50 in hip hop with Jamaican roots
‘You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far’ - The Notorious B.I.G.
Photo collage of some of the 50 rappers of Jamaican descent who have played an essential part in the hip-hop industry.

In the early 1970s, the cultural interactions between African Americans and immigrants from the Caribbean in the melting pot of New York City helped to spawn the musical movement now known as hip hop. Among the immigrant groups that influenced the movement and continue to be well represented in the music today are Jamaicans.

While the extent of the Jamaican (and wider Caribbean) influence on the formation of hip hop is often debated, and sometimes controversial, there’s no doubt about the instrumental roles played by members of the immigrant community in the development of the music. From the ‘Father of Hip Hop’ DJ Kool Herc to one of the greatest rappers of all time, Notorious B.I.G, the contribution of Jamaican-Americans to the art is well documented.

In the five decades since its origin in the Bronx, most notably at a party hosted by Herc and his sister Cindy Campbell, hip hop has permeated every corner of the world, expanding its history and massive influence on persons of all walks of life.

In celebration of the movement’s 50th anniversary, OBSERVER ONLINE has curated a list of 50 rappers and important agents of Jamaican descent who have made their marks on the industry.

DJ Kool Herc

1. DJ Kool Herc

DJ Kool Herc, born Clive Campbell, was born in Kingston, Jamaica and migrated to the United States as a child. Credited as the founding father of hip-hop, Herc innovated the break beat or “Merry Go Round”, which extended a song’s instrumental beat for a long period and facilitated break dancers to showcase their moves. Inspired by the sound system culture in his native Jamaica, Herc’s announcement and exhortations to dancers helped lead to the rhythmically spoken accompaniment now known as rapping.

Cindy Campbell, 'first-lady of hip-hop' (right) with brother DJ Kool Herc, the 'father of hip-hop' in a interview with German media SRF.

2. Cindy Campbell

Referred to as the ‘First Lady of hip-hop’ Cindy Campbell, DJ Kool Herc’s sister, played a vital role in the creation of the music genre. She too was born in Kingston, Jamaica before migrating to the US as a child. Campbell’s back-to-school party at 1520 Sedgwick Ave in The Bronx on August 11, 1973, where her brother DJed, is considered the birth of hip hop. She also acted as the first hip hop promoter, creating handwritten flyers and notecards, while doubling as a stylist, for her brother’s performances.

Christopher "Notorious BI..G." Wallace at the Wetlands in New York City, New York (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

3. Notorious B.I.G

Widely regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time, Notorious B.I.G, known also as Biggie Smalls or Biggie, was born to Jamaican immigrant parents on May 21, 1972 in Brooklyn, New York City. Given name Christopher Wallace, Biggie was known for hits such as ‘Juicy’, ‘One More Chance’, ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ and ‘Hypnotize’. He often paid homage to his Jamaican heritage in his lyrics throughout his legendary career, which was cut short when he was gunned down in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997. Biggie’s lyric, ‘You never thought that hip hop would make it this far’, from his debut single ‘Juicy’, is often quoted in discussions about the longevity of hip hop music.

Heavy D

4. Heavy D

The self-proclaimed ‘Overweight Lover’, Heavy D was among the most beloved and respected rappers in hip hop. Born Dwight Myers in Mandeville, Manchester, Heavy D and his family migrated to Mount Vernon, New York in the early 1970’s. He was the leader of the group Heavy D & the Boyz and is known for hits such as ‘Now That We Found Love’. He died on November 9, 2011 in Los Angeles, California from a pulmonary embolism.

Busta Rhymes

5. Busta Rhymes

Busta Rhymes was born Trevor George Smith Jr in Flat Bush, New York to Jamaican parents. Known for his fast rapping style, Busta Rhymes started out as a member of the rap group Leaders of the New School before embarking on a very successful solo career which has produced hits such as ‘Woo Hah!! Got You all in Check’ and ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See’. Busta, who regularly includes Jamaican patois in his records, has received 12 Grammy Award nominations over the span of his career.

