HipHop The Revolution (In Order By Year)
As most people have little side projects in their free time, I thought I’d share mine. If you know me moderately well, you know I’m a huge supporter/enthusiast and most importantly, fan of HipHop.
I’m fascinated by it’s origins — how it came to be, why it has progressed and where it is headed. I’m enthralled by its culture and the deep rooted oppression that continues to plague the ghetto, the poverty stricken, the underprivileged, and fuels the powerful (and necessary) firestorm that challenges the societal class system within America — and the world.
Maybe this narrative will provide a new perception into a song you previously shrugged off as ignorant — irrational — incoherent. Maybe it will help you relate with a lifestyle far from your own. Maybe it will provide deeper insight to a culture unbeknownst to your privilege.
After all, it was Shakespeare who said catastrophe is the purest adaptation of art, no? How about an entire culture founded upon the epitome of oppression, uplifted by the music that rose from its ashes.
I have always said and will always say, HipHop is the most beautiful form of art in the world. Maybe as I take you through its story, you will feel it too.
Before we begin, a couple notes to acknowledge:
1) Every song on this list impacted the genre, the culture, or both. Whether that be progressing the genre forward, affecting culture, (directly or indirectly) declaring a stance, dropping the industry on its head, or inspiring an entire movement, every song on this list contends some form of significance to HipHop. Note* this list was put together as un-biased as a subjective artistic compilation allows it to be.
2) I made sure to include at least one song per year — some years have quite a few songs within them. This would generally mean this is an example of a year deemed important to the genre: (1994, 1999, 2012, to name a few)
This would also explain the likes of, say a song like Rick Ross’s “Hustlin”, a song dropped in a year not-so game changing, included within the same list as The Notorious B.I.G’s “Juicy”, released in arguably the best and most influential year in the history of HipHop.
3) Every song included within this list had to be released as an official record/album. There are multiple reasons for this; authenticity, artistry, $$$, but mostly because Spotify only offers official releases within its platform..
Otherwise, tracks like Big Sean’s (But really Kendrick Lamar’s) “Control”, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, “Pusha-T’s “Exodus”, Joey Bada$$/Capital Steez’s “Survival Tactics”, J.Cole’s “Be Free”, Vince Staple’s “Nate”, and sadly yes — Hopsin’s “Ill mind of Hopsin 5” would all be contenders within this list. (This means Mixtapes too — sorry Chance)
4) Only 1 song was permitted per album. Artists could obviously be picked more than once; they were just prohibited to be picked multiple times within the same project.
Otherwise Kanye would basically dominate the 2000’s. (Looking at you “MBDTF” & “Watch The Throne”)
So without further ado, I present to you, HipHop The Revolution.
*I suggest turning up your headphones.
Couple cool tidbits/points/facts while you’re listening; you know, in case you’re still reading:
Call Outs — Artists, Years and Songs
A few albums, and their respective tracks were not available to be included (and should have been) within this playlist for various reasons, but usually it was because of this new wave of music monopolizing crap.
Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” or Jay-Z’s “The Blue Print” are examples of this, to name a few. Occasionally I was able to find loop holes like with Jay’s “Renegade” off TBP, which I was able to include due to its inclusion on Eminem’s “Curtain Call Deluxe”. I wasn’t always so lucky.
Despite HipHop’s young age, (HipHop was said to be birthed in 1973 at the legendary 1520 Sedgwick Ave, under the roof of DJ Kool Herc of the Bronx) the amount of history tucked within its 50-ish years on Earth is quite expansive, and thus proved quite difficult to compile into a list. It was even harder to slowly whittle track by track into (my) most prominent list of songs to HipHop. (This was at one point over 150 songs; now exactly 100)
Here’s a great article on Dj Cool Herc and the founding of HipHop; alternatively, you could watch the new Netflix Original: “HipHop Evolution”
This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but here are the artists who made the most appearances across the board:
- Kanye West — 5
- Eminem — 5
- Jay-Z — 4 (Realistically, should have been upwards of 6...”Big Pimpin”, “The Story of O.J. etc”)
- Outkast — 4 (Specifically André 3000)
- 2pac — 4
- Kendrick Lamar — 4
- Drake — 4
- Snoop Dogg — 3 (Should have been 4)
- The Notorious B.I.G — 3
- Nas — 3
- Run-D.M.C — 3
- Nicki Minaj — 3
- Lil Wayne — 3
- Raekwon/Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Of Wu-Tang Clan) — 3
Before you throw a fit, remember; only one song was applicable to be picked per album, and certain artists were only around long enough to put out a couple projects — if you catch my drift.
