A lot has changed in African hip hop in the last ten years. The right conversations are being had and African hip hop history is now in focus, but there’s still so much that needs to be done. Conversations of this spectrum rarely take place on the continent so it’s up to us to start these discussions and ensure African hip hop history is well documented for future references. T
The most influential rappers are those that have been able to inspire a new generation of rappers and shift the culture way with their music and trends. Rap prowess and popularity never equate influence that’s why you hear names like Young Thug, Gucci Mane and A$AP Rocky being considered influential, while a renowned lyricist like Biggie rarely gets mentioned.
These are some of the most influential African rappers of all time. In rap, originality is key and these artists have or had that at some point in their careers. Some of these artists may no longer be at their peak but their Seeds are undeniably visible on the African rap landscape. These names are responsible for some of the continent’s biggest cultural shifts
12. Hip Hop Pantsula
What will African hip hop be without Jabba? HHP had a larger-than-life personality that was often imitated by his peers.
He wasn’t the most prolific rapper but he had this uncanny ability to create club-friendly records. The Maf-town OG’s willingness to tap into various genres and demographics made him a staple in African music. HHP played a vital role in bringing South African hip-hop and motswako rap to the mainstream, his DNA is embedded in the soul of a plethora of artists including Khuli Chana and Cassper Nyovest, who often pays tribute to the late rapper. Rest In Peace.
11. Khuli Chana
The first time I heard anything from Khuli Chana was on “No More Hunger” featuring JR and I loved the idea of him being a backpack rapper. He had this swagger about him that really peaked my interest. You can allude to an artist’s influence when you have no understanding of the language, but you find yourself falling madly in love with their aesthetic.
His debut album Motswakoriginator was a huge pendulum swing for South African hip hop. At a time English rappers (AKA, Da. L.E.S, K.O, Maggz) were becoming the main focus, Khuli made you look with his distinctive style of fusing Setswana, English, and other vernacular languages in his raps.
10. Reggie Rockstone
A lot of Ghanaian rappers need to cut Reggie Rockstone a Cheque for biting his style. One of the pioneers of hip life – an original style of hip hop in Ghana. Reggie Rockstone brought a new dimension to music in the Gold Coast when he started rapping over African American hip hop beats in Twi – an Akan language spoken by the Akan ethnic group of Ghana.
His ability to create local hits out of rhythmic African American-influenced hip-hop instrumentals quickly gained prominence and became the blueprint for artists that came after him. His style has been amplified by several popular Ghanaian rappers including Sarkodie, Tic-Tac, and Castro.
While names like Lord Of Ajasa, Kash 11, and DaGrin did it before him, Olamide went on to popularize the movement of Yoruba rap through his relentless work ethic and his selfless desire to put on upcoming artists in Nigeria. Olamide has not only popularized trends and slangs in Nigeria, but he has also started them. Anytime an Olamide song comes on at a party or club the whole atmosphere changes. You can also argue Olamide is the Most influential Nigerian artist of the last decade.
Language barrier has limited his allure and has stopped him from becoming an international success, but somehow I do feel he’s unbothered about it.
Mizchif’s impact transcended music like so many of the greats of the past. Inspired by the early hip hop movement influenced by the likes of DJ Kool Herc in the Bronx, Mizchif simply got into hip hop just to prove he could do it, which wasn’t the easiest thing to achieve back then as hip hop music wasn’t so popular. He is often purported to have been the first to independently release a solo hip hop album in South Africa and was also allegedly the first in the country to perform hip hop with a live band. Stage presence, lyrics, flow? Mizchif had it all. He had a commanding stage presence and could move the crowd at will. Rest In Peace.
7. M.I. Abaga
M.I.’s reign is not defined by how many people he influenced because he failed at it. His reign should be defined solely by impact. M single handled elevated Nigerian hip hop and took it to a place where originality and content became king. So much more could’ve been achieved if M.I had a viable competitor in Nigeria. I do feel the lack of a suitable sparring partner stifled his greatness and ultimately resulted in him being lazy because his reign at the top went largely uncontested.
M.I. Abaga’s influence based on the popular Illegal Music series response and his debut album “Talk About It” did enough to inspire his peers and made people believe in Nigerian hip hop again. His impact was swift.
