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This is not a list of the best rap songs of all time, although granted, a lot of these songs would make that list too.

This is a list of the most influential hip hop records of all time. To measure a rap song’s influence, you need to think about its impact and importance to the culture. Take into consideration the trends it set off, the way it shifted how artists rapped, how it changed production styles, all these things matter.

So let’s get into it, here are the 53 most influential hip hop songs of all time.

“King Tim III (Personality Jock)”

Artist: Fatback Band

Producer: Fatback Band, Jerry Thomas

Released: March 25, 1979

Album: Fatback XII

Why it’s influential: People tend to forget that it was The Fatback Band who were the first to release a commercial hip hop song. Before “King Tim III (Personality Jock),” hop hop music primarily existed at park jams and block parties, with the odd live recording circulating around the country. But now, it was officially on wax ready to be distributed to the rest of the world.

“Rapper’s Delight”

Artist: The Sugarhill Gang

Producer: Sylvia Robinson

Released: September 16, 1979

Album: Sugarhill Gang

Why it’s influential: It introduced hip hop to a mainstream audience. Using an interpolation of Chic’s “Good Times” and lyrics “borrowed” from Grandmaster Caz’s rhyme book (“Check it out, I’m the C-A-S-AN, the O-V-A and the rest is F-L-Y”), “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip hop single to reach the Billboard Top 40, peaking at 36, as well charting in countries like Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, South Africa and the UK.

“The Breaks”

Artist: Kurtis Blow

Producer: J.B. Moore, Robert Ford Jr.

Released: June 14, 1980

Album: Kurtis Blow

Why it’s influential: A few months after he became the first rapper to sign to a major label (Mercury Records), Kurtis Blow followed up the success of “Christmas Rappin’” with an even bigger single. “The Breaks” quickly sold over 500,000 copies, becoming the first rap song to be certified gold.

“Planet Rock”

Artist: Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force

Producer: Arthur Baker

Released: June 14, 1980

Album: Planet Rock: The Album

Why it’s influential: Using a Roland TR-808 (a staple drum machine in hip hop culture), Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force crafted a song so wildly different from anything else at the time. With its funky electro sound, “Planet Rock” was closer to the sounds of Kraftwerk than spinning breakbeats.

“Rapture”

Artist: Blondie

Producer: Mike Chapman

Released: January 12, 1981

Album: Autoamerican

Why it’s influential: This is how the story goes: Blondie singer Debbie Harry and the band’s guitarist Chris Stein were friends with Fab 5 Freddy, who was a staple in the old school rap scene. After attending a few rap events in the Bronx, the pair were inspired to create a rap song of their own. The resulting “Rapture” became the first number-one single to feature rap vocals as well as the first rap video to be broadcasted on MTV.

“The Message”

Artist: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

Producer: Edward G. Fletcher, Sylvia Robinson

Released: July 1, 1982

Album: The Message

Why it’s influential: “The Message” wasn’t the first hip hop song to rap about socio-political issues, but it was certainly the most prominent. Before Melle Mel came through talking about about inner-city life (“broken glass everywhere”) and the stress of living in the ghetto (“It’s like a jungle sometimes”), raps were largely concerned with the party life or and MC’s prowess on the mic. This song would lay down the foundation to built upon by later rappers like Chuck D and KRS-One.

“Sucker M.C.’s”

Artist: Run-D.M.C.

Producer: Russell Simmons, Larry Smith, Terrance Balfour

Released: August 10, 1983

Album: Run-D.M.C.

Why it’s influential: When the Hollis, Queens duo dropped their first single, “It’s Like That” backed by “Sucker M.C.’s”, it was the beginning of a new era in rap music. Moving away from the flamboyant disco era of the ’70s, Run-D.M.C. ushered in a more street-oriented culture with stripped down, abrasive beats to match the fashion.

“I Need a Beat”

Artist: LL Cool J

Producer: Rick Rubin

Released: 1984

Album: N/A

Why it’s influential: While “It’s Yours” was technically the first single to feature a Def Jam logo, the T La Rock & Jazzy Jay single was distributed by Partytime Records. “I Need a Beat” was the first official Def Jam release, featuring a brash 16-year old LL Cool J over a sparse Rubin and Jazzy Jay production. With over 100,000 copies sold, the single helped launch Def Jam into becoming one of the most important hip hop labels in history.

