The East Coast of the United States is the birthplace of hip hop. The likes of DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, The Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow,and Run-DMC defined the genre in the early years, paving the way for New York’s iconic style to grow and influence the world.
The sound of hip hop has morphed over the years, encapsulating styles such as boom bap, hard-hitting beats and lyricism, and introspective, conscious rapping, all the way to mumble rap and a wave of 808-driven trap records.
Throughout the evolution in style, New York artists have consistently managed to deliver club bangers that are able to stand the test of time, critically and commercially. Below we look at 20 tracks which are guaranteed to kick-start any party, in any city, in any country.
Run-DMC 'It’s Tricky'
Released all the way back in early 1987, this record is old skool rap at its finest. Run-DMC were the first hip hop collective to have a gold album, and to be nominated for a Grammy Award, with their 1984 self-titled album. And the likes of Eminem, Nas and A Tribe Called Quest have all since name-dropped the influential three-piece in bars.
This track features a guitar riff alongside a quick back-and-forth between MCs. Run-DMC were known for finding samples that made their tracks instantly recognisable and palatable for a wide audience. This groovy, upbeat and bouncy record is a must-have for any hip hop party.
KRS-One 'Sound of da Police'
This South Bronx MC’s impact on East Coast hip hop cannot be overstated. He was dubbed ‘The Teacher’ because of the furious and the politically-driven undertones in his records. Despite the mood or tone of the beat, he would consistently champion a deeper message with his choice of lyrics.
Released in December 1993, this is the final single on his debut solo album 'Return of the Boom Bap'. The beat inspires dancing with groove and funk while KRS-One’s flow, layered with patois, is a hard focal point.
The Notorious B.I.G. 'Juicy'
Being mentioned in the same breath as Biggie is generally regarded as an MC’s greatest honour. He carried a distinct brand of introspection that came to define hip hop’s golden era. Christopher Wallace’s prowess as a story-telling MC without doubt paved the way for contemporary stars like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Joyner Lucas to produce storied verses that were simultaneously hard-hitting enough to ignite a dancefloor. 'Juicy' is an example of this extraordinary mixture.
Now an iconic track, 'Juicy' was Biggie’s first single on his classic debut album 'Ready to Die'. His flow on this track is unrivalled, as he lyrically lets his hair down and boasts about the fruits of his come up. The beat is groovy and nostalgic, and layered with harmonizing vocals.
The Notorious B.I.G. 'Hypnotize'
Biggie influenced a generation and beyond. The 'Hypnotize' music video was particularly spectacular in the late 90s. It had helicopters, a yacht, motorcycles, mermaids, and a high-speed car chase where Puff Daddy is driving in reverse while Wallace is rapping. The video was filmed in February 1997, just a month before Biggie died, at a point where he was regarded as one of the hottest properties in rap.
Biggie spits effortlessly over perhaps the most iconic hip hop beat of the 90s, built by Puff Daddy from a downtempo groove and rolling bassline, sampling a beat from Herb Alpert’s 1979 jazz-funk hit 'Rise'. In tandem with Biggie’s wordplay, it makes his flow aptly hypnotic.
Fatman Scoop ft. Crooklyn Clan 'Be Faithful' (Put Your Hands Up)
This record is a hip hop banger designed to satisfy those who want to party. It treads an effective line between accessibility and quality, with its call-and-response lyrics and raucous beat.
Isaac Freeman aka Fatman Scoop teamed with production duo Crooklyn Clan to create this club classic. Originally released in 1999, Scoop’s rally cries work perfectly with the heavy sampling of Faith Evans disco-funk record 'Love Like This'. Bass drops that make a whole club shake also stand the record in good stead as a common draw for DJs.
DMX 'Party Up' (Up In Here)
DMX produced this record at a time when violent delivery was at the epicentre of hip hop culture. His raps, at least in part, validated the claims he made. The club world gravitated to this sound because it aurally represented a lifestyle, as well as lyrically.
This hardcore hip hop floor-shaker was released at the turn of the millennium. Despite the East Coast MC’s tirade of homophobic slurs and misogyny, this record infiltrated into the early noughties pop culture comedy scene through the likes of Dave Chappelle. This energising anthem encourages party people to get loose and leave self-control at home.
M.O.P 'Ante Up' (Robbin Hoodz Theory)
Throughout their career, M.O.P maintained a strong underground following. However, to the rest of the world they’re predominantly known for this record. M.O.P’s ability to create rock-rap bangers is what gave this record the dexterity to appeal to the masses. In fact, the group have stated that the guitar allowed them to be more expressive than hip hop drums.
Hailing from Brooklyn, Mash Out Posse, deliver aggression and lyricism to match a hard-hitting, stomping beat designed to energise and motivate.
Busta Rhymes 'Break Ya Neck'
By the turn of the century, Busta boasted a mean reputation as a ‘leader of the new school’, blessed with an intricate rapping technique and a solid catalogue of work.
The pace of Busta Rhymes’ lyrical delivery on 'Break Ya Neck' is matched only by the track’s hypnotic production, courtesy of West Coast legend Dr. Dre. Sampling Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 'Give It Away' guitar riffs alongside backing vocals by Truth Hurts, it's a beat which is instantly recognisable and hard to forget.
Fat Joe ft. Ashanti 'What's Luv?'
This record screams early 2000s and that gives it a nostalgic appeal to contemporary listeners, with production that is sure to populate a dancefloor. At a time when hip hop artists were realising the benefits of blending smooth r'n'b with gangster rap, this is the archetype of that early noughties formula.
