The hip-hop world is rife with bizarre rap names, with the prefix "Lil" being one of the better-known staples of the genre. A constant in the game, Lil has permeated the culture and beyond, holding a longer shelf life than many of its bearers. So how did three little letters end up becoming one of the most sustained and far-reaching trends in hip-hop? And who was the first "Lil" rapper?
Unlike what some more recent bearers of the name might suggest, "Lil" has no bearing on talent, or lack thereof. Instead, it's a common nickname on the streets, which made its way into hip-hop as early as 1988 when Houston rapper Lil' Troy first rocked the moniker.
However, hip-hop historians will point to the commercial success of Lil' Kim and fellow Junior M.A.F.I.A. in the mid-’90s as the true beginning of the Lil craze. Over 20 years later, everyone from country-trap rappers to Internet-famous cats call the name their own.
In a world saturated with rappers Lil by name, we wanted to create our own definitive list, starting with the worst and ending with the best.
Here are the top 10 "Lil" rappers, ranked from worst to best.
13. Lil Dicky
While his standing in hip-hop is contested, Lil Dicky's place on this list is purely skill-related — he managed to hold his own on a track alongside rap royalty Snoop Dogg, and that alone merits a mention. Dicky's contention is not a matter of talent, but rather one of intent; While he can deliver a rhyme flipping the stereotype of the rapper on its head, he often does so disrespectfully.
After all, this is the same guy who admitted he "started rapping simply to get attention comedically." It's clear in the content of his satirical raps that he doesn't love hip-hop; he loves what hip-hop's capable of doing for him. Lil Dicky is an unashamed example of someone cashing in on his white privilege in a historically black art form. But hey, he can rap, right?
12. Lil Pump
Yes, Lil Pump has become a meme and troll. Yet, his music at its best felt almost punk in nature. Both "D-Rose" and "Flex Like Ouu" are hypnotic, high-energy bangers. There is nothing overly deep about Pump's music, and on instances like these, he knows that. This self-awareness leads to playful tracks that get you hype and the occasional "Gucci Gang" mega-hit.
11. Lil Yachty
While Lil Yachty is not a lyricist in the traditional sense, he does have bars. Yachty has been able to use his charisma and creativity to carve out his own lane in hip-hop. The Lil rapper can give us playful ballads like "1 Night" or hold his own on hard-hitting tracks like "Flex Up." He's not a little kid anymore.
10. Lil Bow Wow
Don't front like you were not blasting Lil' Bow Wow's music in the early 2000s. Though he dropped the "Lil" moniker as an adult, Bow Wow still belongs on this list. Iconic Jermaine Dupri productions gave us some massive hits. Songs like "Take Ya Home" had you Harlem Shaking in your auntie's living room, while "Basketball" ft. Fabolous & Fundisha became an unofficial sports anthem for any young kid playing AAU basketball.
9. Lil Durk
One of Chicago's most compelling narrators, Lil Durk achieved one of drill's greatest crossovers. Past the autotuned vocals, Durk's lyrics powerfully utilize elements of memoir, journalism, and fiction, to capture life in what he describes as "the trenches." From Signed to Just Cause Y'all Waited 2, Durk's discography chronicles his signing and split from Def Jam and lavishly captures one of hip-hop's greatest anomalies: staying loyal to your roots while pursuing fame and dollars.
8. Lil Peep
A new generation of rappers has been rethinking the much-maligned genre of hip-hop in its own progressive image, and Lil Peep was at the very forefront. A vanguard of this movement, Lil Peep blended hip-hop structure and attitude with the anguish of third-wave emo. It is largely thanks to him that we see the resurgence of rap-rock, and while Peep — who sadly passed away in 2017 — is no longer here to see the fruits of his labor, a young generation of rap fanatics still find solace in his countless pained acoustic laments.
