Hip hop heads love to discuss which rapper owned each year, as the Best Rapper Alive debate has morphed into a similar argument that NBA fans have annually with the league’s MVP award narrative.
And yet, the rap community doesn’t spend as much time zeroing in on which rookie rapper cements themselves as the Rookie of the Year. As such, we’ve decided to go back to 1993, when Snoop Dogg solidified his status as one of the greatest rappers of all-time with one of the best rookie campaigns ever. What follows is the Rap Rookie of the Year, every year since Snoop unleashed his debut album Doggystyle.
From Nas, Big L and Jay-Z to Lil Uzi Vert, Cardi B and Lil Baby, we crown the rap rookie of the year, every year since 1993.
1993: Snoop Dogg
- Honorable Mentions: Method Man, 8Ball, MJG
- Albums: Doggystyle
- Singles: “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)” (#8 on Billboard Hot 100), “Gin and Juice” (#8)
Snoop entered 1993 fresh off the career-making success of Dr. Dre’s debut solo album The Chronic, which hit stores in December 1992. Appearing on 13 of the LP’s 16 tracks (Snoop was absent from “A Ni**a Witta Gun,” “Lyrical Gangbang,” and “High Powered”), the fresh-faced Long Beach rapper stole the show while proving his star-making potential in the process. Snoop made waves over the first half of ‘93 on the strength of Chronic singles “Nuthin’ But A G Thang,” “Fuck Wit Dre Day,” and “Let Me Ride,” which made his forthcoming solo album the most anticipated debut offering in hip-hop history.
Released in November 1993, Doggystyle was highlighted by hit singles “What’s My Name?” and “Gin and Juice,” as well as fan favorites like “Ain’t No Fun” and “Lodi Dodi.” Earning first week sales of 806,000 copies, Doggystyle debuted atop the Billboard 200, giving Snoop the then-biggest opening ever for a debut rap album.
- Honorable Mentions: The Notorious B.I.G., Craig Mack, Andre 3000, Big Boi
- Albums: Illmatic
- Singles: “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” (#13 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart), “The World Is Yours” (#27 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart)
Three years before dropping his debut album, Nas established himself as the future King of New York with his career-making guest verse on “Live at the Barbeque,” the 10th track from Main Source’s debut album, Breaking Atoms. Just 17 years old at the time, the verse positioned Nas as the second coming of Rakim, a prophecy he would go on to fulfill in 1994 with his genre-shattering debut Illmatic. Laced by beats from the biggest producers in the game, from Q-Tip and Pete Rock to Large Professor and DJ Premier, Nas crafted one of the greatest debut full-length offerings in rap history, if not the best hip-hop album of all time. Though Illmatic struggled to catapult Nas into the mainstream, the album succeeded in cementing Nasir as a future legend, highlighted by classic tracks such as “N.Y. State of Mind”, “Life’s a Bitch”, and “The World Is Yours”, just to name a few.
1995: Big L
- Honorable Mentions: AZ, Kool G Rap, Kurupt, Cee-Lo Green
- Albums: Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous
- Singles: “M.V.P.” (#15 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart), “Put It On” (#23 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart)
By 1995, Big L was known around his neighborhood of Harlem as the hottest up-and-coming rapper in the game, having formed the Children of the Corn with local friends Cam’ron, Mase, and Herb McGruff, as well as his iconic appearance on Yo! MTV Raps in 1992. After striking a deal with Columbia, Big L finally dropped his highly anticipated debut album Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous in March 1995. Though the LP didn’t do well commercially, Lifestylez did enough to prop up Big L as the next Best Rapper Alive, highlighted by standout cuts such as “Put It On” and “M.V.P.”
