Album: Firing Squad

You can argue about the greatest DJ Premier beats of all time (perhaps unsurprisingly, we have), but if you want to talk about the greatest peak-era Premo pairing with a rapper or rappers, then I'm nominating "Downtown Swinga '96" (granted that's a somewhat limiting set of guidelines, but let me live). Start with the stutter-step drum intro: it actually sounds like the gunplay Billy Danze and Lil' Fame describe in many of their rhymes, a bit of aural onomatopoeia that's both funky and chilingly suggestive. Then there's that gutbucket clavinet line. Yeah, the sample's off an album called The Chicago Theme, and yeah, it's underpinning the raps of a couple dudes from Brownsville, Brooklyn, but that's all Houston—its author, Hubert Laws, is, like Premier, from Texas' largest city. That Danzinie and Fame didn't technically make any hits with Premier is entirely beside the point: hardcore raps were undoubtedly reintroduced to the atmosphere thanks to this pairing, in a song that hits (and slaps and smacks and kicks and punches in the temple, sternum, and groin) in every sense of the word. —Jack Erwin