The most popular rap songs of all time must be viewed through different criteria than other, similar rankings. This is not about one singular thing. It’s impossible to base these rankings off sales alone, YouTube views, or critical acclaim. This is strictly about popularity, which as we know, also fluctuates and changes over time. While the above criteria are definitely weighed into these rankings, they are by no means the only factors.
When looking at a topic like this, I like to use what I call ‘the mom test’; let me explain. My mom was never exactly a rap fanatic, per se, and she genuinely has no idea who Nas is, and probably first heard of Kanye when he became Kimye. Yet, she does love music, and does listen to the radio, and thus has heard her fair share of rap over the years. So, if it’s a song I don’t think my mom’s ever heard, a song she wouldn’t recognize it if you played it for her on repeat for 2 hours, I can’t put it in the list of the most popular rap song of all time.
I know what you may be thinking, what on earth does my mom possibly have to do with these rankings? She doesn’t. The point of that concept is basically to separate those rap songs that were popular just amongst rap fans, from those that became commonly known by music listeners of all types. Essentially, these songs have to be recognizable to a country music loving rap hater in order for them to truly be the most popular ever. Someone who not only doesn’t listen to rap, but maybe even specifically dislikes it. These songs need to be popular enough that they permeate through all of society and are more than just a radio hit, transcending their genre and infiltrating pop culture at large.
As a note, I’m intentionally leaving Tupac and Biggie off this list. Their most popular rap songs are probably Juicy and California Love respectively, but like many rap fans, I don’t have any desire to rank one above the other. And, while unfortunate, there now does exist a whole generation of people who truly would not consider either of these songs to be especially popular.
Finally, there are a lot of songs that might be considered in a list ranking the most popular songs ever, but that aren’t quite rap songs. Just because a rapper puts out a song doesn’t make it rap. So if your expecting to see Hey Ya by Outkast on this list, just know that I recognize its popularity, I just don’t consider it to be a rap song. If you disagree, and maybe feel that “shake it like a polaroid picture” is some sort of amazing lyric that turns this into a rap song, go back and give Hey Ya another listen. While it’s a phenomenal pop song made by an incredibly famous and legendary artist, its not a rap song in any way.
So, without further ado, here are the most popular rap songs of all time.
5. Jay Z Feat. Alicia Keys – Empire State Of Mind
Personally I really don’t like this song and avoid hearing it at all costs. Nas’ New York State Of Mind is one of the greatest rap songs ever, and the idea that people don’t know about it because of this Jay Z song bothers me. Moreover, Nas was supposed to be on the remix, yet it was rumored that Jay Z cut the verse because it was too good. With that said, it’s undeniable just how popular this song was. Being on countless commercials and sports promotions, as well as Jay Z having multiple vehicles with which he markets his music, makes Empire State Of Mind one of the most popular rap songs ever.
4. Lil John & The Eastside Boys – Get Low
This song was the spark that pushed the Three Six Mafia originated sub genre of Crunk Musik to the next level of popularity. It became one of the biggest club songs of all time and allowed the East Side Boys to have a career which is always a positive. Also, my sister has about 15 rap songs on her entire iPod, as I know from the various times I’ve needed to use it when the battery on mine died during family trips. This was always one of them, which speaks volumes to me.
3. Nelly – Hot In Here
Looking at Nelly’s YouTube views can be incredibly overwhelming. He has over 20 million views on over 15 different tracks spanning the course of a decade. But to me, Hot In Here always was and always will be his most popular rap song ever.
2. 50 Cent– In Da Club
Ask yourself this: do you know anyone that doesn’t know the beginning to this song? “Go Shawty…It’s your birthday” is one of the most recognizable intros in music history, regardless of genre. I actually don’t know how many times I’ve heard this song and thinking about it legitimately scares me. This was the most popular song off one of the most famous and critically acclaimed debut albums in history in Get Rich Or Die Trying.
1. Eminem – Lose Yourself
Plenty of Eminem tracks have more YouTube views than Lose Yourself, but it’s definitely the track that most people who don’t usually listen to rap associate the artist with. In part due to it being the backdrop for the movie 8 Mile, and also because of its excessive use as music for the introductions during sporting events, it’s undoubtedly one of the most famous, and in my opinion is the most popular rap song of all time.