Hip-hop is all grown up now. Clive Campbell, better known as DJ Kool Herc, emceed a party on Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, New York, on what was likely a summer day much like today’s back in August of 1973. On this day, hip-hop and the “break” were born. The genre turns 45 this year, and while it’s clearly still evolving, we celebrate this milestone by recognizing the songs you think of when reminiscing about a particular year in the genre’s storied history.

While the artform was born on a hot August night in 1973, it wasn’t until six years later that the genre got its first official single. We’ve compiled the most-played hip-hop songs on Pandora from each year, starting with 1979.

From the early days when Afrika Bambaataa and Sugarhill Gang kept it pure and close to the streets, to the ’90s when MC Hammer (along with his pants and throng of dancers) took over the pop charts, to today when Drake and Kung Fu Kenny rule the charts — here are some highlights from hip-hop’s 45-year run to guide you through our playlist.

Hear the Playlist


Sugarhill Gang
“Rapper’s Delight”

“I said a hip-hop the hippie the hippie / To the hip-hip hop and you don’t stop.” The opening bars of this undisputable classic are so widely known, it’d be a tough task to find someone who couldn’t complete the phrase. Sampling Chic’s “Good Times,” which was released just a few months prior, Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 single “Rapper’s Delight” acted as the blueprint for rap hits. It features a funky beat with disco roots followed by some early-day boasting about money, cars, and sex — you know, the finer things in life.


Kurtis Blow
“The Breaks”


Kurtis Blow


Sugarhill Gang


Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force
“Planet Rock”


“Jam on It”


LL Cool J
“Rock the Bells”


“Push It”

The success of Salt-N-Pepa’s bossy and brash (in the best way) “Push It” catapulted the reissued version of Hot, Cool & Vicious to platinum status, making the ladies the first female rap act to reach gold and beyond. “Push It” was originally released as the B-side for “Tramp” before getting the remix treatment by San Francisco DJ Cameron Paul. It was the Paul mix that would later gain popularity and radio play. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award, but the group boycotted the show when the rap category wasn’t televised.


LL Cool J
“I Need Love”

The second single from LL’s second album, “I Need Love,” is hip-hop’s first notable love song. It made an impact in the State, reaching no. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts and #14 overall, while also being one of the first rap songs to have success overseas.




Young MC
“Bust a Move”


MC Hammer
“U Can’t Touch This”

MC Hammer’s 1990 hit “U Can’t Touch This” was a game-changer. Some hardcore hip-hop fans criticized Hammer and claimed his brand of rap lacked substance (see: Hammer pants and concerts featuring rows and rows of dancers). But when talking numbers and accolades, “U Can’t Touch This” helped push hip-hop into the mainstream. The song made history as the first rap song to be nominated for Record of the Year at the 33rd Annual Grammy Awards, losing to Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise.” However, Hammer didn’t go home empty-handed. “U Can’t Touch This” won in the Best R&B Song and Best Rap Solo Performance category.


Vanilla Ice
“Ice Ice Baby”

It was right around the same time as MC Hammer’s mainstream success that Robert Matthew Van Winkle, aka Vanilla Ice, seemingly came out of nowhere with “Ice Ice Baby.” Released in 1989 as the B-side to “Play That Funky Music,” the song, though catchy, was not initially well-received by purists. Despite some backlash and a controversy over the sampling of the baseline of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” “Ice Ice Baby” would go on to become the first hip-hop single to top the Hot 100 charts a year after its initial release. Unfortunately for Van Winkle, he was never able to repeat the success of his first hit.


Ice Cube
“It Was a Good Day”


Snoop Dogg
“Gin & Juice”

The West Coast was on a roll in the early ’90s, and “Gin & Juice” solidified that. Snoop’s second single off his chart-topping, Dr. Dre-produced debut Doggystyle offered up another brand of hip-hop. Snoop’s melodic, laidback style stood out against the backdrop of previous hits like Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day,” which loomed large in 1992.


The Notorious B.I.G.

Biggie’s rags-to-riches tale is warmly nostalgic, with references to Word Up!, Rappin’ Duke and Mr. Magic, not to mention Tawatha Agee’s soulful soprano vocals which accompany the sample of Mtume’s 1982 song “Juicy Fruit.” Lauded as one of the best hip-hop songs, “Juicy” has managed to live on way after the rapper’s untimely death.


“California Love”

“California Love” was 2pac’s first single as a Death Row artist and his first release after being released from prison, although Shakur was releasing music while incarcerated. The song was a huge hit and 2pac’s most successful single, topping the charts for two weeks and garnering a posthumous Grammy nod for Best Rap Solo Performance and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.


“I Ain’t Mad at Cha”


The Notorious B.I.G.


“Hard Knock Life”


Dr. Dre
“The Next Episode”


“Ride Wit Me”


“Can’t Let You Go (feat. Mike Shorey & Lil’ Mo)”


“Lose Yourself”

Soundtrack cuts are often overlooked, but there are a few exceptions. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is one of them. Em recorded and released this smash hit as the lead track for 8 Mile, a movie loosely based on his life. The movie was a huge critical success, and the song went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2003.


50 Cent
“In Da Club”

In 2002, while signed to Eminem’s Shady/Aftermath label, 50 Cent released “In Da Club,” the lead single off his major label debut Get Rich or Die Tryin’, giving hip-hop its own birthday song. The song is said to have originally been meant for D12 and later given to 50, but who could imagine anyone other than 50 performing this?


Kanye West
“All Falls Down”


Fort Minor
“Remember the Name”


“What You Know”


Flo Rida


“Live Your Life”




“Love the Way You Lie”


DJ Khaled
“I’m on One”


2 Chainz
“No Lie (feat. Drake)”


Lil Wayne
“Love Me”


“0 to 100/The Catch Up”


G-Eazy & Bebe Rexha
“Me, Myself & I”


“Bad and Boujee (feat. Lil Uzi Vert)”


Kendrick Lamar

Proof that indie artists have a place in hip-hop and that conscious rappers can go commercial (as Kendrick himself mentions on the “Mask Off” remix), K-Dot had a big year in 2017. “LOVE.” was hailed by critics and fans alike as one of the best songs on his fourth studio album, DAMN. It’s the simplicity of the song that hits close to home, while Zacari coos through the chorus and Kendrick ponders what we’ve all wondered a time or two: do you love me? Would you still love me? Is love enough?


“God’s Plan”

This is definitely the era of Drake. The Toronto-bred rapper has been running the charts for a while now, and “God’s Plan” is no exception. The track was produced by his longtime friend 40 along with Cardo and Boi-1da. Not unusual for Drake, he raps about the paranoia and loneliness surrounding being on top, with the added twist that despite knowing people want him to fail, he’s chalking all of this up to being God’s plan.