Hip Hop, especially gangsta rap, gets a bad rep by some folks. It’s often looked down on by people for different reasons. Some people don’t like the profanity. Others the blending of sounds. There are even those who hate on the genre for no good reason.
There’s a lot of different genres of rap music to enjoy. I personally have a wide variety of tastes. I recently challenged myself to make a playlist that would appeal to someone who might not have a lot of exposure to the art form. I specifically selected songs with a message or artistic merit. I tried to pick songs that are also pleasing to listen to. Of course I also threw in a few songs that are just good to jam to or relax depending on your mood.
Here it is a playlist of rap music for people who don’t listen to much rap music. Enjoy.
1. So What’Cha Want- Beastie Boys
This is a favorite of mine. It’s one of those rare songs where the band actually does a good job blending rap and rock together in a way that doesn’t sound like something Fred Durst would put his name on.
This is one of those great examples you can point to that appeals to the alternative fan, rock fan and a rap fan.
2. Gangsta’s Paradise- Coolio
This is one of those rare gangsta rap songs that doesn’t glorify the genre but also doesn’t discredit it either. Often dismissed for violence, drugs and objectifying women, the genre understandably gets a bad rep. Fortunately this song is a masterpiece. It’s a blend of blues, funk and gangsta rap done in a way that is respectful to the people who lived in that setting while also getting the message across that is often lost in some more hard core songs.
3. Mr. Wendal- Arrested Development
This was the first rap song I ever heard played in school. Our music teacher was enthralled by it. She thought it was so touching a rap song could have such a positive message. I later learned everything front man Speech was doing with that band was to prove hip hop could have a positive message that didn’t get lost in a suburban culture.
4. Regulate- Warren G feat. Nate Dogg
Aside from the angelic voice of the late Nate Dogg being mesmerizing, this smooth blend of bass, synth and melodies perfectly embodies the relaxing nature of the G funk era. This is absolutely a song you can just sit back and relax to no matter what your mood is.
5. One Mic- Nas
The feud between Nastradamus and Hova is not to be taken lightly. I very nearly went with Ether for it’s opening lyric “Fuck Jay Z” but I knew in my heart One Mic was the superior song. This is one of those songs that only comes along once in a generation. Nas is a lyrical poet for sure. Musically it’s one of those tight examples of a rap song that isn’t in your face.
6. Victory- Puff Daddy and the Family featuring Biggie Smalls
Released posthumously as a tribute to B.I.G., the song kicks off the sad No Way Out album right of the bat letting you know a voice from beyond the grave is going to haunt this track as well as the remainder of the record. It has a slow, ominous build up to a Puffy lamenting the death of his closest ally and friend. It wraps with Busta Rhymes being Busta.
7. Killing Me softly- The Fugees
Part R&B, part hip hop, all soul, this is one of those rare rap songs that proves you can have a heart and still bust dope lyrics. This is also the song that put Wyclef Jean on the map. It absolutely deserves credit for that alone.
8. The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)- Missy Elliot.
The misdemeanor debut herself. This slow groove makes you want to forget how awful shit can be sometimes and just let the rain wash your cares away.
9. Shorty Wanna Be a Thug- 2Pac
The kingpin of gangsta rap is no doubt going to make an appearance on a list of best rap songs. This is one of those what I call hidden gems. It’s a song that tells a story about a kid in the ghetto just trying to make ends meat and cement his reputation as a thug but it’s done in a way that sells the genre while putting the listener into a trance.
10. Do You See- Warren G
A smooth blues track infused with hip hop rhymes and some down to earth G funk this is one of those tracks that reminds people life isn’t always great in this country for everyone.
11. Tennessee- Arrested Development
Not as touching as Mr. Wendall but just as profound in many ways. This song tells the tale of an African American who has a dream he is hanging from a tree in Tennessee. It’s not as bad as it sounds. He learns a life lesson along the way.
12. None of Your Business- Salt N Pepa
The fierce, spunky ladies of hip hop rocked the charts with “Let’s Talk About Sex”, blew up your hearts with their ode to HIV and then owned their own sexuality in a male dominated world of misogynistic thugs. They rap about how being loose with the goods is nobody’s business.
13. Now That We Found Love- Heavy D and the Boys
Just one of those happy go lucky, pop rap jams that makes you feel good. Nuff said.
14. Brass Monkey- Beastie Boys
License to Ill is the album that put rap music on the map. It paved the way for many others to come. This is far from the best track in the set but one of the most well known and certainly danceable beats on the record.
15. It Was a Good Day- Ice Cube
Take the man who rapped “Fuck the Police” a decade early, drop him smack dab into the 90s, strip him of his anger and he releases a mellow track saying hey life sucks but not today.
