The best hip-hop songs of all time are those songs that touch our soul. They make us smile, laugh, cry, think, move and shake what our mama (or papa) gave us.
I traveled back four decades and dug through a pile of tunes to compile a list of the 100 greatest songs hip-hop has ever witnessed.
Behold: the 100 greatest rapper songs of all time.
99 | The Roots – “What They Do” | Buy |
In which The Roots distinguish themselves from everyone else by laying down the law.
98 | Common – “The Light” | Download |
Produced by the late great J Dilla and inspired by Common‘s ex Erykah Badu, “The Light” warmed up many nights throughout the 2000s. It was musical irrigation to our souls the first time it washed over the summer airwaves.
97 | Smif-N-Wessun – “Bucktown” | Download | Compare Prices
Smif-N-Wessun pay homage to the “home of the original gun clappers.” When people say they miss that good ol’ hip-hop, this is what they’re talking about. Reminisce, reminisce, yo.
96 | Junior M.A.F.I.A. – “Player’s Anthem” | Download | Compare Prices
Biggie’s crew took a striking leap into the spotlight with this street anthem. “Get Money” would go on to become Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s most popular hit, reaching No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and shifting over a million copies in the summer of ’96.
95 | Das EFX – “They Want EFX” | Download |
“They Want EFX” was the iggedy bomb in the early 90s. A surefire jam, the song later found its way onto an episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
94 | Coolio – “Gangsta’s Paradise” | Download |
“Gangsta’s Paradise” shares its musical DNA with Stevie Wonder’s 1976 gem “Pastime Paradise.” Wonder performed the chart-topping song with Coolio and L.V. at the 1995 Billboard Awards
93 | ODB – “Brooklyn Zoo” | Download |
Brooklyn has always played a pivotal role in hip-hop culture. In return, rappers have rewarded the borough with numerous tributes. ODB’s love letter to BK remains one of the best hip-hop songs of all time long after Dirty’s death.
92 | Too $hort – “Freaky Tales” | Download | Compare Prices
Too $hort has dropped many a freaky tales since his humble beginnings 25 years ago. “Freaky Tales” stands tall among his best sexploitation tunes.
90 – 81
90 | Method Man ft. Mary J Blige – “All I Need” | Download | Compare Prices
The story goes that Method Man approached this collaboration with slight hesitation. But when Def Jam showed up at his door with a Benz and an opportunity to work with an icon, he reconsidered. The outcome? Arguably the greatest rap and R&B collaboration of all time.
89 | GZA – “Fame” | Download |
In which GZA creatively weaves a story around celebrity names. A concept so powerful that it’s been emulated by several emcees. Brownsville rapper Ka reworked the idea on “Off the Record,” from 2013’s
87 | Ghostface ft. Mary J Blige – “All That I Got Is You” | Download |
No hard-hitting drums, no hyperbolic threats. Just Mary J. Blige’s tears and Ghostface Killah’s somber rhymes.
86 | Ultramagnetic MC’s – “Ego Trippin'” | Download |
Not only is “Ego Trippin'” an undeniable masterpiece, it’s also responsible for introducing the world to an eccentric figure named Kool Keith. It merits inclusion based on that point alone.
84 | The Luniz – “I Got 5 On It” | Download |
“I Got 5 On It” was the official anthem for broke fiends everywhere. It’s also special for adding a new terminology to hip-hop lingo.
83 | Akrobatik – “Remind My Soul” | Download |
Akrobatik reminds his peers to be careful about what they’re teaching the youngins. Ak’s code of ethics is simple: If it makes Bob Marley turn in his grave, don’t do it.
82 | M.O.P. – “How About Some Hardcore” | Download |
M.O.P. earned a near-iconic status in the game because of unforgettable songs like “How About Some Hardcore” and “Ante Up.” This is quintessential M.O.P: loud, hard, and memorable. How about some respect?
81 | Ice Cube – “It Was A Good Day” | Download |
A good day in L.A. must have been at a premium when Ice Cube penned this stellar track. The video for “It Was a Good Day” follows Cube through an astonishingly peaceful day in South Central L.A. The song is exactly 4:20 in length, but I’m sure that’s a mere coincidence.
80 – 71
80 | Wu-Tang Clan – “Protect Ya Neck” | Download |
Unbeknownst to many, the Wu has been making body threats since 92. You best get that heady bobbin’, fool.
79 | Cypress Hill – “How I Could Just Kill A Man” | Download |
Admittedly insane-in-the-membrane rappers swap ideas on how to improve world peace.
77 | Big Pun – “Still Not A Player” | Download|
The original version, “I’m Not a Player,” reached No. 57 on Billboard. Pun tried again with the Joe-assisted remix “Still Not a Player” and soared to No. 24, making it the most successful public clarification in chart history.
76 | LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out” | Download|
A lot of guys probably saw a muscular L.L. at the punching bag and decided they were long overdue in starting their own exercise programs. It was also the proverbial walk-to-the-ring song for professional boxers in the ’90s.
