Dr. Beardhussein Salutes Some of the Greatest Choruses (Hooks) in Hip-Hop History
(yep, Marshall’s on the list)
There’s a Yo! MTV Raps special on MTV2 right now and it’s put me in one of those increasingly rare moods where I love hip-hop and want to celebrate it’s life instead of mourning it’s passing.
Sooo, that being said, it’s 4:41pm on Monday, April 7th. Life is pretty good right now for me. The Ocean is still knocking me about to and fro and I don’t know where I’m gonna end up, but this time I feel like that’s a good thing.
Ask a few different people what they think the most important element to a Rap Song are and you’ll most likely get one of three answers:
1. The Beat.
2. The Lyrics.
3. The Hook (chorus).
Now, as for your Uncle The Hussein, I’d like to say “Lyrics, yo!” but if the beat is wack, I won’t really spin a lyrically intricate song. I can tolerate subpar lyrics if the beat is good, but not the other way around. However, a strong case can be made for the chorus. An incredible chorus would probably be 1A to the beat’s 1. As a fairly competent hook-writer myself I know how tough it is to write a good chorus and how important a good chorus is to a song. At this stage in my ever-evolving music listeningtoness, a wack chorus is gonna make me roll my eyes and–awesome lyrics’n’beat aside–knock the track down a notch or two.
Sooooo, it’s in the spirit of that that I’ve decided to recognize some of the best choruses rap music has to offer. Hooks so good they took hold of your brain after the first or second listen–not the saturation nonsense of radio today. I did notice a couple of things about the list after I made it up:
1- No Jay-Z. I checked my mental rolodex of Jay’s singles and the stronger album cuts and I found a surprising lack of choruses performed by Jay himself (more on that later). Not to mention that when I did stumble upon a chorus Jay actually did, it was only kinda aight.
2- With one or two undeniable exceptions, I tried to use songs where the chorus was performed by the artist that delivered the lyrics. For example, Nas’ “If I ruled the world” had an incredible chorus, but Nas didn’t perform it. That bit o’ awesomeness was provided by a then-sane Lauren Hill, and was therefore disqualified.
3- None of the songs I selected were released after 2003. That was interesting because we’re (*barf*) still in the “Ringtone Rap” era, yet none of the choruses or hooks used to sell these ringtones were good enough to crack my list.
Anyway, on to the list!
1-The Notorious BIG- “Big Poppa”. When this tune dropped in late fall 1994, Biggie was already the motherf**kin’ rap phenomenon. “Juicy” was loud and triumphant, but “Big Poppa” is the song that established BIG’s legendary charm and charisma. By the time Biggie got to the chorus people were already sucked into him and Puffy’s world of clubs and girls. The chorus kicks in and it makes everyone feel like they’re at that club with Sean and Chris. Not only was the hook infectious and catchy, but it was also clever and intricate, with lines like “To the honeys gettin’ money playin’ ni**as like dummies” not only slyly saluting the Females, but also being lyrical enough to respect.
2- Wu Tang Clan- “C.R.E.A.M.”. All acronym, All anthem, the chorus to “C.R.E.A.M.” was a battlecry for the early 90s hustler/thug. Method Man’s raspy, smoked-out voice was the voice of everyone from the yuppies to the preppies to the dude hustling on the corner. Cash really does rule everything around us, and the Wu broke that down with gritty, realistis verses from Raekwon The Chef and Inspectah Deck. I remember being a youngin’ in 8th grade and experiencing the whole bus singing this chorus.
3- Eminem- “The Real Slim Shady”. One of Eminem’s (nee Marshall Mathers) strongest suits is his ability to craft an expert chorus. “The Real Slim Shady” is one of his masterworks. The hook to his first single off of The Marshall Mathers LP was lyrical, intricate, and unavoidable. Slim used the chorus to call attention to and mock his new-found “Great White Hope” status. Plus, the chorus was at a higher tempo than most choruses, so when you’re singing along you better take a deep breath.