Cam'ron ft. Juelz Santana 'Oh Boy'
In the mid-90s, Cam’ron held his rap career at arm’s length, so to speak, juggling a basketball scholarship alongside the appeal of a budding rap career. When this hit dropped though, his path became clear, and he developed a reputation for making the radio rap sound softer, more eccentric and self-aware.
Producer Just Blaze uses a repeating, high-pitched Rose Royce vocal sample to anchor this 2002 record. A classic in a slightly different lane to some of its predecessors, it creates a relaxed upbeat melody for the dancefloor to vibe to.
50 Cent 'P.I.M.P.'
The hype around this New Yorker was so fervent that many tipped this album to be a classic back in 2003. The realism of 50 Cent's journey from ex-crack dealer to hip hop powerhouse gave him an aura on stage and through speakers. He sold 2.1 million copies of the album within three weeks of its release.
'P.I.M.P.' is the second of two iconic club anthems on 'Get Rich or Die Tryin''. Released in August 2003, its rolling steel drums set the backdrop for 50 to spit about his lavish lifestyle, while a progressive bassline brings you to a memorable hook. Upon its release, this record achieved instant commercial success, peaking at Number 3 on the Billboard Top 100.
Jay-Z '99 Problems'
This record is slightly slower in pace than most hip hop records of the early noughties. It samples Ice-T’s 1993 track of the same name, something which Ice T would later express his frustrations for not getting name-checked for.
Across the track, Shawn Carter addresses his struggle with the law, rap critics and racial profiling in a 4-minute powerhouse that peaked at Number 30 on Billboard’s Hot 100. A pulsating beat which is matched by sharp electric guitar rips at the end of each bar solidify this track’s legacy as a club anthem, as well as serving as a powerful social commentary on black America.
50 Cent 'In Da Club'
50’s debut album was one of the most influential in the genre’s history. The project was based on real life events and circumstances that led him to be shot nine times in 2000.
Dr. Dre’s rich production value thrust gangsta rap into the mainstream club scene like never before in the early 2000s, and 'Get Rich or Die Tryin''was littered with club classics. The off-beat percussive synthesizer strikes, the undergirding tonic in both the synthesizer line and the guitar line, and the "boom boom clap" hand percussion make for a unifying dance track.
Terror Squad ft. Fat Joe, Remy Ma 'Lean Back'
Terror Squad was a hip hop label formed in 1993 by Fat Joe. In 2004, the label released their second and final studio LP, titled 'True Story'.
Hailing from the Bronx, the East Coast collective’s uptempo head banger 'Lean Back' was released in the summer of 2004. It went certified gold, becoming a huge club track in the process. It samples 'Big Poppa' and 'Money Ain’t A Thang' in an intoxicating violin-lead beat, featuring hip hop heavyweights Fat Joe and Remy Ma, who deliver dark verses to contrast the highly danceable beat.
Busta Rhymes 'Touch It'
Busta is one of hip hop’s finest examples of how to maintain relevance across two decades. Throughout the early and mid-noughties, the rhyme veteran forged a reputation as the genre’s Mr. Reliable, with a rapid-fire flow stood out on any style of posse cut or r'n'b remix. Sampling Daft Punk’s 'Technologic', this record has heavy bass and hi-hats that are matched with the tone and delivery of his flows.
Azealia Banks ft. Lazy Jay '212'
Azealia’s reputation has been somewhat tarnished due to her tirade of social media spats with some of the industry’s most popular artists: Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, T.I., Erykah Badu to mention a few. However, it was this edge that saw her rise to cult notoriety in the early 2010s producing a string of unique records which pushed musical boundaries explored by the likes of Kid Cudi a couple of years prior. This hip house banger has the ability to raise a party’s tempo with its trippy mix of soul and rap.
A$AP Rocky ft. Drake, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar 'F**kin' Problems'
Released in late 2012, for many this record represented a coming-together of the leaders of the new school. Pre 2013 it seemed that Drake and Kendrick’s ambitions were aligned, having toured together, appeared on each other’s albums and paid respect to one another in interviews. After this record the relationship somewhat deteriorated in a string of subliminal disses in attempt to establish a hierarchy.
Sampling 'Shimmy Shimmy Ya' and 'Flap Your Wings', the heavy bass and trippy hi-hats that are synonymous with A$AP Mob's production style solidified this track as a banger.
A$AP Ferg ft. A$AP Rocky, French Montana, Trinidad James & Schoolboy Q 'Work REMIX'
A$AP Mob's championing of trap production set them apart from other collectives in the early 2010s, and 'Work REMIX' was a highlight on Ferg’s 2013 project 'Traplord'.
Bobby Shmurda 'Hot N*gga'
Bobby Shmurda has had a sizeable impact on New York hip hop, despite being incarcerated for the foreseeable future. This debut single was a surprise summer sensation upon its release, with the music video that was shot on a shoe-string budget also proving very popular. The track became a Vine sensation and instantly hit clubs worldwide. It's a minimalistic trap banger and a prominent example of the ever-changing sound of the East Coast.
French Montana ft. Swae Lee 'Unforgettable'
Coming to the New York scene as a child, French Montana has adaptation at the core of his style. He put in time in the underground mixtape circuit before building himself up to big budget hits. Montana’s music plays to an ever-changing, care free, youthful demographic that embraces evolution in the culture.
This track took Europe by storm in the summer of 2017, using the increasingly popular fusion of dancehall and hip hop. Morocco-born Montana executed a contemporary sound using a distorted hook and steel drums, taking dancers to another space.
Joel Griffiths is a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter
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