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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Craig Mack,
David Corio/Redferns20/50

20. Craig Mack, "Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)" / The Notorious B.I.G., "Juicy"/"Unbelievable" (1994)

Amazing that the two singles that started an empire – one deemed "the beginning of the end of underground hip-hop" by purists – were two of the best underground-approved debuts in hip-hop history. First time I ever heard a DJ spin a record five times in a row like he didn't give a shit was "Flava in Ya Ear." This was when I was living in London, so I know America was going crazy. I'd do the same, too. Some of the most powerful hip-hop songs had elements so simple your brain would explode trying to explain their logic. It took Easy Mo Bee almost 17 years to finally reveal his sound source for the two note guitar stab on "Flava." I wanted to throw someone out the window, Axel Foley style, when I realized I had the answer all along and couldn't figure it out for myself. (And yes, I'm sworn to secrecy.)

B.I.G.'s "Juicy" set a new template for NYC with its aspirational rags-to-riches vision – Jay-Z's "I made it!!!" calling card. Taking a cue from Dr. Dre, Sean Combs' Hitmen gave Big a cleaner, afternoon-format-friendly music to counter-attack the "more music, less rap!" defense that urban radio tried to roll with since rap's origin. The song hit jackpot and soon every MC's "rebel, renegade, must stay paid" period began.

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