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A Beginner's Hip Hop Playlist

Edit: After some constructive feedback on hacker news, I think that it's worth mentioning that this playlist is very skewed towards recent material, although I've included some essentials from the past.

I think that hip hop is one of the most, if not the most, misunderstood genres of music. In this playlist, rather than focusing on one artist or one type of hip hop, I tried to give examples of a bunch of different artists with songs ranging from the early 90's all the way up until 2017. The songs are in no particular order and the sounds cover a very broad spectrum. Some of them are pretty damn explicit, so I wouldn't necessarily throw this playlist on if there are kids around. I provided the lyrics to each song, the sub-genre that I'd put the artist in (very rough), and a brief description. This playlist is not by any means meant to be comprehensive and in many cases doesn't necessarily represent the artist's "best" song, but instead aims at exposing you to some of my favorite artists and hoping you might do some further exploration on your own.

Here's a link to the playist on Spotify. There are three songs ("Blessed" by Schoolboy Q, "Control" by Big Sean, and "Song Cry" by Jay-Z) that Spotify doesn't have, so I just provided the youtube links to them.

https://open.spotify.com/user/zeeman901/playlist/4BqoSsC59XpcOD3QHRVYIN

Enjoy!

1. DUCKWORTH. - Kendrick Lamar

subgenre: contemporary, west coast, conscious, creative

lyrics

This is the final track on Kendrick's most recent album, DAMN.. I thought it was the most masterful track of the album, showing off Kendrick's story-telling chops and his ability to slip in and out of beats so smoothly.

2. What's The Difference - Dr. Dre ft. Eminem, Xzibit

subgenre: old school, west coast, gangsta

lyrics

Dre is a hip hop legend, both for his record producing and for his rapping (not to mention finding Snoop, Eminem, and Kendrick, among others). 2001 is an incredibly dope album, and this is among the best on it. This is hands down my favorite workout song of all time.

3. Gimme The Loot - The Notorious B.I.G.

subgenre: old school, east coast, gangsta

lyrics

Biggie's flow is ridiculous and he is absolutely on the rap Rushmore. It's a damn shame he only made two studio albums, but both of them are gold and this is one of my favorites. The theme of the song is older biggie (deeper voice) cruising around with his younger self (higher voice).

4. Blessed - Schoolboy Q ft. Kendrick Lamar

subgenre: contemporary, west coast, gangsta

lyrics

In my opinion, Schoolboy is one of the top rappers out right now. He has an unmistakable gangster rap feel to him, but his flow and vocabulary raise him above the rest.

youtube

5. Shutdown - Skepta

subgenre: contemporary, grime

lyrics

Skepta is a Grime artist, which is a sub-genre of rap out of the U.K. that tends to be more upbeat. Drake picked him up and he's getting decent visability in the U.S. these days.

6. Ultralight Beam - Kanye West ft. Chance the Rapper

subgenre: contemporary, gospel, creative

lyrics

It's hard to choose one Kanye song to put on a list like this because the dude has had such a ridiculous range of music. I opted for the opening track off his latest album (which is great) because I thought there would be a better chance of people listening to something recent, but his first two albums are absolutely amazing and well worth checking out. Chance kills it on this song.

7. Blessings - Chance the Rapper

subgenre: contemporary, conscious, soul, gospel, creative

lyrics

This song is off Chance's latest album. Chance is a super intellectual rapper and there is definitely often a message behind his songs. This album had a very gospel vibe to it, but his first mixtape, Acid Rap, put him on the map and is super fun to listen to.

8. Wet Dreamz - J. Cole

subgenre: contemporary, conscious

lyrics

J. Cole is recognized as one of the best current rappers. I like him because he's a pretty conscious rapper who takes on some pretty interesting topics. In this song he talks about losing his virginity and how nervous he was, which I found to be a refreshing counter to the typical badboy persona you usually associated with rappers talking about sex.

9. N.Y. State of Mind - Nas

subgenre: old school, gangsta, east coast

lyrics

Nas is near the top of anyone's list of best rappers of all time. This single is probably the most famous off of his most famous album, Illmatic, which is at the top of a lot of "Best Rap Album of All Time" lists.

10. Paper Trail$ - Joey Bada$$

subgenre: contemporary, conscious, old school beats

lyrics

At 22 years old, I think Joey Bada$$ is one of the most promising hip hop artists coming out of NY today. He's got a bit of an old school sound, but has a definite conscious element to his music.

