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Hip-hop Beats Ranked (redux)

This is a personal ranking of the best beats, loops and samples ever made in hip-hop history. The overall quality of the song as a whole isn't quite what matters--it's all about the beats they used, how good they sound, and how memorable and influential they are. Also included are links to YouTube for each song.
1Warren G
Regulate

(WARREN G) Is there anyone who hasn't heard this beat? Is there anyone who hasn't heard this song? I'm certain there are people who will disagree, but screw 'em: this beat is the greatest beat ever produced. High praise, I know, and probably the spark for a bit of controversy, but I firmly stand by it. The backing Michael McDonald sample hypnotizes me every single time I listen to it, and that power has not lessened with the many repeat listens that I've given it. And as an added bonus, it helped spread G-Funk production to a huge audience and made it one of the biggest hits of the '90's. It's one of the most iconic and memorable hip-hop beat ever produced, and for me personally, the very definition of what a hip-hop beat should be. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1plPyJdXKIY]
2Pete Rock and CL Smooth
They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)

(PETE ROCK) As prolific as the legendary Pete Rock is, this is without a doubt his magnum opus. The song itself, a send-off of "Trouble" T. Roy, is a sincere and heartfelt eulogy, but it's that sexy Tom Scott saxophone sample used in the refrain that steals the spotlight. Even today, damn near 20 years later, Pete Rock is very protective of the beat, and for good reason: it's one of the greatest ever made. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiOcVWQY2bc]
3The Sugarhill Gang
Rapper's Delight

(SYLVIA ROBINSON) THE classic. It's funky, it's soulful, it's the first biggest thing rap ever produced. And to this day, it remains the most recognizable beat in hip-hop history, bar-none. [http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=5FStekWvln0]
4Luniz
I Got 5 On It

(TONE CAPONE) The song itself may not have been an indisputable classic like many of the other songs on this list, but Tone Capone's flawless mixture of samples (most notably a slowed down version of Club Noveau's "Why You Treat Me So Bad") gives the song its dripping menace while also making it an earworm like very little else, and that's no small feat in any sense. Over a decade-and-a-half later, it's still in my head. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyDqoLimejg]
5The Notorious B.I.G.
Big Poppa

(CHUCKY TOMPSON/PUFF DADDY) Pure damn sex, plain and simple. "Big Poppa" shows just how important producer/MC synergy is to the success of a rap song. Biggie could've rapped over a Metallica sample and it would've been a great single, but Puff's sampling of the Isley Brothers' appropriately-titled "Between The Sheets" is what truly made it one of Big's best songs...and that's saying quite a bit. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phaJXp_zMYM]
6Black Sheep
The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)

(BLACK SHEEP) DAT BASS. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9F5xcpjDMU]
7The Pharcyde
Passin' Me By

(J-SWIFT) Kanye West, who has quite a few entries in this list himself, once called 'Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde' his favorite album. I can only conclude that this song, the biggest hit from the album, is one that made him want to be a producer. There's a huge change in tone from verse to chorus that defines the song--the odd organ chords give way to a smooth jazz saxophone, and says everything you need to know about exactly who The Pharcyde were. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjsPG0Kspxo]
8Mobb Deep
Shook Ones, Pt. II

(HAVOC) Dark. Ominous. Heavy. In my opinion, there's not a single sample or beat that gives a rap song its power more successfully than the one Havoc produced for this song. Deadly shit. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cP0wsET8__Y]
9Coolio
Gangsta's Paradise

(DOUG RASHEED) For so many '90's kids (and every damn white guy in America), this was the first rap beat they ever liked, whether it was in this song or in Weird Al's parody, "Amish Paradise." That choir in the chorus helped immensely to give it the crossover appeal that made it one of the biggest songs of the 90's, hip-hop or otherwise. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFK6H_CcuX8]
10Dr. Dre
Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang

(DR. DRE) Dre has more credits on this list than any other producer, and for good reason: his production is what made Death Row Records the force of nature it was in the '90's, producing classic song after classic song with the most recognizable beats on the radio. It took me a long time to figure out which song I though was his best, but with how huge this song was, and how iconic it is even still today, I had to choose this one.[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qkP8SvHvaU]
11The Pharcyde
Runnin'

(JAY DEE) A pensive track from hip-hop jokers The Pharcyde? It could have failed, but this sample gives it an authenticity that made it one of The Pharcyde's biggest hits. That piano is perfect. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hZKN4AZ63g]
122Pac
California Love

(DR. DRE) This could be the greatest production job of most any other DJ's career...it just had to be Dr. Dre who has credits on the song. As it is, it's only one of his best, sampling Joe Cocker's "Woman to Woman" to give the song that funky celebration vibe to help welcome a recently-bailed 2Pac back to freedom. [http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=eDZ961xhNEo]
13Eminem
Lose Yourself

