Rap and hip hop music has become one of the most popular genres in the world over the past few decades. From its origins in the 1970s Bronx to its current domination on the charts and streaming services, rap music has evolved and grown substantially. In this in-depth guide, we countdown and analyze the greatest rap songs of all time.
The Top 25 Rap Songs
Let’s dive into the top 10 rap songs and explore what makes each one a stand-out:
1. “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G.
Released in 1994 as part of his debut album Ready to Die, “Juicy” is Biggie Smalls’ ode to his come-up in the rap game. Rapping over a funky sample of Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit,” Biggie celebrates his success with clever punchlines, effortless flow, and autobiographical lyrics. He reflects on his journey from poverty to fame and wealth, emphasizing how far he’s come. The track’s uplifting sound helped make it an anthem, skyrocketing Biggie’s popularity. “Juicy” remains one of the most iconic rap songs for its feel-good vibes and Biggie’s masterful storytelling.
2. “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” by Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg
As the lead single off Dr. Dre’s 1992 album The Chronic, “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” introduced the world to West Coast rap royalty. It features Dre collaborating with his new protege Snoop Dogg, who flows smoothly over Dre’s funky G-funk production. With its chilled out vibes, catchy hooks, and back-and-forth verses, their chemistry is undeniable. This track also helped solidify G-funk as a major force in 90s rap. The laidback swagger of “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” remains iconic.
3. “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang
Considered hip hop’s first commercially successful single, “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang reached #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980. Clocking in at nearly 15 minutes, it features Big Bank Hank, Master Gee, and Wonder Mike rapping over the instantly recognizable instrumentals of Chic’s “Good Times.” With its revolutionary long rhyming verses, pop sensibilities, and creative storytelling, “Rapper’s Delight” introduced hip hop music to the mainstream. It paved the way for rap’s continued evolution as a genre.
4. “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Released in 1982, “The Message” was a departure from party-centric rap with its sparse, dark electro beats and melancholy keyboards instead of heavy percussion. Group members Melle Mel and Duke Bootee trade verses illustrating a bleak narrative about inner city struggles – poverty, violence, and systemic issues that are still painfully relevant today. Lines like “Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge” became iconic. “The Message” demonstrated hip hop’s potential as a political art form.
5. “I Used to Love H.E.R.” by Common
On this 1994 track from his album Resurrection, Common employs “H.E.R” as a metaphor for hip hop, portraying the genre as a woman he fell in love with and out of love with. He reflects on hip hop changing from the thriving, diverse music of its golden age to the grittier gangsta rap dominating the 90s. However, Common expresses hope for hip hop returning to consciousness and positivity. Its mellow, jazz-infused soundscape also pushed alternative rap styles forward.
6. “C.R.E.A.M.” by Wu-Tang Clan
With its dark, piano and string-laced production, “C.R.E.A.M.” (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) offers a gritty depiction of poverty and crime as a struggle for survival where money is never guaranteed. Rapping over the haunting beat, Wu-Tang members like Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, and Method Man deliver raw, compelling verses on the stresses of street life in Staten Island. Released in 1993, the track cemented Wu-Tang’s role in New York’s hip hop scene.
7. “Passin’ Me By” by The Pharcyde
This hypnotic track appears on Los Angeles alt-rap group The Pharcyde’s 1992 debut Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. Rappers Bootie Brown and Imani trade verses about missed romantic opportunities and longing over breezy jazz production and reversed instrumentals. Released as the album’s first single, “Passin’ Me By” showcased The Pharcyde’s quirky lyricism and style, offering an alternative to West Coast gangsta rap’s dominance.
8. “93 ‘Til Infinity” by Souls of Mischief
From Oakland hip hop collective Hieroglyphics, “93 ‘Til Infinity” finds rappers A-Plus, Opio, Phesto, and Tajai celebrating their hometown over a funky jazz-infused beat. Released in 1993, the track has the rappers reflecting on staying true to their roots and ambitions. Their introspective, socially-conscious lyricism resonated with the underground West Coast scene and alternative rap fans.
9. “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” by Geto Boys
With its slow, ominous production, this paranoia-filled track from the Geto Boys’ 1991 album We Can’t Be Stopped sees rappers Scarface, Willie D, and Bushwick Bill trading disturbing verses about intense guilt and fear. Their graphic lyrics depict the mental toll of street crime, violence, and trauma. Songs like “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” helped pioneer the horrorcore rap subgenre.