11. Hit 'Em Up - 2Pac, Outlawz

subgenre: old school, west coast, gangsta

lyrics

This song is half of the equation of the infamous beef between 2Pac and Biggie. Two of the most recognizable rappers ever, they were murdered within 1 year of each other in 1996 and 1997 after a viscious beef. Both of them epitomized gangster rap, and this as good of an example as any (very explicit).

12. Gin And Juice - Snoop Dogg ft. Dazz Dillinger

subgenre: old school, west coast, gangsta

lyrics

This is one of Snoop's most famous songs, and he's made a ton of them. He started his career in 1992 and is still going strong today. I've always enjoyed him more when he's featured on things rather than his own stuff, but this is a classic.

13. Picture Me - Dave

subgenre: contemporary, conscious

lyrics

Another U.K. artist, this kid is 18 right now and insanely impressive. He's a super conscious rapper with an excellent vocabulary and superb flow.

14. The Way I Am - Eminem

subgenre: 2000s, lyricist, violent

lyrics

Eminem's vocabulary is probably the most impressive of any rapper I know. It was super hard for me to pick one song of his so I just went with this one, but if you want to hear something a little more recent, listen to Rap God.

15. Hold You Down - Childish Gambino

subgenre: contemporary, conscious, creative

lyrics

Gambino is a modern rapper who is very conscious and intellectual. He recently released a funk album that is absolutely fantastic. In addition to his musical pursuits, he is also a successful actor and comedian... very talented dude.

16. Hustler Musik - Lil Wayne

subgenre: contemporary, southern, gangsta

lyrics

This is probably my favorite track off of my favorite Weezy album, The Carter II. Wayne might have more material than anyone else on this list, so it was hard for me to choose one song.

17. Ms. Jackson - OutKast

subgenre: 2000s, funky

lyrics

Andre 3000 and Big Boi kill it on this song, which very deservedly made its way up the charts. The group won a grammy for this song, and it is still amazing almost 20 years later.

18. Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2 - Drake ft. Jay Z

subgenre: contemporary, pop rap, well produced

lyrics

This remains my favorite Drake song ever. The beat is so dope and Jay Z kills his verse. Drake can really rap when he wants to, but it unfortunately kind of seems like he's resolved to make chart toppers and pile up the money at this point (purely my opinion).

19. Control - Big Sean ft. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica

subgenre: contemporary, lyricist

lyrics

Out of Detroit, Big Sean is among of the top of the litter when it comes to current rappers. This song actually made the biggest waves because of Kendrick's verse, but Big Seans holds his own for sure.

youtube

20. Song Cry - Jay-Z

subgenre: east coast, gangsta, old school

Jay-Z is one of the greats of all time, great flow, intricate lyrics, and just comes across as a very real dude. He's an icon for his many various contributions to the genre, but he's a legend on his musical resume alone. He's super protective over his music and into plugging his music service, Tidal, so none of his songs are on Apple music or Spotify at the moment. I've provided the youtube link but it's unfortunately censored ¯_(ツ)_/¯.

youtube

21. Sabotage - Beastie Boys

subgenre: rap-rock, 90's

lyrics

After initial review of the playlist, a friend pointed out it's crazy for the Beastie Boys not to have any representation on this list, and I tend to agree with him. Another group where it is pretty hard to choose just one song for a playlist, but ultimately went with this because I feel like it's impossible not to get pumped up listen to it.

22. Can I Kick It - A Tribe Called Quest

subgenre: old school, 90's, hip-hop foundations

lyrics

Laid over the classic Lou Reed track Walk On the Wild Side, this is one of Tribe's most iconic and commercially successful songs. This group does a ton of story telling and laid the tracks for pretty much everyone else on this list, so should be paid proper respect.

23. C.R.E.A.M. - Wu-Tang Clan

subgenre: old school, 90's, hip-hop foundations, gangsta

lyrics

I'm not sure that there's a person in all of the hip-hop universe that doesn't have complete respect for the Wu-Tang Clan. This is one of their most popular songs, but if you enjoy gangsta rap I'd advise checking out more of their stuff.

@eanplatter

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@eanplatter eanplatter commented Apr 25, 2017

Awesome list, tho I think you need to give Big Boi some respect on #17, they're a duo! Andre ain't no frontman, especially on this song.

@zmatilsky901

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@zmatilsky901 zmatilsky901 commented Apr 25, 2017

Good point @eanplatter, edit made!

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@eanplatter eanplatter commented Apr 26, 2017

Ahhh yea! 🙇‍♂️

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