- Honorable Mentions: Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Lauryn Hill
- Albums: Reasonable Doubt
- Singles: “Ain’t No Ni**a” (#4 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart), “Can’t Knock the Hustle” (#7 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart), “Feelin’ It” (#13 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart)
Jay-Z wasn’t a rising upstart when he broke through with his debut, Reasonable Doubt. Instead, the Brooklyn native had been dabbling in the rap game for years, while also amassing a notable stash thanks to his drug dealing prowess. As a result, Jigga’s 1996 debut didn’t earn the hype like Nas and Biggie two years prior; Hov had to earn his keep. Which he did, as soon as his first full-length offering hit shelves. Released in June 1996, Reasonable Doubt arrived a week before Nas was set to drop his much anticipated sophomore effort It Was Written. Backed by the previously released singles “Dead Presidents” and “Ain’t No Ni**a,” as well as guest appearances from Biggie (“Brooklyn’s Finest”), Mary J. Blige (“Can’t Knock the Hustle”), Foxy Brown (“Ain’t No Ni**a”), and Memphis Bleek (“Coming of Age”), Hov’s debut would go on to spend 15 weeks on the Billboard 200.
- Honorable Mentions: Missy Elliot, N.O.R.E., Capone
- Albums: Harlem World
- Singles: “Feel So Good” (#5 on Billboard Hot 100), “What You Want” (#6 on Billboard Hot 100), “Lookin’ At Me” (#8 on Billboard Hot 100)
Mase delivered one of the greatest rookie campaigns in 1997, as the 21-year-old rapper, who had come up alongside fellow Harlem natives Big L, Cam’ron, and Herb McGruff as the foursome Children of the Corn, followed up a prolific feature run with his blockbuster debut Harlem World. In the summer of 1997, Mase made a name for himself on the strength of career-making guest appearances on Puff Daddy’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” which spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100; Puff Daddy’s “Been Around the World,” which peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100; and The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems,” another No. 1 hit single that spent two weeks atop the Hot 100. From there, Mase delivered his first full-length offering, Harlem World. Released in October 1997, the LP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, producing three Top 10 Hot 100 singles: “Feel So Good” (#5), “What You Want” (#6), and “Lookin’ At Me” (#8).
- Honorable Mentions: Juvenile, Canibus, Jadakiss
- Albums: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot; Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood
- Singles: “Get At Me Dog” (#6 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart), “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” (#7 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart),”Stop Being Greedy” (#8 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart)
DMX’s run in 1998 stands apart from most Rookie of the Year selections, as the Yonkers rapper cemented his status as both the hottest and best rapper alive. Over a seven-month span, X became one of the few rappers in hip hop history to drop two No. 1 albums in the same year, following up his studio debut It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot with Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. Backed by the previously released singles “Get At Me Dog,” “Stop Being Greedy,” and “Ruff Ryders Anthem,” It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 251,000 copies in its first week. By December 2000, the LP would be certified four-times Platinum. Seven months later, DMX solidified his status as the best rapper alive with Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. Released on December 22, 1998, the LP debuted atop the Billboard 200, shipping 670,000 copies in its first week of release.
- Honorable Mentions: Ja Rule, Eve
- Albums: The Slim Shady LP
- Singles: “My Name Is” (#10 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart)
Three years after making waves in Detroit’s underground rap scene with his first full-length offering Infinite, Eminem catapulted into the mainstream in 1999 on the back of his official studio debut The Slim Shady LP. Highlighted by hit singles like “My Name Is,” “Guilty Conscience,” and “Role Model,” the album paired Em with the game’s most legendary producer, Dr. Dre, who delivered production on the three aforementioned singles. Eminem followed his career-making debut by delivering several iconic guest verses on Dre’s subsequent album 2001, including on standout tracks like “Forgot About Dre” and “What’s the Difference.”
- Honorable Mentions: Beanie Sigel, Black Rob, Trina
- Albums: Country Grammar
- Singles: “Ride Wit Me” (#3 on Billboard Hot 100), “Country Grammar” (#7 on Billboard Hot 100), “E.I.” (#15 on Billboard Hot 100)
Nelly is a victim of circumstance. At the turn of the century, Eminem cemented his status as the biggest rapper the game has ever seen on the strength of his magnum opus, The Marshall Mathers LP, which sold 1.78 million copies in its first week. And yet, Nelly nearly matched Em’s commercial success that same year with his debut album Country Grammar. The LP is one of only eight rap albums to have sold more than 10 million copies, partly due to its dominance on both pop and rap radio, as well as MTV’s TRL, where hit singles like “Country Grammar,” “E.I.,” and “Ride Wit Me” were included in the show’s daily rotation. More than anything, though, Country Grammar aged better than many rap debuts since, and if you think the album was more pop than hip hop, do yourself a favor and cue up “Greed Hate Envy,” which is arguably the best rappity rap song of Nelly’s career.