“La Di Da Di”

Artist: Doug E. Fresh and MC Ricky D

Producer: Dennis Bell & Ollie Cotton for City Slicker Productions

Released: August 13, 1985

Album: N/A

Why it’s influential: Rappers weren’t telling stories in the same picture-perfect, high definition quality before Slick Rick. It was the little details he included in the song (“I threw on my brand new Gucci underwear”), the different voices he employed (“You are, you conceited bastard!”), the melodic breakouts; it was the most imaginative thing hip hop had ever heard at the time.

“P.S.K. What Does It Mean?”

Artist: Schoolly D

Producer: Schoolly D

Released: 1985

Album: Schoolly D

Why it’s influential: The birth of gangsta rap didn’t happen in L.A., as it’s so commonly believed, but rather in Philadelphia, when a local rapper by the name of Schoolly D released a single via his independent label Schoolly D Records. The booming “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?” with drums so hard they threatened to blow your speakers, became the blueprint for Ice-T, who became the blueprint for Ice Cube, who became the blueprint-you know how the story goes.

“6 in the Mornin'”

Artist: Ice-T

Producer: The Unknown DJ

Released: 1986

Album: Rhyme Pays

Why it’s influential: Inspired by Philly rapper Schoolly D’s “P.S.K. What Does It Mean?”, L.A. rapper Ice-T (who was born in New Jersey) wrote “6 In The Mornin’” in his Hollywood apartment and paired it with a funky, minimalistic beat by The Unknown DJ. The song took off and became the defining gangsta rap record, paving the way for up-and-coming generations of rappers, including Ice Cube and Eazy-E, to incorporate L.A. gang culture into their lyrics.

“South Bronx”

Artist: Boogie Down Productions

Producer: Ced Gee, DJ Scott La Rock, KRS-One

Released: 1986

Album: Criminal Minded

Why it’s influential: Not only did “South Bronx” kick off the legendary Bridge Wars, it established KRS-One as one of the premier lyricists of his generation and launched a rap career that would span four decades and over 20 albums.

“Eric B. Is President”

Artist: Eric B. & Rakim

Producer: Marley Marl

Released: 1986

Album: Paid in Full

Why it’s influential: “I came in the door, I said it before / I never let the mic magnetize me no more.” And just like that, the art of rapping was never the same again. Drawing in from his jazz influences – Rakim used to play the saxophone and was a huge John Coltrane – the God MC took the craft to a new level; incorporating complex internal and multisyllabic rhyme schemes. Suddenly the loud, brash rhyme styles of Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J felt old school.

“Walk This Way”

Artist: Run-D.M.C.

Producer: Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin

Released: July 4, 1986

Album: Raising Hell

Why it’s influential: Run-D.M.C. had been pioneers of merging rap and rock two years earlier when producer Larry Smith had his friend Eddie Martinez play guitar on “Rock Box”, but “Walk This Way” took it a step further featuring a collaboration with Aerosmith. It became the first rap song to crack the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 and propelled Raising Hell into becoming the first rap album to reach platinum status.

“Push It”

Artist: Salt-N-Pepa

Producer: Hurby Azor

Released: March 8, 1987

Album: Hot, Cool & Vicious

Why it’s influential: Thanks to the huge success of “Push It”, Salt-N-Pepa’s debut release became the first album by a female rap act to achieve gold as well as platinum status, earning them the title of “The First Ladies of Rap and Hip Hop.”

“Rebel Without a Pause”

Artist: Public Enemy

Producer: The Bomb Squad

Released: July 28, 1987

Album: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Why it’s influential: According to Chuck D, shortly after dropping Public Enemy’s debut album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, they heard Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul” and realised how quickly the rap game was innovating. This spurred the group to get back into the lab and work on their follow-up, which would have “Rebel Without a Pause” as the lead single.

