New Jersey, a vibrant hotbed of hip hop talent, has long thrived in the shadows of the rap game’s number one city — the neighbouring New York. While NYC has long boasted of legendary rappers like Nas, Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, and plenty others, the Garden State has quietly cultivated a murderous row of lyrical talent who have moulded the culture in their own way.

From the raw and unfiltered narratives of groups like The Artifacts to the introspective verses of MCs like Joe Budden, New Jersey’s hip-hop scene presents a rich and diverse soundscape. Pioneers like Queen Latifah have charted their own paths, breaking barriers and raising the stakes high for those who followed. From Redman’s lyrical wizardry to Lauryn Hill’s groundbreaking fusion of soul, reggae, and hip-hop, the state’s rap history is a vibrant tapestry that weaves together varied narratives.

So let’s get into it. From Joe Budden, Redman, and Naughty by Nature to Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill and Rah Digga, here are the top 10 best New Jersey rappers of all time.

10. The Artifacts

Discography: Between a Rock and a Hard Place (1994), That’s Them (1997), No Expiration Date (with Buckwild) (2022)

Tucked away in the heart of New Jersey hip hop history are The Artifacts, a duo whose musical artistry embodies the raw spirit of the Newark streets. With their unique fusion of head-nodding beats and vivid lyrical imagery that harked back to the golden age of rap music, the pair brought a fresh perspective to ’90s hip-hop scene. A staple of the underground hip hop game, they held high the torch of graffiti culture, ensuring it had its indelible mark within hip hop’s foundation. With their albums like Between a Rock and a Hard Place and That’s Them, The Artifacts are solidified as an integral part of New Jersey’s rich rap tapestry.

9. The Outsidaz

Discography: Night Life (2000), The Bricks (2001)

A collective representing Jersey’s rugged and raw ethos, The Outsidaz were integral to the East Coast’s hip-hop landscape. Forming a group after Young Zee met D.U. and Pacewon at a New Year’s Eve party, their bars reverberated with a gritty realism that was both unflinching and captivating, presenting listeners with an unvarnished view of New Jersey street life. Despite their rugged exterior, they demonstrated an ability to spin lyrical gold, weaving together complex narratives that engaged and enthralled. Their music served as a blueprint for upcoming Jersey emcees, proving that authenticity and raw talent can leave an enduring impact on the rap game.

8. Lakim Shabazz

Discography: Pure Righteousness (1988), The Lost Tribe of Shabazz (1990)

When we talk about the pioneers of New Jersey hip-hop, we can’t overlook Lakim Shabazz. One of the founding members of the original version of the Flavor Unit crew, the Newark-born MC first gained recognition when he appeared on the 45 King’s “The 900 Number.” With his distinctive voice and razor-sharp lyricism, Lakim brought an intellectual edge to the New Jersey rap game. His music was a reflection of the socio-political climate of the time, addressing issues of inequality, racism, and the struggles faced by marginalized communities. The New Jersey rapper’s insightful rhymes were often complemented by soulful beats, creating a powerful combination that resonated with listeners long after his prime years.

7. Chill Rob G

Discography: Ride the Rhythm (1989), Black Gold (2000), Empire Crumbles (March 2022)

Breaking out during the peak years for hip hop’s golden age as part of the Flavor Unit collective, Chill Rob G emerged from the streets of Jersey with a commanding presence and a flow that captivated audiences. His gravelly voice and impeccable delivery made him a force to be reckoned with in the rap game. With tracks like “The Power” and “Court Is Now in Session,” Rob G showcased his lyrical dexterity and storytelling ability across a number of tracks. Overall, Chill Rob G’s impact on New Jersey hip-hop cannot be understated, solidifying his status as a true icon in the state’s rap history.

6. Rah Digga

Discography: Dirty Harriet (2000), Classic (2010)

One of the best female MCs to ever touch a mic, Rah Digga stands as a testament to Jersey’s history of consistently producing lyrical powerhouses. Digga’s flow is masterful, each verse laden with sharp wit and biting social commentary, while her voice rings out loudly against the predominantly male chorus of Jersey hip-hop, a beacon of strength and lyrical prowess. From her affiliation with Flipmode Squad to her solo work, Rah Digga embodies the essence of a fearsome lyricist—resilient, unapologetic, and consistently raising the bar. Her legacy is just another example that New Jersey is a hotbed of rap talent, and an influential force in female hip hop.

