By 1989 Hip Hop’s Golden Age was in full swing. Where the previous years determined the new directions Hip Hop was going to take (with 1987 and especially 1988 being instrumental in the maturing of Hip Hop as a musical genre) – in 1989 there was no more denying the fact Hip Hop was there to stay, as a musical and cultural force to be reckoned with.
For this list, we have selected 40 of our favorite songs released in 1989. Are your personal favorites missing from the list? Let us know in the comments!
1. Public Enemy - Fight The Power
Arguably Public Enemy’s best-known track, the musical theme for Spike Lee’s classic movie Do The Right Thing is universally regarded as one of the best songs of all time. We agree.
2. MC Lyte - Cha Cha Cha
“Cha Cha Cha” is the first single from MC Lyte‘s second album Eyes on This. No doubt one of MC Lyte’s very best songs, this is 100% pure Hip Hop.
3. Stop The Violence Movement - Self Destruction
Remember the days Hip Hop was all about consciousness and improvement? The Stop the Violence Movement was started by KRS-One in response to violence in the Hip Hop and African American communities. With an East Coast all-star line-up, it was one of 1989’s biggest songs, one that resonates with relevance to this day.
4. De La Soul - Buddy
“Buddy” is the third single from De La Soul’s classic debut album 3 Feet High and Rising. Great vibe and great lyrics – humorous and full of double entendres. The video version features the Jungle Brothers, Q-Tip & Monie Love. The original, also included on 3 Feet High & Rising, is dope as well.
5. Beastie Boys - Shake Your Rump
Everything that makes Paul’s Boutique so brilliant comes together on this track. The album performed commercially disappointing upon release (people were probably expecting more Fight For Your Right style frat-rap), but Paul’s Boutique would eventually universally be recognized as the creative and innovative masterpiece that it is.
6. EPMD - So Whatcha Sayin'
Picking the perfect opening track for an album is an art EPMD understood well. They got it right on their first album and did it again on their second one. So Whatcha Sayin’ is perfect for setting the tone for the rest of Unfinished Business, which would turn to be just as awesome an album as EPMD’s debut was.
7. The D.O.C. - It's Funky Enough
On the heels of the explosive success of N.W.A‘s Straight Outta Compton, Dr Dre turns out another flawlessly produced album. The D.O.C. was an extremely talented emcee who complements Dre’s beats perfectly – this opening track is just one of the many bangers from No One Can Do It Better.
8. Big Daddy Kane - Smooth Operator
One of Big Daddy Kane‘s biggest hits and best-known songs. Showcasing his ladies-man persona to the fullest and lyrically destroying the competition at the same time, Smooth Operator is signature Big Daddy Kane. As smooth as it gets.
9. Ice T - You Played Yourself
The lead single from Ice T’s third album The Iceberg. An essential cautionary tale in which Ice gives a few examples of people who get in trouble by ‘playing themselves’. A harsh message over a butter smooth beat.
10. Special Ed - I Got It Made
Special Ed’s signature track. Over an epic beat laid down by Howie Tee, a young Special Ed (15 years old at the time!) drops some of the best and most humorous braggadocious rhymes ever. All these guys today rapping about how much money they make should listen to this song…
11. Gang Starr - Manifest
For those of us who were down with Gang Starr since day one, this track – and the rest of 1989’s No More Mr Nice Guy – will always hold a special place. A great introduction to one of the best duos in Hip Hop.
12. Queen Latifah ft Monie Love - Ladies First
13. Big Daddy Kane - Warm It Up Kane
Another display of lyrical superiority, Warm It Up Kane is yet one more Big Daddy Kane battle rhyme party anthem. Classic material.
14. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Road To The Riches
15. Biz Markie - Just A Friend
Interpolating Freddie Scott’s 1968 hit “You Got What I Need”, “Just A Friend” is Biz Markie’s biggest hit and a song you can’t help but love, even if it is goofy as hell.
16. Boogie Down Productions - You Must Learn
In this song, KRS addresses the fact that the American educational system has too big a focus on ‘white history’ and he tries to show his listeners the importance of knowing African American history. And if the schools will not show you the whole picture, you have to educate yourself. You must learn.
17. De La Soul - Say No Go
Together with “Buddy” the best track on 3ft High? Impossible to call, really – but this one has everything that made De La Soul’s debut the seminal classic that it is. Positive and ultimately uplifting, this song is an anti-drugs message presented with clever rhymes, over a dope instrumental with crazy creative sampling (gotta love what producer Prince Paul did with Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That”).
18. EPMD - The Big Payback
The second single of Unfinished Business and a staple of the EPMD sound. This is the way to use an old James Brown loop for the creation of a musical masterpiece. One of the stand-out tracks from a stand-out album.