To branch off that, if I had to put a top 10 to the most important years of HipHop and the corresponding songs that most contributed to it, (keyword here is “I”) in order by year, it would be as follows:
- 1982 — Grand Master Flash & The Furious 5 “The Message”
- 1986 — Ice-T “6 ‘N The Mornin’ ”
- 1988 — N.W.A “Fuck Tha Police”
- 1989 — Public Enemy “Fight The Power”
- 1993 — Wu-Tang Clan “C.R.E.A.M”
- 1994 — The Notorious B.I.G “Juicy”
- 1999 — Eminem “My Name Is”
- 2011 — Kanye West ft. Jay-Z “N*ggas In Paris”
- 2012 — Macklemore “Same Love”
- 2015 — Kendrick Lamar “Alright”
I’d just like to point out that (hopefully) the above sheds some light on thou’ heathens who insist that “HipHop is dead”.
Y’all are either blind, close-minded or answer C: Both A & B.
What I do understand, as reflected above, the “2000’s” makes for arguably the largest gap of prominent importance in HipHop history. The genre had taken a dive in conscious progressiveness, eventually leading into “ignant rap” and “mumble rap” as is popular today.
Take that as you will. HipHop of the 2000’s also faced the biggest hit in Media-bias since the Reagan era and many artists are, as J. Cole puts it, “Chosen by the White Man” as a higher-funnel tactic to suppress rap music. (And therefore, black people).
What I can promise you, if you pay enough attention, the post-2010 decade has made for some of the most important, boundary pushing & culture moving years in the history of HipHop.
*Sidebar: If “Control” by Big Sean/Kendrick Lamar/Jay Electronica was released on Big Sean’s “Hall of Fame” in 2013 as originally intended, it would have made a spot on this list as well, solely because of Kendrick’s verse — making K.Dot the only person to top this list twice. *peaked-interest emoji* With that said, 2012 still remains an overall more important year.
Similarly, if I was able to include it within this list, Dr. Dre/Snoop’s “Nuthin’ But a G thang’ ” would top Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M”.
The Start of this List & Revolution
Most Rap critics would argue “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang marks the starting point of commercial HipHop.
Two points I’d like to make to that.
- As noted in the intro paragraph, I am walking through the revolution of HipHop that pushed either the music or the culture forward.
“Rapper’s Delight” did neither of these things. What it did do, was rip off Grand Master Caz of the Cold Crush Brother’s completely. Every single word of Big Bank Hank’s verse was taken from Caz’s masterfully written notebook.
One of his lines, he literally claims boldly: “I’m the C-A-S-AN, the O-V-A, and the rest is F-L-Y.” The irony is dumbfounding. *Note: Grand Master Caz also went by “Casanova Fly.”
To top it off, these were three random dudes from NEW JERSEY. Right across the river, New York, (specifically the Bronx) is credited to be the birthplace of HipHop, and needless to say, its founding-fathers, who had nurtured the art-form over about a decade at that point, were not happy.
Rapper’s Delight did indeed throw HipHop into the mainstream — it was the first time a rap song made serious radio airwaves and eventually made its way out of the United States; however, I refuse to acknowledge, (with good reason, mind you) let alone accept Rapper’s Delight as the starting point of HipHop.
As noted prior, HipHop’s rich history started way before that; however, it was not commercialized nor recognized as a genre for a few years to come…
That was 1980. HipHop had 2 more years to cultivate and start working towards a revolution— evolving past hopping around with a brag-ish (not to be confused with braggadocios-rap) and all around-fun word-speak.
