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Intro[]

Here I present what I consider to be the greatest hip-hop songs ever made, from the perspective of a young white conservative from Long Island. I base the order of this list on influence, staying power, legacy, and most importantly technical merit. For the sake of my own sanity (narrowing the list down to 110 songs was difficult enough) I tightened the definition of "hip-hop" to a more stringent rendering.

This list will NOT include:

-Purely instrumental songs (sorry DJ Shadow, RJD2 fans)

-Cross-genres or songs where rapping becomes secondary to singing (sorry Rage Against the Machine, Gorillaz fans)

-Mash-ups/remixes (sorry Girl Talk, DJ Danger Mouse fans)

So, without further ado I count down the greatest songs in hip-hop.

Honorable Mentions[]

#110: Verbal Intercourse

Artist: Raekwon (Featuring Nas & Ghostface Killah)

Producer: RZA

Album: Only Built 4 Cuban Lynx...

Year: 1995

Song

Lyrics

The honorable mentions begin with a track that should establish my taste in hip-hop for all those who bother to read this: smooth flows, complex rhyme schemes, and subtly catchy beats that make up for the lack of a hook of any kind. Raekwon's Cuban Linx exploded onto the music scene in '95, and further solidified the Wu's dominance of the mid-90's hardcore rap genre. Verbal Intercourse is the most polished track on the LP, featuring Raekwon and Ghostface Killah with their classic complementary NY drawls, as well as fellow NY MC Nas in one of his most inspired verses to date. The beat is simple but apt; the repeating orgasmic moans accompany the track's title and give you the feeling that you have just been... had... lyrically. This is quintessential Wu-Tang and Nas at his finest, foreshadowing both artist's future appearances on this list.


#109: Soul Flower (Remix)

Artist: The Pharcyde

Producer: J-Swift

Album: Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde

Year: 1992

Song

Lyrics

The first comment under the youtube link above states: "sounded like they had fun doin this track..." I couldn't agree more, and therein lies the charm of the Pharcyde. In the age of G-Funk and LA "Gangsta Rap," we have a group of kids creating an album whose cover is a rollercoaster ride into a giant vagina. Refreshing? You bet. Soul Flower remains as one of the most enjoyable rap songs ever made: an uplifting beat and a couple of friends joking about herpes and getting shot in the butt. Soul Flower shows the diversity of the genre; while many associated early 90's west coast rap music with lyrics such as "you got teeth in yo mouth so my ****'s gots to fit... with my nuts on your tonsils," The Pharcyde spit silly, almost nostalgic lines like "Souped on the beat like a bowl of chicken noodle." It warms the soul.


#108: Deception

Artist: Blackalicious

Producer: Chief Xcel

Album: Nia

Year: 1999

Song

Lyrics

Here we have a Board 8 cult love, Blackalicious, with my personal favorite song from their debut album Nia. "Deception" is a song that repeats some of the motifs that have been around since hip-hop's commercial rise in the 80's: an admonition against losing one's morals and humility through financial success. What is great about this song, and Blackalicious in general, is that unlike many of their contemporaries (see: Kanye West, The Game, etc) they actually heed the advice of their lyrics. Never "selling out" despite opportunities to really break through with some mainstream success, the duo is still relatively underground. While "Deception" isn't that original in its theme and composition, it represents a spirit of meekness in the rap world, something completely countered by the next song on my list (hint, hint).


#107: We Takin' Over

Artist: DJ Khaled (Featuring Akon, T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman & Lil Wayne)

Producer: DJ Khaled

Album: We the Best

Year: 2007

Song

Lyrics

You know, when I originally had the idea to make this list, I wanted to create an epic joke topic by making every song on the list one that features Lil Wayne. However, Lil Wayne isn't worth my time, and I sadly think some people might take me seriously. That being said, "We Takin' Over" is the only song on this list by T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman or Lil Wayne, despite their eponymous "taking over" of mainstream hip-hop in these past few years. DJ Khaled creates an epic beat that is so good that it makes BIRDMAN of all people sound half-decent. Lyrically, Fat Joe and T.I. (who succeeds in naming about 35 states in the span of 20 seconds) absolutely kill it on this track, and even Lil Wayne sounds great as the closer (despite such brain-dead lines like "I got more jewels than a jeweler"). I seem to be criticizing this song even though I include it in the honorable mentions, but don't take it the wrong way. It is a pop song, and a tremendous one at that. While it may not be as clever as Verbal Intercourse or as unique as Soul Flower, DJ Khaled succeeds in gathering some of the premiere faces in hip-hop and coalescing them into a fluid hit single that became the staple of frat dance parties for about a year.


#106: The Way You Do It

Artist: Little Brother

Producer: 9th Wonder

Album: The Listening

Year: 2003

Song

Lyrics

Little Brother formed in Raleigh, NC in the wake of the popularity boom of such underground sensations like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, whom Phonte, Big Pooh, and 9th Wonder saw as their "older brothers," hence the group name. We see this underground influence in "The Way You Do It" with repetitions of Q-Tip's "inhaaaale" from "Sucka [African American]." This song combines the soulful samplings of 9th Wonder (an absolute genius who one day may well be the next decade's dominant producer) with the laid-back lyrics of Pooh and Phonte, giving a shoutout to their loyal fans who stood by the group as they struggled for commercial success. Also, be sure to listen to the end of the song (4:00 in) to hear the talent of 9th Wonder. It's a shame Little Brother will never attain the legacy of their older siblings De La or Tribe after 9th Wonder left the group a few years back, because they truly add credibility to the South, which is too often viewed as creating nothing but club banging crunk music sans Outkast. Look for this group to appear again on the list, since their album The Minstrel Show churned out several more instant classics.


#105: Groundhog Day

Artist: ¡Mayday! (Featuring Cee-Lo)

Producer: ¡Mayday! & DJ Craze

Album: ¡Mayday!

Year: 2006

Song

Lyrics

I love rap songs that explore different elements of life that aren't stereotypical to the urban black community, and "Groundhog Day" is certainly one of them. Featuring references to TPS reports, the Miami-based rap ensemble describes the monotony of day-to-day life as an office worker, and the desire to escape it. A rare but not entirely original theme (Kanye West made a career out of this type of music, as did Will Smith, arguably), "Groundhog Day" still captures the mood of monotony perhaps better than any song of its type. Cee-Lo's catchy and repetitive hook further encapsulates the song's theme, and if you're like me, leaves the chorus stuck in your head throughout the day. Fun, fun song, and I look forward to seeing what this group can make of themselves.


#104: Killuminati

Artist: 2Pac & Outlawz

Producer: Tony Pizarro

Album: Still I Rise

Year: 1999

Song

Lyrics

2Pac's first entry on this list appears on his post mortem album Still I Rise, his recordings with his buddies the "Outlawz." Unlike most of the hundreds of Pac's unreleased tracks, "Killuminati" actually is of the quality most of us would have expected from him if he were still alive. Showcasing some of his quickest and sharply-enunciated verses over a funky bassline, 2Pac mixes his bombast with his strange late-life fascination with the occult. This track is easily one of his catchiest songs out of the absurd number that he recorded in his short life. Pac, often considered to be the greatest MC of all time, will appear again on my list, with some surprising results.


#103: Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)...

Artist: Jay-Z

Producer: The Hitmen

Album: American Gangster

Year: 2007

Song

Lyrics

It's a shame that there aren't more concept albums in the hip-hip industry; no other genre seems to be designed as aptly for creating a "hip-hopera" of sorts. That is what Jay-Z did with American Gangster, an album he decided to create after he learned of the film of the same name. Rolling Stone quickly named "Roc Boys" the best song of 2007, a decision with which I only slightly disagree. P Diddy and his "Hitmen" craft a jazzy beat perfectly befitting the "rags to riches" theme of Jay's album, and Jigga himself is as smooth as ever. Despite retiring from rap (several times), Jay-Z continually returns and proves to be a force to be reckoned with, without much effort (supposedly, he wrote all the tracks for his lengthy concept album in two weeks). "Roc Boys" is an instant classic, and I hope Jay can keep coming back to write hits like this for years to come.


#102: Chaiyya Chaiyya Bollywood Joint

Artist: Punjabi MC (Featuring Sukhwinder Singh & Sapna Awasthi)

Producer: Punjabi MC

Album: Inside Man Soundtrack

Year: 2006

Song

In high school, I worked at a movie theater from 2002-2006. When Inside Man was released, I used to purposely dump out buckets of popcorn onto the floor and throw sodas across the theater after people left. Why did I do this? Because the ending credit song was the "Chaiyya Chaiyya" rap remix, and I had the pleasure of listening to it on huge speakers. Punjabi MC is perhaps the only famous Indian musician in hip-hop, and he certainly adds a unique sound to the genre. From the great singing from the original sample of "Chaiyya Chaiyya" to the new English verses to the perfectly-timed crescendo to the subtle use of turntable scratching, Punjabi MC's remix is demonstrative the multiculturalism that can permeate and add to the American genre, making it one of the smoothest and most original songs in hip-hop.