16. Thuggish Ruggish Bone- Bone Thugs N Harmony
The soul band of rap music these guys make Boyz II Men look like a barber shop quartet. this track does the job well. If you want proof rap music can have a soul this right here is it.
17. Ghetto Vet- Ice Cube
Man is gonna be on this list. This is one of those tracks that paints a picture of a man trying to live his life and gets crippled by a stray bullet meant for someone else.
18. The Message- Grandmaster Flash and the furious five
It’s old school, sure, it’s political okay, but it also needs to be kept alive. That’s all there is to it. You need to hear this song.
19. Renegades of Funk- Rage Against the Machine
Obligatory rap metal for the rock fan. Except it’s actually quite good. Moving on.
20. The Crossroads- Bone thugs N Harmony
Death. Life. These are subjects artists know all to well. Especially black artists rapping about life in the ghetto. It’s that one rare song that makes you forget we’re all gonna die and just take a moment to remember all those who already have passed on.
21. Let Me Ride- Dr. Dre
Probably the greatest gangsta rap album of all time, The Chronic is filled with a number of great songs all worth a listen. This one is about the smoothest, most palatable so here ya go.
22. Dear Mama- 2pac
A love letter to the single mother that raised him. It’s heart felt, it’s powerful and it’s real. It’s also one of the reasons the world still mourns his loss.
23. Funkdafied- Da Brat
My favorite female rapper of all time. I love this woman and this is a perfect example of why you should too.
24. The Next Episode- Dr. Dre
Way back in 1992 Snoop told us all to Chill till the next episode. We did just that and when this song arrived we were not disappointed. This embodies the raw power these men went through. It’s one of those tracks that when played in context it reminds you that the struggle was real for these two. It’s a tall mountain they climbed.
25. A Week Ago- Jay-Z
This is a poetic story on how fast shit can change. Loosely based on his real experiences, Sean Carter releases In My Lifetime Vol. 2 to a world that missed Vol. 1 but didn’t know how much they needed this man’s music in their lives.
26. I Shot the Sheriff- Warren G
Okay nothing but a cash in of a Bob Marley song but still a tune worth hearing.
27. The Gangsta, The Killa and the Dope Dealer- Westside Connection
Ice cube, WC and Mach 10 felt the hole left in the world when NWA broke up and filled that hole with this album that in many ways surpasses Straight Outta Compton itself. That being said this track gets the point across in a way much better than the in your face fuck you to cops that landed them in hot water back in the 80s.
28. Keep Ya Head Up- 2Pac
Probably the last time he shows up on this list. Another reminder of why he is heralded as the greatest Emcee to ever live and breath.
29. Big Poppa- Biggie Smalls
It is no secret I hate Christopher Wallace. He is by far the MOST overrated rapper even in a world with Kanye West floating around. This man did very little to actually contribute to rap music, as proven here with his new york rap track blatantly ripping of Snoop and Dre’s pioneering G Funk sound. Oh well it’s still a good track despite the fact he just stole it.
30. C.R.E.A.M- Wu Tang Clan
The only rap band in history to make cheesy Kung Fu B movies the source material for absolutely amazing story driven rap songs. Too many great things to say about this group, just know it started right here for all intents and purposes.
31. Express Yourself- NWA
I picked the tamest song they had that wasn’t a break dance money grab. End of story.
32. Hard Knock Life- Jay Z
The anthem to Vol. 2 this track says it all.
33. Hail Mary- 2Pac
I lied he slipped one more track onto the list.Released shortly after his death this track is just too haunting to ignore.
34. Mama Said Knock You Out- LL Cool J
The Ladies Love Cool James was a mantra back in the 80s. The man, the myth the legend earned the title GOAT and he got it right here. He takes shit from, nobody, and proves you don’t have to drop F bombs to make a hard core rap track.
35. Summertime- DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince aka Will Smith
Relax. Play this jam and enjoy life. Will Smith was never the king of rap but he was the most appealing to to white people after Vanilla Ice burned out. Aside from that, he made some legit good songs and this is probably one of the best.
36. Pop Goes the Easel- 3rd Base
I put it on here as a joke. An ironic twist of fate as this one-hit wonder uses pop rap to berate Vanilla Ice for being a one-hit wonder pop rap act. Only thing is to this day people remember the name Vanilla Ice and the only thing they know about 3rd base they can’t say in front of the kids.
37. No Shelter- Rage Against the machine
Political Angst. Hard rock guitars. Loud metal motifs. and It’s still rap music. Sorta. Close enough we’ll let it slide.
There you have it. Stay cool.