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Top 10 Greatest Hip Hop Songs You Probably Have Never Heard Of

March 30, 2011

A great song is one of most unmistakable things in the world. Whether it gives you goosebumps within the first 30 seconds of listening or grows on you like a great relationship to the point that playing it brightens your day, songs you consider ‘great’ hold a hierarchal, exclusive value above songs you consider simply ‘good’, or ‘mediocre’. We assign idealistic superlatives such as genius, raw talent, or realness to artists whose music evokes strong emotions via its content and construction, no matter the genre. (This is why it completely baffles me that popular music continues to be so not great and typical, but thats another discussion for another day…).

 

willblogforhiphop

When Was Your Last Eargasm???

 

Great music is also a shared experience, and songs or albums that are considered to be great by a majority of listeners become instances of realized genius and later milestones for future artists to attempt to reach. In hip hop, these classic ‘moments of greatness’ (I hate to sound like a Budweiser-sponsored SportsCenter segment) include classic songs like N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, Biggie’s Juicy, Eminem’s Sing For The Moment, and of course every song from Nas’s Illmatic, as well as one-hit wonders like The Grits’ My Life is Like, and underground gems like BlackStar’s Definition, and Souls of Mischief’s 93 Till Infinity, and many more.

However, digging deeper into the web of hip hop music, you can find equally great songs across a diverse landscape of sub-genres and regional styles that are inexplicably unheard of by even some devoted hip hop listeners. These obscure gems are lost in the fabric due to the artist being virtually unknown, poor marketing by the artist or label (no, really), or not appealing to ‘the mainstream’ at the time. Fortunately, my unsafe obsession with hip hop music has compelled me to listen to an enormous amount of music and thus stumble upon some of these often unknown classics. Check out the list below, see if you know any of the songs, and peep the songs you haven’t:

 

 

10.)

willblogforhiphop

Shook Ones Pt. 1

Mobb Deep

Hell on Earth

(1994)

 


Just about everyone has heard Havoc and Prodigy’s classic ‘Shook Ones Pt. II’, a raw, powerful track which basically invented hardcore gangster lyricism in the early 90′s and became the instrumental of choice for freestylers worldwide (including the final battle in 8 Mile). Its title implies a prequel, however the absence of a popular ‘Pt. 1′ track leads to the presumptive conclusion that it must have been bad enough to warrant a retry. This is surprisingly not so, and when giving it a listen you instantly realize that ‘Shook Ones Pt. 1′ is not a poor song with a great title, but instead is a sort of a rough draft for a brilliant topic and style. Most, but not all, lyrics from Pt. II are found interspersed in this track, which was written when the duo were only 19 years old, and while the beat is not as refined at Pt. II, its grumbling baseline and eerie scratches are just as, if not more, dark and ominous. Despite its “stepping-stone” status, this track is a classic in its own right and it resides at the peak of Mobb Deep’s flash-in-a-pan genius.

 

 

9.)

willblogforhiphop

A Storm of Swords

Jedi Mind Tricks Feat. Outerspace

Visions of Gandhi

(2003)


 

The unique yet consistent sound of Jedi Mind Tricks, a Philly-based rap duo following in the footsteps of  Wu Tang Clan’s fantastical and gritty style, has given them significant buzz around hip hop’s underground. The same sound, which juxtaposes Vinnie Paz’s hardcore, graphic lyrics with Stoupe The Enemy of Mankind‘s (one of the best names in all of hip hop) cartoonish and inventive beats, is exemplified to a “T” in ‘A Storm of Swords’ (this could easily be a Wu Tang title) which also features underground lyrical heavyweights Outerspace. Stoupe concocts a complex, sample laden beat which is nothing short of genius (seriously, this guy is SICK on the boards) which helps soften the heavy blows from the best (and only) Italian rapper in the game along with Outerspace emcees Planetary and Crypt the Warchild. The truth is that Jedi Mind Tricks has amassed a laundry list of quality tracks since 1997, but no single track brings out their contrasted, production against lyrics style which only they can bring.

 

 

8.)

willblogforhiphop Shallow Days

Blackalicious

NIA

(1999)

 

 

‘Shallow Days’ was one of the first hip hop songs I fell in love with after my good friend gave it to me on her mixtape (the one I mention on my ‘About Me‘ page), and I still get chills listening to the first few guitar riffs at the beg. Blackalicious is a California-based duo led by talented tongue-twisting lyricist Gift of Gab (check out his ‘Alphabet Aerobics‘… Papoose bit this idea so hard) who also happens to be a superb story-teller and is backed by classic-style producer Chief Xcel. Put the two together with a dash of their West Coast roots and you get multi-layered and intelligent, but laid-back hip hop with an early ’90′s feel. Enter ‘Shallow Days’, a story-based song which follows a conversation Gift of Gab has with an anonymous, and “totally misled” rapper who is trying to appeal to the “murder, murder, murder, kill, kill, kill” mainstream. The theme of the song is the typical, but always poignant, bashing of the shallowness (hence the title) of mainstream rap while praising the authenticity of conscious hip hop, but what separates ‘Shallow Days’ is that Gift of Gab presents this age-old argument in a refreshingly impartial, non-whiny way that proves to be very effective. Blackalicious has made more popular, maybe better sounding music since ‘Shallow Days’, but none of them pack the substance as this classic.