19. The D.O.C. - The Formula
“The Formula” was released as the third single from The D.O.C.’s debut album No One Can Do it Better. This Dr Dre-produced song contains samples from Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”, which only adds to its classic feel.
20. 3rd Bass - Brooklyn Queens
“Brooklyn Queens” is the third single from 3rd Bass‘ critically acclaimed debut album The Cactus Album. The album could have done without the skits, but MC Serch & Pete Nice are dope emcees and the production & beats are excellent. “Brooklyn Queens” arguably is the best track, among many stand-outs.
21. Digital Underground - Doowutchyalike
This single was released independently by this Oakland crew before they dropped their debut album Sex Packets in 1990. As funny as it is funky, this a party track par excellence. See if you spot all the cameos by Hip Hop stars in the video!
22. Beastie Boys - Hey Ladies
Another example of the creative mastery of the Beastie Boys (and the Dust Brothers). Like the rest of the brilliant Paul’s Boutique album “Hey Ladies” perfectly exemplifies what the Beastie Boys always stood for: supreme creativity and innovation. They were never afraid to reinvent themselves and stretch (and cross) genre boundaries while at the same time keeping it real.
23. De La Soul - The Magic Number
The dope opening track of De La Soul’s debut 3 Feet High & Rising. Pure joy, energy and (both lyrical and musical) creativity – a perfect introduction to the world of De La Soul.
24. Boogie Down Productions - Why Is That?
Much like Black Man In Effect from Edutainment, this song is signature KRS-One. Thought-provoking, provocative, filled with knowledge and ultimately uplifting – this is one of Boogie Down Productions’ signature tracks.
25. Queen Latifah - Wrath Of My Madness
Queen Latifah proved she could go toe-to-toe with any male rapper, this track has Latifah spitting bars at her best. One of the highlights from her landmark All Hail The Queen debut album.
26. Geto Boys - Mind Of A Lunatic
One of the extremely controversial tracks that helped earn the Geto Boys their infamy. Together with ‘Assassins’ of the 1988 album Making Trouble, this track was one of the first ‘horrorcore’ raps where psychopathic fantasies were described.
Two versions with slightly different lyrics and musical backdrops exist: the original one from the Grip It! On That Other Level album and the revamped version from the 1990 The Geto Boys remix album.
27. Big Daddy Kane - Another Victory
One of the many highlights on It’s A Big Daddy Thing. Produced by the underrated Easy Mo Bee, Another Victory is a prime example of elite lyricism and a Golden Age classic.
28. De La Soul - Me, Myself & I
Still one of De La Soul’s most famous and most recognizable songs. As early as 1989, De La Soul was very vocally opposed to cliches in Hip Hop. Their clever and humorous lyrics in this track would pretty much set the tone for the rest of their career and their continuous opposition to the dumbification of Hip Hop.
De La Soul never sold out, never followed trends, never felt the need for tough guy / gangsta posturing – they always stayed true to themselves. That makes the message of this song, almost thirty years later, all the more powerful. Super classic.
29. Kool G Rap - Men At Work
Kool G Rap‘s debut album was a showcase of raw lyrical talent. Completely produced by Marley Marl, the album is very consistent, with almost every track dope as hell. “Men At Work” is merely one of the highlights – a perfect example of why Kool G Rap is widely considered one of the best lyricists ever.
30. LL Cool J - It Gets No Rougher
One of the best songs of the underappreciated Walking With A Panther album has LL spittin’ dope rhymes over a Bomb Squad produced track.
31. Nice & Smooth - Funky For You
Nice & Smooth’s first album Nice & Smooth is a slick and fun album start to finish – filled with dope beats and turntable-work, humorous lyrics and great energy and synergy between emcees Greg Nice and Smooth B. We picked “Funky For You” to represent Nice & Smooth in this list, but we could have picked 5 other songs from that album just as easily.
32. Jungle Brothers - Sunshine
The singles with massive mainstream appeal “Doin’Our Own Dang” and “What U Waitin’ 4” would be the obvious choices to include in this list. We have selected “Sunshine” however, our favorite track from Jungle Brothers’ fantastic second album Done By The Forces Of Nature.
33. Beastie Boys - Shadrach
Another winner from what has to be the Beastie Boys’ best album – a high accolade indeed considering the rest of their catalog is pretty flawless too.
34. Ice T - The Hunted Child
Sounding much like a Public Enemy track because of the ‘noisy’ instrumental and the Chuck D samples, The Hunted Child is an uptempo track that was always sure to get a crowd hyped. Classic song from Ice T’s third album The Iceberg: Freedom Of Speech (Just Watch What You Say).