By the time K.O. released his debut album Skhanda Republic in 2014 he was already a young legend. From his time with Teargas alongside brothers Ma-E and Ntukza, to the creation of Cashtime Records. KO quietly contributed his quota to Mzansi’s hip-hop landscape, while also paving the way for a new generation of rappers.
“Cara Cara” was an African wild hit and you can’t really classify influence without putting into perspective how a sound was able to impact others across borders.
Staying fresh is also key in hip hop and Mr. CashTime has built an entire style around being super duper clean. Like A$AP Rocky and Pharrell, KO is one of the few African rappers that really defines hip hop’s aesthetic.
Long before hosting South African Idol, Proverb was considered by many the greatest African rapper of all time. While that remains debatable, the South African’s debut album “Book Of Proverb” is undeniably one of the greatest African hip-hop albums of all time (feel free to debate me).
In some moments in his career Pro was called a VJ masking around as a rapper, due to his time at Channel O. In hindsight, everything about him being more interested in VJing was true. However, no other African rapper has been able to attain the sort of acclaim Proverb was able to garner while he was in active service. You can argue Nasty C comes close in the modern day.
4. Naeto C
Ice Prince invented swag rap in Nigeria but Naeto C took the cool kid rap formula to the next level. Naeto was signed to Storm Records in 2004 alongside Sasha, Ikechukwu, Darey, and many more. Although he was one of the lesser-known names, Naeto C quickly became the flagship star for the label.
His lazy flow was rich in content and delivery, but it failed to catch on because it was wildly perceived as unprofitable. Naeto was one of the first Nigerian rap artists to gain traction across major African countries. He popularized the slogans “Kini Big Deal” and “yes boss.” Also, we can’t forget how Naeto had everyone rocking the Hula cap – the traditional Hausa cap.
What else do you need?
Prokid was a complete rapper and I think he had the biggest influence of any artist on this list music-wise. His debut album Heads & Tales is one for the books. The project solidified his status as a true African hip-hop icon and became the blueprint for several aspiring rappers. PRO’s most memorable influence comes from his undeniable love for Soweto and his ability to capture the city’s struggles using vivid storytelling.
PRO’s unapologetic love for the Kasi lifestyle inspired many after him including K.O., Emtee, and Kwesta.
Who is eLDee and how influential is he?
Put it this way, without him Nigeria hip hop wouldn’t exist. Okay, that’s not entirely true but you get the idea. Eldee is credited as one of the pioneers of the Afrobeat genre and the creator of mainstream hip hop in Nigeria. Basically, he is an underrated GOAT.
eLDee created a dynasty with Trybesmen, a rap band consisting of almost 20 members including Freestyle, KB, 2 Short, Sasha, Dr. Sid, and more. Individually and as a collective, they played pivotal roles in popularizing the fusion of Hip-hop, pop, and traditional afrobeat music in Nigeria. Many of the artists signed to his Trybes Record label went on to form the core of contemporary hip hop in Nigeria.
elDee was an A-list producer and a top-tier rapper when he wanted to be. He often dropped club-ready records and sociopolitical raps about life in Nigeria. eLDee released five solo albums before calling it quits to focus on his family.
Nigerian music from the 000’s to about 2010 owes a lot to the Don.
1. Da L.E.S.
Les? Really? Yes him. For those of us familiar with African music in the mid-2000s, we can’t deny Les’ immediate impact and momentum shift with Jozi. L.E.S. ushered in a new fun era of rap characterized by his cool kid demeanor and college swag aesthetic. It stuck and quickly became the new flavor of the streets.
We can’t also forget what he did with AmaKipKip. Les was largely responsible for the continental success of the AKK brand, which he helped popularize by always flaunting them in his music videos. What Run-D.M.C. was to Adidas, 50 Cent to Reebok, is what Les was to Ama Kip Kip. His influence over the brand was colossal at the time that you will be forgiven for thinking he owned it. Everyone wore AKK and danced to Muthaland Crunk. That era was the single most influential moment in African hip hop.
Les is the only African rapper whose influence covered all three major facets of hip hop – music, clothing, and lifestyle. I will go as far as saying Les birthed AKA and paved the way for several other light-skinned rappers, but don’t quote me.
Cassper Nyovest – There’s a huge case for Cassper but I’m still observing.
AKA – AKA and Cassper are two of the biggest African rap stars of the last decade.