Top 20 Greatest Rap Songs of All Time

RELATED VIDEOS

Share

Top 20 Greatest Rap Songs of All Time

VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild WRITTEN BY: Mimi Kenny
Every rap fan worth their salt has these iconic tracks memorized. For this list, we'll be looking at the best rap songs across every decade. Our countdown includes “It Was a Good Day”, "Lose Yourself", “Sucker M.C.'s”, "Juicy", “C.R.E.A.M.”, and more!
Transcript

Top 20 Rap Songs of All Time


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Rap Songs of All Time.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the best rap songs across every decade. We’ll only be doing one song per artist, not counting features.

What’s your all-time favorite rap song? Let us know in the comments!

#20: “Alright” (2015)

Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar had already been recognized as a great rapper and lyricist, but “Alright” cemented him as a legend. A song on his critically acclaimed album “To Pimp a Butterfly,” “Alright” is a jazzy rap song with a message of hope in times of strife. The song’s hook became instantly iconic, becoming a key refrain of the Black Lives Matter movement. It was also named the best song of the 2010s by influential music website Pitchfork. With beautiful production from Pharrell Williams and Sounwave and Lamar delivering some of the most urgent bars of his career, “Alright” is far more than just “alright.”


#19: “Work It” (2002)

Missy Elliott
Sexually charged rap songs weren’t a new concept when “Work It” dropped. But Missy Elliott is so good at being explicit, she makes other rappers look tame by comparison. Over perfectly extra production by Timbaland, Elliott raps about her prowess in the bedroom and her high expectations for any potential partners, complete with elephant sound effects. “Work It” is both crass and clever. How often do you hear a club banger with lyrics played in reverse? The lyrics might make you blush at times, but Elliott’s confidence is what makes her a legend and “Work It” a classic. Thanks to this song, we all know what a “badonk-a-donk-donk” is.


#18: “It Was a Good Day” (1993)

Ice Cube
As one of the key figures in the rise of gangsta rap, Ice Cube knows how to rap about drama. But he created a song specifically about not experiencing problems, at least for a moment. On “It Was a Good Day,” Cube is aware of all the potential threats surrounding him, but he’s also able to enjoy moments like having a good breakfast and watching TV with friends. With smooth G-Funk production from DJ Pooh, “It Was a Good Day” manages to be relaxing while still carrying some underlying tension. Tomorrow might be different, but for now, Ice Cube is embracing today.


#17: “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” (1992)

Pete Rock & CL Smooth
Death is a difficult thing for anyone to grapple with, and even harder to summarize in one song. On “They Reminisce Over You,” producer Pete Rock and rapper CL Smooth tribute Heavy D and the Boyz member Trouble T Roy, but they aren’t just mourning a loss, they’re also celebrating life. CL Smooth tributes his mother for raising him a single parent, his uncle for being there when his father wasn’t, and his friend for all his support. Other members of his family are also given their due. While the mood is sad, the duo offer joy through reminding us that gone doesn’t mean forgotten and to always keep hope alive.


#16: “No Time” (1996)

Lil’ Kim feat. Puff Daddy
First impressions are everything, especially in music. Legendary rapper Lil’ Kim blew us away with her debut single. On “No Time,” Kim asserts that anyone who wants to get with her needs to be worth it. Her lyrics are creatively raunchy in ways many male rappers could never match, and the production adds to the sensuality, with beautiful strings and piano. There’s also the palpable chemistry between her and guest vocalist/co-producer Puff Daddy. We’ll always make time to listen to this song and appreciate Lil’ Kim as the great artist and pioneer she is.

#15: “B.O.B.” (2000)

Outkast
It seems crazy to imagine now, but there was a time when Southern hip-hop wasn’t part of the larger rap conversation. That all changed with the rise of two Atlanta rappers, known as André 3000 and Big Boi. While Outkast have numerous classic songs, “B.O.B.” is their crowning achievement. To say this song is energetic is an understatement. Right from the start, the beat is going as hard as possible, and so are André and Big Boi. Though it was released more than 20 years ago, "B.O.B." doesn't feel constricted to any era. By the time it’s over, you’ll feel exhausted, exhilarated, and ready to play it again.


