Music moves everyone. No matter your race, sexuality, political beliefs, etc. Music is one thing that can pull people together. Blues, Jazz, Rock, Hip Hop, R&B and many more, have the power to tell people’s stories and help others to get their words out when they can’t find the right words to say. For music, black male artists or musicians have done a lot in forming the sounds that we love today and even the past.
When thinking about black male musicians a lot of might say a few names that many of us know, but their are so many others that helped to pave the way for even some of them as well. From Little Richard helping to form the sound of Rock N Roll, to Quincy Jones probably giving the world some of the most memorable music in our lifetime. Black male artists has been the reason as to why many of us can keep our sanity.
In no particular order, here’s a list of the 50 most influential black male artists.
- Ray Charles – Ray Charles Robinson Sr. (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004) was an American singer, songwriter, pianist and alto saxophonist. He is regarded as one of the most iconic and influential singers in history, and was often referred to by contemporaries as “The Genius”. Among friends and fellow musicians he preferred being called “Brother Ray”. Charles was blinded during childhood, possibly due to glaucoma.
- Quincy Jones – Quincy Delight Jones Jr. (born March 14, 1933) is an American record producer, songwriter, composer, arranger, and film and television producer. His career spans 70 years, with a record of 80 Grammy Award nominations, 28 Grammys and a Grammy Legend Award in 1992.
- Michael Jackson – Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009) was an American singer, songwriter, dancer, and philanthropist. Dubbed the “King of Pop“, he is regarded as one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century. Over a four-decade career, his contributions to music, dance, and fashion, along with his publicized personal life, made him a global figure in popular culture. Jackson influenced artists across many music genres; through stage and video performances, he popularized complicated dance moves such as the moonwalk, to which he gave the name, as well as the robot.
- Stevie Wonder – Stevland Hardaway Morris (né Judkins; May 13, 1950), known professionally as Stevie Wonder, is an American singer-songwriter, who is credited as a pioneer and influence by musicians across a range of genres that include rhythm and blues, pop, soul, gospel, funk, and jazz. A virtual one-man band, Wonder’s use of synthesizers and other electronic musical instruments during the 1970s reshaped the conventions of R&B. He also helped drive such genres into the album era, crafting his LPs as cohesive and consistent, in addition to socially conscious statements with complex compositions. Blind since shortly after his birth, Wonder was a child prodigy who signed with Motown‘s Tamla label at the age of 11, where he was given the professional name Little Stevie Wonder.
- Prince – Prince Rogers Nelson (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016), commonly known mononymously as Prince, was an American singer-songwriter, musician, and record producer. The recipient of numerous awards and nominations, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest musicians of all time. He was known for his flamboyant, androgynous persona; his wide vocal range, which included a far-reaching falsetto and high-pitched screams; and his skill as a multi-instrumentalist, often preferring to play all or most of the instruments on his recordings. Prince produced his albums himself, pioneering the Minneapolis sound. His music incorporated a wide variety of styles, including funk, R&B, rock, new wave, soul, synth-pop, pop, jazz, and hip hop.
- James Brown – James Joseph Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was an American musician. The central progenitor of funk music and a major figure of 20th century music, he is referred to by various honorific nicknames, some of which include “the Hardest Working Man in Show Business”, “Godfather of Soul”, “Mr. Dynamite”, and “Soul Brother No. 1”. In a career that lasted more than 50 years, he influenced the development of several music genres. Brown was one of the first 10 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural induction in New York on January 23, 1986.
- Bob Marley – Robert Nesta Marley (6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981) was a Jamaican singer, musician, and songwriter. Considered one of the pioneers of reggae, his musical career was marked by fusing elements of reggae, ska, and rocksteady, as well as his distinctive vocal and songwriting style. Marley’s contributions to music increased the visibility of Jamaican music worldwide, and made him a global figure in popular culture to this day. Over the course of his career, Marley became known as a Rastafari icon, and he infused his music with a sense of spirituality. He is also considered a global symbol of Jamaican music and culture and identity, and was controversial in his outspoken support for democratic social reforms. In 1976, Marley survived an assassination attempt in his home, which was thought to be politically motivated. He also supported legalisation of marijuana, and advocated for Pan-Africanism.
- Marvin Gaye – Marvin Pentz Gay Jr., who also spelled his surname as Gaye (April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984), was an American R&B and soul singer and songwriter. He helped to shape the sound of Motown in the 1960s, first as an in-house session player and later as a solo artist with a string of successes, earning him the nicknames “Prince of Motown” and “Prince of Soul”.
Gaye’s Motown songs include “Ain’t That Peculiar“, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)“, and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine“. Gaye also recorded duets with Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Tammi Terrell, and Diana Ross. During the 1970s, Gaye recorded the albums What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On and became one of the first artists in Motown to break away from the reins of a production company.
- Miles Davis – Miles Dewey Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) was an American trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th-century music. Davis adopted a variety of musical directions in a five-decade career that kept him at the forefront of many major stylistic developments in jazz.
- Tupac Shakur – Tupac Amaru Shakur (/ˈtuːpɑːk ʃəˈkʊər/; born Lesane Parish Crooks, June 16, 1971 – September 13, 1996), also known by his stage names 2Pac and Makaveli, was an American rapper and actor. He is widely considered one of the most influential rappers of all time. Shakur is among the best-selling music artists, having sold more than 75 million records worldwide. Much of Shakur’s music has been noted for addressing contemporary social issues that plagued inner cities, and he is considered a symbol of activism against inequality.
- Jay-Z – Shawn Corey Carter (born December 4, 1969), known professionally as Jay-Z,[a] is an American rapper, record producer, entrepreneur, and founder of Manhattan-based conglomerate talent and entertainment agency Roc Nation. Often regarded as the greatest rapper of all time, he was the CEO of Def Jam Recordings and has been central to the creative and commercial success of artists including Kanye West, Rihanna, and J. Cole.