Pepa, member of female rap group Salt-N-Pepa

6. Pepa

Pepa, given name Sandra Denton, is a member of pioneering rap group Salt-N-Pepa. She was born in Kingston, Jamaica before migrating to Queens, New York to join her parents. Salt-N-Pepa is known for hits such as ‘Push It’, ‘Shoop’ and ‘Whatta Man’, a collaboration with En Vogue.

NEW YORK - JUNE 28: Rapper and Host Special Ed performs at the 30th Celebrate Brooklyn summer season at the Prospect Park Bandshell on June 26, 2008 in New York City.The Crooklyn Dodgers rap collective performed on the soundtracks for two Spike Lee Movies, "Crooklyn" and "Clockers" (Photo by Al Pereira/WireImage)

7. Special Ed

‘I’m your idol/the highest title/numero uno/I’m not a Puerto Rican but I’m speakin so that you know'. That’s the famous introduction by Special Ed on his breakthrough song ‘I Got It Made’, from his debut album Youngest in Charge which was released when he was just 17. Ed, given name Edward K Archer, was born in Brooklyn, New York to Jamaican parents on May 16, 1972. He regularly pays homage to his Jamaican heritage and collaborated with dancehall star Bounty Killer on the song ‘Just A Killa’ in the mid 1990s.

Bushwick Bill

8. Bushwick Bill

Bushwick Bill was born Richard William Stephen Shaw in Kingston, Jamaica on December 8, 1966. A member of the iconic Houston-based rap group Geto Boys, he originally joined the group as a break dancer named Little Bill, a homage to his dwarfism. Bill, who had one of the most unmistakable voices in rap, died on June 9, 2019 from pancreatic cancer.

Grand Puba

9. Grand Puba

Grand Puba was born in New Rochelle, New York in a Jamaican family. Given name, Maxwell Dixon, Puba was the leader of 1990’s rap group Brand Nubian whose style had a notable reggae influence.

Kid from Kid 'n' Play

10. Kid (from Kid ‘n’ Play)

Kid, real name Christopher Reid, was born in Bronx, New York to a Jamaican father and an Irish mother, and was a part of the iconic hip hop duo Kid ‘n’ Play. As a rapper and an actor, Kid was known for his high top fade, and his popularity soared with his appearances in the ‘House Party’ series and the cult favourite ‘Class Act’.

Slick Rick

11. Slick Rick

Slick Rick, given name Richard Walters, is an English-American rapper, born to Jamaican parents in South Wimbledon, London. He partnered with Doug E Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew and rose to prominence in the late 1980s. Some of his notable hits include ‘La Di Da Di’, ‘The Show’, ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘Children’s Story’.

Pete Rock

12. Pete Rock

Peter Phillips, better known by his stage name Pete Rock, is an American rapper, producer, and DJ. Hailing from Mount Vernon, New York, he is the younger cousin of fellow Jamaican-American rapper Heavy D. A highly regarded producer, Pete Rock was one half of the duo Pete Rock & CL Smooth, who are most known for the hip hop classic T.R.O.Y (They reminisce over you).

Kardinal Offishall

13. Kardinal Offishall

Kardinal Offishall, whose real name is Jason Harrow, was born in Toronto to Jamaican parents. The Canadian rapper, record producer, DJ, and record executive is best known for his distinctive reggae- and dancehall-influenced style. He is best known for songs ‘Dangerous’ with Akon and ‘Numba 1 (Tide is High)’ featuring Keri Hilson.

Renee Neufville

14. Renee Neufville

Renee Neufville was half of the American R&B/hip hop soul duo Zhane with Jean Baylor. She was born in Brooklyn, New York to Jamaican parents. The group Zhane climbed the Billboard Hot 100 in 1993 with the hit single ‘Hey, Mr DJ’, and went on to release two studio albums before the duo ended in 2000. Neufville released a single in 2015 called ‘Watching Me’.

