Exploring The History of Unique Voices In Hip Hop (Editorial)

Since the birth of hip hop in the late 70’s there have been a slew of artists with strong personalities. Taking it back to the mid/late 80’s we can look at Flavor Flav. Public Enemy was a revolutionary group for the genre of hip hop and music in general, but Flavor gave the group, well, flavor.

I was listening to Ty Dolla $ign on the way to Chicago today. 911 by Rich The Kid featuring Ty was on repeat until I switched to Horses in Stable, and then the entire half of Free TC. After that I got into Campaign, his newest release. I couldn’t stop listening. After Horses In the Stable I planned on giving Blu & Fa†e’s newest EP a second listen; but I stopped. As I stated in my last editorial I’ve become a huge fan of Blu, so it wasn’t like listening to Open Your Optics to Optimism was a chore. But, Ty’s voice was calling me. It was so unique.

After going through his two official albums I got to thinking about hip hop and r&b artists who have voices that you can recognize instantly. There have been tons of successful ones. I decided to explore these artists and give you a break down of them. I’d like to add I will not be covering all of the significant artists, as this would turn into a book. I’m also not covering Flavor Flav and Ty as I touched upon him in the beginning of this article.


In 1990 we were commercially introduced to A Tribe Called Quest via their first studio album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. While Phife Dawg was featured on a few tracks it was Q that stole the show. From the moment Push It Along came on (the first track off the album) and Q rapped

Q-Tip is my title, I don’t think it’s vital

For me to be your idol, but dig this recital

hip hop heads around the world heard a smooth, calm, and melodic voice (although his first verses on wax was his features with the Jungle Brothers.) Q exemplified jazzy rap, but used his vocals as the main instrument. My first introduction to the group, as I’m sure many who were born past the age of their run in the early 90’s, was Bonita Applebum. It was the most tranquil track I had ever heard and I had Q to thank. Q-Tip and Tribe continued to make chart topping and classic albums. If Q wasn’t a part of Tribe, would they have been as successful? Of course Phife had great bars and Ali was a legendary producer, but Q sounded so unique.

Lauryn Hill

Before the praise of Drake as a singer and a rapper we had Lauryn Hill. She doesn’t get the recognition she deserves in that realm, but I digress. Her voice is instantly recognizable, especially on tracks Ready Or Not and Killing Me Softly. The Fugees blew up after their second album The Score dropped and peaked at number one on the U.S. Billboard charts for over half a year. It also sold six million copies and won a Grammy for the best rap album. But The Score had nothing on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill which was released to the public in 1997. It famously dealt with the breakdown of her relationship with Wyclef Jean. The two albums did so well because Lauryn was center stage. She had a powerful and particular voice that just begged to be heard.


Earl Simmons’ debut major label single wasn’t called Get at Me Dog on accident. He barks, growls, and sounds menacing throughout his extremely successful 3 albums in the late 90’s. When I first heard the album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot it felt like D was right next to me spitting into my ear. It was so intimidating but I loved it. Out of the two aforementioned artists, DMX’s sound is the most distinctive.

Lil Wayne

Although Wayne’s popularity has declined and his songs have gotten…well…bad, most of us will always remember him for his run from 2000 to 2008. Bling Bling, Go DJ, his feature on Destiny Child’s track Soldier, Fireman and tons of mixtape cuts drew out his silly yet gruff voice. His popularity continued to rise with each tape all leading up to the main course, Tha Carter III. His flow and bars were different, but I can’t help but think if his voice was less unique, would he find as much fame?

Chance The Rapper

A ton of my friends hated Chance on his first mixtape 10Day. They, along with many others I’ve spoken to and read about, enjoyed the direction and lyrics, but his nasally voice totally put them off. I didn’t understand the annoyance with the way he sounded, but as time went on I started to hear how different his music was at that time. There is no doubt Chance is a one of a kind artist, especially after releasing Coloring Book, but he stood out initially (whether good or bad) because of his odd sounding voice. Of course he had the bars, personality, and song structure to match, but I don’t think hip hop fans would have continued on with whatever song they first heard from Chance without that voice.

Young Thug

Thugger is the GOAT of all GOAT’s in this category. He sounds crazy in every way on whatever track he’s on. His peculiar voice is a huge component to his success. This has been even more exemplified on the recent Jeffery. He arguably uses his vocals as more of an instrument than Q-Tip.

As I mentioned before, this is by no means a complete list. Perhaps I’ll continue on with this as time goes on and I get a good response from it. I have no doubt in my mind we will continue to be exposed to artists like these in the coming months and years. Keep your eye out.