t go a day without hearing it. But Roddy is more than a one-hit wonder – he’s got a library worth of bangers and the star power to become one of the biggest rap names of the 2020s. His debut album Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial made a splash in the culture for Roddy’s dark twist on melodic trap. Even though fans weren’t feeling his next album as much, he’s already bouncing back, ready to dominate the charts again.
18. Che Noir
Born: April 19, 1994 (age 27)
Recent releases: Juno, As God Intended (with Apollo Brown), Food for Thought, The Last Remnants
Born on the same day that Illmatic dropped, Che Noir was destined to be one of the all-time great MCs. Some grimy production, a bloodthirsty delivery and lyrics sharper than knives – that’s the formula the Buffalo killer lyricist has mastered over the years, and it’s made her one of the most exciting voices in New York’s underground. Her music has that hard-hitting edge the Griselda crew popularised, but that’s not to say that Che Noir is a copycat, because her clever concepts and lyrical precision make her stand out as one of the most well-rounded MCs you’ll find in the East Coast. From the food-focussed wordplay of Food for Thought to her cult classic with Apollo Brown, As God Intended, she keeps on adding to her pile of underground essentials.
Born: June 14, 1993 (age 29)
Recent releases: Wunna, Slime Language 2 (with YSL Records), DS4Ever
Gunna crashed into the game like a tidal wave, flooding the trap scene with dozens of features which quickly turned him into a household name. Hopping on tracks with Travis and Thug among other trap titans, the Georgia rapper made clever use of the spotlight to flex his ability to make a hypnotically catchy verse. The Atlanta rapper’s melodic style isn’t revolutionary, but he is a master of his craft, balancing pop and hip hop in such a way that casual radio listeners and diehard rap fans alike love his work. With each release, Gunna climbs higher and higher up the mainstream ladder, with 2022’s DS4EVER becoming his biggest success yet.
16. Polo G
Born: January 6, 1999 (age 24)
Recent releases: The Goat, Hall of Fame
Right now, a lot of trap artists care more about the head-bopping sound of their records rather than the content of their lyrics, but Polo G never sacrifices one for the other. He’s got that pop appeal with an ear for catchy beats, but on the mic he’s never afraid to speak his mind, rapping at length about his troubled past. Even though Polo only has three albums, he’s already reaching his huge potential, becoming bigger and better with each new release. 2021’s Hall of Fame is his sharpest yet, showing off Polo’s effortless skill to spit complex verses over explosive trap production nobody could resist.
15. 42 Dugg
Born: November 25, 1994 (age 28)
Recent releases: Young & Turnt, Vol. 2, Free Dem Boyz, Last Ones Left (with EST Gee)
Sentenced to six years in jail at the age of 15, it seemed like Dugg’s life was already over, but fast-forward to today and he’s collaborating with legends like Future and signed to Lil Baby’s 4PF label. 42 Dugg is like a cheat code to making a hit song, quickly becoming a rapper you just can’t escape, with countless stars from Tyler, the Creator to Big Sean bringing him on tracks to make a guaranteed banger. The Detroit rapper has an instantly recognisable voice, with a ferocious flow and untamed energy he uses to the fullest on albums like 2021’s Free Dem Boyz and his latest collaboration with EST Gee, Last Ones Left.
Born: July 17, 1994 (age 28)
Recent releases: Few Good Things
Nowadays, Chicago is dominated by drill music, but Saba offers a little light relief from that hard-hitting sound. With a blend of jazz rap and conscious hip hop, he’s forged a style nobody could resist. He’s got a whole arsenal of skills at his disposal, with a groovy ear for beats, a tight pen game, and some of the slickest flows to hit the mainstream. 2018’s CARE FOR ME has gone down as a cult classic, with Saba’s almost confessional lyrical style showing he’s never afraid to stick true to himself. With three projects, his career is only just beginning, and there are few MCs with as bright a future as Saba.