#101: Children's Story

Artist: Slick Rick

Producer: Slick Rick

Album: The Great Adventures of Slick Rick

Year: 1988

Song

Lyrics

The last of the honorable mentions is an almost universally-recognized classic by the British-American rapper Slick Rick. The song features what Slick Rick did best, a straightforward narrative in an easily understandable format. The song is a warning to the children about the dangers of making quick cash in the hood, a trite theme now but fairly original in Rick's day. What remains unique even now, however, is Rick's uncanny ability to switch up his flow, going from slow-rapping to quick rhyming to near-singing seamlessly. "Children's Story" has aged in the twenty years since it was first released, mostly because of the archaic beat, but it still persists lyrically to this day.

100-91[]

100. On My Block

Artist: Scarface

Producer: Nashiem Myrick

Album: The Fix

Year: 2002

Song

Lyrics

It is a testament to a song's universality for a nostalgic look at growing up in the ghetto of Houston Texas to remind me of my own block on the North Shore of Long Island. Although I didn't smoke weed with my black friends and get harassed by the police, the lovely keys and the emotional loyalty to one's old friends in "On My Block" always makes me long for those simple summer days in the neighborhood. The top 100 begins with Scarface, the undisputed "king of the South" whom many consider to be the southern version of 2Pac and Biggie. Scarface is my kind of rapper, he has a deep respect for music but remains modest to his achievements. For example, after T.I. became the only person ever to overtake his own number 1 song, he personally called Scarface and asked his permission to call himself the new "king of the South," to which Scarface allegedly responded "Sure... I don't care what you youngsters want to do with yourselves." ****ing coolest man ever. Unfortunately, Scarface never seems to get the mainstream praise he deserves, and with dozens of other songs like "On My Block," it is a wonder why he doesn't.


99. O.P.P.

Artist: Naughty by Nature

Producer: DJ Kay Gee

Album: Naughty by Nature

Year: 1991

Song

Lyrics

In one of the most infectious samples of all time (from the Jackson Five's "ABC"), Naughty by Nature humorously explores the realm of cheating on a significant other. Perhaps one of the biggest rap hits of the early 1990's, "O.P.P." is still very listenable today, not aging a bit in delivery or composition. The song is extremely catchy, and the verses and refrain very recognizable; throw this song on real loud at a drunken party and you're guaranteed to have some people screaming out "YEAH YOU KNOW ME" (unless you happen to hang out with really lame or really white people). Treach demonstrates his ability as an MC in the final verse of the song, utilizing a smooth flow that allows him to spit out a few words/second without stumbling or becoming at all incoherent. Given the subject matter and the catchiness of the beat/chorus, I don't see this song fading as a classic anytime soon.


98. Jurass Finish First

Artist: Jurassic 5

Producer: DJ Nu-Mark & Cut Chemist

Album: Quality Control

Year: 2000

Song

Lyrics

"Jurass Finish First" is vintage J5, featuring their two most talented MCs working in harmony with eachother, delivering a masterful sound unique to the group. Like most older Jurassic 5 songs, this track features a ostensibly simple and repetitive beat serving as the background to the fast flows of rappers that seem to belong to the era of barbershop quartets rather than hip-hop. The songs gets better with each listen, since each time I hear it I pick up on the raw talent that it must take to rap so quickly but with such coherence (not to mention some cool one-liners like "J5 make you feel a little gaseous at first / (Martin Lawrence) And yes I make you ask 'Is that Lurch?'"). If there are any people reading this topic who are not really into rap, I suggest giving this song a try before the likes of someone like Scarface; "Jurass Finish First" is very accessible and after listening it is impossible to deny the talent that went into its creation.


97. Honest Expression

Artist: Binary Star

Producer: OneManArmy

Album: Masters of the Universe

Year: 2000

Song

Lyrics

Binary Star is hands down the most under-appreciated musicians in rap, no exceptions. Their critically-acclaimed album Masters of the Universe sold a meagre 20,000 copies after its release, and the group split following this commercial failure. Fortunately, YouTube exists, and people (like myself) are finally experiencing their brilliance 8 years later. "Honest Expression" features the duo expressing their thoughts on the hip-hop industry backed by a beautiful and unostentatious beat. I hope that this revival of interest in Binary Star encourages the group to come together again and cut another LP. If "Honest Expression" is indicative of anything, it is the massive potential of the duo to create something original and amazing.


96. Stagnant Waters

Artist: Dälek

Producer: The Oktopus

Album: Abandoned Language

Year: 2007

Song

Lyrics

I first came across Dälek in Giggs's album topic a few weeks back and instantly became attracted to the originality of the sound. The Oktopus experiments with ambience in his production like no one else I've ever heard in hip-hop. The beat to "Stagnant Waters" sounds like a mix between J-Dilla or 9th Wonder drums mixed with Radiohead's feedback-driven "Treefingers" from Kid A. If that description confused you, then good. That's how different Dälek is. "Stagnant Waters" is the best track I've heard from the group. The rising synth-beat creates a bizarre atmosphere, and MC Dälek's vocals, though far from perfect or even "great," exhibit a befitting raw emotion. I would not be surprised if this group eventually explodes as the leaders of the new hip-hop underground movement, because their originality and passion is too hard to ignore.


95. As the Rhyme Goes On

Artist: Eric B. & Rakim

Producer: Eric B.

Album: Paid in Full

Year: 1987

Song

Lyrics

Rakim proves in "As the Rhyme Goes On" (an throughout the whole of Paid in Full) that a talented MC can carry a song despite the lack of a substantive beat backing him. With no hook, no chorus, and almost no pause, Rakim flawlessly lays down one of the smoothest verses ever in hip-hop. For those who don't know much about Rakim, he is accredited (by Nas, Eminem, 50 Cent, and others) as being the paragon for a hip-hop MC. His rhymes are perfect, delivery is completely smooth, and his internal rhyming is the sole reason for rapping to increase dramatically in technicality in the late 80's. While many consider Rakim to be the greatest rapper of all time and Paid in Full to be the best album in hip-hop, I do not list "As the Rhyme Goes On" in the upper eschalon of hip-hop songs. Why? Simply because Eric B.'s production is archaic. However, this arcane beat is fitting to Rakim's legacy; he showcases his talent through perfection in his art of lyricism, not showy production and edgy content.


94. Through the Wire

Artist: Kanye West

Producer: Kanye West

Album: The College Dropout

Year: 2004

Song

Lyrics

*Prepares Kanye West flame shield*

"Through the Wire" was written and recorded by Kanye West after he had a near-fatal car accident that left his jaw wired shut. Instead of giving up on his rap career and focusing solely on production, Kanye used his accident as inspiration for his debut album The College Dropout. Ignoring all of Kanye's outbursts and egomania issues, if you listen to "Through the Wire" without any kind of bias, it is difficult to not feel some sense of motivation that strikes us universally, not just those who aspire to be rappers. It was this universal appeal that made Kanye's first album such a hit; allegorically "Through the Wire" represents any struggle to triumph over adversity. We not only hear the rapper's message but we feel its reality too, for Kanye recorded the entire song without being able to open and close his mouth. Mad props.


93. All Eyez on Me

Artist: 2Pac (Featuring Big Syke)

Producer: Johnny "J"

Album: All Eyez on Me

Year: 1996

Song

Lyrics

While 2Pac was serving jailtime before signing with Death Row in 1995, he was a complete beast, writing hundreds of songs in the span of a few months (and these were actually good unlike Lil Wayne's technique). The best of these songs made it onto his hugely-popular double LP All Eyez on Me after he was released from prison. What followed was Pac's rise to becoming the dominant MC of the 90's, and who many consider to be the greatest rapper who ever lived. The title track to the album features an atmospheric beat of a pounding bass, reminding me of scenes of a smoggy late LA night. 2Pac combines his "thug life" bravado with an introspective look into a growing paranoia associated with his fame. "All Eyez on Me" is one of Pac's more laid-back tracks, as he effortlessly rolls out quick lyrics, and switches his flow to produce a great refrain. Syke adds a nice baritone verse as well to round out this foreboding song.


92. Rebel Without a Pause

Artist: Public Enemy

Producer: The Bomb Squad

Album: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Year: 1988

Song

Lyrics

Ah, how times have changed. In 1988, Public Enemy was the hardest thing in hip-hop, terrifying white people all over the country. By today's standards, their lyrics are hardly anything controversial, and Flavor Flav has become... well, you know. But in 1988, Public Enemy was the voice of the militant black youth, the inheritors of the Black Panther movement. "Rebel Without a Pause" exemplifies this hard and political sound, both in Chuck D's charged lyrics and the crashing beat. Chuck D showcases his talent as an MC and songwriter; although his structure is nothing fantastic from a technical perspective, he constructs almost Langston Hughes-like poetics, using the caesura very liberally to give his songs an added effect. This effect represents Public Enemy's recognizable style, for Chuck D begins to sound more like a hard rock singer than a rapper-- certainly a good thing for politically radical songs about black power.