(EMINEM) From the moment that guitar comes in, you know something big's about to happen. You just know something special's about to come out. The sporadic bass beats that follow help build it up...and then the song comes in full swing, and it turns into one of the pinnacles of both Eminem's rapping and production careers. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_Ti5qeFkOs]
14Nas
The World Is Yours

(PETE ROCK) It was listening to this song on Tony Hawk's Underground that not only revived my interest in hip- hop, but starting me on the path to digging deep into the genre. I'd spend HOURS skating in that run-down New Jersey neighborhood with this song on repeat, soaking in the nostalgia of better times. To this day, it's still one of the most beautiful rap songs I've ever heard, and certainly one of Nas's greatest, thanks in large part to that Pete Rock magic. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5PnuIRnJW8]
15Ice Cube
It Was A Good Day

(DJ POOH) If a song with a sample as off-kilter as this becomes a huge hit, is it because of the rapper or how memorable the beat is? In this case, both--Ice Cube had a good number of hits, but this one tops them all as his most memorable. No doubt because that beat kept it in people's heads. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWfbGGZE07M]
16Dr. Dre
The Next Episode

(DR. DRE/MEL-MAN) Another Dre classic. G-Funk has enough songs on this list, but there's no damn denying this song--that syncopated guitar line is instantly recognizable. SMOKE WEED EVERY DAY. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crdp30kRG3U]
17Wu-Tang Clan
C.R.E.A.M.

(RZA) It's a 5-second sample repeated over and over, but it's a combination of everything coming together in one song that makes this one so damn classic. Not only the dark beat, but also the shitty-ass quality and the grit that Wu-Tang naturally exudes all contribute to making this one of RZA's finest works. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e69laCvKxEw]
18Black Star
Respiration

(HI-TEK/PETE ROCK) This song is a highlight of the careers of all parties involved. Six minutes long, featuring three superstar MC's (Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common) and two legendary producers? Yeah, pure magic. I couldn't tell you exactly what the best thing about this song is, but I can say that that jazzy guitar gets me every time. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeTnog5RRQo]
19Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
The Message

(ED FLETCHER/CLIFTON CHASE/SYLVIA ROBINSON) One of the great classics, and an off-kilter 80's beat to boot. Even though this particular song is known more for its chorus ("Don't push me, cause I'm close to the eeeeeedge...."), the beat remained relevant thanks to Ice Cube, and rightfully so. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4o8TeqKhgY]
20Geto Boys
Mind Playing Tricks On Me

(JOHN OKURIBIDO) Blues guitar ought to be used much more as sampling material than it is currently. I couldn't tell you why it is, but I can say that when it works, it fucking WORKS. This jam, and the guitar chords in the background, is guaranteed to keep your head nodding. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G272iYvxW_w]
212Pac
Keep Ya Head Up

(DJ DARYL) This is one of Tupac's most inspiring songs, again helped out by a quirky beat. The experimentation in this is apparent, and Tupac's skill as a rapper shines through as he flawlessly flows over this bombastic beat. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfXwmDGJAB8]
22Dr. Dre
Forgot About Dre

(DR. DRE/MEL-MAN) So it may be slightly possible that I could perhaps have a bias towards G-funk-style production. Maybe. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5a93wABHNM]
23Still Dre

(DR. DRE/SCOTT STORCH/MEL-MAN) Yeah, okay, "maybe"-nothing :-P. This song is perhaps the best example of how to turn what seems like the most simplistic sample ever into a classic. There are exactly two piano chords (eight or nine keys total) repeated over and over again with some light strings in the back, and yet you can identify this song a million miles away. When a producer can pull that off, there should be no surprise when his beats appear most on a list of the best. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CL6n0FJZpk]
24A Tribe Called Quest
Electric Relaxation

(A TRIBE CALLED QUEST) Jazz and hip-hop are a potent combo, and no rap group has ever done it better than A Tribe Called Quest. This song is proof of both. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERQzl4xDpXk]
25The Notorious B.I.G.
Juicy

(PETE ROCK) Smooth as eggs, this beat is, and very fitting for the track that became Biggie's biggest. I would say Pete Rock outdid himself with this one...but it's Pete Rock, and this isn't even close to his best. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JZom_gVfuw]
26Nas
It Ain't Hard To Tell

(LARGE PROFESSOR) Most people would probably throw up a Premier-produced track as the best from 'Illmatic', but for me, the most memorable beat on here is the very last one on the album. There are something like five different samples in this one song (most notably Michael Jackson), and all of them come together to make one of the best hip-hop songs of the '90's (P4k says #28). For me, it's the bass line that really does it-- against that sax, it's perfect. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9Wk3Cv02oQ]
27Kanye West
Power