10. “Gin and Juice” by Snoop Dogg ft. Dat Nigga Daz
Released as the second single from his 1993 debut Doggystyle, “Gin and Juice” cemented Snoop Dogg’s rise to fame. His laidback, melodic flow details a rowdy house party scene over a G-funk beat produced by Dr. Dre. With its catchy hooks and Snoop’s slick rhymes, the track became a West Coast anthem that defined G-funk’s hazy, sample-heavy sound.
Background and History of Rap Music
Rap music arose within New York City’s Bronx borough in the 1970s, particularly at outdoor block parties. Pioneering DJs like Kool Herc isolated and looped instrumental breaks from funk, soul, and disco songs, allowing MCs and vocalists to rap over these beat breaks. Early rappers drew inspiration from Jamaican traditions like toasting and dub reggae.
Influential figures like Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa pushed hip hop forward using eclectic sampling and electronic production to create unique sounds. Sugarhill Gang then brought rap into mainstream consciousness with 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight,” one of the first commercially successful rap singles.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, rap continued to expand and evolve as new styles and subgenres emerged. Artists on the West Coast pioneered the laidback G-Funk sound. In places like Los Angeles and Compton, gangsta rap rose to prominence too, bringing gritty lyrics about crime and street life.
Rap’s growth accelerated in the late 90s and 2000s with hip hop becoming one of music’s most dominant genres. Mainstream rap hits came from mega stars like Jay Z, Eminem, Kanye West, and Drake. Regional rap scenes also flourished, from Lil Wayne and Cash Money Records in New Orleans to Atlanta’s trap music pioneers like T.I., Young Jeezy, and Gucci Mane. The late 2010s brought the AutoTune-heavy mumble rap wave lead by rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, and Lil Yachty.
Today rap remains one of the most popular music genres globally. Modern rappers continue building upon hip hop traditions while pushing the genre forward. The iconic rap songs showcased here represent milestones in hip hop’s ongoing evolution and impact over nearly 50 years.
Full List of the Greatest Rap Songs
|1||“Juicy”||The Notorious B.I.G.|
|2||“Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang”||Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg|
|3||“Rapper’s Delight”||Sugarhill Gang|
|4||“The Message”||Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five|
|5||“I Used to Love H.E.R.”||Common|
|7||“Passin’ Me By”||The Pharcyde|
|8||“93 ‘Til Infinity”||Souls of Mischief|
|9||“Mind Playing Tricks On Me”||Geto Boys|
|10||“Gin and Juice”||Snoop Dogg ft. Dat Nigga Daz|
|11||“N.Y. State of Mind”||Nas|
|12||“Hypnotize”||The Notorious B.I.G.|
|14||“Shook Ones, Pt. II”||Mobb Deep|
|16||“Stan”||Eminem ft. Dido|
|17||“The World Is Yours”||Nas|
|18||“It Was a Good Day”||Ice Cube|
|19||“Fight the Power”||Public Enemy|
|20||“Protect Ya Neck”||Wu-Tang Clan|
|21||“Straight Outta Compton”||N.W.A.|
|23||“Bonita Applebum”||A Tribe Called Quest|
|27||“Feel So Good”||Mase|
|28||“Thuggish Ruggish Bone”||Bone Thugs-N-Harmony|
|29||“Regulate”||Warren G ft. Nate Dogg|
|30||“I Ain’t No Joke”||Eric B. & Rakim|
|31||“T.R.O.Y.”||Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth|
|32||“Baby Got Back”||Sir Mix-a-Lot|
|33||“Straight Outta Compton”||N.W.A.|
|34||“1st of Tha Month”||Bone Thugs-N-Harmony|
|35||“California Love”||2Pac ft. Dr. Dre|
|37||“Electric Relaxation”||A Tribe Called Quest|
|38||“Da Rockwilder”||Method Man & Redman|
|39||“Feel Me Flow”||Naughty By Nature|
|40||“Kick In the Door”||The Notorious B.I.G.|
|41||“The Chronic”||Dr. Dre|
|42||“Brooklyn Zoo”||Ol’ Dirty Bastard|
|44||“Poetic Justice”||Kendrick Lamar ft. Drake|
|45||“Road To The Riches”||Kool G Rap & DJ Polo|
|46||“Lodi Dodi”||Snoop Dogg|
|48||“Forgot About Dre”||Dr. Dre ft. Eminem|
|49||“Hit ‘Em Up”||2Pac|
|50||“Scenario”||A Tribe Called Quest|
Beyond the top 10, there are dozens more rap songs that have become classics within hip hop’s storied history. Let’s explore some of the tracks ranked from #11 to #25 that also deserve recognition.