91. Superstar

Artist: Lupe Fiasco (Featuring Matthew Santos)

Producer: Soundtrakk

Album: Lupe Fiasco's The Cool

Year: 2007

Song

Lyrics

Lupe Fiasco has emerged as one of the most promising and talented young artists in any genre this decade. "Superstar" is perhaps his defining song, showcasing both his lyrical ability and the thematic humility in his music. Some call the latter condescending, to which I sometimes agree (see: "Dumb It Down"), but "Superstar" deserves no such complaint. Particularly in his last verse, Lupe raps about his desire for the simplicity in life, and we get the feeling that he earnestly cares about making his loyal fans happy ("everybody gets an autographed picture"). Also, take note of Lupe's dynamic flow changes throughout the song, an ability that he is slowly perfecting unlike any other rapper around today. To back up Lupe Fiasco's near-perfect rhythm is Matthew Santos, an indie folk singer who adds the wonderful hook to round out the song.

90-81[]

90. Positive Contact

Artist: Deltron 3030

Producer: Dan the Automator

Album: Deltron 303

Year: 2000

Song

Lyrics

Imagine a concept album about a man in the dystopian year 3030 who travels the universe battling evil overlords through the power of music. Doesn't sound like it would be a hip-hop album, but Del tha Funkee Homosapien isn't exactly your average MC. In fact, I consider Del to be the most technically gifted rapper in all of hip-hop, in terms of flow and ability to rhyme (the dude rhymes "pterodactyl" in one song). "Positive Contact" is the most upbeat, dancey song on the supergroup's album. It features a catchy and pulsating beat by Dan the Automator, who samples De La Soul's "Stakes Is High" in the hook. If you do not believe me that Del is a technically superb MC, "Positive Contact" will indeed change your mind. Good God, I'm listening to it now as I write... and Del's flow is just too inconceivable to describe right now. Listen to the last first in the link provided ("And in all this confusion, the fusion of music and mind precipitates translucent illusions / Search the ruins with Automator / Hit the walls with a carbonator"), and remember that this isn't even his best work!


89. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)

Artist: Jay-Z

Producer: DJ Mark the 45 King

Album: Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life

Year: 1999

Song

Lyrics

The 1990's was both a successful and tragic decade for hip-hop. After the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie, the 90's seemed to end on a somber note; however, the final hit of the last year of the decade was Jay-Z's Annie-inspired "Hard Knock Life." The self-proclaimed "Ghetto Anthem" concluded a decade of change and violence in the rap realm on a high point with a tale of rising out of the slums to become successful. On paper, the beat of the song sounds ludicrous-- sampling a Broadway musical starring a little ginger kid. The 45 King pulls if off though, and Jay's verses never seem forced, sacrificing his characteristic fluidity to spit a clear message. "Hard Knock Life" will go down in history as one of the defining songs in hip-hop, and rightfully so.


88. Me & Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night

Artist: The Coup

Producer: Boots Riley

Album: Steal This Album

Year: 1998

Song

Lyrics

Damn you Giggs for making me seem capricious. I originally did not include this song on my list because I was never exposed to the song, let alone the Coup. After listening to it, I couldn't help but reorder some of the songs to include "Me & Jesus." (After thinking for some time I decided to nix Snoop's "Who Am I," which was the right move since that song in reality is not top 1[1]0 material). Anyway, wow. The song contains an amazingly soulful beat, heartbreaking narrative, delivered with uncompromised realism. I also should mention the fabulous rhyming ability of Boots Riley as an MC, probably the only rapper to ever use the word "prosthesis." While it's not the "greatest song in hip-hop" as some Scotsmen might lead you to believe, "Me & Jesus" certainly belongs with the great classics of the genre.


87. Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta

Artist: Geto Boys

Producer: Geto Boys

Album: Uncut Dope: Geto Boys' Best

Year: 1990

Song

Lyrics

Now synonymous with Office Space, "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta" was first a classic of southern hip-hop from the legendary Geto Boys (fronted by Scarface). Each MC's verse perfectly befits the theme of the song. It almost seems as if each rapper is laying down their verses reclining in a chair, smoking a Cuban cigar while getting a BJ. That's how mellow and cool each of the Geto Boys sound, and you get the impression that they aren't all talk. And they aren't-- member Bushwick Bill (a midget) once was fighting with his girlfriend, challenging her to shoot him with his pistol. When she refused, he shot himself in the eye and lived. The picture of him leaving the hospital after this incident became the cover of their 4th album.


86. 3030

Artist: Deltron 3030

Producer: Dan the Automator

Album: Deltron 3030

Year: 2000

Song

Lyrics

The introductory song to Deltron 3030's self-titled album sets the tone for the rest of the tracks, displaying both Dan The Automator's unique production style and Del's unmistakable flow. "3030's" beat virtually invents a new sub-genre in itself, what many refer to as "space rap." Lasting over seven minutes, the song is almost operatic; Del structures his three verses to crescendo at the same point each time, a remarkable feat. He opens the concept narrative by rapping about the future oppressive society in which his character "Deltron Zero" lives, and establishes the theme as music used as a tool for liberation. This song and album seems to be popular with non-hiphop fans, so if anyone is perusing this topic who doesn't really like rap music, definitely give "3030" a listen.


85. Me Myself and I

Artist: De La Soul

Producer: Prince Paul

Album: 3 Feet High and Rising

Year: 1989

Song

Lyrics

"Me Myself and I" almost single-handedly brought alternative hip-hop above ground in the late 80's. Its influence aside, this De La Soul classic is a truly remarkable song in its own right. The production and scratching work are still pleasing to the ear by today's standards, a rarity for 80's hip-hop in my opinion. All three members of the group rap solid verses in a flow that is easy to remember and understand the lyrics. While "Me Myself and I" and 3 Feet High and Rising is perhaps overshadowed by some of De La's later hits, the song and album remain legendary in the history of hip-hop.


84. Hostile Gospel Pt. 1 (Deliver Us)

Artist: Talib Kweli

Producer: Just Blaze

Album: Eardrum

Year: 2007

Song

Lyrics

In "Hostile Gospel," one of the decade's greatest rising producers, Just Blaze, collaborates with one of the decade's greatest rising lyricists, Talib Kweli. The result is no surprise; Just Blaze creates one of the most complex and soulful beats ever composed while Talib murders it in one of his greatest lyrical works. Kweli segues from the current state of hip-hop ("I Call These Rappers Baby Seals, Cause They Club You To Death") to a reflection on the culture this state of hip-hop has created ("To Black Kids Wishin They White Kids, When They Close They Eyelids / Like, 'I Bet They Neighborhood Ain't Like This' / White Kids Wishin They Black Kids, And Wanna Talk Like Rappers / It's All Backwards, It's Identity Crisis"). Never stuttering or missing a beat, Talib mitigates his oft-criticized lack of clarity in delivery by articulating flawless verses and a beautiful hook. Again, Just Blaze also proves that he is amongst the elite producers out right now, utilizing both live instruments as well as samples to compose a timeless beat as intricate as they come.


83. Regrets

Artist: Jay-Z

Producer: Peter Panic

Album: Reasonable Doubt

Year: 1996

Song

Lyrics

The first song to make the list from Reasonable Doubt is early Jay-Z at his finest. The closing track from Jay's debut album is the most personal and introspective one on the entire album, with a melancholy and reflective beat to back it. With a refrain that consists of:

This is the number one rule for your set
In order to survive, gotta learn to live with regrets
On the, rise to the top, many drop, don't forget
In order to survive, gotta learn to live with regrets

Jay-Z creates a larger message that is more relatable for most than the mafioso character featured throughout most of the album. By the end of "Regrets" the first time I had listened to Reasonable Doubt in full, my jaw was agape as the final keyboard note faded away. With such a slick, fresh, and often hyperbolically cool atmosphere throughout the album, Jay concludes with "Regrets" and reminds the listener that he is actually human, not just a character. A perfect close to a near-perfect hip-hop masterpiece.


82. At the Helm

Artist: Hieroglyphics

Producer: Domino

Album: 3rd Eye Vision

Year: 1998

Song

Lyrics

As I said before, Del is the most technically gifted MC of all time. "At the Helm" showcases his tremendous skills, fluidly traveling from one verse to the refrain to the next verse without pause. Some might think that is just clever mixing, but I've heard some of Del's stuff recorded live, and the dude really doesn't take breaths in between verses like that. Del takes a trite subject in hip-hop and turns it into one of the most coherent and blunt songs in the genre. Domino's beat fits accordingly-- Del seems to have something he needs to get off his chest, so the beat is merely to get him amped up, not to overtake the lyrics. Again, if you are new to hip-hop I suggest you listen to this song above all else, since it is a far cry from the more mainstream stuff you might be used to.