(S1/KANYE WEST) Take A funky instrumental, African chanting, an intense synth solo, and (why the fuck not?) King Crimson. Mix them all together, and improbably, you get one of the most impressive hip-hop songs of the decade so far. "Power" made me a Kanye fan. "Power" made me pay attention to exactly how producers do their thing. "Power" is probably indirectly responsible for this list. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mnznivr86kg]
28Nas
N.Y. State of Mind

(DJ PREMIER) Premier absolutely lived up to his name as the premier DJ in the '90's hip-hop scene. His work with Gang Starr was seminal, but his crowning achievement was this song, one of the most well-loved tracks on one of the most well-loved albums ever produced. That gritty beat stood at the front of 'Illmatic' like a bouncer, giving the album some muscle and turning away anyone who wasn't prepared for what they were about to experience. To this day, of all of Premier's work, this song is probably his most known. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLR7o_ri7bU]
29Common
I Used To Love H.E.R.

(NO I.D.) It was called "One of the fattest beats ever constructed" by Hiphopreviews.com, and there's no question as to why. The uplifting keyboard in the verses juxtaposed with the morose saxophone in the chorus give unspeakable texture to the emotion Common feels while telling the story--nostalgic and happy while reminiscing on what she (hip-hop) used to be like, and melancholy in remembering that she's not like that anymore. This song's legacy is one that sought to reverse that unfortunate development, and this beat was an instrumental part of that (no pun intended). [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C99iG4HoO1c]
30Snoop Dogg
Who Am I (What's My Name)?

(DR. DRE) I had to choose between this and 'Gin & Juice', but in the end, I think this one deserves the spot. Spiritually, though, they're both here. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hIjgofcuWU]
31Bone Thugs 'N' Harmony
1st Of Tha Month

(DJ U-NEEK) Silky smooth and as groovy as the best R&B songs. This song is the archetypal for most of Bone Thugs' songs from 'E. 1999 Eternal', but I wasn't putting the entire track list on here. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PArF9k2SbQk]
32NWA
Express Yourself

(DJ YELLA/DR. DRE) One of those classic beats that I think everyone's heard at some point, but they don't know exactly where it came from. I happen to think it fits perfectly with the song--an upbeat sample for a NWA song with a positive message. Simple and effective. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTpVsmy9_Xc]
33Jay-Z
Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)

(KANYE WEST) This was one of the first beats Kanye made for 'The Blueprint', and it's perhaps the best one on there. It's so good that Jay-Z's rapping doesn't quite live up to it (which, IMO, is a running theme for most Jay-Z songs that have amazing beats; see "Show Me What You Got"), so I linked to an instrumental version. This is true cruising music. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBvFZV-jdHY]
34Fugees
Killin' Me Softly

(FUGEES/JERRY DUPLESSIS) This song is one of two on this list that isn't actually a rap song, and it's also the only song that's a cover, but it's so recognizable that it'd be criminal not to include it here. Almost everyone can identify the song by simply hearing that sitar sample (which was actually lifted from a song by A Tribe Called Quest, who themselves took it from a '60's soul song). The lo-fi beat works incredibly well in setting the mood--the bass line wafting in the background like smoke creates the vibe, and the exotic sitar calls out every so often like a tantric chant. A triumph in smooth non-rapping hip-hop. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eClxA5KO9jE]
35Kanye West
Jesus Walks

(KANYE WEST) Jay-Z's 'The Blueprint' and Common's 'Be' notwithstanding, this is the beat that truly marked Kanye's arrival as a producer to be reckoned with. A mad sampling scientist, pulling out all stops, not afraid to look inside, around, outside, under, and beyond the box. This beat hits hard, and even as ubiquitous as it was when it was released, neither it nor Kanye himself have lost any of their Power. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYF7H_fpc-g]
36DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
Summertime

(K. FINGERS/HULA) Some might consider it a little cheap to sample one of the greatest summer songs ever recorded to produce a summertime hip-hop single (especially when said song was instrumental to begin with), but it was done so masterfully by these two producers that I can't even be mad at them. They damn near made it their own. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kr0tTbTbmVA]
37Aaliyah
Are You That Somebody?

