At the beginning of 2018, Nielsen reported that for the first time in history, hip-hop had surpassed rock as the most popular music genre in the country. In 2017, eight of the 10 top artists were from the hip-hop/R&B genre, with Drake and Kendrick Lamar taking the first and second spot, respectively. This year continues to see more hip-hop and R&B acts dominating the charts and airwaves, so Stacker decided to take a look at the genre’s most successful musicians over time.
Using data from Billboard, Stacker ranked the best all-time artists in hip-hop and R&B.These rankings are based on weekly performance on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart from its Oct. 20, 1958 inception through Feb. 25, 2017, and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart from its Jan. 30, 1965 inception through Feb. 25, 2017.
Songs and albums are ranked based on an inverse point system, with weeks at #1 earning the greatest value and weeks at lower spots earning the least. Due to changes in chart methodology over the years, eras are weighted differently to account for chart turnover rates over various periods. Artists are ranked based on a formula blending performance, as outlined above, of all their Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart entries.
Read on to see how your favorite artists rank.
The Los Angeles-based group made up of identical twins Wallace "Scotty" and Walter Scott, Gordy Harmon, Marcus Hutson, and Nicholas Caldwell, began making R&B hits in the late 1960s, and have since been inducted into The Official R&B Music Hall of Fame (2014). Their biggest hits include “Rock Steady” and "Seems Like I Got To Do Wrong" in 1970.
The singer, songwriter, and actress was the daughter of the legendary crooner Nat King Cole, but rose to prominence on her own in the mid-1970s. Thanks to her many successful albums and big hits, including "This Will Be," "Inseparable" (1975), and "Our Love" (1977), Cole went on to win a total of seven Grammy Awards.
Tupac Shakur or “2Pac” has been considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. His debut album “2Pacalypse Now” in 1991 launched him into instant notoriety in the West Coast hip-hop scene, as he rapped about social issues. He was later hailed for subsequent albums “Me Against the World” (1995), and “All Eyez On Me” after his death. An unknown shooter murdered him in Las Vegas in 1996. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.
The band from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was made of brothers Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson, and rose to prominence in the late '70s and early '80s. Their third album, “The Gap Band III” was a breakthrough for the trio, as it contained the hit soul ballads "Yearning for Your Love," "Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)," and "Humpin.'" The group performed together for 43 years.
R&B group The Spinners formed in Detroit in 1954 and were made up of Billy Henderson, Edgar Edwards, Bobby Smith, Henry Fambrough, and Pervis Jackson. They reached their peak commercial success in the 1970s, with their first post-Motown album, “Spinners” (1972). Hit singles included "I'll Be Around," "How Could I Let You Get Away," "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love," and "One of a Kind (Love Affair)." They have continued to stay active and tour (with one original member, Henry Fambrough) to this day.
This top soul act of the 1960s started in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and included Sam Gooden, Curtis Mayfield, and Fred Cash. Mayfield pursued a solo career in 1970, but the band added more members and were later inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. They were 1998 Grammy Hall of Fame inductees for their hit "People Get Ready," which was adopted as an inspirational anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.
Singer, producer, and songwriter Isaac Hayes was one of the powerhouses behind soul music label Stax Records. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and later the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. His song written with David Porter, “Soul Man,” is likely his most famous. His score for 1971’s “Shaft” made him the third African-American, after Sidney Poitier and Hattie McDaniel, to win an Academy Award.
Singer-songwriter and R&B artist Rick James peaked with his album “Glow” in 1985, and produced such hits as “Super Freak,” “Mary Jane,” and “Give It To Me Baby.” He was also featured on the popular '80s TV show “The A-Team.”
The singer, songwriter, and record producer Smokey Robinson was the founder and lead singer of the Motown group the Miracles, vice president of Motown Records, and later a solo artist in his own right in the '70s and '80s. Hits with the Miracles include “Shop Around,” "I Second That Emotion," "The Tracks of My Tears," and "You've Really Got a Hold on Me." He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and Robinson was awarded the 2016 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for his lifetime contributions to music.
The New York-based soul/funk group Cameo started as a 14-member group (known as the New York City Players) and later changed their name to Cameo with 10 members. In the 1980s, the height of Cameo's career, they released the album “Word Up!” which featured the hits "Word Up!" and "Candy."
