This is not a list of the greatest Hip Hop songs ever. Nor is it a list of the songs with the greatest beats or lyrical content. This list is deeply personal and autobiographical. Writing has helped me to overstand myself and through writing I can more easily understand the world around me. I think, therefore I am and I am, therefore I write. That being said I first felt the need to do this post back in February after having a discussion regarding the “Dilla Changed My Life” t shirts. I wrote my Dilla piece for Bloggerhouse not too long afterwards but I knew that I wanted to follow it up with a list of songs that literally changed my life.
After noticing that I never finished my 100 songs for our 300 Slept On Tracks From The Past Decade post I decided to drop my last 20 songs of that list and get started exploring my memory for the 100 Hip Hop songs that shaped my life. There will be many songs that were recognized as great and groundbreaking that won’t be on this list. There will be some songs that make you go “Really, Dart?” on this list. Please keep in my that it’s my list. From my own personal life and experiences. Try and write your own, you’ll learn quite a bit about yourself provided you’re honest. You can’t hide from yourself, after all. In any event, here goes:
1. Sugarhill Gang “Rapper’s Delight” 
The first Rap song I actually ever heard on record was The Fatback Band’s “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” I remember being shocked they were rapping on the radio. This song took on a life of it’s own and alerted the world that Rap existed. I also remember people being pissed off because they thought this song would destroy Rap & Hip Hop. Yeah, people were declaring Hip Hop dead as soon as it was introduced on record. Hilarious.
2. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five “Superappin’” 
I remember thinking the The Furious Five sure were better than the Sugar Hill Gang at rapping. I remember hearing this record upstairs at my cousins’ apartment. I had two cousins named James and Derek, both were DJ’s and music fanatics. I used to go upstairs and hang around while they played records & hung out with my brother and sister. They were all between 6 to 10 years older than me and I hung around them all the time. I got “aged up” through these interactions & learned a lot about music.
3. The Younger Generation [The Furious Five] “We Rap More Mellow” 
This record stood out because on the label it said “The Younger Generation” but when they rapped they were clearly The Furious Five. They made NO attempt to hide it. They started out by saying their names! I used to love this song but it also introduced a young Dart to the concept of trying to get paid on the side. Something a 4 year old couldn’t possibly wrap his tiny brain around. There were quite a few records around in 1979 but the Furious Five were great. Head & shoulders above the rest. Especially Melle Mel.
4. The Funky Four Plus One More “Rappin’ And Rocking The House” 
I LOVED The Funky Four Plus One More, my favorites were Sha Rock & Double Trouble (Lil’ Rodney C & KK Rockwell) but my big brother thought KK Rockwell was the man. When I heard this song I remember wanting to hear it again immediately. I couldn’t recite the rhymes as a kid past 30 seconds at a time and it used to frustrate me. My big sister Roni used to say “That song is 9 minutes long! You’re not gonna be able to remember the whole thing”. Speak of the devil.
5. Jimmy Spicer “Adventures Of Super Rhymes (Rap)” 
I remember the day James, Derek, David & Roni (my big brother & sister) all went to Skippy White’s down the street and bought a copy of Jimmy Spicer’s 12″ on Dazz. I got home and was mad they didn’t take me with them. I was in Kindergarten 2 at the time, mind you! They played this record for months on end and it frustrated me to not be able to rap along for a stretch of no longer then 30 seconds before I messed up. This used to amuse the HELL outta the older kids watching a 4/5 year old get mad because he can’t keep up with a song that’s 15 minutes long.
6. Kurtis Blow “The Breaks” 
For some odd reason, I could remember more than 30 seconds of “The Breaks” at a time. Plus, I loved the music. Unlike may of the records I heard at the time they mostly were played on turntables or were recorded to tapes that I heard playing outside, “The Breaks” got a lot of spin on the radio so it was easier to learn for me it seemed. I didn’t have to wait for someone to play it. You were going to hear it regardless. You were not going to escape “The Breaks”. Old folks loved “The Breaks” because of the the funky band backing him. Back then, I had no clue that some dude named Russell Simmons was managing both Jimmy Spicer and Kurtis Blow. No clue.
7. Spoonie Gee & The Treacherous Three “The New Rap Language” 
This record warped my fragile little mind. These dudes were rapping their asses off on this record and I would just stare at the record as it spun around and around with my mouth open. It was as if I had just seen Jayne Kennedy naked. Or heard James Brown singing over a Polka record. Emceeing on record was never the same after Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee & Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers spit verses. Sadly enough, my favorite Cold Crush recordings were on tape and not on record.
8. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five “Freedom” 
This record got played on the radio, in boxes on the street from South End to Roxbury to Jamaica Plain and in homes all over. I used to try to rap along to this record, too. Being that I was all of 5 years old at the time is really crazy. I used to get excited when I saw that Sugar Hill logo on a record. Grandmaster Melle Mel & the gang would eventually make me wanna rap myself but that is another story.
9. The Sequence “Funk You Up” 
The Sequence used to sing and harmonize in addition to rhyming, that wasn’t really new because the Crash Crew could harmonize as well. The thing with The Sequence was they could sing really well. As in our parent would let us play The Sequence records while they were around. See, in order for me to hear these records when I was young I often had to wait until the adults were either at work or out. Then I’d wait for my sister & brother in our apartment or James & Derek upstairs to play records. “Funk You Up” could have been played while the grown ups were around. That was a rareity back then. Also, I wasn’t allowed to handle records yet. I was 5.
10. The Treacherous Three “The Body Rock” 
Holy shit, The Treacherous Three were incredible. There were SO many records that dropped between 1979 and 1980 but those Treacherous Three records just stuck with me. The delivery, the speed of the rhymes, the bars, the cadences and those routines just really captured my imagination at a young age. I used to stand real close to the record player or radio when the tape was played. My brother would get mad and yell “Stop acting like you can see ‘em! It’s a damn record!”. Crazy, right?
11. Funky Four Plus One More “That’s The Joint” 
Sheeeeeeeeit! © Clay Davis. The first time in my life I could recite a considerable amount of a rap was when I was in the 1st grade and “That’s The Joint” came on the radio. Between 1979 and 1980 I remember folks going to the record store (Skippy White’s, Strawberries or Record Town usually) to buy a new Rap record then we heard it on the radio or at the same time. I heard this on the radio first, then James went and bought it. I loved this song to death. Sha Rock was the best thing since “Uncanny X-Men” to me. Memories…
12. Afrika Bambaataa & The Jazzy 5 “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” 
I’m going to give you all a different insight into Hip Hop from a Bostonian perspective. One of the seminal songs associated with New York’s burgeoning Hip Hop club scene is “Jazzy Sensation”. It was produced by a Bostonian DJ/producer named Arthur Baker who’d just moved from Boston to New York. Tom Silverman was actually credited as producer at one point which is something we’ll address later on (Later it was switched to “executive producer”). All I remember were people bugging out because Arthur Baker was making Hip Hop records in New York and he was going to put his people in Boston on. We’re about to be on the Rap map!. Yeah…about that.
13. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five “The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” 
Keep in mind that this was a record that had Grandmaster Flash scratching OTHER records on it. This record itself didn’t get spun back or scratched in any way, shape or form whatsoever. You just played it and listened to it. they even played it on the radio. That had never happened before. I remember wondering what those records he used were and James & Derek trying to figure out some of his scratches. Their father Malcolm almost whupped their asses thanks to Grandmaster Flash, too…
14. Jonzun Crew “Pak Man/Pack Jam (Look Out For The OVC)” 
More Boston shit. The song the world now knows as “Pack Jam” was originally titled “Pak Man” after the popular video game and dropped on Boston International Records. I first heard this song on local radio (W-W-R-R-B-B-BOSTON! BOSTON!) as a youngster and cats used to play it to death here. We used to B-Boy to it (shout out to Lino Delgado & The Floorlords) all over the South End & Roxbury. Arthur Baker was instrumental in bringing the Boston crew to Tom Silverman’s attention and they ended up joining Arthur Baker on Tommy Boy.
He changed the name to “Pack Jam” to avoid getting sued by Bally Midway and ended up a producer on the credits. Boston was making noise. Poppers & lockers in Los Angeles didn’t even know that song was from Boston when they helped it blow up nationally. How crazy is that? Both Jonzun Crew & Arthur Baker would deliver several early hits for Tommy Boy and no one had a clue they were all from Boston. Except for US, that is…
15. Fearless 4 “Rockin’ It” 
Fearless 4′s “Rockin’ It” was a song that when it came on all the little kids lost their damn minds. For some odd reason, every time I hear it even to this very day it transports me back to 1982 when it seemed everything was really taking off. I could recite the hell outta raps by then. I was in the 2nd grade and I was the only kid in class that knew all the new records. It also helped that I spent most of my time around teenagers. The Fearless 4 were also the proteges of The Treacherous Three so it would make sense that I liked them so much. I was turning into a little B-Boy back then. Shout out to the Blackstone Elementary School.
