Although he hasn't brought out a relevant rap album in 15 years, it'd be sacrilege to not have Mr. Smith somewhere on this list. When he burst on the scene as a fresh faced 18-year-old he had the confidence, swagger and, most importantly, the lyrics that made fans love him.
In some ways, LL is hip hop's answer to David Bowie in the way that there have been so many iterations of him. Some grew up with the B-boy LL Cool J, others know him his more hardcore hip hop work from the 90's, while there's an entirely different generation who think of him as a rapper who does love songs.
One of the best things about LL is that he was an absolute beast when it came to featuring on tracks. Just listen to Hit 'Em High from the Space Jam soundtrack or the famous Flava in Ya Ear remix alongside his early solo stuff and you'll understand why he's got so much respect in hip hop.
He may misfire on the odd occasion and write a song about accidental racism with Brad Paisley (Note: He's 47-years-old, give him a break), but when he's feeling in the mood and he's on a track with some of great MC's, LL can rap with the best of them.