81. Da Mystery of Chessboxin'

Artist: Wu-Tang Clan

Producer: RZA (with ODB and 4th Disciple)

Album: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Year: 1993

Song

Lyrics

From the second-best rap album ever, "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" is perfectly representative of everything that is Wu-Tang. Each of the rappers on the track deliver one of their best verses, especially Ol' Dirty Bastard and Masta Killa (his only verse on the album). Meanwhile, RZA delivers a hard beat with Eastern influences and Method Man provides the raw and catchy hook. The best verse on the track has to go to Masta Killa, who according to legend only got on the album because Killah Priest napped through his recording session. Although it impresses the first few listens I have lately come to appreciate more the verses from Inspectah Deck and ODB, both of whom are perhaps the most consistent performers on the flawless 36 Chambers. Expect more from this album and Wu-Tang in general throughout this list.

80-71[]

80. None Shall Pass

Artist: Aesop Rock

Producer: Blockhead

Album: None Shall Pass

Year: 2007

Song

Lyrics

I admittedly am not a big fan of Aesop Rock, although he seems to have a tremendous following on the Internets. However, "None Shall Pass" absolutely blew me away, and was easily one of the top few rap songs of 2007. The beat is exactly what you'd expect from an Aesop Rock song-- different, and what a mood it sets. Aesop constructs the song relying just as heavily on alliteration as he does rhyme, and the effect this has is a sort of stream-of-consciousness type flow. To back it up, the music video is really cool too >_>.


79. God Lives Through

Artist: A Tribe Called Quest

Producer: Q-Tip & Ali Shaheed Muhammad

Album: Midnight Marauders

Year: 1993

Song

Lyrics

"God Lives Through" is the closing track to A Tribe Called Quest's finest album, Midnight Marauders. Featuring a trademark jazzy but trippy beat, the closing track is almost like one long shoutout; but instead of just mentioning their friends, Tribe concludes their overarching theme of "oneness" by shouting out the names of locations across the country. This theme is also featured in Phife's first verse, where he states that since their "sounds are universal," they really represent all people across the nation. Speaking of Phife's first verse, he delivers what is perhaps one of the best set-ups for a rapper in any song ever, when he kills it and then states, "Yo, tip dont worry dunn you know I get the party jumpin / Get on the mic and break em off a lil lil sumthin." Q-Tip almost manages to match Phife with his verse, but even though he falls a little short, he still rounds out an amazing song.


78. Ms. Jackson

Artist: Outkast

Producer: Earthtone III

Album: Stankonia

Year: 2000

Song

Lyrics

Although Outkast had already developed a wide and respected discography, they did not really experience much commercial success until the release of their crossover album Stankonia, thanks in large part to "Ms. Jackson." The opening drop of the beat is one of the most recognizable in all of hip-hop, and the piano melody that follows is just as memorable. The song is "dedicated to all the baby's mamas, mamas' mamas, baby mama's mamas" by Andre 3000, immediately establishing that the song's subject will be one seldom touched upon in hip-hop. Both Andre and Big Boi drop heartfelt verses about their personal problems with the mothers of their children (and those women's mothers too), and Andre supplies the chorus with his classic southern singing. Like Wu-Tang and Tribe, there will be several more entries on this list from the greatest southern rap duo around. Can you guess the other songs??


77. Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)

Artist: Jay-Z

Producer: Kanye West

Album: The Blueprint

Year: 2001

Song

Lyrics

"Heart of the City" features one of my all-time favorite Kanye West beats that really gives this song an extra passion that you can sense in Jay-Z's voice. From The Blueprint (an album basically built by rising producers Kanye West and Just Blaze), "Heart of the City" is an honest harangue against all of Jigga's "haters" for his success. He begins each verse with the downfall of icons in black culture (the Fat Boys, Fugees, Richard Pryor, Ike and Tina, etc), setting up a contrast between him and them. Somehow these verses really do become overshadowed by Kanye's brilliant beat, and I think Jay-Z realized this too, which is why the last 30 seconds or so of the song is all Kanye ("taking them to church"). Fantastic song from a fantastic album.


76. All Caps

Artist: Madvillain

Producer: Madlib

Album: Madvillainy

Year: 2004

Song

Lyrics

Number 76 is perhaps the most known track off of one of the most original rap albums ever made, Madvillainy. Madlib delivers a fantastic beat in the vein of the late, great J-Dilla, except the 1960's Saturday Morning Cartoon samples that he cuts up give him a most unique sound that fits perfectly with MF DOOM's zany rap style. Like many cult underground rappers, DOOM doesn't rely on any hook or chorus, so instead he focuses on clear lyricism and smooth-flowing vocals. Individually, "All Caps" can hold its own with the best songs in hip-hop, but when you listen to it as part of an album its brilliance is displayed even further. DOOM continues his laid-back style to further expand on the "supervillain" theme of the album, a theme that reaches its apex on this track.


75. My Name Is

Artist: Eminem

Producer: Dr. Dre

Album: The Slim Shady LP

Year: 1999

Song

Lyrics

The bottom quarter of the list ends with a song anyone who grew up in the 90's has probably heard, Eminem's iconic hit "My Name Is." Featuring stellarly subtle production from Dr. Dre (who almost entirely samples from this superior song: Labi Siffre - I Got The), "My Name Is" is perhaps one of the catchiest, neck-bobbingyest (yeah) songs ever recorded. It also established Eminem's pop career, where everyone soon expected him to churn out catchy hits that mock certain aspects of contemporary pop culture. "My Name Is" was his best and most successful go at that pop route. While this song does not fully show off Eminem's rap talent, he is in fact so talented that even one of his lesser technically sound songs can crack the top 75. I don't care how overplayed "My Name Is" has become, it still remains one of the best songs in any genre from the late 90's.


74. Forever Begins

Artist: Common

Producer: Kanye West

Album: Finding Forever

Year: 2007

Song

Lyrics

A rap song about the nature of life and eternity can perhaps only be broached by Common, hip-hop's wisest MC. Featuring an absolutely beautiful beat by Kanye West (sampling the whitest person who's ever lived, Paul Simon), "Forever Begins" is an emotionally-charged effort by Common to close out his fantastic Finding Forever. I still get chills from the song, especially the close of Common's final verse (the line about Dilla) that really sums up the theme of the album. The monologue from Common's wise old father perfectly caps off the song and the album, just as he did with Be several years before. I particularly love this song for the spiritual component-- the optimism behind the belief in an eternity and a heaven through all the tragedies of the present, but without an overtly religious subtext, absolutely warms my heart. If Common gave one more longer verse on this song in addition to the all-too short ones I would probably put "Forever Begins" in my top ten.


73. Just a Friend

Artist: Biz Markie

Producer: Biz Markie & Cool V

Album: The Biz Never Sleeps

Year: 1989

Song

Lyrics

Biz Markie: the lovable, perhaps semi-retarded rapper known most for his huge 1989 hit "Just a Friend." While Biz isn't the most gifted MC to grace this list, "Just a Friend" simply does everything right and balanced. It is a simple, straightforward narrative with a light-hearted theme and easy-to-remember lyrics. Biz also creates one of the most inspired choruses over a catchy piano medley; while he can't sing and his voice borders on cacophony, it is again at such a perfect level that it becomes endearing-- kind of like a capybara, giant water rats in reality but you still find them strangely cute and want to pet them. Anyway, I sound like I'm hating on Biz, but really this description is meant to show the mastery of this song. From a guy who can't sing and lisps when he raps, Biz Markie still creates one of the most enjoyable songs in hip-hop history.


72. Still Dreaming

Artist: Nas (Featuring Kanye West & Chrisette Michele)

Producer: Kanye West

Album: Hip Hop Is Dead

Year: 2006

Song

Lyrics

For some reason I never see this song getting the praise that it deserves, but to me it has been Nas's best track since 2001's Stillmatic. Kanye gives him one of the most relaxing beats I've ever heard, perfect for a song about... well, dreaming. The verses by both rappers are nothing short of amazing, featuring great flows as well as truly clever lines that may take a few listens to "get." Not to mentions Kanye's refrain "wha-wha-one two one two..." is just plain cool. That's all I really have to say for this song besides telling you to listen to this as you fall asleep =).


71. Liquid Swords

Artist: Genius/GZA

Producer: RZA

Album: Liquid Swords

Year: 1995

Song

Lyrics

The title track from GZA's masterpiece of a record foretells what to expect from the rest of the album's songs-- hard, hard beats from RZA with unrelenting delivery and brilliant wordplay from the Genius himself. Although many might complain that "Liquid Swords" shouldn't make the list because 1/3 of the track is a sample from an old Samurai movie, I think it is a testament to the greatness of the track that 1/3 of the length doesn't even need to be GZA, and its impact is still huge. Plus, the film sample really adds a thematic and atmospheric element to the album as a whole. "Liquid Swords" is damn gritty too; the chorus of the song sounds like it was recorded by a wild gang in a warehouse somewhere, and GZA seems to flawlessly lay down the track on its first take. Once again, it shows Wu-Tang at its finest-- a raw and talented group of MCs who don't need fancy engineering work or editing to sound incredible (I'm not bashing engineering, but the ostensible absence of any edits really fits their attitude).

