8. “Rapper’s Delight” (1979)

Sugar Hill Gang 

Hip-hop was born earlier in the decade, but in 1979 “Rapper’s Delight” brought it to the mainstream. Using a bass line from Chic’s “Good Times,” the Sugar Hill Gang put what would become timeless hip-hop memes into nearly every stanza, with a sense of wordplay, rhythm, and cadence that somehow doesn’t sound at all dated. “Rapper’s Delight” is so breezy, so timeless, and so universal, it remains for many people the essence of what makes the genre so much fun, 35 years later. -Daniel Kohn

7. “It Was a Good Day” (1993)

Ice Cube

Ice Cube gained fame as the snarling, politically incorrect conscience of South Central. But his most memorable solo song has him looking through rose-colored glasses: No barking from the dog, no smog, and a breakfast, cooked by Momma, with no hog. The imagery is great, and there’s a message here. As he glides over DJ Pooh’s melancholy production – Isley Bros. sample intact – Cube brings home the point that what might pass for a typical day in much of white America is something special for the country’s worst off. -Marcus Arman

6. “Dear Mama” (1995)


Black Panther Party members including Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, were charged in 1969 with conspiracy to bomb department stores, subways and police stations. She eventually won her own case two years later, while jailed and pregnant with her to-be-famous son. In 1995 he released “Dear Mama,” a complex picture of Afeni, which describes her drug addiction, their falling out, and, ultimately, the undeniable love she showered upon him. To listeners, “Dear Mama” transcends race and socioeconomics, and is easily the best song about moms in a genre full of them. Capping it off, the song was inducted into the Library of Congress in 2010, one of only five hip-hop songs to receive this distinction. -Justin Tinsley

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