From the gritty gangsta rap of the early 90s to today's hottest club hits, the top ten rap songs attest to the lyrical power and diversity of hip hop.
1. "Dear Mama" by 2Pac
Sometimes it's good to see the softer side of the thug image. "Dear Mama" was 2Pac's unflinching ode to his mother, describing the tough times he'd put her through and his lasting love and respect for her. His legacy as a rapper can still be seen in the selling power of his posthumous releases.
2. "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg
One of the top ten rap songs was the top single from Dr. Dre's iconic The Chronic. The song boasts of the rappers' skills, traditional themes in the field, with just a hint of the gangsta rap lifestyle. "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" is also notable as the song that introduced many casual rap fans to Snoop Dogg.
3. Snoop Dogg – "Gin and Juice"
"Gin and Juice" was one of Snoop Dogg's first solo efforts, and it cemented his popularity, largely due to his laid-back style and the song's images of a never-ending party.
4. "F--- the Police" by N.W.A.
"F--- the Police" not only showcased N.W.A.'s in-your-face style, it also served as a commentary on race relations. The group gave voice to the bleakness of living in South Central L.A. N.W.A. featured several rappers who would later find success with solo careers, including Dr. Dre and Ice Cube.
5. "Ms. Jackson" by Outkast
Outkast heralded the rise of the "Dirty South", a rap scene separated from the usual East Coast/West Coast battles, with its own distinct sound. While other Outkast songs better highlight the duo's willingness to experiment with their sound, "Ms. Jackson" was one of their main hits, perhaps because listeners could clearly relate to the song's story of relationship troubles.
6. "Lose Yourself" by Eminem
Becoming the first rap song to ever win the Academy Award for Best Original Song, "Lose Yourself" was one of the top songs of 2002. The lead single from the movie 8 Mile, it told the story of the movie, while also mirroring many of Eminem's own struggles through the years trying to make it big as a rapper. Earning additional acclaim, the song came in at 93 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Songs list recognizing the best in movie music.
7. "Work It" by Missy Elliott
The female voice is often left behind in the world of rap. In songs like "Work It", Missy Elliott speaks up with dance-friendly hooks and a swagger that shows she's at home with the boys.
8. "Gold Digger" by Kanye West
While a relative newcomer to the rap game compared to names like Dre, Kanye West has put his own stamp on the world of hip hop. His signature style includes heavy production and literate lyrics that show his middle-class upbringing. He may not be from the streets, but when he combines an infectious Ray Charles sample with clever lyrics in "Gold Digger", no one cares.
9. "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang and "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
In addition to offering impressive lyrics and music, "Rapper's Delight" and "The Message" are both among the top ten rap songs for their historical significance. "Rapper's Delight" was one of the first rap hits when it was released in 1979, and a few years later, "The Message" was one of the first rap songs to honestly speak about the struggles of poor black Americans.
10. "Walk This Way" by Run-DMC and Aerosmith
Long before bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park made rap/rock combos commonplace, Run-DMC and Aerosmith teamed up to create this ground-breaking sound.
11. Rap Hits of the Past
Songs like "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice, "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot, and "Fight for Your Right" by the Beastie Boys
This entry comes in at number 11 because the songs don't truly deserve to be on a list of the top ten rap songs instead of classics like "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang". These are the songs that make you say, "What was I thinking?" when you come across the old cassette single you nearly wore out with constant play. Some of the appeal is nostalgia for the songs that were playing as you danced awkwardly at a middle school social event. Few fans are truly inspired by Vanilla Ice's flow or long for the days when Hammer-pants were all the rage. They're still good for a laugh and a spirited sing-along.