- Kendrick Lamar – Kendrick Lamar Duckworth (born June 17, 1987) is an American rapper and songwriter. Known for his progressive musical styles and socially conscious songwriting, he is often considered one of the most influential hip hop artists of his generation. Born and raised in Compton, California, Lamar began his career as a teenager performing under the stage name K.Dot. He quickly garnered local attention which led to him signing a recording contract with Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) in 2005.
- Otis Redding – Otis Ray Redding Jr. (September 9, 1941 – December 10, 1967) was an American singer and songwriter. He is regarded as one of the greatest singers in the history of American popular music and a seminal artist in soul music and rhythm and blues. Nicknamed the “King of Soul“, Redding’s style of singing gained inspiration from the gospel music that preceded the genre. His singing style influenced many other soul artists of the 1960s.
Redding was born in Dawson, Georgia, and at age two, moved to Macon. Redding quit school at age 15 to support his family, working with Little Richard‘s backing band, the Upsetters, and by performing in talent shows at the historic Douglass Theatre in Macon. In 1958, he joined Johnny Jenkins‘s band, the Pinetoppers, with whom he toured the Southern states as a singer and driver. An unscheduled appearance on a Stax recording session led to a contract and his first hit single, “These Arms of Mine“, in 1962.
- Chuck Berry – Charles Edward Anderson Berry (October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017) was an American singer, songwriter and guitarist who pioneered rock and roll. Nicknamed the “Father of Rock and Roll“, he refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive with songs such as “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958). Writing lyrics that focused on teen life and consumerism, and developing a music style that included guitar solos and showmanship, Berry was a major influence on subsequent rock music.
Born into a middle-class black family in St. Louis, Berry had an interest in music from an early age and gave his first public performance at Sumner High School. While still a high school student, he was convicted of armed robbery and was sent to a reformatory, where he was held from 1944 to 1947. After his release, Berry settled into married life and worked at an automobile assembly plant. By early 1953, influenced by the guitar riffs and showmanship techniques of the blues musician T-Bone Walker, Berry began performing with the Johnnie Johnson Trio. His break came when he traveled to Chicago in May 1955 and met Muddy Waters, who suggested he contact Leonard Chess, of Chess Records. With Chess, he recorded “Maybellene”—Berry’s adaptation of the country song “Ida Red“—which sold over a million copies, reaching number one on Billboard magazine’s rhythm and blues chart.
- Little Richard – Richard Wayne Penniman (December 5, 1932 – May 9, 2020), known professionally as Little Richard, was an American singer, musician, and songwriter. He was an influential figure in popular music and culture for seven decades. Described as the “Architect of Rock and Roll“, Richard’s most celebrated work dates from the mid-1950s, when his charismatic showmanship and dynamic music, characterized by frenetic piano playing, pounding back beat and raspy shouted vocals, laid the foundation for rock and roll. Richard’s innovative emotive vocalizations and uptempo rhythmic music also played a key role in the formation of other popular music genres, including soul and funk. He influenced numerous singers and musicians across musical genres from rock to hip hop; his music helped shape rhythm and blues for generations.
“Tutti Frutti” (1955), one of Richard’s signature songs, became an instant hit, crossing over to the pop charts in the United States and the United Kingdom. His next hit single, “Long Tall Sally” (1956), hit No. 1 on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues Best-Sellers chart, followed by a rapid succession of fifteen more in less than three years. His performances during this period resulted in integration between white Americans and black Americans in his audience. In 1962, after a five-year period during which Richard abandoned rock and roll music for born again Christianity, concert promoter Don Arden persuaded him to tour Europe. During this time, the Beatles opened for Richard on some tour dates. Richard advised the Beatles on how to perform his songs and taught the band’s member Paul McCartney his distinctive vocalizations.
- Sam Cooke – Samuel Cook (January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964), known professionally as Sam Cooke, was an American singer and songwriter. Considered one of the most influential soul artists of all time, Cooke is commonly referred to as the “King of Soul” for his distinctive vocals, pioneering contributions to the genre and significance in popular music.
Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and later relocated to Chicago with his family at a young age, where he began singing as a child and joined the Soul Stirrers as lead singer in the 1950s. Going solo in 1957, he released a string of hit songs, including “You Send Me“, “A Change Is Gonna Come“, “Cupid“, “Wonderful World“, “Chain Gang“, “Twistin’ the Night Away“, “Bring It On Home to Me“, and “Good Times“. During his eight-year career, Cooke released 29 singles that charted in the Top 40 of the Billboard Pop Singles chart, as well as 20 singles in the Top Ten of Billboard‘s Black Singles chart.
In 1964, Cooke was shot and killed by the manager of a motel in Los Angeles. After an inquest and investigation, the courts ruled Cooke’s death to be a justifiable homicide. His family has since questioned the circumstances of his death.
- Luther Vandross – Luther Ronzoni Vandross Jr. (April 20, 1951 – July 1, 2005) was an American singer, songwriter, and record producer. Known for his sweet and soulful vocals, Vandross has sold over 40 million records worldwide. He achieved eleven consecutive Platinum albums and eight Grammy Awards, including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance four different times. In 2004, Vandross won a total of four Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Award for Song of the Year for a song recorded not long before his death, “Dance with My Father“.
His hit songs include “Never Too Much“, “Here and Now“, “Any Love“, “Power of Love/Love Power“, “I Can Make It Better” and “For You to Love“. Many of his songs were covers of original music by other artists such as “If This World Were Mine” (duet with Cheryl Lynn), “Since I Lost My Baby“, “Superstar“, “I (Who Have Nothing)” and “Always and Forever“. Duets such as “The Closer I Get to You” with Beyoncé, “Endless Love” with Mariah Carey and “The Best Things in Life Are Free” with Janet Jackson were all hit songs in his career.
