Technical skill, originality, and style always come into question when considering the best rappers, but the increasingly important live show is sometimes left out of the discussion. A great live show, however, always helps pave the way to stardom, and with music sales down, concerts are important for securing a loyal fan-base, an invaluable means of winning new fans, and a way to make money without selling CDs or MP3s. So from the masters of well-oiled, highly-rehearsed stadium sell-out shows, to the raw, punk energy of a sweaty basement gig, here are the best live performers in rap right now. Note: This list of best live performers is absolutely not a representation of who we consider to be the best rappers out there (though there is of course some crossover), as live performance and recorded music are two wholly different beasts.
What to expect: Charisma, a better understanding of why A$AP Rocky's a star Tour schedule: Here If you ask 20 people who have been to an A$AP Rocky concert what they thought of it, you're likely to get 20 different answers, ranging from "sloppy" to "okay" to "one of the livest shows I've seen this year." If you catch him when he's in his zone, Rocky's got charisma, charm, and the kind of energy that made 2Pac such a magnetic figure. When he brings out guests and the A$AP Mob affiliates on stage with him, things can get a little sloppy, but is "neat" really what you want out of a hip-hop show? Maybe you're fucking around with the wrong genre.
What to expect: Crowd-walking, a show you could take your younger brother or sister to Tour schedule: Here There aren't many rappers whose live show is fit for a daytime television spot. That's not a jab at Macklemore either. In the past few years Macklemore has achieved the kind of commercial crossover success that most rappers can only dream of, and while some hip-hop purists see this is as a flaw, it isn't even relevant to the conversation when you're talking about performances.
What to expect: Positivity, signs that say "LIL B PLEASE FUCK MY BITCH," and tons of cookingTour schedule: Here You might not like Lil B's music, but at a Lil B show, that's beside the point. The Based God is just as famous for his Twitter account as he is for his thousands of songs and dozens of mixtapes. So when you're at a Lil B show, it's mostly about him as a character, cooking the crowd up into a state of based hysteria and spreading his message of love and positivity. At times, it's a litlte difficult to decipher if you're at a rap show or watching live performance art, but either way it's hard not to have a good time, especially when the dude next to you is wearing a chef's hat and dancing like he's not surrounded by hundreds of other people.
What to expect: Pop superstar status, lots of crazy faces, at least three outfit changes Tour schedule:HereNicki Minaj can rap well, but Nicki Minaj never seemed content with just being a good rapper, or being that woman who can rap as well as the guys. Instead, Nicki Minaj wanted to do something that very, very few of all those really skilled male rappers could ever do—she wanted to become one of the biggest stars in the world. While the guys all pushed and shoved for top spots in the hip-hop heads' lists of best rappers alive, Nicki started making radio-friendly songs that anyone could sing along with. She got some criticism for it, but you know what else she got a lot of? Fans. Like it or not, Nicki Minaj is still a rapper, and that qualifies her for this list, and the fact that she's also a superstar makes her show one of the biggest, most intricate, and well-rehearsed live performances out there. Before you talk shit, compare a mid-tier rap show to a Nicki Minaj show. There's levels to this shit.
What to expect: Technically sound rapping, an artist whose potential is through the roof and who still manages to deliver Tour schedule: HereEarl Sweatshirt doesn't have the energy of his Odd Future affiliate Tyler, The Creator. He doesn't pump up a crowd like Waka Flocka Flame or get into character quite like Lil B, but he knows what he's good at: rapping. During his live shows Earl spends most of his time on stage standing and rapping, almost in a hypnotized state as his eyes look like they're about to roll into the back of his skull, and his fans are loyal enough that they give the show all the energy it needs. There probably won't be any theatrics, but if you're sick of rappers who just mouth along to every other word on a backing track while they jump around and act crazy, then you should probably check out an Earl Sweatshirt show.
What to expect: Visceral punk energy, a lot of sweat Tour schedule: Here Though Death Grips’ rebellious nature has been responsible for much of the punk-rap duo’s controversy this past year, it’s also what makes them such magnetic live performers. Where other hip-hop shows instill a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere, Death Grips thrives on a much more ravenous energy. It's a passion that translates on stage, with drummer Zach Hill and vocalist Stefan Burnett expertly keeping the anarchic nature of their material intact. In doing so, they create an environment that encourages their audience to fully let loose, get wild, and unabashedly scream “fuck you” to whoever “the man” represents in their lives. Death Grips' live performance is a flawlessly controlled chaos that only becomes more exciting with each mosh pit and crowd-surfer that emerges.
