Questlove's Top 50 Hip-Hop Songs of All Time

What makes a great hip-hop song? Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson chooses his favorites.

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Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five,
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25. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "White Lines" (1984)

LL Cool J once told me his grandparents forbade him from nicknaming himself J-Ski for "obvious reasons." I tried to go along, but the 40-year-old virgin in me had to reveal I wasn't as cool as I thought I was. Backstage at Fallon, I was like, "I don't get it." He explained to me that "ski" represented "snow." It took 15 seconds, but I was like, "Oh!" Then I went through all of the "cold" name references in hip-hop and asked him, "Wait . . .  so all of those rappers were just code names for those that chose 'coke' names? Kool Rock Ski? Joe Ski Love? Kurtis Blow?" He just laughed. Boy, was I naive.

The first generation of rappers ('72-'82) were now seeing the setbacks of what seemed like a harmless hobby enhancer. The mid-Eighties offered nothing but crash and burn options. So for a charter member of the "blow generation" to offer up an anti-drug song – way before the "just say no" madness started and two years before the crack epidemic destroyed lives – that was a mighty statement. To slyly point out the hypocrisy of the Rockefeller laws on inner city poor versus white collar crimes was even bolder. I later found out that Mel was still caught up in the white madness while doing his vocals. That, to me, is the craziest. Cocaine was a hell of a drug.

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