11. “N.Y. State of Mind” by Nas
Nas delivers raw lyricism reflecting on street life in New York City over a grimy yet soulful beat on this track from his seminal 1994 debut Illmatic. Just a teenager, Nas’s advanced storytelling and wordplay already shined, painting vivid scenes of violence and grind in the projects. His razor-sharp flow and delivery established him as one of NYC’s best young rappers.
12. “Hypnotize” by The Notorious B.I.G.
“Hypnotize” was one of the standouts from Biggie’s 1997 album Life After Death, released shortly after his murder. Rapping about lavish living and success, Biggie’s rhymes dazzle over a dancehall-influenced beat sampling Herb Alpert’s “Rise.” The track’s popularity helped elevate hip hop’s mainstream presence, topping the charts for weeks.
13. “Dear Mama” by 2Pac
On this heartfelt tribute from 1995’s Me Against the World, 2Pac raps affectionately about his mother and the adversity she faced raising him in poverty as a single parent. He acknowledges her pain and sacrifices over a soulful beat and chorus vocals from Joe Sample. “Dear Mama” humanizes one of rap’s most iconic figures through emotional storytelling.
14. “Shook Ones Pt. II” by Mobb Deep
Queens duo Mobb Deep, Prodigy and Havoc, rap menacingly about living a life of crime and street violence on this 1995 cut. Grimy synths, foreboding samples, and lyrics that depict urban danger helped make “Shook Ones Pt. II” an influential track within hardcore New York rap. Prodigy’s ruthless delivery in particular left a mark.
15. “Ms. Jackson” by OutKast
“Ms. Jackson” was a crossover pop and rap hit for Atlanta duo OutKast in 2000. Andre 3000 and Big Boi offer earnest apologies to the mother of Andre’s ex-lover over a blend of rock guitars and funky percussion. Its melodic hooks, vivid storytelling, and fusion sound encapsulate OutKast’s signature style.
16. “Stan” by Eminem ft. Dido
Eminem raps from the perspective of an unhealthily obsessed fan named Stan writing urgent letters to him on this acclaimed 2000 track featuring British singer Dido. As Stan grows more frustrated by Eminem’s lack of response, the track takes a tragic turn. Dido’s haunting hook and Eminem’s lyricism made “Stan” an unusual narrative rap song.
17. “The World Is Yours” by Nas
Nas proclaims hip hop supremacy, rapping about how far his talents will take him over exuberant production sampling Ahmad Jamal’s “I Love Music.” Released on 1994’s Illmatic, Nas flows with precision and swagger. Lines like “I sip the Dom P, watching Gandhi ’til I’m charged” became iconic. “The World Is Yours” further solidified Nas’Untitled
18. “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube
Over joyful Isley Brothers’ samples, Ice Cube details an ideal day in South Central Los Angeles away from violence and drama on this 1993 single. His laidback delivery depicts comradery, good fortune, and positivity instead of rage. Songs like this proved Ice Cube’s versatility amid gangsta rap trends.
19. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy
“Fight the Power” was Public Enemy’s rally cry against systemic racism and oppression of African Americans on their incendiary 1989 album Fear of a Black Planet. Chuck D’s booming vocals, Flavor Flav’s hype, and the Bomb Squad’s production created a bold, rebellious sonic backdrop. The track became an anthemic protest song.
20. “Protect Ya Neck” by Wu-Tang Clan
The Wu introduced their raw, hardcore approach on this 1992 track. Members like Method Man, Raekwon, ODB, and GZA attack the beat with dense, competitive lyricism and flows. Lightly sampled kung-fu film dialogue enhances the gritty atmosphere. Lines like “I’ll hang you by your collarbones” proved the Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to mess with.
21. “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A.
N.W.A. introduced themselves as gangsta rap revolutionaries with the title track of their 1988 debut. Ice Cube, MC Ren, Eazy-E, and Dr. Dre rap aggressively about police injustice and crime on LA’s streets over stark beats. Controversial at the time, “Straight Outta Compton” became a protest anthem with its bold depiction of urban struggles.
