Being awarded Rapper of the Year is among the highest of honors that can be bestowed upon an MC. And with rap being one of the fastest-evolving genres of music, especially since new sounds and trends sprout up on a daily basis, earning the coveted best rapper title means not only has the winner identified new sounds and trends before they hit the masses, but they’ve excelled in honing their craft.
In 2023, fans saw the resurgence of a number of artists who helped pioneer a huge portion of today’s rap, while the stars who consistently sit at the top of Hip Hop continued to prove their dominance.
A sober Danny Brown closed the door on his darkest days with the highly-anticipated Quaranta, J. Cole stepped out from the shadows and discarded his usual low profile to go on a crazy features run, and Killer Mike focused inward with an autobiographical soundtrack that called back to his Atlanta roots. Then there was Lil Wayne, who through a series of mind-melting guest verses reminded the world why he’s one of the greatest living MCs, while Nas continued his impressive rebirth thanks to the rejuvenating production of Hit-Boy.
Regardless of whoever wins HipHopDX’s Best Rapper of 2023, it’s been one hell of a year for lyricists despite what the mainstream might have been pushing.
Review all of our Hip Hop Award categories and nominees and check out our nominations for Best Rappers of 2023 below.
Editor’s Note: Nominees are listed in alphabetical order.
Best Rappers Of 2023 NOMINATIONS
The Best Rapper of 2023 is…
Having not released a solo album in over a decade, 2023 marked the welcome return of Michael Render, better known as Killer Mike — or one half of rap duo Run The Jewels with El-P. However, setting his collaborative endeavors to one side, Killa Kill from the Ville went solo this year, delivering his autobiographical blockbuster MICHAEL.
Easily his most personal album to date, the follow-up to 2012’s R.A.P. Music taps into Mike’s struggles as a teen growing up in Atlanta as he tried to figure out his place in the world, as well as the come-to-Jesus moments he had at different junctures in his life. But most importantly, it celebrates the women in his life who helped shape, educate and love him as he walked the path to stardom.
Proving what true rap fans knew already, MICHAEL exemplifies what it means to be an upper echelon MC. It’s the perfect vehicle for Killer Mike to properly introduce himself to the masses in the same way Nas did with Illmatic, JAY-Z with Reasonable Doubt, and Biggie with Ready To Die — and rap fans in 2023 are thankful. Killer Mike stood out as our Rapper of the Year in the last 365.
A lot has changed for Danny Brown over the past four years. Having battled with addiction for some time, the Detroit MC checked himself into rehab earlier this year, and upon his release created arguably his best album to date. While known for his cartoony delivery and fever-dream imagery in his lyrics, Danny plunged into the darkness of addiction on Quaranta, confronting his demons head-on and coming out the otherside a better man.
Danny’s breakout 2011 album XXX is a project that delves into a world of drugs and the desire for fame which often plagues a person more than it heals. Quaranta picks up where that album left off, but instead of continuing the party, it opts for healing and change. His unbridled honesty and admittance of addiction, its trail of destruction, and the closure to one of the darkest periods in his life positions Danny Brown as one of the frontrunners for Best Rapper of 2023.
While J. Cole might not have released an album in 2023, his impactful guest verses — of which there were plenty — impressed fans the world over and set the scene for his highly anticipated new album, which, judging by the quality of the Dreamville boss’ recent features, sounds like it could have magnum opus potential.
On “The Secret Recipe,” Cole joins Lil Yachty, who enters the world of looped samples and bars. But while Yachty surprises some with his solid pen game, J. Cole shows the young rapper the ease at which he can perform high level lyricism, seemingly at home on the Rawbone, 98K and Yachty production. Another pair of stellar Cole verses come alongside Drake on the OVO mogul’s “First Person Shooter” and “Evil Ways,” both of which prove an uncanny kinship between the two blog-era pillars.
It’s hard to imagine Hip Hop without Lil Wayne. With almost three decades in the game, Weezy has remained not only consistent but relevant during every era of his career. In 2023, the original Hot Boy laid down a number of top-tier guest verses that blew the minds of so many and had them comparing the quality of his output to some of the material he put out during his unstoppable mid-2000s run.
Sounding hungrier than ever, Lil Wayne’s appearance on Benny The Butcher’s “Big Dog,” where he flips the different breeds of dogs for some fun wordplay, is an obvious standout, as is his verse on Nas’ “Never Die.” Another highlight includes his long overdue second collaboration album with 2 Chainz, the sequel to 2016’s ColleGrove.
Continually delivering at a high-level and sounding like he’s been baptized in the Lazarus Pit, there’s no question that Nas’ current run is amongst his greatest. Like a fine wine, each new release he drops gets richer and more flavorsome, while he himself sounds meaner, more precise, and his lyrical capabilities seem to grow tenfold — if that’s even possible.
Coming off the success of Magic and Kings Disease III, 2023 saw Nas release another two installments of his Magic series — again produced by Hit-Boy — both of which came as a surprise to fans and were helped on by guest verses from Hip Hop heavyweights 50 Cent and Lil Wayne. Anyone denying Nas’ G.O.A.T. status at this point clearly just doesn’t know Hip Hop.
Check out our previousaward winners.
Artwork and graphic design by JR Martinez.
Paragraphs written by Anthony Malone.