5. “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” This 1991 Geto Boys song was an early gangsta rap hit with crossover appeal. Sampling Isaac Hayes’ “Hung Up on My Baby,” the song offers a glimpse of the mental anguish experienced by people with hard lives in the streets. “In a genre where fear was not thought manly,” Rolling Stone explained, “‘Mind Playing Tricks on Me’ was a classic of cracked ghetto armor and bloody surrender: proof that even the hardest of the hard have worried hearts.”
4. “Sucker M.C.’s.” This 1983 single from Run-D.M.C. — the B-side to “It’s Like That” — became one of rap music’s seminal songs, marked by rhymed lyrics delivered over rhythmic beats and hand claps. As Rolling Stone explained, hip-hop began as club music meant for dancing and partying, but after “Sucker M.C.’s,” the music belonged to teenagers in the streets.
3. “Planet Rock.” Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force recorded this 1982 hit that ushered in a more electronic sound for hip-hop. As Rolling Stone described it, the song “introduced Roland 808 beats to hip-hop, for which acts from the Beasties to Kanye West would be grateful. Just as important, it coined the sonic language of electro, Detroit techno, freestyle R&B, Miami bass and Brazilian favela funk — in other words, much of modern dance music.”
2. “Rapper’s Delight.” Here’s the song that changed everything. Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 classic became hip-hop’s first radio hit, helping the genre expand its audience beyond its New York City birthplace. The song — which famously begins with Sugarhill Gang member Wonder Mike rapping, “I said a hip-hop, the hippie the hippie to the hip, hip hop you don’t stop …” — was, as Rolling Stone put it, “15 minutes of undeniable urban-playboy bragging.”
1. “The Message.” As Rolling Stone put it, this 1982 classic from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five “was the first song to tell, with hip-hop’s rhythmic and vocal force, the truth about modern life in inner-city America.” The seven-minute track slowed down the beat and mixed several genres, although its hallmark might be its lyrics, including the memorable warning at the end of each verse: “Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head.”