- Honorable Mentions: T.I., J-Live, Bubba Sparx
- Albums: Ghetto Fabolous
- Singles: “Trade It All, Pt. 2” (#20 on Billboard Hot 100), “Can’t Deny It” (#25 on Billboard Hot 100), “Young’n (Holla Back)” (#33 on Billboard Hot 100)
Three years after delivering a pair of career-making guest verses (“That’s The Way,” “If They Want It”) on DJ Clue’s 1998 album The Professional, Fabolous fulfilled his potential with his 2001 debut Ghetto Fabolous. Released on September 11, 2001, the album was overshadowed by the release of Jay-Z’s magnum opus The Blueprint, not to mention the terrorist attacks that took place in Fab’s home base of Manhattan. Even so, Ghetto Fabolous proved Fab’s pop potential on the strength of a trio of singles: the Nate Dogg-featuring “Can’t Deny It,” which peaked at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart; “Trade It All, Pt. 2,” which featured Jagged Edge and tapped out at No. 20 on the Hot 100 and No. 8 on the rap charts; and “Young’n (Holla Back),” another Top 10 single on the rap charts, as well as a Top 40 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100.
- Honorable Mentions: Young Buck, Freeway, Lil Jon
- Albums: Lord Willin’
- Singles: “When the Last Time” (#19 on Billboard Hot 100), “Grindin’” (#30 on Billboard Hot 100)
With Jay-Z preparing to exit his perch as the best dope rapper in the game, a pair of Virginia brothers, Pusha T and Malice catapulted into the mainstream in 2002, solidified their claim as the best coke rappers in hip hop. Clipse dropped its 2002 debut, Lord Willin, in August 2002. The LP, highlighted by a pair of Top 40 singles, “Grindin’” (#30 on Billboard’s Hot 100) and “When the Last Time” (#19 on Billboard’s Hot 100), debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, selling 122,000 copies in its first week of release. Clipse would go on to cement their pop potential later that year, delivering guest spots on Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You” and Birdman’s “What Happened to That Boy,” which peaked at No. 11 and No. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively.
2003: 50 Cent
- Honorable Mentions: Killer Mike, Bone Crusher, Chingy
- Albums: Get Rich or Die Tryin’, G-Unit’s Beg For Mercy
- Singles: “In Da Club” (#1 on Billboard Hot 100), “21 Questions” (#1 on Billboard Hot 100), “P.I.M.P.” (#3 on Billboard Hot 100)
50 Cent’s rookie year is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. After dropping a trio of classic mixtapes in 2002 alongside G-Unit (50 Cent Is the Future, No Mercy No Fear, God’s Plan), Fif signed a deal with the then-biggest rapper alive (Eminem) and legendary producer Dr. Dre. From there, 50 Cent embarked on the greatest rookie campaign in hip-hop history, one which would certify the Queens native as not just the best rapper alive but the biggest pop star on the planet. Released in February 2003, Fif’s debut Get Rich or Die Tryin’ debuted atop the Billboard 200, selling 872,000 copies in its first week. In addition, the LP delivered back-to-back No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 with “In Da Club” and “21 Questions,” which combined for 13 weeks atop the chart. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ also produced another Top 5 single in “P.I.M.P.,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100. Fresh off the success of his debut, 50 introduced his G-Unit crew with Beg For Mercy, which in November of 2003 debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, selling nearly 500,000 copies in its first week of release.
