As hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary, we’ve compiled a collection of 10 rap songs that every DJ should have. The list aims to help DJs of all types ensure they have a few guaranteed crowd-pleasers ready to drop if needed.
It’s important to note that we aren’t claiming these are the greatest rap records of all time. Instead, they’re staple tracks that fit comfortably into any DJ’s party-rocking set. Of course there’s an appropriate time and place to play each song, and a skilled DJ will always gauge the crowd and respond accordingly, but you can trust that these tracks will keep the people moving when dropped.
Our criteria isn’t based solely on these songs’ lyrics, production, or commercial success. Instead, we focused on their overall impact on dance floors for DJs worldwide.
50 Cent – ”In Da Club”
Released in 2003 as part of 50 Cent‘s debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, “In Da Club” quickly became a staple record in every DJ’s rotation. 20 years later, it stands the test of time, still played along top 40 tracks and new releases in peak hour DJ sets. The infectious “Go shorty, it’s your birthday” chant became synonymous with birthday celebrations worldwide, and the track remains a go-to selection for DJs to engage the crowd.
DMX – ”Party Up”
Since 1999, the first 30 seconds of DMX‘s “Party Up” has crushed dance floors as a failsafe weapon for DJs around the world. The Swizz Beatz-produced banger is a contender for most high-energy hip-hop record of all time and continues to be dropped regularly by DJs today. From his third studio album, … And Then There Was X, “Party Up” remains a primetime anthem.
Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre – ”Next Episode”
A standout from Dr. Dre’s classic album 2001, “Next Episode” reigns supreme as one of the most popular West Coast rap records ever. The iconic intro, infectious instrumental, and inspiring Nate Dogg cameo elicit surefire cheers and packed dance floors every time it’s dropped. If DJs were to choose just one club record to symbolize the West Coast, this could arguably be it.
The Notorious B.I.G. – ”Hypnotize”
Released in 1997 as the first lead single from his posthumous album, Life After Death, “Hypnotize” remains a surefire crowd-pleaser for DJs worldwide. With its iconic 8-beat intro suited perfectly for beat-juggling DJs, the track continues to work through dance floors of all types, firmly established as a New York classic representing 90s-era hip-hop.
Ying Yang Twins, Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz – ”Get Low”
For over a decade, Lil Jon dominated the hip-hop club scene with hit after hit spurred by his creative concoction of the southern sub-genre “crunk.” “Get Low” prevails as the movement’s definitive club anthem with its undeniable energy and immediate ability to command the crowd. Still considered a primetime favorite at any college party or hip-hop club set, “Get Low” can always be considered as a floor filling crutch for DJs in need.
Juvenile – ”Back That Azz Up”
As with most of the tracks on this list, the first 30 seconds of “Back That Azz Up” stirs an emotional reaction in crowds that gives DJs exactly what they need. The Mannie Fresh-produced track was featured on Juve’s 1998 album 400 Degreez and helped establish New Orleans as a powerful contender in the East Coast-dominated hip-hop scene. Remixed countless times, the original still proves to be the most powerful and popular version, setting off multi-generational dance floors around the world.
Nelly – ”Ride Wit Me”
Released in 2000 as the third single from his debut album Country Grammar, “Ride Wit Me” has proven to be a consistent floor filler for DJs worldwide. Produced by St. Louis’ DJ Jay E, the track weaves Nelly’s hip-hop, pop, R&B, and country roots into an undeniably bouncy ride-along. It works particularly well for DJs at weddings and family-friendly pop events but also sets off the club when played right.
2Pac, Dr. Dre – ”California Love”
If “Next Episode” is considered the West Coast DJ anthem of the 2000s, then “California Love” is the king of the 90s. For a record so specific to a region, culture, and time (1995), the unanimous appreciation it gets around the world confirms it as one of the greatest hip-hop tracks ever. DJs love scratching in the intro acapella, and the song’s beat and lyrics have been remixed across multiple genres for almost 30 years. Roger Troutman’s talk box-infused hooks and ad-libs flow mesmerizingly across Dr. Dre’s Joe Cocker interpretation.
Usher, Lil Jon, Ludacris – ”Yeah!”
The question of whether “Yeah!” is a true rap song may be contested, but it doesn’t matter. From its release in 2004, the record absolutely smashed dance floors and was an instant hit among DJs in the U.S. Word has it that the track’s producer, Lil Jon, leaked it to DJs during the Christmas break of 2004 because of label politics holding up its release. Regardless, it has solidified itself as a hip-hop pop smash, still played in primetime sets today.
DJ Khaled – ”All I Do Is Win”
Love him or hate him, DJ Khaled struck club anthem gold with his 2010 release “All I Do Is Win.” The feature-heavy single became a massive smash for DJs worldwide and is still played in peak hour sets, primarily for its craze-inducing T-Pain lead hook. DJs love using the track as a quick-mix tool, often building up to the iconic “Everybody hands go up!” before dropping into another track.