50 Years of Hip Hop. 50 Creatives. 50 Favorite Songs.
I spoke to CCOs, ECDS, CDs, Copywriters, Art Directors, and more. They've got pretty good taste.
Wow, it’s been 50 years of Hip Hop. Who would have thought it would take it this far, word to Notorious B.I.G.? I’ve been celebrating all month personally, listening to all of the classics I’ve heard and have discovered for the first time. I thought that Adblong should get a taste of the culture that I wrote about for five years, so I spoke with some of the industry’s best established and rising creatives about their favorite rap songs in history. Add these to your playlists, y’all!
Greg Hahn - Co-Founder and Chief CCO of Mischief USA
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I was a metalhead when I was a kid, so hearing Run DMC cover "Walk This Way" blew my adolescent mind. It still does. Hip Hop has evolved, I haven't.
Shiloh Gray - VP, Brand & Creative at ASAPP
“Elevators” by Outkast. I lived in Atlanta for most of the 1990s and I witnessed the group’s come-up. There’s a ton of nostalgia attached to the song and the geography it calls out. OutKast showed that Southern rappers could be technical and not just match the skill level of NY rappers, but exceed them. The beat is so fucking hard and relaxed at the same time. It literally changes my posture every time it comes on. I’m going to put it on now.
Ashema Edwards - Freelance Art Director
“Ante Up” by M.O.P! That track will have anyone fired up within the first 5 seconds.
Letisha Guerrero - Creative Producer and Copywriter
“Nothing Like L.A” by Ice Cube is my favorite. He’s penning his love for the woman that he’s loved for decades. Rapping over a melodic tune, he captures the essence and parallels of his love for his wife and his city, LA.
Chris MacNeil - EVP, Executive Creative Director at Deutsch LA
Reflecting, I've had many a favorite Hip Hop song that has soundtracked formative moments in my life. With that said, I'm going to cheat. I’ll give you an album – 3 Feet High and Rising from De La Soul. Hearing it in its entirety was the first moment that I really connected with Hip Hop and felt it as an art form that had many ways it could be explored and expressed. Front to back, it’s a perfect record and one at the time that challenged me as a listener to understand what it was.
Christopher Robinson - Freelance Copywriter
“So What” by Field Mob and Ciara. It captures what the South was doing in the early 2000s so well and it's something that can’t be replicated.
Massaer Ndiaye - Senior Copywriter at Meta
"What We Do" by Freeway, Jay-Z, and Beanie Sigel is the perfect hip hop song for me. It's old but its timeless, with perfect production from Just Blaze featuring a signature soul sample that helped him rule the early 2000s. Freeway was supposed to be the one in my opinion, but his health and career didn't let that happen how it was supposed to be. And like his career, this song is all about regret. It's also about survival and doing things you are not supposed to do in order to feed your family. I listen to it often in the winter, and it feels perfect every time.
Clarence Bradley - Creative Executive
“Footprints” by A Tribe Called Quest. The beat and lyrics remind me of my friends and the fun of youthful expression.
Terrell Johnson - Art Director at Janet Jackson
I love the song “Nice” by The Carters and Pharrell because of the messaging and where their collective influence sits in culture. Their presences feel extremely powerful on the record. Plus the line, “What would you do if you know you couldn’t fail, I have no fear of everything, do everything well,” resonates to where I aspire to be in life.
Meg Linen - Associate Creative Director at AKQA
My favorite hip hop song is “I Am” by Baby Tate and Flo Milli. It’s that song that just makes you feel better, no matter if you’ve had a horrible day or a terrific one. It makes me smile every time.
Jeriel Allison - Copywriter at Obsidianworks
“The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Hip hop was introduced to me by my older brother, and this was one of the songs he told me to study because Melly Mel closed the track with arguably the best verse in hip hop history. It perfectly summed up the life of blacks living in the inner city ghettos. Plus, the beat and hook are universally recognized.
Noahmin Taye - Freelance Art Director
“Blood On The Leave” by Kanye West. The storytelling, the strong build up, it just felt sonically fresh at the time when I first listened. I definitely still appreciate the artistry in that song.
Kaleb Yates - Junior Copywriter at Boathouse
One of my favorite hip hop songs is “Good Life” by Ye, simply because some of my favorite rap stories speak about the idea of rags to riches. That song is the embodiment of that.