1982 ushered in new wave of consciousness, unheard of within the genre prior. All of a sudden it wasn’t about parties. HipHop became a movement.
And it all started with “The Message”.
With good timing too. 1981 marks the start of the Reagan era, and the most challenging time-frame for the black and minority communities in recent history.
At this point, I was planning on laying out the oppression of Reagan and his regime in detail; however, I don’t think I could ever do as much justice as Killer Mike’s second verse on his song “Reagan”.
Sidebar: I can and have recited every word of this verse on multiple occasions to different people. It goes like this:
“The end of the Reagan Era, I’m like ‘leven, twelve, or
Old enough to understand that shit’ll change forever
They declared a war on drugs like a war on terror
But what it really did was let the police terrorize whoever
But mostly black boys
but they would call us _______
And lay us on our belly, while they fingers on they triggers
They boots was on our head, they dogs was on our crotches
And they would beat us up if we had diamonds on our watches
And they would take our drugs and money, as they pick our pockets
I guess that that’s the privilege of policing for some profits
But thanks to Reaganomics
Prison turned to profits
Cause’ free labor’s the cornerstone of US economics
Cause Slavery was abolished
Unless you are in prison
You think I am bullshittin’, then read the 13th Amendment
Involuntary servitude, slavery it prohibits
That’s why they giving drug offenders time in double digits.”
Socially Progressive, also revered as “conscious” rap, was birthed within the oppression of the Reagan’ era. Rather, it was forced out. Rap music became an outlet, both for the artists and the every-day listener. It became a way to fight back — the way to fight back. Our way to fight back.
While a plethora of other sub-genres have come to be in HipHop, (Gangsta’, Braggadocio, Gospel, Trap, Mumble and so on and so forth) progressive rap will always exist as the roots of HipHop, as well as where I most ascribe.
Need a break? Here’s more lists.
You get it by now… in order by year.
A list of my favorite albums (not necessarily included on this list) in recent years:
- 2010 — Kanye West [My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy]
- 2011 — J. Cole [Cole World: The Sideline Story]
- 2012 — Kendrick Lamar [Good Kid, M.A.A.D City]
- 2013 — Pusha-T [My Name Is My Name]
- 2014 — Freddie Gibbs [Piñata]
- 2015 — A$AP Rocky [At. Long. Last. ASAP]
- 2016 — Danny Brown [Atrocity Exhibition]
- 2017 — Joey Badass [All-Amerikkan Bada$$]
Albums on this list where other critics/fans might have picked an alternative song to my choice:
- 1988 — N.W.A “Straight Outta Compton” [Straight Outta Compton]
- 1990 — A Tribe Called Quest “Bonita Applebum” [People’s Instinctive Travels and The Path of Rhythm]
- 1991–2Pac “Brenda’s Got a Baby” [2Pacalypse Now]
- 1994 — Nas “The World is Yours” [Illmatic]
- 1995 — Mobb Deep “Eye for an Eye” ft. Nas, Raekwon [The Infamous]
- 1997 — The Notorious B.I.G “Hypnotize” [Life After Death]
- 1998 — Outkast “Aquemini” [Aquemini]
- 2002 — Eminem “Without Me” [The Eminem Show]
- 2009 — Kid Cudi “Day ’N’ Night” [Man On The Moon: The End Of Day]
- 2010 — Nicki Minaj “Roman’s Revenge” ft. Eminem [Pink Friday]
- 2010 — Kanye West “Runaway” [My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy]
- 2011 — Kanye West “Otis” ft. Jay-Z [Watch The Throne]
- 2012 — Kendrick Lamar “Money Trees” ft. Jay Rock [good kid m.A.A.d city]
- 2013 — Drake “Worst Behavior” [Nothing Was The Same]
- 2013 — Childish Gambino “3005” [Because The Internet]
- 2014 — J. Cole “No Role Modelz” [2014 Forest Hills Drive]
- 2016 — Drake “Hotline Bling” [Views]
- 2016 — Kanye West “Famous” [The Life Of Pablo]