Questlove named this song the greatest hip hop song of all time, so I’ll let him do the honours: 

Oh my God. What the hell is this?!?!? It was the sound of your brain in a vice grip. The sound of a tea kettle screaming for its life? The scream of a bunch of teens feeling my wrath!?? The steam of uncried tears??! It was like each squeal of St. Clair Pinckney’s alto sax represented my anger at something – but what? I wanted to blast this song to smithereens, but it was 1:30 a.m. and my parents were asleep. That did not stop me. I played and played and played and played and played this song, over and over and over, until it was 6 a.m. and I’d been listening to “Rebel Without a Pause” for four and a half hours.

Questlove’s Top 50 Hip-Hop Songs of All Time | Rolling Stone

“Raw”

Artist: Big Daddy Kane

Producer: Marley Marl

Released: 1987

Album: N/A

Why it’s influential: By now the God MC has shifted the entire paradigm of rapping and there was a whole new class of hungry rappers building upon that template. Out of that class emerged the likes of Kool G Rap, KRS-One and a Brooklyn wordsmith who was so slick and confident with his bars, he would go on to inspire generations of MCs after him. You can trace elements of Biggie and Jay-Z right back to this song.

“Top Billin'”

Artist: Audio Two

Producer: Daddy-O, Audio Two

Released: October 15, 1987

Album: What More Can I Say?

Why it’s influential: Sometimes a song can be so damn catchy that it ends up becoming one of the most influential rap songs of all time. Legend has it Daddy-O accidentally hit the wrong keys on the machine when they were sampling “Impeach the President”, resulting in the unforgettable stuttering breakbeat. The result was a timeless classic that’s been sampled and quoted by the likes of 2Pac, Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Kanye, 50 Cent, and plenty more.

“Parents Just Don’t Understand”

Artist: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

Producer: Pete Harris, Will Smith, Jeffrey Townes, Bryan “Chuck” New

Released: February 17, 1988

Album: He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper

Why it’s influential: 1988 is generally regarded as the greatest year in hip hop history. With rap acts like Boogie Down Productions, EPMD, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy, and Eric B. & Rakim dropping every other week, it was a golden age for groundbreaking rap music. So it was understandable that some people had problems with the safe “Parents Just Don’t Understand” winning the first Grammy. But it didn’t matter in the end, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince led a boycott of the awards, feeling disrespected that the rap categories would not be televised. Decades later on, the hip hop community would continue to have issues with the Grammy’s respect (or lack thereof) for the artform.

“You Gots to Chill”

Artist: EPMD

Producer: EPMD

Released: June 7, 1988

Album: Strictly Business

Why it’s influential: Before Dre was looping up Parliament-Funkadelic melodies to pioneer G-Funk, a duo from Brentwood, Long Island were chopping up Kool & the Gang and Zapp to create some of the funkiest music known to hip hop. EPMD’s work on their landmark debut pushed rap producers to look beyond James Brown vinyls and towards rock and funk samples.

“Straight Outta Compton”

Artist: N.W.A

Producer: Dr. Dre, DJ Yella

Released: July 10, 1988

Album: Straight Outta Compton

Why it’s influential: “You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.” With those chilling words, the world’s most dangerous group kicked the door into mainstream consciousness. Backed by Dre’s West Coast version of The Bomb Squad’s production and Ice Cube’s incisive rhymes, “Straight Outta Compton” was the first shotgun blast from gangsta rap.

“The Symphony”

Artist: Marley Marl ft. Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane

Producer: Marley Marl

Released: September 20, 1988

Album: In Control, Volume 1

Why it’s influential: The original posse cut that every other posse cut after looked to replicate. Everyone is in top form on “The Symphony” – the relative newcomers Masta Ace and Craig G more than holding their own against more experienced spitters Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane. Also, Marley Marl’s loop of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” is timeless.

“Wild Thing”

Artist: Tone Lōc

Producer: Matt Dike, Michael Ross

Released: October 1988

Album: Lōc-ed After Dark

Why it’s influential: Released on independent record label Delicious Vinyl and featured on Tone Loc’s debut album, Lōc-ed After Dark, “Wild Thing” peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1989 and quickly sold a million copies, becoming the first rap single to be certified platinum. Produced by Matt Dike and Michael Ross with additional writing credits from Young MC, best known for his 1989 hit “Bust a Move”.