7. Lil Tjay
18-year-old Lil Tjay sings as much as he raps his street tales. His melodic sense and emotional honesty capture what it's like to be a kid in New York, which rapidly forces you to grow up. His instantly recognizable vocals and vivid writing are best encapsulated on his single "F.N.," where Tjay's evocative reflections are given life by lush piano. This and more brooding piano ballads make up his debut album True 2 Myself and put him at the forefront of hip-hop's young, melody-driven scene.
6. Lil' Cease
A longtime protégé of The Notorious B.I.G., Lil' Cease has stayed afloat in the rap conscience for the better part of two decades from his well-respected history in the game. Cease has created indelible music moments alongside the greats; whether it's supporting Lil' Kim's "Crush on You" or "Can I Get Wit'cha" with the Junior M.A.F.I.A. alum and Biggie. His husky New York drawl has tinged some of the most recognizable tracks of hip-hop's golden era.
5. Lil B
Lil B stands alone in that he disrupts hip-hop as much as he embodies it. In terms of quantity, the rapper — who's been known to drop 13 mixtapes in one year — is a hard one to top. From spitting '80s pimp wisdom on Black Ken to hyphy projects like Green Flame, the gentle and introspective I'm Gay, or the unedited stream of consciousness in his countless freestyles, Lil B has embodied and simultaneously rejected every facet of rap. It's this unrestrained creativity that has equally drawn ire and admiration from the hip-hop community. Whether you view him as a rap innovator, Internet cult personality, Based God, or "Death of Rap" (as he proclaimed himself), Lil B's impact on the way rap sounds is undeniable.
4. Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert has been pegged at the center of rap's ever-widening generational gap. Switching woozily between tightly clustered raps and autotuned crooning, Uzi embodies everything from SoundCloud rap to screamo and emo, funk, and abstract pop. Resembling something close to a conventional rapper on "Dark Queen" and then delivering the sublimely emo "X.O. Tour Llif3," Lil Uzi Vert avoids straightforward hip-hop while also redefining the genre for the Internet age. After Eternal Atake, we can't wait to see how Lil Uzi Vert's sound will continually evolve, as he is one of the best "Lil" rappers to ever do it. If anything, Uzi's style is sure to keep us on our toes in the coming years. He does fashion well too.
3. Lil Baby
Admittedly, his name is ridiculous, but Lil Baby has the rap chops to earn your respect. In little over a year, he's climbed to the upper echelons of rap, with songs like "Drip Too Hard" and "Yes Indeed," featuring Drake. His nasal lilt has made him an irreplaceable staple in Atlanta's budding rap scene. Lil Baby's ability to deliver an incredible hook and melody-inflected rapping makes him one of the most magnetic rising stars of hip-hop.
2. Lil Wayne
He proclaimed himself the "best rapper alive" on his 2005 album Tha Carter II, and he wasn't far off. Lil Wayne is certainly one of the slickest rappers in the game. The New Orleans MC stands as one of the best-selling artists of all time, and his influence on hip-hop culture is immeasurable. Aside from creating some of the most memorable mixtapes (full stop), Mr. Carter has also delivered some of the best punchlines in the genre, including "Real Gs move in silence like lasagna," alongside some more X-rated goods we won't quote here. With unbeatable wordplay and a rap dynasty that boasts the likes of Nicki Minaj and Drake, Lil Wayne is rap royalty. What's next for one of the G.O.A.T.s?
1. Lil' Kim
We have to give the crown to the O.G. Queen Bee, Kimberly Denise Jones, better known as Lil' Kim. What other Lil rapper deserves the top spot? We'll wait and let you try... That's what we thought.
One of the first female rappers to gain commercial success, Lil' Kim is a revered game-changer, whose fierce rhymes, gritty New York sound, and Mafioso bravado kept her apace with the likes of Biggie and JAY-Z. In her own words, the versatile rap personality is able to "Switch up flows like I switch up my clothes." With her unapologetic sex appeal and braggadocios rhymes about female sexuality that would make her male counterparts blush, Kim set the blueprint for all the female rappers to come.
Ever wonder how your favorite hip-hop star got their rap name?