The best hip-hop songs of all time combine innovative beats with clever lyrics to create musical compositions for the ages. Since the genre’s rise to prominence in the 1980’s, hip-hop artists have consistently produced songs that have taken their place among the best of all time.
- “Rapper’s Delight” Sugarhill Gang This 1979 song from the album of the same name is widely regarded as the first hip-hop song to find mainstream success. Even after all these years, very few hip-hop songs have been able to match its sheer creativity. With smart and sassy lyrics like “Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn / If your girl starts actin’ up, then you take her friend,” it’s easy to see why.
- “Straight Outta Compton” N.W.A. When gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A. released the album “Straight Outta Compton” in 1988, mainstream America had something new to fear. The album’s title track is a raw, gritty description of street life, told straight from the front lines in South Central Los Angeles.
- “The Message” Grand Master Flash & the Furious Five Bringing artistry and swagger to hip-hop, 1982’s “The Message” album and its title track were major developments in the evolution of rap. Lyrically, it’s one of the most honest hip-hop songs you’ll ever find, featuring lines like “Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge / I’m tryin’ not to lose my head.”
- “Walk This Way” Run DMC featuring Aerosmith In the song that consummated the marriage of hip-hop and rock, this track from the 1986 album “Raising Hell” is as important as it is good. Run DMC’s take on the song is a sign of the changing musical landscape in the 1980s, providing a classic song with a fresh hip-hop perspective.
- “Colors” Ice T As an original pioneer of early rap, Ice T has many tracks that could be considered one of the best hip hop songs of all time. Ice T’s musical contribution to the soundtrack from the 1988 film “Colors” is a poetic take on criminal life. Lyrics like “The gangs of L.A. will never die / Just multiply” show an honest and uncompromising viewpoint in this hip-hop song.
- “Stan” Eminem Hip-hop prodigy Eminem realized his full potential on this song from 2000’s “The Marshall Mathers LP.” With fascinating lyrics told from the point of an obsessed fan, Eminem ratchets up the tension with each subsequent verse. When this hip-hop song climaxes in the twisted tale of a murder-suicide, it becomes a haunting experience not soon forgotten by the listener.
- “Juice (Know The Ledge)” Eric B. & Rakim Originally appearing on the soundtrack to the 1992 film “Juice,” this hip-hop song helped set the tone for the movie. Set to a frantic and intricate rhythm, Rakim’s first person narrative about a day in the life of a street hustler helped make this song one of the decade’s best.
- “Baby Got Back” – Sir Mix-A-Lot As the most unexpected of the best hip-hop songs of all time, this novelty tune’s quality is severely underrated. First appearing on the 1992 album “Mack Daddy,” this song brings a tongue-in-cheek playfulness to hip-hop. Lyrically, Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ode to booty is creative, original and memorable, proving once and for all that there’s room for humor in hip-hop.
- “Paul Revere” Beastie Boys Produced by hip-hop guru Rick Rubin, the 1986 album “Licensed To Ill” is a musical masterpiece. This hip-hop song is the album’s biggest highlight. Lyrics like “We rode for six hours then we hit the spot / The beat was a-bumpin’ and the girlies was hot” are part of a creative and engaging story.
- “Fight The Power” Public Enemy With a cultural impact far outreaching any other hip-hop song, this tune from 1989’s “Do The Right Thing” soundtrack is a musical revolution. Featuring a frantic beat coupled with bold lyrics like “Elvis was a hero to most / But he never meant shit to me,” this hip-hop song is an honest portrait of angry youth.
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