This list offers a run-down of some of the best old rap songs that everyone should know.
Covering the 70s through to the early 00s, we take a look at tracks that helped define the sound of rap, increased general awareness of hip-hop, and created a legacy around themselves.
If there are any songs on this list that you don’t already know, I highly recommend taking the time to check out these old-school hip-hop classics.
Let’s jump in and find out more about these legendary old rap songs.
20. ‘Gin and Juice’ – Snoop Dogg (1993)
‘Gin and Juice’ is one of Snoop Dogg’s most popular singles from his debut album Doggystyle.
Produced by Dr. Dre and featuring an unforgettable hook, the track has become a cultural touchstone in hip-hop. The old rap song tells a story of a late-night party filled with sex and drugs that soldiers on through to the morning.
‘Gin and Juice’ has been credited for shaping the West Coast G-funk sound that Snoop and his collaborators helped popularize.
Peaking at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, the old-school hip-hop track was certified gold in the United States and remains a beloved rap classic that music fans outside the genre love.
19. ‘I Got 5 on It’ – Luniz (1995)
In 1995, Oakland-based duo Luniz dropped their single ‘I Got 5 on It.’ Taken from their debut album Operation Stackola, the track dons a flashy hook and a laid-back vibe.
The catchy melody helped it become a staple of West Coast hip-hop in the mid-90s.
‘I Got 5 on It’s’ song’s title refers to chipping in money to buy a bag of weed and forms an ode to the joys of getting high.
This classic rap song reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified platinum. It has since become a hip-hop classic and has been sampled and remixed numerous times, notably used in the trailer of Jordan Peel’s movie ‘Us.’
18. ‘Ruff Ryders’ Anthem’ – DMX (1998)
Any hip-hop fan will be familiar with rapper DMX’s signature growl which he displays in his 1998 single ‘Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.’
Featured on his debut album It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, the track was produced by Swizz Beatz and uses a military-like beat and backing vocals.
The song was significant in helping to establish the Ruff Ryders record label and its stable of artists, which included DMX, Eve, and The LOX.
This old rap song was a commercial success, despite peaking at only No. 93 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, following the rapper’s death, ‘Ruff Ryders’ Anthem’ re-entered the charts and peaked at No. 16.
17. ‘Straight Outta Compton’ – N.W.A. (1988)
‘Straight Outta Compton’ is the title track from N.W.A.’s debut album, released in 1988. The classic old-school song expresses the group’s experiences growing up in Compton, California and portrays the hardships the members faced against a catchy, hard-hitting beat.
‘Straight Outta Compton’ significantly helped popularize gangsta rap and establish N.W.A. as one of the most important and controversial groups in hip-hop history.
Despite the old rap song’s explicit lyrics, controversial themes, and calls for censorship, it resonated with listeners who identified with the group’s message. The track remains a classic and has been sampled and referenced in numerous other hip-hop tracks.
16. ‘Dear Mama’ – 2Pac (1995)
Since his death in 1996, the world has learnt more about 2Pac’s ability to look inwards and deliver intelligent, emotional sentiment through his words and lyrics.
His song ‘Dear Mama,’ taken from his album Me Against the World is a perfect example of this. In the track, 2Pac delivers a heartfelt tribute to his mother.
‘Dear Mama’ features a sample of The Spinners’ ‘Sadie’ and a piano-driven beat that complements 2Pac’s impassioned lyrics.
The song was a commercial success, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was nominated for a Grammy Award. It remains a fan favourite and a staple of 2Pac’s legacy.
15. ‘In Da Club’ – 50 Cent (2003)
Taken from his debut album Get Rich or Die Tryin’, ‘In Da Club’ is one of 50 Cent’s most popular singles. The track has a catchy synth riff and a simple yet effective chorus that helped make it a massive commercial success.
The track helped establish 50 Cent in the hip-hop scene thanks to the production by Dr. Dre
‘In Da Club’ reached No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is certified 9x platinum in the United States.
