Different genres and sounds of music are all related to each other in some way. That means there aren't many genres that are closer together than rap and R&B, two pillars of Black music. Central to both sounds is the voice. So, as the lines between rap and R&B began to blur in the mid-1990s and continued to do so today, each style borrowed from each other. Whether it's rappers who sing, singers who rap and everything in between. The variety of deliveries and the possibilities become even more vast, leading to a large group of acts who interpret singing in their own way.
A conversation about singing rappers is incomplete without Nelly, the St. Louis hip-hop superstar and Drake, the Canadian rapper who still looms large over music. Nelly first got hot in the year 2000, with his hit song "Country Grammar (Hot Shit)," a hook he sung himself. From there, his touch for well-sung hooks with a southern flair took him to the top of the game, selling millions of albums and plenty of tickets to his shows wherever he went. Drake came nine years later, creating rap songs with an R&B core, pioneering a dark and hazy sound that is still being emulated. His first hit single, "Best I Ever Had," was everywhere; he's now rounded that sound out into straight-up R&B songs. Both Drake and Nelly are all-timers at rapping and singing due to their skill, impact and popularity.
Women are also instrumental in the rise of rappers who sing. Lauryn Hill is one of the greatest musicians alive as a result of her elite-level singing and rapping abilities in one package. She has classic rap songs with the Fugees, from "Ready or Not" to "How Many Mics," and timeless R&B songs like "Ex-Factor" and "Killing Me Softly." She set the bar high, not just for woman creators, but for anyone who wanted to rap or sing. Missy Elliott is in this same vein. Her creativity and full commitment to do what sounds good changed the landscape of music. The multiplatinum-selling talent is a clever and iconic rapper with an unmistakable singing voice when she chooses to go that route. She was a star from the moment her debut single, 1997's "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" dropped, putting everyone on notice.
Kid Cudi, Blxst and more have strengthened their catalogs with plenty of singing, too. From all-time greats to newer acts, take a look below to see the best rappers who blend their skills for singing with their rhymes.
Easily the biggest rapper and singer hip-hop has ever had (and arguably the most criticized), Drake has taken the style of blending both talents to new heights. His breakthrough mixtape, 2009’s So Far Gone, and specifically, his hit song "Best I Ever Had," was unique in that Drake was rapping well, but interspersed everything with R&B elements. Now, as one of the most influential acts out there, he’s stuck to that path, peppering his albums with tracks on which he uses his feathery delivery and hits higher notes. Some of those songs turned out to be huge hits, like 2010’s “Find Your Love,” the 2013 mega-smash "Hold On We’re Going Home," 2015’s "Hotline Bling," and "One Dance" the next year. Drake has faced a lot of criticism for his subject matter and penchant for singing being "soft," but rap and R&B as a whole changed directions once he blew up.
The late Juice WRLD was easily one of the most talented acts of his time, a technically sound rapper who was clearly influenced by indie rock. His approach to singing was more like leading a rock band as opposed to R&B, which only made him shine brighter. Juice Wrld’s first two big hits, "Lucid Dreams" and "All Girls Are the Same," choosing emotive crooning over layered bars. Juice’s music had an underlying sadness to it, and he used his voice like an instrument to share that. "Righteous," a song posthumously released on his 2020 album, Legends Never Die, feels like one of the best examples of Juice’s talent; turning his struggles into haunting, personal songs.
A unique talent in a wide open rap scene, Atlanta’s Baby Tate has the poise and delivery of a veteran R&B singer, but is also just as talented as a rapper. Also a producer, Tate has blended all her talents since day one, and has excelled when showing off her abilities. "I Am" featuring Flo Milli, a rap song by any metric, is her most popular track so far, but deep cuts like "Baecation," "Boy" and "Yass Queen" highlight Tate as a vulnerable and talented songstress with a soulful but modern style that harkens back to the mid-1990's R&B girl groups that dominated the airwaves. Baby Tate never has to choose between the two genres and that’s part of her magic.
