For a culture that’s built around competition, battles and breakbeats, you could imagine putting together a list of the hardest rap songs of all time was quite a task.
You could put together the list on decades, or even years alone, that’s how many songs we had to choose from. But, we had to start from somewhere so here we go. With the talented rap producers throughout history, with Dr. Dre, RZA, Just Blaze and plenty more, who have architected banging soundscapes, there were plenty of hard rap songs to pick from.
From DMX’s “Get at Me Dog” to Kendrick Lamar’s “M.A.A.D. City” to Pharoahe Monch’s “Simon Says,” here are the 50 hardest rap songs of all time.
50. Migos – “Cross the Country”
Released: November 5, 2014
Album: Rich Nigga Timeline
Producer: Mario Beats
Hardest line: “No shame in the game, I’m a bull with the nine / Like Luol Deng, finna bang with the thing”
When Rich Nigga Timeline dropped back in 2014, Tribe frontman and legendary hip hop producer Q-Tip took to Twitter to gush about how dope the mixtape was. “Man y’all who hating really need to hear the mixtape them boys got bars,” Tip wrote in one of his many tweets talking about the Atlanta trio. In terms of lyrical performance and hard bars, nothing on the tape beats “Cross the Country” which is just 6 and a half minutes of straight spitting. The haunting trap beat by Mario Beats is just the cherry on top of this track.
49. N.O.R.E. – “Superthug”
Released: July 7, 1998
Producer: The Neptunes
Hardest line: “Yo from New Orleans, L.A., V.A. to Queens / The I-95, now we hit the Philippines”
The Neptunes emerged on the scene during the mid-90s, but it wasn’t until 1998 that they really started making a name of themselves. With the one-two punch of Mase’s “Lookin’ at Me” and Noreaga’s “Superthug,” the Virginia Beach production duo were suddenly the hottest thing in demand. The beat for this track is just insane and would later set the blueprint for future Neptunes classics, especially on their work with The Clipse.
48. Eminem ft. RBX & Sticky Fingaz – “Remember Me?”
Released: May 23, 2000
Album: The Marshall Mathers LP
Producer: Dr. Dre, Mel-Man
Hardest line: “Six sick dreams of picnic scenes / Two kids, sixteen, with M-16’s and ten clips each / And them shits reach through six kids each”
This was such a random collaboration when you look back at it 20 years later, but goddamn it worked. In an interview with RapReview, Sticky Fingaz said that Eminem took two months to write his verse because Sticky’s verse was so dope. Those two months really paid off because Marshall comes back with one of his most iconic and devastating lines ever.
47. Drake ft. 21 Savage and Project Pat – “Knife Talk”
Released: September 3, 2021
Album: Certified Lover Boy
Producer: Metro Boomin, Peter Lee Johnson
Hardest line: “I’m mister body catcher, Slaughter Gang soul snatcher”
Certified Lover Boy was a great album trapped inside the body of a bloated project. While the 21 track listing and 86 minute runtime was way too long – a Drake album trend since 2016 – there were plenty of gems scattered along the way. One of those gems was “Knife Talk,” which features a perfect Project Pat sample, Metro Boomin’s brooding production and 21 Savage in top form. Aubrey’s verses almost seem excessive on here. Side note: you know what’s not hard? The stupid album artwork.
46. Busta Rhymes – “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See”
Released: August 12, 1997
Album: When Disaster Strikes…
Producer: Shamello, Buddah, Epitome (co.)
Hardest line: “While you feelin’ that I know you be feelin’ so glorious / Then I blaze and reminisce on my nigga Notorious”
The energy that Busta Rhymes had on the groundbreaking Tribe posse cut “Scenario” as part of Leaders of the New School, he carried all the way into his solo career and then some. “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” is the quintessential Busta song – from the production, to the lyrics, to the flow, to the Hype Williams-directed music video – it’s definitely one one of the hardest rap songs ever made.
