5.Lloyd Banks: The 2004 Mixtape Awards recipient for “Best Artist on a Mixtape” made a smooth transition to full-fledged albums, but at the time of doing so, it was all but impossible for anyone to get out from under the shadow 50 Cent had over Hip-Hop – and especially other members of G-Unit. But make no mistake, Lloyd Banks is a punchline monster ["Look dog, I don’t run with the poodles/Difference is, I’m eating in Rome and you’re eating Ramen Noodles"]. In 2010, Banks released “Beamer, Benz or Bentley”, and that one single was so successful that Interscope Records attempted to resign him to label after dropping him the previous year. And just last July, he dropped a mixtape,V.6: The Gift, which received hella praise from critics and fans alike.
4. Jean Grae: After MC Lyte and Queen Latifah, solo femcees were commonly pigeon-holed as overtly sexual rappers to their male peers. Then along came Jean Grae. Between spitting over some of Hip-Hop’s most recognizable tracks on The Bootleg of The Bootleg EP(Jay-Z’s “U Don’t Know, Eminem’s “Role Model) rapping with The Roots (The Tipping Point’s “Somebody’s Gotta Do It”), and getting very personal on Jeanius (“My Story” finds Grae discussing an abortion), there isn’t much she can’t do as a rapper. In 2011, after a nearly four0year absence, Jean returned to the scene with a mixtape called Cookies or Comas, one she said was to tide listeners over until her next LP, Cake or Death.
3. Tech N9ne: Hailing from Kansas City, Missouri, this highly-skilled, rapid-fire rapper technically introduced himself in the late ’90s, but didn’t really catch on until the 2001 release of his album, Anghelic. Most artists would settle for a classic horrorcore album, but not Tech. With each album more ambitious than than the one before (his 2011 solo album was 24 tracks long and featured collaborations with rap newcomer Hopsin and Stokley Williams of ’90s R&B group, Mint Condition), he shows no signs of slowing down. At age 40, Tech has proven that rap isn’t just a young man’s game. And with his album stealing “Interlude” appearance on Tha Carter IV, Tech N9ne may have benefited from that 2011 blockbuster release more than Lil Wayne.
2. Royce Da 5’9”: This guy is an incredible lyricist and someone who can write about a versatile range of subjects. For example, he ghostwrote Dr. Dre’s tribute to his deceased brother, “The Message”, in 1999. On his own solo debut in 2002, Royce wrote a surprise of a song about his genitals called “My Friend.” Additionally, he can rap on par with the best of them. With five solo albums under his belt and production from DJ Premier, The Neptunes, and The Hitmen in his catalog, he has ample quality material. Two other projects Royce has recently dropped bars on – 2011′s Bad Meets Evil EP with Eminem and the 2012 release of Slaughterhouse’s sophomore LP on Shady Records – didn’t hurt either.
1. Immortal Technique: He’s the heir to Chuck D, and no one is more capable of using Hip-Hop to comment on social issues than the Peruvian-born MC. Poverty, politics, racism, and capitalism are all heavy-handed subjects that Immortal Technique never shies away from. With three albums and a compilation to his credit, he puts more content in a single verse than some others do in an entire album. And as a staunch supporter of independence, he has always stayed away from the major labels. But, he’s uber-aware of the affect he has, and that just makes him that much more powerful – his overseas documentary with Woody Harrelson, Dr. Cornel West, and more is proof positive. On a track called “Reverse Pimpology,” he sums it up: “I’m not a crack rapper, I’m not a backpacker/ I’m not a wack rapper moonlighting as a bad actor.”