Sean Kingston

15. Sean Kingston

Sean Kingston, born Kisean Paul Anderson, is a Jamaican-American singer and rapper, and the grandson of reggae music producer and sound system operator Jack Ruby. Kingston gained worldwide popularity with his 2007 debut single ‘Beautiful Girls’. His star continued to rise with follow up releases ‘Take You There’, ‘Fire Burning’ and ‘Eenie Meenie’ which features Justin Bieber.

Bobby Shmurda

16. Bobby Shmurda

Bobby Shmurda, real name Ackquille Jean Pollard was born to a Jamaican father and an African American mother in Miami, Florida. The rapper rose to fame in 2014 with hit single ‘Hot Nigga’ which peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100.

Safaree

17. Safaree

Safaree, full name Safaree Lloyd Samuels was born in Brooklyn, New York to immigrant Jamaican parents. He began a musical career in a group called the Hoodstars in the early 2000s alongside American rapper Nicki Minaj. The rapper released ‘Paradise’ with Sean Kingston in 2015, and frequently visits the island. He joined the cast of reality show Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood in 2016.

Rapper Tyga

18. Tyga

Tyga, born Micheal Ray Stevenson to a Jamaican father and a Vietnamese mother, gained popularity as a rapper in 2008 with the single ‘Coconut Juice’. He signed with Lil Wayne’s Young Money label shortly thereafter. Over the years, Tyga has collaborated with Jamaican artistes including Shenseea and Demarco.

XXXTentacion

19. XXXTentacion

XXXTentacion, real name Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy, was an American rapper and singer-songwriter born in Florida to Jamaican parents. His depression and alienation themed music gained mainstream attention with the single ‘Look At Me’. XXXTentacion had a short music career before he was shot and killed during a robbery in 2018.

Chubb Rock

20. Chubb Rock

Richard Anthony Simpson, professionally known as Chubb Rock is a Jamaican-American rapper who enjoyed popularity from the late 1980’s to early 1990’s. The rapper was born in Kingston, Jamaica and migrated to the US where he dropped out of university to pursue a rap career. He released several successful albums including ‘The One’ which included hit singles ‘Treat 'Em Right’, ‘Just The Two of Us’ and ‘The Chubbster’.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 25: Rapper Shawn Mims attends Republic Records MTV VMA Viewing & After Party at La Cenita on August 25, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)

21. MIMS

MIMS, full name Shawn Maurice Mims, was born in New York City into a Jamaican-American family. He is best known for his 2006 commercial debut single ‘This Is Why I'm Hot’, which reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. His stage name is an acronym for Music is My Saviour.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 15: Rapper Pop Smoke performs onstage during day 2 of the Rolling Loud Festival at Banc of California Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

22. Pop Smoke

Bashar Barakah Jackson, stage name Pop Smoke was born in Brooklyn to a Jamaican mother. He began his musical career in 2018 with his debut single ‘MPR (Panic Part 3 Remix)’, and rose to fame with the release of his breakout singles ‘Welcome to the Party’ and ‘Dior’ in 2019. Pop Smoke had a short music career as he was killed during a home invasion in 2020.

Luke, also known as Uncle Luke or Luke Skyywalker

23. Luke

Luke, also known as Uncle Luke or Luke Skyywalker, is an American rapper, promoter and record executive. His mother was Bahamian and his father Jamaican and was given the name Luther Roderick Campbell. Luke was the leader of the Miami rap group 2 Live Crew, who enjoyed stardom in the late 1980s to early 1990s with explicit content that triggered a free-speech battle in federal court. Their album ‘Banned in the USA’ was the first record to bear the infamous black and white Parental Advisory label.

Will.i.am

24. Will.i.am

Will.i.am, given name William James Adams Jr, is a hip-hop and pop musician who was born to an African American mother and Jamaican father. He is the founding member of the Black Eyed Peas.

Rampage

25. Rampage

Rampage was born Roger McNair in Brooklyn, New York City to Jamaican parents. He was a member of the Flipmode Squad, which was founded by his cousin, and longtime collaborator Busta Rhymes. ‘Wild For Da Night’ featuring Busta Rhymes is one of the more well-known songs from his repertoire.