45. Nicki Minaj ft. G Herbo – “Chi-Raq”
Released: April 8, 2014
Album: Beam Me Up Scotty
Producer: Boi-1da, Allen Ritter & Vinylz
Hardest line: “Malcolm X daughter came at me / Look-lookin’ ass niggas ain’t happy”
2014 Nicki Minaj had something to prove. Maybe it was because of the reaction to her 2012 album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, which saw the Queens MC stepping outside of her hip hop roots and exploring more dance-pop anthems like “Pound the Alarm” and “Starships.” Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But you know how rap fans can be. So she decided to shut shit down with some of the best rapping she’s done since 2010. On “Chi-Raq,” which also features G Herbo (going by Lil Herb at the time), Nicki sounds totally at home on the frenetic drill production as she steps on the throats of anyone coming for her crown. Don’t ever question Nicki Minaj who the best female rapper alive is.
44. Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg – “Deep Cover”
Released: April 9, 1992
Album: Deep Cover (soundtrack)
Producer: Dr. Dre
Hardest line: “Creep with me as I crawl through the hood / Maniac, lunatic, call him Snoop Eastwood”
“Deep Cover” is the perfect East meets West track. While the drums are as boom-bap as you can get, Dr. Dre makes sure he sprinkles enough West Coast flavour on there to bring out the best of the up-and-coming Long Beach rapper spitting right next to him. This shit was so hard and catchy at the same time that Big Pun and Fat Joe had to re-do this song a few years later. Their version, “Twinz (Deep Cover ’98)”, would fit right in on this list of the hardest rap songs of all time.
43. Future – “Thought It Was a Drought”
Released: July 17, 2015
Producer: Metro Boomin, Allen Ritter
Hardest line: “I just fucked your bitch in some Gucci flip flops”
Not only is “Thought It Was a Drought” one of the hardest Future tracks of all time, it’s probably his best intro song ever. And Future has a lot of great intro tracks. That opening line is as disrespectful as you can get on a rap song. All praise the toxic king of hip hop.
42. Jay-Z – “Public Service Announcement (Interlude)”
Released: November 14, 2003
Album: The Black Album
Producer: Just Blaze
Hardest line: “I used to move snowflakes by the O-Z / I guess even back then you can call me / CEO of the R-O-C, Hov”
Just Blaze lifts a majestic sample of Little Boy Blues’ “Seed of Love” and transforms it into this anthem for Hov to strut his stuff all over it. One of the highlight tracks off his “retirement” album, “Public Service Announcement (Interlude)” could easily be the last Jay-Z song you ever play in your life. A fitting soundtrack to the king of hip hop’s ascension.
41. LL Cool J ft. Canibus, DMX, Method Man & Redman – “4, 3, 2, 1”
Released: October 14, 1997
Producer: Erick Sermon
Hardest line: “Yo, ayo, I put it on a nigga, shitted on a nigga / Turn a Christian to a certified sinner”
There’s so many dope verses on here, it’s impossible to pick the best one. LL and Canibus, all beefing aside, did their thing. Meth is smooth as butter, Redman is aggressive and hilarious at the same time, and DMX just flows perfect on this banging Erick Sermon track. Winners all around and definitely one of the hardest rap songs of all time.
40. A$AP Rocky – “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2)”
Released: January 7, 2015
Producer: Nez & Rio
Hardest line: “I’m the trillest one to do it since Pimp, nigga hands down”
For the most part, A$AP Rocky’s second album AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP was an exercise in moods. From the swirling haze of “LSD” to the bouncy soul of “Wavybone” to the trippy album closer “Back Home,” the album was steeped in luxurious vibes. Smack bang in the middle though was “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye 2 (LPFJ2)” – a track unlike the rest of the album. As soon as that siren kicks off the song then the beat dropped, shit was all over. This was as turnt up as you can get on an A$AP song.
39. Schoolboy Q ft. Traffic & TF – “Tookie Knows II”
Released: July 8, 2016
Album: Blank Face LP
Producer: Nez & Rio
Hardest line: “I got an AK, when that bitch spray / It’s like pullin’ strings on a lawnmower”
Schoolboy Q’s fourth album, Blank Face LP, is also his best album undoubtedly. It’s the TDE rapper at his darkest and most cinematic. It’s also the most ambitious project he’s undertaken and Q succeeds on all fronts. “Tookie Knows II” is the ending to a 72-minute movie filled with gangland shootings, bleak regrets and jailhouse taunts. The track is the perfect closer to an incredible album, and it’s also hard as fuck.
