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Let’s give praise to Roc Marciano and Westside Gunn for leading the charge for the revival of underground hip hop. Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed an explosion of talent and quality releases emerge from hip hop’s subterranean.

Ever since the mid to late-90s when the commercial success of rap labels like Roc-A-Fella and Bad Boy widened the split between mainstream and underground hip hop, the underground scene has become a fascinating place full of dope MCs with incredible creativity. With the emergence of independent labels like Definitive Jux, Rawkus and Stones Throw Records, dope underground rappers are abound everywhere.

From MF DOOM, Mos Def and Aesop Rock, to Kool Keith, El-P and Roc Marciano, here are the top 25 best underground rappers of all time.

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25. R.A. the Rugged Man

Discography: Die, Rugged Man, Die (2004), Legends Never Die (2013), All My Heroes Are Dead (2020)

R.A. the Rugged Man is a skilled rhymer with a flow that fluctuates from steady and confident to incredibly quick. What he lacks in a lengthy discography, he more than makes up for in his consistency as an MC in albums like 2020’s All My Heroes Are Dead. What’s most impressive about his style is his rhyming ability, delivering a never-ending stream of rhymes in each verse that few others could match.

While he’s a rapper who’s never achieved much mainstream success, he’s beloved within the hip hop community for his ability to make a hard-hitting track with some of the most complex rhymes and one of the grimiest deliveries in all of hip hop. When he’s got the mic, you can always hear the passion in his bars. From his early Rawkus days to the 2020s, R.A. the Rugged Man has consistently proved that he is one of the best underground rappers ever.

24. Benny the Butcher

Discography: 17 Bullets (2016), Tommy Devito’s Breakfast (with Cuns) (2017), A Friend of Ours (2018), Tana Talk 3 (2018), The Plugs I Met (2019), Burden of Proof (2020), The Plugs I Met 2 (with Harry Fraud) (2021), Pyrex Picasso (2021), Tana Talk 4 (2022)

One of the core members of Griselda Records, alongside his cousins, Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine, Benny the Butcher is currently one of the best rappers in the game right now. Of the three, the Black Soprano Family head honcho has the most vicious delivery, embracing a quick and aggressive way of rapping where he always sounds driven to impress and dominate.

He flourishes on cold, gritty production as seen on Tana Talk 3 where he raps mercilessly over the chilling beats of The Alchemist and Daringer. More recently, he’s shown his versatility as a rapper, teaming up with Hit-Boy for Burden of Proof and rapping alongside mainstream legends like J. Cole and Drake (albeit a leaked track). Benny is a rapper who isn’t afraid to experiment, dipping his toes into mainstream sounds but maintaining his legend status in the underground. 

23. Necro

Discography: I Need Drugs (2000), Gory Days (2001), The Pre-Fix for Death (2004), The Sexorcist (2005), Death Rap (2007), Die (2010), Murder Murder Kill Kill (2012), The Notorious Goriest (2018)

Necro is among the most unique rappers in hip hop, embodying such an original sound which he calls “Death Rap”. His lyrics are similar to horrorcore rap, describing the gruesome ways to torture and kill his victims, which makes for an equally disturbing and captivating experience. The anger in his voice and the vulgarity of his lyrics makes Necro’s style quite unlike that of any other rapper, with that aggression built upon by the death metal-inspired instrumentals he often uses.

His music is hypnotic in the way it transports the listener into this vile and violent world. He’s never stopped making Death Rap since establishing his own label, Pyscho+Logical-Records, in 1999. Even today, few MCs have replicated his horrifying sound, and even fewer have been able to create an underground brand like Necro.

22. Conway the Machine

Discography: From King to a God (2020), Lulu (with The Alchemist) (2020), No One Mourns the Wicked (with Big Ghost) (2020), If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed (with Big Ghost) (2021), God Don’t Make Mistakes (2022), What Has Been Blessed Cannot Be Cursed (with Big Ghost) (2022)

Conway the Machine is a founding member of the influential Griselda Records, currently leading today’s underground movement. He’s an incredible rapper accustomed to dark and grimy beats such as on Reject 2 and The G.O.A.T.. His witty lyrics are full of clever punchlines and wordplay. He’s also a rapper who thrives at his most personal moments.

Conway has had a stressful past (to put it lightly) with depression and crime, such as when he survived getting shot. Through his lyrics, he describes how he’s handled that trauma. This makes his music all the more powerful, with something new to learn about Conway in each song. His music is especially engaging, not only because it’s hard-hitting and grimy, but because he’s a transparent writer who isn’t afraid to get personal with his listeners.