Canibus

26. Canibus

Canibus was born Germaine Williams in Kingston, Jamaica. His father Basil Williams played cricket for the West Indies. A lyricist, Canibus was involved in a rap feud with the legendary LL Cool that spawned his hit diss song ‘Second Round KO’.

Hitman Howie Tee

27. Hitman Howie Tee

Hitman Howie Tee, given name Howard Thompson, is a hip-hop DJ and producer of Jamaican descent who hails from Brooklyn, New York. He is the cousin of Chubb Rock, who he frequently collaborated with. Hitman Howie Tee was also known for working with hip-hop group UTFO (acronym for Untouchable Force Organisation) as well as Special Ed and The Real Roxanne. In 1991, he mixed and co-produced the Billboard number one ‘I Wanna Sex You Up’ by Colour Me Badd.

Rapper Chipmunk

28. Chipmunk

Chipmunk or Chip, real name Jahmaal Noel Fyffe, is a British rapper from Tottenham in North London, who is the son of Jamaican immigrant parents. In 2009, he released his debut album, I Am Chipmunk, which included four songs that peaked in the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart. Chip moved to Atlanta in 2012 and released a mixtape, London Boy, which featured dancehall artiste Movado on the single ‘Every Gyal’.

Monie Love

29. Monie Love

Monie Love, given name Simone Johnson, is a British rapper, actress and radio personality of Jamaican descent. She is known for her singles during the late 1980s through the 1990s like ‘Monie In The Middle’ and ‘It’s A Shame’ (My Sister) from her album Down To Earth. Monie Love was the first British female hip-hop artist to be nominated for two Grammy awards.

YFN Lucci

30. YFN Lucci

YFN Lucci, given name Rayshawn Lamar Bennett, is of Jamaica descent as his parents were born and raised in the country before migrating to the United States. The rapper is best known for his single ‘Everyday We Lit’ featuring PnB Rock, which peaked at number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming his highest charting single. In 2021, YFN Lucci was among 11 others who were charged in a RICO indictment.

Joey Bada$$ (pronounced Joey Badass)

31. Joey Bada$$

Joey Bada$$, given name Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, was the first in his immediate family to be born in the United States. His maternal family originated from St Lucia and his paternal family is from Jamaica. The Brooklyn, New York City native is the founder of the hip-hop collective Pro Era, with whom he released three mixtapes. He also released solo projects, with his first solo album B4.DA$$ (pronounced ‘before da money’) being released in 2015.

Rapper NLE Choppa

32. NLE Choppa

NLE Choppa, real name Bryson Lashun Potts, whose mother is Jamaican, released his debut studio album Top Shotta in 2020. The 20-year-old first expressed interest in rapping at the age of 15, when he would freestyle with friends. However, a year later he started taking music seriously.

Stefflon Don

33. Stefflon Don

Stefflon Don, born Stephanie Victoria Allen, is a British rapper and singer. She rose to fame after her 2017 single "Hurtin' Me" featuring French Montana peaked at number seven on the UK Singles Chart. She is of Jamaican descent and often mixes Jamaican patois into her raps.

Rapper and podcaster DJ Akademiks

34. DJ Akademiks

Livingston Allen, more commonly known as DJ Akademiks, Akademiks, or his rapper alter-ego Lil AK is a Jamaican-American podcaster, social media personality and live streamer. Born in Spanish Town, St Catherine, DJ Akademiks rose to fame from his YouTube channel which covers the latest news in hip-hop. In April 2018, he launched his rapper alter-ego Lil Ak, by posting a music video for his song ‘Blues Clues’, which included a cameo from rapper 6ix9ine.

Rapper A-Plus

35. A-Plus (Souls of Mischief)

Adam Carter, known by the stage name, A-Plus, is an American rapper and producer. He was born in Colorado to Jamaican immigrants and became one of the founding members of the underground hip-hop group Souls of Mischief, which also made up the eight-person, alternative hip-hop collective, the Hieroglyphics. On May 1, 2007, A-Plus released his debut solo album titled, My Last Good Deed.

