Top 5 Hip Hop Renaissance Men

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To say that only a select few rappers lead other successful careers on the side is a massive understatement.

Any hip hop artist with a bit of savvy will tell you that getting ahead in the game requires business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit – the kind that turns a great emcee into an international superstar.  This goes to explain the impressive array of rappers who’ve lead double lives as actors, film producers and clothing designers. Ice Cube wouldn’t be Ice Cube without the Friday films, nor for that matter would Jay Z be Jay Z without Rocawear.

It’s a tradition which cuts right to heart of how hip hop has transcended mere music to become a billion dollar industry. In short, its artists have been able to step outside the box, and do other things aside rocking the mic and spinning the decks.

Just last week, Loyle Carner was in the news for his culinary expertise. The up and coming UK rapper – who has a new album out called No – has been busy in the kitchen helping teenagers with ADHD to prepare meals, as part of an initiative called Chilli Con Carner.

Action Bronson essentially did the reverse by leaving behind his job as a gourmet chef in New York to become a rapper, after breaking his leg. That said, it hasn’t stopped him launching the online cooking show, Action In The Kitchen. But transitions such as these are less common in rap. Truth be told, once you’re in show business, it’s very difficult to get out; better to stay in the public eye then not it seems .

Dig a little deeper, however, and you start to find  polymaths among the one trick ponies. Renaissance culture was notorious for its multi talented individuals, adept in all spheres of human endeavour, including sport, art, science, philosophy and music. Well, guess what?  Hip Hop  has its very own too . Counting down from Michelangelo to Botticelli, we give you our top 5 Hip Hop Renaissance Men:

5.) Mos Def (Yasiin Bey)

Mos Def

From hosting Def Poetry Jam, to illustrating the evils of Guantanamo bay in a short film about force feeding in detention camps, Mos Def is one star the game struggles to contain. Not only has he challenged the views of eminent author, orator and critic, the late Christopher Hitchens, but he’s also teamed up with NASA to promote science education to students in Oakland, California. No cause is too big for the Black Star rapper.

4.) 9th Wonder

9th wonder

Believe it or not,  this record producer has also worked as a music professor at several top universities in America. His career side step came in 2007, when, deciding he’d had enough of being behind the decks, he switched to music academia instead. He’s since taught at Harvard, Duke and North Carolina Central.

3.) KRS One


The original grand daddy of hip hop, is the founding father to some of music’s most important developments. These include- The Temple of Hip Hop (acknowledged by the United Nations as a religion, dedicated to the promotion of hip hop culture) and The Stop The Violence Movement (started in 1989 in reaction to the violence present at a Boogie Down Productions concert a year previously). He’s also written various books like The Gospel of Hip Hop: The First Instrument and The Science of Rap.

KRS One is  an abbreviation for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone, which, considered in light of his achievements, tells you everything you need to know about this pillar of wisdom.

2.) Pharrell Williams


How many hip hop artists out there have rocked a vintage Vivienne Westwood hat, opened an art show celebrating female identity, or built an afterschool centre for kids. It’s for these reasons that Pharrell Williams is a renaissance man in the truest sense of the word; a man of such infinite potential that everything he’s touched has turned to gold (or platinum, as the case may be). In 2009, he had the great pleasure of collaborating with Japanese contemporary artist, Takashi Murakami, on a 6ft multi million dollar sculpture.

1.) Akala


During the Brexit debates, Akala spoke out on a “fear of others” which has come to cloud western perceptions of foreign refugees. Elsewhere, he’s delivered talks on the Baltimore Riots, the meaning of the n word, and inherited privilege.  He also hosts a weekly online book series called Akala’s Great Reads, and is the founder of  a music theatre company called The Hip Hop Shakespeare. Hard to believe this guy started out dropping mixtapes for living.  Akala has gone to prove that great rappers also have what it takes to be accomplished spokespeople and cultural historians.

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