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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De La Soul feat. A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah and Monie Love,
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4. De La Soul feat. A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah and Monie Love, "Buddy" (1989)

"Sup?" I knew that "Sup." I'd been dealing with that "Sup" since 1983. Chancy and Charles, the bully twins from Addison Street, rolled with their cousin Reggie and terrorized all of us. If you had all your Pacmen and was on a roll on the 10th keyboard, you gave your game up if they wanted it. I spent most of my childhood in the house listening to records, because to go outside was to risk neighborhood bullies. Once we became teens, it wasn't being bullied – it was being shot at that worried me.

I was walking home from school and they were on the corner at Pine Street. It was too late to make a detour or act like I left something important at the library. They saw me coming – Chancy, Charles, Reg, Kev, Smook and Marcus. I made myself scarce from year to year, so there was no real pattern or familiarity with me as far as they were concerned. I just wanted to breeze by unscathed, so that I didn't establish a rep that I could be easily got. Or shot. Of course, dressing how I dressed made me an easy target of getting got. Every step I took got more intense: "Walk like you mean it . . . you're six feet tall . . . you don't take no mess," I tried to convince myself.

Then we were face to face: me and them. "Sup?" I quipped back, heart beating more intense like Bonzo was playing a drum solo in my pulse. Charles started: "Yo!! You look like one of them . . . um, um . . . um . . . one of them, um, um, De La Soul niggas!!!!"

I dunno how I was supposed to respond to that. Do I say "Thanks?" Do I ignore so he can throw his 40-ounce bottle at me? I had a heartbeat of a second, and without thinking, I said, "Oh, that's my favorite group." Then he just yelled with approval: "Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!! That's my shit, that 'Buddy' shit!!! Yeah!!!!"

I can't quite call the time and date, but De La actually made it safe to be me in my neighborhood. So safe, I did more walking around my way in 1989 than I ever did in the 18 years that came before. Like that scene in The Wiz when Evilene dies and her minions' skin peels and they start singing, "Can you feel a brand new day?" I mean, don't get me wrong, it was still the crack era. But at five I was teased for my afro, and at 12 I was teased for rocking pleated Morris Day baggies from the thrift store. I was teased at 15 for cutting holes in my knees like my white friends did at school. Now that De La was in effect, loud colors and loud prints were the norm – and I actually got props! I couldn't believe it. I mean, De La themselves later told me they were in weekly fights knocking mofos out who wanted to test them. And they were De La! I can't call what happened. I once was lost, but now I'm found. Was dweeb, but now I'm . . . .cool?

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