 

 

7.)

willblogforhiphopDaylight

Aesop Rock

Labor Days

(2002)

 

 

There’s not an artist in the game who can boast the complexity and abstractness Aesop seemingly puts into every syllable of his raps. Thus, his music can be very divisive among hip hop heads, between those who find it to difficult to comprehend, and those who appreciate the effort and subjective meaning of lyrics such as “Here to duck hunt ticker tape vision and pick apart the pixels“. Wait, what?? I usually fall in the former group when it comes to Aesop Rock’s music, but with impressive self-production and true hip hop hutzpah (fitting, he’s Jewish), his tracks that actually make a little bit of sense are actually really damn good. ‘Daylight’ is easily his best track, and features a deep, evocative beat along with one of the cleverest hooks of all-time: “All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day, and put the pieces back together my way“. Aesop’s lyrics stray towards crazy-person status, including the line mentioned earlier, but also feature strikingly intelligent quips such as “Life’s not a bitch! Life is a beautiful woman, you only call her a bitch because she won’t let you get that pussy“. Throughout the track, you can feel Aesop’s nearly unmatched focus to the details along with his intense introspection, and its hard to listen to ‘Daylight’ without being moved a little.

 

 

6.)

willblogforhiphopMake Your Move

Hieroglyphics Feat. Goapele

Full Circle

(2003)

 

 

 

Loose West Coast collaborative Hieroglyphics is the rare example of a sum being less than its parts. Del tha Funkee Homosapien is the most famous rapper in the world who you may not know ( He’s the guy who raps on ‘Clint Eastwood’ by the Gorillaz and was Deltron Zero on the epic concept album Deltron 3030), Pep Love has dropped some quality solo albums, and four of the group members were originally from the Souls of Mischief of ‘93 Till Infinity‘ fame, and all while they dropped just two albums when altogether. Its a shame too, because when you add such a motley group of artists on such diverse ventures, you get some unique, quality music thats vast in scope. ‘Make Your Move’ is a great example of what Hiero and alternative West Coast hip hop in general can be, alternating boastful lyrics from Pep Love about traveling the world (“I traveled the canals of Venice, and aroused crowds in Sao Paolo with a single sentence.”) with introspective mantras from Casual (“Handle your business or it’ll handle you“) over an equally chill but evocative beat. The song also features West Coast alternative hip hop stalwart Goapele in the chorus, who’s style is the perfect antidote to the overdone, trashy R&B that rules the radio airwaves.

 

 

5.)

willblogforhiphop

Me or The Papes

Jeru Tha Damaja

Wrath of Math

(1996)

 

 


Accompanied by one of DJ Premier’s piano sprinkled, sample heavy classic mid-90′s beats, Jeru the Damaja displays his unique approach and dope lyrics while posing an ultimatum to the female gender: ‘Love me, not my wallet’. Jeru is the ’90′s version of Mos Def: a great, but offbeat, Brooklyn-based artist who dropped politically charged and conscious rap sporadically enough to maintain “underground” status while also garnering praise as one of the best in the game. In a way, Jeru is the essence of NY hip hop, from his battle lyrics and formality of rhymes, to his close ties with Gangstarr, with the majority of his work is produced by DJ Premier. Personally, I think Jeru and DJ Premier made a better duo than Guru and Premo, but thats like saying Patron is better than Don Julio tequila (truth is, you can’t go wrong). ‘Me or the Papes’ captures all that is great about Golden Age NY hip hop; intelligence, sick lyricism, and talented story-telling, but Jeru also adds an ingredient often overpassed by his contemporaries, a great chorus “‘Cause ain’t no fiends coming in between me and my dreams, see what I mean? I gets the paper“.

 

 

4.)

willblogforhiphopCoastin

Zion I Feat. K.Flay

The Takeover

(2009)

 


 

‘Coastin’ is one of those songs you know will be great after listening to just the first few chords of the piano. Remember when I said ‘Make Your Move’ was a great example of what alternative West Coast hip hop could do? Well, ‘Coastin’ is the greatest example of what West Coast hip hop can accomplish. The track, by the innovative Bay Area duo of rapper Zumbi and producer Amp Live, feels like you are driving a convertible down the California coast on a beautiful day, and is guaranteed to put you in a good mood. With moderate to ehh lyrics, Zion I gets their hip hop cred through pushing the boundaries in terms of style and production, and composing infectious choruses like in ‘Coastin’, where K.Flay sings “La la-la la-la, la di da” to match the beat. Amp Live’s further attention to detail in his producing lift ‘Coastin’ above being just a song about the Pacific Coast, and into a modern day anthem reminding you to take it easy every once in a while.