- Donny Hathaway – Donny Edward Hathaway (October 1, 1945 – January 13, 1979) was an American soul singer, keyboardist, songwriter, and arranger whom Rolling Stone described as a “soul legend”. His most popular songs include “The Ghetto“, “This Christmas”, “Someday We’ll All Be Free“, and “Little Ghetto Boy”. Hathaway is also renowned for his renditions of “A Song for You“, “For All We Know”, and “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”, along with “Where Is the Love” and “The Closer I Get to You“, two of many collaborations with Roberta Flack. He has been inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame and won one Grammy Award from four nominations. Hathaway was also posthumously honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. Dutch director David Kleijwegt made a documentary called Mister Soul – A Story About Donny Hathaway, which premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam on January 28, 2020.
- Barry White – Barry Eugene Carter (September 12, 1944 – July 4, 2003), better known by his stage name Barry White, was an American singer and songwriter. A two-time Grammy Award winner known for his bass voice and romantic image, his greatest success came in the 1970s as a solo singer and with The Love Unlimited Orchestra, crafting many enduring soul, funk, and disco songs such as his two biggest hits: “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” and “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything“.
White recorded 20 studio albums during the course of his career, but multiple versions and compilations were released worldwide that were certified gold, 41 of which also attained platinum status. White had 20 gold and 10 platinum singles, with worldwide record sales in excess of 100 million records, and is one of the best-selling music artists of all time. His influences included James Cleveland, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, the Four Tops and Marvin Gaye.
- Curtis Mayfield – Curtis Lee Mayfield (June 3, 1942 – December 26, 1999) was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and record producer, and one of the most influential musicians behind soul and politically conscious African-American music. Dubbed the “Gentle Genius“, he first achieved success and recognition with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted group The Impressions during the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and the 1960s, and later worked as a solo artist.
Mayfield started his musical career in a gospel choir. Moving to the North Side of Chicago, he met Jerry Butler in 1956 at the age of 14, and joined the vocal group The Impressions. As a songwriter, Mayfield became noted as one of the first musicians to bring more prevalent themes of social awareness into soul music. In 1965, he wrote “People Get Ready” for The Impressions, which was ranked at no. 24 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song received numerous other awards; it was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
- Isaac Hayes – Isaac Lee Hayes Jr. (August 20, 1942 – August 10, 2008) was an American singer, actor, songwriter, and composer. He was one of the creative forces behind the Southern soul music label Stax Records, where he served both as an in-house songwriter and as a session musician and record producer, teaming with his partner David Porter during the mid-1960s. Hayes and Porter were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of writing scores of songs for themselves, the duo Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, and others. In 2002, Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Hayes was known for his musical score for the film Shaft (1971). For the “Theme from Shaft“, he was awarded the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1972. This made him the third black person, after Hattie McDaniel and Sidney Poitier, to win an Academy Award in any competitive field covered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Hayes also won two Grammy Awards for that same year. Later, he was given his third Grammy for his music album Black Moses.
In 1992, Hayes was crowned honorary king of the Ada region of Ghana in recognition of his humanitarian work there. He acted in motion pictures and television, such as in the movies Truck Turner and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and as Gandolf “Gandy” Fitch in the TV series The Rockford Files (1974–1980). He voiced the character Chef from the animated Comedy Central series South Park from its 1997 debut until his controversial departure in 2006.
- Al Green – Albert Leornes Greene (born April 13, 1946), known professionally as Al Green, is an American singer, songwriter, pastor and record producer best known for recording a series of soul hit singles in the early 1970s, including “Take Me to the River“, “Tired of Being Alone“, “I’m Still in Love with You“, “Love and Happiness“, and his signature song, “Let’s Stay Together“. After his girlfriend died by suicide, Green became an ordained pastor and turned to gospel music. He later returned to secular music.
Green was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. He was referred to on the museum’s site as being “one of the most gifted purveyors of soul music”. He has also been referred to as “The Last of the Great Soul Singers”. Green is the winner of 11 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also received the BMI Icon award and is a Kennedy Center Honors recipient. He was included in the Rolling Stone list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, ranking at No. 65, as well as its list of the 100 Greatest Singers, at No. 14.
Earth, Wind & Fire (Maurice White, Philip Bailey, Verdine White) – Earth, Wind & Fire (EW&F or EWF) is an American band whose music spans the genres of jazz, R&B, soul, funk, disco, pop, Latin, and Afro pop. They are among the best-selling bands of all time, with sales of over 90 million records worldwide.
The band has won 6 Grammys out of 17 nominations and four American Music Awards out of 12 nominations. They have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame, and Hollywood’s Rockwalk, and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The band has received an ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award, a BET Lifetime Achievement Award, a Soul Train Legend Award, a NARAS Signature Governor’s Award, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2012 Congressional Horizon Award, and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2019. Rolling Stone has called them “innovative, precise yet sensual, calculated yet galvanizing” and declared that the band “changed the sound of black pop”. VH1 has described EWF as “one of the greatest bands”.
- Lionel Richie – Lionel Brockman Richie Jr. (born June 20, 1949) is an American singer, songwriter, and record producer.
He rose to fame in the 1970s as a songwriter and the co-lead singer of the Motown group Commodores; writing and recording the hit singles “Easy“, “Sail On“, “Three Times a Lady” and “Still“, with the group before his departure. In 1980, he wrote and produced the US Billboard Hot 100 number one single “Lady” for Kenny Rogers.
During his solo career, Richie became one of the most successful balladeers of the 1980s, and has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time. He has won four Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year for “We Are the World”, and Album of the Year for Can’t Slow Down. “Endless Love” was nominated for an Academy Award; while “Say You, Say Me” won both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe award for Best Original Song. In 2016, Richie received the Songwriters Hall of Fame‘s highest honor, the Johnny Mercer Award. In 2022, he received the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song by the Library of Congress; as well as the American Music Awards Icon Award. He was also inducted into Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2022.
- Babyface – Kenneth Brian Edmonds (born April 10, 1959), better known by his stage name Babyface, is an American singer, songwriter, and record producer. He has written and produced over 26 number-one R&B hits throughout his career and has won 12 Grammy Awards. He was ranked number 20 on NME‘s 50 of The Greatest Producers Ever list.