“Children’s Story”

Artist: Slick Rick

Producer: Jam Master Jay, Slick Rick, The Bomb Squad

Released: November 1, 1988

Album: The Great Adventures of Slick Rick

Why it’s influential: Slick Rick took the blueprint he laid down with “La Di Da Di” and doubled down on it across a whole album, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, while adding in consequences and life lessons. “Children’s Story” is quite possibly the greatest storytelling rap song of all time, and you can see it directly influence later storytelling greats like Nas, Biggie and Ghostface.

“Buddy”

Artist: De La Soul

Producer: De La Soul, Prince Paul

Released: December 11, 1988

Album: 3 Feet High and Rising

Why it’s influential: With the Jungle Brothers’ Straight out the Jungle and De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, the Native Tongues movement was now in full effect. The original featured Jungle Brothers and Q-Tip, but the 7-minute remix also included Queen Latifah, Monie Love and Phife Dawg. Later collectives like The Soulquarians would directly be influenced by the movement kicked off on this song here.

“Self Destruction”

Artist: Stop the Violence Movement

Producer: KRS-One, D-Nice, Hank Shocklee (Assoc.)

Released: January 15, 1989

Album: N/A

Why it’s influential: With hip hop’s growing presence in the music industry, Billboard introduced a new chart under the name Hot Rap Singles. The first rap to top the chart was born out of tragedy; when a young fan was killed at a Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy show, KRS-One gathered his peers together to record a song about anti-violence and donate the money to a charity.

The record included appearances from KRS-One, D-Nice, Ms. Melodie, MC Delite, Daddy-O, Wise, Frukwan, Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, Doug E. Fresh, Just-Ice, Heavy D, Chuck D and Flavor Flav.

“Fight the Power”

Artist: Public Enemy

Producer: The Bomb Squad

Released: July 4, 1989

Album: Fear of a Black Planet and Do the Right Thing: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Why it’s influential: “Fight the Power” was released as part of a masterful one-two punch; on Public Enemy’s third album, Fear of a Black Planet, as well as part of the sound for Do the Right Thing – two pieces of significant pieces of work that were hugely influential on the ‘90s as well as later decades.

“Mind Playing Tricks on Me”

Artist: Geto Boys

Producer: Scarface

Released: July 1, 1991

Album: We Can’t Be Stopped

Why it’s influential: The Geto Boys caught lightning in a bottle when they looped up a sample of “Hung Up on My Baby” by Isaac Hayes and laid some of the most vivid and disturbing imagery over it. The result was the most influential and best song of 1991.

“A lot of people don’t know this but Geto Boys’ ‘My Mind Playing Tricks On Me’ is the song that inspired ‘Day ‘N’ Nite,’” Kid Cudi revealed in an interview with Complex. “‘My Mind Playing Tricks On Me’ is my favorite song in the world. I love it so much I wanted to make my own version of it. And then ‘Day ‘N’ Nite’ came out of it.”

“Deep Cover”

Artist: Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Doggy Dogg

Producer: Dr. Dre

Released: April 9, 1992

Album: Deep Cover (soundtrack)

Why it’s influential: After a dispute with Eazy-E and subsequently leaving Ruthless Records, Dre was in need of some inspiration for his next hit. That inspiration came in the form of a tall, lanky rapper from Long Beach who rhymed like the L.A. version of Slick Rick. Their first collaboration together, “Deep Cover”, for the film’s soundtrack laid the foundation for what would become the sound of The Chronic and the rest of Death Row Records.

“Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang”

Artist: Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Doggy Dogg

Producer: Dr. Dre

Released: December 15, 1992

Album: The Chronic

Why it’s influential: “Deep Cover” was a mild success on the charts, and hinted at the chemistry Dre and Snoop had with each other, but no-one could have predicted what heights their follow-up single would reach. Off the strength of “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”, “Fuck wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’)” and “Let Me Ride”, The Chronic shifted hip hop’s focal point from New York to L.A. overnight.

“C.R.E.A.M.”