#14: “Sucker M.C.’s” (1983)

Run-D.M.C.
Hip-hop was still a burgeoning genre when Run-D.M.C. arrived. But if their first single was any indication, they were taking it places. “Sucker M.C.’s” is full of boasts about members Run and D-M-C’s skills on the mic, and the production is entirely percussive, save for some turntable scratching. It might sound old school compared now, but when “Sucker M.C.’s” dropped, it marked a clear evolution in the genre, one that hits harder lyrically and musically. Nearly 40 years later, Run-D.M.C. sound as fresh and as urgent as ever.


#13: “Shook Ones (Part II)” (1995)

Mobb Deep
Great rappers can paint portraits through their lyrics as vivid as any movie. On “Shook Ones (Part II),” East Coast legends Mobb Deep talk about a world of crime and violence that many find themselves entering without realizing the risks. Rappers Prodigy and Havoc aren’t glorifying this lifestyle. Rather, they’re acknowledging the harsh reality and how it can change a life forever. The detailed lyrics and intense production from Havoc make you feel drawn into this world and all of its dangers. This is one sequel we can safely say is better than the original.


#12: “Mass Appeal” (1994)

Gang Starr
Complaints about the quality of hip-hop played on the radio are nothing new, but no group was able to summarize their dissatisfaction better than Gang Starr. On “Mass Appeal,” rapper Guru bluntly breaks down his skills compared to the wannabes trying to achieve commercial success instead of artistic integrity. The melody on DJ Premier’s beat is a bit basic for him, and that’s on purpose, as he was poking fun at the simplified sounds getting airplay. But even when they’re goofing on others, Gang Starr are impossible to not take seriously. And while this song didn’t have the “mass appeal” to top the charts, it did manage to become Gang Starr’s biggest hit.



#11: “California Love” (1995)

2Pac feat. Dr. Dre & Roger Troutman
California’s state song is “I Love You, California.” We’re sure it’s a perfectly nice song, but it can’t possibly match this rap anthem. “California Love” is a tribute to the Golden State and all of its offerings so invigorating, it’ll pump you up even if you’ve never even seen the beach. 2Pac and Dr. Dre run through their verses with breakneck intensity, and guest vocalist Roger Troutman’s vocoder chorus keeps things groovy. And if you ever needed evidence that Dr. Dre is a legendary producer, just listen to this song. If you live in California, this song will make you love it even more. And if you don’t, it’ll make you want to move there.


#10: “Paid in Full” (1987)

Eric B. & Rakim
In hip-hop, the relationship between a rapper and a DJ makes all the difference, and few duos have matched Eric B. & Rakim in terms of overall chemistry. On “Paid in Full,” producer Eric B. sources funk, soul, and hip-hop samples to create a beat that’s both smooth and exciting. Meanwhile, Rakim’s lyrics - about his struggle to make and keep money - flow out with such casual confidence, he makes it look easy. Between the sharp writing, rich production, and overall energy, “Paid in Full” is a song that keeps paying off and is full of greatness.



#9: “Lose Yourself” (2002)

Eminem
Can you imagine going back to the year 2000 and telling people one of the most shocking rappers ever known would be an Oscar winner in three years? “Lose Yourself,” is largely about Eminem’s “8 Mile” character, “B-Rabbit.” But given the movie’s autobiographical nature, it’s clear that Em is talking about himself and his own struggle to make it. Even if Eminem was already a success before “Lose Yourself” dropped, this song shows he never forgot where he came from and that he hadn’t lost his motivation. Much of Eminem’s music is driven by despair and anger, but on “Lose Yourself,” he’s driven by determination, one furious bar at a time.

#8: “N.Y. State of Mind” (1994)

Nas
Nas’ debut album, “Illmatic,” is so significant, it’s been preserved by the Library of Congress. And no song better sums up the album’s themes better than the thrilling “N.Y. State of Mind.” Over DJ Premier’s piano-led beat, Nas raps like he’s telling a story right as it happens. And since there are drugs and bullets involved, he sounds rightfully stressed. He also manages to weave in lyrics about developing his rapping skills amidst all this chaos. “N.Y. State of Mind” was shockingly never released as a single, but it still stands as one of the greatest compositions hip-hop has ever known.


