There are so many niche styles of Hip-Hop these days, being a DJ is a difficult gig. Not only is there a never-ending flood of new artists coming out, their material is nearly impossible to keep up with. So, how do DJs stay relevant in front of each crowd? Well, aside from simply anticipating the setting ahead of time and downloading accordingly, they should keep a trusted set of old reliables to pick up steam whenever needed.
To help cure any lulls, we compiled 20 songs that DJs should never leave home without. We’ve been to hundreds of shows and parties over the years and can attest that these versatile favorites will work in any rap-friendly crowd or setting.
Eazy-E - “Boyz In Tha Hood”
Considering this lowrider-friendly classic from 1988's Eazy-Duz-It album was basically the tipping point to gangsta rap going mainstream, there’s no surprise everyone and their grandmother can recite Eazy’s reality-driven lyrics - which is exactly why it’s a no-brainer at most functions.
Jay-Z Feat. UGK - “Big Pimpin”
Shoulder to shoulder, club setting? Perfect. House party with friends? Ideal. No matter where you are or who you’re with, this timeless fusion of New York and southern rap from Jay’s Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter always sprinkles any mood with just the right amount of seasoning.
Three 6 Mafia Feat. Young Buck, Eightball & MJG - “Stay Fly”
As the originators of half the styles currently flooding your FM airwaves, Triple Six Mafia had to make the list, right? Well, if it weren’t for this relatively late addition to their lengthy catalogue, Three 6’s underground status might have stayed in tact. The potent smoker’s anthem wound up being the biggest single of the Memphis group’s storied career and still hits just as heavy ten years after being released.
Kanye West - “Can't Tell Me Nothing”
The quintessential song, from one of the most revered artists of our generation justifies every egocentric view Kanye has spewed over the years. Essentially, this notable quotable killer is the crux of many folks’ “I can’t stand him as a person, but I love his music” assessment.
This stimulating Graduation single is the fuel to keep pushing and any DJ set it doesn’t fit in probably isn’t worth listening to.
Notorious BIG - “Hypnotize”
As big and boisterous as the lead single to Life After Death is for fans, this Biggie Smalls classic has to be one of the most rewarding for DJs to spin as well.
Since the single bar loop of Herb Alpert’s sample on the intro comes and goes so quickly, there are roughly two seconds between starting the song and watching the whole crowd go bonkers, when the beat drops and Biggie starts kicking sicker than average rhymes. Instant gratification, all around.
Too $hort - “Blow The Whistle”
Why they wanna’ say it like $hort? Well, duh. Yelling catchphrases from the ultimate Oakland player never gets old and this Lil Jon-produced smash is laced with plenty of them.
M.O.P. - “Ante Up”
This jack move anthem from the Brownsville duo is the definition of energy. Whether they know so or not, any DJ can blare these powerhouse horns and watch this elbow-flailing smash immediately turn any outing with backs on the wall into a mosh pit.
Black Sheep - “Choice Is Yours”
Most DJs go one of two ways, old school sets or new school sets. But, the good DJs blend the two niches together, by playing songs like this unquestionable classic from Black Sheep. Between the lingering hook and timeless bounce, there aren’t many crowds who won’t nod along to this A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing cut, making it the perfect transitional track for any set.
Nas - “Made You Look”
DJs know they’ve always got a murder weapon locked and loaded, if Nas’ lead single from God’s Son is on the deck. From the second that pistol pulls back and spits at jump, there isn’t a person in existence who can withstand the heat of this Salaam Remi-produced fire starter.
Ol Dirty Bastard - “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”
First of all, everyone loves Wu-Tang. That being said, this Dirt McGirt single is probably the most versatile song to come from the group. Between Ol Dirty’s endearing audible recklessness and RZA’s hectic piano loops, this Return to the 36 Chambers single is rough enough to please a backpacker crowd, but loose enough for everyone else to sing along with.
Mobb Deep - “Shook Ones Pt II”
Nearly a decade after debuting, this dedication to the killers and hundred dollar billers became one of the most universally accepted hip-hop songs of the 90s. Underground crowds might blame B Rabbit for the mass exposure, but they’ll never turn their back on this gutter anthem. As a result, DJs will never stop spinning it.
The Clipse - “Grindin”
Despite all the smash hits Pharrell has had since dropping his breakthrough single with Malice & Pusha T, this mechanical smash from Lord Willin will still get hip-hop crowds more riled up than any of Skateboard P’s new new.
Lil Wayne - “Go DJ”
As a viable, club-ready hit with wordplay from another world, this breakthrough solo single from The Carter is still the one song from Weezy’s extensive catalogue everyone can agree on.
Dr. Dre Feat. Snoop Dogg - “Nothin But a G Thang”
Even after thousands of spins, this West Coast classic from the LBC to Compton connection never seems to get old, no matter how many times The Chronic spiff is thrown into the mix.
Pete Rock & CL Smooth - “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”
When Pete Rock and CL Smooth lost their close homie Troy Dixon, they could have made a somber tribute song. Instead, Mecca and the Soul Brother turned turmoil to triumph with this jamming, horn-heavy single and crowds have been rocking out to intellectual, caring hip-hop ever since. Always a classy choice.
Jay-Z - “Public Service Announcement”
Since this Just Blaze-produced banger was never officially released as a single, this is another Jigga single that is beloved by both the underground heads and the mainstream crowd, making the knocking Black Album single a must for every Serato.
2Pac - “Ambitionz Az A Ridah”
Let’s not kid ourselves, there are 20 Tupac songs that could’ve made this list. Every DJ needs a Pac playlist, ready to go. But, if there was one track from Afeni’s son that never got played out and still goes hard in the paint, it’s this fierce lead from All Eyez On Me.
Drake - “Started From The Bottom”
No lie. No lie. Drake had to be on here. Anyone who thinks different, knows deep inside this Nothing Was The Same single knocks way harder than they want to admit. If the crowd doesn’t dive in immediately, they’ll come around by the hook.
Notorious B.I.G. Feat. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony - “Notorious Thugs”
Bone & Biggie’s vicious collaboration from Life After Death is another one of those rare songs that was never released as a single, yet continues to make rounds on radio and at clubs, due to high demand. One hundred percent of rap fans have run back Big’s verse thousands of times and they all love to rap along, every single spin.
Bizzy’s verse? We’re still working on that one.
UGK Feat. OutKast - “International Players Anthem”
Of course this Southern rap staple is a must in every DJ’s deck. Everyone wants to be a player and Andre, Big, Pimp and Bun took their game to the next level on this choice classic. A must at any function.