The late XXXTentacion took off as a "rage" rapper, using booming beats and pure energy to win over millions of fans. But as he continued to develop, his singing voice, similar to that of a pop artist, began to shine through. By the time he released his second album, 2018’s ?, he was turning into a different artist. XXXTentacion's hit single "SAD!," on which he sings about a relationship on the rocks, shows the newfound texture in his voice, along with a good sense of pop melody. Something like this coming from the rapper known for moshpit-starting anthems like "Look At Me!" proved he had some tricks up his sleeve and more depth to his music than he began with.
At Atlanta artist who found stardom through his dark R&B stylings with a hip-hop heart, 6LACK chose his own route. The 808-backed beats of his 2016 breakout debut album, Free 6LACK, echoed that of trap rap at the time, but the stories of hurt and the ups and downs of love were R&B. With a singing style that evokes blues and a weariness of someone who’s seen a lot, 6LACK still shifts right into hip-hop mode whenever he wants to. Interestingly enough, one of his best sung songs, 2018’s "East Atlanta Love Letter," features a rapper who raps more than he sings but is skilled at both: Future.
A name that needs no introduction, Lauryn Hill is an all-time talent, both as member of the 1990's rap trio Fugees and as a solo artist. A woman with the MC chops of a gritty conscious rapper and the singing talent of an R&B star, there has yet to be another Lauryn Hill, and there might never be. She has the deep, pained tones of legendary soul singers of the past and shined alongside some of the greatest artists of her time. "Ex-Factor," from her classic 1998 solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, brings all of her singing talents to the forefront, culminating in a timeless song.
Committed to always being himself, Kid Cudi became a rap superstar off the strength of his spacey and personal 2007 single "Day 'n' Nite." From then on, Cudi became known as a singer and rapper who would seamlessly dip between the disciplines whenever he wanted. His voice is that of someone who could have made rock songs (which he did). Cudder is a strong and clear mid-range singer who sings about happiness and pain with the same vigor. "Mr Rager," from his 2010 sophomore album, Man On The Moon II:The Legend of Mr. Rager, is an excellent example of such. Cudi sings about seeking highs in a life of lows; it’s relatable content and his delivery has made this one of his biggest songs.
Missy Elliott jumped onto the scene in 1997, with her single "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),' sounding like the future. A singer, rapper, songwriter and producer who is excellent behind the mic and the boards, she's a living legend. Her off-kilter rap style and commitment to empowering women turned her into a star, one who can’t be praised enough for her contributions to hip-hop and R&B. One of her best sung songs is "Pussycat," which appeared on her 2002 album, Under Construction. On the tongue-in-cheek ode to keeping a man with her other talents, she sings half of the song with the frank magnetism of a modern-day Eartha Kitt.
Now a 2022 XXL Freshman, Doechii has mixed dance music, R&B and high-level technical rapping in her own way. Certainly one of the more interesting new acts, she's a skilled rapper, but can also sing with an understanding of song composition that outpaces her time in music. Now signed to TDE, Doechii has the freedom to go in whichever direction she wants to and has set that foundation with her previous work. "Something Real," from her 2020 EP, Oh The Places You’ll Go, has all the makings of a hit, and her excellent control of her singing voice is part of that. Doechii is a singer that thrives in the sounds of both pop and house, and her refreshing voice will take her very far.
Out the gate, Nelly has always made sure to rep his city of St. Louis, and let its Midwestern rhythms ease into his music. Whether it was his delivery, the beats he chose or his slang, when most rap fans think of the Lou, they think of Nelly first. All his music is melodic, from his first major hit, 2000’s "Country Grammar (Hot Shit)" to "Dilemma," his 2002 smash-hit with Kelly Rowland. Kelly, a talented singer in her own right, was a perfect match for Nelly, who sings almost like a country singer with a street twist. "Dilemma" remains one of his biggest tracks, partially due to the rapper's convincing singing abilities. Tough guy rappers were popular at the time and Nelly broke out of that label. He was, along with Ja Rule, one of the earliest rappers to reach the upper tiers of hip-hop while singing.