2004: Kanye West
- Honorable Mentions: Jim Jones, Lloyd Banks, Young Gunz
- Albums: The College Dropout
- Singles: “All Falls Down” (#7 on Billboard Hot 100), “Jesus Walks” (#11 on Billboard Hot 100), “Through the Wire” (#15 on Billboard Hot 100)
Prior to proving his potential as a rapper, Kanye made a name for himself by producing several beats on Jay-Z’s 2001 opus The Blueprint. The young Chicago native laced Hov with sped-up soul samples on a handful of the LP’s greatest tracks, including “Takeover,” “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love),” and “Never Change.” A couple years later, Ye signed a deal with Roc-A-Fella, which would result in one of the greatest debut albums of the 21st century, West’s 2004 album The College Dropout. Released in February 2004, The College Dropout debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, selling 441,000 copies in its first week of release, producing a trio of Top 20 singles on the Billboard Hot 100: “All Falls Down” (#7), “Jesus Walks” (#11), and “Through the Wire” (#15).
2005: Young Jeezy
- Honorable Mentions: The Game, Mike Jones, Gucci Mane
- Albums: Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101
- Singles: “Soul Survivor” (#4 on Billboard Hot 100)
After dropping his iconic mixtape Trap or Die in January 2005, Jeezy followed it up that summer with his major label debut Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. The LP debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, selling 172,000 copies in the first week. Thug Motivation 101 also produced arguably the biggest hit of Jeezy’s career, the Akon-featuring “Soul Survivor,” which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
2006: Rick Ross
- Honorable Mentions: Lupe Fiasco, Yung Joc, Young Dro
- Albums: Port of Miami
- Singles: “Hustlin” (#7 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart), “Push It” (#10 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart)
Considered at the time to be an underwhelming debut, Rick Ross’ first full-length offering, 2006’s Port of Miami, positioned Rozay to be one of the biggest rappers of his generation. Released in August 2006, the LP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling nearly 200,000 copies in its first week, at a time when file sharing services like Limewire were at their peak. In addition, Port of Miami solidified Ross as a pop star in the making with a pair of Top 50 singles, “Hustlin’” and “Push It,” which peaked at No. 7 and No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart.
2007: Soulja Boy
- Honorable Mentions: Rich Boy, Saigon, Papoose
- Albums: souljaboytellem.com
- Singles: “Crank That” (#1 on Billboard Hot 100), “Soulja Girl” (#32 on Billboard Hot 100), “Yahhh!” (#48 on Billboard Hot 100)
Soulja Boy emerged at the tail end of the Ringtone Rap era, a time when Limewire, MySpace, and YouTube were beginning to work in tandem in an effort to break up-and-coming rappers. As a result, Soulja Boy, a Chicago native who would go on to rep Atlanta, capitalized on this trend, parlaying his online prowess to produce monumental commercial success with his debut single “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” In the fall of 2007, the song reigned atop the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks, drumming up the hype for his official full-length offering. When that arrived, that October by way of souljaboytellem.com, Soulja Boy was the hottest rapper on the planet. The album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, selling 117,000 copies in its first week, while also producing another pair of Top 50 hits, “Soulja Girl” (#32) and “Yahhh!” (#48).
2008: Kid Cudi
- Honorable Mentions: Wale, Plies, Shawty Lo
- Albums: A Kid Named Cudi
- Singles: “Day n Nite” (#3 on Billboard Hot 100)
Kid Cudi’s breakthrough 2008 mixtape A Kid Named Cudi inspired both Kanye’s genre-shifting 808’s & Heartbreak and Drake’s earth-shattering So Far Gone. Released in July 2008, A Kid Named Cudi cemented Cudi at the top of the hip-hop food chain on the strength of its hit single “Day n Nite,” (inspired by the Get Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”) which in the summer of 2008 reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Later that fall, Cudi made his presence felt on Kanye’s 808’s, where he contributed vocals on tracks such as “Paranoid” and “Welcome to Heartbreak.”