38. Kanye West – “Black Skinhead”
Released: June 18, 2013
Producer: Kanye West, Daft Punk, Gesaffelstein, Brodinski, Mike Dean, Lupe Fiasco, Jack Donoghue, Noah Goldstein
Hardest line: “They see a black man with a white woman / At the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong”
In a Pitchfork interview shortly after Yeezus dropped, Travis Scott – who worked on a couple of the album’s cuts – recounts a hilarious story of hearing “Black Skinhead” for the first time. “I jumped off the stairs onto the couch,” Travis told Pitchfork. “I was going HAM. That was when I heard the “na na na na” part for the first time, I lost my fucking mind. That’s some soccer anthem-type shit.” Yeezus has some of the hardest Kanye songs of all time – “On Sight”, “I Am a God”, “New Slaves”, “Blood on the Leaves” and “Send It Up” come to mind, but this track is levels above everything on the album.
37. Gucci Mane ft. Offset – “Met Gala”
Released: May 26, 2017
Producer: Metro Boomin, Southside
Hardest line: “These niggas ain’t trappin’, ain’t makin’ transactions / A nigga rob you, he be practicing”
Offset’s run in 2017 was something to behold. In between star-making performances on Migos’ Culture and his collaboration album with 21 Savage, Without Warning, the Atlanta spitter also found time to drop a number of incredible guest verses, including “Patek Water”, “No Flags”, “Dubai Shit”, “Slide”, “Gucci On My”, “Peek a Boo” and this track. Metro Boomin and Southside lace “Met Gala” with a skeletal, banging beat and Offset just lets loose over the track and dominates Gucci on his own song.
36. GZA ft. Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest & RZA – “4th Chamber”
Released: November 7, 1995
Album: Liquid Swords
Hardest line: “Aiyo, camouflage chameleon, ninjas scalin’ your building / No time to grab the gun, they already got your wife and children”
Have you ever seen Wu-Tang play this “4th Chamber” at a live show? This song gets the crowd hyped! RZA laces the track with some grungy guitar work and Ghostface sets it off beautifully. The best verse goes to the Abbott though, his flow is ridiculous and it’s always a fan favourite.
35. EPMD ft. LL Cool J – “Rampage”
Released: December 18, 1990
Album: Business as Usual
Hardest line: “‘Cause my style deadly, psychopath, schizophrenic / A rapper choke like a carburetor, freeze up and panic”
Legend has it that LL Cool J and Parrish Smith were going at each other on this track. “It was a record where LL and Parrish were secretly battling,” Erick Sermon revealed in an interview with Complex. “People talk about that a lot. LL is a subliminal shot thrower. It turned out to be a great record.” The beat for “Rampage” was so hard that Action Bronson had to bring it back in full form on “Strictly 4 My Jeeps.”
34. Jay-Z ft. M.O.P. – “U Don’t Know (Remix)”
Released: November 12, 2002
Album: The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse
Producer: Just Blaze
Hardest line: “I’m still running with cats that rob / From the era of eggshell 80s and hatchback Saabs”
The original “U Don’t Know” featured on Hov’s The Blueprint is as perfect a rap song as you can get, and it has a strong argument for being a top five Jay-Z cut of all time. So how you take a song that great and make it better? Well, you let the soul sample breathe a little longer at the intro and then you throw motherfucking M.O.P. onto the remix. That’s how.
33. Run the Jewels – “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1”
Released: October 24, 2014
Album: Run the Jewels 2
Hardest line: “I Jake the Snake ‘em, DDT ‘em in mausoleums / Macabre massacres killing cunts in my coliseum”
El-P has long been one of the most underrated figures in hip hop these past couple of decades. As a rapper as well as a producer, everything he touches is pristine, and Run the Jewels wouldn’t be as iconic as they are today if it wasn’t for El-P’s apocalyptic funk melting the ears of listeners. All four of their albums have tracks worthy to be on this list, but for the time being, “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1” gets the honour.
32. KRS-One – “Mad Crew”
Released: September 28, 1993
Album: Return of the Boom Bap
Hardest line: “This ain’t no game upon the mic, me bring the noise to you like Chuck”
As great as Boogie Down Productions was, I prefer ’90s-era solo KRS-One so much more. It’s my favourite iteration of the Blastmaster in his multi-decade recording career. The production was tougher, the voice deeper, and the confidence an all-time high. Self-produced by the Bronx MC himself, “Mad Crew” is the type of rap track that gets your head bopping until your neck is about to snap.
