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.