Blind singer and composer Ray Charles was a pioneer of the soul genre by “Mixing blues, rhythm, blues and gospel styles.” His most famous songs include “Hit the Road Jack,” “Georgia on My Mind,” which earned him four Grammys, and “I Got a Woman.” He was ranked #2 on the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list by “Rolling Stone” in 2008.
The Philadelphia-born singer rose to fame as the lead singer of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and then in 1976 launched his successful solo career, in which he sold four consecutive platinum albums (a first for a black R&B singer). His most popular hits were "Only You,” "Close the Door," and disco smash "Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose." In 1982 he was paralyzed from a car accident that ultimately ended his career.
The best-selling artist of the 2000s, rapper Eminem has 10 #1 albums and five Billboard Hot 100 #1 singles. He has earned 15 Grammy Awards over his career thus far. Many of these honors come from his “The Marshall Mathers LP” (2000) and 2002's “The Eminem Show,” “Encore” (2004), “Relapse” in 2009, and “Recovery” in 2010.
Chris Brown is a singer, dancer, and actor who made a strong debut at the age of 16, with his first single “Run It!” topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart. He later had hits such as "Kiss Kiss," "With You," and "Forever." His career was halted when he plead guilty in 2009 for assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna, and he had to serve five years in prison. Despite this felony, however, he picked back up in 2011 and has been named one of the world’s best-selling music artists.
The Smokey Robinson-fronted pop and R&B band was made up of Robinson, his sister Claudette, as well as Warren “Pete” Moore, Ronnie White, Bobby Rogers, and Marv Tarplin. The band became one of Motown’s most notable acts with hits including "Shop Around," "The Tears of a Clown," "Love Machine," "Do It Baby,” and "My Girl Has Gone."
An early face of the new jack swing movement, Keith Sweat is most known for his songs “Twisted,” “Nobody,” and “I'll Give All My Love to You.” He’s now the host of R&B radio show "The Sweat Hotel” on the iHeartMedia network.
Barry White was a three-time Grammy winner whose best work in the 1970s included songs “You're the First, the Last, My Everything" and "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe." He also found success in 1973, when White created The Love Unlimited Orchestra, a 40-piece group that created the hit “Love’s Theme.”
The great Diana Ross is a Detroit-raised singer, actress, and producer who is best known as the lead singer of 1960’s greats The Supremes. After she went solo in 1970, she released hits such as "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" and the #1 hit "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." She also was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and Oscar for her performance in "Lady Sings the Blues"(1972).
Alicia Keys is the singer-songwriter and pianist behind hits such as “Fallin”—earning her five Grammy Awards in 2002—"You Don't Know My Name," "If I Ain't Got You," and “My Boo.” Her 2009 collaboration with Jay Z on "Empire State of Mind," became her fourth #1 single and won the Grammy Award for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2009.
The New Yorker and Grammy-nominated singer got his big break in the late ‘70s with the funk group Mystic Merlin. During his solo career in the ‘80s, he topped the charts with singles such as "He'll Never Love You (Like I Do)," "Love Is Just a Touch Away," "Rock Me Tonight (For Old Times Sake),” and "Have You Ever Loved Somebody" (1986).
The Barbadian-born singer, actress, and business mogul got her start at the age of 17 with her debut album “Music of the Sun” (2005) and its follow-up “A Girl Like Me” (2006), which produced the hit singles "Pon de Replay" and "SOS." Rihanna has since won nine Grammy Awards and the MTV Video Vanguard Award in 2016.
Commodores are a funk band that reached peak success in the later 1970s and early 1980s when Lionel Richie fronted the band. They’re known for hits such as “Easy,” “Three Times a Lady,” and “Brick House.” They won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Duo, Group or Chorus in 1986 for “Nightshift.”
Lil Wayne is a rapper whose notoriety is mostly centered around the 2000s, but who actually was added to the Cash Money Records label at the age of 9 in 1991. His most successful album was “Tha Carter III” in 2008, which won the Grammy for Best Rap Album that year and produced the singles "Lollipop," "A Milli," and "Got Money."