21. Open Eagle Mike

Discography: Unapologetic Art Rap (2010), Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes (2011), 4nml Hsptl (2012), Dark Comedy (2014), Hella Personal Film Festival (2016), Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017), Anime, Trauma and Divorce (2020), A Tape Called Component System with the Auto Reverse (2022)

Open Mike Eagle is a comedian as well as a rapper, and that sense of humour can be heard in all his music. He’s an articulate rapper whose words paint such vivid pictures about his life, his everyday experiences, and his history.

A great example is his concept record Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, where he details a life in the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago where Mike once lived. There is so much to discover about him in each project, making his music feel so heartfelt and genuine. He raps in a cool, cynical tone, with his comedic writing full of charm that provokes a laugh as well as leaving an emotional impact.

20. Company Flow

Discography: Funcrusher (1996), Funcrusher Plus (1997)

Company Flow is a legendary hip hop trio consisting of rappers El-P and Bigg Jus, as well as DJ Mr. Len. Their masterpiece, Funcrusher Plus, was released in 1997 to critical acclaim for its futuristic and forward-thinking sound. The album’s soundscape is ominous and minimalistic at points, with El-P and Bigg Jus contrasting the cold instrumentals with their enraged deliveries which almost comes off as shouting.

Company Flow are amazing for the fresh sound they brought forward in the ‘90s, but also for the fierce energy they bring to each and every track. On top of that, their writing is often poignant, such as on the heart-breaking “Last Good Sleep” where El-P opens up about his abusive stepdad. Despite their relatively limited output, there is no doubt that Company Flow is one of the most influential underground rap acts of all time.

19. Billy Woods

Discography: Camouflage (2003), The Chalice (2004), Terror Firma (2005), Emergency Powers: The World Tour (2007), Indonesia (2009), Cape Verde (2010), History Will Absolve Me (2012), Dour Candy (2013), Race Music (2013), Today, I Wrote Nothing (2015), Known Unknowns (2017), Rome (2017), Paraffin (2018), Hiding Places (2019), Terror Management (2019), Shrines (2020), BRASS (2020), Haram (with The Alchemist) (2021), Aethiopes (2022), Church (2022)

Billy Woods has achieved GOAT status in the modern underground. He’s got a drunken, unhinged style of rapping. He’s never afraid to rap off beat or use drumless and messy instrumentals which few other rappers would think possible to rhyme over. In contrast to his uncontrollable flow, Billy has a tight and precise pen, writing some of the most evocative and conceptual tracks in modern rap.

This makes Billy’s music so unique, with a distinctive delivery, and a sharp sense of lyricism which gives his music incredible replay value. He’s a rapper who balances quality and quantity perfectly. His run from 2012’s History Will Absolve Me to 2022’s Church is one of the most consistent in hip hop history, rarely taking a break between projects.

18. CunninLynguists

Discography: Will Rap for Food (2001), SouthernUnderground (2003), A Piece of Strange (2006), Dirty Acres (2007), Oneirology (2011), Rose Azura Njano (2017)

When it comes to underground rappers, the conversation often gravitates towards the East and West coasts, but CunninLynguists are evidence of the amazing underground music coming out of the south. The Kentucky-based group consists of Kno, Deacon the Villain, and Natti. Kno handles production, building some of the most luscious and intricate beats in rap music.

With the classic A Piece of Strange and the incredible Oneirology years later, CunninLynguists have cemented themselves as masters of their craft, making music as gorgeous as it is hard-hitting. They are expert lyricists as well, rapping about complex ideas and metaphors such as on Oneirology, a concept album about dreams. The group are unapologetic in their originality, never failing to deliver thought-provoking concepts and hypnotic instrumentals.

17. Elzhi

Discography: The Preface (2008), Lead Poison (2016), Elzhi & Khrysis are Jericho Jackson (with Khrysis as Jericho Jackson) (2018), Seven Times Down Eight Times Up (2020), Zhigeist (with Georgia Anne Muldrow) (2022)

Elzhi is a Detroit rapper whose love for hip hop is clear in his music. From his early days in Slum Village to his 2022 album Zhigeist, he’s maintained that same youthful energy and never lost what made him such a fresh and exciting MC. He’s a great lyricist accustomed to jazzy boom bap beats to match the punch of his own voice, always giving an engaging performance with his raw and enthusiastic delivery.

