EDITORIAL: The 10 Most Distinct Voices In Hip Hop

Jun 11 2015

Jeff Nelson

Ten Most Distinctive Voices In Hip Hop
Photo by Tab Imagery

When you think Stevie Stone, what’s the first thing you think about? The flow? The incredible songs? The thumping 808s?

Chances are when Stevie Stone comes to mind, the first thing you identify with the St. Louis emcee is the voice. That unmistakable, gravel-textured voice that cuts through a track. The voice that Stevie Stone uses to sing, rap and growl his way through an instrumental. The voice that Stevie Stone layers to dramatic effect, using doubling, punch-ins and ad-libs to create a symphony of greatness that results in a style that is undeniably his own.

In celebration of Stevie’s vocal prowess (and upcoming album Malta Bend), we broke down the 10 most distinct voices in hip hop. Peep game below and let us know what you think of the list in the comments section.

Q-tip

Q-Tip

One of the best emcee/producers of all time, Q-Tip has the added advantage of being also one of the most distinctive voices to ever touch a microphone. The original high-pitched emcee has blessed many a track with his exuberant voice and musical flow. His voice is so buoyant that it’s hard for him to sound anything but fun, but he’s managed to exude quiet menace on songs like “Phony Rappers” and serious empathy on songs like “Stressed Out”.

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Lil Wayne

Who would’ve guessed that the swag-dripping voice of the 17 year old at the end of “Back That Azz Up” would go on to become virtually inescapable for the next 15 years!

While Weezy F. Baby arguably gained most of his acclaim from his prolific output and dizzying lyrical prowess, his infectious inflection definitely played more than a small part in the Hollygrove spitter’s legacy. The hyena-like giggles, the crazy ad-libs, the pronunciation experiments gone right – all of these contributed to what is now one of the most successful careers hip hop has seen.

While Wayne’s delivery has gone through some evolution over the years, that signature Tunechi sound has always remained present, and proved itself potent enough to spawn at least one direct offspring, and the ongoing weirdness that has ensued since Thugger came on the scene.

Snoop Dogg

Snoop Doggy Dogg

When Snoop Doggy Dogg first stepped on the scene, the impact was immediately felt: this guy was a star. The combination of his region-less drawl and overabundance of flavor proved to be a deadly combination and would set the world on fire and single-handedly make Death Row Records (at the time) the most powerful label in the business. Despite the absence of the youthful hunger he displayed on those early Death Row Records, Snoop still retains the voice that put him on the map.

DMX

DMX

Hip hop got a hardcore rejuvenation when DMX made his rapid ascendance in 1999 with It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot. Preceded by the smash single “Get At Me Dog”, the album marked the arrival of a brand new voice in hip hop and a resurgence of a street sound for a genre that desperately needed it. DMX’s gruff, barking delivery has forever solidified him as a legend in the game.

Method Man

Method Man

When Wu-Tang Clan took hip hop by storm, one voice immediately stood out from the rest in the gang of lyrical ninjas, the gruff, low-pitched and insatiable baritone of Method Man. Meth already rides a beat better than 99% of spitters in the game, so having a voice so readily identifiable just makes it unfair. Watch how he steals the show from one of the Greatest of All Time with Biggie’s “The What” below (the only guest appearance from an emcee on Ready To Die).

E-40

E-40

It’s hard to even know how to describe the voice, flow and cadences of E-40. He might as well have his own adjectives to describe the sound of his syllables, because it’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard. His flamboyant, slang-ridden style is part pimp, part player, part hustler and all original. His unique delivery and ability to pull slang and style out of the hat is still serving him incredibly well, and he still finds himself on hits that prove to be inescapable, despite being in the game for 25 years.

Mystikal

Mystikal

Mystikal’s voice sounds like what we imagine would happen if you threw hot gravel into the bell of Chet Baker’s trumpet (or something like that).

The New Orleans fixture’s harsh growl combined with his sporadic, jazzy delivery create a perfect one-two punch of attention-snatching memorability that have kept people clamoring for his music even during his more quiet stints in the game.

Now that it seems Mystikal has returned to us for good (did you see that SNL performance?! Damn!!!), we anxiously await an album full of the unmistakable emcee’s musings. In the meantime, we have that Stevie Stone feature to look forward to!

Busta Rhymes

Busta Rhymes

A voice that lends contrast to the delivery of an emcee can definitely be a strength, but sometimes an artist comes around with a tone just as monstrous as his skill on the mic. This is most definitely the case with Busta Rhymes.

Busta’s aggressive sound almost had to be backed by an insane lyrical ability. It’s almost as though he knew that people would love his sound too much for your average flow, and thus, the worldwide chopper was born.

 

Slick Rick Black and White

Slick Rick

The pioneer of laid-back rhyming in hip hop was an emcee born out of London who moved to The Bronx and went by the name of Slick Rick.  His clear delivery and whimsical tone made him one of the first rappers to make you feel as if he was talking to you, a heavy contrast to the over-the-top delivery that was donned by many in hip hop’s early days. Rick was also one of the first to adopt a different voice to represent characters in the amazing stories he told, a technique later adopted to a surrealistic degree by rappers like Eminem.

Chance_The_Rapper_2013

Chance The Rapper

It’s not very often that a voice in hip hop springs up that’s as divisive as Chancellor Bennett, AKA Chance The Rapper.

The Chicago jack-of-all-trades seems to possess a voice that either hits your ears like nails on a chalk board or like a raspy voiced angel of the new era, there seems to be no in-between.

While his vocal abilities are an acquired taste for some, there’s never any doubt in your mind who you’re hearing when a Chance track pops up in your headphones. His signature “Ahk!” ad-lib permeates nearly every release (still not sick of it), and his warbled sing-song brand of rapping perfectly complements the happy go lucky style of music he’s become known for.

  • What did you think of the list? Who did we leave out?

Let us know in the comments section below!

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