Rolling Stone's Top 50 Rap Songs of All Time: Six Alternative Number One Picks
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
Rolling Stone recently published a run-down of the top 50 hip-hop songs of all time. After consulting with a panel of 33 journalists, industry figures and artists (including professional rap encyclopedia ?uestlove and the remaining members of the Beastie Boys), the numbers were crunched and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five's "The Message" came out on top. It's a fine pick--and with its socially-conscientious lyrics the record is usually credited with helping to broaden the parameters of what the music could be about--but as with all lists there's room for contention and discussion at the top. Here are six alternative picks that would do a convincing job of representing the potency of hip-hop to the world.
Public Enemy "Rebel Without A Pause" It's the greatest song on hip-hop's greatest ever album. If that logic isn't persuasive enough then the mix is: Chuck's intelligent intensity, Flav's amped antics as rap's best ever hype man, a beat that makes anything you previously thought was hardcore seem like wispy chamber music, and scratching on the chorus to boot.
The Sugarhill Gang "Rappers' Delight" A while back I interviewed ?uestlove and he got to talking about how he had deduced that hip-hop's very first song-on-wax contained every element of the music that followed in its wake. There's the braggadocio rhymes with a side of sexcapades; there's live instrumentation and sampling (?uesto was convinced that part of the opening percussive riff was taken from another recording and not replayed); there's the specter of ghost-writing and biting with some of Grandmaster Caz's lyrics being appropriated by Big Bank Hank; and there's the goal of creating songs for the clubs, enjoying crossover success, catching accusations of selling-out, and then having the rappers ripped off by their label anyway. Beyond the party grooves, consider the song a long-ass prescient history lesson.
MC Shan "The Bridge" An early cornerstone of rap's golden era, MC Shan's glorious slice of hometown pride bigged up his Queens heritage while setting down a template for one of hip-hop's greatest ever battles: As KRS-One and his Boogie Down Productions crew decided that the South Bronx not only created hip-hop but did it better, there followed a series of the most potent rap anthems ever released, all fueled by the spirit of competition. Underscoring this is a stark Marley Marl production that forged the template for much of what emerged during the music's most fabled and fertile period.
Audio Two "Top Billin'" Get your damn hands up -- it's the anthem. Over a drum loop that rap lore has it was flicked into life after a technical mistake, Milk Dee recites rap-a-long brags where every single line is a quotable. Also includes one of the most smart-ass dis lines when the lithe Milk Dee warns a foe, "Stop scheming and looking hard/ I got a great big bodyguard." (Also in the national rap anthem stakes: Gang Starr and Nice & Smooth's "DWYCK." )
The Notorious B.I.G. "Juicy" Joyous and uplifting, Biggie's autobiographical tale of self-belief was cannily fused to a radio-friendly loop. Without "Juicy," Big's reign might have stalled at the streets, but courtesy of some gentle pushing from Puff Daddy he found himself beloved by the masses. It's a formula faithfully followed by swarms of rappers since, though no one's yet pulled it off quite like Big did. Thanks, Puff.
Eric B & Rakim, "Eric B Is President" In the far-off future, rap music will sound like this.
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