Hip Hop has grown from its simple roots on street corners into the biggest genre of music today. The music, dancing, fashion, art, lifestyle, and the swagger have all been adopted around the world, from Venice Beach to Vienna to Vietnam. This is now a cultural force to be reckoned with.
But what are the best Hip Hop songs of all time? This is not an easy question to answer because different people love different artists, and songs mean different things to different people.
But I’m still going to take a crack at it. I’m going to list the songs that were the biggest hits, the biggest innovations in style, and the biggest influences on Hip Hop itself. Let’s do this thing!
- Top 150 Best Hip Hop Songs Of All Time
- Best 70s Hip Hop Songs
- Best 80s Hip Hop Songs
- 6 The Breaks – Kurtis Blow
- 7 The Message – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
- 8 La-Di-Da-Di – Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew
- 9 Walk This Way – Run DMC (feat. Aerosmith)
- 10 (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) – Beastie Boys
- 11 Push It – Salt-n-Peppa
- 12 I’m Bad – LL Cool J
- 13 Ain’t No Half Steppin – Big Daddy Kane
- 14 Children’s Story – Slick Rick
- 15 Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A.
- 16 Me Myself and I – De La Soul
- 17 Just A Friend – Biz Markie
- Best 90s Hip Hop Songs
- 18 Fight the Power – Public Enemy
- 19 Humpty Dance – Digital Underground
- 20 Ice Ice Baby – Vanilla Ice
- 21 O.P.P. – Naughty by Nature
- 22 Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang – Dr. Dre (feat. Snoop Dogg)
- 23 C.R.E.A.M. – Wu-Tang Clan
- 24 Insane in the Brain – Cypress Hill
- 25 Sound of da Police – KRS-One
- 26 I Used to Love H.E.R. – Common
- 27 Juicy – Notorious B.I.G.
- 28 No Diggity – Blackstreet (feat. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen)
- 29 Woo Ha!! Got You All In Check – Busta Rhymes (feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard)
- 30 I Ain’t Mad At Cha – Tupac Shakur
- 31 My Name Is – Eminem
- Best 2000s Hip Hop Songs
- 32 B.O.B – Outkast
- 33 Get Ur Freak On – Missy Elliott
- 34 Lose Yourself – Eminem
- 35 I Can – Nas
- 36 Get By – Talib Kweli
- 37 In Da Club – 50 Cent
- 38 Drop It Like It’s Hot – Snoop Dogg (feat. Pharrell)
- 39 Jesus Walks – Kanye West
- 40 Ridin’ – Chamillionaire (feat. Krayzie Bone)
- 41 Empire State of Mind – Jay-Z (feat. Alicia Keys)
- Best Recent Hip Hop Songs
- More 104 Best Hip Hop Songs of All Time
- Want to Find More Banging Hip Hop Songs?
- The Very Best Hip Hop Songs of All Time
Top 150 Best Hip Hop Songs Of All Time
Best 70s Hip Hop Songs
Hip Hop was truly born out of street-corner rapping and MCs laying down fresh rhymes over live drummers or DJ tracks at house parties. This style took its first wobbly steps in New York back in the 1970s before slowly spreading across America and the world.
So, let’s have a look at the best songs to come out of that decade first, starting with…
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott-Heron
To be perfectly honest, the jury is still out on whether this was a true Hip Hop song or simply a huge influence on the genre that was soon to come.
In this 1971 song, Scott-Heron’s voice comes in loud and strong over the music. And, while he doesn’t rhyme (at least not very much), he does speak in a rhythmic way that matches the music. This was a spoken-word technique that led the way into later Hip Hop.
The original version…
It was just Gil Scott-Heron’s vocals over congas and bongos that gave it a repetitive, drum-break-style sound.
A newer version was recorded as the B-side to a single “Home Is Where the Hated Is.” That version was even more Hip-Hop-like. It features Gil’s voice over a tight, funky drum beat, a funky bass riff, and some funky flute, too.
These are the roots of Hip Hop right here. Therefore, it’s one of the best Hip Hop songs of all time.
Superrappin’ – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Grandmaster Flash is one of the earliest pioneers of scratching, cutting, and mixing, and is also a rapper.
His group, the Furious Five, including Rahiem, Scorpio, Melle Mel, Keef Cowboy, and Kidd Creole, was one of the biggest Hip Hop acts in the 1970s. They formed in 1978 and were one of the first “conscious” rap groups out there.
“Superrappin’” is a great example of old-school Hip Hop. Flash has put together a funky sample of breakbeats with a very cool funky bass line over top. The five MCs and the Grandmaster take turns laying down their rhymes, which used simple rhyming structures typical of the old school.