#7: “Straight Outta Compton” (1988)

N.W.A.
In just 11 words, Dr. Dre changed hip-hop forever with the opening lines on “Straight Outta Compton.” N.W.A’s debut single introduced audiences to one of the most unapologetically intense groups ever known. Members Ice Cube and Eazy-E would continue to inspire imitators decades later, and Dr. Dre’s volatile beat laid a blueprint for other producers trying to hit as hard as possible. “Straight Outta Compton” doesn’t paint a flattering portrait of their home city or its law enforcement, but it did establish N.W.A as a group that permanently altered both hip-hop - and music - as we know it.

#6: “C.R.E.A.M.” (1993)

Wu-Tang Clan
Nine different rappers appear on the Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal debut album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” But the Staten Island legends do more with less on “C.R.EA.M.,” which features one verse from Raekwon, one from Inspectah Deck, and a hook from Method Man. In each verse, Rae and Deck are detailing the struggle they’ve endured and continue to feel. You can sense the scars of their trauma from their words alone, as well as their hope for the younger generation to enjoy a more peaceful existence. RZA’s piano-sampling beat lends further poignancy. The Wu-Tang Clan didn’t always get this emotional, but “C.R.E.A.M.” shows just how in touch with their feelings they could get.


#5: “Fight the Power” (1989)

Public Enemy
Few movie openings are as iconic as the one for “Do the Right Thing,” which finds actress Rosie Perez busting a move to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” It was also the first time most people had heard the song, which director Spike Lee commissioned for the film. “Fight the Power” is a hard-charging anthem that’s as relevant now as it was more than 30 years ago. Chuck D and the rest of Public Enemy are acting less like artists and more like revolutionaries, calling up others to resist oppression with maximum urgency. The struggle may never be over, but Public Enemy shows no signs of ever backing down.


#4: “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” (1992)

Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg
Comic books have Batman and Robin. But when it comes to dynamic duos in hip-hop, there’s no topping Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. The biggest song on Dre’s seminal solo debut “The Chronic,” “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” was first demoed while Snoop Dogg was incarcerated, but it feels carefree as can be. The groovy bass and synths on Dre’s beat alone make this a G-funk staple. But we can’t ignore the effortless energy and charisma displayed by him and Snoop. Whether you’re bumping it in your car or jamming to it at home, we can all agree that this song is nuthin’ but a great thing.

#3: “Juicy” (1994)

The Notorious B.I.G.
There may never be another rags-to-riches rap song better than this one. On “Juicy,” the Notorious B.I.G. contrasts his former life of struggle with his current life of success, expressing awe and gratitude at every moment. From enjoying better meals to not having to commit crimes to pay the bills, he’s in a continual state of wonder and inviting us to celebrate right along with him. And the hook from girl group Total gives the song an even more blissful feeling. Knowing how much Biggie appreciated life makes it even harder to know he’s gone.


#2: “Rapper’s Delight” (1979)

The Sugarhill Gang
Trying to map out how rap became a dominant genre? Start with “Rapper’s Delight,” the song that introduced the world at large to hip-hop, both as a genre and a phrase. Sugarhill Gang members Wonder Mike, Big Bank Hank, and Master Gee didn’t invent hip-hop, but they created a song that served as a perfect introduction. With its energetic beat - including an interpolation of Chic’s “Good Times,” sharp flows, and memorable lyricism, “Rapper’s Delight” lives up to its title and then some. This isn’t just a song; it also represents the dawning of a new era. And the fact that it still sounds great more than 40 years later speaks for itself.


Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“In Da Club” (2003), 50 Cent
50 Cent Cemented Himself as a Superstar With This Song

“Mind Playing Tricks on Me” (1991), Geto Boys
An Incredible Description of Mental Anguish


“O.P.P.” (1991), Naughty By Nature
A Raunchy Delight From This East Coast Crew



#1: “The Message” (1982)

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
There have been numerous great rap songs highlighting inequality and other social issues, but they might not be possible without “The Message” laying the groundwork. While hip-hop was previously associated with fun and celebration, “The Message” showed the potential in using rhyming and beats as a means for advocacy. Grandmaster Flash himself isn’t involved with the song, but the other members of the group give it their all, especially Melle Mel and Duke Bootee and their verses. The lyrics are brutally vivid in their description of inner-city struggle, especially with how they detail the people stuck in the cycle of poverty, and the production is both tense and loose. “The Message” sent out one very clear message: rap is here to stay.
Comments