- Maxwell – Gerald Maxwell Rivera (born May 23, 1973), known mononymously as Maxwell, is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer. He rose to prominence following the release of his debut studio album Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite (1996), which received widespread acclaim, and spawned the singles “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” and “Sumthin’ Sumthin’“. The album has since been cited by music critics for helping form the “neo soul” movement that gained popularity during the late 1990s.
Following the success of his debut album, Maxwell released the albums Embrya (1998), and Now (2001), both of which were certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), with the latter reaching number one on the Billboard 200 chart.
After taking a hiatus from music, he returned in 2009 with his fourth studio album BLACKsummers’night, which became his second album to reach number one on the Billboard 200 chart. BLACKsummers’night was nominated for six Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year for “Pretty Wings“, and won Best R&B Album and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (for “Pretty Wings”). His fifth studio album blackSUMMERS’night (2016), spawned the single “Lake by the Ocean“, and was released to critical acclaim.
He has won three Grammy Awards, six Soul Train Music Awards and two NAACP Image Awards. Maxwell was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and Congressional Black Caucus in 2019 for “his innovative contributions to the music industry as a singer, songwriter, and producer”.
- Usher – Usher Raymond IV (born October 14, 1978) is an American R&B singer. He was born in Dallas, Texas, but raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, until moving to Atlanta, Georgia. At the age of 12, his mother put him in local singing competitions before catching the attention of a music A&R from LaFace Records. He released his self-titled debut album Usher (1994), and rose to fame in the late 1990s with the release of his second album My Way (1997). It spawned his first U.S. Billboard Hot 100 number-one single “Nice & Slow“, and the top-two singles “You Make Me Wanna…” and “My Way“. His third album, 8701 (2001), produced the number-one singles “U Remind Me” and “U Got It Bad“, as well as the top-three single “U Don’t Have to Call“. It sold eight million copies worldwide and won his first two Grammy Awards as Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 2002 and 2003.
Confessions (2004) established him as one of the bestselling musical artists of the 2000s decade, containing four consecutive Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles—”Yeah!” (featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris), “Burn“, “Confessions Part II“, and “My Boo” (with Alicia Keys)—and the top-ten “Caught Up”. It sold over 20 million copies worldwide and was certified Diamond by the RIAA. After splitting from his manager and mother in 2007, he released the albums Here I Stand (2008) and Raymond v. Raymond (2010), both of which debuted atop of the Billboard 200 chart and respectively produced the number-one singles “Love in This Club” (featuring Young Jeezy) and “OMG” (featuring will.i.am). The EP Versus produced the top-five single “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love” (featuring Pitbull) before the release of the top-fifteen single “More“. Looking 4 Myself (2012) also debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart with the top-ten single “Scream“. The R&B ballads “There Goes My Baby” and “Climax” received Grammy Awards in 2011 and 2013. “I Don’t Mind” (featuring Juicy J) also reached the top-fifteen in 2014, while Hard II Love (2016) peaked at five on the Billboard 200 chart. In 2018, he released A, a collaborative album with record producer Zaytoven.
Usher has sold 23.8 million albums and 38.2 million digital songs in the United States. Internationally, he has sold 80 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. At the end of 2009, Billboard named him the second most successful artist of the 2000s decade, the number-one Hot 100 artist of the 2000s decade, and ranked Confessions as the top solo album of the 2000s decade. In 2010, Billboard placed him at number 6 on their list of Top 50 R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years. In 2019, Billboard also placed him at number 14 on their “Greatest of All Time Hot 100 Artists” list. Usher has earned 9 number-one singles. Considered an icon and sex symbol, he has had TV and film appearances and seen inductions into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the Black Music and Entertainment Walk of Fame, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Usher has won numerous awards and accolades including eight Grammy Awards, 34 ASCAP Awards, nine Soul Train Music Awards, and eight American Music Awards. With 18 awards, Usher is the fifth-most awarded artist at the Billboard Music Awards. He owns the record label Raymond-Braun Media Group (RBMG), a joint venture with talent manager Scooter Braun that includes Canadian singer Justin Bieber. Alongside a successful music career, Usher is also acclaimed for involvement in humanitarian causes and is the founder of Usher’s New Look foundation.
- D’Angelo – Michael Eugene Archer (born February 11, 1974), better known by his stage name D’Angelo (/diˈændʒəloʊ/), is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer. He first garnered attention after co-producing the single “U Will Know” for R&B supergroup Black Men United. His debut studio album, Brown Sugar (1995), received widespread acclaim from music critics, who have credited the album for ushering in the neo soul movement; and was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Its third single “Lady“, reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100.
He would then collaborate with artists such as Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and then girlfriend Angie Stone. His next album, Voodoo (2000), debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 and continued to receive critical acclaim. The album’s lead single “Untitled (How Does It Feel)“, earned him the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance; likewise, Voodoo won Best R&B Album. Following this period, D’Angelo became increasingly uncomfortable with his growing status as a sex symbol. This was followed by numerous personal struggles, including alcoholism, which resulted in limited musical output for several years.
D’Angelo released his third studio album, Black Messiah, in 2014. The album was met with critical acclaim and peaked at number five on the US Billboard 200. The same year, D’Angelo was hailed as the next Marvin Gaye by GQ. D’Angelo also contributed to the soundtrack for the 2018 video game Red Dead Redemption 2, performing the song “Unshaken“.
- Smokey Robinson – William “Smokey” Robinson Jr. (born February 19, 1940) is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and former record executive director. He was the founder and front man of the Motown vocal group the Miracles, for which he was also chief songwriter and producer. He led the group from its 1955 origins as “the Five Chimes” until 1972, when he announced his retirement from the group to focus on his role as Motown’s vice president. However, Robinson returned to the music industry as a solo artist the following year. Robinson left Motown Records in 1990, following the sale of the company two years earlier.
Robinson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and was awarded the 2016 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for his lifetime contributions to popular music. In 2022, he was inducted into the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame.
