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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Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five,
David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images10/50

10. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" (1981)

I've only had one pugilistic episode with my older cousin David, back when we were kids. If there was a surefire way you wanted to get my goat? All you had to do was prove that you thought you were a better music expert than I was. Actually, what irked me more was when non-musical experts insisted their word was law. David asked me if I ever heard the song "Fab 5 Freddy" – so he proceeds to recite the lyrics, "Fab 5 Freddy told me everybody's fly/DJs spinnin', I said, 'My my'/Flash is fast, Flash is fast, Flash is fast, Flash is cool . . ." What self-respecting Blondie fan would mangle the lyrics to "Rapture" like that? I corrected him the best, most condescending way any 10-year-old critic could: "She doesn't repeat 'Flash is fast' like that, she says it once." David protested that she did say it three times, and what does Dagwood's wife have to do with this song, I'm talking about Grandmaster Flash . . .

I'll spare you guys the Abbot & Costello "Who's on first?!" routine and cut to 40 minutes later, when we are sneaking on my dad's (do not ever touch my) turntable so David could show me exactly how "Flash was fast." Lemme just put it this way: summer of '81, longest punishment ever. In hindsight, though, I was willing to suffer for Grand Wizzard Theodore's sins. When finally allowed out the house seven days later, I officially got to hear what David was talking about. "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" represents the first example of cuttin' and scratching. A five-minute history of what a night in the Bronx musta been like. Remember – live bands were called in to recreate the breaks once hip-hop went in the studio in '79. Technology wasn't up to par for turntables to be used in the studio back then. Because I owned every last record that Flash used – I'm still kinda curious what made my parents buy Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache" in a non-hip-hop-DJ context – i spent that entire summer trying to match that mix note for note on two Fisher Price turntables I'd had since childhood. My dad would often offer his two cents, shaking his head in disappointment with that jigga-jigga-jigga noise he was hearing. He added in that I needed to "spend more time on them drums instead of destroying all them good records," 'cause "ain't no future in these records people done already made." I should be making music instead, 'cause "there ain't a living spinning other people's music." Oh, little did you know, Dad. Little did you know.

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