Not all hip hop is Mims repeating “This is why I’m hot” over and over again. The genre developed as a means of giving prominence to a subculture that had artistry but not voice. These five tracks remind us that behind the danceable beats are lyrics and ideas worthy of being called great in any genre.
5. Rappers Delight (1979) by the Sugarhill Gang
Ah, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ the song that started it all. Or rather, the song that took what had already been happening for a while and packaged it in such an infectious and entertaining way that it finally made the whole world take notice.
Top 40 radio’s first taste of rap is a feel good record that flows leisurely along-it’s first version was fifteen minutes-through intricate but playful rhymes, good-natured boasting, and a killer bass line.
4. Nuthin’ But a G Thang (1992) by Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg
The early nineties in hip hop saw a more pronounced localization and competition between East and West Coast rap as exemplified by the rise of Gangster Rap.
Nowhere is the sound of the west coast better exemplified than in the number two billboard hit and Death Row records breakout ‘Nuthin’ But a G Thang’.
Dre and Snoop’s smooth delivery and spacious, intentional sound captured a real time and place in its perfect essence.
3. Juicy (1994) by Notorious B.I.G.
The end of Biggie’s story isn’t one that any would have wished but in just these three verses the life he presents is downright aspirational. Therein lies its true genius and indeed the appeal of a great deal of hip-hop and rap. Grounded in the real struggles of past experience, Biggie goes on to present an outlandish, extravagant tomorrow.
And he manages to do it with a touch of wit and gravitas that other lesser rappers simply wouldn’t be able to capture.
2. Fight the Power (1989) by Public Enemy
A lot of hip hop might be baseless brags and self-aggrandizement but when it comes to harnessing the raw energy of a rapper’s delivery it takes a song like “Fight the Power” to realize the true potential of the genre.
Backed by an amalgamation soul, spiritual and other genre samples, Chuck D delivers a passionate indictment of American culture, its failings, and the potential that still lies in the hands of its people.
1. The Message (1982) by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
The song that brought the social consciousness of hip hop to the mainstream may feature one of the most recognizable hooks in all of the genre, but the song still manages to deliver its, ahem, message by laying the primary focus on the lyrics via a crisp and endlessly listenable delivery.
In doing so, The Message set a standard for the style and focus of the genre bringing the emcee to forefront.
Think that the list tends little old school? Unhappy that not a single Jay-Z track made the cut? Let us know what tracks you think deserves recognition in the comments.