Harlem has a rich history in Hip-Hop which is often overlooked. Home to the historic Audubon Ballroom and Harlem World Entertainment Complex, Harlem has always been known as the “fly borough” that makes money, but the history of Harlem Hip-Hop is largely unknown.
DJ Hollywood, The Magnificent 7, Master Don, The Harlem World Crew, The Sapphire Crew, B Fats, Doug E. Fresh, Teddy Riley and The Treacherous 3 are just a few of the legendary artists that Harlem gave the world.
Below are 8 legendary Harlem artists who you may not know.
1. Tupac Shakur
This enigmatic and controversial artist has undoubtedly cemented his legacy as one of the most influential rappers in history. Though his upbringing in Harlem provided him with the grit and rawness that defined his style, it was his undeniable talent as a rapper, poet, and actor that propelled him into superstardom. His poignant lyrics, delivered with precision and passion, have resonated with generations of fans and fellow artists alike, making him a true icon of the genre.
2. A$AP Ferg
A$AP Ferg, a core member of the A$AP Mob, stands as one of Harlem’s premier figures in injecting raw energy and unapologetic swagger into the rap game. With his captivating flows and infectious hooks showcased in albums like “Trap Lord” (2013) and “Always Strive and Prosper” (2016), Ferg has solidified his position as a crowd-pleaser. Reflecting the essence of his Harlem upbringing, Ferg’s gritty lyricism makes him an undeniable force in contemporary hip-hop.
3. Immortal Technique
In the realm of politically charged rap, Immortal Technique emerges as a fiery and thought-provoking lyricist. Born in Lima, Peru, and raised in Harlem, he fearlessly tackles social issues, governmental corruption, and systemic injustice. His albums like “Revolutionary Vol. 1” (2001) and “Revolutionary Vol. 2” (2003) showcase his unwavering conviction and lyrical prowess, making him a voice for the voiceless.
4. Puff Daddy
Puff Daddy, a key figure in Harlem’s rap legacy, may not be the most skilled lyricist, but his mastery in creating hit records is undeniable. As the force behind Bad Boy Records, Puffy launched the careers of iconic artists like The Notorious B.I.G. His infectious hooks, larger-than-life personality, and ability to blend hip-hop with mainstream pop sensibilities solidify his status as a true Harlem heavyweight.
5. Kool Moe Dee
Kool Moe Dee’s influence looms large as a lyrical pioneer, shaping the rap landscape. With razor-sharp rhymes and iconic tracks like “Go See the Doctor” and “Wild Wild West,” he paved the way for future wordsmiths. Moe Dee’s smooth flow and storytelling prowess left an indelible mark on Harlem’s rap legacy.
6. Juelz Santana
As a founding member of the Diplomats, Juelz Santana embodies the spirit of Harlem, infusing his music with gritty essence. Hits like “Oh Boy” and “Dipset (Santana’s Town)” solidified his status as a Harlem rap icon. Despite a rollercoaster journey, Santana’s impact on Harlem’s rap legacy is undeniable.
7. A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky, a virtuoso blending fashion, artistry, and innovation, redefined hip-hop in the early 2010s. With tracks like “Peso” and “Purple Swag,” Rocky’s Houston-inspired musical palette and magnetic presence showcase his luminary status, illuminating Harlem’s legacy while forging an innovative path.
8. Kurtis Blow
To understand Harlem’s rap roots, one must recognize Kurtis Blow, a pioneer in popularizing rap music. With groundbreaking tracks like “The Breaks” and “Basketball,” Kurtis showcased infectious beats and captivating rhymes. His charismatic presence and dynamic performances make him an icon of the early rap era.
Mase, the suave wordsmith epitomizing coolness, left an enduring imprint on Harlem’s rap scene. Harlem World, his debut album, featured radio-friendly hits like “Feel So Good.” Collaborations with Puff Daddy and The Notorious B.I.G. solidified Mase’s status as a hip-hop luminary.
Cam’ron, a rap icon, effortlessly blends street sensibilities with humor and rhyming flamboyance. From “Confessions of Fire” to “Purple Haze,” his discography vividly portrays Harlem’s streets. With a distinctive flow and tales of triumph, betrayal, and street life, Cam’ron stands tall as one of Harlem’s most influential rap maestros.
11. Big L
Big L, with unparalleled lyricism, reigns supreme as Harlem’s rap legend. His lightning-fast delivery and razor-sharp wit, showcased in “Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous,” mesmerized listeners. Big L’s impact on the rap game, embodying Harlem’s grit and lyrical excellence, makes him one of hip-hop’s most revered lyricists despite his tragic passing.
12. Dave East
With his gritty storytelling and powerful lyricism, this rapper has quickly emerged as one of the most promising talents to come out of Harlem in recent years. His dedication to preserving the essence of hip-hop while pushing the boundaries of the genre has earned him respect among fans and fellow artists alike. With an ever-growing fan base and a reputation for authenticity, he’s poised to leave a lasting impression on the hip-hop landscape.
13. Lil’ Mama
Best known for her powerful rapping abilities and energetic dance moves, this female artist has carved out a unique niche for herself within the hip-hop landscape. Born and raised in Harlem, her music reflects the vibrant culture and unapologetic attitude of the neighborhood. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, she has broken barriers and demonstrated that talent knows no gender, inspiring a generation of young female emcees.
14. Azealia Banks
With her genre-defying sound and unapologetic attitude, this female artist from Harlem has garnered a devoted following since her debut in the early 2010s. Combining elements of hip-hop, electronic music, and pop, her innovative approach to songwriting and production has earned her both critical acclaim and commercial success. Despite facing controversies throughout her career, her undeniable talent and unique voice have left a lasting impression on the hip-hop landscape.
15. Jim Jones
As a founding member of The Diplomats, this Harlem native has contributed significantly to the group’s success and the development of their signature sound. With his raspy voice and magnetic presence, he’s managed to stand out among his peers and maintain relevance throughout his career. Beyond his work with the group, his solo efforts have further cemented his status as an important figure within the hip-hop community.
16. Big L
Known for his lyrical prowess and unique storytelling abilities, this artist has left an indelible mark on the hip-hop scene despite a tragically short career. With a distinctively smooth flow and clever wordplay, he manages to bring life to the gritty streets of Harlem through his music. Even though his time in the spotlight was cut short, his influence is still felt today and is often cited as one of the greatest rappers to come out of Maryland.