What if I told you hip-hop saved my life? In all honesty, that’d be a bit of an exaggeration, but hip-hop has played an essential role in my life. I started listening to it when I was about 10-11 and became a bigger and bigger fan of the genre as time went on. Now, it is pretty much all I listen to. To me, hip-hop has so much to offer. It can bring hope to the hopeless. It can be a platform for artists to express their opinions on society, to apologize to a loved one, or shed light on the hardships they have faced in their lifetime. It can be a tool to let out aggression and anger without actually committing a violent act. It can tell a story, it can make you cry, or it can make you laugh. It can do all this and more. These are many of the reasons I love this genre of music. There are so many sub-genres of hip-hop (i.e. trap, conscious, boom bap, g-funk…etc) that there truly is something for everybody. Hip hop sometimes gets a bad rap (see what I did there?) because the mainstream hip-hop today is mostly idolizing sex, money, cars, and clothes. While this subject matter can be great in its own way (especially for setting the mood at parties), it is also off-putting to many people, especially older generations. Which is why I implore people to look deeper into the sea of hip-hop, because with so many different subgenres, there really is an artist for everyone. Whether it is the socially aware activist from Compton, Kendrick Lamar or the comedic white kid from suburban Philly, Lil Dicky, hip-hop has your interests covered.
Hip-hop has been around for a long time now. There have been many unforgettable emcees, songs, and trends during its time. There have also been many disappointments and tragedies. But the great thing about music is that the good stuff always lives on. I went back at the last 30 years of hip-hop history and chose one of my personal favorites from each year. And let me tell you this, it was extremely hard to choose just one song from each year. The songs I had to leave off this list could be a whole other article by themselves. But I had somewhat of a formula when choosing the final cuts for my 30 for 30. First of all, I had to know the song and like it. With the amount of music I listen to, this was not a problem. Next, I tried to keep the songs relatively well known, as to increase listener satisfaction (always thinking of my readers). I used everyone’s favorite search engine Google to help provide me a list of songs that were released in each of the last 30 years, choosing from what I found. I also tried not to repeat artists. There are a couple exceptions (I couldn’t help it, I love the songs/artists). In addition, I wanted as many artists or songs that had a tremendous impact on either myself or the rap game (and in most cases both) to be recognized on the list. I will admit that I inevitably missed a few (special sorry to Lupe and Fabolous). Finally, there is only one year I want to explain in detail because it is the one song I feel many people might not have heard. In 2011, the easy choice would be any song off of Watch the Throne. That album was, and still is, a masterpiece and was chalk full of jams. But, I already gave Jay Z and Kanye the respect they earned with songs of their own earlier in the list so I decided to go with a lesser known song that I used to bump all the time in 2011. It is by a well respected (and super dope) artist featuring a guy who had a huge buzz during the time and I really think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do (spoiler: the beat is FIRE).
So that was my thought process, and I obviously couldn’t get every great song on here, but I think this is a pretty damn good representation of hip-hop over the past 30 years. Follow along year by year (side note: how legendary are these music videos hahaha) or listen to the Spotify playlist I made and attached at the end of this post. Alright, enough out of me, enjoy the music!
1986: Fight For Your Right- Beastie Boys
1987: I Ain’t No Joke- Eric B and Rakim
1988: Straight Outta Compton- NWA
1989: Just A Friend- Biz Markie
1990: Can I Kick It?- A Tribe Called Quest
1991: O.P.P.- Naughty By Nature
1992: They Reminisce Over You- Pete Rock and CL Smooth
1993: Gin And Juice- Snoop Dogg (ft Dr. Dre)
1994: Juicy- The Notorious B.I.G.
1995: Shook Ones, Pt. II- Mobb Deep
1996: The Message- Nas
1997: Mo Money Mo Problems- The Notorious B.I.G. (ft Puff Daddy, Mase)
1998: Changes- Tupac
1999: Forgot About Dre- Dr. Dre (ft Eminem)
2000: Ms. Jackson- Outkast
2001: Renegade- Jay Z (ft Eminem)
BONUS LIVE PERFORMANCE (PS I went to the concert @ Yankee Stadium Letterman mentions. Jealous?)
2002: Lose Yourself- Eminem
2003: In Da Club- 50 Cent
2004: Bring Em Out- T.I.
2005: Hate it or Love it- Game (ft 50 Cent)
2006: Runaway Love- Ludacris (ft Mary J. Blige)
2007: Int’l Player’s Anthem- UGK (ft Outkast)
2008: A Milli- Lil’ Wayne
2009: Forever- Drake (ft Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, Eminem)
2010: Monster- Kanye West (ft Jay Z, Nicki Minaj)
NOTE: Youtube took down the official video because apparently it is too graphic or some bull shit so this is the video with subtitles and flipped in reverse but it will do the trick.
2011: Trouble On My Mind- Pusha T (ft Tyler, The Creator)
2012: Money Trees- Kendrick Lamar (ft Jay Rock)
2013: Power Trip- J Cole (ft Miguel)
2014: Seen It All- Young Jeezy (ft Jay Z)
2015: Blessings- Big Sean (ft Drake, Kanye West)