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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Schooly D,
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16. Schooly D, "P.S.K. What Does It Mean?" (1985)

Thanksgiving 1985. I was 14 years old. It was 10 p.m., and I was tuned into Power 99 FM. Then it came on: the sound of a Roland 909 coming through what sounded like a church cathedral eight city blocks big. That much echo. I was more hypnotized at the way the drums kept coming in off-beat at the top of each phrase ending. This was the second phase of the blues, because there was a structure similar to how the blues was structured: blues gave us 1/4/5/1 chord structure. "P.S.K." was modeled the same way: First establishing line ("Got to the place and what did I see?"), second observation line ("Some sucker ass nigga tryna sound like me"), main action ("Put my pistol up against his head"), then the payoff line ("I said, 'Sucka ass nigga, I should shoot you dead'")! This was unprecedented. Absolutely unprecedented.

This single made the entire Licensed To Ill album possible. The Beasties followed the same Schooly blues formula: 1. "I got money in the bank, I can still get high," 2. "That's why your girlfriend thinks that I'm so fly," 3. "I got . . . twin sisters in the bed," 4. "Their father had envy, so I shot him in the head." That formula is what birthed the loveable genre of gangsta rap. N.W.A. just took the formula and ran with it.

I found out a bit of side trivia when I happened to work with Jeff Cheesesteak, the engineer of "P.S.K." He told me since no one had read the manual of the 909 drum machine, no one knew how to sequence it. So in one take, Schooly stood at the microphone and pressed the buttons himself as he did the rhyme. As a fellow Philadelphian, I couldn't have been more proud. A classic example of how my town of Philly was full of innovators. That's what it really means. 

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