16. Planet Patrol “Play At Your Own Risk” 
Planet Patrol was Arthur Baker & John Robie behind the boards and it turned out to be yet another hit for Tommy Boy Records. Back then I used to associate Electro with Boston due to the fact Arthur Baker & Jonzun Crew used to make Electro there and it consistently hit big, got adopted by New York & Los Angeles before it hit worldwide. When I heard “Play At Your Own Risk” on the radio I immediately identified it as a “Boston record” in my 7 year old mind even though I’m sure few others did the same.
17. Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force “Planet Rock” 
Here’s the thing. Much with Planet Patrol’s “Play At Your Own Risk”, it was essentially Arthur Baker behind the boards and Robie doing the bulk of instrumentation. “Planet Rock” was huge in Hip Hop circles although it wasn’t reflected in how the record charted. Not at all. Overseas, however? “Planet Rock” blew up! I remember hearing “Planet Rock” on the radio thinking everyone knew it’s origins like I did. They associated it with New York only, though. I vividly remember going off to this record and battling kids at the playground.
18. Jonzun Crew “Space Cowboy” 
Yep. In 1983, Jonzun Crew followed up with a song that eclipsed “Pack Jam”, “Play At Your Own Risk” and it even did better than “Planet Rock” stateside. “Space Cowboy” hit big in Boston first. When I heard it, it sounded like a “Boston record” (Electro) that I’d grown accustomed to hearing beginning in 1981 from Arthur Baker, Michael Jonzun & Maurice Starr. The Jonzun’s had Boston International Records and Arthur Baker also owned Streetwise Records in New York at the time and they were putting out a great deal of classic records that no one attributes to my city. Do the knowledge.
In any event, “Space Cowboy” was a big hit. Of course, George Clinton came along with “Atomic Dog” and everyone just forgot about “Space Cowboy” stateside. I remember seeing it all happen firsthand. Not too long afterwards, Maurice Starr & Arthur Baker would throw a talent show in Boston where a group called New Edition (which featured some of Jonzun Crew’s former background dancers) would win and they’d make an album. But that is another story…
19. Run DMC “It’s Like That” 
Most early Rap records were done by a band or they emulated rocking a party all night long so the songs were often in excess of 10 minutes. Run DMC songs were the beat and the rhymes. Then it ended. There was nothing for your parents to like about it. No funky band, no slick harmonies, no catchy hooks. This was straight up Rap for that ass. There’s a DJ and some emcees, that’s all. It’s like that and that’s the way it is. The Rap world would never be the damn same. I remember seeing The Pointer Sisters perform this song on “The Jeffersons”. My mind was blown. Plus they wore Adidas? I knew they were from Queens but they might as well have been from Boston!
20. Run DMC “Sucker MC’s” 
When I was in 3rd grade in music class our teacher asked all of the kids in class to sing their favorite songs and when they started she’d play along to show that she knew the song they were singing from the radio. She’d gotten about 12 right in a row & we were all excited about music and whatnot. She called up a young Dart Adams to the front of the class and told me to sing my favorite song. She’d join right in via piano accompaniment. Or so she thought. I began “Two years ago a friend of mine asked me to say some emcee rhymes…”. The kids in my class were dumbstruck but I just kept going all the way to “I cold chill at a party in a B-boy stance” before I turned to my teacher and asked “Where’s the piano?”. She looked at me smiling and said “I’m not familiar with that song. Who sings it?” All the kids in the class responded with “RUN DMC!”.
Word spread around school that I’d done that and it was the talk of the bus. When my brother picked me up from the bus stop our neighbor Maple said “Dave, you heard Stevie (Yeah, my government name) did “Sucker MC’s” in music class today?”. My brother looked at me like “Why?” so I said “She said to sing your favorite song. That’s my favorite song!” They started laughing and I had no clue what was funny. I didn’t really get it until about 1984 when Rap & Hip Hop had finally gone mainstream and global.
NEXT UP: 100 Hip Hop Jawns That Changed My Life (Compiled by Dart Adams) Part Two (21-40)