- The Temptations (David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks) – The Temptations are an American vocal group from Detroit, Michigan, who released a series of successful singles and albums with Motown Records during the 1960s and 1970s. The group’s work with producer Norman Whitfield, beginning with the Top 10 hit single “Cloud Nine” in October 1968, pioneered psychedelic soul, and was significant in the evolution of R&B and soul music. The band members are known for their choreography, distinct harmonies, and dress style. Having sold tens of millions of albums, the Temptations are among the most successful groups in popular music.
Featuring five male vocalists and dancers (save for brief periods with fewer or more members), the group formed in 1960 in Detroit under the name the Elgins. The founding members came from two rival Detroit vocal groups: Otis Williams, Elbridge “Al” Bryant, and Melvin Franklin of Otis Williams & the Distants, and Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams of the Primes. In 1964, Bryant was replaced by David Ruffin, who was the lead vocalist on a number of the group’s biggest hits, including “My Girl” (1964), “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (1966), and “I Wish It Would Rain” (1967). Ruffin was replaced in 1968 by Dennis Edwards, with whom the group continued to record hit records such as “Cloud Nine” (1968), “I Can’t Get Next to You” (1969), and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” (1970). The group’s lineup has changed frequently since the departures of Kendricks and Paul Williams from the act in 1971. Later members of the group have included singers such as Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, and Ali-Ollie Woodson, with whom the group scored a late-period hit in 1984 with “Treat Her Like a Lady” and in 1987 with the theme song for the children’s movement program Kids in Motion.
- Jimmy Hendrix – James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix; November 27, 1942 – September 18, 1970) was an American guitarist, singer and songwriter. Although his mainstream career spanned only four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”
- Robert Johnson – Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938) was an American blues musician and songwriter. His landmark recordings in 1936 and 1937 display a combination of singing, guitar skills, and songwriting talent that has influenced later generations of musicians. Although his recording career spanned only seven months, he is now recognized as a master of the blues, particularly the Delta blues style, and one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as being “the first ever rock star”.
- The Isley Brothers (Ronald Isley, Ernie Isley) – The Isley Brothers (/ˈaɪzli/ EYEZ-lee) are an American family musical group originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, that began as a vocal trio consisting of brothers O’Kelly “Kelly” Isley Jr., Rudolph Isley and Ronald Isley in the 1950s. With a career spanning over six decades, the group has enjoyed one of the “longest, most influential, and most diverse careers in the pantheon of popular music”.
Together with a fourth brother, Vernon, the group performed gospel music until Vernon’s death a few years after its formation. After moving to New York City in the late 1950s, the group had their first successes during these early years, and rose to prominence in 1959 with their fourth single, “Shout“, written by the three brothers, which became their first single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, and sold over a million copies. In the 1960s, the group recorded songs for a variety of labels, including the top 20 single “Twist and Shout” and the Motown single “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)“, before recording and releasing the Grammy Award-winning hit “It’s Your Thing” on their own label, T-Neck Records.
- The O’Jays (Eddie Levert, Walter Williams) – The O’Jays are an American R&B group from Canton, Ohio, formed in 1958 and originally consisting of Eddie Levert, Walter Lee Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey, and Bill Isles. The O’Jays made their first chart appearance with the minor hit “Lonely Drifter” in 1963, but reached their greatest level of success once Gamble & Huff, a team of producers and songwriters, signed them to their Philadelphia International label in 1972. With Gamble & Huff, the O’Jays (now a trio after the departure of Isles and Massey) emerged at the forefront of Philadelphia soul with “Back Stabbers” (1972), and topped the US Billboard Hot 100 the following year with “Love Train“. Several other US R&B hits followed, and the O’Jays were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2013.
- The Commodores (Lionel Richie) – Commodores is an American funk and soul band, which was at its peak in the late 1970s through the mid 1980s. The members of the group met as mostly freshmen at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1968, and signed with Motown in November 1972, having first caught the public eye opening for the Jackson 5 while on tour.
The group’s most successful period was in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Lionel Richie was the co-lead singer. The band’s biggest hit singles are ballads such as “Easy“, “Three Times a Lady“, and “Nightshift“; and funk-influenced dance songs; including “Brick House“, “Fancy Dancer”, “Lady (You Bring Me Up)“, and “Too Hot ta Trot“.
Commodores were inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and Vocal Group Hall of Fame. The band has also won one Grammy Award out of nine nominations. The Commodores have sold over 70 million albums worldwide.
- The Jackson 5 (Michael Jackson) – The Jackson 5 (sometimes stylized as the Jackson 5ive, also known as the Jacksons) are an American pop band composed of members of the Jackson family. The group was founded in 1964 in Gary, Indiana, and for most of their career consisted of brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael. They were managed by their father Joe Jackson. The group were among the first African American performers to attain a crossover following.
The Jackson 5 performed in talent shows and clubs on the Chitlin’ Circuit, then signed with Steeltown Records in 1967 and released two singles. In 1968, they left Steeltown Records and signed with Motown, where they were the first group to debut with four consecutive number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with the songs “I Want You Back“, “ABC“, “The Love You Save“, and “I’ll Be There“. They also achieved sixteen Top-40 singles on the chart. The group left Motown for Epic Records in early 1976, with the exception of Jermaine, who was replaced by youngest brother Randy. At Epic, they released four studio albums and one live album between 1976 and 1981, including the successful albums Destiny (1978) and Triumph (1980) and the singles “Enjoy Yourself“, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)“, and “Can You Feel It“.
- Public Enemy (Chuck D, Flavor Flav) – Public Enemy is an American hip hop group formed by Chuck D and Flavor Flav on Long Island, New York, in 1985. The group rose to prominence for their political messages including subjects such as American racism and the American media. Their debut album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, was released in 1987 to critical acclaim, and their second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988), was the first hip hop album to top The Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop critics’ poll. Their next three albums, Fear of a Black Planet (1990), Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black (1991) and Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age (1994), were also well received. The group has since released twelve more studio albums, including the soundtrack to the 1998 sports-drama film He Got Game and a collaborative album with Paris, Rebirth of a Nation (2006).