Rappers on this list who have since deceased, in order by year of death: Pour one out for the homies
- September 8th, 1989 — Keith Wiggins (Cowboy of The Furious 5)
Cause of death: Drug related (Crack Cocaine overdose)
- March 26th, 1995 — Eric Lynn Wright (Eazy-E of N.W.A)
Cause of death: Illness (AIDS — there’s large speculation that Suge Knight, CEO of Death Row was behind Eazy-E’s contraction of the disease)
- September 13th, 1996 — Tupac Amaru Shakur (2Pac)
Cause of death: Gun violence (Drive-by en-route to a club — he passed in intensive-care the following day)
- March 9th, 1997 — Christopher George Latore Wallace (The Notorious B.I.G) Cause of death: Gun violence (Drive-by in LA, two days after he presented an award at the Soul Train Awards and six months after the death of Tupac Shakur)
- October 30th, 2002 — Jason William Mizell (Jam Master Jay of Run-D.M.C) Cause of death: Gun violence (Shootout in recording studio in Queens, NY)
- November 13th, 2004 — Russell Tyrone Jones (Ol’ Dirty Bastard of Wu-Tang Clan) Cause of death: Drug related (Cocaine/Tramadol overdose)
- December 4th, 2007 — Chad Lamont Butler (Pimp C of UGK (UnderGround Kingz)) Cause of death: Drug related (Codeine/Promethazine overdose in conjunction with sleep apnea)
- March 22nd, 2016 — Malik Izaak Taylor (Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest) Cause of death: Illness (Diabetes)
The most fx#&*d up songs on this list, this time in order from least to most heart-wrenching. Only listen if you’re feeling some type of way
8. The Game — My Life [The Documentary] `
7. Ab-Soul — Terrorist Threats [Control System]
6. Eminem — Cleanin’ Out My Closet [The Eminem Show]
5. Ice Cube — Today Was a Good Day [The Predator]
4. Killer Mike — Reagan [R.A.P. Music]
3. Geto Boys — Mind Playing Tricks On Me [We Can’t Be Stopped]
2. Eminem — Stan [The Marshall Mathers LP]
- Immortal Technique — Dance With The Devil [Revolutionary]
The Most Epic of Bouts
Interestingly enough, the only actual rivalry/rap war substantial enough to make this list is the infamous bout between the (at the time) equally famous and equally influential Nas and Jay-Z. (See Nas’s Ether). Which is surprising, seeing as HipHop as a whole feeds off of confrontation and retaliation in par of an entire culture constantly being shoved down.
It all started with Jay-Z sampling “The World is Yours” off of Illmatic without Nas’s permission. To make a (very extensive) long story short, Nas kept hammering shots until the usually composed and unperturbed Jay-Z cracked and shot back. It’s gone down in history as the most substantial and closely followed fight in HipHop history.
50 Cent was definitely second in line for infamous bouts, as he basically buried Ja Rule along with his career with “Back Down” and other associated songs to the feud. The reason it didn’t make it is simple. While the fight is notorious, it wasn’t nearly as important as 50’s explosion into the game when “In Da Club” dropped. Seeing as both tracks were off of his album “Get Rich or Die Tryin’ ”, it was clear which made the bigger impact.
Here’s an article of an interview with Fitty on his bout with Ja Rule, as well as his thoughts on the Nas/Jay-Z battle-royale.
When there’s 50, there’s Eminem was was also a close contender for his numerous rivalries over the course of his career; however, that’s just it. The sheer amount of confrontations with different artists makes it difficult to pin down a singular bout substantial enough to make a HipHop through the ages playlist.
You could say the fight between 2pac and The Notorious B.I.G is prominent enough to be revered as an official bout on this list; however, I believe that to be more of a East VS West coast war rather than a war between Pac and Biggy, and their opposition was never actually confirmed.
