Harlem, located in Manhattan, has a rich cultural history, including being one of the first places to embrace hip-hop after its birth in the Bronx. As a result, the neighbourhood has become home to many iconic African-American celebrities.
In the late 1920s and early 30s, Harlem witnessed a remarkable cultural renaissance during the great migration period. The neighbourhood, predominantly occupied by African-Americans, became a hub of music, dance, art, fashion, literature, and theatre. Some of the popular venues that contributed to this cultural upheaval were The Apollo Theatre and The Savoy Ballroom. With its vibrant and dynamic atmosphere, Harlem quickly gained a reputation as one of the most happening neighbourhoods in New York.
In the 1930s, Hispanic and Caribbean communities began migrating to the area, resulting in a culturally rich and densely populated black neighbourhood representing a whole diaspora. The region’s East side eventually earned the moniker ‘Spanish Harlem’ due to the significant number of Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants who chose to call it home. Even today, the area remains a melting pot of various cultures and backgrounds.
During the early 2010s, there were reports of a second renaissance in Harlem, as the area experienced an influx of talented young black and Latino creatives producing some of the world’s finest alternative hip-hop. However, it’s important to note that Harlem has been a powerhouse in the hip-hop scene since the 1980s. That said, we have compiled a list of the top five rappers to come out of Harlem.
Top Five Rappers Hailing from Harlem
Cam’Ron was a prominent rapper during the early 2000s as the lead vocalist of The Diplomats, a Harlem-based group. Known as Dipset, the group comprised Juelz Santana, Jim Jones, and Freekey Zekey, and they left a significant impact on New York’s music scene.
In 2003, the group inked a deal with Roc-A-Fella Records and dropped the legendary album Diplomatic Immunity. Cam’Ron’s fourth studio album, Purple Haze, was another remarkable project, with Damon Dash serving as the executive producer.
4. A$AP Rocky
A$AP Rocky is a famous American rapper, singer, songwriter and actor. He was born Rakim Athelaston Mayers in Harlem, New York City, on October 3, 1988. A$AP Rocky started rapping at nine and later formed the A$ A.P. Mob hip-hop collective along with A$ A.P. Yams and A$AP Bari. He gained popularity in 2011 with his debut mixtape, Live—love.A$ A.P., and his first studio album, Long.Live.A$ A.P., released in 2013, was a commercial success.
A$AP Rocky has collaborated with several famous artists, including Rihanna, Drake, and Lana Del Rey. He is also known for his fashion sense and has worked with brands such as Dior and Calvin Klein. In 2019, A$AP Rocky was arrested in Sweden for assault and spent a month in jail before being released. The incident sparked an international outcry, with several celebrities and politicians calling for his release.
Rocky started his career in 2011, collaborating closely with the Harlem-based producer Araab Muzik. However, as he has progressed in his career, we have witnessed him broaden his sound and experiment with different styles. His artistic flair knows no bounds, and with chart-toppers like ‘Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2’ and ‘L$D’, he has firmly established himself as one of Harlem’s most exceptional talents.
Mase is a rapper and minister who gained popularity in the late 1990s. He was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and raised in Harlem, New York. Mase’s real name is Mason Durell Betha. He started his career as a member of the hip-hop group “Children of the Corn” alongside other rappers such as Cam’ron and Big L.
Mase’s solo career took off in 1997 with his debut album “Harlem World,” which featured the hit singles “Feel So Good” and “What You Want.” The album was a huge commercial success and peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 chart.
Earlier this year, Diddy was honoured with the Harlem Icon Award, and it was well-deserved. Harlem holds a special place in Diddy’s heart since he spent his childhood there until he was 12. The uptown Manhattan hip-hop scene is where Diddy’s career started to take off. Diddy, also known as Puff Daddy, founded Bad Boy Entertainment, and his success in the music industry catapulted him to mogul status.
Sean Combs, known by his stage name Diddy, has made an impressive career in the music industry. He is a talented rapper, record producer, and label executive. In addition to his work in music, he has ventured into acting, television, and filmmaking. Today, he is a legendary figure in Harlem, with an estimated net worth of around $900 million.
1. Big L
During the late 1990s, Big L was widely recognized as one of the most exceptional rappers in New York. Alongside other legendary artists, including Big Pun and The Notorious B.I.G., this Harlem-born emcee was undoubtedly one of the top performers in the city. As far as rap was concerned, Big L was the primary representative of Manhattan, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind about his undisputed talent.
During his career, Big L produced outstanding music that set a precedent in hip-hop for quality albums. His debut album, “Lifestyle Ov Da Poor & Dangerous,” was a masterpiece that showcased his exceptional talent. As the founder of the Harlem rap crew Children of the Corn, he helped launch the careers of rappers who achieved immense success, such as Ma$e and Cam’Ron. Big L’s contribution to rap has made him a true legend.
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