This piece is a response to the controversial listing by Billboard Magazine that listed the top ten beats of “all-time” in Hip Hop. You can view the article here, needless to say it’s caused a debate about the selections. I have my own list of top Hip Hop beats, but twenty-five instead of ten. Let’s go!
25. "Drop It Like It's Hot" Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell
Production: The Neptunes
In 2004, The Neptunes scored a monster hit for Snoop, fresh off the heels of the incredible “Beautiful” in ’02, Snoop and Pharrell constructed a track full of mouth clicks and a sharp 808 drum beat. This hit propelled his album Rhythm & Gangsta: The Masterpiece into double platinum land, and rightfully so, as there was no escaping that trunk rattler.
24. "Player's Ball (remix)" Outkast feat. Sleepy Brown
Production: Organized Noize
Nothing against the original beat for this cut, for it was definitely funky in its own right, but the more melodic remix touched another part of your soul. The two note, piano version of this put it at another level. This single introduced us to the future icons known as Outkast, and helped their debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik into legendary status and a new benchmark for the South.
23. "The Light" Common
Production: J Dilla
God Bless the legend of James “J Dilla” Yancey for this amazing Hip Hop love song by one of the game’s all-time best emcees. Dedicated to his then-girlfriend Erykah Bedu (who makes an appearance in the video), this excellent reworking of Bobby Caldwell’s “Open Your Eyes” earned him a Grammy nomination and sent Common into then-uncharted waters, Gold status for his breathtaking album Like Water For Chocolate.
22. "Hold It Now, Hit It" Beastie Boys
Production: Rick Rubin
Truly a funky cut by three White Jewish guys from NYC, multiple samples were used in this dope cut off their seminal Licensed To Ill debut album. This track fit in perfectly with other notable pieces like the equally cold “Paul Revere” and the rock-tinged “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”. This, along with “Brass Monkey”, was Hip Hop at its most elementary, yet effective.
21. "So Whatcha Sayin" EPMD
For this to be the only cut released from their sophomore album, Unfinished Business, it was all Erick and Parrish needed to make another Gold-selling album. A bit harder than their singles from their debut Strictly Business, this cut was made to give a middle finger to all those who thought they were a flash in the pan duo and how Parrish was always compared vocally to Rakim. The gregorian chants and the funk involved with this made this single a knocker to this very day.
20. "NY State Of Mind" Nas
Production: DJ Premier
Out of all the magnificence that was Illmatic, this one was the most dark. This was a bloody stroll through the streets of Queensbridge, USA with a murky Premo beat that aurally captured what Nas was about to paint for us as listeners. Seen as one of Preme’s finest production moments, this was the perfect intro cut to what would become nearly seventy of the best moments Hip Hop has ever heard and possibly will ever hear!
19. "C.R.E.A.M." Wu-Tang Clan
The magnum opus on what would become a landmark in Hip Hop with the Wu‘s debut Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), this haunting cut, although filled with champagne bottles and a subsequent lavish lifestyle in the video is a brooding, piano-laced, melodic sample that at the time made RZA an anomaly in Hip Hop. This cut remains a treasure.
18. "Grindin'" Clipse
Production: The Neptunes
What could honestly be the most insane of any Neptune production of their discography, the very heavy percussion lead that’s also reminiscent loosely of Eric B & Rakim’s “My Melody”, this presented The Clipse onto the Hip Hop mainstream. This production from Pharrell and then production partner Chad Hugo was seen again on Snoop’s aforementioned “Drop It Like It’s Hot”, but the percussion here was so knocking it was undeniable. Although the rest of their debut, Lord Willin’ was quite hard, this was the staple of the album.
17. "My Philosophy" Boogie Down Productions
Production: Scott La Rock
So much of KRS‘ early stuff involved some memorable beats, and this one was no exception. Released just after the untimely and tragic death of partner in crime Scott La Rock, this was as hard of a cut as you could find in ’88. Scott La Rock would be proud.
16. "Next Level (DJ Premier remix)" Showbiz & AG
Production: DJ Premier
From these D.I.T.C. members‘ sophomore banger, Goodfellas, comes the craziest beat not just on the album, but one of the best beats of the entire nineties. The original version was dope in itself, but the remix by Preme was even featured in a battle scene or two in the iconic Hip Hop movie 8 Mile. This beat is hard enough to where you almost never hear about any battles done without this particular cut’s instrumental.
15. "T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)" Pete Rock & CL Smooth
Production: Pete Rock
One of the most melancholy cuts to ever hit wax, this is the flagship euology cut in Hip Hop. Pete Rock’s use of an old Jefferson Airplane cut redone by saxophonist Tom Scott, along with a sharp bassline, makes this one of the most recognizable beats ever in the genre. Pete Rock has since gone on to become a legendary producer in the game, but this will always and forever be his most prized beat possession. While their debut, Mecca & The Soul Brother, is considered one of the most shining moments in early nineties Hip Hop, it’s this cut that remains a staple, and you’ll always know where you were you were the first time you heard the sax.
14. "Tha Shiznit" Snoop Doggy Dogg
Production: Dr. Dre
Without question, one of Hip Hop’s most flawless production albums is Snoop‘s revered debut, Doggystyle. The track most people seems to give credit as the most outstanding cut on there that was never released as a single was “Tha Shiznit”. Complete with the signature G-funk Dr. Dre provided, along with an apropos flute loop in there and a hard-hitting bassline, this was the hottest song on one of the hottest albums ever heard, and no doubt, Snoop’s crowning moment.
13. "The Formula" D.O.C.