You could also say J. Cole’s call out of Iggy Azalea on “Fire Squad” was important enough to be considered a fight; however, Iggy never really fought back outside of a little tweet complaining she’s tired of being picked on. *Muffin :( * Besides, that was more of a world vs. Iggy Azalea war.
*Sidebar: No, Drake & Meek do not make for a contender.
The Longest Career In The Game
I bet you before I reveal who’s had the most extensive career in terms of spanning years, you would guess a handful of artists before this one; however, as soon as I say it, you’ll likely do something like “ahhh, that makes sense.”
Keep in mind, this is based off of prominence in the industry, and was aggregated based on their appearances on this list. There is of course artists who have been dropping albums and tracks spanning various decades — but none with as much cultural prominence, per this list.
So who is it? That’s right, it’s the D-O-Double-G, Snoop Dogg.
The Doggy Dog, Snoop Lion, Snoop Zilla of the game! How many names has Calvin Cordozor Broadus Jr used exactly?
Why that would be a whopping 7, as far as I can count! None however, quite as legendary a name change as 2 Chainz’s revolutionary swap from “Tity Boi”
So where does Snoop start on this list? That would be Snoop’s break-out hit “Gin and Juice” off his debut solo album, “Doggystyle.”
And that’s only because “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” isn’t on Spotify. That was released in 1992, and you can bet your ass is one of the most important songs in HipHop’s history. “Deep Cover” was also released that year and is probably my favorite Snoop/Dre song of all time.
Where does Snoop finish off on this list? 2011 with his smash-hit in partnership with Wiz Khalifa, “Young Wild & Free”
Total, that spans a whopping 19 years of cultural prominence in the game. Shout-out the Doggy and his numerous commercial deals, odd PSY feature, and undeniable love for Martha Stewart.
These Picks (In Progress)
At this point, I figured it would be best to go over my thought-process of some of the more controversial, or likely opposed songs on this list.
This is where I answer your “why the f@%! is Lil Wayne and Desiigner on this list?!?”
Well that is a simple answer really. This list is omitted of yours and my biases — every artist and song, despite your own opinions, are direct contributions to the genre and its many subcultures.
This next section will focus exclusively on those call-out songs, as well as a special call-out and more in-depth analysis of my top-10 years and songs I had alluded to prior.
This time, I will be working backwards, as the most recent years will be more concentrated and obviously be more relevant to those reading this list, starting with you guessed it — Panda.
- 2016 — — Desiigner “Panda” (In case you had any doubt)
Whether you like it or not, Panda, while not necessarily the most important in line with everything America had been facing this past year, is without a doubt the biggest and most impactful song to the genre of HipHop in 2016. With so many songs fighting for the top spot of 2k16, YG’s “FDT” standing at the pinnacle of mid-election debacles and Kanye West’s “Ultra Light Beam” holding it down as the most sonically grandstanding piece of music of the year, why — or more so, how did “Panda” break the mold?
Well let’s take it back. Many of my friends challenged why I didn’t have Young Thug, Future, Fetty Wap and so on, on this list? Well, “Mumble Rap” while without a doubt, spawned around this time by the handful of artists named above and a few others — mumble rap was only starting out as a new facet of the genre, and it still had plenty room to grow and root itself as its own sub-genre in HipHop. ((Or die out like many-the subset before it) rap-core, g-funk, and the 2009-Jerk sensation to name a few)
Mumble-Rap was gaining traction, sure — and it was definitely getting YouTube views, but there’s a finite difference between catching the appeal of High-School students and acceptance within the culture that founded it. (Hence why Lil Yachty will never break relevance outside of his own facet.)
Fast-forward back to present-time, while up until this point, Mumble-Rap had been shrugged off, “Panda” was the moment it became un-ignorable.
Its riveting samples and signature ad-libs created the over-night sensation that was Panda. His “bbbrryahhhhhhhh” became instantaneously familiar. It only took a single track to feel like you’ve known Desiigner for years, and most importantly, the entire track was littered with personality, and made greats like Pusha-T turn head and sign him to the biggest music label in rap.
