2Pac album covers

2Pac album covers (Photo by Kraft74 on Shutterstock)

First echoing from block parties in the South Bronx, rap is a genre of music that empowers, educates, and electrifies its listeners. In a world where lyrics stem from the heart, the best rap songs challenge norms and shatter boundaries. From helping us pick up the pieces to being an emotional outlet to channel our expressions, rap music can heal, inspire, and evoke deep thought. And for these reasons, the best rap songs of our time will continue to define generations and unite diverse voices. 

However, the impact of rap music doesn’t stop there. For over five decades, rap has influenced film, music, and fashion, and shaped youth culture. Its rhythmic cadences and poignant storytelling have redefined the musical landscape, fostering a dynamic fusion of genres and sparking conversations on social issues. From fashion and dance to slang and political discourse, rap’s cultural impact resonates across generations, bridging gaps and amplifying diverse voices while leaving an indelible mark on the global entertainment sphere.

Aside from molding pop culture over the years, listening to music may benefit your health. It can enhance our mood, reduce stress, improve sleep, and help us foster meaningful connections. As a new study found, listening to music even helps prevent dementia. Even more of a reason to turn on your favorite tunes.

These findings not only remind us of the impact that music has on our lives but also serve as a testament to the power of words – and few genres are as lyrically selective as rap. Igniting social change, the best rap songs bring voice to societal narratives that have sparked revolutions. For these reasons and more, we’ll be covering the best rap songs of all time as voted by popularity, impact, and longevity. Don’t happen to see your favorite track? No worries, leave us a comment below! 

black headphones with a yellow background
Black headphones (Photo by C D-X on Unsplash)

The List: Best Rap Songs, According to Experts

1. “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A. (1988)

Taking us back to the streets, “Straight Outta Compton” is unapologetically ruthless and is known for its unadulterated expression of the realities of life. To this day, it’s widely recognized as one of the best rap songs. As Rolling Stone recounts, “This explosive first track on N.W.A‘s 1988 debut combined multi-layered, amped-up, Public Enemy-style production with a raw menace like nothing anyone had heard before.” Selling over two million copies, “it almost single-handedly shifted hip-hop’s focus from New York to South Central Los Angeles, despite MTV’s refusal to air the video…It was kind of like the British Invasion for black people.”

“Straight Outta Compton” became a megaphone for unheard voices. Helping to bring awareness to the socioeconomic challenges, police brutality, and systemic injustice that plagued its neighborhoods. As Music in Minnesota breaks down, “Straight Outta Compton is a hit off N.W.A.’s first studio album and they were dominant from the late ‘80s to the early ‘90s.” Members of the group include “rap legends Ice Cube, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren, and Arabian Prince.”

“Straight Outta Compton” is an incendiary track that’s galvanized communities towards lasting change. Its audacious energy demands attention, leaving an indelible mark on listeners. As Singers Room writes, “This iconic rap song by the legendary group N.W.A. is a timeless classic that has stood the test of time.” The song’s significance lies in “its portrayal of social injustice and police brutality against African-Americans.” What made the song so popular is “how it paved the way for N.W.A.’s global recognition, encouraging other artists to express themselves openly on important social issues.”

2. “California Love” by 2Pac, Roger, and Dr. Dre (1996)

“California Love” is more than just rap music, it’s an embodiment of the laid-back West Coast lifestyle. Further solidifying Tupac’s position as one of the greatest rappers of all time, this track transports us to places where dreams are as real as the rhythm we feel. As Complex says, “California Love was the very best of 2Pac songs and is his essential anthem.” To this day, “a certain plurality of a generation of rap fans will insist that 1996 was the greatest, most awesomely prolific year in hip-hop history.”  

Evoking images of sunny beaches and palm trees, this timeless track is one of the best rap songs of all time. With memorable verses and a unifying spirit, “California Love” is an all-time great. As Music Grotto sums up, “The track is about California life – their day-to-day activities and creativeness.” On top of the “Billboard’s Top 100 for two weeks, California Love is a vibrant track that induces dancing vibes.”

Released in 1995, this hit celebrates dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Its impact on rap and popular culture is immeasurable and continues to echo through time. As WatchMojo depicts, “California Love is a tribute to the Golden State and all of its offerings – it’ll pump you up even if you’ve never even seen the beach.” And if you needed evidence that “Dr. Dre is a legendary producer, just listen to this song.” And for those of you who live in California, “this song will make you love it even more.”