The legendary Detroit MC encapsulates the fierce and rugged sound of ‘90s hip hop. While ‘90s legends change their sounds, Elzhi is keeping the rough sound of boom bap alive with classics like Elmatic and The Preface, with the same longevity and creativity as his idols like Slick Rick and Nas. A certified rap OG who’s still keeping it fresh to this day, Elzhi is one of the greatest underground rappers of all time.

16. Atmosphere

Discography: Overcast! (1997), God Loves Ugly (2002), Seven’s Travels (2003), You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005), When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (2008), The Family Sign (2011), Southsiders (2014), Fishing Blues (2016), Mi Vida Local (2018), Whenever (2019), The Day Before Halloween (2020), WORD? (2021)

Atmosphere is a duo consisting of rapper Slug and producer Ant. Slug has dedicated most of his career to Atmosphere, thriving on Ant’s warped and abstract style of production, so to mention one without the other would not be right. What makes Slug appealing is his avid storytelling ability, rapping through all sorts of characters and personas to detail his history and his love life.

What also makes Slug stand out is how normal he is: he’s not had the traumatic or action-packed past of many rappers. He’s a regular person with a story to tell, and his vivid lyrical style and animated delivery make that story captivating.

15. J-Live

Discography: The Best Part (2001), All of the Above (2002), The Hear After (2005), Then What Happened? (2008), S.P.T.A. (Said Person of That Ability) (2011), Around the Sun (2014), His Own Self (2015), How Much Is Water? (2015)

Before launching his hip hop career, J-Live was an English teacher, and that knowledge shines through in his music. Not only does he have a quick-witted pen and a knack for storytelling, but he’s a master when it comes to switching up his flow. The song “Them That’s Not” from The Best Part is a great example of J-Live’s ability.

He speeds up and slows down with the tempo, using his voice like an instrument in harmony with the beat. He’s not only an MC with a smooth style, but one who is acutely aware of his talent, and as such, he uses his technical ability to the fullest. One of the most underrated MC-producers of all time, J-Live is cemented as a legendary underground rapper.

14. Vinnie Paz

Discography: The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological & Electro-Magnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness (1997), Violent by Design (2000), Visions of Gandhi (2003), Legacy of Blood (2004), Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell (2006), A History of Violence (2008), Season of the Assassin (2010), Violence Begets Violence (2011), God of the Serengeti (2012), The Thief and the Fallen (2015), The Bridge and the Abyss (2018), The Cornerstone of the Corner Store (2016), The Pain Collector (2018), As Above So Below (2020), The Funeral and the Raven (2021), Burn Everything That Bears Your Name (2021), Tortured In The Name of God’s Unconditional Love (2022)

Vinnie Paz raps with a hoarse voice and a rageful delivery, matching the brutal and often graphic nature of his lyrics. While his music isn’t horrorcore, he’s no stranger to violent imagery, detailing the various ways he murders his victims over explosive hardcore production. What sets the Philly rapper apart from most is his iconic delivery, embodying so much rage and emotion that few rappers could hope to convey.

Moreover, he’s not one-note, rapping about all sorts of topics from his religion to world politics. While his style is distinct, he doesn’t box himself into one sound. This makes for an exciting catalogue of work where he’s always tackling new styles, from classic boom bap to grimy abstract hip hop.

13. Boldy James

Discography: My 1st Chemistry Set (with The Alchemist) (2013), The Price of Tea in China (with The Alchemist) (2020), Manger on McNichols (with Sterling Toles) (2020), Real Bad Boldy (with Real Bad Man) (2020), Bo Jackson (with The Alchemist) (2021), Super Tecmo Bo (with The Alchemist) (2021), Killing Nothing (with Real Bad Man) (2022), Fair Exchange No Robbery (with Nicholas Craven) (2022), Mr. Ten08 (with Futurewave) (2022)

Boldy James has quickly risen to legend status within the underground, with a run of nine albums this decade which has cemented him as one of the most consistent in the game. Boldy has a cold and laidback style of rapping. What he lacks in a wild and emotive flow, he makes up for in his clever lyrical touch and deeply personal moments.

What makes him stand out in the Griselda crew is his versatility: whether it be the cinematic Manger on McNichols with Sterling Toles, his grimy albums with The Alchemist, or the ominous sound of his collaborations with Real Bad Man, Boldy adapts to each sound effortlessly, never afraid to tackle a new style. While the low-key Detroit spitter has really only started making an impact these past few years, he’s quickly shot up into the underground rap hall of fame.

