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100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time

What makes a great hip-hop song?

100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time

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We asked 33 artists and experts – from Rick Rubin to Big Boi, Mike D to Chuck D – to vote for their favorite hip-hop songs.

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Kanye West feat. Jay Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver, Nicki Minaj, “Monster”

Kanye West was on an opulent creative splurge when he recorded this tornadic posse cut featuring Rick Ross, Jay Z and indie-folk wisp Bon Iver. But the breakout star was Nicki Minaj, promising to eat our brains with her gold-teeth fangs and stealing the song’s psycho-horror video. Said Ross, “I knew then she’s one of the greatest.”

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Dead Prez, “Hip-Hop”

The most succinct mission statement for Afrocentric anti-corporate, revolution-minded hip-hop since Public Enemy. These Brooklyn radicals invaded radio playlists, demanding a choice between “a Lexus or justice.” Said rapper M-1, “It was an attempt to get to the level of sickness within our people.”

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T.I., “What You Know”

Atlanta rapper T.I. hit the Top 10 with this epic, a standout pop moment for Southern trap music. Producer DJ Toomp and co-producer Wonder Arillo came up with the colossal, heart-tugging synths – which were an homage to Roberta Flack’s 1970 cover of the Impressions’ “Gone Away.” “When T.I. heard it,” Toomp said, “he had the hook in, like, 10 minutes.”

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Ice T, “6 ‘n the Mornin'”

Ice T culled from his real-life experience to write the pioneering gangsta rhyme, detailing a first-person picaresque of a “self-made monster of the city streets” over a stark electro-thwack. “It’s like if you made eggs every mornin’ and one day someone said, ‘Hey, you should sell these eggs,'” Ice T recalled. “To me, my life was so involved in that drama every day, it was easy.”

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Lil Wayne, “A Milli”

Released as the New Orleans pun-machine was being hailed “the greatest rapper alive,” Lil Wayne’s biggest hit saw him compare himself to B.I.G., 2Pac and Jay Z over a spacey minimalist beat. Producer Bangladesh confirmed Wayne’s boast that he never wrote down hit rhymes: “He went in on it immediately, just freestyle.”

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Sir Mix-A-Lot, “Baby Got Back”

“[At the time] you had these Spuds MacKenzie girls, little skinny chicks looking like stop signs, with big hair and skinny bodies,” recalled Sir Mix-A-Lot. “I did it as a knee-jerk response to that kind of stuff.” The Seattle rapper-producer’s slinky electro beat and hilarious video made for pop’s greatest positive-body-image jam.

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Black Sheep, “The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)”

Riding a sample of jazz bassist Ron Carter, the New York duo of Dres and Mista Lawnge rocked the nursery-rap chant, “Engine engine No. 9 on the New York transit line,” to give Native Tongues hip-hop a jubilant mosh-pit energy. The song still sucks you in with electromagnetic force.

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Cypress Hill, “How I Could Just Kill a Man”

Some of the lyrics to this menacing track were originally part of a demo called “Trigger Happy Nigga,” which got the L.A. crew its record deal. Vocalist B-Real spit his roughneck verses over DJ Muggs’ beat (which featured a Farfisa from garage-rock footnotes the Music Machine), and a blunted masterpiece was born.

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Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg, “Deep Cover”

The world’s introduction to Snoop Doggy Dogg – before the gin, juice, pimps or ho’s. For his recorded debut, on Dr. Dre’s first post-N.W.A solo effort, the lean scrapper took this song (which had been originally slated for The Chronic) and made it the template for his style. (It’s definitely more memorable than Deep Cover, the movie it came attached to.) Over a dissonant piano clank and Dre’s bass-drum kaboom, Snoop played the steely black youth at war with the LAPD, delivering the chorus – “‘Cause it’s 1-8-7 on an undercover cop” – with a singsong smirk. Asked about using police code for murdering an officer as a hook, Snoop said, “If [the press] would have went in-depth on that song, there would have been some shit out of that.”

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Beastie Boys, “Hold It, Now Hit It”

Before the Beasties dominated MTV, they launched a sneak attack on black radio with this hard-hitting, White Castle-referencing jam. “The fact that they were white definitely made them stand out,” said Def Jam’s Russell Simmons. “But they were ultimately accepted by black people because they were good.”

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Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew, “The Show”

A record that’s like a variety revue on wax. Fresh’s giddy human beatboxing and Slick Rick’s sly flair made “The Show,” which was backed with the equally classic “La-Di-Da-Di,” a global hit. “I was 17, and I’d made a million dollars,” Fresh recalled. “It was huge.”

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Eminem feat. Dido, “Stan”

Eminem’s scariest song because, for once, the horror seemed real. Anchored by a sample of U.K. singer Dido’s “Thank You” (which also became a hit), the song followed an obsessed fan who acts out Em’s deranged fantasies. “I try to help him at the end of the song,” Em said. “It kinda shows the real side of me.”

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The Pharcyde, “Passin’ Me By”

Hooking up in a South Central music workshop, the Pharcyde brought fresh artistry and exuberance to hip-hop. Over a track that bopped like the Bomb Squad on a beach getaway, four distinct rappers complemented each other with quippy charm – to member SlimKid3, this song was like “a beautiful bird circling our heads all day.”

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Clipse, “Grindin”

Hitmaking production duo the Neptunes (featuring Pharrell Williams) cooked up a chilling electro-funk beat for their Virginia homies the Clipse, and the result was a coke-rap classic: “From ghetto to ghetto/To backyard to yard/I sell it whipped, unwhipped/And soft, to hard,” Pusha T rapped. Come and get it.

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Grandmaster and Melle Mel, “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)”

The funkiest anti-drug record ever, Melle Mel’s opening salvo after splitting with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was also, alongside Blondie’s “Rapture,” one of the first rap/New Wave hybrids. Like the song says, it’s something like a phenomenon.

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Snoop Doggy Dogg, “Gin and Juice”

Enshrining the line “with my mind on my money and my money on my mind” as a hip-hop tenet, “Gin and Juice” was Cali G-funk’s laidback victory lap. “Little white kids come up to me, and it makes me feel damn good,” Snoop told Rolling Stone in 1993. “It’s the feeling of a straight ghetto man finally proving his stuff to the whole society.”

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Run-DMC, “King of Rock”

“I’m the king of rock, there is none higher/Sucker MCs should call me Sire,” barks DMC on this hugely influential rap-rock anthem, before guitarist Eddie Martinez drops detonating riffs. “King of Rock” came with a hilarious video where Run-DMC bum-rush a “rock & roll museum.” In 2009, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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The Notorious B.I.G., “Big Poppa”

With its plush, slow-jam feel and ghetto-fabulous video, Biggie’s first Top 10 hit sold America on a burly Brooklyn corner kid. Said co-producer Chucky Thompson, “Ice Cube was big at that time as well, and if you look at [Cube’s] ‘It Was a Good Day,’ and then you look at ‘Big Poppa,’ it was on the same wavelength.”

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Public Enemy, “Bring the Noise”

“Bring the Noise” was truth in advertising – from Chuck D’s megaphone-blast delivery to Terminator X’s teeming turntable scratches to the Bomb Squad horn, siren, snare-and kick-drum samples to Flavor Flav’s cartoonish absurdism (“We can do this, like Brutus”). Chuck D noted the urgency of the song’s 1987 recording: “Eric B. and Rakim and Boogie Down Productions … fucking changed the world, man,” he said. That meant “Bring the Noise” had to be “faster, funkier and also saying something serious that the people could feel.”

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