The soul and R&B band Four Tops are a quartet founded by Levi Stubbs, Abdul "Duke" Fakir, Renaldo "Obie" Benson, and Lawrence Payton, who kept performing from 1953 to 1997 together. The Tops released hit singles such as "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" in 1965 and "Reach Out I'll Be There" in 1966.
The soul singer and record producer is known by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “one of the most gifted purveyors of soul music.” Green’s most popular songs at the height of his fame in the 1970s include "Take Me to the River,” "I'm Still in Love with You," and "Let's Stay Together."
The Texas-born singer first rose to fame in the 1990s trio Destiny’s Child, but truly came into her own with her debut solo album, “Dangerously in Love” in 2003 and mega-hit “Crazy in Love” featuring her now-husband Jay-Z. Since then, she’s been the most awarded artist at the MTV VMAs and has earned 22 Grammys and 63 nominations—making her the most nominated woman and the second-most-awarded woman in Grammy history.
Chaka Khan has found success both as the lead vocalist of the funk band Rufus and as a solo artist. She was the first R&B artist to have a crossover hit featuring a rapper—“I Feel for You” in 1984. Rufus’ breakout single, “Tell Me Something Good," won the band its first Grammy Award in 1974.
The Motown act was one of the best charting girl groups in U.S. history, producing hits such as “Where Did Our Love Go," “Stop! In the Name of Love," and "You Can't Hurry Love.” It was fronted by Diana Ross, and originally featured Ross and Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Betty McGlown. Some said that the group even rivaled The Beatles in the mid-1960s in global popularity.
The Jersey City-formed band was made up of brothers Robert "Kool" Bell and Ronald Bell, with Dennis "D.T." Thomas, Robert Mickens, Charles Smith, George Brown, and Ricky West. It wasn’t until their fourth album, “Wild and Peaceful” (1973), that Kool & The Gang found true success, as it produced hits such as Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swinging." They’re also known for “Ladies’ Night” and “Celebration,” and have won two Grammys.
Usher’s commercial peak can be traced to his fourth album, “Confessions” (2004), which helped cement him as one of the best-selling artists of the 2000s. It produced four consecutive #1 singles: "Yeah!," "Burn," "Confessions Part II," and "My Boo," which featured Alicia Keys. He has since in total accrued eight Grammys and 23 nominations.
The rapper has been hailed as one of the acclaimed rappers of all time, especially thanks to albums “The Blueprint” (2001) and “The Black Album” (2003). He has been lauded with 21 Grammys, tieing with Kanye West for the most by a rapper. He continues to release albums, the most recent of which was with his wife, Beyoncé—both under the name The Carters—called “Everything is Love.”
Originally an actor, Canadian-American rapper Drake made his mark with his debut album, “Thank Me Later” (2010), which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. Since then he’s won three Grammy Awards from 35 nominations and holds several records. “Views” (2016) became the first album by a male solo artist to stay at the top of the Billboard 200 for 13 nonconsecutive weeks in over 10 years. He also has the most songs—186—among solo artists in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 on the charts.
This songstress is a successful singer known for her wide vocal range and singles “We Belong Together” (2005) and “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (1994). Her single "One Sweet Day” was the longest-running U.S. #1 single in history at 16 weeks.
The youngest Jackson went from television star to pop star when she decided to start a solo singing career in 1982. Her third and fourth studio albums—“Control” (1986) and “Rhythm Nation 1814” (1989)—truly marked the height of her success, with singles such as "Nasty" and "Rhythm Nation."
The Jacksons or the Jackson 5 were made up of Jackson brothers Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine, with participation from younger siblings Marlon and Michael. They were the first group of Motown singers to have four back-to-back #1 hits, with "I Want You Bac,k, "ABC," "The Love You Save," and "I'll Be There." They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, and Michael Jackson went on to be one of the greatest pop artists in history.
Singer and actress Whitney Houston found RIAA success with every studio album she made—and she made a grand total of seven—including the soundtrack for “The Bodyguard.” The single off of this film score, “I Will Always Love You,” received the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1992 and became the best-selling single by a woman in music history. She also was known for hits “How Will I Know” (1986) and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” in 1988.