3. “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)

Juicy blends a distinctive flow, melodic chorus, and infectious groove to create an uplifting atmosphere. Every element of the song resonates with listeners of all walks of life. As Midder Music states, “Juicy was a commercial success, reaching number 27 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and it was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).” Featuring a sample of Mtume’s “Juicy Fruity,” the track was “produced by Puff Daddy and The Hitmen.” 

Making its debut in 1994, Juicy is a rap journey from the streets to the mainstream. Part of what makes “Juicy” so influential is its power to immortalize stories and turn dreams into reality. As Music in Minnesota recounts, “Juicy is a song by American rapper Notorious B.I.G off his debut album Ready to Die.” Given the success of this hit, it further cemented Notorious B.I.G. ‘s place “as one of the best and most dominant rappers of his time.” 

A celebration from nothing to something, this anthem captures the spirit of success and perseverance. Its indelible impression and long-lasting appeal has earned its spot as one of the best rap songs. As WatchMojo put it, “There may never be another rags-to-riches rap song better than this one…the Notorious B.I.G. contrasts his former life of struggle with his current life of success, expressing awe and gratitude at every moment.” From “enjoying better meals to not having to commit crimes to pay the bills, he’s in a continual state of wonder and inviting us to celebrate right along with him.” 

4. “Lose Yourself” by Eminem (2002)

Lose Yourself was part of the “8 Mile” movie soundtrack and its impacts spanned far beyond the silver screen. From workout playlists to sport arenas, this motivational track is one of the most popular rap songs. As The Top Tens describes, “Lose Yourself is the best rap song ever…Every lyric and word in the song counts.” The beat is “catchy, and the song is well-produced.”

“Lose Yourself” is a rallying cry for seizing opportunities and pursuing one’s dreams with unrelenting persistence. In a way, the song mirrors our journeys and emboldens us to take on our own battles. As WatchMojo breaks down, “Much of Eminem’s music is driven by despair and anger, but on Lose Yourself he’s driven by determination, one furious bar at a time.” Given the movie’s autobiographical nature, “it’s clear that Em is talking about himself and his own struggle to make it.” 

Battling our own doubts and fears are an everyday reality many of us face. Perhaps that is why this song still resonates with people across the generations. As Midder Music sums up, “Lose Yourself was the lead single of Eminem’s 8th studio album.” Released in 2002, it still serves as a testament to how “Eminem is widely considered among the greatest and most influential rappers.” Overall, “His works have earned several awards, including 15 Grammy Awards, six American Music Awards, 17 Billboard Music Awards, and an Academy Award.”

5. “Ms. Jackson” by OutKast (2000)

“Ms. Jackson” ushers reconciliation and understanding. As one of the best rap songs, it encompasses a wide range of emotions and experiences. As Singers Room writes, “Ms. Jackson is a rap masterpiece that combines compelling storytelling, innovative production, and heartfelt emotions.” The track has “unique details like live instrumentation, which adds depth to the musical arrangement.” To this day, “it’s one of the greatest rap songs of all time.” 

Known for sparking conversations and forging connections, the beats of “Ms. Jackson” still echoes across time. As an emotionally charged narrative, it transcends traditional boundaries. As Music in Minnesota depicts, “Ms. Jackson is a legendary song that won many awards, including the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo.” Featuring both “Andre 3000 and Big Boi, this hit peaked at No.1 across eleven countries and is widely considered one of the best rap songs of all time.” 

Released in 2000, “Ms. Jackson” solidified OutKast as one of the greatest rappers of all time. The track’s rhythm mirrors the ebb and flow of relationships, taking listeners on a personal journey. As Music Grotto summarizes, “Ms. Jackson was awarded the Best Video of the Year in the B.E.T. Awards and MTV Europe Music Awards in 2001.” The track’s message is “deeper than most people thought as it talks about relationships and how most of them are messed up.”

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About Tim Lanoue

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1 Comment

  1. Authentic Rap Historian says:

    No “best rap” list is legit if it doesn’t mention the best rap song in the history of rap: Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice, To The Extreme.