Artist: Wu-Tang Clan

Producer: RZA

Released: November 9, 1993

Album: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Why it’s influential: “Protect Ya Neck” was the breakout single that introduced the world to the nine masked members of the Wu-Tang Clan, but it was “C.R.E.A.M.” that really captured everyone’s attention. Driven by two stellar verses from Chef and Deck, and a timeless hook from Meth, “C.R.E.A.M.” is still the best-known Wu song of all time.

“N.Y. State of Mind”

Artist: Nas

Producer: DJ Premier

Released: April 19, 1994

Album: Illmatic

Why it’s influential: At the tender age of 20, Nasir Jones completely changed the lyrical game with his 10-track masterpiece. He was a combination of Rakim, Slick Rick and Kool G Rap, but with an updated flow that connected the old school with the new era. There’s a strong case for “N.Y. State of Mind” being the best record off the best hip hop album of all time. 

“Regulate”

Artist: Warren G ft. Nate Dogg

Producer: Warren G

Released: April 28, 1994

Album: Regulate… G Funk Era

Why it’s influential: Setting aside the fact that “Regulate” is a timeless ‘90s record that featured one of Nate Dogg’s most memorable hooks, not a lot of people know that the song was also responsible for saving Def Jam from going under. Even with gold and platinum releases from Onyx, LL Cool J and Redman in the early ‘90s, the label was struggling financially. Thanks to Warren G’s 1994 album, Regulate…G Funk Era, which sold triple platinum, Def Jam were able to turn things around. 

“Juicy”

Artist: The Notorious B.I.G.

Producer: Poke, Sean “Puffy” Combs

Released: August 9, 1994

Album: Ready to Die

Why it’s influential: A few months before “Juicy” came out, Craig Mack had dropped “Flava in Ya Ear,” the debut single on Bad Boy Records. However, Mack wasn’t able to capitalise on his success, and it was up to Biggie to be the label’s flagship artist. “Juicy” wasn’t Big’s biggest single – “Big Poppa” and “One More Chance (Stay with Me Remix)” were most successful – but it catapulted him into the top of New York’s rap scene, and remains one of the greatest autobiographical hip hop songs ever.

“Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”

Artist: Puff Daddy ft. Mase

Producer: Carlos Broady, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Stevie J, Nashiem Myrick

Released: February 11, 1997

Album: No Way Out

Why it’s influential: Before this, Puffy was best known as the owner of Bad Boy Records, who guided Biggie from a local Brooklyn spitter to the hottest rapper in the game. But then he dropped “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” and the album, No Way Out, sold 7 million copies, and it became a whole other game.

This was the start of Bad Boy’s complete domination of the Billboard charts; “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” topped the charts for six weeks, followed by “Hypnotize”, then “I’ll Be Missing You” which ruled for 11 weeks, then “Mo Money Mo Problems”, and lastly Mariah Carey’s “Honey”, which was also produced by Puffy.

“Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”

Artist: Jay-Z

Producer: The 45 King

Released: October 27, 1998

Album: Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

Why it’s influential: By ‘98, Jay-Z had already amassed an impressive catalogue, the critical darling Reasonable Doubt and the solid In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, but when he dropped “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”, it was like something had clicked. Suddenly he couldn’t miss, and it wasn’t long before he wrestled the King of New York crown away from Nas to sit on the throne for a very long time. 

“Get at Me Dog”

Artist: DMX ft. Sheek Louch

Producer: P.K., Dame Grease

Released: February 10, 1998

Album: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot

Why it’s influential: You have to remember in ‘98, hip hop was dominated by Puffy and his endless stream of chart-topping hits referencing champagne and mink coats. So when a stick-up kid from Yonkers came through with a growling flow and barking ad-libs, he literally stuck the rap game up.

“Get at Me Dog” was a gritty debut single that broke open the door for DMX to drop two number one albums in one year, and bring hip hop back to the streets. This paved the way for street-oriented rap acts who also had their eye on the charts like The LOX and 50 Cent. 

“Skew It on the Bar-B”

Artist: OutKast ft. Raekwon

Producer: Organized Noize

Released: August 23, 1998

Album: Aquemini

Why it’s influential: After a chance encounter between Raekwon and Big Boi at a mall in Atlanta, Chef connected with the duo and delivered a classic verse. This was a huge record that helped push the South into hip hop’s mecca at the time.