 

 

3.)

willblogforhiphopFreedom Ain’t Free

Brother Ali

The Undisputed Truth

(2007)

 

 

 

Hailing from Minneapolis, arguably the new home base of alternative hip-hop (top 10 Billboard artist Atmosphere and their label, Rhymesayers call it home), Brother Ali is a true heavyweight emcee. Being albino and legally blind (I’m serious) could not slow Ali’s passion to rhyme, and with his lasting punchlines and dope yet conscious lyrics, its not a stretch to put him in the top 10 rappers of all time. While his first full-length album Shadows on the Sun from 2004 gets critics like Pitchfork Media totally wet, The Undisputed Truth was a damn good follow up and actually gained Brother Ali some mainstream appeal. Both albums were produced by beat-savant Ant, he also makes up half of Atmosphere too, who can take literally any style and kill it. ‘Freedom Ain’t Free’ features an interesting island-esque beat that has hints of traditional hip hop, and unfortunately is one of the lesser known songs on TUT (you may have heard ‘Truth Is‘ or ‘Uncle Sam Goddamn‘ instead). Its unfortunate that the whole planet hasn’t heard it actually, as Brother Ali spits his own coming-of-age story with ridiculous lines like “I use blood and sweat to butter my bread, because this cold world wouldn’t give a fuck if I’m fed” and enough passion for every member of Young Money three times over. Ali’s music is so powerful, especially on this track, that it literally stops you in your tracks and demands your entire focus.

 

 

2.)

willblogforhiphopPulp Fiction

People Under The Stairs Feat. MURS

American Men Vol. 1

(1999)

 

 

 

 

So I would be completely lying if I said that this song was not the main inspiration for me to write this post. You may not even know People Under The Stairs (or MURS, for that matter), but even if you’re familiar with ‘Acid Raindrops‘ or ‘San Francisco Knights‘ (both could have easily made this list), you probably still don’t know the rare track ‘Pulp Fiction’. That’s because there are only ~1,000 copies of the album which it is featured on, American Men Vol. 1 (thank god for MP3s and the internet) which were handed out during their world tour promoting their legendary debut album The Next Step (the one on my site banner ^). While P.U.T.S. were gaining some underground hype when this track came out, they were still relatively unknown, and MURS (who’s newest album featured the likes of Snoop Dogg and Will.I.Am) was a total nobody, making the song even more of a treasure. ‘Pulp Fiction’ is a seven-minute adventure of a song with bouncy drums and a simplistic but often modified beat which plays soundtrack to the trio’s fantastical story:  The three West Coast rappers (MURS, Double K, and Thes One) find themselves stranded on a deserted island for an unknown reason when a pink gorilla steals their cigarettes, so they devise a plan to ambush it which ends up working and then find their friend and a boat which takes them to Boston Market. The story fits the title aptly, as the whole song sounds like (and probably is) a mushroom trip, but it is the creativity and delivery of the lyrics which make this song special. Listening to MURS’s raw rap ability on this song, you can easily why he’s had so much success, and you can tell Double K and Thes One were destined for greatness (even if only in the underground).

 

 

1.)

willblogforhiphop Two Dope Boyz

Outkast

ATLiens

(1996)

 

 

 

 

The only song that can beat the one for which this whole post is dedicated to comes from, duh, Outkast. Now I know everybody has heard of Outkast, and many have probably heard ‘Two Dope Boyz’ on occasion, but with my completely biased love for Andre 3000 and Big Boi (and ATLiens, their best album) and a little tweaking of my criteria; “greatest hip hop songs you probably have never appreciated”, this track makes this list. See, while Outkast’s numerous chart-topping hits are usually cited in defense of their excellence, it’s tracks like ‘Two Dope Boyz’ that exemplify hip hop at its purest and separate the Atlanta-based duo. Taking braggadocio hip hop down to an elemental level, this track, in just two minutes and forty-six seconds, achieves all it sets out to in brilliant fashion and without any wasted effort. The deeply layered beat was crafted by legendary production group Organized Noize (in an earlier post I called them the greatest producers ever… I’ll stick with that assessment), and is near perfect in accompanying Andre and Big Boi’s poignant and passionate lyricism. Andre’s line about how he “will rap for food” not only inspired the title to the Cunninlynguists’ debut album, but also to the name of this blog. ‘Two Dope Boyz’ may or may not be Outkast’s greatest song ever, but it is definitely their most under-appreciated and unknown.