Public Enemy has gone through many lineup changes over the years, with Chuck D and Flavor Flav remaining the only constant members. Co-founder Professor Griff left in 1989 but rejoined in 1998, before parting ways again some years later. DJ Lord also joined Public Enemy in 1998 as the replacement of the group’s original DJ Terminator X. In 2020, it was announced that Flavor Flav had been fired from the group. His firing was later revealed to be a publicity stunt that was called an April Fools’ Day prank. Public Enemy, without Flavor Flav, would also tour and record music under the name of Public Enemy Radio which consists of the lineup of Chuck D, Jahi, DJ Lord and the S1Ws.
Public Enemy’s first four albums during the late 1980s and early 1990s were all certified either gold or platinum and were, according to music critic Robert Hilburn in 1998, “the most acclaimed body of work ever by a hip hop act”. Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine called them “the most influential and radical band of their time”. They were inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. They were honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at the 62nd Grammy Awards.
- N.W.A (Dr. Dre, Ice Cube) – N.W.A (an abbreviation for Niggaz Wit Attitudes) was an American hip hop group formed in Compton, California. They were among the earliest and most significant popularizers and controversial figures of the gangsta rap subgenre, and the group is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential groups in the history of hip hop music.
Active from 1987 to 1991, the rap group endured controversy owing to its music’s explicit lyrics, which many viewed as being misogynistic, as well as to its glorification of drugs and crime. The group was subsequently banned from many mainstream American radio stations. In spite of this, the group has sold over 10 million units in the United States alone. Drawing on its members’ own experiences of racism and excessive policing, the group made inherently political music. The group’s members were known for their deep hatred of the police system, which has sparked much controversy over the years.
- Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel) – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were an American hip hop group formed in the South Bronx of New York City in 1978. The group’s members were Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Kidd Creole (not to be confused with Kid Creole), Keef Cowboy, Scorpio, and Rahiem. The group’s use of turntablism, breakbeat DJing, and conscious lyricism were significant in the early development of hip hop music.
In the late 1970s, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five built their reputation and achieved local success by performing at parties and live shows. By 1980, the group had signed with Sugar Hill Records. Under Sugar Hill Records, the group rose to prominence in the early 1980s with their first hit “Freedom”. It was not until the release of the song “The Message” in 1982 and the album The Message that they achieved mainstream success. The song provided a political and social commentary and went on to become a driving force behind conscious hip-hop.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five split into two separate groups in 1983 until a brief reunion in 1987 led to the release of the original line-up’s second album On the Strength. Afterwards, they disbanded permanently. Today, the group’s legacy continues as Grandmaster’s Furious Five with only Melle Mel and Scorpio as remaining members.
- Run-DMC (Run, DMC) – Run-DMC (also formatted Run-D.M.C., Run–D.M.C., RUN DMC, or some combination thereof) was an American hip hop group from Hollis, Queens, New York City, founded in 1983 by Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels, and Jason Mizell. Run-DMC is regarded as one of the most influential acts in the history of hip hop culture and especially one of the most famous hip hop acts of the 1980s. Along with Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, and Public Enemy, the group pioneered new-school hip hop music and the golden age of hip hop. The group was among the first to highlight the importance of the MC and DJ relationship.
With the release Run-D.M.C. (1984), Run-DMC became the first hip hop group to achieve a Gold record. Run-D.M.C. was followed with the certified Platinum record King of Rock (1985), making Run-DMC the first hip hop group to go platinum. Raising Hell (1986) became the first multi-platinum hip hop record. Run-DMC’s cover of “Walk This Way“, featuring the group Aerosmith, charted higher on the Billboard Hot 100 than Aerosmith‘s original version, peaking at number four. It became one of the best-known songs in both hip hop and rock. Run-DMC was the first hip hop act to have their music videos broadcast on MTV, appear on American Bandstand, be on the cover of Rolling Stone, perform at Live Aid, and be nominated for a Grammy Award.
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Run-DMC at number 48 in its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In 2007, they were named The Greatest Hip Hop Group of All Time by MTV and Greatest Hip Hop Artist of All Time by VH1. In 2009, Run-DMC became the second hip hop group (after Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, 2007) to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2016, the group received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2018, Raising Hell was inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant”.
- LL Cool J – James Todd Smith (born January 14, 1968), known professionally as LL Cool J (short for Ladies Love Cool James), is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer, and actor. He is one of the earliest rappers to achieve commercial success, alongside fellow new school hip hop acts Beastie Boys and Run-DMC.
Signed to Def Jam Recordings in 1984, LL Cool J’s breakthrough came with his single “I Need a Beat” and his landmark debut album, Radio (1985). He achieved further commercial and critical success with the albums Bigger and Deffer (1987), Walking with a Panther (1989), Mama Said Knock You Out (1990), Mr. Smith (1995), and Phenomenon (1997). His twelfth album, Exit 13 (2008), was his last in his long-tenured deal with Def Jam.
LL Cool J has appeared in numerous films, including Halloween H20, In Too Deep, Any Given Sunday, Deep Blue Sea, S.W.A.T., Mindhunters, Last Holiday, and Edison. He currently plays NCIS Special Agent Sam Hanna in the CBS crime drama television series NCIS: Los Angeles. LL Cool J was also the host of Lip Sync Battle on Paramount Network.
A two-time Grammy Award winner, LL Cool J is known for hip hop songs such as “Going Back to Cali“, “I’m Bad“, “The Boomin’ System“, “Rock the Bells“, and “Mama Said Knock You Out“, as well as R&B hits such as “Doin’ It“, “I Need Love“, “Around the Way Girl” and “Hey Lover“. In 2010, VH1 placed him on their “100 Greatest Artists Of All Time” list. In 2017, LL Cool J became the first rapper to receive the Kennedy Center Honors. In 2021, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with an award for Musical Excellence.
- Rakim – William Michael Griffin Jr. (born January 28, 1968), better known by his stage name Rakim (/rɑːˈkɪm/), is an American rapper and record producer. One half of golden age hip hop duo Eric B. & Rakim, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential and skilled rappers of all time.