31. N.W.A – “Gangsta Gangsta”
Released: August 8, 1988
Album: Straight Outta Compton
Producer: Dr. Dre, DJ Yella
Hardest line: “With a right-left, right left ya toothless / And then you say goddamn, they ruthless!”
I mean, truthfully you could put half of N.W.A.’s debut album on this list. What else would you expect from the world’s most dangerous group? On “Gangsta Gangsta”, Dre is the MVP here, putting together a symphony of dense funk samples and then looping in some early G-funk with “Funky Worm,” for Cube and Eazy to cause a rampage. The track is militant, it’s provocative, and it’s absolutely one of the hardest rap songs ever made.
32. Onyx – “Slam”
Released: March 30, 1993
Producer: Chyskillz, Jam Master Jay
Hardest line: “I’m the nitty, nasty, gritty smashing, never slow gassing / Strictly swift blast of the raspy-rasp fashion”
I mean, it’s like Onyx created their 1993 debut release for the sole purpose to be included on this list. The album is called Bacdafucup by god’s sake. You can pick and choose any song to be featured here, whether it’s “Bichasniguz”, “Throw Ya Gunz” or “Stik ‘N’ Muve.” But it’s hard to look past “Slam,” the group’s platinum-selling single that’s probably their most well-known and iconic track.
30. LL Cool J ft. Keith Murray, Prodigy, Fat Joe & Foxy Brown – “I Shot Ya (Remix)”
Released: November 21, 1995
Album: Mr. Smith
Hardest line: “Ugh, now, who the fuck you think you talking to? / I pay dues, I spray crews”
On a posse cut that featured the GOAT LL Cool J, lyrical wizard Keith Murray, the Infamous Mobb Deep’s Prodigy and the hottest female rapper at the time Foxy Brown, it’s actually Fat Joe who comes with the hardest and most memorable verse. Dropped in the middle of the East Coast vs. West Coast, the song’s title did nothing to ease tensions on both sides.
29. Eminem ft. Nate Dogg – “‘Till I Collapse”
Released: May 26, 2002
Album: The Eminem Show
Hardest line: “Music is like magic, there’s a certain feelin’ you get / When you real and you spit, and people are feelin’ your shit”
All the gym bros stand up for their official anthem. Eminem has some pretty strong motivational songs in his catalogue – “Lose Yourself” and “Not Afraid” come to mind – but there’s just something that sets “‘Till I Collapse” apart from all those tracks. Maybe it’s the military chants at the beginning, the way the beat drops, Eminem’s relentless flow or Nate Dogg’s legendary hook. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting to hit a heavy bench press or preparing for a speech, “‘Till I Collapse” will get you there.
28. Eazy-E – “Boyz-n-the-Hood”
Released: March 3, 1987
Album: N.W.A. and the Posse
Producer: Dr. Dre, DJ Yella
Hardest line: “Little did he know I had a loaded 12-gauge / One sucka dead, LA Times front page”
“Boyz-n-the-Hood” was so hard they had to release it twice – first on the N.W.A. compilation album N.W.A. and the Posse, then remixed for Eazy’s debut – and then it inspired the title for the seminal 1991 film starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube. Production-wise this is some of Dre’s best work and Eazy’s high-pitched vocals just cut straight through to the listener. Iconic shit right here.
27. The Notorious B.I.G. – “Kick In The Door”
Released: March 25, 1997
Album: Life After Death
Producer: DJ Premier
Hardest line: “Your reign on the top was short like leprechauns / As I crush so-called willies, thugs and rapper-dons”
By this time, The Notorious B.I.G. had had enough. Every other week it seemed like another rapper coming for his King of New York crown. If it wasn’t Nas gunning for his spot on “The Message” then it was Rae and Ghost dissing him about his album cover, or Jeru the Damaja sending subliminal shots his way. So Biggie put his foot down and came for all their necks on the scathing “Kick In The Door,” built on an immaculate sample of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” Big was so fed up that he even let DJ Premier have it – “Son, I’m surprised you run with them.”
26. Three 6 Mafia – “Who Run It”
Released: January 24, 2000
Album: When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1
Producer: DJ Paul, Juicy J
Hardest line: “We can meet in the middle of these streets or in the middle of this ring / I can pop your chest, plastic Glock, or pop your jaw, diamond rings”
This classic Three 6 Mafia posse cut is all hard bars and banging production. DJ Paul and Juicy J lace this shit with an unforgettable instrumental as always and you’ve got no choice but to turn up when you hear it. Numerous artists have rapped over this classic track over the years, from A$AP and 21 Savage to Chief Keef and Dave East, but none of these versions are as iconic as G Herbo’s remix.
