Guru said it first on Hard to Earn and since the day I heard that song, I’ve agreed with him wholeheartedly. You can be an absolute great lyricist with a sucky voice and no one will want to hear you. On the other hand, you can still be popular and sell lots of records with a voice that sounds like trash. But for the most part, the voice is the first instrument of any singer or rapper and it has the ability to attract or repel a legion of fans. So I’ve decided to list my all time favorite hip-hop voices without concern for what they say in their rhymes. In compiling this list, I’ve considered how the voice itself sounds when the person is speaking in general conversation and how their voice sounds with music. Also, I have imagined these people as voice actors for documentaries. So without further ado, here’s my list:
1. Buckshot – Smooth yet rugged, his voice rides the beats very well.
2. Prodigy – The most cinematic of the group. His voice makes you think he’s ten feet tall. And Havoc’s beats fit like a glove. Mobb Deep’s The Infamous and Hell on Earth are like soundtracks to movies that were never released and P is a natural documentarian.
3. Butterfly – It’s a good thing he produced the Digable albums because no one else could fit jazzy beats so well with his voice. Truly a butter voice if I’ve ever heard one. He could probably read books to small children at the library and ease their minds.
4. Lauryn Hill – We know by now that she probably enjoys singing more than rhyming but her voice is golden in any musical arena. Rich, textured and moving is how I’d describe it.
5. Method Man – A lazy rhymer that relies too much on his voice and I think it doomed his musical career. But there’s no denying that when he’s motivated, his voice will move the crowd.
6. Nas – Q-tip himself said that Nas’ voice is “ill”.
7. Slick Rick – With or without the British accent, Rick’s voice is well known world wide. He has a comical, quirkiness to his voice that’s unmistakable.
8. Tupac – Most of his power came from his lungs/voice and it became a force to be reckoned with. A true Gemini in that regard. You could literally feel and hear his breath on record and like Prodigy, he made non-lyrical rhymes sound great.
9. Q-Tip – “Girls love the voice…” Yup, he said it himself. And I swear that darn near every girl back in college loved his voice.
10. Bahamadia – As my woman says, “She has a jazzy voice.” She also has a calming, motherly quality to her voice as well. She even recorded a good jazz song with Sweetback.
11. Snoop Dogg – Regardless of the nonsense he rhymes about, that sing-songy smoothness has captivated people since “Deep Cover”.
The best of the rest (in no order): Ladybug (from Digable Planets), Casual, Big Daddy Kane, Dres (from Black Sheep), Tajai (from Souls of Mischief), Grand Puba, CL Smooth, Del, MC Shan, MC Lyte, Juvenile, Common, Biggie, Busta Rhymes, Special Ed, Guru and Big L.