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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Trouble Funk,
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42. Trouble Funk, "Pump Me Up" (1981)

Even though – ahem – Philadelphian Grover Washington, Jr.'s "Mister Magic" is go-go's blueprint (prove me wrong, I triple dog dare you), I'mma let D.C. have this one. This entry, as well as the overall genre of go-go music, is easily the most overlooked and under-appreciated song on this entire list. Sure, the godfather of 'em all Chuck Brown's "Bustin' Loose" gets the glory, but stylistically I consider "Bustin'" a funk bomb that defiantly stared the disco genre in the face like a bully in the lunchroom. "Pump Me Up," however, was the first true go-go joint that hip-hoppers adopted and claimed as their own. Taking elements from the salsa world (congas, timbales, shakers, wood blocks, cowbells) and turning them on their heads, it morphed into a tribal ritual so hypnotic that jams could go on for 20 minutess and you'd never know the difference. Before the idea of sneaking in Mom and Dad's record collection to cut and scratch breakbeats, this particular gem gave us our first true contemporary break to practice on. This came months before Spoonie Gee's "Love Rap," by the way – the second great hip-hop breakbeat.

Everyone ate this record up in the summer of '81. Psssh, DJs even made complete 12-inch singles of them just cutting the intro of the song. You can clearly hear the blueprint of Rick Rubin's greatest jams ("Rock The Bells," "She's Crafty," the end of "99 Problems") and Teddy Riley's work ("The Show," "Mr Big Stuff," "Teddy's Jam") in this composition. For the life of me, I could never see why black people's jam band music hasn't crossed the state lines. But if there ever was a genesis for some of hip hop's greatest go-go moments, here it is.

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