 


Honorable Mentions:

 

 

 

Do you know of any great, unknown songs that I did not include? Comment or contact me and let me know!

 


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14 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2011 10:44 am

    I have been browsing online more than three hours as of late, yet I never discovered any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is lovely price sufficient for me. Personally, if all website owners and bloggers made excellent content material as you probably did, the web will be much more useful than ever before.

  2. December 5, 2011 10:54 am

    First off…. I have to thank you for your in-depth knowledge of hip-hop. Nevertheless, I will send you my own version of this awesome list…

    • December 7, 2011 10:57 pm

      Yo! I’ve been wanting to post a “Pt. 2″ list because there’s so much diverse and dope hip hop most people don’t know about, but time is my issue. Feel free to send me a list, always open to peep new music.

      • sdf permalink
        June 10, 2012 3:06 am

        I dunno about a whole list, but I believe Macklemore’s Wings or Can’t Hold Us is pretty good. Being from his hometown I don’t know how popular he is outside of washington

  3. Eon-Don permalink
    March 22, 2012 4:50 pm

    Highly interesting list, indeed! But here’s a few others that would make my Top Ten if I were 2 do 1: Mood-”Secrets Of The Sand (J-Dilla remix), Ras Kass-”Nature Of The Threat”, Nas-”Stay Chisled (the version w/o Large Professor) &Saigon-”Dreams”.

  4. Alex Magi permalink
    April 21, 2012 7:33 pm

    channel live- mad izm
    digable planets- rebirth of slick (cool like dat)
    del tha funky homosapien- dr. bombay
    OC- Times Up
    Jungle brothers- Because I Got It Like Dat
    Main Soarce- Live at the barbeque

    few more great songs

    • Eon-Don permalink
      April 21, 2012 8:21 pm

      A very agreeable list! I have discussions like this in public frequently & you’ll never get similar answers from people, especially when katz in this area aren’t true hip-hoppers like myself. So here’s a few that would make my personal list: The Last Emperor-”Secret Wars (remix), Common-”The 6th Sense(9th Wonder remix), Pete Rock & INI-”Fakin’ Jax”, O.C. ft. AG-”Don’t Chase ‘Em”, Ras Kass-”Nature Of The Threat”, Stickyfingaz-”My Baby Brother”, & Steve Spacek ft. Frank & Dank-”Eve” (remix). R.I.P. J-Dilla.

  5. gwan permalink
    August 9, 2012 9:43 am

    mh!not impressive do your homework first then u may come up with in depth list!

  6. November 7, 2012 4:10 pm

    I leave a response each time I especially enjoy a article on
    a website or I have something to contribute to the conversation.
    It is caused by the fire communicated in the article I
    read. And on this article Top 10 Greatest Hip Hop Songs You
    Probably Have Never Heard Of willblogforhiphop. I was actually moved enough to post a thought :-) I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be just me or do a few of these responses appear like written by brain dead people? :-P And, if you are posting at other places, I would like to keep up with you. Could you list the complete urls of your shared pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  7. Patsy permalink
    December 23, 2012 4:57 pm

    Thought I would find something interesting, but, hehe, most of your list have been my favourites the last ten years :)
    Godd wotk though!

  8. July 17, 2013 10:36 pm

    Howdy! This is kind of off topic but I need some
    guidance from an established blog. Is it tough
    to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about
    setting up my own but I’m not sure where to begin. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Many thanks

  9. Alli permalink
    October 19, 2013 10:44 pm

    I think this is the first time i read something online start to finish. Thanks for the attention grabbing stuff! Could you maybe suggest songs that are similar to the ones who snag your list? Specifically Coastin’ by Zion I. Thats one of my all time favorites. Glad to see it on here :) thanks again!

  10. Doug permalink
    January 28, 2014 11:02 pm

    “Loose West Coast collaborative Hieroglyphics is the rare example of a sum being less than its parts.” Are you sure you didn’t mean “the sum being more than it’s parts”? That would be great line to start a bad review with, but in the context it was written, I’m not sure what you meant.

    Nonetheless, thanks for the info. I have a hard time finding new Hip Hop as I know no one who shares my interest in this music. At least one of my friends seems to think that he’s clever because he’s discovered that “rap” and “crap” rhyme. He’s not. That leaves Internet research, and my tastes, and the tastes of the masses are very far apart. Articles like this at least give me a place to start.

    One last thought, Two Dope Boys is a great track, but with a 2:42 playing time, it’s too short. MY favorite track on that album is “Wheels of Steel”. Either way, great album. I’ll check out the other nine tracks, which I have not yet heard. I consider this a good haul as far as Internet hip hop research goes.

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