12. Immortal Technique

Discography: Revolutionary Vol. 1 (2001), Revolutionary Vol. 2 (2003), The 3rd World (2008)

Immortal Technique makes some of the most unapologetic and political hip hop in the underground. His style follows a traditional East Coast sound with punching drums and catchy, looping samples, but where he really shines is in his lyrics. Immortal Technique is vocal about his left-wing politics, using his music as a stand against racism, oppression, war, among other contentious subjects.

He’s vivid and rageful in the messages he conveys, filled with captivating anger as he raps about corruption in the world and the ways it must change. While he’s achieved some commercial success with Revolutionary, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, he’s never let go of the powerful messaging that made his music so special. Side note: “Dance With The Devil” is one of the greatest storytelling rap songs of all time.

11. Brother Ali

Discography: Rites of Passage (2000), Shadows on the Sun (2003), The Undisputed Truth (2007), Us (2009), Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color (2012), All the Beauty in This Whole Life (2017), Secrets & Escapes (2019)

Outside of his music, Brother Ali is a dedicated activist against racism and oppression, and those themes come through in his music in the form of optimistic and impactful messages. He’s a rapper prone to touch on contentious and political subjects, but his light-hearted delivery and smooth choice of production make for a nice contrast against those lyrical themes.

The end product is an accessible and bright style of hip hop which is still powerful, balancing mainstream appeal with lyrical substance perfectly. Since his debut Rites of Passage in 2000, Brother Ali’s passion for hip hop and drive for change have never changed, and is firmly cemented as one of the greatest underground rappers of all time.

10. Westside Gunn

Discography: Hitler Wears Hermes (2012), Hitler Wears Hermes 2 (2014), Hitler Wears Hermes 3 (2015), Hitler Wears Hermes 4 (2016), Flygod (2016), Hitler Wears Hermes 5 (2017), Hitler Wears Hermes 6 (2018), Supreme Blientele (2018), Flygod is an Awesome God (2019), Hitler Wears Hermes 7 (2019), Pray for Paris (2020), Flygod is an Awesome God II (2020), Who Made the Sunshine (2020), Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Sincerly, Adolf (2021), Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Side B (2021), Peace “Fly” God (2022), 10 (2022)

Arguably the most important underground artist in recent history, Westside Gunn has been able to dominate the scene in a way that no other rapper has been able to before him. With a distinct, high-pitched voice combined with an absurdist lyrical style and over-the-top adlibs, reminiscent of Wu-Tang, Westside has been able to push the Griselda brand forward with sheer work ethic and output.

As well as being a memorable rapper, Gunn has an impeccable ear for beats, borrowing the talents of Daringer, The Alchemist, and other legendary producers to help construct his brand of grimy, underground hip hop. His greatest skill is in his versatility and album curation, taking talents from all over the hip hop spectrum to enhance his sound and bring the underground to new heights. Whether it be classic boom bap, abstract, or trap, Gunn has tried it.

9. Ka

Discography: Iron Works (2008), Grief Pedigree (2012), The Night’s Gambit (2013), Honor Killed the Samurai (2016), Descendants of Cain (2020), A Martyr’s Reward (2021), Languish Arts (2022), Woeful Studies (2022)

Ka has one of the most unique sounds in hip hop. His production choice is often drumless, taking away the punch of his beats to create vivid and dark atmospheres for his songs. The Brooklyn rapper’s rhyming is understated, rarely conveying much energy on his tracks, but instead focussing on his cadence, his rhyme skill, and impeccable lyrics.

What makes Ka special is not only his distinctly atmospheric style, but his incredible sense of wordplay. You’ll seldom find a bar from Ka which isn’t at least a double entendre. The way he articulates himself is an artform in itself. While his music isn’t the easiest to get into, that patience is rewarded with some of the best writing in hip hop history.

8. Talib Kweli

Discography: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (with Mos Def as Black Star) (1998), Train of Thought (with Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal) (2000), Quality (2002), The Beautiful Struggle (2004), Eardrum (2007), Liberation (with Madlib) (2007), Revolutions Per Minute (with Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal) (2010), Habits of the Heart (with Res as Idle Warship) (2011), Gutter Rainbows (2011), Prisoner of Conscious (2013), Gravitas (2013), Fuck the Money (2015), Indie 500 (with 9th Wonder) (2015), The Seven (with Styles P) (2017), Radio Silence (2017), Gotham (with Diamond D) (2021), No Fear of Time (with Yasiin Bey as Black Star) (2022)

Talib Kweli came on to the scene in 1997 alongside Mos Def to form Black Star. He’s a cool-headed MC with dozens of flows and an articulate tone, fitting well with his politically-charged lyrics focussing on the struggles of black people. He’s a phenomenal rapper for his smooth technical ability, but also for the way he inserts politics into all his music, giving his albums an added layer of impact as they act as protests against the corrupt and oppressive.