Cassell Ferrere - Creative at Translation
“Dead Presidents” by Jay-Z. He describes life through the lens of street activity but doesn't suggest doing the same — but instead, using the information as inspiration for defining your work ethic. My favorite line: " 'I want money like Cosby!' Who wouldn’t? It's this kind of talk that makes me think you probably ain't got no pudding."
Terrence Burrell - Executive Creative Director at Quantasy + Associates
Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid In Full.” It's still the coldest three minutes and 45 seconds in Hip Hop. It's the story of a reformed stick-up kid who realizes he needs to change his ways, but with a pen, pad, and a dope beat, he helps change the world. This is HipHop at its finest; beats, lyricism, storytelling, and ill scratching. The R is the undisputed rap god. Not to mention, the remix is seven minutes of madness.
Lukas Kaiser - SVP of Content, Westbrook Inc.
Nas’s “New York State of Mind” because I think he does the dual thing of expressing his point of view in a strong way while also giving listeners the ultimate mood music for going for a walk while you’re seeking some sort of creative inspiration.
Kev Clarke - Freelance Copywriter
Chief Keef’s “Macaroni Time.” “You ain’t flexing boy, you need some exercise,” is a poetic way to remind oneself to stay on their continuous grind.
Josh D. Weiss - Freelance Creative Director
“B.O.B.” by Outkast because they were the home team when I was growing up in Atlanta. One summer at a fine arts camp I went to, all my smoker friends decided to dance to it for the big talent show. After every run through, they were so out of breath that they’d just collapse on the ground and then go for another smoke.
Shelby Mathews - VP, Creative at Native Digital
Mos Def's “Hip Hop” from Black on Both Sides. The flow and delivery doesn't just get you nodding — it makes you hang on every word because he's playing with linguistics. It’s not just straightforward storytelling. Think of it as a shot of super intelligent arrogance in the best way.
Dane Phillip - Senior Art Director at Area23
UGK and Outkast’s “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You).” Asking me to pick my favorite track is like asking me what my favorite food is; it depends on the vibes! But the flip on this sample embodies everything I love about Hip Hop. It just feels so damn good.
Steven Underwood - Junior Copywriter at Laundry Service
Despite being a girl's boy when it comes to Hip Hop (as the child of a female rapper), I love “Rich Niggaz” by J. Cole. The track is just so damn melancholic and the opposite of the bragging, bravado and self-sorry that reminds me of the very core of rap, which is poetry. Cole is a poet on that track.
Aaron Marshall - Copywriter at BBDO New York
Ja- Z’s “Coming of Age” from Reasonable Doubt. The Eddie Henderson sample mixed with Jay and Bleek’s sophisticated storytelling is timeless.
Erica Johnson - Freelance Creative
I think that it would be Busta Rhymes’s “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” because it’s the year I fell in love with Hip Hop. I knew of the genre and artists like Kool Mo Dee and Slick Rick, but nothing made me fall in love with it until I discovered Busta Rhymes’s fast uptempo lyrics, DMX’s raw ruggedness, Jay-Z’s smoothness, and Missy Elliott’s futuristic flying vibe. They all made me want to go back and listen to the early stages of Hip Hop again with a new ear.
Ainsworth Kerr - Copywriter at Meta
“Africa (8.7 34.5)” by $ilkMoney because it's one of many great examples of black people keeping the English poetic tradition alive while (continually) rediscovering our roots.
Nia Shima-Franklin - Copywriter at The Martin Agency
“Since ‘84” by Mac Dre has a special place in my heart because it reminds me of the hyphy movement in the Bay Area when I was in high school — and generally riding in friends cars with the windows down.
Wes Rhodes - Copywriter at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners
As much as I am tempted to try and sound cool with a niche pick, lately I've been stuck on an old favorite: “Ambitionz Az A Ridah” by 2pac. It's the beat, the piano, the strings, the "my attitude was fuck it, cause motherfuckers love it.” I love it.
Taraghee Morris - Copywriter at Apple
“Dreams and Nightmares” by Meek Mill. There are few songs that a city will embed within its culture. This staple of Philly gave me energy when I went to college there.