The band was a blend of genres, from R&B and soul to jazz and disco. Once described as one of the most innovative bands of all time, Earth, Wind & Fire was founded by Maurice White in 1970 and made up of many rotating members, the most prominent of which included Verdine White, Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson, Larry Dunn, Al McKay, Roland Bautista, Sheldon Reynolds and Andrew Woolfolk. This band was the first African-American act to sell out Madison Square Garden thanks to mega-hits “Shining Star,” "After the Love Has Gone," and “September.”
The flamboyant, late musician was known for his mixes of funk, rock, pop, and R&B, and won eight Grammys, an Academy Award for 1984’s “Purple Rain,” and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004. His best-known singles include “1999,” “Raspberry Beret,” and “Little Red Corvette.”
Beginning as a backup singer for the likes of Diana Ross and David Bowie, Luther Vandross made a name for himself with hits such as "Never Too Much," "Here and Now," "Any Love,” and “Dance With My Father.” He also won eight Grammy Awards, including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance four times over.
The R&B trio consists of Walter Williams, Eric Grant, and Eddie Levert, and reached their peak success with 1972’s “Back Stabbers” and 1973’s “Love Train.” They joined the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004, and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year.
Mary J. Blige is a singer, rapper, and actress who began as a backup singer. As a solo artist, she’s won nine Grammys, three Golden Globes, and has been nominated for two Oscars in the same year—for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and for Best Original Song in 2017’s “Mudbound.” Billboard called her 2006 earworm “Be Without You” the “most successful R&B/Hip-Hop song of all time” based on chart data.
The professional basketball player-turned singer started in the group Public Announcement, but went solo not long after in 1993. His most famous singles include "Bump N' Grind," "I Believe I Can Fly," and "Ignition (Remix)." "I Believe I Can Fly" (1998) earned R. Kelly three Grammys. His career has been marred by accusations of sexual misconduct and of possessing child pornography, for which he was acquitted of charges in 2008.
The family band hailing from Atlanta was made up of Gladys Knight, brother Merald "Bubba" Knight, sister Brenda Knight, and cousins Eleanor and William Guest. After rotating the lineup and having a slow start, the band had a breakout hit in 1967 with "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." They also are known for "Midnight Train to Georgia."
Brothers O'Kelly Isley, Jr., Rudolph Isley, and Ronald Isley founded the group and went on to reach the heights of fame with their fourth single, “Shout” in 1959. They also were known for "Twist and Shout" (1961) and Grammy Award-winning "It's Your Thing” (1969). They were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
The singer-songwriter began as a session player in the 1960s and later found fame on his own with the mega-hits "Ain't That Peculiar," "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" with Diana Ross. Gaye was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.
Known as the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson was a singer and dancer who was one of the best-selling music artists of all time. After leaving his family band, The Jacksons, Jackson went solo at Motown records and produced hits such as “Beat It," "Billie Jean," and "Thriller" from 1982’s film “Thriller”—the best-selling album in history until the Eagles’ overtook the record in 2018. In his life, he won 13 Grammys, the Grammy Legend Award, as well as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
The singer and musician was referred to by “The Guardian” as the “Godfather of Soul.” His most well-known songs include 1976’s “Get Up Offa That Thing," "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" (1970), and "The Payback" (1973). He’s also one of the most sampled artists of all time, proving his great influence on artists that came after him.
The singer and musician Stevie Wonder is a blind artist who has been lauded for his many funky singles and messages for peace. He was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2009. His songs "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" (1970), "Superstition" (1972), "Sir Duke" (1976), and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life” (1973) have catapulted him into the history books.
The late Aretha Franklin was a singer and musician who was known as “The Queen of Soul.” In the 1960s, she saw a wash of fame with hit singles such as "Respect," "Chain of Fools," "Think," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," and "I Say a Little Prayer." She was the first woman to be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and also won national honors such as the National Medal of Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
During the 1960s and 1970s, group The Temptations ruled the Motown scene with their R&B and soul hits. The most famed lineup of the group included David Ruffin, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, and Eddie Kendricks. Ruffin was the lead singer who was featured on the group’s biggest hits, including “My Girl" (1964) and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (1966). Some other hit songs—“Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)" and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone"—followed in 1971. Despite being around since 1960, Otis Williams still performs under the Temptations name as of 2017.