As true fans of the genre, limiting the number of rap songs to 100 gave us many headaches, as we had to choose among the ones that could have made it to the Spotify playlist, more than we initially imagined. We started building it in what seemed to be the fairest and most logical order: chronological order. So, instead of organizing it based on personal tastes or criteria (which might be incomprehensible), we opted for a more explanatory and usual approach that allows us to see the evolution of the culture and music of the best hip-hop through its musical aspect over the years, affecting not only the rap lyrics but also the aesthetics, terminology (flow, breakdown, etc.), and the positions of MCs, DJs, or samples.
Because this playlist covers the best hip-hop songs from the release of Rapper’s Delight in 1979 to the year 2020, going beyond that would be endless, of course. Additionally, starting from here gives us the opportunity to explain that we hardly set limits for our selection. Because even though for a while, The Sugarhill Gang (the supergroup that emerged from Sylvia Robinson’s mind) was seen as an unreal product, created and packaged by a great music producer, today they are accepted for what they were – a tremendous success that helped take rap far beyond the cities of America’s interior.
Although hip-hop culture and rap music originated in New York, between the Bronx and Harlem, based and influenced by funk, disco, and black music in general, the years from Afrika Bambaataa to Timbaland, from DJ Premier to DJ Kool Herc, brought many changes to the genre, often depending on where it was produced (with East Coast gangsta rap being very different from what rap would become in the South, leading to the emergence of trap at a certain moment, for example).
Selection of the Best Hip-Hop Songs
Therefore, just like we did when talking about romantic rap, here, you will find a lot of variety and zero restrictions with the best international hip-hop. There’s even ’90s house music, from the time when people said rap wasn’t real music, but it started to appear in all songs, eventually leading to the rise of pop rap.
Choosing the best rap song of all time is not easy, but making a selection at least allows us to loosen up a bit. Determine the importance based on the decades in which these tracks were released, the subsequent influence of personal styles, the way the lyrics are delivered, etc. So, if you’ve made it this far, it’s probably because you want to explore and listen to what the best hip-hop has offered throughout its history, rather than deciding that one song is worth more than another. After all, that’s determined by our personal taste.
In the following lines, we highlight the best hip-hop songs according to the taste of this blog, but we understand that they may not be the same for you. Think of it more as a recommendation or an opinion without any more weight, and not as an absolute truth. In other words, if a Parental Advisory appears on rap albums, here we are showing a Fan Advisory. Especially because just because you are a fan of The Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, or Dr. Dre, or grew up with the golden age of Eminem, 50 Cent, or Ja Rule, it doesn’t mean you will prefer one hip-hop song over another. Taking into account everything that came before, in-between, and after, this already makes our selection quite complicated.
White Lines (Don’t Do It) by Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel (1983)
The international hip-hop music wouldn’t be understood so well without the presence of Grandmaster Flash, one of the most important rap DJs known for painting the exact points on vinyl records he played to scratch them with a wax pencil. However, behind White Lines (Don’t Do It) is Melle Mel, and once again, the producer Sylvia Robinson, who was also behind the success of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in The Message.
Apparently, shortly after this release, Grandmaster Flash was expelled from the mentioned group for not being an active part of it, filing a lawsuit against Melle Mel for the rights to some of his songs. This eventually led to the end of Robinson’s record label, which was both bad and good.
Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. (1988)
Straight Outta Compton is not only the debut album of the hip-hop group N.W.A, led by Eazy-E and formed by Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren, but also the single that best represented street rap in the late ’80s. Specifically, the violence on the streets of Compton. So much so that N.W.A referred to themselves as “the world’s most dangerous group.”
N.W.A’s success caused a shift in the genre, known until then, towards hardcore, specifically to what was called gangsta rap. From this group, we know the success of various members in their solo careers, but it not only boosted their fame, but it also led to other successful careers, like a domino effect that changed rap, R&B, and pop music, influencing the entire popular culture.
C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) by Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
Thus, we move from rap song lyrics that spoke about dancing, the cultural movement, partying, and open sex (from Kurtis Blow’s The Breaks to Fresh Is The Word, not forgetting Salt-N-Pepa’s Push It or 2 Live Crew’s We Want Some Pussy), to equally explicit lyrics about police violence, drug dealing and consumption, and street gang wars. The ones showcasing Wu-Tang Clan with their boom bap and street rappers like RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Killa.
The song was produced by the de facto leader of the group, RZA, and contains a sample from The Charmels’ 1967 song As Long As I’ve Got You. It features verses from members Raekwon and Inspectah Deck, who talk about their upbringing while living in New York, and Method Man, who sings the chorus that defines what C.R.E.A.M. means.
Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio & L.V. (1995)
Remembered in many countries for its appearance on the soundtrack of the film Dangerous Minds, the song has stood the test of time as one of the most famous rap songs in the world.
Rapper Coolio and singer L.V. co-wrote the lyrics with producer Doug Rasheed, based on Stevie Wonder’s song Pastime Paradise from the album Songs In The Key Of Life.
Trivia: It turns out that, due to the use of Stevie Wonder’s sample, Gangsta’s Paradise is one of Coolio’s few songs that do not contain curse words or derogatory language, as Wonder did not approve of his music being combined with profanity.
Ambitionz Az A Ridah by 2Pac & Snoop Dogg (1996)
In October 1995, Suge Knight and Jimmy Iovine paid the required $1.4 million bail to get 2Pac Shakur out of prison on sexual assault charges. At the time, Shakur was broke and thus unable to pay the bail himself. All Eyez On Me was the album released as part of the deal between Knight and Shakur, which stated that the latter would make three albums under Death Row Records in exchange for bail. Serving as part of Shakur’s new contract, this double album was the first two albums of his three-album deal.
In this list, we could have used many of the titles included on the album, which highlights themes about police, women, the so-called thug life, and friendship between gangsters like Snoop Dogg. A hip-hop classic that came after Me Against The World, the album for which he was considered a public enemy by society for inciting hatred against the police and other sectors of society. With his prior career (and the fact that his mother Afeni was a significant figure in the Black Panthers), he was already seen as an important voice in the fight for civil rights of black citizens in the United States, but here he also joined the war he had against East Coast rappers.
Hypnotize by The Notorious B.I.G. & Pamela Lang (1997)
If we think of the best international hip-hop that skillfully blends rap with R&B, Hypnotize is one of the first things that comes to our minds. In it, The Notorious B.I.G. (produced by his friend P. Diddy, then known as Puff Daddy) was always a double. He could maintain the hardcore tone that triumphed in the United States and around the world with his flow, despite having smooth and almost danceable choruses closer to R&B in his songs.
(Madrid, 1987) Novelist by vocation, SEO specialist by profession. Music lover, cinephile and reading lover, but in “amateur” mode.