What to expect: To leave with more respect for Mac Miller, possibly some guest appearances Tour schedule: Here In a relatively short span, Mac Miller has developed from what some might neatly classify as a frat-rapper into a beast who's a bit more complex, with his recent album Watching Movies With the Sound Off showing a dedication to improving craft and growing sonically. That focus on craft extends to his live performances. Mac's sets are eclectic and well-executed, featuring a run through his now extensive catalog geared towards keeping the crowd engaged (without pandering to fairweathers–his recent Highline Ballroom performance was "Donald Trump"-free). Guest appearances, a variety of moods, and even Mac guitar-soloing behind his head—something you certainly wouldn't expect if your knowledge of him is passing–make for an engaging show.
What to expect: Busta in beast mode, sweat, lots of bouncing, nodding, and hands in the air, the realization that damn, Busta has a lot of hits Tour dates: Here At peak powers, Busta Rhymes is a force of nature. His animated delivery and rapid fire flow turn rap into a physical spectacle, the sort of feat you imagine requiring hours of not only practice, but physical training. His catalog–full of decade spanning hits that detail his evolution and longevity–provides the perfect material for Busta to flex his superhuman rapping ability. In concert, he has one gear: Get fucking live. Luckily, his capacity to impeccably translate his on-record persona and skills into the living dungeon dragon of rap keep the energy at his shows high.
Waka Flocka Flame
What to expect: To turn the fuck up Tour schedule: HereWaka Flocka Flame's entire aesthetic thrives on an imposing sense of energy, a mood conveyed through the tone of his lyrics and the expansiveness of his backing beats. This raw power translates well to the stage, a venue in which some nimble lyricists’ words are swallowed up. His concerts have a vibe usually reserved for punk rock, tempered with just enough ambiguous humor to lighten the abrasiveness. One 52-year-old white woman even told The Source that a Waka concert was enough to convince her to end her marriage (her husband didn’t support her love of rap). The message she walked away from the concert with was, “don’t ever let anyone else keep you from your bliss,” even if that bliss is Waka Flocka Flame. Amen.
What to expect: A guy who's really good at being in the spotlight, probably a few surprise guests Tour dates: HereLil Wayne gave up on being the best rapper alive a while ago. Now he's just a full-blown rockstar, and no matter what you think about Lil Wayne as an artist, Lil Wayne as performer will put any doubts that one has about this guy not being made for the stage to rest. He's a natural performer, lighting up the second he knows it's showtime. It takes an artist years to get as comfortable as Wayne on stage, and at only 30 years old, Wayne's already been rapping half his life and beats almost all relevant rappers in the experience department.
What to expect: Professional musicianship that most live hip-hop shows can't touch Tour dates:HereThe Roots' inclusion on this list should come as no surprise. While they've been together, with one lineup or another, since 1987, and they've transitioned into being perhaps the best in-house band in the history of late night television as a part of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, The Roots still run laps around the competition when it comes to showmanship, variety, and live music entertainment. A Roots concert is typically full of surprises: guests, cuts from their extensive and varied discography, and covers all figure prominently into one of the tightest, most exciting stage shows in hip-hop—a set seriously committed to making sure the audience has a hell of a good time. While it might sound tired to go on about how great a Roots concert is, their reputation as one of rap's best live acts is well-deserved and time-tested.
What to expect: To feel like part of the party Tour dates: HereDanny Brown has been rapping for a long time, but the 30-year-old Detroit native took things to a new level over the past few years, transitioning from a talented rapper to one of the most exciting presences in hip-hop. He's always had the skills, but he's come into his own as an all-around personality and entertainer. A lot of eccentric rappers rely on their style, charisma, and stage presence to make up for a lack of skills. For Danny Brown, it's the opposite—for Danny Brown his skills are what got him here and the rest is just icing on the cake. Danny's show is wild, interactive, and he's got a knack for making the crowd feel like part of the show (and a lot of the time they are part of the show).
What to expect: Fans that know more about Tech N9ne than you, face paint, fire, fast rapping Tour dates: Here There's a reason Tech N9ne has such a loyal following. Just last year he broke records by doing 90 shows in 99 days with Machine Gun Kelly, and with a mix of on-stage theatrics and the technical skills to match, the intensity and precision of a Tech N9ne show is a testament to that old saying "practice makes perfect." Tech N9ne may never be rap's biggest superstar, but most rap superstars could never build the dedicated cult following that Tech N9ne has earned over the years.
