25 YEARS OF HIP-HOP: 25 singles

Outkast’s Big Boi and Andre 3000 at their Stankonia headquarters in 2003, the same year they released “Speakerboxx/The Love Below.” SUNNY SUNG / AJC FILE PHOTO

Outkast’s Big Boi and Andre 3000 at their Stankonia headquarters in 2003, the same year they released “Speakerboxx/The Love Below.” SUNNY SUNG / AJC FILE PHOTO

Editor’s note: This article first published on Sept. 24, 2004. It was part of a series to celebrate hip-hop and the 25th anniversary of Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” the first rap single to crack the Top 40.

At this point in hip-hop history, several rappers have delivered classic full-length albums. But rap music started as a single-driven art form, and hot singles remain a critical part of the genre’s success. For various reasons, explained here, we think these are the 25 most significant hip-hop singles of all time.

2Pac feat. Dr. Dre - “California Love,” the cocksure anthem that made Cali rap (and Death Row Records in particular) seem invincible.

50 Cent - “In Da Club,” one of the most ubiquitous hip-hop songs of all time.

A Tribe Called Quest - “Scenario,” perhaps the ultimate posse rap.

Afrika Bambaataa - “Planet Rock,” a funky, futuristic ride that pianist Jason Moran has turned into a jazz number.

Beastie Boys - “Hey Ladies,” which stomps on the thin line between brainy and bratty.

Biz Markie - “Just a Friend,” which took warbling to unprecedented heights.

Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg - “Deep Cover,” the track that launched one of rap’s most successful collaborations.

Missy Elliott - “Work It,” which further cemented this playful MC’s place as a must-watch innovator.

Eminem - “Lose Yourself,” one of the most lyrically virtuosic performances ever laid down and the only rap song ever to win an Oscar.

Eric B. and Rakim - “Eric B. Is President.” Rakim ran on the platform that he’d “never let the mike magnetize me no more,” and the hip-hop electorate voted him a titan.

Grandmaster Flash - “The Message,” which, early on, recognized hip-hop’s power as a soapbox.

Jay-Z - “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” which connected the dots between the street corner and Broadway.

LL Cool J - “Rock the Bells,” one of hip-hop’s longest-running talents getting warmed up.

MC Hammer - “U Can’t Touch This,” a mega-hit that helped push hip-hop into the commercial big time.

Nas - “The World Is Yours,” one of hip-hop’s most ferocious stylists lets loose on his classic “Illmatic.”

Naughty by Nature - “O.P.P.,” a sexually charged single that defined a mentality and launched a catchphrase.

Notorious B.I.G. - “Big Poppa,” which announced the arrival of a hip-hop heavyweight.

N.W.A. - “Straight Outta Compton,” one of the earliest songs in gangsta rap history, and still one of the most incendiary.

OutKast - “B.O.B.,” a thrilling political song you can dance to. (Try naming another one of those, in any genre.)

Public Enemy - “Fight the Power,” an anti-establishment landmark.

Queen Latifah - “Ladies First,” a big step forward for female rappers.

Run DMC - “Walk This Way,” which kicked down the wall between rock and rap.

Salt-N-Pepa - “Push It,” the MTV hit that upset hip-hop’s man-in-charge dogma.

Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh - “La Di Da Di,” the “Ulysses” of hip-hop, it’s a story about one man’s tragicomic journey through a tumultuous day.

Sugarhill Gang - “Rapper’s Delight,” a dated party song that, despite its hokeyness, still matters because it came first.

--- Contributing: Sonia Murray and Phil Kloer