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70. Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa

Artist: De La Soul

Producer: Prince Paul

Album: De La Soul Is Dead

Year: 1991

Song

Lyrics

When I first went to listen to "Millie," the title made me think this would be a quirky De La song about a guy who gets into whacky adventures robbing people while dressed as Santa Claus or something. I felt a little silly four minutes later, but I was certainly not disappointed. Of all the "narrative" songs on this list, "Millie" is perhaps the most understandable. The beat is so soft and subtle, and there is no hook to distract us from the story. It brilliantly unfolds from the perspectives of each of the MCs, as they tell the story about a girl who shot her father after he kept molesting her. It is a sad, brutal reality check for most-- but what is best about the tale is that regardless of where you grew up or what race you are, it is equally familiar and equally tragic. "Millie" is truly one of De La's most defining and important works.


69. Dance with the Devil

Artist: Immortal Technique

Producer: 44 Caliber

Album: Revolutionary Vol. 1

Year: 2001

Song (ignore the dumbass video unless you like moronic conspiracy theories)

Lyrics

"Dance with the Devil" is possibly the most disturbing song I've ever heard, ever. Not even the Misfits violent (albeit satiric) lyrics like "I got something to say, I killed a baby today" can compare to Immortal Technique's epic track from his debut album. Spanning almost eight minutes of an eerie beat and vicious storytelling, the song is tough to listen through all the way. However, if you are in the right mood, you can appreciate the complexity and grit behind it. The narrative and lyrics are truly disturbing, but because its content is not even remotely glorified, Immortal Technique creates an epic-sounding "snuff song" that serves a more noble purpose. It is definitely a must-listen, but I must warn you that it may have the same effect of watching Schindler's List.


68. Stronger

Artist: Kanye West

Producer: Kanye West (with Mike Dean)

Album: Graduation

Year: 2007

Song

Lyrics

**doubles up on the flame shield**

As much as I am probably going to receive anti-Kanye, anti-Stronger comments, I can't refute the immense impact "Stronger" has had on the rap game, and on popular music in general. Hate it for its popularity and radio play all you want, but there is no denying that it has a fantastic beat, a motivational and catchy hook, and pretty clever lyricism. I can foresee that a few decades from now, Kanye's "Stronger" will be like Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean"-- incredibly overplayed in its time, but as it becomes a staple of American musical culture, people will accept it as a fun, ubiquitously-recognized song. Not to mention that it will always hold a place in every NY Giant football fan's heart as being the team's apt warm-up music as the underdogs in last year's superbowl. It still gets me pumped up thinking about it!


The real video link >_>


67. Monkey Suite

Artist: Madvillain

Producer: Madlib

Album: Chrome Children

Year: 2006

Song

Lyrics

"Monkey Suite" is myy favorite Madvillain song to date, featuring a haunting beat by Madlib that is matched by MF DOOM's whispery flow. Like "Groundhog Day" (an honorable mention), Madvillain explores the the stress of the monotony of a 9-5 job. However, unlike the optimistic "Groundhog Day," "Monkey Suite" is a dark look at the banausic life of this type of worker. The tone is akin to that of Fight Club, and coming from the style of MF DOOM, that is certainly not a bad thing.


66. Ether

Artist: Nas

Producer: Ron Browz

Album: Stillmatic

Year: 2001

Song

Lyrics

I revealed earlier in the topic that this list contained two "diss" tracks, so that would make Nas's "Ether" the second-greatest diss song in rap history. "Ether" also remains as one of the most important songs in the genre, for it inspired Nas's Stillmatic and virtually resurrected his career in late 2001. Responding to Jay-Z's "Takeover," in which Nas was a central target in Jay's expansive declaration that he runs the rap game, Nas effectively destroys every insult that Jigga threw at him. He even twisted "Takeover's" hook into a clever shot at Jay-Z. The track is truly unrelenting; Nas even seems to ramble off insults towards the end, but this actually enhances the nature of the track. In 2002, as the Jay-Z/Nas "beef" was at its apex, the fans of the nation's largest hip-hop station voted on who they felt was winning the rivalry based on their respective diss tracks, and Nas won with ~60% of the vote.


65. All Falls Down

Artist: Kanye West (Featuring Syleena Johnson)

Producer: Kanye West

Album: The College Dropout

Year: 2004

Song

Lyrics

If there is any song that would give Kanye West the right to declare himself "the voice of this generation," it would have to be "All Falls Down." The song is one-half a caricature of the late teenage/early 20's female of this decade, and one-half an honest introspection into his own insecurities. Both themes blend together to form a truly unique song for any genre. When I first heard the track, I knew exactly the type of girl he was rapping about; regardless of race there seems to be that type of female who has no direction in life but has the wealth to still attend college just to do something. To this day, I still have not heard this message from any artist but Kanye, and therein lies his popularity. Unlike most other rappers, Kanye West has been in the exact position that many college students like myself are in (be it black or white), and therefore can relate to "this generation" on a more intimate level.


64. Mighty "O"

Artist: Outkast

Producer: Organized Noize

Album: Idlewild

Year: 2006

Song

Lyrics

"Mighty 'O'" is easily my favorite Outkast song since they released Aquemini a decade ago. Andre 3000's first verse is simply mind-blowing, spanning two solid minutes of pure classic Andre lyricism. One would think his opening verse would kind of set up Big Boi to not be able to match; however, he spits a verse of his own that almost equals Andre's in length and brilliance. "Mighty 'O'" reminds me of old saloon music because of the southern/western type beat and the feeling of improvisation between the two MCs. I think Outkast and Organized Noize were aiming for that, so job well done.


63. Boom!

Artist: The Roots (Featuring Dice Raw)

Producer: The Roots

Album: The Tipping Point

Year: 2004

Song

[1]

"Boom!" is absolutely INSANE to hear live in concert, and I recommend to anyone, rap fans or not, to see The Roots in person at some point in their lives. Generally, they open with "Web" (where Black Thought is as flawless live as he is on record) followed by "Boom!" to really get the crowd going. In the song, Black Thought does his best Big Daddy Kane impression and rolls out a hundred words a minute, followed by one of my all-time favorite hooks. Although the album version is fantastic, I cannot truly express the intensity of this song based on it. You just need to see the Roots live... even if you aren't that into hip-hop you will have an amazing time, since they are by far the best live performers I've ever witnessed (hopefully to be beaten out only by Radiohead if I can ever manage to get tickets for them...).


62. What's the Difference

Artist: Dr. Dre (Featuring Xzibit, Eminem, and Phish)

Producer: Dr. Dre

Album: 2001 [The Chronic 2001]

Year: 1999

Song

Lyrics

"What's the Difference" appears on Dr. Dre's now-legendary comeback album 2001, which in my opinion exceeds even the original The Chronic. This track features one of my favorite Dre beats ever, a seemingly-simple use of horns that evolves into a much more complex and amazing sound as the chorus kicks in. Dre's verse is similar to his verses on "Forgot about Dre" (a harangue against his haters and in this song's case, Suge Knight) except this one seems more laid-back and less forced, though still equal in intensity and mood. Xzibit follows Dre with another fantastic verse filled with clever one-liners and a gritty flow. Then Eminem concludes the song with one of the best verses he's ever done, with his trademark over-the-top violence mixed with black humor. Overall, it is one of Dre's most honest songs, in which he truly asserts his rightful role as one of the immortals of hip-hop.


61. Time Keeps on Slipping

Artist: Deltron 3030 (Featuring Damon Albarn)

Producer: Dan the Automator

Album: Deltron 3030

Year: 2000

Song

Lyrics

"Time Keeps on Slipping" is the song that formed the band Gorillaz, which originally consisted of Dan the Automator and Damon Albarn. This track is Del's lyrical opus; again, I am at a loss for words to describe just how unbelievable Del's mastery with words is. "Psyonically sparking brain cells til they're sparkling," "Mathematical astro grapple a flow, pterodactyl," Tub of chronic low in bridle with controlling ciphers / Unraveling rhyme, in traveling time," etc. I'll let the rhymes speak for themselves.

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60. Soo Tall

Artist: Zion I

Producer: Amp Live

Album: True & Livin'

Year: 2005

Song

Lyrics

People like to talk about how brilliant artists like Jay-Z and Lupe are lyrically, but Zion I's "Soo Tall" really trumps any of their most clever songs. "Soo Tall" is structured poetically, in a fashion unlike any hip-hop song I've ever heard. Each line begins with the word with which the previous line ended. For example, look at the first verse:

Gotta get up, gotta go to work
Work so hard that your back all hurt
Hurt so bad cause you work so hard
Pick that cotton, work that yard
Yard is hard cause the sun beat down
Down beatin sun makes shoulders brown
Shoulders brown and they might get burnt
Master's whip if your back all hurt
Hurts my family to live like dirt
Like dirt live in the streets for show
Winch your mast, I need that dough
That dough needs so my kids can grow
Grown kids can don't stand like me
Be real tall for the world to see
See my world is world be free but my free world is conspiracy

Amazing. The beat of the song also fits the slave narrative of the lyrics, and is very southern despite the fact that Zion I is from Los Angelas. "Soo Tall" also contains one of the most inspiring choruses ever, and it can permeate the minds of those in any difficult situation, not just slaves >_>.


