Retrospective: The Greatest Hip Hop Storytellers

(Compiled By @CherchezLaPorsh, @TrueGodImmortal, @JADBeats)

One truly underrated aspect of hip hop is the ability to formulate narratives and tell stories in your music. Storytelling is a lost art today, but truth be told, in the prime of the genre, it was such a prevalent factor in hip hop. Anyone who is a fan of hip hop will tell you that storytelling is a foundation of the art and a very important means of connecting the listener and the artist.  While any rapper can be deemed a storyteller, there are the few who have perfected storytelling. They articulate the content so well with perfect metaphors, vivid imagery and maintain a coherence that allows the listener to experience the events (almost) firsthand. That's what brings us here today. Let's take a look at the best storytellers in hip hop and what makes them so great at what they do.

*Ice Cube
(Selected By @TrueGodImmortal)

-I chose Cube because honestly, he is one of the most underrated storytellers in the genre. He excels at this skill better than nearly anyone else, and whether it was the vivid rhymes he penned for N.W.A. or his own set of classic solo storytelling tracks like "It Was A Good Day" or "My Summer Vacation", Cube always articulated his narratives and stories to perfection. It's a surprise that he isn't mentioned as much, because some of his storytelling wasn't always as direct, but the way he put the words together alongside painting the picture was honestly something special and it translated very well for me in the film world.

*Ghostface Killah
(Selected By @TrueGodImmortal)

-If I had to choose between Raekwon or Ghost to be the resident storyteller in the Wu, I'm going with Ghost. He always tells amazing stories in his music and paints narratives and pictures that you almost feel like you can see in real time. His imagination is vast, but his recollections and creativity are both vivid, as Ghost can bring you a simplified storytelling hit like "Never Be The Same Again" or even "All That I Got Is You", but also could hit you with a track like "Underwater" or "Maxine", among many others. Ghost is without a doubt one of the best storytellers in the game and with the release of his more recent albums Twelve Reasons To Die, he took his storytelling ability to the highest power.

(Selected By @JADBeats)

-Now when it comes to storytelling alone, Em takes the cake for the most extremely outrageous fantasized storyteller ever. For a lot of people, that's a negative for their rankings of him which is understandable but the talent and his entertainment value can't be denied. Although I love the crazy tales like "Kim", "97 Bonnie and Clyde", and "As The World Turns", some of my favorite stories from Em have came from his introspectiveness spawned from real life situations with a limited fantasy like "Cleaning Out My Closet", "Stan" "Lose Yourself", and "Toy Soldiers". He excels at songs like that.

(Selected By @CherchezLaPorsh)

-Some might not like his “preachy” approach but KRS’s rhyming abilities and his storytelling are both fantastic. From his days with BDP and even in his first couple solo albums, KRS has always been able to articulate exactly what social problems the African American community was exposed to. He does this with a flow and energy that is unmatched (even by others on my list) and of course with the accompaniment of sound effects, background noise and his intonations. While many may not like KRS’s content, his albums have always had a cohesion and theme from beginning to end. He’s one of the best and his storytelling abilities are at the forefront. 

(Selected By @JADBeats)

-X has an intense way of saying things in his raps and making you understand he's serious. Whether he raps, sings or prays, you feel it. He uses those parts of his artistry to tell us his introspective experiences like in "Slippin", where he details his struggles, shortcomings, and of course, dreams. He's given us short stories involving heists like "ATF" or "Heat" where he's committed crimes and the law is after him while he's trying to escape or "The Professional", where he's a hitman telling you how he can get to you without you knowing. His "Damien" series features multiple gripping stories about him being enticed and tricked into doing things that leave him being indebted to the devil himself. No matter the negativity of the story, X always conveys some type of integrity in his character. My favorite is "Ready To Meet Him" with him detailing his back and forth conversation with God. X is an amazing storyteller.