2. 2015 — Kendrick Lamar “Alright” (Top 10 song)
People are afraid of social media — I believe mostly because it’s an outlet of un-biased truth. The “man” is definitely afraid of it. Police brutality, blatant racism, and overlying oppression is now being thrusted into the spotlight. It’s always been here, but it’s now being seen by the world. But I don’t know what’s scarier, the horrifics of these acts on blatant camera, or the fact that it took a inter-connected world to recognize this is as an issue; alas, I digress, as this is not a preach to the injustices to the world, but rather setting the stage for Kendrick Lamar and “Alright.”
Alright is the most important song to HipHop of the last decade — probably two. A lot is going on in the world at present, and the same problems have been going on. There are a lot of songs out there that recognize these problems. Examine them — criticize them — wage war against them.
“Alright” is not quite one of those songs. It takes you on a parallel journey, but the message is a bit different. We the people have fought, and we will continue to fight. People go through ups and downs in their lives, but the “struggle” is a consistent factor spanning an eon. It just doesn’t compare. I can feel great about my job security, or not so great about a loved one’s health — but I don’t think there has ever truly been a time, where I have felt we as a society, were in a good place.
That was the magic of “Alright” and “To Pimp A Butterfly”. Not once in my life-time, even if only for a second, can I recall ever feeling such a resounding confirming that everything will indeed, be alright.
There are a couple songs on this list that mean to invigorate the same feeling, prior to my time. Most notably, 2Pac, who coincidentally is Kendrick’s biggest influence, with “Keep Ya Head Up”. Which I imagine to be a big inspiration to “Alright”.
So I repeat, “Alright” is the most important song to HipHop of the last decade. Maybe that’s why I felt distraught when Taylor Swift won the Grammy for Album Of The Year over a political movement that inspired millions of African Americans and Minorities alike, both young and old.
3. 2015 — Action Bronson “Actin Crazy” (In case you had any doubt)
I read a YouTube comment while watching this video when it first came out. It was from one of those OG HipHop commentors. Y’all know the type. Lives out on the West Coast. Knows his music. Prolly seen some shit. He said something along the lines of “Damn bruh, I never thought I’d live to see the day a fat-white dude with a big-red beard would one day be the savior of HipHop”
4. 2013 — A$AP Ferg “Shabba” (In case you had any doubt)
He is the TRAP LORD. In all seriousness, very similar to my point earlier with “Panda”, “Trap” as a sub-genre of rap was just unfurling into a trap-era, that is indeed here to stay. Trap, not to be confused with its electronic-counterpart that shares the name, refers to a “trap house”, a run-down house at the end of the street, taken up by gang-affiliates or drug offenders, most prominently found in Atlanta, Detroit, and Chicago, and serves as symbolism, similar to “Braggadocio Rap” as an ode to the struggle, and the the desire to escape it.
And while A$AP Ferg never necessarily grew up in the Trap, he somehow became the spokesman of it, and I think not experiencing something one’s self, but recognizing a problem and doing something about it, is equally as important as escaping said problem and doing something about it.
5. 2012 — Killer Mike “Reagan” (Top 10 song)
Reagan — easily the least-known track in the top 10, but you can bet your ass that doesn’t make it any less impactful. To date, it has only garnered 3.9 million views on YouTube, (that includes after a personal shoutout from Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp A Butterfly) and never made radio-waves — I mean, how could it.
6. 2011 — Kanye West “N*iggas in Paris” ft. Jay Z (Top 10 song)
This is one of the tracks I couldn’t wait to write about.
7. 2010 — Kanye West “Monster” ft. Jay Z, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross (In case you had any doubt)
8. 2008 — Lil Wayne “A Milli” (In case you had any doubt)
9. 2005 — Grand Master Flash “What If” ft. KRS One (In case you had any doubt)
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Consultation: Mike Smith-Priar, Ivonna Thompson, Michael Lewis, Tomas Cormier, Norman McEvoy, Jamison Anton
Inspiration: “The Rap Year Book” by Shea Serrano
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