Karan Raikar - Senior Copywriter at Translation
It’s gotta be “Rapp Snitch Knishes” by MF Doom and Mr. Fantastik. It has, perhaps, the greatest sample of all time, but also the outro, the whole thing, is perfect. At its core, it's about keeping your mouth shut.
Bre Fern - Freelance Associate Creative Director
“Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G. It plays rent free in my mind reminding me to stay the path, and say fuck you to the naysayers.
Erin Allen - Junior Art Director at Meta
My favorite Hip Hop track is “Song 32” by Noname. I love how she covers several complex topics over lyrics so smooth and clever that you have to listen more than once to get the full effect.
Bianca Green - Freelance Writer/Producer
One of my favorite songs would be “Satisfaction” by Eve because it reminds me to go hard and get what I want in life.
Elissa Gomez - Freelance Creative Director
My favorite song is “Grindin’” by Clipse. Why? Pharrell wasn’t lying when he said, “the world is about to feel something that they’ve never felt before.” The beat is simple, the wordplay is complex, and the delivery is effortless. It’s a track that once heard, it never leaves you. I was in high school when this song came out. I knew others heard it and felt something too. It became the school anthem - banging the beat on lunch tables, desks, lockers, or the hood of a car in the parking lot. I still feel something every time I hear this song. It’s timeless.
Venezia Jones - Freelance Copywriter
“Note to Self” by J. Cole. I love the message and love that he took time to shout out people who were involved in the album making process.
Ash Level - Director of Community and Creative Talent at D&AD
"I Luv It" by the Eastsidaz. There's way too many songs to choose from, but this song always gets everyone moving and spreads an energy that only Hip Hop could.
Ansel Wright - Freelance Associate Creative Director
I’d have to say “Spottieottiedopalicious.” When I first heard the song, it was around the time that Gucci Mane and Jeezy were first booming out of the 15 inch subwoofers in everyone’s trunk. Then came this smooth, melodic and intimately poetic track that spoke on similar subjects but actually contradicted them, and it was butter. Til’ this day, I can play it on repeat. My younger self had no idea what a spoken word poem was or that the wall between poetry and rap was thinner than public housing. To me, that one song set up my musical tastes and my perception of what lyrics I truly digest for decades to come.
Laurel Ackman - Group Creative Director, The Sims
I'm a big Meg Thee Stallion fan. I find her and her music compelling for a multitude of reasons, the least of which is how she really feels like such an activist to me through her art. I find myself coming back to her song "Anxiety" a lot. As a queer woman and change-focused creative who has been very open about my own mental health struggles, I relate so much to the catch 22 of being told to "get help" and "speak your truth" while at the same feeling as though care is wildly difficult to access (even with my immense privilege) and society is implicitly and explicitly questioning my lived experience. I love that her song is both validating of that experience and challenging the gaslighting that women face in this area.
Jimia Allen - Copywriter at Aimbridge Hospitality
2pac’s “Starin’ Through My Rearview.” I like the sample of Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.” To me, it’s the best version of that sample I’ve heard used.
Mutuarwa Mapondera - Freelance Senior Copywriter
Honestly, probably” Drugs You Should Try It,” — the “Chopped Not Slopped™ version by DJ Slim K. It's hazy, psychedelic and, most of all, romantic in a way no other hip-hop song is to me. "I fell in love, fell out of love, we both had options," is the best one-line summary of modern love I've ever heard. I'm a hopeless loverboy and there's something about the digital textures on Travis's voice that enhances the longing in the lyrics. He sounds like a robotic coyote howling at a moon that will never love him back. "Through the hills, I hear you calling...miles and miles away." There's a sense of being incomplete, never really having a hold on your feelings or the source of them. I've listened to the chopped version so many times that the original sounds sped up and weird to me, while the purple version sounds like a smoky dream about love gained and lost.
Maliq Hairston - Creative Social Lead at Break
Jay-Z’s “Imaginary Players” is my favorite track. Back when I was younger, my older uncle would bump Jay-Z all day, everyday. This song stood out everytime. I always thought I would live the lifestyle likeJay-Z. He said, "I gotta be like the pioneer to this shit, you know". Those very words motivated me to want to live a certain lifestyle and be ahead of the game in whatever lane I entered in my life. Years later as I am starting to bloom into my career and become something, I think of myself as "the pioneer of this shit.”