59. Hurt Me Soul

Artist: Lupe Fiasco

Producer: Needlz

Album: Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor

Year: 2006

Song

Lyrics

"Hurt Me Soul" is Lupe Fiasco's finest effort to date, in which he takes all the positive attributes that he's known for and combines them into one incredible song. "Hurt Me Soul" has it all-- a wonderful string-centered beat, Lupe's dynamic flow, a thoughtful and unique message, and a really catchy but still intelligent hook. The track is quintessential Lupe; he raps about his former hatred of hip-hop because of its misogyny and glorification of drugs and violence, but then eventually makes amends with the "conscious" aspect of the genre, tying in hip-hop with the world's harsh realities in his hook. Easily his best work.


58. Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)

Artist: Pras (Featuring Ol' Dirty Bastard & Mýa)

Producer: Wyclef Jean & Pras

Album: Ghetto Supastar

Year: 1998

Song

Lyrics

Who would've thought that a modified Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton duet would become one of the catchiest hooks in rap history? That is exactly what happened in 1998 in which the sexy, sexy 19 year old Mya delivers the hook for "Ghetto Supastar" with her equally sexy voice. If you listen carefully you'll also hear ODB in his self-proclaimed "Marvin Gaye-like" singing to back her. "Ghetto Supastar" is a brilliant song. Former Fugees Wyclef and Pras compose the dancey beat, while Pras and ODB both deliver two memorable verses. Unfortunately for Pras, the success of "Ghetto Supastar" did not match that of the album; but this song shows the serious potential that he has, and it remains a classic late-90's single.


57. Criminal

Artist: The Roots (Featuring Truck North & Saigon)

Producer: The Roots

Album: Rising Down

Year: 2008

Song

Lyrics

"Criminal" by the Roots is my favorite hip-hop song of 2008. Like the rest of Rising Down, "Criminal" is much darker in tone than what most expect from the band. The production is magnificent and professional on the level of the most high-quality albums out there. Black Thought, Truck North, and Saigon all contribute with fantastic verses, very angry and raw. I'm not sure if the chorus is modified from another song (like "Ghetto Supastar's" is), but if it is not I would be even more impressed. It is one of the most infectious hooks I've heard in a long, long time.


56. Poppin' My Collar

Artist: Three 6 Mafia (Featuring Mr. Bigg)

Producer: DJ Paul & Juicy J

Album: Most Known Unknown

Year: 2005

Song

Lyrics

The Academy Award Winning Three 6 Mafia is one of the few great mainstream southern hip-hop "crunk" groups out there. Their 2005 hit "Poppin' My Collar" is probably one of their more famous songs, and for good reason. DJ Paul and Juicy J supply one of hip-hop's all-time great beats with a magnificent soul sample. While the lyrics won't settle well with most, the song is actually quite clever, mixing Three 6 Mafia's Memphis drawl with quasi-singing to really create an infectious song. I would call "Poppin' My Collar" a true "player's anthem" of sorts, but that title goes to another song on the list (hint, hint).


55. Gone

Artist: Kanye West (Featuring Cam'ron and Consequence)

Producer: Kanye West

Album: Late Registration

Year: 2005

Song(wtf youtube)

Lyrics

"Gone" contains arguably Kanye's greatest beat ever (a tremendous claim given his catalogue), which consists of perfectly arranged strings, a subtle piano, amazing drums, and an apt Otis Redding sample. Aided by the beat, Cam'ron and Consequence contribute with the best verses either rapper has ever done, both cleverly centered around the word "Gone." Kanye drops two incredible verses as well, and to this day I can't choose which one I like more. The first has smarter lines ("said she wanted diamonds so I took her to Ruby Tuesday's"), but his final verse is very raw and honest, displaying his qualms with the music industry. "Gone" is almost the greatest Kanye West song, but is beat out by another track from his fantastic Late Registration.


54. Don't Sweat the Technique

Artist: Eric B. & Rakim

Producer: Eric B.

Album: Don't Sweat the Technique

Year: 1992

Song

Lyrics

"Don't Sweat the Technique" really shows the growth of both Rakim and especially Eric B. as a producer (though I bet Large Professor had a big role in this beat). If you want to see a dramatic change, listen to an earlier song on the list "As the Rhyme Goes On" then listen to this track. Eric B. gives Rakim one of the most memorable jazzy beats of all time, and Rakim certainly kills it over the instrumentals. "Don't Sweat the Technique" is the apex of one of the greatest producer/MC duos ever to grace hip-hop-- Eric B. has never since created a beat as solid as the one for this track, while Rakim has never since sounded so confident and aggressive. Hopefully, Dr. Dre can change that with Rakim's (supposed) appearance on Detox.



Peep the technique.


53. Get By

Artist: Talib Kweli

Producer: Kanye West

Album: Quality

Year: 2002

Song

Lyrics

"Get By" is perhaps Talib Kweli's most popular song, and for good reason. Kanye's soulful beat coupled with the passionate background singing really make "Get By" the quintessential "conscious" hip-hop song. Talib lyrically kills it with poignant reflections on the current cyclical problems for minorities without sounding preachy and without coming across as entirely chastising. His flow is superb throughout, but really shines in the final moments of the track. When the beat cuts out and Talib switches his flow to rap over a chorus alone, he really showcases his talents as an MC, and it was this song that truly exposed these talents to the world.


52. 4th Chamber

Artist: Genius/GZA (Featuring Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest, and RZA)

Producer: RZA

Album: Liquid Swords

Year: 1995

Song

Lyrics

"4th Chamber" is simply incredible. From RZA's production to the perfect verses delivered by GZA and three of his MC companions, the track is near flawless. The beat segues from a foreboding samurai movie sample that permeates throughout Liquid Swords, and transitions into a darkly atmosphere musical number. Ghostface's verse sets up the occultish themes of the song in its first verse, which he delivers with immense energy. Killah Priest and RZA then follow with two solid verses as well, and RZA, although he is not the most talented MC of the Wu-Tang Clan, particularly stands out for his unique flow and verbosity. Finally, GZA lives up to his name and closes the track with a long, brilliant exercise in wordplay that really necessitates reading along with the lyrics I posted.


51. Rapper's Delight

Artist: The Sugarhill Gang

Producer: Sylvia Robinson

Album: Sugarhill Gang

Year: 1979

Song

Lyrics

If you haven't noticed already, I am loath to include many of the "classics" of hip-hop from the 80's, like Run-DMC, LL Cool J, etc. Generally I find most of these songs to be incredibly dated despite their fundamental roles in forming the genre. It's kind of like silent films; if I made a list of the 100 best movies, I probably would include few films from the silent era even though a lot of critics would probably harangue me for it. However, "Rapper's Delight" is hip-hop's Birth of a Nation; it is a monumental song in the genre's history, and it is still fun to listen to even now. Just about anybody who is old enough to have attended Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, office parties, funerals (the awesome type), etc probably knows at least some of the words to the song. Each verse is easy to remember (one if the most important qualities for any song), and the disco-sampled beat remains as probably the most dance-worthy rap song ever. This is certainly one classic that is just as great now as it was almost 30 years ago.

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50. Doo Wop (That Thing)

Artist: Lauryn Hill

Producer: Lauryn Hill

Album: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Year: 1998

Song

Lyrics

Lauryn Hill is the first and only female rapper to crack the 110 best songs, because she is the only great female rapper. Ever. A bold claim, I know, but Lauryn and sometimes Salt 'n Peppa are really the only women I can even tolerate listening to. What Lauryn does with her voice and her production is brilliant-- she creates a modern sound that reminds me of what summertime in New York City during the 1950's must have been like. Everything about "Doo Wop" is right: her beautiful singing voice complements her solid rapping and lyricism, while the beat (which I just learned was produced by Lauryn herself-- amazing!) ties in the two time periods ("back when cats used to harmonize like..."). Ironically, the strongest female presence in an often-misogynistic genre retired not long after this monumental album was released in order to make babies and be a housewife. Hopefully we will see her return in force sometime soon.


49. All for You

Artist: Little Brother (Featuring Darien Brockington)

Producer: 9th Wonder

Album: The Minstrel Show

Year: 2005

Song

Lyrics

Little Brother's "All for You" is one of the most realistic, unadulterated songs about fatherhood ever made. 9th Wonder supplies a soulful beat (with incredible drums as usual), but here Phonte and Big Pooh really steal the track with their honest and heartfelt verses. Pooh begins by telling us about his father who abandoned him, and about the pain it is causing him to try to reconcile. He doesn't create a cliche or banal verse with a "happy ending" or even a real resolution; Pooh realistically ends his verse with "And right now we working through our mess / But I had to get some **** off my chest / So bear with me, y'all," an understandable result in his situation. Next, Phonte delivers the finest verse he's ever written, again realistically discussing his own father troubles, not sugarcoating the situation to make himself look better. He admits he was "Trapped to this girl through the two-year old who carried my name," and laments becoming like his father who abandoned him as a child. The end of his verse is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking in all of hip-hop:

So the next time it's late at night
and I'm laid up with the woman I'mma make my wife
talking 'bout how we 'gon make a life
I'm thinking about child support, alimony, visitation rights
Cause that's the only outcome if you can't make it right,
Pissed off with your children feeling the same pain
So, Pop, how could I blame cause you couldn't maintain
I did the same thing
The same thing

Give this a listen if you've never heard Little Brother.


