With the recent signing of teen rapper Diggy Simmons to Atlantic Records, we can’t say we were surprised. After all, the 15-year-old son of hip hop legend Run of the iconic group Run DMC, has some serious rhyme firepower and vision. But he’s not the only youngster to boldly pick up the mic and make some noise. Through the years, there have been multi-platinum pubescent stars (Kriss Kross, ABC, Lil’ Bow Wow); lyrical wonders (Buckshot Shorty of Black Moon, Chi Ali, Illegal, Da Youngstas, Shyheim, Ali Vegas) and girl-powered rhymers (Roxanne Shante, MC Trouble). Still, if Diggy is looking for inspiration for teen rap success, he should look no further than the following talents listed below. But there’s only one stipulation: no one over 16 is admitted. That means the prodigious likes of the Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith (17), Nas (18) and Busta Rhymes (19), who all made their perspective debuts before legal drinking age, didn’t make the cut. Let’s go. —Keith Murphy
7. Soulja Boy Tell 'Em
Age of Debut: 16
Youngest In Charge Verse: “Ain't got time for chitchat/I'm tryin’ to get this money/So get up out my face, you shit-breath dummy…” (“Yahhh!” 2007)
Skill Set: No one ever said Soulja Boy was Nasty Nas… or Bow Wow for that matter. But when it comes to one of rap’s most polarizing acts in recent memory (Just play “Turn My Swag On” around a group of friends and watch the knock down, drag-out arguments ensue), the fact that he led rap into the YouTube age in 2006 by becoming one of the first acts to garner label interest through the powerful video site can not be ignored. Most of the kiddie-friendly tracks on his 2007 major label platinum release SouljaBoyTellem.com were crafted by Soulja himself, a rarity for most older MC’s, much less a kid under 17. He stands as the youngest act to go no. 1 on the singles chart as both an artist and a producer. If Diggy has half of his ambition a dude, he’ll be good.
6. Mobb Deep
Age of Debut: Havoc (16) Prodigy (16)
Youngest In Charge Verse (Havoc): “Follow the crowd or be a leader, take your pick/Now I'm smokin buddha philly blunt style/ A frustrated and confused young juvenile/King of the project blues so I choose to take a piece of the action/But my sober state of mind won't let it happen." ("Peer Pressure," 1993)
Youngest In Charge Verse (Prodigy): “The little P is not to be stepped upon/And if you think so kid then you're dead wrong/Little, far from big, yo a type small kid P, I represent the brothers from Queensbridge/To make a long rhyme short I smoke weed sip a forty…yo fuck the court.” (“Me And My Crew,” 1993)
Skill Set: A flop album and a rash of negative reviews would kill the artistic spirit of most kid rappers. But Mobb Deep wasn’t having it. Sure, Juvenile Hell was an uneven introduction for Havoc and Prodigy. But the raw skill and fuck-you attitude was there. If anything Mobb Deep are a model of patience. After splitting with a shady manager and cutting ties with their label 4th & B’Way, the Queensbridge tandem found a home at Loud Records and recorded the influential hardcore East Coast classic The Infamous (1995).
5. Foxy Brown
Age of Debut: 16
Youngest In Charge Verse: “Bitches grab ya ta-ta's, get them niggaz for they cheddar/Fuck it, Gucci sweaters and Armani leathers/Flossin rocks like the size of Fort Knox/Four carats, the ice rocks, pussy bangin’ like Versace locs pops (What the deal?)…" ("I Shot Ya Remix," 1995)
Skill Set: Fox Boogie Brown blew up from total obscurity after stealing the show on LL Cool J’s memorable 1995 posse cut “I Shot Ya Remix.” Surrounded by her older male peers, Foxy was bold, obscene, and totally in control. What did she do for an encore? Foxy Brown lived up to the hype and dropped the Def Jam set Ill Na Na.
4. Lil Wayne
Age of Debut: 15
Youngest In Charge Verse: “I be hotter than a devil/Lil daddy I'm on fire,17-rider, Mac-mac his supplier/Lil’ boy my chopper make mo’ noise than a choir/One of these niggas gone leave here brainless/Some of these niggas ain’t gone even be remaining.” (Hot Boys’ “Block Burner,” 1997)
Skill Set: Much has been written of Wayne’s meteoric evolution as a top-flight lyricist over the years. But when you look back at an adolescent Weezy during his Hot Boys days there was something totally anti-PC (and cool) about the gun-toting, weed smoking pip-squeak. There was a reason why he was the best hook-man in the crew; his made-for-cartoon voice was that damn infectious. But who knew Wayne, who is currently serving a one-year bid in Rikers for firearm possession, would become one of hip hop’s most powerful and influential voices?
3. Special Ed
Age of Debut: 15
“No, I'm not a God, but my word is bond/I got the knowledge, wisdom, understanding…mess with me, I break your hand, stop your heart, take your breath with the diagnose of death/Remove your brain from your skull, make ya dumb, make ya dull/Sew you up and cut your hair, put you in a science fair/Tell ‘em that your name is John/Make you a phenomenon/ Freak of nature, make em hate ya, not a girl will ever date ya.” (“The Bush,” 1989)
Skill Set: Besides his pretty boy looks, there was nothing cute about Special Ed’s nasty rhyme prowess. The assertive West Indian MC seemed wise beyond his years on his 1989 Youngest In Charge debut. Ed’s witty wordplay (what other 15-year-old would boast ridiculous lines like, “Gotta treaty with Tahiti, cuz I own a percent”?). Even fellow Brooklyn lyricist Jay-Z had to give it up to the criminally underrated rapper on his 2009 Big Apple anthem “Empire State of Mind”: “I gotta plug Special Ed, 'I got it made.” Respect.
2. MC Lyte
Age of Debut: 16
Youngest In Charge Verse: “You shoulda won applause as a Rakim sound-alike/Here's a Milkbone, a sign of recognition/Don't turn away, I think you should listen close/Don't boast, you said you wasn't braggin’/You fuckin liar, you're chasing a chuckwagon.” (“10% Diss,” 1988)
Skill Set: Long before Lyte was crowned the greatest female MC of all-time, in 1986 she was an unknown, cocky little girl from Brooklyn with enough balls to crash the older male dominated hip hop club. Back then, points were not given for simply being just good enough for a female rapper. So, MC Lyte made it her business to show and prove. Her sneering rap battle with rival rapper Antoinette has become the proverbial stuff of legend. But it was her landmark introduction Lyte As A Rock (1988) to rap fans on tracks like "Paper Thin" that made it known her skills were no mere child’s play.
1. LL Cool J
Age of Debut: 16
Youngest In Charge Verse: “You bring the wood pecker, I'll bring the wood, the bells are wippin' and rippin' at your body and soul/Why do you like Cool J, we like rock and roll/Cause it ain't the glory days with Bruce Springsteen/I'm not a virgin so I know I'll make Madonna scream/You hated Michael and Prince all the way, ever since/If their beats were made of meat, then they would have to be mince, rock the bells!” (“Rock the Bells,” 1985)
Skill Set: We were all fooled. No way was this Queens, NY B-Boy barely over 15. He rapped harder than rap’s top dogs of that time, Run DMC. He had the grown-man physical attributes that suggested he should be the starting tight-end on a big time college football program. But it was mostly LL Cool J’s intimidating lyrics that proved to be a revelation. With 1985's Radio—the watershed album that literally built Def Jam Records—James Todd Smith made it hard for every young spitter who dreamed of rocking the party to follow. Over two decades later, LL’s longevity is proof that kid rappers can evolve into respected icons of the game.