22. “Lose Yourself” by Eminem
The lead single from Eminem’s semi-autobiographical film 8 Mile, “Lose Yourself” captures his MC character B-Rabbit’s drive to succeed in rap competitions. Over distorted guitars and urgent drums, Eminem’s rhymes convey struggle and passion. “Lose Yourself” became Eminem’s first US #1 hit and also won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
23. “Bonita Applebum” by A Tribe Called Quest
This flirtatious highlights from ATCQ’s debut drops jazz-infused rhymes in praise of a beautiful love interest. Q-Tip’s lighthearted verses glide effortlessly over laidback beats crafted by Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Released in 1990, “Bonita Applebum” epitomizes Tribe’s signature jazz rap fusion and lyrical finesse.
24. “DNA.” by Kendrick Lamar
The aggressive lead single off Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize winning album DAMN. finds him rapping passionately about his Black heritage and skills atop frantic production from Mike WiLL Made-It. Kendrick unleashes technically superb bars at rapid-fire pace. “DNA.” Displayed the Compton rapper’s talent and ambition in stark fashion.
25. “Changes” by 2Pac
2Pac raps reflectively about society’s issues and his life struggles over a soulful Bruce Hornsby piano loop on this 1998 posthumous release. He acknowledges bleak realities while expressing hope for change and better days. Songs like “Changes” highlighted 2Pac’s penchant for resonant social commentary along with his thug persona.
The Legacy of Rap’s Pioneers
The rap songs showcased within this list were chosen as the genre’s best for good reason. They come from seminal artists who paved the way as hip hop pioneers starting from the 1970s onward. Let’s look at how some of these key figures and groups helped shape rap music history through the decades:
1970s – DJs like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash created the foundation of hip hop music in the late 70s by isolating instrumental breaks at parties for MCs to rap over. Their innovative DJ styles electrified NYC’s Bronx scene. The Sugarhill Gang then brought rap to national attention with 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight.”
1980s – Artists like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five brought social commentary into focus with songs like “The Message.” Hip hop expanded its sound through the 80s with the experimental sampling of producers like Marley Marl. Slick Rick stood out with narrative rhyming skills. Groups like Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys helped push rap into the pop mainstream later in the decade.
1990s – Several 90s rap stars emerged as giants who changed hip hop forever. Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and others on the West Coast pioneered laidback G-funk sounds. Wu-Tang Clan and Nas repped a new East Coast hardcore style. 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G. became rap icons. Alternative and jazz rap acts like A Tribe Called Quest and The Pharcyde also rose, diversifying the genre.
2000s – Eminem’s lyricism and popularity brought new heights of mainstream recognition to rap music in the early 2000s. Kanye West helped evolve rap’s sound through soul samples and emotive production. Regional rap scenes flourished, from Atlanta’s crunk and trap to the hyphy movement out of Bay Area cities like Oakland.
2010s – Drake blended rapping and singing to become one of hip hop’s biggest stars. Kendrick Lamar pushed lyrical boundaries, earning Pulitzer honors. A new generation of rappers like Lil Uzi Vert gained fame through online platforms like SoundCloud and embraced more melodic, laidback styles. Veterans like Jay-Z and Nas also continued to thrive.
From Underground parties in the Bronx to a multi-billion dollar industry, rap music has come a long way within American and global culture. The iconic songs and history above provide just a sample of hip hop’s expansive legacy. The future looks bright for rap to keep developing new sounds and voices for decades to come.
Breaking Down Influential Rap Songs By Decade
Rap music has gone through continuous evolution since its origins in the 1970s. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most influential rap songs decade-by-decade to see how the genre progressed:
Influential Rap Songs of the 1970s
- “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang (1979) – Often cited as the first mainstream rap hit, it introduced lengthy lyrical raps and became a Top 40 song.
- “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow (1980) – One of rap’s first gold records, it featured a fuller band arrangement and more melodic rapping.
- “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1982) – With its social commentary about inner city struggles, it showed hip-hop’s potential beyond just party music.
Influential Rap Songs of the 1980s
- “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1982) – Discussed earlier, it brought social commentary to rap.
- “Eric B. Is President” by Eric B. & Rakim (1986) – Showcased Rakim’s pioneering rhythmic style and complex lyricism over innovative production.
- “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A. (1988) – Put gangsta rap on the map with its raw depictions of crime and injustice in Los Angeles.
- “Paul Revere” by Beastie Boys (1986) – Merged rap and rock from NYC trio, helping bring hip-hop into mainstream pop culture.
