The BBC recently published an article called The Greatest Hip Hop Songs of All Time. Check it out – their Top 10 is decent, all things considered. But the whole premise is flawed because there is no definition of what the “greatest hip hop song” even means. The writer mentions that the list eschews crowd-pleasers despite eight of the Top 10 going Gold or Platinum as singles or on albums (source: RIAA).

Greatest? What do you mean, “greatest”?

The term “greatest”, according to Collins Dictionary (definition six of ‘great’) is as follows:

The greats of popular modern music are records that have been successful and that continue to be popular.”

Therefore, the “greatest” must be a combination of:

  1. Success
  2. Continue to be popular
  3. Universally agreed upon by a majority of the experts enlisted

Makes sense. Kinda. While “Juicy” is clearly a classic, it’s still not a track that’s enjoyed by a significant chunk of hip hop fans who disliked it back in 1994. Biggie himself didn’t like it. It’s unlikely “Juicy” would be considered the greatest hip hop song of all time by hip hop fans. Nevertheless, there are worse crimes committed by people who should know better, and it’s time to name and shame with a Top 5 of my own.

Disclaimer: Please note that while there were some grievances with the BBC article, the majority of the critic submissions were excellent choices. Please check out the article for more information on the writers involved.

5. At least pick the right song

Yes, somebody picked a Canibus track and it wasn’t “Poet Laureate II”. In fact, 1998’s “How We Roll” as a song had a strong Canibus performance but the hook is trash. It’s not even a Top 5 Canibus track, let alone Top 5 Greatest Hip Hop Song. Then there’s the decision to go with Jay-Z’s “Hovi Baby”. Like, what? Of all the great Jay-Z songs, you go for that one? It’s not even in the Top 100 Jay-Z songs (according to Vulture).

D.L. Chandler, HipHopWired (US)
1. Mural, Lupe Fiasco (2015)
2. How We Roll, Canibus (1998)
3. Get The Bozack, EPMD (1989)
4. Hovi Baby, JAY-Z (2002)
5. Mortal Man, Kendrick Lamar (2015)

Larry Fitzmaurice, The FADER (US)
1. Party Up (Up In Here), DMX (1999)
2. Da Rockwilder, Method Man and Redman (1999)
3. Livin’ It Up, Ja Rule ft. Case (2001)
4. I Luv U, Dizzee Rascal (2003)
5. Gucci Gucci, Kreayshawn (2011)

4. Age is no substitute for taste

Hip hop often suffers from this mentality that it’s a “young man’s (or woman’s) game”. But like any medium, if you want to comment on it or provide critical analysis of any merit, one must immerse oneself. Buy albums, try the classics and attend concerts. Just as any movie buff has watched the likes of Hitchcock, Scorsese and Kubrick, a hip hop critic has sunk hours into the works of Parker, Jackson and Shakur. Timeless art transcends time.

There’s a lot to unpick in these four lists. A Clipse intro? The LOX? Jada is that you claiming Top 5 again? I’m pretty sure the Jon Voight list is clearly trolling, or there’s something odd happening in Germany. And anybody choosing a 2019 song (let alone two!) needs to be piledriven down a bottomless pit, I’m sorry…

Davide Bortot, Critic (Germany)
1. We Got It For Cheap (Intro), Clipse (2006)
2. Fuck You, The LOX (2000)
3. Can’t Tell Me Nothing, Kanye West (2007)
4. Ojuelegba (Remix), Wizkid ft Drake & Skepta (2015)
5. March Madness, Future (2015)

Viola Funk, Critic (Germany)
1. Runaway, Kanye West ft. Pusha T (2010)
2. I Heard, Young Fathers (2013)
3. Swimming Pools (Drank), Kendrick Lamar (2012)
4. Goosebumps, Travis Scott ft. Kendrick Lamar (2016)
5. God’s Plan, Drake (2018)

Taylor Crumpton, Critic (US)
1. International Players Anthem, UGK ft. OutKast (2007)
2. Marcy Me, JAY-Z (2017)
3. Learned from Texas, BIG K.R.I.T (2019)
4. I Wonder, Kanye West (2007)
5. Realer, Megan Thee Stallion (2019)