13. Playboi Carti
Born: September 13, 1996 (age 26)
Recent releases: Whole Lotta Red
Is there any MC in the past five years as influential as Playboi Carti? Every time he drops an album it’s like a cultural reset for the trap scene, with Die Lit and Whole Lotta Red influencing rappers older and younger because his sound is just that creative. His delivery is high-pitched and the lyrics aren’t always clear, but that’s the point – Carti uses his voice like it’s part of the beat, crafting danceable banger after banger with a style you can’t confuse for anyone else. From Kanye to Baby Keem, Carti has influenced an army of MCs over the years.
12. Kodak Black
Born: June 11, 1997 (age 25)
Recent releases: Bill Israel, Haitian Boy Kodak, Kutthroat Bill: Vol. 1, Back for Everything
Although he’s seen his fair share of controversies, there’s no denying the success of Kodak Black. He won’t let anything get in the way of his drive to create. Arrested countless times, he always bounces back with a new mixtape to feed his fans. Whether it’s the triple threat banger “ZEZE” with Travis and Offset to his fast-paced flows on “Super Gremlin”, Kodak is a master craftsman when it comes to hits, making people dance across the world to his inescapable club anthems. From his elite mixtape run starting with 2013s’ Project Baby to featuring on Kendrick’s Mr Morale, Kodak has come a long way in such a short time.
11. G Herbo
Born: October 8, 1995 (age 27)
Recent releases: PTSD, 25, Survivor’s Remorse
Take the gritty sound of the Chicago trap scene and mix it with the hardcore fury of the Chicago drill scene, and you’ve got G Herbo. He always raps like his life depends on it, with a rage to his delivery that makes his voice as abrasive and hard as the fiery production he rhymes over. The Chicago MC is a titan in drill, helping keep the scene alive with crowd-moving projects like 2020’s PTSD, the rapper’s first album to make the top 10 on the Billboard Top 200. With each passing year, the name G Herbo gets bigger and bigger.
10. YoungBoy Never Broke Again
Born: October 20, 1999 (age 23)
Recent releases: The Last Slimeto, I Rest My Case, Realer 2, 3800 Degrees, Ma’ I Got a Family
Dropping project after project, Youngboy has the work ethic of a machine in a factory, never taking a break. It would be no surprise if he lived in his recording studio, releasing one album and six mixtapes in 2022 alone. He got the ball rolling with the 2015 mixtape Life Before Fame, but it wasn’t until 38 Baby when he really took off, shooting him into the mainstream where he’s remained ever since. With five number one albums on the Billboard Top 200 and a long list of hits, Youngboy has grinded to the top of the trap scene and refuses to come back down.
9. Chief Keef
Born: August 15, 1995 (age 27)
Recent releases: 4NEM
Chief Keef is the godfather of modern drill music. While legends like T.I., Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy laid the foundations for trap music, it was Keef who reinvented it, injecting that hardcore sound and melodic style of rapping which would influence a city’s worth of MCs. From the Chicago drill scene to rappers like Trippie Redd and NBA Youngboy, Chief Keef’s DNA runs through them all, responsible for a whole generation of talent. What’s even more impressive is that he was only 17 when he dropped the classic Finally Rich, proving he was special from the very beginning.
8. Little Simz
Born: February 23, 1994 (age 28)
Recent releases: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, No Thank You
With backing vocalists to support her and an orchestral sound like no other, Little Simz’s music wouldn’t sound out of place in the theatre. She’s an MC you just can’t compare to anyone else, crowning herself the queen of UK hip hop with a cinematic style that makes each song a powerful drama with so many twists and turns. From her instant classic Sometimes I Might Be Introvert to 2022’s NO THANK YOU, she’s never off the mic, making each project more personal than the last. Packing each track full of witty bars and vivid stories, you won’t find a UK rapper as talented as Simz today.
7. Baby Keem
Born: October 22, 2000 (age 22)
Recent releases: The Melodic Blue
Think of the weirdest thing you can, and Baby Keem has probably said something weirder. The California rapper is as strange and animated as a cartoon character, with a wild sense of lyricism where he can spit the most outlandish bars possible and it will still sound good because of his unrivalled mic presence. Years ago, he was only known as Kendrick Lamar’s cousin, but after his debut album The Melodic Blue, it seems like the two are unrelated – his sound is just that different. Supporting Kendrick for his latest world tour, Baby Keem has become a superstar, but he won’t let the fame stop him from being one of the strangest MCs out there.
