They say rap is a young man’s game. Brash, loud, rebellious, puerile, it’s never been your grandparent’s music. While the sentiment becomes less true, perhaps, as hip-hop enters middle age and many of the genre’s most exciting acts—from superstars like Kanye West to rising rappers like Danny Brown to resurrected stars like Juicy J—are well over 30, rap culture is intrinsically tied to that new shit.

So looking at the crop of young MCs is crucial when assessing the overall health of hip-hop. As 2Pac said, “Say there ain't no hope for the youth and the truth is, it ain't no hope for the future.” With that in mind, we are happy to report, hip-hop’s future looks bright, even as the genre matures. Rap’s young generation is a diverse crop of artists hailing from all regions and all types of socio-economic backgrounds—making music that’s entertaining and vital.

Even as debates rage about who’s the best MC, rap fans often forget to define their terms. Before you can declare the best rapper of 2013, you might need to expand your definition of what a “rapper” is, as hip-hop extends its tentacles and expands its palate. Blame Kanye, probably, but the new generation is helping hip-hop evolve in ways previously unthinkable, as it continues to mutate the DNA of pop culture as a whole. With the splintering “niche-fication” of everything brought about by the Internet, rap has more room for ever for eccentricity and now boasts—for better or worse—a scattershot consciousness, and partisans tend to write off whatever they don’t like as not being “real.”

That’s why listing the best rappers isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Simply put: This is more an analysis of how well rappers in their 20s are cultivating their talent and fulfilling their potential than it is a ranking of pure skill. It’s a temporary thing, too, as any rapper on this list (well, except for No. 1, of course) could shoot up by dropping the right album, single, or even a dynamite guest verse. And of course, the perch at the top spots is precarious.

An important thing to keep in mind is that there are a number of talented rappers too young to make this list: Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweartshirt, Casey Veggies, and Chief Keef. And there are a number of rappers too old too make this list: Lupe Fiasco, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Curren$y, and many others.

So, without further ado, here are The 20 Best Rappers In Their 20s (Right Now).

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