Record producer Boi-1da

36. Boi-1da

Matthew Jehu Samuels, known professionally as Boi-1da (a play on "boy wonder"), is a Jamaican-Canadian record producer and songwriter. Boi-1da was born in Kingston, Jamaica and migrated to Canada as a child. He has produced for a variety of singers and rappers including Drake, Rihanna, Eminem, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Nas, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, among others.

Roots Manuva

37. Roots Manuva

Roots Manuva, given name Rodney Hylton Smith, is a British rapper and producer whose parents were born in Jamaica. Since his debut in 1994, Roots Manuva has produced numerous albums and singles, achieving commercial success with albums ‘Run Come Save Me’ and ‘Slime & Reason’. He has been described as "one of the most influential artists in British music history”.

Big Tigger

38. Big Tigger

Darian "Big Tigger" Morgan is an American television and radio personality, DJ and rapper best known as the former host of BET's Rap City. Morgan was born to a Jamaican immigrant mother and an African-American father.

Rapper Krazy Drayz from the duo Das EFX

39. Krazy Drayz (Das EFX)

Krazy Drayz, given name Andre Weston, is a member of the hip-hop duo Das EFX with Skoob (real name William ‘Willie’ Hines). Krazy Drayz was born in Jamaica and immigrated to the United States, where he and Skoob met in university and started the group ‘DAS’— an acronym for their initials— and "EFX" meaning "effects". They rose to popularity in the early 1990s due to the duo's lyrical delivery consisting of intricate rhymes, sometimes mixed with made up words especially ending with "-iggedy". This became one of the most influential lyrical styles in rap music at the time.

Rapper Mad Lion

40. Mad lion

Mad Lion, given name Oswald Priest, is a dancehall, reggae musician and rapper with Jamaican heritage. He was born in London but moved to Brooklyn, New York where he met reggae artiste Super Cat, who suggested that Mad Lion adopt his professional name- an acronym for Musical Assassin Delivering Lyrical Intelligence Over Nations. Mad Lion’s addition of hip hop rhythms to Shabba Ranks' ‘Jam’ gave him some early success, and his début single ‘Shoot to Kill’ from the 1994 album Real Ting was successful in New York.

Keyshia Ka'oir Davis

41. Keyshia Ka'Oir

Keyshia Ka'Oir, formerly Keyshia Dior, is a model, actress, rapper, stylist & entrepreneur who was born in Kingston, Jamaica. As a model she gained roles in music videos including Timbaland's ‘Say Something’. While she is now mostly known for her business ventures including her makeup line, Keyshia Ka'Oir was also a featured rapper on the 2014 single ‘Bossed Up’ with now-husband Gucci Mane and Young Thug.

Capella Grey

42. Capella Grey

Capella Grey, real name Curtis Anthony Jackson II, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer, who grew up in a Jamaican household as his grandmother and mother are Jamaicans. He gained popularity in 2021, with the release of his single ‘Gyalis’ which he wrote and produced. The remix of the single—which is just as popular— also features R&B artiste Chris Brown and dancehall artiste Popcaan.

Hip-hop production duo, The Heatmakerz

43. The Heatmakerz

The Heatmakerz is a hip-hop production duo, who were born in Kingston, Jamaica but raised in New York. The duo consists of Rsonist, real name Gregory Green, who started the group, and Thrilla (Sean Thomas). The Heatmakerz first received recognition when they got credit on Canibus’ 2000 BC album and rose to prominence after providing beats to various releases by The Diplomats. The duo’s Jamaican heritage came through strongly when they used a sample of Sanchez’s ‘One In A Million’ on the single ‘Dipset Anthem’ by The Diplomats.

Kurtis Mantronik

44. Kurtis Mantronik

Kurtis Mantronik, given name Graham Curtis el Khaleel, is a Jamaican-born hip-hop and electronic-music artiste, DJ, and producer. He was the leader, DJ and keyboardist of the 1980s hip-hop and electro-funk group Mantronix, which he formed with rapper MC Tee (Touré Embden) who is of Haitian descent. The group is primarily remembered for its pioneering blend of old school hip-hop, electronic, and club music.

