The Five Best Hip-Hop Songs

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Hip-hop is older than Eminem — Afrika Bambaata was already a turntable legend when Slim Shady was just a glimmer in his dysfunctional family's eyes. In its time, hip-hop's gone from Hollis to Hollywood to the halls of museums. Now it's time to wade through the enormous creative output of the last two decades to separate the wheat from the chaff, the hits from the misses, the heroes from the (MC) Hammers. Is Rakim the microphone god before whom we all must bow down? Is KRS-One still number one? Was Vanilla Ice an unappreciated genius? Is LL a phony hero or really the G.O.A.T? Here's your chance to name the top 5:

Kevin Powell, author and currator of "Hip-Hop Nation: Roots, Rhymes & Rage"
In my opinion, the five most important songs in hip-hop history are:

1. "The Message" Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
2. "Rapper's Delight" The Sugar Hill Gang
3. "Rebel Without a Pause" Public Enemy
4. "Rock Box" Run-DMC
5. "F--- Tha Police" N.W.A.

 

Christopher John Farley, TIME magazine
The Best Hip-Hop Songs of All Time (four mixes)

Radio Mix

1. "Fight the Power" Public Enemy
2. "Lost Ones" Lauryn Hill
3. "You Got Me" The Roots w/Erykah Badu
4. "Manifest" Fugees
5. "Hip-Hop" Dead Prez

Gangsta Remix

1. "If I Die 2Nite" 2Pac
2. "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" Dr.Dre w/Snoop Doggy Dogg
3. "I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need To Get By" Method Man & Mary J. Blige
4."Memory Lane (Sittin' In Da Park)" Nas
5. "F--- tha Police" N.W.A.

Old School Remix

1."The Message" Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
2. "Rock Box" RUN-D.M.C.
3. "Rapper's Delight" Sugarhill Gang
4. "Know the Ledge" Eric B. & Rakim
5. "Rhymin and Stealin" Beastie Boys

Alterna-Mix

1. "Testify" Rage Against the Machine
2. "Overcome" Tricky
3. "Fear Not of Man" Mos Def
4. "I'm Diggin You (Like an Old Soul Record)" Me'Shell NdegeOcello
5. "Sugar Water" Cibo Matto

 

Frank Broughton, co-author of "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey"

1. "Vicious Rap" Tanya "Sweet T" Winley (Winley Records)
Forget "Rapper's Delight," this was first.

2. "Adventures on the Wheels of Steel" Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (Sugarhill)
Three turntables, two mixers and 15 takes to get it right. The first time hip-hop had been captured on vinyl rather than just approximated.

3. "Lesson One (The Payoff Mix)" Double Dee and Steinski (Tommy Boy promo)
Hip-hop requiring no turntable skills and no rapping ability, therefore massively inspiring for people in the U.K. Launched the phenomenon of bedroom producers.

4. "Planet Rock" Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force (Tommy Boy)
Possibly the most influential dance record of all time.

5. "Rockit" Herbie Hancock
The first time the wider world heard scratching, courtesy of the great D.ST.

 

Tony Karon, TIME.com
My Five Most Important Tracks in Hip-Hop History

1. "Rapper's Delight" Sugar Hill Gang
Yes, we know it wasn't the first, but it was the first on the charts, and that opened up the floodgates of a hip-hop industry.

2. "The Message" Grandmaster Flash
Showed that hip-hop could be a commercially viable social critique.

3. "Don't Believe the Hype" Public Enemy
Any number of PE tracks could be counted as the most important, but my favorite is this one because it's a stunning preemptive strike on the inevitable media backlash against the band and hip-hop in general.

4. "F--- Tha Police" N.W.A.
The song that not only helped invent gangsta rap, but also proved prophetic when the L.A. riots broke out in '92.

5. "Check the Rhime" A Tribe Called Quest
My all-time favorite — breathtaking rhyming skills, tricky abstract poetics creating mental aerobics for the listener, and a profound musical commentary on the MC as bebop inheritor.