Neel Williams - SVP, Group Creative Director at The Martin Agency
I'd have to say "Elevators (Me & You)" by Outkast. I remember hearing it on the radio in my friend's car and we both went dead silent. The beat, the lyrics, they just grabbed you and felt so different from anything else at the time.
Michell C Clark - Partnerships Manager at Type.ai
“We Gon Make It” by Jadakiss and Styles P wins for me. Fuck the frail shit. An East Coast anthem with elite hyperbole, a transcendent sample, and a chorus that you only have to hear once makes this a song to remember forever.
Emily Delius - Senior Art Director at The Martin Agency
An oldie: Flava in Ya Ear Remix. Everyone in it is so iconic. The beat’s got such a deep pocket that it just makes you want to groove. My dance crew performed to it a few years back so whenever I hear the song, it takes me to that moment when I was dancing with people that I love.
Miro LaFlaga - Co-Founder and Brand Strategist at Six Cinquième
Nas’s “ If I Ruled The World.” "It doesn't matter where I am or what mood I am in. That song gets me in my feelings. It’s literally the soundtrack to my life and reminds me that I am on a bigger mission while I’m here.
Laura Eley - UX Writer II at Spotify
“International Players Anthem (I Choose You”) by OutKast and UGK is, hands down, my favorite. I rap it from front to back and know the music video frame by frame. It’s hip hop storytelling at it’s finest and takes the best of two of hip hop’s most beloved groups to make honestly such an important mid- 2000s love song.
Nate Nichols - Founder, Creative Director of Palette Group
Nas’s “Rewind” from Stillmatic. Hearing this story be told backward floored me; I felt like Nas was breaking the rules of hip-hop and music. I never thought artists could break creative rules like this. Nas re-calibrated my perspective on artistry and craft with this track. How dare a human rap a vivid story backwards with such lush, rhythm and rhyme! I felt inspired to find rules to break in my expression and never stop evolving my craft.
Nicole LeLacheur - Associate Creative Director at JOAN Creative
"A Milli" by Lil Wayne is a song that I will never get sick of hearing. I think there’s little debate that it does it all — unmatched word play, captivating flow, front-to-back rapping with no need for a hook, the list goes on. This song takes me back to driving around in high school, screaming the words with the windows down. And dare I say, Lil Wayne is the greatest rapper alive. Okay I said it.
Denise Ackerman - Copywriter at Big Spaceship
My favorite hip-hop song is “Jazz (We've Got)” by A Tribe Called Quest. Insane wordplay (which as a writer, you have to love) and the Miles Davis jazz samples are absolutely perfect.
Maxwell VanHook - Senior Art Director at Square
It’s hard to distill my experience with hip-hop down to one song, but I always return to “Gold Watch” by Lupe Fiasco. Initially, what stuck out was Lupe’s effortlessly smooth flow over that funky drum beat, but as I dug deeper I realized his true message. He juxtaposes braggadocious lyrics about material possessions with what he truly values — his individuality. I was 17 years old when I heard this song and it reinforced that I don’t need anyone else to validate my creative journey. I just have to trust myself.
Greg Plater - Freelance Senior Art Director
My favorite hip-hop song of all time probably has tobe “I Used to Love H.E.R” by Common. The soul of the song evokes thought while telling a historically referenced multi-layered story of Black people in America. It gives an empowering perspective with timelessly conscious delivery and sound.
Grace Gordon - Brand Lead at Cash App
I love “ Down and Out” by Cam’ron and Kanye West. It represents the best of everything Hip Hop can be - great beat with a fun sample, Camron deep in his wordplay bag, and Kanye truly at the top of his game from a production standpoint. Just a wonderful collaboration.
Cristina Marquez - Copywriter at The Martin Agency
My favorite song is “Hypnotize” by the legend, Notorious B.I.G.. Growing up in Ecuador in the 1990s, I didn’t have much exposure to Hip Hop. I heard “Hypnotize” while watching 10 Things I Hate About You in 1999. I stayed through the credits so I could figure out what the song was. The beat is truly unbeatable (pun fully intended).
Kinan Adams - Senior UX Designer at BECU
“Summertime.” It’s playful, nostalgic, and just feels good. It’s hard for me to think of another song that perfectly describes the moment.
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