This track is super-long…
It runs for 12 minutes, but this was one of the funkiest, coolest Hip Hop songs of the 70s.
Rapper’s Delight – Sugarhill Gang
Hip Hop went from an obscure little genre in the Bronx to something on the popular music radar in 1979. This is the year that so many artists put out rap records.
The most well-known of these has to be “Rapper’s Delight”…
This is widely considered the first true Hip Hop song, although it was beaten to the punch by a Fatback Band single (coming up next).
The Sugarhill Gang interpolates (which means copies closely, rather than sampling) the popular Chic song “Good Times,” giving them a funky background to lay down their rhymes. The Sugarhill actually jumped onstage at a Chic concert once and freestyle rapped over the band.
This song was the first to popularize Hip Hop. It shot up the charts and made everyone sit up and take notice that a new genre was something to be reckoned with. As a result, it remains one of the best Hip Hop songs of all time.
King Tim III (Personality Jock) – Fatback Band
While “Rapper’s Delight” is the best known early Hip Hop song, it was beaten out as the first rap record by “King Tim III (Personality Jock).” This song was made by disco-funk group the Fatback Band in 1979, a few months before the Sugarhill Gang’s record came out.
This track was a departure for the Fatback Band. But, it was an interesting way for them to play with the new genre of Hip Hop. They laid down a funky, disco-beat-led track in the studio, and then decided to put rap over the top.
No one in the band could rap, but they knew a friend who could. That was “King Tim the Third,” who just walked into the studio and let his flow go. The rest is Hip Hop history.
Rapping And Rocking The House – The Funky 4+1
Confusingly, The Funky 4+1 was made up of more than just five artists. Keith Keith, DJ Breakout, MC Jazzy Jeff, Rahiem, KK Rockwell, Li’l Rodney C!, and DJ Baron were all members at one time or another.
Laying the foundations…
Sharon Green, aka Sha-Rock, known as the first female MC, was the “+1”. They were both the first Hip Hop group to receive a record deal (even if they didn’t come out with the first rap record) and the first Hip Hop group to appear on TV.
Their jam “Rapping and Rocking the House” was one of the funkiest Hip Hop songs to come out of the 70s. Like most of the songs I’ve covered so far, this single came out in late 1979. So, it just barely slipped into that decade.
The 4+1 MCs laid down their lyrics over a cool funk track full of thick bass and just the right amount of cowbell (which is a whole lot of cowbell).
Best 80s Hip Hop Songs
The 80s is when the young genre of Hip Hop really caught on. This decade was the happy childhood of Hip Hop. This is when big personalities with big skills started to make names for themselves.
A new school of Hip Hop developed, pushing the limits of rap technique and DJing to heights no one ever expected. These are some of the most famous Hip Hop songs from those tremendously important formative years.
The Breaks – Kurtis Blow
“The Breaks” is an old-school song from one of the earliest rap superstars in the game. Kurtis Blow put this hot Hip Hop track on his self-titled debut album, which was also the first rap album put out by a major label.
The album dropped in mid-1980 and was still a very 70s-like Hip Hop song. But this was right when Hip Hop was blowing up and this single sold half a million copies to make it rap’s first certified gold record.
Rather than spitting over a sample like most other tracks at the time, Blow’s song was original, with funky bass and guitars over a disco beat. This was a solid party track and has fun crowd noises and call-and-answer vocals that make it sound like everyone’s having one heck of a good time.
The Message – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Old school Hip Hop was generally focused on partying since this music came out of MCs rocking house parties. But “The Message” from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five changed that.
This song had a message…
It was about the serious conditions of poverty and crime faced by people living in ghettos in America’s major cities.
This song had a very simple beat and was focused on the vocals. The lyrics were written by Melle Mel and Duke Bootee and feature them telling everyone about the struggles of people around them.
The song also permanently changed Hip Hop in 1982…
Emcees were pushed to the forefront, with lyrics becoming equal to or more important than the backing music. As a result, this will forever be one of the best Hip Hop songs of all time.
Of course, you can see why with this cool off-beat chorus, “Don’t push me – ’cause I’m close to the edge – I’m trying not to lose my head – It’s like a jungle sometimes – It makes me wonder how I keep from going under.”
La-Di-Da-Di – Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew
Doug E. Fresh, rapper and beatboxer, performed the beats for this 1985 track with just his voice. The lyrics were performed by MC Ricky D, later known as Slick Rick. Ricky raps a hilarious song about being chased by two women, a daughter and then her mother.
This is a classic Hip Hop song that defies labels. With just a beatboxer and an MC, it takes Hip Hop back to its basics.
This is also one of the most sampled and imitated songs in rap history. Especially the little break where Ricky sings, “Ricky, Ricky, Ricky can’t you see? – Somehow your words just hypnotize me.”
Change “Ricky” to “Biggie” over ten years later, and you can see how influential this fun little jam was.
Walk This Way – Run DMC (feat. Aerosmith)
“Walk This Way” was a 70s hit for Aerosmith, but it was an even bigger hit when Run DMC released their cover of the song in collaboration with the band in 1986. This time, the old school Hip Hop group spat Aerosmith’s lyrics as rap verses, with Steve Tyler singing the chorus.
The result was huge…
This song was a massive hit and pretty much created a new genre of Rap-Rock. It made the already popular and influential Run DMC a household name. And it made Hip Hop cross over into popular music more than ever, receiving tons of radio play.
(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) – Beastie Boys
One of the classic Hip Hop groups, and one of the few white groups to make it big, the Beastie Boys started rocking it with their first album, License to Ill, in 1986. And “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” is their best-known song from that debut.
This jam was played by the band themselves and has a heavy Rock edge. The lyrics are a spoof on party culture, which is ironic because this rap hit has become a party staple. The Beasties’ unique voices and edgy style made this track a hit and kept their careers going for decades.
Push It – Salt-n-Peppa
The all-female group Salt-n-Peppa was composed of rappers Salt and Peppa with DJ Spinderella and was the first female Hip Hop group to have a platinum record. With the single “Push It,” they achieved massive success. The song went to # 2 in the UK and #2 on the Hot 100 chart in America.
This song has a fast, danceable beat and surprisingly little focus on the lyrics. But the hook that it includes was just too catchy to ignore. And, with exciting and sexually charged performances from the front ladies, this song was a perfect Hip Hop party song.
I’m Bad – LL Cool J
LL Cool J put out “I’m Bad” on his second album in 1987. His style was old school, laying rhymes down on the beat and using simple rhyme structures. But there was something different about this track. LL’s lyrics are hard-edged and full of bragging about how hard he is as a rapper.
While not overly violent, his lyrics here are aggressive. For example, “No rapper can rap quite like I can – I’ll take a musclebound man and put his face in the sand.”
He also curses in this song, making it real and raw and helping to start a trend in that direction. This trend, with the minimal drumbeat rhythm of this song, helped lead toward a new school of Hip Hop.
Ain’t No Half Steppin – Big Daddy Kane
Big Daddy Kane got started in 1986. And, by the time “Ain’t No Half Steppin” came out in 1988, he already had a unique style that was imitated by many but never replicated.
This song was based around a very simple rhythm, sampling Heatwave’s song by the same name and heavy DJ scratching. This gave it a chilled, funky feel that allowed Kane to showcase his rhyming skills over top.
Big Daddy Kane uses tons of internal rhymes…
Rather than just ending his rhymes at the end of his bars. “To have MC’s comin’ out soundin’ so similar – It’s quite confusin’ for you to remember the – Originator and boy, do I hate a – Perpetrator, but I’m much greater.”
This was one of the characteristic styles of new school rap that, thanks to MCs like Kane, had already replaced old school style in the early 80s.
Children’s Story – Slick Rick
Slick Rick has one of the coolest, slickest voices in rap. And, back in 1988, he had changed his name from MC Ricky D and started on a hugely successful solo career. His style is smooth and slick, but also often silly, like when this song starts with kids’ voices asking Uncle Ricky for a bedtime story.
The song tells the story of a couple of kids who start living like gangsters. “Me and you, Ty, we’re gonna make some cash – Robbin’ old folks and makin’ the dash.”
At the same time, Rick warns us not to laugh, because a young guy gets gunned down in the end. So, this is a cautionary tale, after all, with Uncle Rick’s voice telling it better than anyone else could.
Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A.
From cautionary tales, we see a shift to the beginnings of telling real gangster stories and the start of Gangster Rap. In 1988, West Coast group N.W.A. dropped Straight Outta Compton, one of the most raw and controversial albums of all time.
And the lead track off that album was “Straight Outta Compton.” This explodes with the line “Straight outta Compton – Crazy muthafucka named Ice Cube” and only gets harder from there.
The lyrics here are boastful and violent…
Describing life on the rough streets of Compton. The music is basically an afterthought since the focus is all on the hard bars spat by Ice Cube, MC Ren, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E. All these members went on to push Gangster Rap into the national spotlight and become massive superstars in the process.
Me Myself and I – De La Soul
Not everything in the late 80s was hard and edgy, like Gangster Rap. You still had smooth, conscious groups like De La Soul putting out music you can dance and party to.
In 1989, the De La put out their debut, 3 Feet High and Rising. And the track “Me Myself and I” is the most memorable song from that album.
This track cuts up samples from Funkadelic, Loose Ends, Doug E. Fresh, Edwin Birdsong, and the Ohio Players to create something beautiful and new.
A genre called Jazz Rap…
Rappers Posdnuos, Trugoy, and Maseo lay down some cool rhymes about depending on yourself, like “I don’t need anything to get me through the night – Except the beat that’s in my heart – Yeah, it’s keeping me alive.”
Just A Friend – Biz Markie
“Just a Friend” came out on Biz Markie’s 1989 album The Biz Never Sleeps. This song is a story warning Biz Markie’s friends about the dangers of love. It’s fun, lighthearted, and also well-written.
And, The Biz’s voice is incredible in both the rap verses and the chorus. He’s not a singer, but he sings, “Oh baby you got what I need – But you say he’s just a friend” in such a soulful way that you can feel what he’s gone through.
This record went platinum and remains one of the best Hip Hop songs of all time.
Best 90s Hip Hop Songs
The 90s were like the teenage years of Hip Hop music. The genre had spread out enough and gained enough popularity that artists were able to experiment and come up with new and different styles.
So, in the 90s, new music and rap styles exploded onto the Hip Hop scene every other day. Here are the best songs to come out of that rapid expansion.
Fight the Power – Public Enemy
Public Enemy was a powerhouse in the 1980s. They pioneered Political Rap, and some of their songs, like “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “911 is a Joke,” were angry, loud, and deliciously controversial. But, when “Fight the Power” came out, the band had their biggest record ever.
This track was released as a single in 1989 and again on their Fear of a Black Planet album in 1990. The beat is thick and chunky. But it’s the lyrics that draw the focus.
Chuck D calls out systematic racism and oppression in this track. And Flava Flav is there, as always, to back up his points like only the best hype-man ever could.
Humpty Dance – Digital Underground
Shock G from Digital Underground created Humpty Hump as a character he could play on stage. Then a song grew up around this character, rapping in a funny voice and with his own dance craze. And, before you knew it, “Humpty Dance” was a hit.
The beat is just phat and has heavy hand claps to get the party bumpin’. And Humpty’s lyrics are clever, as well as hilariously delivered. Despite being sort of a joke song, this track got to #1 on the charts. Not bad for a big-nosed humper.
Ice Ice Baby – Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice’s big hit “Ice Ice Baby” was the highest-selling Hip Hop sing of all time when it came out in 1990. And it stayed that way for about a decade until the crown was taken by Eminem.
Being a white rapper added to his mass appeal, but it was also a time when Hip Hop was entering its Golden Era.
Building the song around a sample of a big Queen hit, “Under Pressure,” didn’t hurt either. Vanilla’s flow might be a bit vanilla itself, but this song went platinum because it was the right song at the right time and one of the biggest Hip Hop hits in history.
O.P.P. – Naughty by Nature
Naughty By Nature was a group that mastered the sing-along chorus. In “Hip Hop Hooray,” the “Hey/ Ho” chorus got everyone waving their arms. But their masterpiece has got to be “O.P.P.” This song amazingly came out in 1991 but still heats up the dance floor when it gets played.
The groove here is fresh, sampling “ABC” from the Jackson 5 and Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution.” The lyrics are about cheating, but it’s lighthearted and even funny, so you can’t help but smile and bob your head along.
And, when they ask, “You down with O-P-P?” you gotta shout, “Yeah you know me!”
Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang – Dr. Dre (feat. Snoop Dogg)
Dr. Dre has lasted the longest and become the most successful of the N.W.A. crew since they disbanded back in 1991. Known more as a producer, Dre still shows off his MC skills, especially on the track “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” off his 1992 debut solo album, The Chronic.
This track also features Snoop Dogg showing off his enviable talents before he even put out his solo work. This track is chilled out and laid back, representing that West Coast Sound that made Dre and Snoop both so famous.
And the chorus, “It’s like this and like that and like this and uh,” is so ingenious in its simplicity, making this a super-memorable song.
C.R.E.A.M. – Wu-Tang Clan
Cash rules everything around me. That’s what the “cream” in “C.R.E.A.M.” stands for in this legendary Wu-Tang joint. In 1993, New York was coming back up, representing against the West Coast scene success, and the Wu-Tang Clan was leading the charge.
Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the group’s first album, was completely different from everything else in rap at the moment. The music was dark, cinematic, and dank. The group’s rhymes were aggressive and real, and sometimes pretty weird (thanks to Ol’ Dirty).
With “C.R.E.A.M.,” the Clan spits some solid verses about the hard life on the streets. Their skills are real, and the hooky chorus, “Cash rules everything around me – Cream – Get the money – Dolla Dolla bill yall,” is something you can’t seem to get out of your head.
Insane in the Brain – Cypress Hill
West Coast group Cypress Hill has a style all their own and voices that are unique and memorable. Their biggest track by far has got to be “Insane in the Brain,” which came out on their second album, 1993’s Black Sunday.
That chorus/hook with the name of the song is just tattooed into everyone’s brains by now. The music for the track is also dope, with samples from James Brown to Sly & the Family Stone to the group’s material.
And, the rapping here was also super skillful while still being very laid back and chilled out – stoner style?
Sound of da Police – KRS-One
When KRS-One put out his debut album, Return of the Boom Bap, in 1993, it knocked lots of socks off. This album featured his hard-edged rhymes but also his Caribbean-style sound, the first rapper to do that.
With “Sound of da Police,” KRS-One shows off his incredible rapping skills over a hard-hitting backing track. This is a big song about police harassment brutality, and sadly, it’s just as topical today as it was back in the 90s.
I Used to Love H.E.R. – Common
Sounds like a sad love song, doesn’t it? That’s until you find out that the “HER” stands for “Hip-Hop in its Essence is Real.”
Common’s rhymes seem like they’re about a past lover, but instead, he’s talking about conscious and Afrocentric rap and how it seems to have been taken over by songs all about gangster and bling styles.
This song has a jazzy beat sampled from guitarist George Benson and has some “yes, yes yall and you don’t stop” to give it an old-school flavor.
And Common’s lyrics are very clever…
Talking about Hip-Hop like a woman is an analogy that extends through the whole song. The style, the words, the sentiment – all this combined to make an unforgettable Hip Hop song.
Juicy – Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G. had a relatively short career, dying early and violently as part of a gangster-style dispute. But he laid down some excellent tracks in that short time. Biggie was a big guy with a big flow and a hard gangster edge that got people’s attention.
With “Juicy,” he created one of his best-known tracks, the best off his debut album, Ready To Die, in 1994.
Biggie had a kind of old-school flow, just rhyming on the beat, and he showcases this perfectly in this song. It’s also one of his most danceable numbers, still getting play in clubs today.
No Diggity – Blackstreet (feat. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen)
R&B group Blackstreet teamed up with Dr. Dre and Queen Pen to produce one of the most loved Hip Hop songs ever. While this track has a strong R&B vibe, thanks to the singing groups’ smooth vocals, Dre and Pen also bring strong bars to pull this song into the Hip Hop realm.
And so does the sing-along chorus of “hey yo!”
Dre produced this track using a Bill Withers sample from “Grandmother’s Hands.” From there, the singing and rapping go all over the shop, but “No Diggity” is nothing if not a slick masterpiece. That chorus, “I like the way you work it – No Diggity – I got to bag it up,” is one of the catchiest ever.
Woo Ha!! Got You All In Check – Busta Rhymes (feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard)
Aside from ODB of the Wu-Tang, I don’t think anyone has or will ever rap so wildly as Busta Rhymes. He’s a master of bizarre styles, off-kilter, off-beat rapping, and unique onslaughts of rhyme chains that rarely stop flowing.
“Woo Ha!! Got You All In Check” explodes right out of the gate and never stops running. The beat is fat and funky, and Busta rhymes like a maniac all the way through. There’s even a version of this song featuring ODB that’s one of the nastiest moments in Hip Hop history.
I Ain’t Mad At Cha – Tupac Shakur
Not only was Tupac talented and able to open up and give raw performances, but he also died tragically young, and that froze him in time as a legend.
He was killed in 1996, just two days before his fourth studio album, All Eyez On Me, was released. “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” has got to be the best song on that record, hands down.
2Pac recorded this song the day he was released from prison when he hurried into the studio to lay down fresh and very personal rhymes. This track talks about change, friends moving apart, doing time, and even seems to predict his own violent death.
My Name Is – Eminem
Eminem is one of the few rappers who came out in the 90s that is still going strong. When he dropped the Slim Shady EP in 1996, it made everyone stand up and take notice. Yeah, he was white, but he also had mad skills and a truly unique voice and style.
Backed by a thick Dr. Dre beat, “My Name Is” gives us a great taste of Eminem to come. He’s smart, funny, and angry. His in-your-face style hits hard but also makes you laugh it off, and that basically defined his career.
Eminem uses complex rhyme structures and just kinda weird rhymes in general, making this a fun and raucous record that goes into the history books.
Best 2000s Hip Hop Songs
What were the 2000s for Hip Hop – the college years? More than anything, I think these were the “first job” years. This is when artists started to truly make huge amounts of cash and when Hip Hop became fully commercialized.
