New York is the birthplace of hip-hop, and following its initial cultivation in the Bronx, one of the first places it landed was Harlem. The Manhattan neighbourhood has a rich cultural history and is home to some of the most iconic African-American celebrities.
During the great migration in the late 1920s and early 30s, Harlem became a bastion of music, dance, art, fashion, literature and theatre. The primarily African-American neighbourhood boasted venues such as The Apollo Theatre and The Savoy Ballroom and quickly became one of the most dynamic neighbourhoods in New York.
After the 1930s, Hispanic and Caribbean groups moved into the area, making it a culturally diverse and densely populated black neighbourhood reflective of an entire diaspora. The region’s East side became known as ‘Spanish Harlem’ due to the large number of Dominican and Puerto Rican immigrants who settled there. The area still remains diverse.
In the early 2010s, many claimed Harlem had a second renaissance when the neighbourhood saw an influx of young black and Latino creatives making some of the best alternative hip-hop in the world. However, the region has been prominent in hip-hop since the 1980s. That said, below is a list of the five best rappers from Harlem.
The five best rappers from Harlem:
As the frontman of the Harlem crew The Diplomats, Cam’Ron was one of the most prevalent rappers of the early 2000s. Alongside Juelz Santana, Jim Jones and Freekey Zekey, the collective also known as Dipset had a huge impact on New York.
The ensemble signed with Roc-A-Fella Records and released the iconic Diplomatic Immunity album in 2003. Other epic Cam’Ron projects include his exceptional fourth studio album, Purple Haze, which was executively produced by Damon Dash.
4. A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky is one of the most relevant acts from Harlem still making music today. Despite the second Harlem renaissance of the early 2010s, many of the acts that emerged, such as Azealia Banks and Princess Nokia, faded. However, the legendary A$AP Rocky still remains current.
Rocky’s career began around 2011, and he worked extensively with Harlem producer Araab Muzik. However, as he has grown, we have seen him explore and diversify his sound. His creativity is abundant, and with hits such as ‘Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2’ and ‘L$D’, he is undoubtedly one of Harlem’s great talents.
Mase was one of Diddy’s first protégés. Mase’s sister Stason introduced him to her friend Cudda LoveBiggie Smalls’ road manager, who then took the young prodigy child to meet Combs, who signed him on the spot.
Since his appearance on the mainstream in 1993, Mase has only released three albums. However, his 1997 debut project, Harlem World (named after his beloved Manhattan home), went four times platinum instantly and spawned club anthems such as ‘Feel So Good’ and ‘What You Want.’
Diddy was the recipient of the Harlem Icon Award earlier this year and was so for a reason. Diddy lived in Harlem until the age of 12 and got his career started in the uptown Manhattan hip-hop scene. Diddy, under the moniker Puff Daddy, founded Bad Boy Entertainment and went on to become a mogul.
Diddy (real name Sean Combs) was a rapper, record producer, and label executive. He then transitioned into an actor as well as a TV and filmmaker. He is now a Harlem legend with an approximately $900 million net worth.
1. Big L
Big L was considered one of the greatest rappers in New York during the late 1990s. Along with artists such as Big Pun and The Notorious B.I.G, the Harlem native was undeniably one of the best emcees in New York and was, without question, the primary representative for Manhattan regarding rap.
Big L created some exceptional music during his career with his debut album Lifestyle Ov Da Poor & Dangerous, setting a precedent in hip hop for quality albums. Big L helped launch the careers of rappers who achieved vast amounts of success, including Ma$e and Cam’Ron as the founder of the Harlem rap crew Children of the Corn—a true legend.