The ten best storytellers in hip-hop

Categories: Lists

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Britt Chester

The art of storytelling has existed since before recorded history, so it's somewhat surprising that the practice didn't take off in hip-hop, an originally oral tradition, until the late '80s. Since rappers discovered just how captivating a well-told story could be, the storytelling track has become a staple for almost any album. Like a rite of passage, you must be able to tell a good story if you want to be considered a top-tier rapper. Storytelling has only begun to explore the depths of its potential with weird, sci-fi adventures llike Deltron 3030 or Homer-esque epics like Lupe Fiasco's story of Michael Young History, but some rappers, even without venturing into especially unknown territory, have elevated themselves above the pack as exceptional storytellers. Keep reading for the ten best storytellers in hip-hop.

See also:
- The ten best hip-hop lyrics of 2012
- The twenty best hip-hop shows of 2012
- Ten essential gangsta-rap albums

10. Andre 3000
Although Big Boi and Andre 3000 both brought their individual strengths to OutKast's "Da Art of Storytellin'" series, Andre has always had more of a flair for a visceral communication of emotion and vivid imagery, which make for some compelling stories. Lines like "I remember her number like the summer" and "Look out the window. Golly, the sky is electric blue" are such clear expressions of a moment that they place you right in the middle of the story. And while some storytelling rappers tell stories that seem to exist only for their own sake, OutKast's always seem to be indicative of some greater significance.

9. Big L
Part of Big L's appeal was his authenticity. Whether he's talking about pulling heists for money, doling out street lessons or reflecting on real life struggles, he always impresses his dark, witty personality on his music. Like in "The Heist," when Big L is about to bust in on his wife and her lover with his crew and start killing, he has to pause on the stairs to say, "I'm out of breath. Them cigarettes gon' be the cause of my death." It's out of left field, but funny and appropriate. When the rapper talks about his mother's drug problem in "How Will I Make It," and then says "his dad went out for a fast snack" and never returned, that's the biting humor of the late Big L.


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26 comments
truth
truth

Agreed! Finally a writer in Westword that really knows Hip-Hop!! about damn time...

Colfax Jack
Colfax Jack

The Rhymesayers record label is full of great storytellers. Atmosphere's album "When Life Gives You Lemons..." is a great example of storytelling in hip-hop. But one of my favorite lines is from Brother Ali: "I write the raps for the ones Johnny Cash wore the black for."

David Avius Romero
David Avius Romero

Slick Rick, Brother Ali, Slug, Pac, B.I.G., Nas, Eminem, Jay Z, Black Thought, Will Smith. Runner UP: Masta Ace and

Andy Thomas
Andy Thomas

Snow. I never snitched again after hearing "Informer."

Jacob Ryan
Jacob Ryan

Kendrick, J.Cole. At least for today

Lynette Vigil
Lynette Vigil

Jay Z is HORRIBLE!!! He doesn't deserve to be on the list he cares more about getting rich, then he does about the craft of story telling

Tylr Tre
Tylr Tre

Hov ain't even on the list? ? Gtfoh.

Tylr Tre
Tylr Tre

Jay Z. No question about it.

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