Well, I'm not as qualified as many to write what I think should be a somewhat definitive list. I was only hardcore into rap from 1988 to 1994, so anybody whose work was totally or mostly after 1994, I leave off the list due to ignorance (people, I'm sure, like Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Common, Eminem, 50 cent, whomever...) Also, notice how it's "World's" Best Rappers List, and we're probably almost exclusively talking about American rappers.
I personally think that the greatest 3 rappers in terms of flow, technique, and skill, not taking into account people who never sold all that much (e.g. the great Grandaddy I.U.), from mid 80s to mid 90s would be, in no particular order:
Big Daddy Kane
Additionally, in terms of overall skill and/or cultural/political significance, I would add the following, who began in the mid 80s and did most of their good stuff by the mid 90s, in no particular order:
LL Cool J
Roxanne Shante' (only a select few songs were really good, but overall she is very significant)
Antoinette (possibly the closest thing, at least until the mid 90s, to a female Rakim or Kane)
(I mean, why ain't the females bein' represented?)
Nikki D (one of the best rap albums ever, totally overlooked, totally phat skillz)
Salt-N-Pepa (specifically Salt b/c of her phat skills and before anyone jumps on me, listen to "Swift" from Black's magic, also to see how much better she was than Pepa, compare their various, respective "Solo Power" songs on the "Salt With A Deadly Pepa" album)
Public Enemy (specifically Chuck D)
Lakim Shabazz (possibly, don't remember him that well)
probably 2 or 3 NWA-associated people (Dre, Eazy, Cube)
Kool G. Rap (can't believe I went ths long w/o mentioning him)
Snoop Dog (perhaps)
That's all I can think of now from mid 80s to mid 90s. Note that I did not cover early 80s b/c I don't know enough about it. I'm sure I'd say Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz, Africa Bambataa, Kurtis Blow...people like that.
Above is my World's Best Rappers List.
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