100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time

What makes a great hip-hop song?

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1. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Message"

"The Message" was a total knock out of the park," says Chuck D of Public Enemy. "It was the first dominant rap group with the most dominant MC saying something that meant something." It was the first song to tell, with hip-hop's rhythmic and vocal force, the truth about modern life in inner-city America. Over seven minutes, atop a Seventies P-Funk jam, rapper Melle Mel and co-writer Duke Bootee, a member of the Sugar Hill Records house band, traded lines and scenes of struggle and decay, with a warning at the end of each verse: "Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge/I'm trying not to lose my head." The Furious Five's pioneering DJ Grandmaster Flash later said that "The Message" proved their music could "speak things that have social significance and truth." Yet, when they first heard Bootee's demo (originally titled "The Jungle"), they were worried that hip-hop clubgoers would not dig the subject matter and slowed-down beat. As Melle Mel recalled, he was the member who "caved in" and agreed to record it. Sugar Hill Records head Sylvia Robinson got him to write and rap more lyrics, and Sugar Hill studio player Reggie Griffin added the indelible synthesizer lick. Despite being credited on the record, Flash and the Five appeared only in a closing skit, in which they're harassed and arrested by police. "The Message" was a hit, but its messy birth was fatal to the Five, who soon split up. Their most notable reunion was in 2007, when they were the first rap group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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