25. Master P ft. Mia X – “I’m Bout It, Bout It”
Released: July 25, 1995
Hardest line: “That murder capitol of the world, so fool watch your back / The mighty rise and clip but some tourist don’t make it back”
Classic, classic No Limit anthem right here. Master P mixes G-funk production with that syrupy New Orleans rapping style to create this legendary track right here with the oft-forgotten Mia X. This is the track you think about when you think No Limit. Even Dipset had to pay homage to this song with their own version “Bout It Bout It… Part III” featuring the one and only Ice Cream Man.
24. Dr. Dre ft. The Lady of Rage, Kurupt & RBX – “Lyrical Gangbang”
Released: December 15, 1992
Album: The Chronic
Producer: Dr. Dre
Hardest line: “I fears no one, I makes ’em cool off like the polar cap / Clenchin’ as the hits misses the roller’s back”
Dre took some time out from G-funk melodies, infectious Snoop rhymes and California weed to just get in his hip hop bag for “Lyrical Gangbang.” There’s no Funkadelic, Leon Haywood samples here, just the hardest drum break in hip hop history (“When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin) and three of Death Row’s most vicious spitters annihilating the track.
23. Capone-N-Noreaga ft. Mobb Deep & Tragedy Khadafi – “L.A., L.A. (Kuwait Mix)”
Released: April 1996
Album: The War Report
Producer: Marley Marl
Hardest line: “Been on this planet for twenty-five years and still strong / The world’s rotten like the veins in my father’s arm”
The hardest response songs to come out of New York during the whole East Coast vs. West Coast beef didn’t come from Biggie or Nas, but rather from Capone-N-Noreaga and Mobb Deep. “L.A., L.A.” and “Drop a Gem on ‘Em” was Queens holding it down for New York in the midst of the battle. On the Kuwait Mix, Marley Marl turns up the grimy notch even more, turning this diss song into a nightmarish landscape that you don’t want to get lost in.
22. Audio Two – “Top Billin’”
Released: October 15, 1987
Album: What More Can I Say?
Producer: Nat “Gizmo” Robinson, Milk Dee, Daddy-O
Hardest line: “Milk is chillin’, Gizmo’s chillin’ / What more can I say? Top billin'”
This track is as hip hop as it gets. Featuring a stuttering chop of The Honey Drippers’ “Impeach the President,” Mike Dee and Gizmo go back-and-forth about the money they’re making and honeys they’re slaying. This shit is so hard and iconic, it’s been sampled by everyone in rap, from 50 Cent’s “I Get Money” and Kanye on “Otis” to 2Pac on “Only God Can Judge Me” and Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It.”
21. Wu-Tang Clan – “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit”
Released: November 9, 1993
Album: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Producer: RZA, Method Man
Hardest line: “I be tossin’, enforcin’, my style is awesome / I’m causin’ more family feud than Richard Dawson”
This was a call-out to the whole industry and rival rappers when Wu-Tang dropped this track. For most of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), RZA had taken a backseat to let his crew members shine. But on “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit” he had his coming out party, killing the hook and the first verse over the meanest backdrop he could come up with.
20. Jay-Z – “So Ghetto”
Released: December 28, 1999
Album: Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter
Producer: DJ Premier
Hardest line: “We tote guns to the Grammys, pop bottles on the White House lawn / Guess I’m just the same old Shawn”
By 1999, Jay-Z was a certified hip hop superstar. After years in toiling in the underground, the Brooklyn MC struck gold with Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life which catapulted him to the top of the rap game. With hits like “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” and “Can I Get A…” in regular rotation, Hov was now a globally recognised name. So for his follow-up album, he made sure to bring it back to the gully Brooklyn streets to remind listeners who the fuck he was.
