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Best Hip-Hop & Rap Songs From Every Decade (1980 – 2020)

To celebrate the origins of hip-hop and how it has soared, here are some of the best hip-hop and rap songs from every decade.

Can you believe that hip-hop and rap have been on the scene for over 40 years? What took off in the 1980s as a cultural movement has now changed into something that everyone, from every corner of the globe, can enjoy.

The 1980s

The 1980s produced fantastic artists and were absolutely pivotal for the world of hip-hop, as during this decade, it grew from a new genre to a worldwide movement. While only a few rappers were known during this time, the ones making noise are still just as famous to this day.

LL Cool J, Rock The Bells (1985)

Rock The Bells is from LL Cool J’s debut album Radio. This track truly set the tone for the rest of his career and it continues to remain a signature staple in hip-hop. If you’re a diehard fan of old school hip-hop rap, Rock The Bells is a great tune to get stuck into.

Public Enemy, Rebel Without A Pause (1987)

Rebel Without A Pause was yet another debut track that shaped an artist’s career. Released in 1987 by Public Enemy, this song showcases just the right amount of talent without raising the bar too high for what was to come for Public Enemy.

Boogie Down Productions, My Philosophy (1988)

A lot of people argue that My Philosophy was way ahead of its time when released in 1988. While this is most definitely true, we know for certain that it is this tune that inspires rappers still to this very day. With the lyricism relating to the commercialization of hip-hop and “fake” rappers on the scene, My Philosophy has only grown more relevant with time.

The 1990s

While the 1980s were classed as the “birth” of hip-hop, the 1990s were when it really started to find its feet. This decade saw the rise of hundreds of rappers and songs that are now considered classics.

Wu-Tang Clan, C.R.E.A.M (1993)

C.R.E.A.M was the last single to be released from one of the greatest rap albums, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Featuring phenomenal verses from the likes of Raekwon and Inspectah Deck, this 90s track discusses the trials and tribulations involved with street economics.

Nas, N.Y. State Of Mind (1994)

We’re going to be honest with you here; this is one of the best hip-hop songs ever to grace the earth. A worth addition to the hip-hop vinyl collection and there’s no changing our mind on this one! Discussing life on the streets of New York City, N.Y. State Of Mind came to the rap scene at the very right time.

Notorious B.I.G, Juicy (1994)

It’s hard to believe that Notorious B.I.G has only been around since the 90s! His first single from the debut album Ready To Die, titled Juicy, is, without doubt, a classic. Unlike other singles released around this time, Juicy is surprisingly upbeat.

The 2000s

We can thank Notorious B.I.G for adding a bit of funk to the world of hip-hop and rap, but we can also thank the artists in the 2000s for capitalizing on this. Let’s take a look at the top tunes from one of the most unique decades in rap and hip-hop.

Eminem, Stan (2000)

Eminem became a huge name in hip-hop during the 90s, but in the 00s, we saw his more vulnerable side. Stan shows off the artist’s singing talents, delivering melodic notes while staying true to his amazing rapping skills.

You might like: Eminem’s best albums & songs

OutKast, B.O.B (2000)

Who knew that a funky beat would be all you need to make the world’s troubles sound somewhat good? B.O.B (Bombs Over Baghdad) sends a message to all listeners, old and young, about war and global warming. While this might sound like a bold thing to sing about, OutKast are well known for delivering in a way that’s easy to digest.

Kanye West, Jesus Walks (2004)

Kanye West is one of the only artists that can change his sound as many times as he wants, yet still, stay loyal to the rapping scene. Jesus Walks adds a modern twist to traditional religious standards.

Dive deeper into our top artists from the 2000s

The 2010s

With streaming platforms becoming the norm, the 2010s made hip-hop and rap more accessible than ever. And, with that, more and more artists began showing off their talents.

Azealia Banks ft. Lazy Jay, 212 (2011)

When we think about 2011, we’re instantly reminded of 212, the starting sound of Azealia Banks. Cutting through the noise and making room for females in the industry, Banks took a mainstream beat and complemented it with super catchy lyrics.

Kanye West x Jay-Z, N*ggas In Paris (2011)

Kanye West is back again, this time with leading man Jay-Z. Although featuring a controversial title, N*ggas In Paris ended up being one of the biggest tracks from the 2010s. This song ignited a pivotal moment for rap, straying from soul samples and entering into the world of heavier synth riffs.

Latest read: Hip-hop playlists for every mood

Drake, Marvins Room (2011)

Drake has undoubtedly made the biggest name for himself over the past decade. While a lot of tracks from other rap artists follow a stereotypical beat, Drake experimented with sleek lyrics and slower instrumentals. It’s safe to say it paid off. Marvins Room is just one of his many groundbreaking hits.

The 2020s (so far!)

We’ve barely stepped foot in the 20s, yet the industry already has so much to offer. With artists mixing catchy pop-style choruses’ with skilled raps, we’re so excited for what’s to come.

Busta Rhymes ft. Kendrick Lamar, Look Over Your Shoulder (2020)

Busta Rhymes made a surprising comeback in 2020 and we respect him even more for getting help from Kendrick Lamar. Look Over Your Shoulder has an amazing flow that makes us feel super nostalgic and the soulful beat is the cherry on top.

If this is a tune you like, be sure to check out the best Kendrick Lamar albums for more catchy hip-hop goodness.

Future ft. Drake, Life Is Good (2020)

This collaboration between Future and Drake was the gift we didn’t know we needed. This song slaps from the second it begins, showcasing nothing but talent between the two artists. This is a prime example of a perfect collaboration between two rappers.

Lil Nas X ft. Jack Harlow, INDUSTRY BABY (2021)

Nominated for “Best Melodic Rap” at the 2022 Grammy Awards, INDUSTRY BABY is a sign of what’s to come from rap over the next decade. Lil Nas X has never been afraid to be true to himself, and we highly respect him for breaking down rap stereotypes.

Did your favorite make it on the list?

Whether you’re collecting vinyl and looking for a new addition or simply want to take a trip down memory lane, we hope this guide has helped. There have been some incredible hip-hop and rap songs over the past 40 years, and we can’t wait to see what else unfolds!

Kelvin, our design whiz and audio tech aficionado, pens articles on audio, home technology, and hip-hop for Upbeat Geek. With a keen eye on the latest from soundbars to earbuds, Kelvin decodes the tech world for our readers. His love for travel, concerts, and a music-driven creative career underscores his expertise. Kelvin’s writing not only covers the intricacies of audio and home technology but also dives into the vibrant world of hip-hop.

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