From Black Star and Reflection Eternal to his solo work, Talib is an MC who has never been afraid to speak his mind, so when you hear a verse start, you know it’s going to be powerful. Starting from the late ’90s to present day, Talib has repeatedly proved why he’s one of the greatest underground rappers of all time.

7. Aesop Rock

Discography: Music for Earthworms (1997), Float (2000), Labor Days (2001), Bazooka Tooth (2003), None Shall Pass (2007), Skelethon (2012), The Impossible Kid (2016), Spirit World Field Guide (2020), Garbology (with Blockhead) (2021)

Aesop Rock is a master lyricist, able to articulate himself in countless ways, with one of the largest vocabularies of any rapper. His lyrics are cryptic but rich in meaning, making for tracks which may come off as verbose off first listen, but with close attention, the genius in them is obvious.

His ability as a storyteller and a crafter of concepts is extraordinary, whether it be the wild world of Spirit World Field Guide or the metaphor of recycling used to represent sampling and reflection as seen in Garbology. From his 2001 classic Labor Days to now, Aesop’s lyrical ability and imagination have remained some of the most entertaining in the genre.

6. Roc Marciano

Discography: Marcberg (2010), Reloaded (2012), Marci Beaucoup (2013), Rosebudd’s Revenge (2017), RR2: The Bitter Dose (2018), Behold a Dark Horse (2018), Kaos (with DJ Muggs) (2018), Marcielago (2019), Mt. Marci (2020), The Elephant Man’s Bones (with The Alchemist) (2022)

Roc Marciano is a pioneer in the underground, popularising drumless hip hop and showcasing that a rap song doesn’t need a catchy drum pattern to hit hard. His strongest attribute is his lyricism, with the same dense rhyme schemes and clever wordplay as Ka, but with more of an emphasis on punchlines and witty bars rather than deeper meanings.

From his classic Reloaded to 2022’s The Elephant Man’s Bones, Marciano’s ability as an MC has never wavered, delivering complex verses and unorthodox hip hop year after year. While his fierce delivery and flow make for an incredible rapper, it’s his ability to push boundaries and break new ground in the genre which marks him as one of the greatest.

5. Mos Def

Discography: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (with Talib Kweli, as Black Star) (1998), Black on Both Sides (1999), The New Danger (2004), Manifest Destiny (with Ces and DCQ, as UTD) (2004), True Magic (2006), The Ecstatic (2009), December 99th (with Ferrari Sheppard, as Dec 99th) (2016), Negus (2019), No Fear of Time (with Talib Kweli, as Black Star) (2022)

Mos Def, now known as Yasiin Bey, is one of the most charismatic rappers of all time. Look no further than his solo debut, Black On Both Sides, to see just how much emotion and character he can express in his words. Not only is his delivery dynamic, but his writing is also stellar. As a legend in the conscious hip hop scene, he’s able to articulate his issues with society and culture in such a profound way. Coupled with his ability to switch up his sound – such as the experimental The Ecstatic – Mos Def is one of hip hop’s most creative figures, and greatest rappers of all time, period.

4. Blu

Discography: Below the Heavens (with Exile, as Blu & Exile) (2007), The Piece Talks (with Ta’Raach, as C.R.A.C.) (2008), Johnson&Jonson (with Mainframe, as Johnson&Jonson) (2008), theGodleeBarnesLP (rereleased in 2021 as God is Good) (2010), Her Favorite Colo(u)r (2011), Jesus (2011), Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them (with Exile, as Blu & Exile) (2012), York (2013), Good to Be Home (with Bombay) (2014), Bad Neighbor (with MED and Madlib) (2015), Cheetah In The City (with Union Analogtronics) (2016), Gods In The Spirit, Titans In The Flesh (with Nottz) (2018), The Blueprint (with Shafiq Husayn) (2018), A Long Red Hot Los Angeles Summer Night (with Oh No) (2019), True & Livin’ (with Exile, as Blu & Exile) (2019), Ground & Water (with Damu The Fudgemunk) (2019), Miles (with Exile, as Blu & Exile) (2020), The Color Blu(e) (2021)

Blu continues to push forward the sound of jazz rap with a West Coast swagger and vintage polish. He’s an introspective, everyday-man rapper whose subject matter ranges from racism and black history, to his love for hip hop and music as a whole. Unlike many rappers who dedicate their verses to witty one-liners and clever wordplay without much thematic cohesion, Blu is all about the album experience.

