Hip hop has branched out into a multitude of subgenres, with the most recent one being “mumble rap”. As it began to make its rise in the 70s with its subcultures of rapping, turntable scratching, break dancing, and graffiti writing, there have been numerous tracks that took the world by storm. We picked out a few of our favorites from different eras to add to your playlist.
Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys (The Blueprint 3, 2009)
When the 21st century was about to turn a decade old, Jay-Z was already one of the most respected rappers/producers/entrepreneurs of hip hop. He released his 11th studio album “The Blueprint 3” in 2009 under his own label Roc Nation, giving birth to other hits like “On to the Next One”, “Young Forever”, and “Run This Town”. Angela Hunte grew up in the same building as Jay-Z, and along with Jane’t “Jnay” Sewell-Ulepic, wrote “Empire State of Mind” and sent it to Roc Nation for consideration. It didn’t up at first, but a few months later Jay-Z loved it so much he recorded it on the same night. Because of the track’s city-reppin’ theme and Alicia Keys’ catchy chorus, “Empire State of Mind” became so popular it was everyone’s anthem, even if they weren’t from New York.
Favorite line: I’m the new Sinatra, and since I made it here / I can make it anywhere, yeah, they love me everywhere
Jazz (We’ve Got) by A Tribe Called Quest (The Low End Theory, 1991)
Taken from their sophomore album, “Jazz (We’ve Got)” gave them the label of a jazz rap group. Q-Tip, however, shunned the name. He perfectly recreated the beat that was originally by rapper/producer Pete Rock, and he wasn’t officially credited but he got a shoutout at the end. With “The Low End Theory”, the group began to focus on more social issues like date rape and consumerism, but did the opposite of what 90s hip hop were like; their tracks were chill and bass-heavy, not throbbing beats at fast tempos.
Favorite line: Make sure you have a system with some fat house speakers / So the new shit can rock, from Bronx to Massapequa / Cause where I come from quality is job one / And everybody up on Linden know we get the job done
It Was a Good Day by Ice Cube (The Predator, 1993)
Ice Cube took a day off from his hardcore gangsta life with “It Was a Good Day”. Cube appreciates being at the top of his game with this track, and even with the other terrible things happening, we needed to take some time and be thankful for his success. The track narrates a “good day” of a black man in South Central Los Angeles—no police, no gang wars, and time with his girl. “It Was a Good Day” celebrates its 24th birthday this year but we’re still bumping to it while driving home.
Favorite line: Today was like one of those fly dreams / Didn’t even see a berry flashin’ those high beams / No helicopter lookin’ for a murder / Two in the morning, got the Fatburger / Even saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp / And it read “Ice Cube’s a Pimp”
Dear Mama by 2Pac (Me Against the World, 1995)
Producer Johnny J. said that Pac’s personal favorite songs were the sad, emotional ones. “Dear Mama” is a tribute to Pac’s mother, Afeni Shakur. He speaks of childhood memories with her, and despite her struggles with drug addiction, his love and appreciation for everything she did will always triumph. Afeni passed in 2016 due to a suspected heart attack but remains to be a prominent figure in black culture philanthropy. Go hug your mothers, tell them you love them, and always remember that they’re also getting old like you.
Favorite line: And even as a crack fiend, Mama / You always was a black queen, Mama / I finally understand / For a woman it ain’t easy tryin’ to raise a man
Juicy by The Notorious B.I.G. (Ready to Die, 1994)
Biggie was shot dead at 24, but he lives forever. “Juicy” describes his rags-to-riches story—he was born into poverty and grew up surrounded by drugs and crime, but found success in the music industry. At the time of its release, Pete Rock alleged that P.Diddy stole the beat idea after hearing it in Rock’s home. More than a decade later, however, Rock announced that he longer has any hard feelings but wishes that he got the credit he deserved.
Favorite line: Now honeys play me close like butter play toast / From the Mississippi down to the East Coast / Condos in Queens, indo for weeks / Sold-out seats to hear Biggie Smalls speak
We know there so many other legendary tracks out there, so let us know which ones you guys got on your playlist!