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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3. N.W.A., "Fuck Tha Police" (1989)

My partner Black Thought and I were complete opposites. Me a sheltered band geek, him a streetwise kid from South Philly. But I knew what I liked, and no one was gonna convince me otherwise. I got familiar with N.W.A. because I started religiously reading Billboard magazine in August 1987. I wanted to track the progress of Michael Jackson's Bad album, keeping tabs on it for the three-year duration that it maintained a position. Actually, I think I kept up with Billboard till my band got a deal in '93. Of course, Mike wasn't the only thing I was tracking – I looked at the pop charts, the dance charts, the world charts, everything. The one thing that stood out like a sore thumb were the amateurish looking Ruthless ads for Eazy-E and N.W.A. Having gotten burnt by falling for the west coast while something progressive was going on in the east in the past, I was not gonna be fooled again! (See entry Number Nine on this list, where I'll explain the time I spent a whole summer in Cali jonesin' on Toddy T, while the rest of the States had "The Show" and "La Di Da Di.") Besides, Jheri curls on anyone but Michael Jackson in '87 were not the move. Eric B. and Rakim, BDP, Kane, PE, Jungle Brothers – now there was some innovative hip-hop for your ass. I could take one look and I knew N.W.A. was some sucka-ass motherfuckas. And then . . . lunch time came. 'Riq came running out of breath: "YO!!!!!!!!!! You get Straight Outta Compton yet?" I laughed, like, "Yeah, right." "No, seriously, you hear it?!?!?!!?" Man, I was, like, "Whatever." He snuck me the headphones – oh my God. How could I be so wrong?!?!?! Tariq just looked at me, like, "I know, right?!!?!"

I mean, just by the look of 'em, I thought they'd be stuck in 1985 sounding like Mantronix rejects. What I got was a well produced, well polished, just as exciting as the Bomb Squad kinda production. Beats were changing every second. They were using all of my favorite breakbeats from the Ultimate Beats and Breaks series that was the holy bible of records for any producer in the late Eighties. And I'd never heard no song like this ever. "Is this even allowed?!?!?!?!?!?" I mean, some of the groups I've named previously made me yell "Oh shit!!" on the daily, but rarely did they ever cross the line. (Yes, even Public Enemy's sophomore classic made sense to me.) This was crossing the line. Public Enemy was political, but in a spiritual leader way, like Jackson or Sharpton or Shabazz. N.W.A. was political like the Panthers or the MOVE organization – which almost makes them more political. When the FBI came calling, then that was jackpot. I dunno if a song will ever make me gasp in shock the way that I did the day I heard "Fuck Tha Police" in my headphones. Lord knows. The only time I cut class (besides senior cut day) was the following sixth period, when I skipped orchestra to listen to the rest of the album. Man, I was wrong about N.W.A. I never again judged an album before listening to the evidence before the jury. Word to the motherfucka.

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