There’s never been something quite as capable of both uniting and splitting apart humanity as music. We can be unified by our common love for a particular song, whether it’s because of its message or because it’s just that good. Likewise, our tendency to find that one “best something” is what often sparked quarrels among our numbers (see the YouTube comment section). We promise we don’t want any conflicts to arise from this list so explicitly titled The 10 Most Famous Hip Hop Songs of All Time. It’s simply an homage brought to one of modern music’s biggest and most influential genres, one which was crafted in the heart of a fascinating sub-culture.
#1 Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “The Message”
Ever since the release of this hip hop anthem in 1982, the music industry hasn’t been the same. A new, refreshing musical piece catapulted emcees to the front of the stage, putting empowering social commentaries in the lyrics of a hip hop song. It resisted the test of time, being ranked in December 2004 on the #51 position of Rolling Stone’s “Best Songs of All Time.” With such recognition, we can definitely say that it’s easily one of the best hip hop songs.
#2 Nas, “NY State of Mind”
A fantastic product of 90’s hip hop songs, this piece was produced by the famed DJ Premier, one of the most brilliant producers of all time. One of his best works, NY State of Mind, landed on Nas’ debut album, the 1994 Illmatic. Premier himself drops a few rap lines on the track, through lyrics that talk about the danger lurking in the streets of New York. Critical acclaim for this perfect underground sound representation track was expected. About.com ranked it among the Top 100 Rap Songs and Rolling Stone considered it one of “The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time.”
#3 Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”
A golden age hip hop product, this jazz rap song was one of the first musical pieces that were a true tear-jerker. It’s impossible not to be moved by it, especially if you know the story behind producer Pete Rock’s inspiration – the death of his close friend Troy Dixon. Although not a chart topper at the time when it was one of the new hip hop songs, it eventually grew into a staple for early 90’s hip hop songs and a definite classic.
#4 Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg, “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”
In 1992, Dr. Dre’s debut album The Chronic was released – and, boy, it was definitely a debut started off on the right foot. Dr. Dre is the mind behind many great works of artists such as Eminem and Gwen Steffani, but it was his collaboration with Snoop Dogg for Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang that made the big charts. It’s considered by many publications as one of the top 100 hip hop songs, having been popular enough to even be rated by XXL magazine as the top hip hop song of the decade.
#5 Mobb Deep, “Shook Ones Part II”
There’s a good reason why Mobb Deep’s staple single is classified as an example of “hardcore hip hop.” Filled to the brink with violence and profanities, the track’s lyrics tell the story of youngsters living in the heart of the city, who are engaged in a territorial strife over financial rewards. Critics instantly realized that Shook Ones Part II was a classic in the making. Pitchfork Media ranked the song on the #25th position in their 2010 “Top 200 Tracks of the 90’s” list.
#6 Wu-Tang Clan, “C.R.E.A.M.”
This track’s long title is “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” which is something that perfectly reflects in the way this Wu-Tang Clan hit single was adapted into a music video. A staple for East Coast hip hop, it climbed the charts and changed the R&B world in the process. Numerous artists have referenced and took inspiration from the song, the term “cream” becoming in time a slang synonym for money. Among its many critical acclaims, C.R.E.A.M was included by VH1 in their “Greatest Songs of Hip Hop” top.
#7 Puff Daddy and the Family, “All About the Benjamins”
The song was first released in 1996 in its raw, original format on DJ Clue’s Holiday Holdup mixtape. It was only later when the track was added to Puff Daddy’s debut album No Way Out in a remixed version that featured new lines performed by Notorious B.I.G and Lil’ Kim. The “benjamins” refer to the $100 bills, a term derived from the appearance of Benjamin Franklin on the bills.
#8 Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell, “Drop It Like It’s Hot”
It’s hard to not have heard of this iconic hip hop track. Released in 2004, it was Snoop Dogg’s second Top 10 single as a solo performer since Gin and Juice. With its memorable tune and beats, the song received two Grammy Award nominations in 2005 and it was for the longest time Pharrell’s biggest success until the 2013 Get Lucky and Blurred Lines. Billboard ranked it in 2009 as the most popular rap song of the decade.
#9 Jay-Z featuring Amil and Jaz-O, “N—a What, N—a Who?
The mastermind behind the production of this song is the titanic Timbaland, who has always had a knack for futuristic sounding tunes and associations with big names in the industry. Although some of the songs produced by Timbaland have slowly become outdated, this Jay-Z track has resisted the passing of time. In fact, it still sounds like a musical piece that’s been sent straight from the third millennium.
#10 Lil Wayne, “A Milli”
Tha Carter III was Lil Wayne’s sixth album, but few of its predecessors have managed to receive its critical acclaim. A Milli was one of the biggest successes of the tracklist. A GRAMMY Awards winner in 2009, the song re-shaped the world of hip hop by introducing a beat and a drum fill that numerous contemporary artists have taken inspiration from.
Musical preference is ultimately majorly biased, so it’s difficult to align your preferences with someone else’s. However, we hope that you consider at least one of this tracks to be one of The 10 Most Famous Hip Hop Songs of All Time.