Rakim is considered a transformational figure in hip hop for raising the bar for MC technique higher than it had ever been. Rakim helped to pioneer the use of internal rhymes and multisyllabic rhymes, and he was among the first to demonstrate the possibilities of sitting down to write intricately crafted lyrics packed with clever word choices and metaphors rather than the more improvisational styles and simpler rhyme patterns that predominated before him. Rakim is also credited with creating the overall shift from the more simplistic old school flows to more complex flows. Rapper Kool Moe Dee explained that before Rakim, the term ‘flow’ wasn’t widely used – “Rakim is basically the inventor of flow. We were not even using the word flow until Rakim came along. It was called rhyming, it was called cadence, but it wasn’t called flow. Rakim created flow!” Rakim released four albums with DJ Eric B.: Paid in Full (1987), Follow the Leader (1988), Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em (1990) and Don’t Sweat the Technique (1992). He has released three solo albums: The 18th Letter (1997), The Master (1999) and The Seventh Seal (2009).
Paid in Full was named the greatest hip hop album of all time by MTV in 2006, while Rakim himself was ranked No. 4 on MTV’s list of the Greatest MCs of All Time. Steve Huey of AllMusic stated that “Rakim is near-universally acknowledged as one of the greatest MCs – perhaps the greatest – of all time within the hip-hop community”. The editors of About.com ranked him No. 2 on their list of the ‘Top 50 MCs of Our Time (1987–2007)’. In 2012, The Source ranked him No. 1 on their list of the “Top 50 Lyricists of All Time”.
- Nas – Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones (born September 14, 1973), better known by his stage name Nas (/nɑːz/), is an American rapper. Rooted in East Coast hip hop, he is regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time. The son of jazz musician Olu Dara, Jones began his musical career in 1989 as he adopted the moniker of “Nasty Nas” and recorded demos for Large Professor. He was later featured on the 1991 song “Live at the Barbeque” by Main Source.
Nas’s debut album, Illmatic (1994), received universal acclaim upon release, and is considered to be one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time; in 2020, the album was inducted into the Library of Congress‘s National Recording Registry. His second album It Was Written (1996) debuted atop the Billboard 200 and charted for four consecutive weeks; the album, along with its single “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” (featuring Lauryn Hill), catapulted Nas into international success. Both released in 1999, Nas’s albums I Am and Nastradamus were criticized as inconsistent and too commercially oriented, and critics and fans feared that his output was declining in quality.
From 2001 to 2005, Nas was involved in a highly publicized feud with Jay-Z, popularized by the diss track “Ether“. It was this feud, along with Nas’s albums Stillmatic (2001), God’s Son (2002), and the double album Street’s Disciple (2004), that helped restore his critical standing. After squashing the feud, Nas signed to Jay-Z’s Def Jam Recordings in 2006 and went in a more provocative, politicized direction with the albums Hip Hop Is Dead (2006) and his untitled 9th studio album (2008). In 2010, Nas released Distant Relatives, a collaboration album with Damian Marley, donating all royalties to charities active in Africa. His 10th studio album, Life Is Good (2012), was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards. After receiving thirteen nominations, his 12th studio album, King’s Disease (2020), won him his first Grammy for Best Rap Album at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards; he then followed it by releasing his 13th studio album, King’s Disease II (2021), as the album’s sequel. In the same year, his 14th studio album, Magic, was released on Christmas Eve. King’s Disease III (2022) is his fourth consecutive album with producer Hit-Boy.
In 2012, The Source ranked him second on their list of the “Top 50 Lyricists of All Time”. In 2013, Nas was ranked 4th on MTV’s “Hottest MCs in the Game” list. About.com ranked him first on their list of the “50 Greatest MCs of All Time” in 2014, and a year later, Nas was featured on the “10 Best Rappers of All Time” list by Billboard. He is also an entrepreneur through his own record label; he serves as associate publisher of Mass Appeal magazine and the co-founder of Mass Appeal Records. Nas has released fifteen studio albums since 1994, ten of which are certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum in the U.S.
- Teddy Riley – Edward Theodore Riley (born October 8, 1967) is an American singer, songwriter, and record producer credited with the creation of the New Jack Swing genre. Riley credits Barry Michael Cooper with giving the genre its name.
Riley found ways to fuse hip hop and R&B in his production work with artists including Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, Samantha Mumba, Doug E. Fresh, Today, Heavy D & the Boyz, Hi-Five, Men of Vizion and Profyle, as well as spearheading groups Guy and Blackstreet. Riley’s consistency and drum ideas had some influence on modern-day R&B, leading to more samples and rapping segments as well as singing, a practice which in part was reminiscent of the Jackson family. Along with neo soul-style singers such as Marvin Gaye, Riley has had a seminal influence on gospel and R&B music, which became more open to using rap and sound effects in their recordings.
- Andre 3000 – André Lauren Benjamin (born May 27, 1975), better known as André 3000, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, he is best known for being one-half of southern hip hop duo Outkast, alongside fellow Atlanta-based rapper Big Boi. Benjamin has been ranked as one of the greatest rappers of all time by publications including Billboard, Complex, The Source, and About.com.
Benjamin has also acted in films and television series such as Families, The Shield, Be Cool, Revolver, Semi-Pro, High Life, Four Brothers, and in the lead role of Jimi Hendrix in All Is by My Side. He played Fredwynn on the AMC series Dispatches from Elsewhere, and appeared in the 2022 Don DeLillo adaptation White Noise. He is also known for his Cartoon Network animated series Class of 3000 (2006–2008). He has additionally been an entrepreneur and an advocate for animal rights. In the spring of 2008, he launched a clothing line called Benjamin Bixby.
- Pharrell Williams – Pharrell Lanscilo Williams (born April 5, 1973) is an American record producer, rapper, singer, and songwriter. Alongside close colleague Chad Hugo, he formed the hip hop and R&B production duo the Neptunes in the early 1990s, with whom he has produced songs for various recording artists. In 1999, he became lead vocalist of the band N.E.R.D., which he formed with Hugo and drummer Shay Haley. Williams has been widely referred to as one of the most influential and successful music producers of the 21st century, having had a significant impact on the sound of modern popular music.