35. Chill Rob G - Court Is Now In Session
This is just one of the many excellent tracks from Chill Rob G’s criminally underrated debut album Ride The Rhythm. Chill Rob G’s lyrical skills are exceptional – intelligent lyrics, complex rhyme schemes, flow, cadence: Chill Rob G is a true lyrical master.
36. Donald D - Notorious
Donald D already was a Hip Hop veteran (as part of the Bronx-crew The B-Boys) when he moved from New York to L.A. to join Ice T’s Rhyme Syndicate in 1988. In 1989 he dropped his debut album (with the best intro track ever), from which this title song is one of the stand-outs.
37. Gang Starr - Conscience Be Free
38. 3rd Bass - Triple Stage Darkness
We could have included a number of other tracks from The Cactus Album besides “Brooklyn Queens” and “Triple Stage Darkness”, as the whole album was brilliant. We went with this track because everything that makes the album so great comes together here: excellent production / sampling and great lyrics, especially by Pete Nice on this one.
39. Twin Hype - Do It To The Crowd
An absolute crossover club banger at the time, this is a dope cut on which rapping twins Glennis and Lennis Brown give their DJ King Shameek his props.
40. Kool Moe Dee - Let's Go
LL Cool J may have won the ‘war’ between him and Kool Moe Dee, but on this 1989 entry in their years-long beef, Moe Dee went HARD at LL with some supremely creative lyricism, especially in the third verse in which he explains where he thinks LL stands for…
- MC Lyte – Shut The Eff Up (Hoe)
- MC Lyte – Not Wit A Dealer
- MC Lyte – Stop, Look, Listen
- MC Lyte – Surival Of The Fittest
- MC Lyte – Cappucino
- De La Soul – Potholes In My Lawn
- De La Soul – Tread Water
- De La Soul – Eye Know
- De La Soul – Ghetto Thang
- EPMD – Strictly Snappin’ Necks
- EPMD – It Wasn’t Me, It Was The Fame
- Kool G Rap – Truly Yours
- Kool G Rap – Poison
- Kool G Rap – Trilogy Of Terror
- The D.O.C. – Mind Blowin’
- The D.O.C. – Lend Me an Ear
- The D.O.C. – Whirlwind Pyramid
- The D.O.C. – The Doc & The Doctor
- The D.O.C. – The Grand Finale
- Ice T – Lethal Weapon
- Ice T – What Ya Wanna Do?
- Geto Boys – Do it Like A G.O.
- Geto Boys – Scarface
- Boogie Down Productions – Jack Of Spades
- Boogie Down Productions – Bo! Bo! Bo!
- Beastie Boys – B-Boy Bouillabaisse
- Gang Starr – Positivity
- Gang Starr – DJ Premier In Deep Concentration
- 3rd Bass – Steppin To The A.M.
- 3rd Bass – The Gas Face
- 3rd Bass – Wordz Of Wisdom
- LL Cool J – Big Ol’ But
- LL Cool J – Jingling Baby
- LL Cool J – Droppin’ Em
- Big Daddy Kane – Young, Gifted And Black
- Big Daddy Kane – Mortal Kombat
- DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – Jeff Waz On The Beatbox
- Heavy D – We Got Our Own Thang
- Jungle Brothers – What U Waitin’ 4″
- Jungle Brothers – Doin’ Our Own Dang
- Jungle Brothers – Black Woman
- Nice & Smooth – Ooh Child
- Nice & Smooth – No Delaying
- Chill Rob G – Ride The Rhythm
- Chill Rob G – Let Me Show You
- Chill Rob G – Let The Words Flow
- Chill Rob G – Future Shock
- Chill Rob G – The Power
- Biz Markie – Spring Again
- Biz Markie – Things Get A Little Easier
- Roxanne Shante – Have A Nice Day
- Kwame – The Rhythm
- Schoolly D – Livin’ In The Jungle
- Redhead Kingpin & The FBI – Do The Right Thing
- 2 Live Crew – Me So Horny
- Tone Loc – Wild Thing
- Tone Loc – Funky Cold Medina
- Young MC – Bust A Move
- Cool C – I Gotta Habit
- Willie D – 5th Ward
- Low Profile – Aladdin’s On A Rampage
- Three Times Dope – Funky Dividends
- Vicious Beat Posse – Give The People…
- Special Ed – The Magnificent
- Stezo – It’s My Turn
- Awesome Dre – You Can’t Hold Me Back
- Def Jef – Just A Poet
- Breeze – L.A. Posse
- The Jaz – Word To The Jaz
- Kool Moe Dee – I Go To Work
- King Sun – Fat Tape