The catchy nature of the track has made it an irresistible addition to most party playlists and has been included in multiple publications’ top 100 hip-hop song lists.
14. ‘Fight for Your Right’ – Beastie Boys (1986)
‘Fight For Your Right’ is an undeniable party anthem. Taken from their debut album Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys managed to tune into a mainstream audience and introduce them to a new style of hip-hop.
The track featured irreverent lyrics – a signature of the group – alongside a heavy guitar riff.
‘Fight For Your Right’ introduced the Beastie Boys to a wider audience and has remained a staple of the rap group’s legacy. It peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was curated in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame’s 100 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll list.
13. ‘Can’t Truss It’ – Public Enemy (1991)
Throughout their career, Public Enemy were known for their political statements woven into their music. ‘Can’t Truss It’ discusses issues of racism and social injustice while displaying the group’s musical ability.
Taken from their fouth studio album Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Back, ‘Can’t Truss It’ features a sample from The Undisputed Truth’s ‘Smiling Faces Sometimes,’ a track that also deals with racial injustices.
The song was a commercial success, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart, and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
The track has become an old-school hip-hop classic, and a potent example of Public Enemy’s activism and message.
12. ‘Regulate’ – Warren G feat. Nate Dogg (1994)
1994 film ‘Above the Rim’ explores a high school basketball star’s relationship with a drug dealer. Warren G’s track ‘Regulate’ features on the movie’s soundtrack which tells a story of a mugging at gunpoint.
The artist explained that it detailed what he and others he knew have gone through and witnessed.
Featuring a sample from Michael McDonald’s ‘I Keep Forgettin’,’ ‘Regulate’ helped popularize the G-funk sound founded on the West Coast and helped Warren G and Nate Dogg find their feet as important hip-hop artists.
The track reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and was certified platinum.
11. ‘Lose Yourself’ – Eminem (2002)
Eminem is one of the most prominent rap artists of all time with many who exist far away from rap knowing exactly who he is.
His track ‘Lose Yourself’ is a powerful piece that features a poignant piano riff accompanied by the rapper’s intense vocals.
One of the earlier hits from Eminem’s career, ‘Lose Yourself,’ is taken from the soundtrack to the film 8 Mile, and showcases Eminem’s ability to tell a story within his lyrics, creating a sense of urgency and tension.
The track reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Despite being one of the rapper’s older songs, ‘Lose Yourself’ remains a fan favourite staple in his repertoire.
10. ‘California Love’ – 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre (1996)
Hailing from the West Coast, 2Pac and Dr. Dre’s ‘California Love’ perfectly captures the essence of California hip-hop.
Featured on 2Pac’s posthumous album All Eyez on Me uses a sample from Joe Cocker’s ‘Woman to Woman.’ Paired with this sample, the track has a funky, synth-driven beat that helped popularize the G-funk sound.
Displaying the talents of hip-hop titans 2Pac and Dr Dre, ‘California Love’ reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1997.
A classic old-school hip-hop song that has stood the test of time.
9. ‘Juicy’ – The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)
‘Juicy’ acts as an autobiographical rendition of The Notorious B.I.G’s life and rise to fame, highlighting the writer’s rags-to-riches story.
The track comes from the rapper’s debut album Ready to Die and showcases his storytelling ability and features a sample from Mturme’s ‘Juicy Fruit.’
‘Juicy’ effortlessly blends East Coast hip-hop with elements of soul and R&B, demonstrating B.I.G’s competency within his musical compositions.
The classic track reached No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the US Hot Rap Singles chart.
8. ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ – LL Cool J (1990)
‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ comes from LL Cool J’s album of the same name, featuring a sample from James Brown’s ‘Funky Drummer.’
LL Cool J’s aggressive, in-your-face lyrics significantly helped establish LL Cool J as a force to be reckoned with in hip-hop and helped to usher in the golden age of hip-hop.
Interestingly, ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ was received as somewhat of a comeback for LL Cool J that left split feelings among listeners. Despite this, the song was a commercial success, reaching No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and winning a Grammy Award.