Great examples are The Colour Blu(e), an album revolving around the different meanings of “blue”, or Miles, a celebration of hip hop and black culture. No matter the topic, Blu gives it his all, with vivid lyricism and thematic focus, leading to some of the greatest albums in modern rap music. From the game-changing Below the Heavens to his latest work, Blu has repeatedly shown the hip hop world why he’s one of the greatest underground rappers.

3. El-P

Discography: Funcrusher (1996), Funcrusher Plus (1997), Fantastic Damage (2002), High Water (2004), I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (2007), Cancer 4 Cure (2012), Run the Jewels (2013), Run the Jewels 2 (2014), Run the Jewels 3 (2016), RTJ4 (2020)

From El-P’s beginnings in Company Flow to his modern work in Run the Jewels, he has continued to impress new generations of hip hop fans with his ferocious delivery, touching lyrics, and futuristic production. In his early work, the New York rapper proved himself an impeccable storyteller with despairing tracks like “Stepfather Factory” and “Last Good Sleep” which detailed his troubled childhood.

More recently, his style has become more comedic than personal, but his over-the-top delivery and crude punchlines still make for an amazing performance. El-P is as well-rounded as a rapper can be, with the sound technical ability, lyrical versatility and production mastery of a GOAT contender.

2. Kool Keith

Discography: Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996), Sex Style (1997), First Come, First Served (1999), Black Elvis/Lost in Space (1999), Matthew (2000), Spankmaster (2001), Nogatco Rd. (2006), The Return of Dr. Octagon (2006), Dr. Dooom 2 (2008), Tashan Dorrsett (2009), Love & Danger (2012), Demolition Crash (2014), El Dorado Driven (2014), Feature Magnetic (2016), Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation (2018), Controller of Trap (2018), Keith (2019), Computer Technology (2019), Saks 5th Ave (2019)

You won’t find many rappers as creative and strange, or with a more prodigious output than Kool Keith. His lyrics often come off as profane and ludicrous, but that’s part of what makes him such an entertaining artist. When he adopts a persona – whether it be Dr. Octagon from the classic Dr. Octagonecologyst or Dr. Dooom from First Come, First Served – he fully embraces the character, switching up his style to fit whoever he plays.

His delivery is manic, and his production choice distorted, with the two forces bouncing off each other to form a strange and alien sound for hip hop. When Kool Keith tires of an idea, he always has another one, reinventing himself and proving his longevity time and time again. As a co-founding member of golden age group Ultramagnetic MCs to his recent albums, Kool Keith has consistently operated on the fringes of hip hop and shaped underground rap music.

1. MF DOOM

Discography: Mr. Hood (1991) (as Zev Love X with KMD), Operation: Doomsday (1999), Black Bastards (2000) (as Zev Love X with KMD), Take Me to Your Leader (2003) (as King Geedorah), Vaudeville Villain (2003) (as Viktor Vaughn), VV:2 (2004) (as Viktor Vaughn), Madvillainy (2004) (with Madlib as Madvillain), Mm..Food (2004), Special Herbs + Spices Volume 1 (2004) (with MF Grimm), The Mouse and the Mask (2005) (with Danger Mouse as Danger Doom), Born Like This (2009) (as Doom), Key to the Kuffs (2012) (with Jneiro Jarel as JJ Doom), NehruvianDoom (2014) (with Bishop Nehru as NehruvianDoom), Czarface Meets Metal Face (2018) (with Czarface), Super What? (2021) (with Czarface)

MF DOOM is at the heart of underground hip hop. Hundreds of rappers cite him as one of their biggest inspirations, and that is because there is no other rapper like MF DOOM. His rhyming ability was otherworldly; consistently packing dozens of rhymes into only a handful of lines and managing to cram as many meanings into a bar as he could rhymes. DOOM’s technical and lyrical ability was unmatched and, on top of that, his creativity was astounding.

DOOM adopted many personas, using samples of cartoons in his albums to mimic the narratives of the characters he played. His skill as a rapper, imagination as a writer, and added polish as a producer were all elite. All rappers should strive to be as multifaceted as the masked rapper. With a catalogue as deep and varied and whimsical as his, it is very clear that MF DOOM is the greatest underground rapper of all time.

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