- Honorable Mentions: J. Cole, B.o.B., Ace Hood
- Albums: So Far Gone
- Singles: “Best I Ever Had” (#2 on Billboard Hot 100), “Forever” (#8 on Billboard Hot 100), “Successful” (#17 on Billboard Hot 100)
Drake didn’t waste time cementing his status as the hottest young rapper in the game. Fresh off signing with Young Money, the Toronto up-and-comer delivered one of the best and most influential mixtapes in hip-history with 2009’s So Far Gone. From there, Drizzy minted himself the Rookie of the Year on the back of a foursome of hit singles: “Best I Ever Had” (#2 on Billboard Hot 100), “Forever” (#8 on Billboard Hot 100), “Successful” (#17 on Billboard Hot 100), and “I’m Goin’ In” (#40 on Billboard Hot 100). In addition, Drake proved his potential as a scene-stealing guest star with featured appearances on Birdman’s “Money To Blow,” Timbaland’s “Say Something,” and Fabolous’ “Throw It In The Bag (Remix).”
2010: Nicki Minaj
- Honorable Mentions: Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, Big Sean
- Albums: Pink Friday
- Singles: “Super Bass” (#3 on Billboard Hot 100), “Moment 4 Life” (#13 on Billboard Hot 100), “Your Love” (#14 on Billboard Hot 100), “Right Thru Me” (#26 on Billboard Hot 100)
While you can credit 2009’s Beam Me Up Scotty mixtape with introducing Nicki Minaj to the hip-hop community, it’s fair to credit the Queens native’s 2010 feature run with cementing Minaj’s status as the 2010 Rookie of the Year. At the turn of the decade, Nicki delivered scene-stealing guest verses to Kanye West’s “Monster,” Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up,” Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad,” and Usher’s “Lil Freak,” among others. From there, Nicki proved her solo potential with hit singles such as “Your Love,” “Check It Out,” and “Right Thru Me,” before releasing her debut album Pink Friday in October 2010. The LP debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, selling 375,000 copies in its first week of release.
2011: Kendrick Lamar
- Honorable Mentions: Meek Mill, Big K.R.I.T., Nipsey Hussle
- Albums: Section.80
- Singles: N/A
Prior to releasing his debut album, Kendrick was already hyped as the next Dr. Dre-cosigned rapper, following in the footsteps of Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and The Game. Kendrick, a native of Compton, fulfilled prophecy with 2011’s Section.80. While the official release paled in comparison to Kendrick’s 2012 offering Good Kid Maad City, the LP successfully introduced Lamar to the mainstream, producing cult favorite tracks such as “A.D.H.D.,” “Rigamortus,” and “Blow My High.”
2012: Chief Keef
- Honorable Mentions: Future, Danny Brown, French Montana
- Albums: Finally Rich
- Singles: “I Don’t Like” (#15 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart), “Love Sosa” (#15 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart)
One of the most influential rappers of his era, Chief Keef paved the way for Chicago’s current list of superstar rappers, a group headlined by Polo G, Lil Durk, and G Herbo, among others. As such, it’s easy to forget that Keef solidified his status as a pioneer for drill rap in 2012, with his debut Finally Rich. Backed by cult classics such as “I Don’t Like” and “Love Sosa,” both of which were certified platinum, the LP cemented Chief Keef as one of the biggest rappers out, if not the most important rapper of the early 2010s.
2013: Chance the Rapper
- Honorable Mentions: Travis Scott, SchoolBoy Q, Trinidad James
- Albums: Acid Rap
- Singles: N/A
After making waves with his breakthrough mixtape, 2012’s 10 Day, Chance the Rapper catapulted into the mainstream with his career-defining release Acid Rap. Released in July 2013, the tape featured established artists such as Ab-Soul, Action Bronson, and Childish Gambino, alongside local upstarts like BJ the Chicago Kid, Saba, Noname, and Vic Mensa. A cult favorite among DatPiff fans, Acid Rap solidified Chance as the Prince of Chicago, as well as the Rookie of the Year in 2013.