19. Jeru the Damaja – “Come Clean”
Released: October 26, 1993
Album: The Sun Rises in the East
Producer: DJ Premier
Hardest line: “You don’t know enough math to count the mics that I’ve ripped / Peep the Dirty Rotten scamp as his verbal weapons spit”
Speaking of gully Brooklyn raps, there was nothing grimier than when Jeru the Damaja and DJ Premier linked up for a full-length album, the classic 1994 The Sun Rises in the East. Released at the end of 1993, the album’s single “Come Clean” gave listeners a taste of what was to come. The production was crazy innovative, the flow was on point and Premo cutting in Fat Joe and Onyx vocal samples was cherry on top.
18. 50 Cent – “Many Men (Wish Death)”
Released: February 6, 2003
Album: Get Rich or Die Tryin’
Producer: Darrell “Digga” Branch, Eminem, Resto
Hardest line: “Hommo shot me, three weeks later he got shot down / Now it’s clear that I’m here for a real reason / ‘Cause he got hit like I got hit, but he ain’t fuckin’ breathin'”
In terms of production and straight-up bars, then 50 Cent has plenty of songs to choose from to include on this list of hardest hip hop songs ever. But there’s nothing in his catalogue that even comes close to the line quoted above. There’s something about the way he delivered it so matter-of-factly without any emotion that makes it ever the more chilling.
17. Prodigy – “Keep It Thoro”
Released: November 14, 2000
Producer: The Alchemist
Hardest line: “Ayo, I break bread, ribs, hundred dollar bills / Peel on Ducatis and other four-wheels”
After four Mobb Deep albums, it was time for Bandana P to break off as a solo artist for a minute, and what better song to pave the way for his solo album H.N.I.C. than “Keep It Thoro”? Featuring an iconic Alchemist beat, the track was 3 minutes of raw bars, no hook and arguably the best opening line to a Prodigy or Mobb Deep cut.
16. 2Pac – “Ambitionz Az a Ridah”
Released: February 13, 1996
Album: All Eyez on Me
Producer: Daz Dillinger
Hardest line: “So many battlefield scars while driven in plush cars / This life as a rap star is nothin’ without guard”
When 2Pac was released from Clinton Correctional Facility on October 12, 1995, the first place he headed to was the studio. No strip club, no parties, no fancy hotels paid for by Death Row. No, he had shit to get off his chest and the studio was where he was going to do that.
On that very day, Pac recorded two songs “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” and “Ambitionz Az A Ridah.” Despite the latter not even being released as a single, it has gone on to become one of his most well-known songs. Over an aggressive beat by Daz Dillinger, Pac steps up to the mic and spits the famous opening lines – “I won’t deny it, I’m a straight ridah / You don’t wanna fuck with me.”
15. Chief Keef ft. Lil Reese – “I Don’t Like”
Released: March 11, 2012
Album: Back from the Dead / Finally Rich
Producer: Young Chop
Hardest line: “Fredo in the cut, that’s a scary sight”
It doesn’t get anymore hip hop than a bunch of teenagers messing around in their room, making music and becoming superstars off of it. “I Don’t Like” was a moment in hip hop history, a changing of the guard in the sound and landscape of the culture.
Enough has been said of Chief Keef’s influence on subsequent generations, which all started with this song, but Young Chop is the real MVP here. With his simplistic and ultra-catchy production, Chop transformed this Chicago anthem into one of the hardest rap songs of all time. Side note: we crowned “I Don’t Like” the best rap song of the 2010s.
14. LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out”
Released: September 14, 1990
Album: Mama Said Knock You Out
Producer: Marley Marl, Bobby “Bobcat” Erving
Hardest line: “Just like Muhammad Ali, they called him Cassius / Watch me bash this beat like a skull”
LL Cool J appears on this list a whopping three times (four times if you include his feature on EPMD’s “Rampage”), which might be more than any other rapper. But what do you expect from an artist who has made a career off some of the hardest anthems in hip hop.
By 1990, LL was a rap veteran with three albums to his name and fans were saying that his career was waning, as newer, innovative acts like Rakim, N.W.A. and KRS-One were coming along. So he linked up with fellow Queens producer Marley Marl and put together a classic with Mama Said Knock You Out. There’s nothing that touches the title track when it comes to motivational, comeback anthems.