4- Dr. Dre featuring Snoop (Doggy) Dogg- “Nuthin’ but a G-Thang”. Andre and Calvin’s 1992 uber-classic song featured one of the more simple hooks on this list, but it’s also one that helped usher in a new era of hip-hop music.
5-Outkast- “Rosa Parks”. I remember my friend Jeff playing me “Rosa Parks” one day in late spring 1999. I was kinda familiar with Outkast thru “Elevators”, but it wasn’t until this awesome song that they began to stay on my radar. The chorus isn’t particularly clever–it doesn’t really make sense when you think about it–but it does exactly what a chorus is supposed to do. It makes you feel good. The entire song props it up, and by the time they get down to the brilliant “hoe down” bridge, the chorus kicks back in and is an amazing rap catharsis. You can’t help but feel good listening to that song. Plus! It’s one of the first times I ever heard the word “crunk”…for better or for worse.
6- Kanye West- “Through The Wire”. This is one of the songs where I had to make an exception on the whole “The artist sings the chorus” rule. Back in late 2003 when I first heard “Through the Wire”, it was the chorus that burrowed deep into my cerebral cortex and refused to leave. The sped up Chaka Khan sample was beyond infectious, beyond catchy. It was soaring chipmunk soul, and it was fucking triumphant. I’ve written time and time again about how Mr. West’s music has always been a light during my darkest days, and this was the first instance of that phenomenon. An amazing hip-hop moment, sampled chorus or otherwise.
7- 50 Cent- “In Da Club”. I am a staunch anti-supporter of one 50 Cent, nee Curtis Jackson. I’ve never really been impressed with the guy, and over the years he’s been proven to be a man of limited, diminishing talent. However. Back in late 2002, early 2003, “In Da Club” was a monster, and rightfully so. An undeniable classic chorus, the hook to “In Da Club” is just so much fun, and is another bit of songage that makes the singer feel like they’re a superstar.
8- Nelly- “Ride Wit’ Me”. First off, I’ve always enjoyed Nelly’s music. I know that’s about the hip-hop equivalent of a Rock’n’Roll guy rocking out to Hanson’s “MMM-Bop”, but ya’ll know what it is, and it ain’t that serious. “Ride Wit’ Me” was the mo’fuggin’ jam of summer 2001. Nelly’s sing-song flow (how often has that been written? Like a billion? It might be second only to “hustler-turned-rapper Jay-Z”) made the song accessible and the perfect hook to sing along with driving to the beach with one’s peeps. Whether you had a dollar in your pocket or a hundred dollars in your pocket, by the time you got to “Hey! Must be the money!” you felt like the richest dude on the planet.
9- Public Enemy- “Fight the Power”. Lemme fuckin’ tell you, I probably couldn’t get into their catalogue now–plus I think Flavor Flav should be smacked with a bag of wet pinecones–but I have the utmost respect for Public Enemy. I mean, shit, Apocolypse ’91…The Enemy Strikes Back is a skraight up homage to The Empire Strikes Back, so right off the bat they’ve got that. “Fight the Power” tho’, is so fuckin’–and pardon the pun–powerful. The beat is ridiculous, the lyrics are energizing, and the chorus? Sheeit. The chorus was the hip-hop battle cry. Never has such a simple hook been so truthful, so necessary. A timeless track that is still relevant and still needed, “Fight the Power” is not just a song–it’s an experience.
10- Naughty By Nature- “Hip-Hop Hooray”. Not only is “Hip-Hop Hooray” a difficult-ass song to do at karaoke (I can still do it tho’), the chorus is one of hip-hop’s all time most-fun choruses. This is the entire chorus: “Hip-Hop Hooray! Ho! Hey! Ho!”. BUT! What made it so awesome was the cool “wave your hands along with the heys and hos” bit! Ya’ll know what I mean! The “heys” meant wave your arms left, and the “Hos” meant wave your arms to the right. This was the song that established Naughty By Nature as more than an “OPP/Ghetto Bastard” one (okay, two) hit wonder. This was a fuckin’ hit like nobody’s business, and I can’t believe the “Hey! Ho!” hasn’t enjoyed a renaissance by now. Maybe Donnie Walsh can make the sound guy at Madison Square Garden play that.