“Big Pimpin'”

Artist: Jay-Z ft. UGK

Producer: Timbaland

Released: April 11, 2000

Album: Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter

Why it’s influential: Before “Big Pimpin’”, UGK were a respected duo from Port Arthur, Texas who had already put out three decent-selling albums, with no hit singles. “Big Pimpin’” was the biggest hit off Jay-Z’s fourth album when it reached 18 on the Billboard pop charts and helped introduce UGK to a wider audience.

“Still D.R.E.”

Artist: Dr. Dre ft. Snoop Dogg

Producer: Dr. Dre, Mel-Man

Released: November 2, 1999

Album: 2001

Why it’s influential: After breaking off from Ruthless Records, and then Death Row Records, Aftermath was Dre’s third crack at building his own music empire. It had been seven years since Dre’s last successful solo release so the stakes were high. Bringing in Jay-Z to pen the lyrics and Scott Storch to inject some fresh energy, Dre connected back with Snoop Dogg to let the world know it was still business as usual.

“Back That Azz Up”

Artist: Juvenile ft. Mannie Fresh and Lil Wayne

Producer: Mannie Fresh

Released: June 11, 1999

Album: 400 Degreez

Why it’s influential: Following Cash Money’s historic $30 million deal with Universal Records, Juvenile’s album was primed to establish the New Orleans label as the top dog in the south. “Back That Azz Up” was the biggest hit off 400 Degreez and helped introduce Lil Wayne and Mannie Fresh to a wider audience.

“Bling Bling”

Artist: B.G. ft. Hot Boys and Big Tymers

Producer: Mannie Fresh

Released: July 20, 1999

Album: Chopper City in the Ghetto

Why it’s influential: “Bling bling, every time I come around your city.” When you have a song that’s responsible for the term bling-bling being entrenched in pop culture, how can it not be one of the most influential rap records ever?

“Stan”

Artist: Eminem ft. Dido

Producer: The 45 King, Eminem (co.)

Released: May 23, 2000

Album: The Marshall Mathers LP

Why it’s influential: Eminem took the word “Stan” and transformed it into an “overzealous and obsessed fan.” People now use the word “Stan” outside of rap culture, as part of every day lexicon.

“Ether”

Artist: Nas

Producer: Ron Browz

Released: November 23, 2001

Album: Stillmatic

Why it’s influential: Just like Eminem turned “Stan” into a noun, Nas turned “Ether” into a verb. It also helped that he referred to Eminem murdering Jay-Z on his own shit, which helped propagate the usage of “ethering” someone.

“Grindin’”

Artist: Clipse

Producer: The Neptunes

Released: May 14, 2002

Album: Lord Willin’

Why it’s influential: Pusha T and Malice took their influences from Raekwon and Jay-Z, then teamed up with fellow Virginia music-makers, The Neptunes, for this trunk-rattling classic. This is coke rap at its highest, catchiest level, and “Grindin’” will forever live on in school cafeterias.

“Hey Ya!”

Artist: Outkast

Producer: Andre 3000

Released: August 25, 2003

Album: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

Why it’s influential: People tend to forget that before Kanye was leading the charge for a new type of rapper in the mainstream, Andre 3000 was already doing it. Released in the middle of 50 Cent’s hype cycle, “Hey Ya!” was completely different to anything else in music at the time and helped to stretch the public’s imagination of what hip hop could be. This definitely paved the way for Kanye to come through the next year.

“Through the Wire”

Artist: Kanye West

Producer: Kanye West

Released: September 30, 2003

Album: The College Dropout

Why it’s influential: We’re nearly 20 years from Kanye’s debut album so it can be hard to remember the impact of The College Dropout, but it was genuinely the start of a new era in rap music. In 2004, hip hop was still dominated by Aftermath, Shady and G-Unit, so when a Chicago rapper who liked to rock polos and backpacks dropped a debut single featuring himself rapping with a wired jaw, it was intriguing. “Through the Wire” received strong radio airplay and commercial success right out the gate, and it instantly made Kanye into a star.

“Still Tippin'”

Artist: Mike Jones ft. Slim Thug & Paul Wall

Producer: Salih Williams

Released: November 12, 2004

Album: Who Is Mike Jones?