*The Notorious B.I.G.
(Selected By @JADBeats and @TrueGodImmortal)

-The truth be told, every track from Biggie showcased his storytelling ability. You could pinpoint something really simple like the first verse of "Sky's The Limit" to paint the picture of how vivid his stories could be, or go towards a track like "Somebody's Gotta Die" or "Niggas Bleed" for confirmation of his top tier storytelling ability. That's not even including the obvious storytelling gem "I Got A Story To Tell", which is out of this world. Biggie just knew how to tell his stories in music in such a perfect way that he might be the all time greatest storyteller in hip hop history. If he's not the greatest one, he is certainly up there with the very very best without question.

JADBeats- Biggie had a way of drawing you into his world with his flow so effortlessly. His charismatic and emphasized way of putting words together was uncanny. When he told a story it was like he was right in front of you explaining the whole situation that occurred. Most of us first heard Big on "Juicy" where he grabs our hearts and minds by telling us his struggle of being poor coming up and eventually making it to the level of the stars he used to admire. Some of his shining storytelling moments were on "Niggas Bleed", "Warning", and "Somebody's Gotta Die". All of those tales are so vividly told. One of Big's lines are "I spit phrases that'll thrill you" and that's what happens when his stories are heard.

(Selected By @CherchezLaPorsh)

-Common may not consistently put out songs that fall into the “stories” category but his “I Used To Love H.E.R” is enough to put him on this list! For those who may not be convinced, his recent release of “Black America Again” is an entire album that proves his abilities, as he takes us through issues that are currently taking place. He uses names, real circumstances and always sprinkles a little bit of love and positivity in his lyrics.  His use of metaphors, real life instances and real raw emotion connects his fans to his words and we are taken along a journey through his “eyes”. 

(Selected By @TrueGodImmortal)

-Simply put, the greatest southern storyteller in hip hop IMO. Yes, Scarface was more poignant, and you could argue Outkast as well, but a majority of the music that Juvenile dropped featured his storytelling in a bit of disguise. Whether it was him painting the picture on "Money On The Couch", "Juvenile On Fire", or even in humorous songs like "I Got That Fire", Juve is a true storyteller with raw reality in his narratives. From 400 Degreez, where his storytelling was there but secondary, to Tha G Code, where his storytelling was the primary driving point of the entire album (see "Never Had Shit", "Tha Man", "Guerrilla", the title track, and more), Juve was excellent at this. My favorite storytelling guest verse of his came on two tracks from the Baller Blockin' soundtrack. The title and "Project Bitch" are both lessons in true Juvenile storytelling at its best.

(Selected By @JADBeats, @TrueGodImmortal, and @CherchezLaPorsh)

-I mean, were you expecting anything different? Probably not. You should have known. There are only a certain few artists who do the things that Nas can and no one has done it quite like him. To sum it up, 90% of his music contains storytelling. A track like "I Gave You Power" or even "Rewind", where he told a story backwards, show the creativity in his ability, but even straightforward yet intricate tracks like "Last Real Nigga Alive", "Shootouts", or "You're Da Man", or even "Bye Baby" are all examples of storytelling. The fact is, storytelling in hip hop isn't always limited to a particular style, it comes in variety, and Nas is one of the only to execute it at such a high power. He might be the greatest of them all.

JADBeats- Of course, with Nas, what sets him apart from the other storytellers is his way of creating unusual concepts like "Fetus", which was a chilling story about his own creation and time spent in his mother's womb until his very awaited birth. He's great at giving you intricate stories down to the smallest of details setting the scene in your mind starting a lot of his tales off with parties, fun, good times and giving you the rise before the inevitable fall. Nas' stories usually have unfortunate and unforgettable ends that make you say "damn", "wow" or "that's fucked up" like on "Get Down" or "Rewind," where he tells a story in reverse about a shooting. "I Gave You Power, is another, where he speaks from the perspective of the gun, giving it thoughts and emotions. Even the gun has an unhappy ending, which was brilliant. "Blaze a 50" is another story where Nas creates the scene of a wild incident ending in tragedy dealing with a wild woman. "Undying Love" is where he catches his would be wife cheating and he kills her and himself believing they're together again in death. "Last Real Nigga Alive" is a dope story about his beef with Jay-Z summarizing the origins and giving detailed accounts of parts other artist played in his career including Big, Raekwon, Ghostface, Jay, Kim, Foxy, Jungle, Will, Puff, Rza, Snoop, Dre and more. Nas is a legendary storyteller.

