My Top 20 Hip-Hop Songs of All Time (1/4)
So I decided to come up with my own “Best Hip-Hop Songs of All Time” list. It was supposed to be a list of 10, but how can you narrow it down to just 10 songs? I’m not saying 20 is much better, but thats all I’m going to do… For now. I also tried to keep it to 1 track per artist, but there were just two time where I couldn’t resist.
1. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth - They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) (1992)
“But only you saw what took many time to see / I dedicate this to you for believing in me”
This has got to be my all time favourite hip-hop song.. It can really only be described as two heavyweights of their field (Pete Rock - Production, C.L. Smooth - MC) laying down a timeless masterpiece. I fail to see how someone can say a negative thing about this track..
The song was written in the memory of their friend, Troy Dixon (aka. “Trouble” T. Roy), of Heavy D & the Boyz (and for those of you who don’t know, Heavy D passed away a few weeks ago).
In an interview with Village Voice, Pete Rock said, “I had a friend of mine (“Trouble” T. Roy) that passed away, and it was a shock to the community. I was kind of depressed when I made it. And to this day, I can’t believe I made it through, the way I was feeling.”
It is widely regarded as one of the all time gems of hip-hop; receiving all kinds of acclaim, appearing on many “Greatest Songs” lists, and getting ‘shout-outs’ in countless other hip-hop songs (through the likes of Nas, Gang Starr, Kanye West, De La Soul, Method Man, Common etc.) I can’t think of any other song that better illustrates the ‘Golden Age’ of hip-hop.
Click to listen…
- Tom Scott and the California Dreamers - Today
2. 2Pac - Dear Mama (1995)
“There’s no way I can pay you back / But my plan is to show you that I understand / You are appreciated”
I don’t really know where to begin with this song… It’s flawless. Tupac was widely considered as a trouble maker and a bad influence with a ‘bad boy’ attitude; but I don’t see it like that.. He spoke his mind, all the time, and I personally think that is commendable; considering the amount of people (especially celebrities and musicians) that constantly just try to impress. Sadly, this trait lead to his death, as a result of the East Coast vs. West Coast ‘war’ that took Pac and Biggie.
In this song, Pac really shows his softer, introspective and more innocent side. In a song dedicated to his mother, Afeni Shakur, Pac really spills his soul. With the content of the song being about fatherless childhood, lack of money, loss, jail, addiction and selling drugs; he somehow gives the song a hopeful overtone - knowing that no matter what happens, there is always family.
Click to listen…
- Joe Sample - In All my Wildest Dreams
- The Spinners - Sadie
3. Nas - N.Y. State of Mind (1994)
“Nothing’s equivalent, to the New York state of mind”
It was really hard picking which Nas song to put here; as any song from his Illmaticalbum could easily find their way into the Top 10, even Top 5 hip-hop songs of all time. Therefore, it is not surprising that most people (myself included) consider Illmatic to be the best, and one of the most important, hip-hop albums of all time. A truly remarkable label, considering it is his debut album and the fact that he was a mere 20 years old when it was released (however, some of the songs were recorded when he was only 18).
Also, bear in mind that there is only one rapper featuring in this album (AZ, who rapped one verse in Life’s a Bitch); meaning that an 18-20 year old Nas rapped all but one verse on an album (his debut) that many consider the best hip-hop album of all time. If that isn’t special I don’t know what is…
Illmatic, released in ‘94, had to compete with other heavyweights; namely Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die, Common - Resurrection, Gang Starr - Hard to Earn and OutKast -Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. The fact that there are books written on this album also reinforces the fact that this is an album that should be taken seriously! It is definitely hip-hop’s Bible.
On to N.Y. State of Mind… This particular song was recorded in 1992, meaning Nas was only 18 years old when he spit these almost faultless and seemingly endless verses. It is one of those amazing story-telling songs of Nas’, a song you can easily visualise. He paints a very dark and tense picture of the streets of his home town, New York, and more specifically, the Queensbridge projects in Queens. Throughout the song he talks about his rapping skills, every day life in Queensbridge, crime and violence; stating that “nothing’s equivalent, to the New York state of mind”. The Eric B. & Rakim sample in this track is very fitting in hindsight, as Nas is the new Rakim, not a title or comparison that gets given lightly..
Click to listen…
- Joe Chambers - Mind Rain
- Kool & the Gang - N.T.
- Donald Byrd - Flight Time
- Eric B. & Rakim - Mahogany
4. Notorious B.I.G. - Juicy (1994)
“Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis / When I was dead broke, man I couldn’t picture this”
A great song from a great debut album, Ready to Die. Personally, I prefer 2Pac over Biggie, but no one can deny that Christopher Wallace came up with some absolutely amazing stories; this particular song reaching the ‘Gold’ status just three months after its release.
This song details Biggie’s rise to fame, from his time spent on the corner selling drugs, living at his mom’s house and crime, to success in the industry; or as he describes it, “I went from negative to positive”. He also mentions his initial dreams of being a rapper as a child; being influenced by the likes of Word Up magazine, Mr. Magic and Marley Marl. R.I.P. Biggie..
Click to listen…
- Mtume: Juicy Fruit
- Rappin’ Duke - Rappin’ Duke
- Sean “Puffy” Combs
- Poke of Trackmasters
5. Wu-Tang Clan - Protect Ya Neck (1992)
“The Wu is too slamming for these Cold Killing labels / Some ain’t had hits since I Seen Aunt Mabel / Be doing artists in like Cain did Abel / Now they money’s gettin’ stuck to the gum under the table” (GZA)
It was a hard choice for my Wu-Tang song — Triumph, C.R.E.A.M., Impossible and of course Method Man being right up there along with this one, but in trying to follow the one song per artist rule, I chose Protect Ya Neck. Wu-Tang are one of the all time greatest acts in hip-hop; but with the likes of Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, RZA, GZA and the late great O.D.B. (Ol’ Dirty Bastard) that is hardly surprising.
Protect Ya Neck is Wu-Tang’s debut single from their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers); another outstanding debut album on this list so far - along with Nas’sIllmatic and Biggie’s Ready to Die. This song also features eight of the nine original Wu-Tang members.
It was originally released on Wu-Tang Records along with After The Laughter Comes Tears; but after creating an underground hype, it was released on Loud Records (Method Man being on it’s b-side).
It is a typically good RZA beat — raw, interesting and rusty. Added to that, seven verses from great, young and confident MCs. It’s really hard to believe that this was their first single, they absolutely demolish the beat; giving warnings to their rivals, shaming their old record label (who treated them badly) and basically giving a taste of great things to come from this hip-hop supergroup.
Click to listen…