We can even call these the “Bling Years.” Some big names put out some massive hits in this decade, such as…
B.O.B – Outkast
The year 2000 started with a bang. Outkast had already blown many other rappers away, but on “B.O.B” (Bombs Over Baghdad) from their album, Stankonia, they blew everyone’s minds.
This track is like nothing you have ever heard before. It’s fast and furious, with a banging drum and bass beat, flaming guitars, and a gospel chorus.
Rappers Big Boi and Andre 3000 show off their amazing skills on this track. They throw down rhymes at lightning speed but still manage to make it sound laid back and slick in that Atlanta style. Nobody was doing anything like this, and who knows if anyone will again.
Get Ur Freak On – Missy Elliott
Missy Elliot dropped her third album in 2001, and the whole thing was sick. But the best song on it has to be “Get UR Freak On.” Missy already had proven her rap skills and funky flava, but this song was something different.
It mixed a Punjabi rhythm with incredible table percussion. It had Japanese and German influences, making this a truly international treat.
Nothing like this had been done in Hip Hop before. That includes Missy’s unique bars and strange shouting and pausing throughout, and getting crunk at the end. Unique is the word here.
Lose Yourself – Eminem
By 2002, Eminem was huge, but he still wanted to tell his story. Starring in the movie “8 Mile”, he also wrote the song “Lose Yourself” for the soundtrack.
This track is Eminem at his best…
He tells the story of trying to find success and get out of the hood by becoming a Hip Hop artist. It’s intense and powerful, and the song went #1, staying there for 12 weeks.
Unlike many of his other songs, this track has a strong meaning and no funny business. Things are tight, and we get his in-your-face style in every bar.
And the chorus is just plain inspiring, “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment – You own it, you better never let it go – You only get one shot – do not miss your chance to blow – This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.”
I Can – Nas
Nas is one of the greatest East Coast rappers ever. So, if anyone is going to tell kids that they can be whatever they want to be as long as they work hard at it, Nas can. This song is nowhere near as hard as his other tracks since it’s (sort of) aimed at kids. But it still showcases his flow and lyrical style.
The track uses the famous piano riff from Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” over a thick beat. And the chorus and backing vocals are done by kids, making this track sound different from anything anyone else was doing.
Get By – Talib Kweli
In 2003, you didn’t get to hear too many conscious lyrics anymore. But, in “Get By,” Talib Kweli goes off spitting verses about the struggles of modern life. This track is bangin’. It features a sample from Nina Simone and some of the best backing vocals we’ve heard in ages.
A remix blew this song up even more. It included bars from Kweli’s long-time collaborator Mos Def as well as Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Snoop Dog. Talk about an ensemble cast.
In Da Club – 50 Cent
Dr. Dre and Mike Elizondo produced “In Da Club” for 50 Cent, giving him a slow, thick beat to lay his rhymes down on top of. This track comes from his debut 2003 album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and he ain’t dead. So, what does that tell you?
The best part of the song is the same thing that’s gonna make it last for decades to come. It’s the opening lines, “Go, shorty, it’s your birthday – We gon’ party like it’s your birthday” – people just love birthdays.
Drop It Like It’s Hot – Snoop Dogg (feat. Pharrell)
Snoop Dogg is back on this list of the best Hip Hop songs of all time in 2004, over a decade after he debuted on Dr. Dre’s first record. By this time, he was a well-established rap superstar, if not yet the godfather we know him as today.
With “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” Snoop is paired up with Pharell over a phat track produced by the Neptunes (also Pharell).
The minimalist beat here is so cool, made from a drum machine, and tongue clicks to make one of the weirdest sounds around. This track is so cool and laid back, and it’s got to be one of the smoothest Hip Hop songs ever.
Jesus Walks – Kanye West
Kanye West was a superstar producer before he became a superstar rapper. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that he also produced this brilliant track on his 2004 album, The College Dropout. He’s got a thick, military march-style beat and amazing vocal work from the ARC Choir.
On top of all that, Ye’s lyrics are intense and so personal. He talks about his faith and the battles against racism, terrorism, and our internal battles. It’s surprising to hear this modern hymn, but it works and is one of Ye’s most successful records ever.
Ridin’ – Chamillionaire (feat. Krayzie Bone)
“They see me rollin’ – They hating – Patrolling and trying to catch me ridin’ dirty,” starts Chamillionaire’s dirty, dank hit, “Ridin’.” Chamillionaire shows off his rapping chops here over this thick beat as he talks about police brutality and racial profiling.
It’s made even better with the insane speed of Krayzie Bone’s (from Bone Thugs n’ Harmony) rhymes. It was such a big hit that it even earned a parody by Weird Al.
This song, which most people think is called Ridin’ Dirty, won the artist a Grammy and hit the #1 slot on the charts. It came out in 2005 on his debut album, The Sound of Revenge, and blew up his career real good.