Porsha- Although “Illmatic” isn’t my personal favorite in Nas’s catalog, I do understand the impact, influence and accolades that this album has gotten and will continue to get. It’s merited and it’s enough to put Nas at number one as a storyteller for me. On Illmatic, from cover art to intro and every track until the end, Nas tells the story of life in Queensbridge and does it with a realism and imagery that allows anyone, from anywhere to experience what he has. His lyrics may not be as profound there, but the nuances, articulation and delivery are all he needs. His debut proved that he, at a very young age, was able to create an album that would change hip hop forever. 

(Selected By @TrueGodImmortal)

-Many people sleep on Pac as a MC in general, but he was an amazing storyteller, which should be obvious due to the output in his music over the years. Sure, Pac wasn't always the most lyrical rapper, but how could you deny his storytelling ability and poetic creativity. That level of skill propelled songs like "All About U", "Life Goes On", "I Ain't Mad At Cha", "Dear Mama", "Temptation", "Lord Knows", "Soulja's Story", and of course, the most infamous "Brenda's Got A Baby". One listen to all of his music and it becomes apparent that Pac was a storyteller in the purest form.

*Slick Rick
(Selected By @JADBeats and @CherchezLaPorsh)

-Although he's not the best storyteller, he's the first rapper I heard that told a story that captivated and sort of scared me at a young age and he's the inspiration for the MCs who surpassed his storytelling ability. "A Children's Story", the most infamous song of his, involves a young boy with a robbery plan that involves his friend but the boy couldn't stop an undercover cop, a lady cop, a old man, a dope fiend Dave, a pregnant lady and death which became of the young boy.

Porsha- I would question anyone who doesn’t have Slick Rick on their top lists in this category because (IMO), he was the originator of storytelling. Of course, the first track that comes to mind is “Children’s Story” which is self explanatory, but his mechanics and technique were so flawless and natural that he had elements of this in every other song he ever recorded. With Slick Rick, it was all about the tiny details you may not even notice but they added to the overall story he was telling (think of the “yawning” sound he makes in Children’s Story or the dips in his vocals in La Di Da Di to alternate who is speaking). He is a hip hop legend in every regard and storytelling is Rick’s forte. 

(Selected By @TrueGodImmortal)

-Look, I had to put my all time favorite hip hop on the list because their storytelling is undefeated. It's simple. Listen to their music. It's full of it. Whether "Crumblin' Erb", "The Art Of Storytelling", "Ms. Jackson", "Red Velvet", "Rosa Parks", "13th Floor/Growing Old", "A Life In The Day Of Benjamin Andre", "The Train", and so many more, Outkast gave us so many classics with storytelling within them that it's impossible to not include them on this list.

(Selected By @CherchezLaPorsh)

-Since his appearance on Illmatic and rapping alongside Nas, AZ learned from the best and learned fast. “Doe or Die” was AZ’s Illmatic in a way, as it had a fluidity that was noteworthy. His tracks poured into each other so perfectly that the album could essentially be considered one 45-minute-long story that he was recounting. He didn’t stop there, as his second and even his third albums followed suit with insightful lyricism which kept his fans (and anyone listening) engaged and wanting more. In 1995, when AZ debuted, the standard of hip hop was on the rise, as MC’s had to come with something worth saying and he definitely did! 

(Selected By @TrueGodImmortal)

-Of course, Scarface closes out the list. There are a lot of great storytelling songs, but there are few natural storytelling artists and Scarface is without a doubt one of them. Since his arrival with the Geto Boys, Scarface has been painting pictures and giving us imagery for years. Whether he gave us something like "I Seen A Man Die", gave us a storytelling posse cut like "Fuck Faces", or even something personal like "In Between Us", "Heaven" or "Someday", Scarface has always excelled at narratives and storytelling, which is why it is only fair he gets a mention on this list. He might be the best storyteller here in terms of personal story. It's always vivid and raw, but most of all real, and that's the sign of a true storyteller, just like most of the names listed here.



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