Disclaimer: This is all personal opinion, there are many more influential artists that have influenced hip-hop in their own niche ways. These are in my opinion the most influential on the current state of pop hip-hop.
Before I jump into the list, I am going to give a brief description of what I see as the current state of hip-hop. The instrumentals are typically bass heavy, with loud and punchy kick drums and snares along with fast-paced, rattling hi hat rolls. Usually this is accompanied by a very catchy melodic high end typically consisting of a rhodes piano or some other airy synthesizer. This is a likely descendent of early 2000’s Atlanta trap music and can be contrasted with the 90’s boom bap style of hip-hop. The vocals are saturated with auto-tune, and rappers typically rap in a somewhat non-comprehensive tone (mumble rap/whining) about materialistic luxuries accompanied with many adlibs (backing vocal tracks consisting of either the same lyrics as the main verse or different).
#5. The Notorious B.I.G.
The self proclaimed originator of luxury rap. The Notorious B.I.G., or Biggie Smalls as many know him by, started off his rap career like most from New York in the early 90’s, as a gangster rapper. Early in his career, he rapped about primarily selling drugs, but as his stardom took off after his debut album, “Ready to Die,” his content slowly changed along with his lifestyle. He began to rap about designer brands, fancy cars, gold chains, money and the women that accompanied his newfound luxurious lifestyle. This same stuff is still the primary content of modern hip-hop, designer brands, luxury cars, women, bling and money. Biggie claimed to be the first to rap about this stuff, but I will mention that there were earlier artists that also rapped about similar content, like Flava Flav. Biggie was the first to bring it to mainstream attention so that is why I put him as #5 on the list.
Examples: Hypnotize – The Notorious B.I.G.
“At last, a nigga rappin’ bout blunts and broads
Tits and bras, menage-a-tois, sex in expensive cars”
“ I put hoes in NY onto DKNY (uh-huh)
Miami, D.C. prefer Versace (that’s right)
All Philly hoes, dough and Moschino (c’mon)
Every cutie wit a booty bought a Coogi (hah!)”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdfsK6fsPDM Hypnotize – The Notorious B.I.G.
#4. Lil Wayne
Coming in at #4 on the list I have Lil Wayne. The New Orleans emcee is renowned for being one of the best lyricists of the 2000’s with many infamous “bars.” He is also one of the first rappers to incorporate autotune in his rap without really singing. Lil Wayne was also a pioneer of bling and face tattoos, which many artists have these days. It almost seems like people are getting famous just for having face tats. Anyways, Lil Waynes sound, style, and content are all prevalent in todays popular rap, unfortunately no one will truly do it like Weezy did.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IH8tNQAzSs Lollipop – Lil Wayne
#3. Kanye West
For #3, I have Kanye West. He is one of the most famed artists of todays age, mostly because of the publicity he gets and how vocal he is on opinions that are pretty contradictory. But before all of the ridiculous stunts, Kanye West was renowned as one of hip-hops most legendary producers and his early albums are still held in very high regard. One thing about Kanye, much to his fans dismay, is that he is constantly pushing the envelope. One album doesn’t really sound the same as the other, and it has been this way throughout pretty much the entirety of his career. As his sound has evolved, it has seemed to lose the touch that people used to be so in love with and that brought him to the top of the charts on multiple occasions. He even went to the extent of making a song rapping about how he misses the old Kanye (presumably from the perspective of his fans). Nevertheless, Kanye’s innovation of the rap sound has pushed hip-hop further passed boundaries of what was considered hip-hop, paving the way for these new artists to try anything new and put a hip-hop label on it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsO6ZnUZI0g Stronger – Kanye West
#2 on the list is #2 for obvious reasons. T-Pain is the king of autotune, and he doesn’t even need it. When he first started using autotune, many critics questioned it, but it wasn’t long before multiple T-Pain songs that were autotune heavy were at the top of the charts. T-Pain truly paved the way for every artist using autotune these days
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBrRBZy8OTs Buy U a Drank – T-Pain
Honorable Mentions: Drake, Lil Uzi Vert – I wanted to give both artists honorable mentions because they each have played a role in changing the sound and getting hip-hop to where it is in mainstream media. Drake was one of the first rappers to fuse hip-hop with mainstream pop, which based on how much rap was used in Super Bowl advertisements this year, it’s pretty safe to say that the two are synonymous now. I also wanted to give Lil Uzi Vert an honorable mention because he was one of the first SoundCloud rappers to truly “blow up” overnight, pioneering the way for many other artists like him. He also pioneered the sound for many popular artists including Lil Skies, JuiceWrld and many more. This sound, like I mentioned before, is saturated with autotune and performed in a singing rap style that is almost crooning but I would argue is more so like whining accompanied with autotune so it is sonically somewhat pleasing.
(See: XO Tour Llif3 – Lil Uzi Vert 1:40-2:00 or basically the entire song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-RS8hPBDYI)
#1. Lil B “The Based God”
Maybe I am biased for putting Lil B at the #1 spot, and I do believe that has to do with it. We are both from the same area, we attended the same high school (at different times), and he is very prominent among the community I grew up in. He has even bought my friend a burrito for no reason other than the fact that they were both at the same burrito spot and my friend recognized him. So I will definitely acknowledge my own bias towards the matter. But with that being said, there are countless other reasons why I see Lil B as deserving of this top spot. Many of the aforementioned rappers have helped push the boundaries and possibilities of hip-hop, but no artist has ever done it like Lil B. He was the first to purposely rap off beat. He was the first to purposely rap out of tune. He was the first to smear his tracks with ridiculous ad-libs that you hear all over popular rap these days. He was the first to truly over do it with excessive “trap” features like obnoxious horn hits, synthetic builds, ridiculous hi hat rolls and catchy phrases like him repeating “Swag!” You could almost say he was the first satirical rapper with maybe the exception of Weird Al Yankovic. He has also made more music than pretty much anyone in history. He has over 50 mixtapes and 10 albums and one mixtape was 855 songs long. Thats not a joke. His Based Freestyle Mixtape has 855 tracks on it. Not only was he a pioneer when it comes to msuicality, but he was also truly the first person to get famous more so off of his ridiculous persona and being radically different that it got him noticed for good and for bad, which is maybe the primary way that people get famous these days (examples include: XXXtentacion, Lil Pump, the boonk gang guy, 6ix9ine and the list goes on). He even has a mixtape title “I’m Gay” and has worn women’s clothes as a stunt many times, just to generate controversy. I would even argue that Lil B’s tactics are maybe the most genius marketing disruptions of all time. And to accompany his ridiculous persona and music, he began to literally follow everyone on Twitter. To this day, his Twitter account follows more people than any other Twitter account (1.62 million people). He curated this cult following for the Based God, where people would make memes about “Task Force, Protect the Based God at All Costs” and “Thank You Based God” and “The Based God F***** My B****.” He turned himself into a meme. He is also famous for saying he looks like pretty much any celebrity you’ve heard of (Ellen Degeneres, Michelle Obama etc.) and is known for coming up with the cooking dance. He has also used basketball players like James Harden for taking his cooking dance and then James Harden ended not making it to the Finals, and it got so much popularity that they talked about it on ESPN. Lil B’s rise to fame was one of the first acts of viral marketing given that it was right around the time where everyone started having a smartphone and social media truly took off, circa 2009-2010. In conclusion, not only was his style of music and the radical, ridiculous music he made that has since been copied 1000 times but also his persona and methods to shoot him to stardom that are also imitated to this day as a way to gain popularity in mainstream media and hip-hop.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGYHEBpX2xQ wonton soup – lil b
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8u6EodZseg ellen degeneres – lil b