Production: Dr. Dre
Only the good Doctor could construct a Hip Hop version of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues”, but he did it, and put a then up-and-comer named D.O.C. on it. The rest was history. His debut, No One Can Do It Better, is an album that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being a big moment in the late eighties/early nineties. Unfortunately, the horrific car crash that costed D.O.C. his voice for nearly twenty years came right afterwards, but this track put him on the map and is one of the slickest beats in Dre’s discography.
12. "Hard Knock Life" Jay-Z
Production: Mark The 45 King
Who thinks of redoing a piece from the musical “Annie”? Jay-Z did, and with paying 45 King (who was also responsible for constructing Eminem‘s “Stan”) only a reported $10,000 for a beat from a $0.25 record, it became one of his biggest selling singles to date. Love him or hate him, how could you not go in on this superb beat, which resulted in a memorable song altogether from his excellent Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life album.
11. "Microphone Fiend" Eric B & Rakim
Production: Eric B
Over the Average White Band’s “School Boy Crush”, Eric B & Rakim pounded our speakers with what considered a major cut for him in his career. Rakim was already on his way to earning legendary status up to this point, and with this cut from his classic sophomore album Follow The Leader, he sealed it.
10. "Nuthin But A G Thang" Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg
Production: Dr Dre
Ahhhh… the official introduction of Dr. Dre-post NWA to the world and boy was it a smooth one. One of those laid-back cuts to roll out to on a Sunday evening in the summer with the top down, Dre sampled “I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You” by Leon Haywood and created a iconic record. So much so that it’s in the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame’s Top 500 of all-time list. This debut cut from his equally iconic The Chronic shaped would be one of the most successful careers in all of popular music.
9. "Rapper's Delight" Sugarhill Gang
Production: Sylvia Robinson
Come on, who doesn’t know this one? Like at all? Over the popular “Good Times” cut by disco group Chic, this is THE staple of Hip Hop, and is irresistible at karoake bars and at parties in general. The ultimate ol’ school feel good record, there would be no Hip Hop on a mainstream level without this cut. Period.
8. "I'm Bad" LL Cool J
Production: The LA Posse
WOOO!!! Talk about a cut to do the Wop dance to! This was the first hard-hitter out of LL Cool J‘s collection, and wouldn’t make another quite this live for another five years when “Mama Said Knock You Out” would get in constant rotation. I dare you to put the bass all the way up on this one. I dare you.
7. "Shook Ones Pt. 2" Mobb Deep
The ultimate wylin’ out, rusty-shank holding, stick up kid anthem. The debut offering from Hav and P‘s breakout macabre masterpiece The Infamous is chilling and dark. Perfect backdrop for the apocalyptic and vivid lyrics from the Queensbridge duo. Considered an all-time classic, the Mobb would put out cuts that were also brooding and menacing and equally as impressive, but nothing has surpassed this unbelievable piece from the “official Queensbridge murderers”.
6. "The Message" Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
Production: Sylvia Robinson, Duke Bootee, and Jiggs
Before Diddy and Mase got their hands on it for “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”, this was considered the social commentary anthem in the early days of mainstream Hip Hop, and is still seen as one of the important songs in all of music. There’s no room for shaking asses on this one, just a simple synth and a bassline that was fairly elementary and that was enough to present a powerful piece of music.
5. "Bonita Applebum" A Tribe Called Quest
Production: A Tribe Called Quest
One of Hip Hop’s first true love songs, or at least tremendous infatuation, this silky smooth cut that sampled Little Feat and RAMP will cause the listener to get caught up in the hypnotic, melodic vibes from this love letter to this unknown female. Seen as Tribe’s magnum opus, this cut will go down as one of our ears most celebrated moments, and made their debut Peoples Instinctive Travels In The Paths Of Rhythm a new standard in artistic Hip Hop.
4. "You Gots To Chill" EPMD
Dear GOD what a bassline!!! That’s the first thought that came into my head when I first heard this amazingly funky second single from their prodigious debut album, Strictly Business. This obvious reworking of Roger & Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce” is EPMD’s song de force and is irresistible in any party.
3. "South Bronx" Boogie Down Productions
Production: Scott La Rock
By Nas‘ own admission, even though he was pro-Queensbridge in the “Bridge Wars” between MC Shan vs. BDP, he couldn’t front on at least the beat of “South Bronx” claiming it was “tough”. Indeed it is. This was a response to MC Shan’s “The Bridge”, and although verbally KRS brought it in spades on this one, the production hit every bit as hard.
2. "Top Billin" Audio Two
Production: Daddy-O and Milk D
The unmistakable, undeniable bass line with no instrumentation defined this record. Although other cuts during this time period incorporated the same formula, the neck-snapping effects from this put this one as head and shoulders above most during that age. With the “Go Brooklyn” chants very faintly used in the backdrop, Milk D goes off on this culturally impactful cut. Simple, yet highly effective.
1. "The Bridge Is Over" Boogie Down Productions
Production: Scott La Rock
Monstrous and menacing. Those are the two words anyone would use when describing this landmark single to put a stamp on the Bridge wars between BDP and Shan. This cut, with its brooding piano melody and sharp drum kicks, pretty much ended the career of Shan and greatly injured the status of The Juice Crew for a while. Much like “South Bronx”, the production was as much of the story as the lyrics were, as it was rare to find a B-boy-esque track this hard-hitting and vicious during the mid-eighties. To a degree, it still is.
There you have it folks. Let the debate continue on and keep moving. There are surely many, many others that belong on an all-time list. However, these are the ones that I feel were and are game changers. Whether it’s my list, Billboard Mag’s list, or your own list, one thing’s for sure: in an age where Hip Hop gets increasingly dumbed down and virtually minimized of any significant cultural value, these beats and cuts are timeless.