5. Joe Budden

Discography: Joe Budden (2003), Mood Muzik 3: The Album (2008), Halfway House (2008), Padded Room (2009), Escape Route (2009), Slaughterhouse (with Slaughterhouse) (2009), Welcome To: Our House (with Slaughterhouse) (2012), No Love Lost (2013), All Love Lost (2015), Rage & The Machine (2016)

Few artists have bared their souls as fearlessly as Joe Budden. Known for his introspective and emotionally charged lyrics, Budden’s music delves deep into his personal struggles, relationship dynamics, and mental health battles. While he’s known more for his podcasting these days, in his prime as an MC, the former Slaughterhouse rapper’s vulnerability resonated deeply with rap fans, enabling him to build a loyal, core audience. From his breakout hit “Pump It Up” to his groundbreaking Mood Muzik mixtape series, Budden has consistently shown that he’s willing to confront his demons head-on. Throw in his lyrical prowess, undeniable flow and captivating delivery, and you’ve got one of the greatest rappers to come out of New Jersey.

4. Queen Latifah

Discography: All Hail the Queen (1989), Nature of a Sista’ (1991), Black Reign (1993), Order in the Court (1998), The Dana Owens Album (2004), Trav’lin’ Light (2007), Persona (2009)

With her empowering lyrics and charismatic presence, Queens Latifah is a true hip hop pioneer, breaking barriers and paving the way for future female MCs. Her debut album, All Hail the Queen, showcased her fierce rhymes and showcased her versatility as an artist. From the socially conscious anthem “U.N.I.T.Y.” to the infectious energy of “Ladies First,” Latifah’s music was an embodiment of strength, independence, and female empowerment. Beyond her rap career, Latifah’s talent extended into acting and producing, solidifying her status as a multifaceted icon and a true queen of New Jersey hip hop.

3. Lauryn Hill

Discography: Blunted on Reality (with Fugees) (1994), The Score (with Fugees) (1996), The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)

Lauryn Hill, a product of South Orange, New Jersey, stands as one of the most influential figures in hip hop and R&B. As a member of the Fugees and through her groundbreaking solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, she showcased her immense talent as a rapper, singer, and songwriter. Hill’s music effortlessly blended soul, reggae, and hip-hop, creating a unique sound that resonated with audiences worldwide, selling millions of records and winning her an armful of Grammys. The New Jersey rapper-singer’s deeply introspective lyrics explored themes of love, spirituality, and personal growth, showcasing her poetic brilliance. With her soul-stirring vocals and thought-provoking verses, Lauryn Hill cemented her status as a true musical genius and an icon of New Jersey’s vibrant hip hop scene.

2. Treach

Discography: Independent Leaders (1989), Naughty by Nature (1991), 19 Naughty III (1993), Poverty’s Paradise (1995), Nineteen Naughty Nine: Nature’s Fury (1999), IIcons (2002), Anthem Inc. (2011)

When it comes to commanding the mic with unparalleled intensity and lyrical dexterity, few can match the prowess of Treach. Hailing from the streets of East Orange, New Jersey, this rap virtuoso emerged as the formidable frontman of Naughty by Nature. With his rapid-fire delivery and razor-sharp wordplay, Treach captivated audiences, leaving them in awe of his unparalleled skills. Whether unleashing thought-provoking verses or igniting the crowd with his infectious energy, Treach’s presence was electrifying. From the chart-topping hits like “Hip Hop Hooray” to the socially conscious “Ghetto Bastard,” he’s left an enduring impact on New Jersey’s hip hop legacy, solidifying his position as one of the rap game’s finest lyricists.

1. Redman

Discography: Whut? Thee Album (1992), Dare Iz a Darkside (1994), Muddy Waters (1996), Blackout! (with Method Man) (1999), Doc’s da Name 2000 (1998), Malpractice (2001), Red Gone Wild: Thee Album (2007), Blackout! 2 (with Method Man) (2009), Reggie (2010), Mudface (2015)

When it comes to unadulterated funk charisma, killer mic presence and lyrical wizardry, Redman stands tall as a beacon of New Jersey’s rap scene. Hailing from the gritty streets of Newark, he brought a raw and unfiltered energy to the mic that was impossible to ignore. Over the funky production of EPMD’s Erick Sermon, the Funk Doc was damn near impossible to stop. Reggie’s distinctive voice and witty wordplay became his trademarks, captivating listeners with his uncanny ability to effortlessly switch between comedic narratives and hard-hitting rhymes. From his breakout debut album Whut? Thee Album to his collaborative classics with Method Man, Reggie’s discography showcased his infectious energy and larger-than-life persona. With his relentless delivery and unmatched stage presence, Redman continues to rep New Jersey, as he solidifies his position as one of the greatest rappers of all time.