Rising to prominence off deeply personal and sad songs about his emotional strife and mental health struggles, Rod Wave exists in his own lane. In another world, he would be a gospel or blues singer, but here, he’s a talented MC with one of the best singing voices in rap. A voice that sounds like it was birthed in a choir, Rod Wave has made a lot of heart-wrenching songs that are hard to shake. One of the biggest examples is his Soulfly single "Tombstone," on which he sings about finding peace after dying. The way he extends notes without overextending and reaches highs is truly impressive; his rise to the top should come as no surprise.
One of the biggest rappers of the early 2000s, Ja Rule had everyone singing right along with him. The Queens native knows how to make a hit. He was a talented street rapper, who, as fans would learn, was just as deft with the bars as he was with singing. While his beef with 50 Cent led to him being ridiculed for being "soft" for singing, Ja was incredible at it, and racked up plenty of accomplishments as a result. Ja's singing voice was gruff and raspy, but his commitment to singing about love, sex and partying sold it. "Down Ass Bitch," a single from his 2001 album, Pain Is Love, finds him praising a love interest’s loyalty to him. He sings most of the song, making up for whatever he’s missing in pure singing chops with passion and tone.
Los Angeles has always been a hotbed for artists who both rapped and sang; there’s something about the soul of the city. Blxst is the latest artist from the West to earn acclaim and respect for his skills. He brings a laidback approach to his music that’s more about romance and the come up than the street. Blxst can rap (and produce) and has done so on multiple songs, but more often than not, he's a smooth-as-silk singer who uses a conversational style. His pull lies in his songwriting and authenticity; The rising artist comes off as an R&B singer who is very much entrenched within hip-hop. "Pick Your Poison," featured on his 2022 album, Before You Go, is pure R&B with the kind of sweeping vocals that took over 1990's radio. Blxst is too cool and it translates through the songs he releases.
Thanks to his soulful single "Quicksand" in 2020, Morray quickly started racking up big looks in his career. He landed a feature on J. Cole’s single "My . Life" and joined Cole on tour as well. He also landed a signing with Interscope Records. Morray is a rapper who sings, but singing informs his rapping, too. He's almost like a gospel singer and has a vocal tone that feels derived from the church. "Nothing Now," a cut from his 2021 debut album, Street Sermons, is where Morray shows off some range and draws listeners in with his melodies.
Multitalented artist Ty Dolla $ign writes, sings, raps and produces, which has earned him the utmost respect in the game for nearly a decade. Mainly known as a singer who raps, Ty blends the two together while singing in rap flows. He has multiple rap-adjacent anthems to his name, like "Paranoid" and "Or Nah," but he also shines as purely a singer. "Nothing Like Your Exes," a track from his 2020 album, Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, finds him in full R&B mode. Serenading a woman about how he’s better than anyone she loved before, his smooth voice and mastery of flows pulls it all together.
Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack collective found a star in Don Toliver, who took off quickly after appearing on Travis’ 2018 Astroworld track "Can’t Say." Don's got a unique sound. He has similarities to a modern folk singer with a tone comparable to Akon. And, of course, he raps and does R&B. None of his music feels like it's solidly connected with any genre, but that's surely a positive. He raps mostly, but nearly all his songs include some form of singing. "Cardigan," one of the biggest songs on his 2020 album, Heaven or Hell, features Don singing nearly the entire song in a sweeping melody. His talent lies within his variety of approaches; it's never really obvious where he’s taking each song.
Coming in the game as a talented trap rapper who was bending Auto-Tune to his will in the early 2010s, Future evolved into an emotive rapper and singer. He sounds like a harrowed robot from another world with the voice effects, and without them, he sounds more like a seasoned, deep-voiced crooner. Whether he's singing about the pain of the streets or his experiences with women, Future is hard to ignore. "I Thank U," included on his 2017 (mostly) R&B album, Hndrxxx, allows an inspired Future to heap praise on a woman who didn't believe in him. That middle ground that he occupies, between appreciation and spite, has made him such an interesting singer and artist in general.