Hip-hop, R&B producer Rashad 'Ringo' Smith

45. Rashad Smith

Rashad Smith, full name Burton Rashad Smith, is a hip-hop and R&B producer who was born in England and raised in Brooklyn, New York in a Jamaican and Haitian family. Around age 19, Smith, also known as Ringo, worked with Uptown Records, where he formed the group Tumblin Dice with session keyboardist Avon Marshell. The duo went on to produce Uptown Records’ biggest artistes’—including Mary J Blige and Jodeci— early albums. Smith gained further success after composing Busta Rhymes’ ‘Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check’, and produced tracks for an array of artistes including Aaliyah, Fat Joe, MC Lyte, Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, Das EFX, Slick Rick, En Vogue, 50 Cent, Erykah Badu, Nicki Minaj, and DJ Khaled.

Record producer K-Cut

46. K-Cut

K-Cut, given name Kevin McKenzie, is a record producer who was born in Canada to a Jamaican father and Afro-Guyanese mother. He is the cousin of fellow producer Rashad ‘Ringo’ Smith and a member of the hip-hop group Main Source with Large Professor (William Paul Mitchell). In 1991, the group released their debut album, ‘Breaking Atoms’, and that year K-Cut appeared on Queen Latifah’s album ‘Nature of a Sista’ as a producer. McKenzie also produced the Main Source single ‘Fakin’ the Funk’ which was a part of the soundtrack for the movie ‘White Men Can’t Rap’.

Olivia Longott

47. Olivia (from G-Unit)

Olivia, full name Olivia Theresa Longott is an American R&B singer of Jamaican descent. She was best known for performing with hip hop group G-Unit in the mid 2000s. She also featured on Shaggy’s single ‘Wild 2nite’ which was released in 2005.

American rapper Gunplay

48. Gunplay

Gunplay is the stage name of Richard Welton Morales Jr, an American rapper who was born in Florida to a Puerto Rican father and Jamaican mother. Gunplay, when he began his career, joined Rick Ross’ group Triple C’s which went on to release their debut album Custom Cars & Cycles in 2009. Gunplay later signed to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group label, and ventured out as a solo artiste with Def Jam Recording in 2012. Three years later he released his debut album ‘Living Legend’.

Model Tyson Beckford

49. Tyson Beckford

He is not a rapper, but Tyson Beckford played a significant role in hip-hop as the go-to male model for videos. Tyson was born in New York to parents of Jamaican descent, and his mother even brought the family back to the country and lived there for several years before moving back to New York. Beckford gained fame as a model in the 1990s and has featured in classic hip hop videos such as Biggie Smalls’ ‘One More Chance’ and ‘21 Questions’ by 50 Cent.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Misa Hylton attends the 2018 Tribeca Studios and MCM Sneak Preview Of Women's Hip Hop At Public Hotel (Public Arts) on April 24, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Lars Niki/Getty Images for 2018 Tribeca Film Festival)

50. Misa Hylton

Misa Hylton is an American stylist and fashion designer whose mother is of Jamaican and Japanese descent. She is well known in the hip hop fashion industry, having styled the likes of Lil' Kim and Mary J Blige. She is an ex-girlfriend of Bad Boy Records founder Sean ‘Diddy’ Coombs, with whom she shares a child, Justin.

51. Funkmaster Flex

Funkmaster Flex, one of the most popular DJs in hip hop, is the son of Jamaican immigrant parents. He was born Aston George Taylor Jr in the Bronx in 1967. Funk Flex is a host on New York City's Hot 97 radio station, having become host of the station's first ever rap show in 1992. During the mid 1990s, he released a series of popular mix tapes through Loud Records. He also joined forces with fellow DJ Big Kap to release an album, The Tunnel, in 1999.

52. DJ Clue

Funkmaster Flex's longtime rival, DJ Clue was born in Queens in 1975 to Jamaican and Panamanian immigrants. He has his own programme at Hot 97 rival Power 105.

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