Johann Voigt, Critic (Germany)
1. That’s Not Me, Skepta ft. Jme (2014)
2. The Black God, SpaceGhostPurrp (2012)
3. Hard In Da Paint, Waka Flocka Flame (2009)
4. Kyoto, Yung Lean (2013)
5. Love Sosa, Chief Keef (2012)

3. Cam’ron – the new David Hasselhoff

Again, Germany, what the fuck? Don’t undo the great work of HHV.DE and “Dipset Anthem” had a nice beat, but Greatest. Hip hop. Song. Ever? Really?! These two lists highlight a good ear for beats, but Dipset shouldn’t be near this type of discussion. I really mean it.

Jan Wehn, Critic (Germany)
1. I Really Mean It, The Diplomats (2003)
2. All Of The Lights, Kanye West ft. Rhianna, Kid Cudi (2010)
3. Worst Behavior, Drake (2013)
4. Tha Crossroads, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (1996)
5. Still Fly, Big Tymers (2002)

Julian Brimmers, Critic (Germany)
1. Shook Ones (Part II), Mobb Deep (1995)
2. Rosa Parks, OutKast (1998)
3. Get Ur Freak On, Missy Elliott (2001)
4. Grindin’, Clipse (2002)
5. Dipset Anthem, Diplomats ft. Juelz Santana & Cam’ron (2003)

2. Vested interests and bias

I respected Toddla T. He’s often one of the better DJs on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, but his list here is automatically voided by what many in the industry refer to as “a bitch move”. This is his list:

Toddla T, BBC Radio 1 (UK)
1. Shook Ones (Part II), Mobb Deep (1995)
2. Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang, Dr Dre ft. Snoop Doggy Dogg (1992)
3. C.R.E.A.M., Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
4. Oh Yeah, Foxy Brown (2001)
5. Electric Relaxation, A Tribe Called Quest (1993)

“A perfectly fine list, Grant, what are you t…. FOXY BROWN??” You see, after a little digging, this random choice from Foxy’s third album (which I remember buying for the “Candy” song – thanks Westwood, you owe me £12.99) isn’t so strange when you consider the track features Spragga Benz. The same Spragga Benz whose new single is produced by, yep you guessed it, Toddla fucking T. That’s some bullshit and a journalistic no-no.

1. Artists often had better lists than so-called “experts”.

It’s no wonder rappers are always sceptical of the media when it’s clear that quite a few “experts” don’t know their Foxys from their Freddie Foxxx’s. Or something. It isn’t surprising that an individual that knows the ins and outs of how to make great hip hop, has a good grasp of what’s actually dope. Slick Rick, Common and Onyx all have commendable Top 5s. As Lil’ Fame once said “Fuck a critic, they talk about it while we live it”. There is a lot of truth in that, but not all critics lack the knowledge, dedication and passion the culture deserves, and more importantly, needs. It’s just disappointing, from the perspective of a rap writer, to see artists doing a better job of it than the fucking writers.

Common, Artist (US)
1. The Message, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five (1982)
2. Scenario, A Tribe Called Quest (1991)
3. Juicy, The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)
4. They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.), Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth (1992)
5. Doo Wop (That Thing), Lauryn Hill (1998)

Slick Rick, Artist (US)
1. Fight The Power, Public Enemy (1989)
2. Warm It Up Kane, Big Daddy Kane (1989)
3. Know The Ledge, Eric B & Rakim (1992)
4. Triumph, Wu-Tang Clan (1997)
5. Pass That Dutch, Missy Elliot (2003)

Onyx Collective, Artist (US)
1. Triumph, Wu-Tang Clan (1997)
2. The What, The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)
3. Put It On, Big L (1995)
4. Can I Live, JAY-Z (1996)
5. N.Y. State Of Mind, Nas (1994)

All lists are flawed – just make sure if you are making (or reading) a list that the distinction is made between genuine experts and just people in the industry. And if you do make a list – remember to follow these 25 steps.