Influential Rap Songs of the 1990s
- “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G. (1994) – As described earlier, Biggie’s breakthrough displaying masterful flow and storytelling.
- “Shoop” by Salt-N-Pepa (1993) – This runaway hit by one of rap’s most successful female acts exemplified the genre’s growing mainstream popularity in the 90s.
- “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” by Dr. Dre (1992) – Also discussed previously, it established G-funk as a dominant West Coast force.
- “Tha Crossroads” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (1996) – Showcased the Cleveland collective’s harmonizing Flow and unique Midwest vibe.
Influential Rap Songs of the 2000s
- “Lose Yourself” by Eminem (2002) – Eminem’s motivational 8 Mile theme song became his first #1 pop hit and won an Oscar.
- “Get Ur Freak On” by Missy Elliott (2001) – Missy’s smash integrating dancehall and electronica sounds expanded rap’s boundaries.
- “Grindin'” by Clipse (2002) – The Virginia brothers’ breakout gritty street anthem helped fuel the spread of trap music.
- “Hey Ya!” by OutKast (2003) – Andre 3000 fused rap with pop, rock, and funk on this adventurous crossover hit.
Influential Rap Songs of the 2010s
- “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2012) – An indie rap breakthrough fueled by humorous lyrics and warm production.
- “Bad And Boujee” by Migos (2016) – Migos’ warped hit popularized the triplet flow they championed along with ad-libs.
- “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar (2015) – Showcased Kendrick’s jazz/funk fusion and uplifting message of hope.
- “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B (2017) – Cardi’s assertive major label debut hit made her rap’s reigning female star.
This overview displays a sampling of the diverse songs and artists that progressed rap over time. New styles constantly emerge, but these tracks represent eras in which hip hop was transformed. Rap will continue to evolve in the 2020s and beyond.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some key elements that make a great rap song?
Some hallmarks of a great rap song include clever wordplay, multisyllabic rhyme schemes, descriptive storytelling, confident flow and delivery, impactful beats and production, catchy hooks, and innovative lyricism that captures a feeling or pushes the genre forward.
Who are considered the greatest rappers of all time?
While subjective, MCs like The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, Rakim, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and Lil Wayne are often cited as some of the greatest rappers ever based on their artistry, lyrics, popularity, influence, and impact.
What US cities were most important in rap’s origins and early history?
New York City (particularly the Bronx), Los Angeles, and the Bay Area were pivotal in rap music’s beginnings starting in the 1970s. Scenes from these cities helped spawn old school legends as well as newer subgenres like gangsta rap and G-funk (Los Angeles) and hyphy music (Oakland).
How has rap evolved sonically over the decades?
Early rap featured sampled funk and soul beats. In the 80s, drum machines and synthesizers entered the mix. The 90s saw heavier, darker sounds emerge along with smooth G-funk and jazzy rap. The 2000s added Southern crunk, trap, and snap music. Recent years brought more atmospheric, melody-driven production.
What are some of the major rap record labels?
Influence labels include Def Jam, Death Row, Bad Boy, No Limit, Ruthless, Rawkus, Roc-A-Fella, Shady, G-Unit, Grand Hustle, Cash Money, Top Dawg Entertainment and more. Motown and Warner Bros subsidiaries were also pivotal in signing early hip hop acts.
Which rap songs are the most commercially successful?
According to RIAA certifications, some of rap’s top-selling hits include “Notorious Thugs” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, “Hypnotize” by The Notorious B.I.G., “Still D.R.E.” by Dr. Dre, “Mo Money Mo Problems” by The Notorious B.I.G., and “California Love” by 2Pac.
What rap artists have won Grammys for Best Rap Album?
Eminem leads with six wins for albums like The Marshall Mathers LP and Recovery. Kanye West (4 wins), Jay-Z (3 wins), Kendrick Lamar (3 wins), and Drake (3 wins) have also won Best Rap Album multiple times.
How has rap impacted fashion?
Rap heavily influenced streetwear and sneaker culture. Artists like Run-D.M.C., Nelly, and Kanye West have designed clothes. Others like Pharrell and Travis Scott collaborate with major brands. Certain styles like oversized clothes, gold chains and thick sneakers became hallmarks of hip hop fashion.
What rap song is considered the first massive mainstream hit?
The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” is credited as the first rap single to become a mainstream Top 40 pop hit in the US, reaching #36 in 1979. It proved hip hop music could thrive on radio and sales charts nationwide.