Williams released his debut solo album, In My Mind, in 2006. In 2013, he produced and was featured alongside T.I. on the song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and his song “Happy” was the lead single for the soundtrack of the film Despicable Me 2; both songs reached the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as other charts around the globe. In the same year, he was featured on Daft Punk‘s single “Get Lucky“, which won Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. His second album, Girl, was released in 2014.
Williams has received numerous accolades and nominations. He has won 13 Grammy Awards, including three for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical (one as a member of the Neptunes). He is also a two-time Academy Award nominee: in 2014 for Best Original Song, for “Happy” (from Despicable Me 2); and in 2017 for Best Picture, as a producer of Hidden Figures.
- Kanye West – Ye ( born Kanye Omari West /ˈkɑːnjeɪ/ KAHN-yay; June 8, 1977) is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, and fashion designer. Born in Atlanta and raised in Chicago, West gained recognition as a producer for Roc-A-Fella Records in the early 2000s, producing singles for several artists and developing the “chipmunk soul” sampling style. Intent on pursuing a solo career as a rapper, he released his debut studio album, The College Dropout (2004), to critical and commercial success. He founded the record label GOOD Music later that year. West explored diverse musical elements like orchestras, synthesizers, and autotune on the albums Late Registration (2005), Graduation (2007), and 808s & Heartbreak (2008). His fifth and sixth albums My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) and Yeezus (2013) were also met with critical and commercial success. West further diversified his musical styles on The Life of Pablo (2016) and Ye (2018) and explored Christian and gospel music on Jesus Is King (2019). His tenth album Donda (2021) was released to continued commercial success but mixed critical reception. West’s discography also includes the two full-length collaborative albums Watch the Throne (2011) with Jay-Z and Kids See Ghosts (2018) with Kid Cudi.
One of the world’s best-selling music artists, with over 160 million records sold, West has won 24 Grammy Awards and 75 nominations, the joint tenth-most of all time, and the joint-most Grammy awards of any rapper along with Jay-Z. Among his other awards are the Billboard Artist Achievement Award, a joint-record three Brit Awards for Best International Male Solo Artist and the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. Six of West’s albums were included on Rolling Stone‘s 2020 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list with the same publication naming him one of the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time. He holds the joint record (with Bob Dylan) for most albums (4) topping the annual Pazz & Jop critic poll. Time named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2005 and 2015. As a fashion designer, he has collaborated with Nike, Louis Vuitton, Gap, and A.P.C. on clothing and footwear and led the Yeezy collaboration with Adidas. He is also the founder and head of the creative content company Donda.
- R. Kelly – Robert Sylvester Kelly (born January 8, 1967), better known as R. Kelly, is an American musician, convicted felon, racketeer, and sex offender. Kelly sold more than 75 million records worldwide. He won three Grammys for his song “I Believe I Can Fly“, and was also nominated for his song “You Are Not Alone” recorded by Michael Jackson. Critics dubbed him “the King of R&B” while he billed himself the “Pied Piper of R&B”.
Investigations by law enforcement and journalists revealed that Kelly used his fame to seek out underage fans for sex. Video recordings of these encounters led the Cook County State’s Attorney to prosecute him for child pornography. Kelly won acquittal in 2008. Testifying years later, a victim depicted in the video testified to Kelly using bribes and threats to stop her and her family from pressing charges. Kelly’s lawyer, Ed Genson, told the Chicago Sun-Times Kelly was “guilty as hell”.
- Lil Wayne – Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. (born September 27, 1982), known professionally as Lil Wayne, is an American rapper. His career began in 1995, at the age of 12, when he was signed by rapper Birdman, joining Cash Money Records as the youngest member of the label. From then on, Wayne was the flagship artist of Cash Money Records before ending his association with the company in June 2018. Regarded as one of the most influential hip hop artists of his generation by XXL, he has often been cited as one of the greatest rappers of all time.
In 1995, Wayne was put in a duo with label-mate B.G. (at the time known as Lil Doogie) and they recorded an album, True Story, released that year, although Wayne (at the time known as Baby D) only appeared on three tracks. Wayne and B.G. soon joined the southern hip hop group Hot Boys, with Cash Money label-mates Juvenile and Turk in 1997; they released their debut album Get It How U Live! in October that year. The Hot Boys became popular following the release of the album Guerrilla Warfare (1999) and the song “Bling Bling“.
- Drake – Aubrey Drake Graham (born October 24, 1986) is a Canadian rapper and singer. An influential global figure in contemporary popular music, Drake has been credited for popularizing singing and R&B sensibilities in hip hop. Gaining recognition by starring as Jimmy Brooks in the CTV teen drama series Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001–08), Drake pursued a career in music releasing his debut mixtape Room for Improvement in 2006. He followed this with the mixtapes Comeback Season (2007) and So Far Gone (2009) before signing with Young Money Entertainment.
Drake’s first three albums, Thank Me Later (2010), Take Care (2011) and Nothing Was the Same (2013), were all critical successes and propelled him to the forefront of hip hop. His fourth album, Views (2016), saw exploration of dancehall and stood atop the Billboard 200 for 13 non-consecutive weeks, making it the first album by a male artist to do so in over a decade, and featured the chart record-setting lead single “One Dance“. In 2018, Drake released the double album Scorpion, which contained the Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles “God’s Plan“, “Nice for What“, and “In My Feelings“. Drake’s widely anticipated sixth album, Certified Lover Boy (2021), achieved nine top 10 hits on the Hot 100, setting the then-record for most US top-ten hits from one album, with its lead single “Way 2 Sexy” reaching number one. In 2022, Drake released the house-inspired album Honestly, Nevermind and the collaborative album, Her Loss, with 21 Savage. Known for frequent accompanying releases to his albums, Drake achieved critical and commercial success with the mixtapes If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015) and More Life (2017).
Who else do you think should be on this list? Let me know in the comments.