6. Joey Badass
Born: January 20, 1995 (age 28)
Recent releases: The Light Pack (EP), 2000
In an era dominated by trap and pop rap, Joey Badass is keeping the essence of ‘90s hip hop alive. With the cult classic 1999, he resurrected the sound of boom bap and put his own modern twist on it, showing he’s an MC never afraid to take some risks. With his ‘90s inspirations and modern polish, the Brooklyn rapper is a jack of all trades, adapting to all different styles and making him a versatile master on the mic. And let’s not forget his pen game, because the emotion he packs into every bar – especially on 2022’s 2000 – makes each verse read like a poem.
5. Lil Uzi Vert
Born: July 31, 1995 (age 27)
Recent releases: Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2, Pluto x Baby Pluto (with Future), Red & White EP
Delivering an onslaught of rapid-fire rhymes with every verse, Lil Uzi lives up to their name, spitting bars faster than a gun fires bullets. They’re like the emo rap equivalent to Lil Wayne, never running out of energy on the mic as they spit an endless range of witty one-liners. Luv Is Rage 2 was a double platinum bombshell of an album back in 2017, and Uzi’s influence over the trap scene hasn’t gone away since. The Philly rapper suddenly decided to quit music in 2019, but before long, Uzi returned bigger than ever, with the fast-paced anthems on Eternal Atake becoming the soundtrack to the 2020s.
4. Earl Sweatshirt
Born: February 24, 1994 (age 29)
Recent releases: Sick!
If what you want out of hip hop is fast-paced club bangers, then avoid Earl’s music at all costs. But if what you want is some forward-thinking production and some of the deepest lyrics you’ll ever hear, Earl Sweatshirt might just be for you. He’s gone through quite the evolution since his Odd Future days. The gloomy sounds of I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside and Some Rap Songs have defined his grim style, using music like a form of therapy to vent all his issues with depression. His mumbling delivery might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying his influence on the underground scene.
3. Lil Baby
Born: December 3, 1994 (age 28)
Recent releases: My Turn, The Voice of the Heroes (with Lil Durk), It’s Only Me
From Andre 3000 to Young Thug, dozens of incredible MCs came from Atlanta, and Lil Baby has only been adding to that legacy. In just a few quick years, he’s gone from a rookie to one of the biggest rappers in the world, with 2020’s My Turn being the most popular album that year. He’s got a knack for making hits and an ear for beats to get the club going crazy, but Baby’s lyrics are what make him stand out most. From personal tales to political anthems like “The Bigger Picture”, he’s earned his success with some of the best tracks out of the modern trap scene.
2. Denzel Curry
Born: February 16, 1995 (age 28)
Recent releases: Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Does Denzel Curry even need to be introduced at this point? Project after project, he’s upgraded himself, always one step ahead of the competition and never letting anyone close to his skill level. He is the unrivalled king of dope raps in Florida. Whether you’re talking about his catalogue, his delivery, or his writing, Denzel has it all. Usually, MCs will lose their energy as they age, but Denzel only seems to get more charismatic with each release, with Melt My Eyez, See Your Future arguably being his sharpest work yet. At 28 years old, he’s only getting started, and at this rate, it would be no surprise if he was a GOAT contender by the end of his career.
1. Vince Staples
Born: July 2, 1993 (age 29)
Recent releases: Vince Staples, Ramona Park Broke My Heart
Genre-defying, innovative and forever creative, Vince Staples is the best rapper in their 20s right now. I’d bet that if you played some of his music to an old head back in the ‘90s, they would think it was a different genre – his sound is just that unique. Vince’s music will make you feel like you’re in the middle of a rave, with irresistible dance production and a skill for delivering catchy flows that will get any music fan hyped up and ready to move. Summertime ’06 and Big Fish Theory are like science experiments blending hip hop and dance music, but the fusion works surprisingly well, making Vince one of the youngest innovators out of California.