13. OutKast – “Return of the ‘G'”
Released: September 29, 1998
Producer: Organized Noize
Hardest line: “It’s the return of the gangster, thanks ta’ / Them niggas that’s on that blow that run up in your crib / Which contains your lady and an 8 month old”
OutKast, and in particular Andre 3000, really had a chip on their shoulder recording their third (and best) album, Aquemini. In an 2010 retrospective on the classic album, Andre spoke to Creative Loafing about what was bugging him so much leading up to recording. “I was young and wilder and some of my fashion choices people didn’t accept at the time. I started getting flak from some people, so they were like, ‘Either he’s gay or on drugs,'” he revealed. “With Big Boi standing by me I knew I had to address some of the shit ‘cause I can’t have my homeboy looking bad. And address it he did, sending a shot to all the critics and making it clear that the Atlanta duo was here to stay.
12. UGK – “Murder”
Released: July 30, 1996
Album: Ridin’ Dirty
Producer: N.O. Joe, Pimp C
Hardest line: “I’m still Pimp C, bitch, so what the fuck is up?”
UGK had been grinding for a few years since the early ’90s, dropping two albums and two EPs, but it was with their third release, 1996’s Ridin’ Dirty that the Port Arthur duo really hit the critical and commercial success they had been long due. Their most cohesive and cinematic work to date, Ridin’ Dirty was also their best-selling album selling over 70,000 copies in its first week. On “Murder,” Pimp C laces the duo with some gritty bounce while Bun B unleashes arguably his best verse ever. It was on “Murder” that Bun B cemented his status one of the best Texas rappers of all time.
11. The Diplomats – “I Really Mean It”
Released: March 25, 2003
Album: Diplomatic Immunity
Producer: Just Blaze
Hardest line: “From collabos, ghostwriting for assholes / Wanna use my brain, they give Killa mad dough / It’s all good, increase Killa cash flow”
The Diplomats and Just Blaze, name a better duo. Dipset’s first group album, Diplomatic Immunity, was packed full of heaters and motivational anthems but “I Really Mean It” really takes the cake. There’s just something about Dipset rapping over sped-up soul samples that really defined the early to mid-2000s New York era.
10. Mobb Deep – “Shook Ones Pt. II”
Released: February 3, 1995
Album: The Infamous
Hardest line: “Rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nose bone”
That chilling siren that kicks off “Shook Ones Pt. II” is like a top five iconic hip hop moment in history. There’s something so eerie and foreboding yet catchy with this track that really makes it stand-out in Mobb Deep’s catalogue. Credit goes to Havoc for his undeniable production, and of course P for his ice-cold flow and dead-eyed bars.
9. DMX ft. Sheek Louch – “Get at Me Dog”
Released: February 10, 1998
Album: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
Producer: P.K., Dame Grease
Hardest line: “The fuck is on your mind? Talkin’ that shit that you be talkin’ / And I bet you wish you never got hit ’cause you’d be walkin'”
By the late-90s, Puffy and his shiny suit army were dominating the Billboard charts and taking over the hip hop scene. Even with the passing of Biggie at the beginning of 1997, Bad Boy continued to shine brightly as ever, especially with Puffy’s debut No Way Out going on to sell over 7 million units and Mase’s Harlem World going 4x platinum.
So when a roughneck from Yonkers burst onto the scene with the buzzing “Get at Me Dog,” it felt like a complete pushback against the shiny suit era. The track was so against trend at the time that it struck a nerve in rap fans, starting a 5-year run for DMX that would be hard for anyone to top for years.
8. Kendrick Lamar ft. MC Eiht – “M.A.A.D. City”
Released: October 22, 2012
Album: good kid, m.A.A.d city
Producer: Sounwave, THC, Terrace Martin
Hardest line: “Now this is not a tape recorder sayin’ that he did it / But ever since that day, I was lookin’ at him different”
“M.A.A.D. City” has so many elements going for it that makes it one of the hardest rap songs of all time. You’ve got the Schoolboy Q “Yawk! Yawk! Yawk! Yawk!” adlib. You’ve got the high-speed chase production courtesy of Sounwave, THC and Terrace Martin.
You’ve got Kendrick’s incredible first verse which will go down as one of the best lyrical performances by a rapper ever. You’ve got that beat switch which morphs the track into a modern-day G-funk anthem with a bit more edge to it. And of course, you’ve got the legendar MC Eiht dropping a stellar verse and proving to all the young kids why he’s a highly respected OG on these West Coast streets.
