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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LL Cool J,
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18. LL Cool J, "I Need Love" (1987)

Back before Internet leaks, the music industry primarily followed the rules for the most part. Records were created and distributed to radio and the press some three months before their actual release dates. That way, a proper buzz could work its magic. And unless you were super-connected, you really didn't worry about bootlegging – well, until late 1987, and only hip-hop suffered. I had an inside connect with a record store owner that was also a part-time reporter for Billboard magazine. He would get promo press copies of stuff way in advance. Early '87, while shopping, he told me he got a press copy of the new Bigger and Deffer sophomore LP from LL. I begged and begged for a copy. He told me he'd dub it and to pick it up the following Monday after school.

That Monday, it was on. My Sony Walkman was never happier. I was stuck on side one, tryna figure out which of L's verses I was gonna bite and claim as my own creation in case a lunchroom cipher was gonna jump off. Most of side one was narrative stuff with specific story lines, and the two battle raps were already singles. So then I went to side two: a "Johnny B. Goode" remake, a dis track with too many LL references and curse words that I knew no one would believe I came up with myself – and then it happened. That cheesy Yamaha DX-7 bell patch: "When I'm alone in my room, sometimes I stare at the wall . . . " (Yeah, I stare at the wall, too! Mainly at that Whitney poster, but I stare!!!) ". . . And in the back of my mind I hear my conscience call . . . " (Yeah, yeah, LL, me too!!! Me too!!!!) ". . . Telling me I need a girl as sweet as a dove/And for the first time in my life? I see I need love." YO!!!! Later for that geometry exam! I found the LL rhyme that was gonna catapult me to the stars. I thought that I needed about five battle verses to whup someone with during lunch just to impress the girls. But LL done wrote a song that I can use to cut the middle man out and go straight for the prize!

Did I dare think this song would be his calling card to a triple-platinum plaque and stardom beyond his imagination? Of course not. It ain't like radio was gonna play a rap love song in the afternoon, right? No one is gonna ever hear this song in the real world, 'cause only certain cats like me like this obscure stuff . . . right? I'mma write these lyrics down right now (I failed that geometry quiz) and she will fall in love (she sorta did, for five weeks at least) and cherish this new poem I wrote for her called "I Need Love." That worked until radio jumped all over it like a new gang member initiation. Yeah, she made me the laughing stock of her mean girl high school crew, and it took a while for the laughter to die down. But she follows me on Facebook. So now I'm getting the last national laugh!

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