48. 99 Problems

Artist: Jay-Z

Producer: Rick Rubin

Album: The Black Album

Year: 2003

Song

Lyrics

If there was a survey to determine what the world considered to be the greatest rap song ever, I would not be surprised if "99 Problems" comes out as the winner. I know people from all backgrounds-- sweet southern girls, thuggish urbanites, young Jewish kids, old people, Asians, etc-- who know all the words to the song and can shout out the hook without hesitation. Everything about "99 Problems" is infectious-- Rubin's beat, Jay's delivery, the refrain. The song is like the "Bohemian Rhapsody" of hip-hop in a way; everyone knows it, few deny the talent that it took to create the song, and whenever it is played in a social gathering you are bound to see some people rocking out to it. Hell, look at its power when played live in the Glastonbury music festival (fast forward past Wonderwall): 99 Problems Live. Amazing. This song would be ranked much higher had Jigga not stolen the hook from Ice-T, and of course if it had moar cowbell.


47. Public Service Announcement (Interlude)

Artist: Jay-Z

Producer: Just Blaze

Album: The Black Album

Year: 2003

Song

Lyrics

I had a really difficult time deciding between this and "99 Problems" as to which was the superior track, and obviously I have barely chosen "PSA" as the better song. Just Blaze supplies Jay with the best beat he's ever made-- a heavy, loud instrumental that fits Jigga's anger and emotion perfectly. The song is Jay-Z at the peak of his "not giving a ****;" the track closes with the lines "Only God can judge me, so I'm gone / Either love me or leave me alone," which perfectly summarizes his attitude at the time of his first "retirement." For an even better version, listen to Danger Mouse's mash-up from his Grey Album, which is probably my favorite remix in rap history: Grey Album Remix.


46. One

Artist: Ghostface Killah (Featuring T.M.F.)

Producer: Juju

Album: Supreme Clientele

Year: 2000

Song

Lyrics

We go from one heavy piano and drum centered beat to another with Ghostface's Killah's incredible "One." Ghostface demonstrates his masterful command of consonance through his slick flow in the verbal assault of this song. "One" perfectly highlights how Ghostface has become the most successful solo act from the Wu-Tang Clan over the years, and I think this success lies in the fact that he doesn't seem to have to even try in creating songs like this. Listen to his second verse and be amazed at the non-stop repetition of the "ash" sound that continues over a few bars, and then notice that he doesn't even take a breath or gasp of air as he does it. Ghostface has been this consistent for about 15 years now, and it is about time he gets his respect as one of the finest MCs to ever use a mic.


45. Stan

Artist: Eminem (Featuring Dido)

Producer: The 45 King & Eminem

Album: The Marshall Mathers LP

Year: 2000

Song

Lyrics

"Stan" is without a doubt Eminem's most critically-acclaimed song, mainly because it was the first time casual older listeners actually heard a non-misogynistic, non-homophobic song by him. "Stan" will forever be a classic, and I can't really say anything that hasn't been said already. It's extremely polished, very well thought-out, sad, ironic, haunting, reflective, original, dark, humorous, tragic, etc. Anyone who thinks hip-hop has nothing to offer but rapping about drugs, sex, or violence should listen to Eminem's legendary narrative in "Stan."


44. Hypnotize

Artist: The Notorious B.I.G.

Producer: The Hitmen

Album: Life After Death

Year: 1997

Song

Lyrics

"Hypnotize" is Biggie Smalls at his dirtiest, most foul obese self. Full of lines like "Poppa freakin, not speakin / Leave that ass leakin," the track is known for both its raunchy subject matter and for Biggie's unparalleled rhyming ability. While the content is gratuitous, the hyperbole of some of the lines makes "Hypnotize" fit into his semi-satirical style. Backed by a... hypnotizing... beat, The Notorious B.I.G. delivers a swagger-filled bragging track with a style that has really not been matched since.


43. A Day at the Races

Artist: Jurassic 5 (Featuring Big Daddy Kane & Percee P)

Producer: Cut Chemist

Album: Power in Numbers

Year: 2002

Song

Lyrics

"A Day at the Races" contains what is possibly the best enunciation to speed ratio ever (I just made up that factor). Jurassic 5 and guests Big Daddy Kane and Percee P deliver flawlessly-primed verses with a ludicrous speed (hence the title) and amazing diction. The final verse by Zaakir is particularly fantastic and delivered with unimaginable precision. The lyrics and their clarity are not sacrificed, however, which is a truly remarkable feat when you hear the track. There is no need for a beat beyond a throbbing bass and some scratching, and J5 doesn't even attempt to create a hook. "A Day at the Races" is pure hip-hop at its finest.


42. Intergalactic

Artist: Beastie Boys

Producer: Mario C

Album: Hello Nasty

Year: 1998

Song

Lyrics

Now I'm not usually a huge fan of the Beastie Boys, despite their near-universal acclaim from mainstream and "indie" critics alike. However, "Intergalactic" is easily one of their biggest hits, and one of the greatest songs of 1998, a huge year for hip-hop. "Intergalactic" showed us that the Beastie Boys haven't lost their quirky style or humor that made them so popular a decade before Hello Nasty, but their quirkiness does not take the place of talent or intelligence. The song is quite original for hip-hop-- a space-inspired rap song that preceded Deltron 3030. Each MC helps out the other throughout the relentless verses on the track, a feat only matched by Jurassic 5. To cap off the song, "Intergalactic" contains a wonderfully catchy beat, with some of the greatest turntable work in any song in the genre.


41. Hit 'Em Up

Artist: 2Pac (Featuring Outlawz)

Producer: Johnny "J"

Album: Single, later featuring on 2Pac's Greatest Hits

Year: 1996

Song

Lyrics

Oh boy, am I going to have to go the extra length to defend this one now. Of the dozens of "diss" tracks in hip-hop, there were really only three songs I seriously considered for the top 1(1)0. The Game's "300 Bars and Runnin,'" a thirteen minute diatribe against G-Unit failed to make the cut, despite The Game's enormous ambition. You heard Nas's "Ether" before, and now here is 2Pac's "Hit 'Em Up," the greatest diss track ever written, and a song that is (some argue) in part responsible for the deaths of two of the greatest rappers who ever lived. 2Pac's vicious, violent assault on Notorious B.I.G., Bad Boy Records, the Junior Mafia, and well... basically the entire East Coast rap scene, is the apex of the most famous feud in recent music history. While "Hit 'Em Up" is not as witty or intelligent as "Ether" or as suave and irrefutable as "300 Bars," 2Pac and the Outlawz take their diss to such an extreme and establish such precedent that perhaps no other track can meet it. The hook and the chorus spin the Bad Boy tracks "Get Money" and "Player's Anthem," something that Nas did to Jay-Z some five years later. 2Pac mainly snipes at Biggie, taking their feud to a real low by stating that he "****ed his wife" and insinuating that he will murder his children. Real cold and real extreme. His Outlawz then follow him by "hitting up" the lesser-known members of Biggie's clique with a particularly memorable verse by E.D.I. Mean that has also been borrowed from time and again.

Although "Hit 'Em Up" may seem like a childish, irresponsible reaction from 2Pac's suspicions of Biggie and Puff's roles in his near-fatal shooting, I see it quite differently. Pac was not a stupid man; he knew that his primary role in his record label was to make money. By creating such a vicious, unnecessary track, 2Pac (correctly) knew that record sales for both he and Biggie would skyrocket. So while "Hit 'Em Up" may have been driven by some real anger and emotion, it exploded into the most violent and successful "diss" song ever created because of Pac's business tact.

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40. ATLiens

Artist: Outkast

Producer: Earthtone III

Album: ATLiens

Year: 1996

Song

Lyrics

While 2Pac was recording "Hit 'Em Up," the music world was largely ignoring hip-hop from the space in between the east and west coasts, as Outkast released their fantastic sophomore album ATLiens. The album was headed by the eponymous track, which combined the smooth flow and lyrics of their debut record with more abstract musings that would later make Outkast famous. The beat to "ATLiens" perfectly shows this development; the drums and keys give the song a soulful, smooth edge, but other elements like the distorted sample create the "alien" atmosphere to the track. The opening verse is probably my favorite from Big Boi, sounding as cool as ever, or "cooler than a polar bear's toenails" to be exact. Andre 3000 likewise delivers two fantastic verses that really show his progression into deeper philosophical/mystic/sociological themes. "ATLiens" is one of the true classics of the era, almost entirely dismissed until Outkast surged in popularity after releasing Stankonia.