Empire State of Mind – Jay-Z (feat. Alicia Keys)
One of the biggest rappers of all time, Jay-Z had already had a string of massive hits before he snuck one more into the Noughties. “Empire State of Mind” was a huge success from the end of 2009 and went #1 in 2010.
It focused on New York, the city which had seen much love since 9/11. It also showed off Jay-Z’s signature style and had the inimitable Alicia Keys singing the song’s bridge and catchy hook. “In New York – Concrete jungle where dreams are made of – There’s nothing you can’t do.”
This orchestral rap is lush, with a huge sound and a perfect beat to drive the vocals. Alicia Key’s voice soars as Jay-Z spits about the lavish lifestyle he now enjoys.
Best Recent Hip Hop Songs
The past 10-15 years have seen the world fully turn to consume media on the Internet more than TV and radio. Of course, this had a huge effect on Hip Hop as more and more artists were able to break into the game.
But it’s also so recent, it’s hard to tell which tracks will have staying power. So, forgive me for this list being thin, but let’s see what happens in the next decade, too. The best Hip Hop songs of all time are likely to be an ever-expanding list.
N*ggas In Paris – Jay-Z and Kanye West
What do you get when you hook up the two biggest rappers in the game? A killer album like 2011’s Watch the Throne and a hot track like “N*ggas In Paris,” that’s what. This track is thick and lush, with a beat that’s dark and dangerous and spacey synth notes tinkling in the background.
Both rappers come out with guns blazing, showing off their hard edges like never before. And, with the two of them playing off one another, the energy is fantastic. This is a track that’s going to last for sure.
Thrift Shop – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (feat. Wanz)
Rapper Macklemore and DJ Ryan Lewis team up on this track with singer and rapper Wanz to bring something fresh and new to Hip Hop.
In 2012, Bling Hip Hop was still in vogue, so this track is a response to that copious spending and showing off. The lyrics are all about looking fresh in thrift store scores, something most of us can relate to a lot better than being covered in ice.
The music is super-funky, and the beat is bouncy and fun. And, with Wanz singing the chorus, this track shines. “I’m gonna pop some tags – Only got $20 in my pocket – I’m hunting, looking for a come up – This is fucking awesome.”
Hotline Bling – Drake
Drake was on top of it all through the 2000 teens. But his 2015 track “Hotline Bling” is arguably his best work. This is an emotional, mournful track with lines like “You used to call me on my cellphone,” which can only make sense as sad in this modern world.
The music is basic. You’ve got a basic trap-style beat and a bit of synth and piano tinkling. But it’s Drake doing what he does best that makes this song work. And that is telling stories that make you feel like he’s talking about you.
Humble – Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar is one of the most unique artists to grace Hip Hop with his talent. He dropped “Humble” in 2017 and picked up three Grammys. Not bad for a self-described loner from Compton.
This track is weird and wonderful. The beat is basic but bounces nicely. But the important thing is Lamar’s vocal style. No one sounds like him, and no one else is writing lines like “I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop – Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor.”
This Is America – Childish Gambino
When Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, dropped “This Is America” in 2018, no one knew what to do with it. He’s also a comedian, so was this a joke song? Despite the strange lyrics and bizarre video, this song makes a strong statement about gun violence and the challenges faced by black people in America.
Sound-wise, this track is all over the place, with trap beats, choir singing, off-kilter rapping, and even soulful singing. Nothing else sounds like this, and it’s exciting to think of what’s going to come next from this artist.
More 104 Best Hip Hop Songs of All Time
- U.N.I.T.Y. by Queen Latifah
- Get Money by Junior M.A.F.I.A.
- Nuthin’ But a G Thang by Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg
- Fu-Gee-La by The Fugees
- Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check by Busta Rhymes
- Electric Relaxation by A Tribe Called Quest
- T.R.O.Y. by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth
- It’s Like That by Run-DMC
- Rebel Without a Pause by Public Enemy
- Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang
- Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio
- The Next Episode by Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg
- X Gon’ Give It to Ya by DMX
- Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You) by UGK feat. Outkast
- Elevators (Me & You) by Outkast
- One Mic by Nas
- Ruff Ryders’ Anthem by DMX
- I Got It Made by Special Ed
- All of the Lights by Kanye West feat. Rihanna and Kid Cudi
- It Was a Good Day by Ice Cube
- The World Is Yours by Nas
- Hail Mary by 2Pac feat. Outlawz
- They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) by Pete Rock & CL Smooth
- Dead Presidents II by Jay-Z
- California Love by 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre
- Paid in Full by Eric B. & Rakim
- All About the Benjamins by Puff Daddy feat. The Notorious B.I.G.