7. Rick Ross ft. Styles P – “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)”
Released: June 29, 2010
Album: Teflon Don
Producer: Lex Luger
Hardest line: “I think I’m Big Meech, look at my timepiece / It’s an Audem-eer, hundred racks, at least”
If you’ve ever imagined Rick Ross as King Kong stomping on his way to the nearest Wingstop with a giant MMG chain around his neck, then this would totally be the soundtrack to that scene.
After hitting gold with his work on Waka Flocka’s Flockaveli a few months earlier, producer Lex Luger turns up the energy dial to 11 here on “B.M.F.” so the Bawse can yell at the top of his lungs, “I think I’m Big Meech, Larry Hoover.” The fact that Ross thought to put Styles P on this track is just the icing on the cake.
6. Wu-Tang Clan – “Bring da Ruckus”
Released: November 9, 1993
Album: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Hardest line: “Ghostface catch the blast of a hype verse / My Glock burst, leave in a hearse, I did worse”
The hardest intro track on the hardest rap album from the hardest hip hop crew ever. “Bring da Ruckus” is the definition of fight music. RZA’s production on here is all breakbeat and bizarre sounds with no fat, while his four Shaolin MCs bring the motherfucking ruckus to any competitor trying to step to the Wu.
5. Nas – “Made You Look”
Released: September 10, 2002
Album: God’s Son
Producer: Salaam Remi
Hardest line: “Knock a pimp’s drink down in his pimp cup / That’s the way you get Timberland’d up”
“Made You Look” is vintage Nas in his straight-up New York bar-the-fuck-up mode. Salaam Remi is the real MVP on this track, building his production around the classic Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” for the Queensbridge legend to flex his rhyming skills and snatch the King of New York crown off a certain Brooklyn rapper’s head.
4. Ice Cube – “Wicked”
Released: November 3, 1992
Album: The Predator
Producer: Torcha Chamba, Ice Cube
Hardest line: “Don’t say nothin’, just listen / Got me a plan to break Tyson outta prison”
The production for “Wicked” can only be described as pandemonium. Produced by Torcha Chamba and Cube himself, the beat sounds like a thousand funk samples and breakbeats stacked on top of each other and having Don Jagwarr voice the hook was just genius. This is classic Ice Cube as his incendiary best, and absolutely one of the hardest rap songs ever.
3. Pharoahe Monch – “Simon Says”
Released: August 17, 1999
Album: Internal Affairs
Producer: Lee Stone, Pharoahe Monch
Hardest line: “Block shots, style’s greater, let my lyrics anoint / If you holding up the wall, then you missin’ the point”
If you’ve ever seen Pharoahe Monch perform “Simon Says” at a live show, consider yourself a lucky rap fan. As soon as those horns start blaring and the beat drops, it’s like the world stops for this moment to go fucking crazy. It’s by far Pharoahe’s most iconic song, no question about it. The remix featuring Lady Luck, Method Man, Redman, Shabaam Sahdeeq and Busta Rhymes goes even harder.
2. M.O.P. – “Ante Up (Robbing Hoodz Theory)”
Released: September 9, 2000
Producer: DR Period
Hardest line: “Keep a rugged dress code, always in distress mode”
You can’t talk about the hardest rap songs of all time and not mention the Mash Out Posse and this timeless anthem. “Ante Up (Robbing Hoodz Theory)” is so synonymous with turn up rap music that it’s been used in countless films and TV shows over the years trying to capture that wild Brownsville energy. Here’s another track where the remix, featuring Busta Rhymes, Remy Martin and Teflon, rivals the original.
1. The Notorious B.I.G. – “Who Shot Ya?”
Released: February 21, 1995
Producer: Nashiem Myrick, Jean-Claude Olivier, Sean Combs
Hardest line: “Who shot ya? Separate the weak from the obsolete / Hard to creep them Brooklyn streets”
Man, I don’t care what Puffy said years later, Bad Boy knew exactly what they were doing when they put out “Who Shot Ya?” right after Pac got shot at Quad. Even if the song was made before the incident, to drop it so close and during such a tense time was nothing less than poking the bear, and Puffy knew it.
But, all that Biggie vs. 2Pac history aside, “Who Shot Ya?” is just a mean motherfucker of a song. Over a chilling sample of “I’m Afraid the Masquerade is Over,” courtesy of Nashiem Myrick, Big is in pure Frank White mode here, calmly dismantling his foes without raising his voice. There’s no doubt about it, Biggie’s “Who Shot Ya?” is the hardest rap song of all time.