(TIMBALAND) This is the other song that isn't strictly rap (Timbaland's interlude notwithstanding), but the beat is simply undeniable. There wasn't a kid in our school who didn't beat this out on a table at some point in the three-or-four months after it was released. The whole song has a hip-hop attitude to it, both in the production and in how Aaliyah sings it, so I don't feel so bad putting it on here. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuWMW7hVdTs]
38MC Breed
Ain't No Future In Yo Frontin'

(M.C. BREED/HERMAN LANG) The song sampled in this track is a 1980 funk jam called "More Bounce To The Ounce," and it's been used a million times. It's instantly recognizable, but I think most recognized in this song. It's got that head-nodding goodness fitting for a funk sample, and the type of beat you can't help but cruise to. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sveMtjVLh34]
39House of Pain
Jump Around

(DJ MUGGS) - Corny as this song is considered nowadays, the beat is absolutely classic and instantly recognizable. The big "Harlem Shuffle" intro, and that damn blaring sax at the beginning of every line...no one will forget this after they've heard it, and you won't be able to resist actually jumping up and then down. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpmX4qG1kQg]
40Wu-Tang Clan
Shame On A Nigga

(RZA) IT'LL FUCK YA ASS UP. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wf3jzDb4H7o]
41Kanye West
Two Words

(KANYE WEST) This could be considered something of a biased choice, because this is probably my favorite Kanye West song. Still, the thing that turned me onto it was the production of it, and how theatrical it was. It was probably this song that showed me the talent Kanye had in putting beats together, because everything fits. And the choir in the background? Two words - God, YES. [http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=tkFOBx6j0l8]
42Common
The Food (Live)

(KANYE WEST) There will probably be those who contend that the song "Be (Intro)" should've made the list, but this one's a bit of a biased choice for me. The old out-of-tune piano loop is perfect for setting the tone of the song, and the bounce and energy of the song makes it my favorite on the entire album (other than maybe "The Corner"). There exists a studio version, but it doesn't live up to the performance the duo gave on Chappelle's Show. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxWUcNFY9ZM]
43Craig Mack
Flava In Ya Ear

(EASY MO BEE) Now here's a sample that just flows smooth, the type you can just play while you roll around the block and wanna bump something with a little bump. And it also happens to be a real classic of 90's hip-hop, in case that means anything to you. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-MLp3l2fkA]
44EPMD
You Gots To Chill

(EPMD) Another classic track that samples "More Bounce To the Ounce." It's got that deep bass that all the kids love, but it's missing just a bit of the head-nodding goodness compared to "Ain't No Future...". Still an absolute classic, though. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjlNZQe6U-A]
45Jay-Z
Dead Presidents II

(SKI) - Ahh, the song that sparked one of hip-hop's most notorious feuds. It's slightly ironic that it's so damn pretty. It twinkles, it really does. Actually, it's just a sped-up jazz piano sample, but man, it twinkles like a tear in the eye, or Jay-Z's future stardom off in the distance. Beautiful, truly. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYIsa_u_C-s]
46Outkast
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

(ORGANIZED NOIZE) When one thinks of Outkast, usually the thoughts go to the theatrics of the members, Andre 3000 and Big Boi, especially after 'Stankonia'. But their first album, 'Southernplayablahblahblah', had the duo neck deep in early 90's hip-hop, making songs in the vein of The Pharcyde. The songs were a bit more laid back, the style of rapping was a bit more subdued, and the beats were really bass-heavy. This one, specifically, is a groovy thing that you can damn-near dance to. It slides out the speaker like melted butter, and head-nodding is guaranteed to ensue. I love it...but man, it had intense competition from "Miss Jackson." [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELeSvyTkD5s]
47Raekwon
House of Flying Daggers

(J DILLA) WHAT!? No "Ice Cream!?" Yes, I know, blasphemy. But this is another biased choice, and it's biased for a good reason--this song almost single-handedly gave me hope for the future of modern rap. And according to my Last.fm charts, it's my fifth most-played song ever (since 2007). And that fist-pumping, head-driving, "I'mma-form-a-fucking-army-and-wreck-shop" sample, looped over and over and over, is a huge part of what made it so replayable. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2EB9hIKKho]
48Scarface
On My Block

(NASHIEM MYRICK) To put it simply, nostalgia at it's best. That piano is perfect for this song. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHyqs0PoBgE]
49Snoop Dogg
Drop It Like It's Hot

(THE NEPTUNES) Make no mistake--this song sucks overall. But the minimalist beat is impressive as hell for how catchy it is. I usually hate stuff like this, but even I (and a larger slew of "I-hate-rap"-ers than I've ever seen) found myself clicking my tongue absent-mindedly to this beat. And its influence is still being felt today (see: "Yonkers"). [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtUVQei3nX4]
50Eminem
The Real Slim Shady

(DR. DRE/MEL-MAN) The song that had the whole nation standing up on it's feat features a beat crafted masterfully by Dre to match its playful tone. All of the trademark sound effects are here, as well, also perfectly in sync with the song's humor. Dre and Mel-Man strike (gold) again. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJO5HU_7_1w]
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