Why it’s influential: The Houston rap scene had enjoyed some success in the earlier years, predominantly from the Geto Boys and DJ Screw’s chopped and screwed tapes. But then Mike Jones came along and dropped “Still Tippin’” and it became a whole movement in the city. Suddenly Houston rappers like Paul Wall, Slim Thug and Chamillionaire were dropping gold and platinum records left, right and centre. Even to this day, artists like Drake and A$AP pay tribute to Houston’s hip hop culture. 

“Go Crazy”

Artist: Young Jeezy

Producer: Don Cannon

Released: August 16, 2005

Album: Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101

Why it’s influential: Young Jeezy was never the most gifted wordsmith. He was never as prolific as Gucci Mane, lyrically dexterous as T.I., or witty and memorable as Lil Wayne. But when he rapped, people listened. Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 is the greatest trap album of all time, and “Go Crazy” was the best song off the record. A Hov guest verse was just the icing on the cake; the stamp of approval from coke rap’s greatest artist.

“We Takin’ Over”

Artist: DJ Khaled ft. Akon, T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman and Lil Wayne

Producer: Danja

Released: March 27, 2007

Album: We the Best

Why it’s influential: Lil Wayne had been telling people he was the best rapper alive since Tha Carter II, but in 2007, it became the certified truth, largely thanks to his verse on this DJ Khaled posse cut. This is Weezy’s greatest verse of all time, just off impact alone, and provided the launchpad for what would later become the Young Money dynasty featuring Drake and Nicki Minaj.

“Crank That (Soulja Boy)”

Artist: Soulja Boy

Producer: Soulja Boy

Released: May 2, 2007

Album: souljaboytellem.com

Why it’s influential: The beat sounded cheap and flimsy, the rapping was atrocious and the subject matter hasn’t aged very well, but you can’t deny the impact of “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” This record, and the way Soulja Boy distributed and promoted it, showed internet rappers for the next 10 years how to get on. No longer were artists putting out demos and mixtapes, and waiting to be signed.They were taking things into their own hands, uploading music and shooting videos to build their own audience online.

“Say You Will”

Artist: Kanye West

Producer: Kanye West

Released: November 24, 2008

Album: 808s & Heartbreak

Why it’s influential: There’s a very clear line between “Say You Will” and the origins of the current biggest rapper in the game. I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that without Kanye dropping 808s, the rap game might look very different right now. 

“Hard in da Paint”

Artist: Waka Flocka Flame

Producer: Lex Luger

Released: May 13, 2010

Album: Flockaveli

Why it’s influential: Before Waka Flocka Flame connected with Lex Luger, trap music was largely dominated by the sounds of Young Jeezy, T.I. and Gucci Mane. But when “Hard in da Paint” hit with its menacing, orchestral strings, trap music suddenly became the Lex Luger sound. Overnight artists like Rick Ross, Jay-Z and Kanye were tapping the young producer for his energy and ominous trap strings.

“I Don’t Like”

Artist: Chief Keef ft. Lil Reese

Producer: Young Chop

Released: March 11, 2012

Album: Finally Rich

Why it’s influential: Chief Keef took what Soulja Boy did a few years earlier and applied it with a Chicago flavour. Under house arrest for firing a gun in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood, Chief Keef shot and released the video for “I Don’t Like.”

To say the song had a massive impact would be an understatement; “I Don’t Like” spearheaded the Chicago drill movement, with a number of rappers signing record deals following Keef’s success, including Lil Durk, King Louie, Fredo Santana and Lil Reese. But Keef’s influence extends way beyond Chicago and across a spectrum of rappers who made a name for themselves predominantly online (which is basically everyone these days). 

“Versace”

Artist: Migos

Producer: Zaytoven

Released: July 8, 2013

Album: Y.R.N. (Young Rich Niggas)

Why it’s influential: Migos might not have been the first rap act to use the triplet flow – Three 6 Mafia and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony were using it back in the ’90s – but they damn sure popularised it. There was a time in 2013-2014 where every other rapper was using the “Migos flow”, including Drake, Kanye, Jeezy, Future, Meek Mill, J. Cole and plenty more.

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