2014: Young Thug
- Honorable Mentions: Rich Homie Quan
- Albums: Rich Gang Presents: Tha Tour Pt. 1
- Singles: “Lifestyle” (#14 on Billboard Hot 100), “Stoner” (#47 on Billboard Hot 100)
Young Thug entered 2014 on the verge of superstardom, having made waves with his 2013 breakthrough mixtape 1017 Thug. Thug kicked off 2014 by dropping three collaborative projects: Black Portland with Bloody Jay, Young Thugga Mane La Flare with Gucci Mane, and World War 3D: The Purple Tape with Gucci. From there, he owned the summer with a trio of hits: Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle,” which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100; Tyga’s “Hookah,” which tapped out at No. 19 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart; and T.I.’s “About the Money,” another Top 40 hit that climbed to No. 9 on the Rap Songs chart. Everything climaxed that fall with Rich Gang’s Tha Tour Pt. 1, which made Thugger and Rich Homie Quan household names, as the former stole the show on fan favorite cuts such as “Givenchy,” “Flava,” and “Tell ‘Em (Lies).”
2015: Fetty Wap
- Honorable Mentions: Vince Staples, Dej Loaf, OG Maco
- Albums: Fetty Wap
- Singles: “Trap Queen” (#2 on Billboard Hot 100), “679” (#4 on Billboard Hot 100), “My Way” (#7 on Billboard Hot 100), “Again” (#33 on Billboard Hot 100)
Fetty Wap burst into the mainstream like a comet, as the New Jersey rapper owned 2015 on the back of a trio of hit singles, “Trap Queen” (#2 on Billboard Hot 100), “My Way” (#4 on Billboard Hot 100), and “My Way” (#7 on Billboard Hot 100). The upstart rapper fulfilled prophecy as a hit-making pop star with his self-titled debut, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in the fall of 2015, moving nearly 200,000 copies in its first week of release
2016: Lil Uzi Vert
- Honorable Mentions: Lil Yachty, Kodak Black, 21 Savage
- Albums: Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World, The Perfect LUV Tape
- Singles: “Money Longer” (#9 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart), “You Was Right” (#11 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart)
After bursting onto the scene in October 2015 with his breakthrough mixtape Luv Is Rage, Lil Uzi Vert kicked off his Rookie of the Year campaign in Spring 2016 with the release of its follow-up, Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World. Released that April, the project proved Uzi’s star-making potential on the strength of classic cuts like “Money Longer” and “You Was Right.” Three Months later, Uzi capitalized on his growing popularity with The Perfect LUV Tape, a project that was highlighted by collabs with Playboi Carti (“Of Course We Ghetto Flowers”) and Future (“Seven Million”), as well as one of his career-defining hits “Do What I Want.” Uzi further cemented his status as Rap’s 2016 Rookie of the Year by returning that fall with 1017 vs. the World, his joint project with Gucci Mane.
2017: Cardi B
- Honorable Mentions: Playboi Carti, XXXTentacion, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie
- Albums: N/A
- Singles: “Bodak Yellow” (#1 on Billboard Hot 100)
Cardi released her debut single “Bodak Yellow” in the summer of 2017. The smash hit took just three months to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making the Bronx native the first female rapper in 20 years to top the Billboard Hot 100. From street hit to chart-topper, from relatively unknown in the mainstream to biggest rapper alive, in just 12 weeks. Faced with the possibility of going down as a one-hit-wonder, Cardi scored another three top 5 singles with high-profile features on Migos’ “Motorsport,” G-Eazy’s “No Limit,” and Bruno Mars’ “Finesse.” While most of hip-hop argued that she’d never match the success of her breakout hit, Cardi notched a second No. 1 (“I Like It”) to become the first solo female rapper to land two No. 1 singles on the Hot 100. And when countless hip-hop heads were convinced she went fully pop, Cardi crafted one of the best rap albums of 2018 with her debut, Invasion of Privacy.