What to expect: A poignant, powerful, politically charged show Tour schedule: Here Fans may have been expecting a solid show from Killer Mike at the Pitchfork Music Festival this year. What they got was a damn religious experience. There are plenty of rappers who can rule a stage, but few can lead an audience the way Mike did in Chicago's Union Park that day. Killer Mike took the crowd to church, speaking about the importance of community, the killings in Chicago, the drive to be a good human being. It sounds heavy, and it was—as Killer Mike talked about these issues his voice sounded urgent, cracking under the weight of his words, but as soon as a beat dropped, the entire audience was even more compelled to get their hands up and follow Mike's lead. Rap shows are fun, but when's the last time you left one wanting to be a better person?
Chance the Rapper
What to expect: Ceaseless, uncontainable energy, a performer who loves his fans Tour schedule:Here Every now and then, you get the feeling that you're watching the next big thing. The weird thing is, it doesn't always feel that exciting. Sometimes it's just like, "Yeah, this guy is going to be a star one day." That's not the case when you're at a Chance the Rapper show. At a Chance show, you get the feeling that you're watching a star in the making, and it feels special. Maybe it's because Chance raps like he can't contain his own excitement. Maybe it's because he talks to the crowd like he really loves his fans. Maybe it's just because seeing him dance around the stage and rap like a pro makes it hard to believe that this guy has neither put out an official album, nor does even have a record deal yet. Chance is currently performing all over the country, doing shows with Mac Miller, Action Bronson, and Earl Sweatshirt.
What to expect: Non-stop rapping, on-stage antics, a lot of pot, possibly some raw meat Tour schedule: Here Since first appearing on rap fans' radar with his food-filled, punchline-packed raps,Action Bronson has projected a larger than life figure–one of only a handful still left in a scene that seems often dangerously devoid of characters at the highest level. His live show confirms that there are few as engaging and entertaining as Action. Carrying women on his back, throwing bags of weed into crowds, throwing steak into crowds, rapping while he goes to the bathroom, and generally engaging the audience like no barrier between artist and fan should ever exist, Action has built up a deserved reputation for his on-stage antics that make him an artist to look out for whenever he's in your city.
What to expect: Tons of energy, possibly some blood Tour schedule: Here Few rappers can match the raw, kinetic force Tyler, the Creator puts into his shows. Stage diving, climbing balconies, head banging, cursing at the audience, cracking jokes, and typically putting his angular, gangly body into harm's way for the audience's enjoyment, Tyler packs his live sets with the punch of punk performance. Even from early on in his career, he understood that tremendous energy combined with clever pacing and song selection–Odd Future's debut set in New York featured Tyler performing "Bastard" on a chair under a single redlight before fading the track out after a minute and a half and exploding into "French"–form the cornerstones of a show that has audiences coming back in ever greater numbers.
What to expect: A faultless, well-oiled performance, an extremely satisfied audience Tour schedule: Here There is not another rapper on the planet at the level of Jay Z. As a performer, he's not the most live, the most theatrical, the most skilled—the most anything, really. But no other rapper has the amount of hits that Jay Z has, and when you're at a concert with thousands of other people who know the word to every single song, it's one of the most fun concert experiences rap has to offer. What Jay Z is best at is selling. He gives the people what they want, and when he sells tickets, he always make sure the customers leave satisfied. Throwing your hands up with a room full of people is cool, throwing your hands up with a stadium full of people while "P.S.A." is playing? Fucking great. Plus, if you're looking for a good live rap medley, nobody can touch Hov.Just for fun, here's Jay-Z at New York City's The Tunnel in 1999:
What to expect: To see exactly why Kendrick Lamar is a star Tour schedule: Here For many rising rappers, live performance seems to be treated as an afterthought rather than the foundational piece of a lasting career. When you watch Kendrick Lamar perform, it's evident that he treats his live show with the same care and attention to detail as his recorded material. Selecting a setlist that hits proper emotional peaks and valleys (while still including enough visceral highlights), transitioning between songs with freestyles and acapella rhymes, and taking enough time to speak to the audience and properly soak in the moment. Kendrick's performances are fitting extensions of his character: warm and inclusive, while simultaneously sharp—he doesn't miss a beat in his rapping. We wouldn't expect anything less from one of the brightest rising stars in rap.
What to expect: The best live show in rap, a performance you'll be telling friends about for yearsTour schedule: Here By now, Kanye West's live shows have become the stuff of legend. Full of lights, impossibly grandiose stage designs, seemingly endless rants and freestyles, incomparable energy, and an equally incomparable catalog of hits, a Kanye show is an often unpredictable journey into the world of rap's most famous iconoclast. West's dedication to one-upping himself (combined, of course, with a decade spent building one of hip-hop's greatest discographies) has turned him into a perennial festival headliner, the sort of artist whose performances on award shows and at major concerts are appointment viewing whether you're lucky enough to be in attendance or have to scrounge the Internet for the best possible video footage.