- Protect Ya Neck by Wu-Tang Clan
- Jump Around by House of Pain
- Juicy by The Notorious B.I.G.
- Hypnotize by The Notorious B.I.G.
- N.Y. State of Mind by Nas
- Changes by 2Pac
- Mo Money Mo Problems by The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Mase and Puff Daddy
- Ms. Jackson by Outkast
- Gin and Juice by Snoop Dogg
- Shook Ones Pt. II by Mobb Deep
- Flava in Ya Ear (Remix) by Craig Mack feat. The Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Rampage, and Busta Rhymes
- Regulate by Warren G feat. Nate Dogg
- Keep Ya Head Up by 2Pac
- Hate It or Love It by The Game feat. 50 Cent
- 99 Problems by Jay-Z
- Big Pimpin’ by Jay-Z feat. UGK
- The Show Goes On by Lupe Fiasco
- All of the Lights by Kanye West featuring Rihanna and Kid Cudi
- California Love by 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman
- Triumph by Wu-Tang Clan
- Top Back by T.I.
- Gold Digger by Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx
- How We Do by The Game featuring 50 Cent
- Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J
- Nuthin’ But a G Thang by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg
- Freaky Tales by Too Short
- Izzo (H.O.V.A.) by Jay-Z
- Big Poppa by The Notorious B.I.G.
- U Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer
- The Real Slim Shady by Eminem
- Ante Up by M.O.P.
- Bring the Pain by Method Man
- They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth
- The Bridge Is Over by Boogie Down Productions
- It’s Tricky by Run-DMC
- Express Yourself by N.W.A
- Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A
- Regulate by Warren G and Nate Dogg
- What’s My Name? by Snoop Dogg
- Mass Appeal by Gang Starr
- Put It On by Big L
- Survival of the Fittest by Mobb Deep
- All About the Benjamins by Puff Daddy featuring The Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Kim, and The LOX
- Flava in Ya Ear (Remix) by Craig Mack featuring The Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Rampage, and Busta Rhymes
- Shook Ones (Part II) by Mobb Deep
- Massive Attack by Nicki Minaj featuring Sean Garrett
- Self Care by Mac Miller
- Big Bank by YG featuring 2 Chainz, Big Sean, and Nicki Minaj
- Go Loko by YG featuring Tyga and Jon Z
- Money Longer by Lil Uzi Vert
- Trap Queen by Fetty Wap
- Look At Me! by XXXTentacion
- Magnolia by Playboi Carti
- T-Shirt by Migos
- Rock Box by Run-DMC
- F*** tha Police by N.W.A
- Tennessee by Arrested Development
- I Got 5 on It by Luniz
- Dear Mama by 2Pac
- Mystery of Chessboxin’ by Wu-Tang Clan
- Can I Kick It? by A Tribe Called Quest
- Scenario by A Tribe Called Quest feat. Leaders of the New School
- Award Tour by A Tribe Called Quest
- Bonita Applebum by A Tribe Called Quest
- Stakes Is High by De La Soul
- Buddy by De La Soul feat. Jungle Brothers and Q-Tip
- Hip Hop Hooray by Naughty by Nature
- Jump by Kris Kross
- Whoomp! (There It Is) by Tag Team
- Rump Shaker by Wreckx-N-Effect
- Don’t Sweat the Technique by Eric B. & Rakim
- Microphone Fiend by Eric B. & Rakim
- Eric B. Is President by Eric B. & Rakim
- La Di Da Di by Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick
- Children’s Story by Slick Rick
- Hey Ya! by OutKast
- Rosa Parks by OutKast
Want to Find More Banging Hip Hop Songs?
Well, you should take a look at our detailed articles on the Best 90s Hip Hop Songs, the Best 2000s Rap Songs, the Best Sad Rap Songs, and the Best Birthday Hip Hop Songs for more slick song selections.
Also, you will want to pump those tunes. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Loudest Portable Bluetooth Speakers, the Best Party Speakers, the Best Waterproof Speakers, and the Best Tailgate Speakers you can buy in 2023.
And don’t miss our comprehensive reviews of the Best Headphones for Hip-Hop, the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Bass Earbuds, and the Best Sound Quality Earbuds currently on the market.
The Very Best Hip Hop Songs of All Time
Wading through thousands of incredible tracks to find the best was a massive effort. These are the songs that define Hip Hop and provide an anchor for the genre to go forward. From simple beginnings, this style is now everywhere and mixed in with just about every other kind of music out there.
Maybe my list hasn’t got all your favorites on it, especially if your favorites are new. But let it simmer and see which tracks stand the test of time and point things in new directions.
For now, these are the biggest and best Hip Hop songs from the biggest and best artists. So, just put them on and enjoy.
Until next time, happy listening.