75 | Biz Markie – “Nobody Beats The Biz” | Download|
A stunningly amusing song by the Clown Prince of Hip-Hop.
74 | Nas – “New York State of Mind” | Download|
What “Empire State of Mind” wants to be when it grows up.
73 | Fabolous – “Breathe” | Download|
One of the most impressive MCs of the 2000s cemented his arrival with this Just Blaze epic.
71 | Big L – “Ebonics” | Download|
Big L schools the world on urban lingo. I wonder how many inner-city cops were forced listen to “Ebonics” as part of their orientation.
70 – 61
70 | DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince – “Parents Just Don’t Understand” | Download|
Ah, the perfect soundtrack to teenage rebellion. Memories, man.
69 | Snoop Dogg – “Gin and Juice” | Download|
Following 93’s “Nuthin’ But a G Thang,” Snoop teamed up with Dr. Dre for yet another surefire hit in “Gin & Juice,” off the critically lauded DoggyStyle. All the splendid elements of west coast g-funk are mashed up in this anthem.
68 | Common – “The 6th Sense” | Download|
Common and DJ Premier caught this lightening in a bottle at the dawn of the century. It’s a quintessential moment of uplift that owes as much to Premier’s production as it does to Common’s lyrical ingenuity.
67 | Jay Z ft. Mary J Blige – “Can’t Knock The Hustle” | Download|
Jay didn’t come out the gate banging. After two mildly received singles, third time proved to be the charm with “Can’t Knock the Hustle” — a timeless tune that still gets heads bobbing decades later.
66 | Lauryn Hill – “Everything Is Everything” | Download|
L’Boogie had so many gems on her solo debut, but “Everything Is Everything” was the Stickum that held the rest of the album together.
65 | Mos Def – “Umi Says” | Download|
A sprawling piece from Mighty Mos Def’s stellar debut, Black on Both Sides.
64 | Jadakiss – “Why” | Download|
Jadakiss hooked up with Havoc for this moment of reflection on a wide array of social issues. The Common-assisted remix is equally fascinating. It’s also the first of many rap songs to namedrop future president Barack Obama.
63 | 50 Cent – “Many Men (Wish Death)” | Download|
As deadly as the bullets that pierced his skin and nearly claimed his life.
62 | Souls of Mischief – “93 ‘Til Infinity” | Download
Rumor has it this song has launched more rap careers than Steve Rifkind.
60 – 51
60 | Big Daddy Kane – “Raw” | Download|
Kane in his prime was a brute force unparalleled by none.
59 | Special Ed – “I Got It Made” |
In the land of one-hit wonders, this is undeniable royalty.
58 | Eminem – Mosh | Download|
Eminem’s shift to political consciousness gave him a new sandbox to play with. It also led to this huge smash in the midst of a controversial election.
57 | DJ Quik – “Tonite” | Download|
Pure proof of why Quik is one of the illest hip-hop producers of all time.
56 | Black Moon – “Who Got da Props” | Download|
This one crawls into your head like the slug from The Matrix and vows to remain there.
55 | Naughty By Nature – “OPP” | Download|
Show of hands if you thought the “P” stood for “property.”
54 | Nas – One Mic | Download|
“One Mic” builds up gradually and explodes into a torrent of explosive rhymes. One of Nas’ finest moments.
53 | A Tribe Called Quest – “Electric Relaxation” | Download|
A Crisco-slick gem from Tribe’s masterpiece.
52 | UGK – “Ridin’ Dirty” | Download|
The essence of the dirty south crystallized in one seminal single. Many southern rappers owe their success to UGK’s influence.
51 | Artifacts – “Wrong Side of da Tracks” | Compare Prices
Arguably the greatest graffiti-inspired song in hip-hop history.
50 – 41
50 | Marley Marl – “The Symphony” | Download|
An apt reminder of the good days when producers picked collaborators based on poetic prowess, not politics.
48 | Run-DMC & Aerosmith – “Walk This Way” | Download|
Long live the rap-rock collabo that had everyone biting the kings.
46 | Zion I feat Talib Kweli – “Temperature” | Download|
A straight-out-of-nowhere smash by a west coast duo and an east coast veteran.
45 | Eminem – “Stan” | Download|
An ill-fated account of a psychotic Eminem worshipper. Dido’s ethereal crooning adds more soot to the tale.
44 | Slick Rick – “Children’s Story” | Download|
A masterfully woven narrative by hip-hop’s greatest storyteller.
43 | Kanye West – “Jesus Walks” | Download|
West meticulously marries the mainstream and the Messiah and makes it look easy. Kinda like walking on water.
42 | M.O.P. – “Ante Up” | Download|
Further proof that M.O.P albums should come with a warning sticker: “Repeated listens may cause you to run into a wall, especially at the crack of dawn.”
41 | OutKast – “Miss Jackson” | Download|
Two dope boys from the A plead their case before a baby mama’s mama.