2018: Lil Baby
- Honorable Mentions: JID, BlocBoy JB, Lil Pump
- Albums: Harder Than Ever, Drip Harder, Street Gossip
- Singles: “Drip Too Hard” (#4 on Billboard Hot 100), “Yes Indeed” (#6 on Billboard Hot 100), “Close Friends” (#28 on Billboard Hot 100)
Lil Baby entered 2018 on the back of a prolific run that saw the Atlanta upstart drop four full-length offerings in 2017: Perfect Timing, Harder Than Hard, 2 The Hard Way, and Too Hard. As a result, the Quality Control rapper was positioned as one of the hottest up-and-comers in the game. In 2018, Lil Baby delivered on his promise with his breakthrough mixtape Harder Than Ever, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 thanks to his first collaboration with Drake, hit single “Yes Indeed.” From there, Baby continued his dominance by joining forces with fellow Atlanta rapper Gunna, as the pair teamed up for Drip Harder, which debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 on the strength of the Top 5 single “Drip Too Hard.” Baby concluded his career-making run in 2018 by dropping another full-length project, Street Gossip, that fall.
- Honorable Mentions: Gunna, Tierra Whack, Cordae
- Albums: Baby on Baby, Kirk
- Singles: “Suge” (#7 on Billboard Hot 100), “Bop” (#11 on Billboard Hot 100), “Intro” (#13 on Billboard Hot 100)
By 2019, DaBaby had made a name for himself with numerous full-length projects, as the rising rapper had already released 13 mixtapes since 2015. In the prior two years, the North Carolina upstart had made waves with tapes such as Baby Talk, Billion Dollar Baby, Back On My Baby Jesus Shit, and Blank Blank. However, DaBaby catapulted into the mainstream in 2019 on the back of his breakthrough full-length effort Baby on Baby, which introduced him to a larger audience while proving his hit-making potential with singles such as “Suge,” which peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. With his success at an all-time high, DaBaby returned in the fall of 2019 with his official studio debut, Kirk. Debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the LP produced three Top 25 hits on the Billboard Hot 100: “Bop” (#11), “Intro” (#13), and “Vibez” (#21).
2020: Roddy Ricch
- Honorable Mentions: Polo G, Rod Wave, Jack Harlow
- Albums: Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial
- Singles: “The Box” (#1 on Billboard Hot 100), “High Fashion” (#20 on Billboard Hot 100)
Fresh off releasing his debut studio album, Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, in December 2019, Roddy Ricch entered the new decade on a hot streak. The Compton rapper, whose album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling over 100,000 copies in its first week of release, catapulted into the mainstream on the back of his first No. 1 hit, “The Box,” which spent 11 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in the winter and spring of 2020. From there, Roddy spent the rest of the year proving he had the Midas Touch, guest-starring on several hit singles, including DaBaby’s No. 1 offering “Rockstar,” as well as Pop Smoke’s “The Woo,” A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s “Numbers,” and NLE Choppa’s “Walk Em Down.”
2021: Pooh Shiesty
- Honorable Mentions: 42 Dugg, Flo Milli, Morray
- Albums: Shiesty Season, So Icy Boyz
- Singles: “Back in Blood” (#13 on Billboard Hot 100), “Neighbors” (#50 on Billboard Hot 100)
Fresh off signing with Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records, Memphis rapper Pooh Shiesty made waves with his debut Shiesty Season. Boasted by standout tracks such as the Lil Durk-featuring “Back in Blood,” which peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as “Guard Up,” “Neighbors,” and “Box of Churches,” the LP solidified Pooh as the King of Memphis, which has since become the reigning capital of hip-hop.
2022: Babyface Ray
- Honorable Mentions: Nardo Wick, Ice Spice, GloRilla
- Albums: Mob
- Singles: N/A
Over the past few years, Detroit has been the reigning hotbed of the rap game, producing numerous potential superstars in Babyface Ray, 42 Dugg, and Boldy James, among others. At the tail end of 2022, Babyface Ray established himself as the King of Detroit with his latest album Mob. “Of course I want to be a household, staple name,” the rapper told Complex last year. “I want to be somebody that helps other artists. I want to be with a facility that comes to Detroit and creates space where podcasting, studios, videographers, can come and work to better their craft. I want to be somebody that put Detroit on, not just come from Detroit.”