11- Method Man- “Release yo’ delf”. First of all, it took me forever to become hip to the “dun language”, so for years I wondered what the heck my “delf” was, and how I could possibly release it. Still, even my bit of “duh”ery couldn’t diminish my enjoyment of the chorus to Method Man’s classic single off of 1994’s Tical. The song was a great homage to Rocky, with triumphant horns blasting and making a 14 year olf Rey very, very hyper. Lemme put it this way: I’m convinced that without “Release yo’ delf”, there would be no “Victory” 3 years later. The girl singing the chorus was just okay (the Wu never had great singers), but she did make the chorus uplifting and motivational. Sheeit, I’m gonna play this next time I go to the gym. This was “delf”initely (wooo!) a worthy exception to the “Chorus done by the rappers” rule.
12- Digital Underground- “The Humpty Dance”. You know why this song’s chorus makes the list? Because you just went “Oh shit!” and started singing the chorus in your head and recalling Shock G’s ingenious “Humpty Hump” alter ego. This one is fun, it’s simple, it’s classic, and it’s fucking awesome.
13- Biz Markie- “Just A Friend”. See above, only replace “Shock G” with “Biz Markie”. Plus! You can switch up the hook to, “Oh baby you, you got a disease/and you say it’s just a rash, but it’s crawling up your ass.” (This hot lesbian girl I’m friends with used to jump on stage and sing that while me and D.T.M.J. would do this at karaoke). An epic song from the Clown Prince of Hip-Hop, who is fucking huge in real life. I saw him at a diner by an old apartment me and Pop Dukes lived in, and the man is enormous. His watch was the size of a Big Mac.
14- Puff Daddy featuring Ma$e- “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”. Now ya’ll just knew Puffy was gonna show up on this list. I do not apologize one bit for my Diddy standom. The man commissions (no pun intended) some great music, and this song was no exception. The lead single off of No Way Out (fun fact- the original title of Puff’s classic debut album was Puff Daddy- Hell Up in Harlem), was awesome. It flipped a sample of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” (also done by Ice Cube on “Check Yo’Self”–an honorable mention to this list which featured Diggety Das Efx), it gave Ma$e his proper introduction after his cameo on 112’s “Only You” remix, and it made me want those black nike gloves something terrible. Anyway, chorus-wise, Diddy used the hook from “The Message”, as well as the 80’s gem “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder. Puff and Ma$e’s monotone drawl–which I hated at first–gave both choruses such a cool-ass flair to both tunes, and combined to make a fucking awesome song. Ooh, another fun fact? I totally watched the video to this song a couple months ago to pick up dance moves. Don’t front on Puffy’s dance skills. He’s awesome. (el pauso!)
15- Warren G. featuring Nate Dogg- “Regulate”. “But Uncle The Hussein, ‘Regulate’ didn’t have a chorus!”. I know! That’s what makes it so danged cool! “Regulate” is beyond uber-classic. Warren G’s flippage of a Michael McDonald song, “I Keep Forgetting”, made for a great beat, and Warren’s mellow raps blended perfectly with Nate Dogg’s singing. The fact that the chorus was just the beat with nothing over it was clever and fitting. Think about it. Could you really even think of a chorus that would work with the rest of that song? I’m sure Nate and Warren pondered several choruses but decided that they weren’t any good. Kudos to whomever made the decision to let the beat ride.
Call Reynolds, Cuz it’s a Wrap.
Alright IATSoldiers, that’s it for me. Now that I’m done working OT at the Alumnah.com, I’ll have more time to work on here. Alumnah’s fun and all, but IATS is my baby, and I do plan on writing a bit more.
As always, any comments, questions, critiques, awesome chorus-song suggestions, and attempts at writing your own chorus to “Regulate” can be left below in the Christopher Wallace Memorial Comments Section.
Thanks for tuning in,