39. Changes

Artist: 2Pac (Featuring Talent)

Producer: 2Pac

Album: Greatest Hits

Year: 1998

Song

Lyrics

2Pac's posthumous "Changes" is quite often regarded as the best rap song ever made, mostly because (in my opinion) that is was the most mainstream conscious song from the late legend following his death. Fantastic song, yes, but not the greatest ever. "Changes" was Pac's dying gift to the world, and a song that secured and possibly saved his oft-regarded legacy as the "best rapper of all time." The piano-driven beat is reflective and warm, 2Pac delivers a heartfelt message without explaining how "thug" he is, and the hook is both melancholy and realistic ("that's just the way it is..."). After all 2Pac and Death Row records did to glorify gang life and violence, "Changes" along with the tragic ends of Pac and Biggie may have had some real-world impact. Instead of being remembered for his wild, violent side, 2Pac may now have inspired his clientele with a new message, one of peace and alleviating poverty. And while "Changes" of course did not have a real pragmatic impact on the urban youth, I have a hunch that had gangsta rap been left to flourish, and had Pac's conscious side not become his biggest hit ever, the violent crime rate this decade may not have dropped as significantly as it has. Just a thought though >_>.


38. Nuthin' but a "G" Thang

Artist: Dr. Dre (Featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg)

Producer: Dr. Dre

Album: The Chronic

Year: 1992

Song

Lyrics

The list continues with another track that is often regarded as "the greatest of all time," Dr. Dre and Snoop's landmark "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang." Released in 1992, this song immediately defined the "G-Funk" sound that would come to dominate the West Coast rap industry really throughout the entire decade. Dre asserts himself as easily the most influential producer in hip-hop history on this track and in The Chronic in general. The beat is trademark early-90's "gangsta"-- funk samples chopped up beyond recognition backed by a heavy, perfect bassline (Dre's forte). Snoop penned the entire song, and he and Dre deliver it with a swagger unheard on the west coast prior to them. "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang" remains ageless, evoking a time when the California rap scene was just emerging, set to dominate the early and mid-90's.


37. Renegade

Artist: Jay-Z (Featuring Eminem)

Producer: Eminem

Album: The Blueprint

Year: 2001

Song

Lyrics

When Nas referred to Eminem "mudering [Jay-Z] on your own ****" in "Ether," this was the track he was talking about. Nas was absolutely right; "Renegade" is Eminem's song, and it was originally written before Jay even started recording The Blueprint. Em made the incredible beat, developed the hook, and wrote two of the strongest verses he's ever recorded. This is not to say Jigga didn't contribute; in fact, Jay's two verses are well above average even for him. So to say that Eminem "murdered" him means that Em's verses had to be some of the best verses EVER. And they are. From his raw emotion to his command over alliteration and assonance, Eminem really delivers his most well-crafted rebuttals against criticism of him and rap in general. When I listen to this song, and I hear Jay-Z giving some of his best work next to some of Eminem's, I really can't call Jay the better rapper. Over time this opinion of mine has become more complex, and I have concluded this: Eminem is the better technical rapper; however, Jay-Z's career and staying power (in opposition to Em's hiatus) has given him the better career and thus the better legacy. But you listen and decide on your own.


36. B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)

Artist: Killah Priest

Producer: 4th Disciple

Album: Genius/GZA's Liquid Swords

Year: 1995

[2]

Lyrics

"B.I.B.L.E." is perhaps the smartest rap song I've ever heard, very fitting for the last track on the Genius's classic Liquid Swords. "B.I.B.L.E." is Killah Priest's way of showing RZA that he had made a mistake two years prior when Masta Killer took his place as the final main member of the Wu-Tang Clan. The lyrics are beyond brilliant-- a look into the meaning of religion and spirituality, with allusions that I, an English major at an Ivy League university, found myself having to look up. Take these lines, for example:

Before I converted, I was perverted, and knowledge was asserted
The study of wisdom, I preferred it
The understanding, it gave me mental freedom
I even learnt Caucasians were really the Tribe of Edam
The white image, of Christ, is really Cesare Borgia
And uhh, the second son of Pope Alexander
The Sixth of Rome, and once the picture was shown
That's how the devils tricked my dome

Killah Priest explores aspects of race and religion in a way that one would never expect from a rap album. Even the beat is wholly unique, and 4th Disciple really proves his worth as RZA's protege. A perfect end to a brilliant album.


35. Verses from the Abstract

Artist: A Tribe Called Quest (Featuring Ron Carter & Vinia Mojica)

Producer: Q-Tip & Ali Shaheed Muhammad

Album: The Low End Theory

Year: 1991

Song

Lyrics

Backed by one of the greatest basslines ever by Ron Carter, and supported by the lovely voice of Vinia Mojica, Q-Tip delivers some of the smoothest and most poetic verses in hip-hop history. This song is what A Tribe Called Quest does the greatest: rap about the power of music and the oneness of the people of this country. The concluding lines to the song (I almost wrote "poem," which kind of says something about the track) exemplifies this common theme:

The Abstract is speakin, the hard beats is reachin
The Black and Puerto Ricans
Cuz they're butt naked, streakin through the ever murky streets
Of the urbanized areas
Blastin out the speakers is the hip hop hysteria

If you've never listened to A Tribe Called Quest, I would argue that this is certainly their defining (but not their best) song, since it is full of their trademark laid-back but optimistic lyrics, a funky beat, and an unmistakable New York vibe.


34. International Player's Anthem (I Choose You) [Remix]

Artist: UGK (Featuring Outkast & Three 6 Mafia)

Producer: DJ Paul and Juicy J

Album: UGK (Underground Kingz)

Year: 2007

Song

Lyrics

I know I said no remixes allowed, but I am making an exception for this track since the version with Three 6 Mafia is technically the original. Regardless, the song remains pretty much the same.

"International Player's Anthem" is the pinnacle achievement of southern hip-hop. Three groups that have defined the region (UGK, Outkast, Three 6 Mafia) each come with their best stuff to create one of the greatest collaboration tracks of all time. Andre 3000's opening verse will possibly go down as his best ever, and something that any guy regardless of race or region can understand. Big Boi also contributes with a crazy verse as well, changing up his flow unlike anything we've heard. Although Outkast kind of steals the spotlight from UGK, the duo also contribute with classic dirty south lyricism (featured prominently on Girl Talk's Feed the Animals this year). The often overlooked contributions to the "Player's Anthem" come from Three 6 Mafia, who supply the amazing and complex beat that really fits the theme of tying the knot. Unfortunately, UGK reached their apex on this track, since Pimp C died some months after its release.


33. Gimme the Loot

Artist: The Notorious B.I.G.

Producer: Easy Mo Bee

Album: Ready to Die

Year: 1994

Song

Lyrics

"Gimme the Loot" perhaps more than any of Biggie's other songs really demonstrates his enormous talent as an MC. The ability for any rapper to switch back and forth between two voices, two flows, and two characters while still maintaining a fluid narrative would earn my opinion as one of the best in the game. "Gimme the Loot" fits with the exaggerated gangsta narrative of the entire Ready to Die album. Biggie drops some of his most vicious lines ever, including some that had to be scratched out even in the "uncensored" version ("I don't give a **** if you're pregnant, / Gimme the baby rings and your 'number one mom' pendant"). To this day, no rapper has successfully attempted what Biggie did in "Gimme the Loot" 15 years ago.


32. Heartz of Men

Artist: 2Pac

Producer: DJ Quik

Album: All Eyez on Me

Year: 1995

Song

Lyrics

Another Pac song! Backed by one of the greatest and most atmospheric beats ever produced by a west coast producer not named Dr. Dre, 2Pac delivers one of his hardest and most fluid performances in his entire musical catalogue. "Heartz of Men" features the darker side of Pac, and we see his thug bravioso now combining with his growing mystical flavor, heard in lines like"represent cause I've been sent." We hear more of the latter to an extreme point in his (well, "Makaveli's") final album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. "Heartz of Men" is much more balanced than the tracks on that album, however, but we still get a sense of the dark atmosphere that Pac and the beat both create. One more thing to mention: Holy **** at 2Pac's flow on each of these verses.

This selection should sit pretty well with the internets crowd.


31. One Love

Artist: Nas

Producer: Q-Tip

Album: Illmatic

Year: 1994

Song

Lyrics

If I made a list of the top 200 songs in hip-hop rather than a top 100, I'm sure no one would complain if I included all nine tracks from Nas's Illmatic. However, the first song I chose from the greatest rap album ever made is "One Love." Produced by Q-Tip, "One Love" features a simple beat that really enhances the lyrical storytelling of young Nas. The inspiration of this track is enormous-- the narrative has been copied time and again, but none with the talent that Nas brings. Describing the story will really have no avail, since in the time it will take you read, you could be listening to the song. Pay particular attention to his final verse, which is one of the best in hip-hop.

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