A classic old rap song that belongs in any old-school hip-hop playlist.
7. ‘Paid in Full’ – Eric B. & Rakim (1987)
Eric B and Rakim’s ‘Paid in Full’ helped push the boundaries of what was possible in hip-hop, cementing Rakim as one of the greatest MCs of all time.
The classic track comes from the duo’s debut album of the same name and uses a bass sample of Siedah Garrett and Dennis Edwards’ ‘Don’t Look Any Further.’
‘Paid in Full’ was complimented by both critics and fans for its lyricism, courtesy of Rakim. Rolling Stone magazine named it the tenth greatest hip-hop song of all time despite never appearing on the Billboard Hot 100.
6. ‘Walk This Way’ – Run-DMC and Aerosmith (1986)
At the time of its release, Run-DMC and Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’ was somewhat ground-breaking. Featuring the original chorus of the Aerosmith track, Run-DMC added the verses to create a collaboration that has stood the test of time.
Not only was ‘Walk This Way’ a comeback for the 70s rock band, but it also helped bridge the gap between rock and hip-hop, helping the latter become a mainstream genre.
Following the release – and peaking at No. 4 – the track ushered in a new era of cross-genre collaborations and allowed new subgenres to be explored.
5. ‘Nuthin’ But a G Thang’ – Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg (1992)
‘Nuthin’ But a G Thang’ comes from the now iconic album The Chronic and features rap legends Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
The track helped to popularize the West Coast sound and establish Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg as major figures in hip-hop.
‘Nuthin’ But a G Thang’ was a huge success, reaching No 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helping to establish “The Chronic” as one of the most important hip-hop albums of all time.
This now-legendary old rap song is Dre’s only track on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
4. ‘It’s Like That’ – Run-DMC (1983)
Taken from their debut album Run-DMC, ‘It’s Like That’ features a simple, stripped-down beat paired with powerful lyrics that address social and political issues that were making waves at the time.
Despite the heavy subject matter, the group wanted to offer a feeling of hope by inviting listeners to abandon prejudices.
Run-DMC were pioneers of the new school hip-hop sound and ‘It’s Like That’ helped establish them as such. The track was a commercial success, reaching No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Thanks in part to the later remix by Jason Nevins, ‘It’s Like That’ has sold around 5 million copies in total making it one of the biggest-selling rap singles of all time.
3. ‘Fight the Power’ – Public Enemy (1989)
Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’ discuses issues such as racism and bigotry in its lyrics.
Thanks to its politically charged message and brilliantly effective use of sampling, the track helped found Public Enemy as one of the best, and most important rap forces at the end of the 1980s.
‘Fight the Power’ is often considered the group’s seminal track, influencing their own, and others’, music. It reached No. 1 on the Hot Rap singles chart and remains a defining track in the history of socially conscious hip-hop.
An iconic old rap song that everyone should know.
2. ‘The Message’ – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1982)
It’s almost impossible to hear the beat of ‘The Message’ and not feel moved to dance.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five created a simple, yet powerful beat to accompany the song’s serious message, with its focus on poverty, crime, and social injustice.
The song was a critical and commercial success, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart and helping to establish Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five as pioneers of hip-hop.
It remains a defining track in the history of hip-hop and is still used as samples, most recently in Coi Leray’s 2022 hit ‘Players.’
1. ‘Rapper’s Delight’ – The Sugarhill Gang (1979)
Arguably the oldest rap song in the world, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ is widely considered to be the first hip-hop record to achieve mainstream success.
Taking a sample from Chic’s ‘Good Times’ and mixing it with celebratory lyrics, honouring the creativity of hip-hop, The Sugarhill Gang created one of the most significant tracks in hip-hop history.
‘Rapper’s Delight,’ although only peaking at No. 36, has been ranked multiple times among various publications’ best songs of all time lists including ranking at No. 2 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs.
A classic old-school hip-hop song that has gone down in history.
You might also like: