Hip-Hop's Catchiest Choruses Since 2000

Good luck getting these out of your head.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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The-Dream, and later Jay-Z, told you they don’t need no hook on their shit.

Murphy Lee and Jermaine Dupri asked each other what the hook gon’ be until that very question became a hook.

As much as some rappers hate to admit it, the search for the perfect chorus to go between every 16 bars is as much a delicate craft as penning the verses. Now and then you can get away without a chorus and make a hit (it helps if you’re Wu-Tang). But generally, you better be ready to sing or shout or sample something catchy as hell, or hire someone who can, to get your joint into heavy rotation.

In the 21st century, as hip-hop has become more collaborative, “hire someone” is the most popular route, as MCs began outsourcing the task of writing and performing hooks to producers like Pharrell and Swizz Beatz, hip-hop-ready singers like T-Pain and Nate Dogg, or even fellow rappers like Future and Lil Wayne. And then there are those moments when inspiration strikes and someone you’d never expect comes up with the anthem you end up shouting all summer. You might love some of them, you might hate some of them, but pretty much all of them are bound to be stuck in your head for the rest of your life: Hip-Hop’s Catchiest Choruses Since 2000.

Written by Al Shipley (@alshipley)

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50. Mims "This Is Why I'm Hot" (2007)

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Album: Music Is My Savior
Producer: Blackout Movement
Label: American King Music/Capitol Records

"This Is Why I'm Hot" is a classic case of a chorus so insanely catchy that almost everything else about the song, even the inventive sample collage of regional rap classics Mims weaves throughout the song's first verse, takes a distant backseat to the hook. When the Mims track blew up the airwaves in early 2007, his label, Capitol Records, took its sweet time putting the song for sale on iTunes. And it was either coincidence or business savvy that led to Jae Millz having the only version of "This Is Why I'm Hot" on the digital retailer for a few days, in which time the mixtape freestyle rocketed to #3 on the iTunes sales chart. Soon enough, it was pulled and the Mims version was released, but for that moment, it was clear that all people really cared about was getting that hook on their iPods.

49. J-Kwon "Tipsy" (2004)

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Album: Hood Hop
Producer: Trackboyz
Label: So So Def/Arista

For about half a decade, St. Louis was the unlikely party rap capital of the world, and they owe it all to the double R—not Ruff Ryders, mind you, but the spelling quirk associate with those slurring Missouri accents. First was Nelly's "Hot In Herre," then Chingy's 'Right Thurr," and then "errybody," as in "errybody in this bitch gettin' tipsy." It's a testament to how catchy that simple mantra was that J-Kwon reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 with an ode to public drunkenness at the age of 16. All he had to do to keep controversy at bay was insincerely proclaim "Teen drinking is very bad" at the top of the song – which he immediately negated with a flippant "Yo, I got a fake I.D. though!"

48. Trick Daddy "I'm A Thug" (2001)

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Album: Thugs Are Us
Producer: Righteous Funk Boogie
Label: Slip-N-Slide Records

Ever since Jay-Z plundered the Annie soundtrack for multi-platinum glory, the pop appeal and subversive underbelly of a chorus of little kids singing the hook of a big, booming rap song has been irresistible to countless rappers. And that's true of perhaps nobody more than Trick Daddy, who included singing tykes to great effect throughout his career, on "Amerika," "I Wanna Sang," and of course, "The Children's Song." But the main reason we know Trick love the kids is "I'm A Thug," his 2001 crossover smash, in which a crowd of elementary schoolers proudly declares "All day every day, baby 'cause I'm a thug/Wouldn't change for the world."

47. YoungBloodz "Damn!" (2003)

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Album: Drankin' Patnaz
Producer: Jazze Pha, Lil Jon
Label: So So Def/Arista

2003 was a pivotal year for Lil Jon, the moment where he transitioned from a regional star to the voice that killed clubs all over the world. And in that moment, before Usher-caliber superstars came calling, he still belonged to Atlanta rap, and So So Def also-rans The YoungBloodZ had the good fortune to have the first big Lil Jon track after "Get Low" broke. With a video that showed the rest of the country how to do the A-Town Stomp, and a hook that sounded tough even when censored to "don't start no stuff, won't be no stuff," Sean Paul and J-Bo owned at least half the summer with "Damn!" before sending their producer off to rule the world without them.

46. T.I. "Bring Em Out" (2004)

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Album: Urban Legend
Producer: Swizz Beats
Label: Grand Hustle/Atlantic

"Just the sound of his voice is a hit," Jay-Z bragged in 2003, and it would soon prove truer than he'd ever realized. During his temporary mid-decade 'retirement,' getting Hov to guest on a track was even harder than usual, and Swizz Beatz spearheaded a trend of sampling Jay's voice for the hook in lieu of getting an exclusive cameo. Swizzy said it was the commercial release of The Black Album a cappelas that inspired the samples—which is odd when you consider the fact that he was also a DJ who knew all about 12" a cappella mixes, as well as the fact that he actually knows Jay-Z and could have just asked for the stems.

45. Ace Hood f/ Future & Rick Ross "Bugatti" (2013)

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Album: Trials & Tribulations
Producer: Mike WiLL Made It
Label: We the Best Music Group/Cash Money/Universal Republic

Perennial Southern rap underdog Ace Hood may have an early candidate for the biggest banger of 2013, but it belongs to him in name only—the 8 bars of pure unadulterated Nayvadius Cash that happen between Ace and Rick Ross's verses are the reason "Bugatti" is an anthem. Following the slithering first half of the chorus, Future erupts into a hoarse refrain of "I woke up in a new Bugatti"—a Kafkaesque fever dream in which he sounds just as likely confused and horrified as excited to open his eyes in an unfamiliar foreign whip. Is he sleeping in the driver's seat on a stakeout with his Haitian crew? Is he so paranoid about the haters he's collected since he got rich that he can't stand to leave his prized possession in the driveway unattended? The world may never know.

44. Missy Elliott "Work It" (2002)

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Album: Under Construction
Producer: Timberland, Missy Elliot (Co-producer)
Label: Goldmind/Elektra

Missy Elliott and Timbaland already had a rep as mainstream rap's foremost eccentrics and innovators by 2002, but having a substantial chunk of your chorus backmasked into incomprehensible alphabet soup was a bold move even by their standards. Thankfully, everybody got the joke, that the backwards section was actually a rewind of the previous line—"put my thang down, flip it and reverse it"—and the song became another weird, ballsy pop smash for the Virginia duo. Well, almost everybody; there are still some lost souls out there furiously googling to figure out what "fremme neppa venette" means. And they were really in trouble when the follow-up single, "Gossip Folks," arrived.

43. Jay-Z f/ Pharrell "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It To Me)" (2000)

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Album: The Dynasty: Roc La Familia
Producer: The Neptunes
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

By now, it feels like an entire generation has been up all night to get lucky now and then to the sound of Pharrell Williams's endearingly cracked falsetto. But there was a time, around the turn of the century, when the more public half of the Neptunes hitmaking braintrust just threw his amateur Curtis Mayfield routine onto tracks as a scratch vocal, to be replaced by a more technically proficient hook singer. That is, until clients like Mystikal and Jay-Z started leaving his voice on the track with platinum results. Jigga has rarely sounded like he's having more fun in the booth than on "I Just Wanna Love U," darting in and out of Pharrell's melodic delivery. But then there's a third, less familiar voice cutting through the middle of the hook—as it turns out, Omillio Sparks, a State Property second-stringer who barely has a handful of verses in the Roc-A-Fella discography, but ended up hollering a memorable Rick James interpolation about "That funk, that sweet, that nasty, that gushy stuff" on one of Hov's biggest hits.

42. Young Jeezy f/ Akon "Soul Survivor" (2005)

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Album: Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101
Producer: Akon
Label: Corporate Thugz/Island Def Jam

In the mid-2000s rap, the Ja Rule-era mentality still prevailed that a single featuring a hook from a singer was usually a soft batch love song, and that melody had no place in a serious street rap banger. Akon, then not yet a crossover pop star and known primarily for the unrelentingly grim "Locked Up," began his run of hit rap collaborations with the similarly bleak "Soul Survivor," giving Young Jeezy some gravitas at a time when he tended to make being a dope boy sound like the most fun profession in the world. Not satisfied with just a hook, Akon also provides the track with a memorable intro ("AKON AND YOUNG JEEEEEEZAY") and perhaps the strongest middle 8 of any song on this list.

41. T.I. "Rubber Band Man" (2003)

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Album: Trap Muzik
Producer: David Banner
Label: Grand Hustle/Atlantic

"Rubber Band Man" was already T.I.'s de facto theme song by the time it was released as the third single from Trap Muzik in late 2003, capping off a tumultuous year in which Tip beefed with Lil' Flip and did a stint in jail while his breakthrough album was racking up plaques. "Call me 'trouble man'/Always in trouble, man" continued to resonate throughout his later legal ordeals, even inspiring the title of his latest studio LP. It may be a little quaint now to think about a time when Clifford Harris would brag about being only "worth a couple hundred grand," but nobody can knock him for still performing that perfect hook on tour while he earns more than that every night.

40. Terror Squad "Lean Back" (2004)

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Album: True Story
Producer: Scott Storch
Label: Universal Records

In recent years, Fat Joe has become one of rap's biggest charity cases, a guy who shamelessly hops from one collaborator to another in search of the sound of the moment that will keep him on the radio. Whether it was R. Kelly, or Ashanti, or Nelly, or Lil' Wayne, or Chris Brown that was hot at the moment, he got them on the hook and kept his spins up. There was, however, one shining moment in which Fat Joe's barking delivery and unapologetic Bronx attitude made for a classic radio hook with no added starpower required. It was a perfect song for doing that half-assed lean to, but it also worked if you actually felt like dancing.

39. Rick Ross f/ Styles P "BMF" (2010)

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Album: Teflon Don
Producer: Lex Luger
Label: Maybach/Slip-n-Slide/Def Jam

In an era where any hit song can spin off dozens, if not hundreds of remixes and parodies, having a chorus that's easily adaptable to word substitutions can have a huge impact on a track's viral potential. In that sense, "B.M.F." is like the "Call Me Maybe" of rap: as soon as you've heard "I think I'm Big Meech, Larry Hoover," your mind has already started wandering to increasingly goofy variations like "I think I'm big Screech, Lisa Turtle." Even if the track hadn't been the mainstream breakthrough for Lex Luger's highly influential production style, we would've gotten a mountain of freestyles over that beat just for the endless comedy potential of the hook.

38. Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz f/ The Ying Yang Twins "Get Low" (2003)

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Album: Kings of Crunk
Producer: Lil Jon
Label: TVT

When "Get Low" first started to erupt out of Southern strip clubs and into pop culture, radio stations and video channels only partly understood how filthy the hook infiltrating their broadcasts was. "Till the sweat runs down my balls"—sure, that's a no-brainer, gotta censor that. But for many, including Dave Chappelle on a memorable Chappelle's Show segment, the phrase that was left in was surprising: "You can't say 'skeet' on the radio...You know what's so dope about 'skeet'? White people don't know what it means yet! When they figure it out, they're gonna be like 'My God, what have we done?'" By the time the mainstream had a clue, the original clean edit of the song had already been permanently grandfathered onto the airwaves...the edit that actually adds more "skeet" to cover up all the "motherfucker"'s and "goddamn"s.

37. Playaz Circle f/ Lil Wayne "Duffle Bag Boy" (2007)

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36. Ca$h Out "Cashin' Out" (2012)

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Album: It's My Time
Producer: DJ Spinz
Label: Epic

Ca$h Out may be synonymous with "Cashin' Out" for the rest of his career, and not just because it's basically named after him. But whether or not he remains a one hit wonder, the song remains one of the most inescapable hits of the past couple years. And perhaps the greatest measure of the impact of his ubiquitous chorus is a very 2012 type of yardstick: a celebrity tweet. After Rihanna quoted the hook's signature line ("Ridin' with a ho named Kesha, smokin' on Kisha"), Ca$h Out was compelled to brag about it on the track's official remix, as if he was prouder of that social media moment than any platinum plaque.

35. Dem Franchize Boys "Oh I Think They Like Me" (2006)

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Album: Dem Franchize Boys
Producer: Jamall Willingham, Maurice Gleaton
Label: So So Def

"Oh I think they liked me when they heard me on the other one/So it's only right that I hit 'em with another one." It's a pretty cheerful rallying cry for a group that just enjoyed a breakthrough hit, and are trying to score another to avoid one hit wonder status. But instead of merely enjoying the afterglow of "White Tee," Dem Franchize Boyz eclipsed it entirely with the follow-up, particularly in the form of its ubiquitous So So Def remix. Soon, they didn't have to guess: to paraphrase Sally Field, we liked them, we really really liked them.

34. Fat Joe f/ R. Kelly "We Thuggin'" (2001)

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Album: Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.)
Producer: Ron G, R. Kelly
Label: Atlantic, Murder Inc.

We don't need to tell you that R. Kelly is a genius, whose hooks are often little symphonies of clubbing majesty. But we might need to remind you that "We Thuggin'" is one of the jewels of his catalog, every bit the masterpiece "Ignition (Remix)" is. From those ascending "ooh-ooh-ooh" backing harmonies, to the relentless cadence that reaches its apex with the high notes of "I got four hun-nies in the drop," it's the banger that keeps on giving. And when the hook is done, he keeps coming back with more chants, like "Fat Joe, R. Kelly, we proper" and "Some of these kids is doing they own thing/But none of these kids stack chips like us."

33. DMX "Party Up" (2000)

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Album: ...And Then There Was X
Producer: Swizz Beatz
Label: Ruff Ryders/Def Jam

The title "Party Up" is almost an afterthought, and you wonder if someone slapped it on the song after DMX left the studio. DMX, after all, is not much of a party animal, and given how much of his music focuses on his own intense emotions and internal struggles, one is tempted to take the refrain "Y'all gon' make me lose my mind" literally. Either way, though, "Party Up" was a banger, an occasion to lose your cool and act the fool, and it still conjures memories of friends blasting it in the high school parking lot the week And Then There Was X dropped, before the song was even a single.

32. D4L "Laffy Taffy" (2005)

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Album: Down for Life
Producer: Cory Way, Broderick Thompson Smith, Richard Sims
Label: WEA

If anyone had the potential to log multiple entries on this list but instead didn't manage to keep the hits coming, it's Fabo. The breakout star of D4L, at least until Shawty Lo went solo a couple years later, Fabo had an outrageous ear for hooks, and pretty much singlehandedly holds down every part of "Laffy Taffy" that made it a hit. Unfortunately, Fabo's run didn't go much further than that, and D4L have gone down as one hit wonders, when they had the potential to do more. Sure, it's a silly song, and perhaps deserves to serve as the dictionary definition of ringtone rap, but you could do much worse as a signature song for that subgenre.

31. Foxx f/ Webbie & Lil Boosie "Wipe Me Down (Remix)" (2007)

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Album: Trill Entertainment Presents: Survival of the Fittest
Producer: Mouse On Tha Track
Label: Trill Entertainment/Asylum Records/Atlantic Records

Lil Boosie is, by some distance, the most popular and significant southern rapper of the past decade who never really had a major solo hit, whose official albums and singles trailed the popularity of his mixtapes and regional anthems. There are plenty of theories and explanations for that, including the legal troubles that have plagued his career and are unlikely to stop anytime soon (free Boosie!), but one factor is that radio-ready hooks were not where his greatest talents lie. So his best known tracks were often the ones were someone else already had a killer hook laid down, such as the hit remix to Trill Ent. labelmate Foxx's "Wipe Me Down," with its unforgettable "shoulders, chest, pants, shoes" refrain.

30. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall "Still Tippin'" (2004)

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Album: Who is Mike Jones?
Producer: Salih Williams
Label: Asylum/Swishahouse/Warner Bros

Screwed and chopped Houston rap had been bubbling on the periphery of the mainstream for years before "Still Tippin'." But the track simply exploded in 2005, setting up all three MCs on the track to release major label debuts and collect gold and platinum plaques that year. And while it was probably the first time you heard a slowed down hook in heavy daytime rotation on your local rap station, it definitely wasn't the last. The "Still Tippin'" hook, chopped up from a freestyle tape in the great Houston tradition, features Slim Thug, originally going over a Whodini beat, cramming as many meanings of the word "four" as possible into a couple bars.

29. Fabolous f/ Nate Dogg "Can't Deny It" (2001)

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Album: Ghetto Fabolous
Producer: Rick Rock
Label: Elektra

Throughout his career, Fabolous has represented Brooklyn to the fullest, following in Jay and Biggie's footsteps. So it's easy to forget that his first solo hit was straight West coastin', with Nate Dogg interpolating a 2Pac hook over a beat by future Hyphy architect Rick Rock. In fact, it was a pretty gangsta track to introduce a platinum rapper to the world with, but that kind of friendly, clean cut gangsta rap that Fab soon proved himself so adept at. The late great Nate rarely sounded better than when he was putting that little melodic twist on "Ambitionz Az A Ridah." He also rarely sounded more ridiculous than he did on the bridge's couplet: "I'mma knock him so hard, on his butt/Just like he been drinkin', like he drunk."

28. Fat Joe f/ Lil Wayne "Make It Rain" (2006)

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Album: Me, Myself & I
Producer: Scott Storch
Label: Terror Squad/Imperial

Contrary to what he might tell you, Lil Wayne didn't coin "bling bling," and he sure didn't invent "making it rain," but he sure has a knack for grabbing onto the zeitgeist and writing the indelible hook that will end up forever associated with such slang terms. Weezy eventually threw a verse on the all-star remix, but on the original "Make It Rain" he just held down the hook, which was so huge that it was all he needed to do. Maybe Fat Joe is just desperate for any chorus that'll keep him on the radio, or maybe he's just the brilliant A&R who taught DJ Khaled everything he knows about picking out the raw materials for a hit.

27. T.I. "What You Know" (2006)

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Album: King
Producer: DJ Toomp
Label: Grand Hustle/Atlantic

"What You Know" is T.I. at his most stern and authoritative, a king ruling all that he surveys, and that probably shouldn't be much fun, but it is. The slow, striding DJ Toomp track is a more bombastic kind of crawl than the Houston beats in vogue at the time, and created a whole new template for Southern anthems that has yet to be improved upon. The chorus is full of throwaway lines that could've been hooks to hits on their own, from "When I chirp, shawty, chirp back" to the "Loaded .44 on the low, where the cheese at?"

26. Wiz Khalifa "Black & Yellow" (2010)

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Album: Rolling Papers
Producer: Stargate
Label: Rostrum/Atlantic

With a couple years' hindsight, "Black and Yellow" certainly seems like the starting point of the new Wiz, the pop star who left many of his mixtape fans with mixed feelings. But when the song first dropped, all that mattered was that he did a song with Norwegian dance pop hitmakers Stargate, and in spite of everything it sounded hard as hell. Wiz Khalifa's hometown anthem was the right song at the right time, topping the Hot 100 just as the Steelers headed to the Super Bowl, and that massive hook was so powerful that it's still a little surprising that it didn't singlehandedly enable them to win the game.

25. Ludacris f/ Shawnna "What's Your Fantasy?" (2000)

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Album: Back for the First Time
Producer: Bangladesh
Label: Disturbing tha Peace/Def Jam

When Ludacris and Shawnna go back and forth on the "What's Your Fantasy?" hook, they literally just take turns reciting the same refrain, first him and then her, with no call-and-response interaction or even gender pronouns to reverse (although hey, this way everybody gets licked from their head to their toes). And it works wonderfully, because they both have different, equally fantastic ways of ripping into the track's unique cadence, which leaves empty space between some words while aggressively stuttering others: "And I wanna...move...from the bed/Down-to-the down-to-the-to-the floor." No wonder Luda drafted Shawnna for a similarly structured hook on 2003's "Stand Up."

24. Three 6 Mafia "Sippin' on Some Syrup" (2000)

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Album: When the Smoke Clears:Sixty 6,Sixty 1
Producer: DJ Paul, Juicy J
Label: Loud

Pretty much everybody in Three 6 Mafia's extended family of members and collaborators has a deeply distinctive voice, but there's perhaps nobody in Hypnotize Minds who sounds less like anybody else in the world than Project Pat. The droning, creeping beat, and the appropriate guest spot from Texas legends UGK, half of whom would sadly later die from sippin' on too much syrup, were a big part of why "Sippin'" was a regional anthem. But that odd, hiccupping cadence from Juicy J's older brother was the trippy little finishing touch that makes it a classic.

23. DJ Khaled f/ Drake, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne "I'm On One" (2011)

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Album: We the Best Forever
Producer: T-Minus, Nikhil S, Noah "40" Shebib
Label: We the Best/Terror Squad/Cash Money/Universal Motown

Drake declared himself Captain Hook early in his career, and has stayed steady handing out choruses to damn near every artist in the industry ever since. Of course, on a DJ Khaled record, the name on the cover doesn't mean much, the results sound like Drake featuring Drake. And the song that ran the summer of 2011, and set Aubrey up nicely for Take Care's triumph that fall, showcased him at his most blithe and arrogant, mixing his trademark melodic style in the hook's first half with the anthemic refrain of the second half, and even slipping in some uncharacteristic 2x-time flows.

22. Game f/ 50 Cent "Hate It or Love It" (2005)

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Album: The Documentary
Producer: Cool & Dre, Dr.Dre
Label: Aftermath/G-Unit/Interscope

The Iovine-arranged marriage of convenience that was Game's stint with G-Unit quickly proved unstable, but for a minute there, he and 50 Cent really worked together beautifully. Fif certainly did the heavy lifting on "Hate It Or Love It" and "How We Do," as he's happy to remind anyone to this day, but on the former Game proves a good foil, holding down his gruff half the chorus and establishing his earnest, mythology-loving persona in the process. Of course, by the time the song was blanketing airwaves, the two had already begun publicly squabbling, but you still never minded turning on the radio and hearing them so convincingly pretend to be loyal comrades.

21. Hurricane Chris "Ay Bay Bay" (2007)

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Album: 51/50 Ratchet
Producer: Phunk Dawg
Label: J

Hip-hop history is full of raps written to praise or shout out a DJ. But given that "Ay Bay Bay" reached far beyond the Louisiana turf of radio host Hollyhood Bay Bay, Hurricane Chris eventually found himself constantly explaining that he was not simply saying an exaggerated variation of "hey baby" on his breakout hit (it didn't help that a very young child chimes in on the chorus with Chris). The real Hollyhood Bay Bay enjoyed the boost in visibility from the song, and a few months ago even signed on as the newest member of Rick Ross's Maybach Music Group. Hurricane Chris, though, hasn't been heard from too much since he stopped shouting "Ay Bay Bay."

20. Soulja Boy Tell'em "Turn My Swag On" (2009)

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Album: iSouljaBoyTellem
Producer: Natural Disaster and Antonio TopcaT Randolph
Label: Stacks on Deck Entertainment/Collipark Music/HHH/Interscope

Soulja Boy's chart-topping overnight success with the YouTube phenomenon of "Crank Dat" was such a singular pop culture moment that he was branded as a one hit wonder before he even started dropping a series of moderately popular follow-up singles. But just as haters exchanged high fives over the dismal first week sales of his sophomore album iSouljaBoyTellEm, another song was bubbling up that would become arguably the divisive young rapper's most enduring hit. "Turn My Swag On" was not only the biggest anthem of the swag era but an influential one, planting the seeds that everyone from Chief Keef to Lil B would sow for their own approaches at writing triumphantly swagged out hooks.

19. 50 Cent "In Da Club" (2003)

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Album: Get Rich or Die Tryin'
Producer: Dr. Dre, Mike Elizondo
Label: Shady, Aftermath, Interscope

After years of honing his hook writing skills by killing the mixtape game as damn near the only rapper who wrote original choruses to go with his freestyles, 50 Cent hit the ground running once the Shady/Aftermath deal was inked. There were no tentative buzz singles or experiments; he just went into the studio with Dre, and came out with a spotless, titanium-plated megahit. But "In Da Club" is a surprisingly wordy chorus for such a huge pop hit, almost as if the simplicity of those massive synth brass notes kept things direct enough that 50 could just say whatever he wanted in that catchy cadence.

18. Drake "Started From The Bottom" (2013)

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Album: Nothing Was the Same
Producer: Mike Zombie, Noah "40" Shebib
Label: Young Money/Cash Money/Republic

Drake leaves behind his boy band smoothness from time to time, but he never fully abandons his facility for melody. So when he returned at the top of the year to begin the road to his third album, the first single showed signs that he'd been listening to new acts like Chief Keef, but his own twist on GBE-style sing song taunting still had a certain unmistakable Drizzy feel to it. Everyone's got their own opinions on whether Drake truly started from the bottom, but no matter what, they're still singing his hook or throwing freestyles over it.

17. Eminem "Real Slim Shady" (2000)

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Album: The Marshall Mathers LP
Producer: Dr. Dre, Mel-Man
Label: Aftermath/Interscope

"My Name Is" introduced both Eminem and his Slim Shady alias to the world, and a year later he cemented his superstardom by commenting on his fame, and insurgent copycats, with a song that could be considered a sequel but was also faster, smarter and funnier. Where he sounded like a snotty kid announcing "hi! My name is!" in mock-cornball tones over the 1999 breakthrough's loping funk, "The Real Slim Shady" finds Em slipping an intricate web of syllables over a more uptempo track's busy harpsichord loop. Even the first time the hook comes around, Em sounds so gleefully assured of its ability to rule the world that he finishes his verse instructing, "Sing the chorus, and it goes...."

16. Young Dro f/ T.I. "Shoulder Lean" (2006)

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Album: Best Thang Smokin'
Producer: Lil C
Label: Grand Hustle

In 2006, T.I. was at the peak of his reign as king of the south, an MC with endless gravitas amid a land of 'ringtone rappers.' So it was a kick to hear him cut loose on such a fun, simple song as "Shoulder Lean," something that would've felt lightweight on King but worked perfectly for an artist like Young Dro, who's approach has always been some more frivolous yet more lyrical than Tip's. The way T.I.'s voice turns upward, into a higher register than he usually lets us hear, as he instructs us to "get it right, two step and let your shoulder learn," he sounds downright joyful.

15. Yung Joc "It's Goin Down" (2006)

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Album: New Joc City
Producer: Nitti
Label: Bad Boy South, Block Entertainment, Atlantic Records

Although his ATL predecessors T.I. and Young Jeezy were certainly accessible, Yung Joc was the first bubble trap rapper, setting the stage for swaggier and more cartoonish figures to follow. When he says "Meet me at the trap, it's goin' down," he sounds so ebullient and welcoming that he may as well be inviting you down to the neighborhood malt shop to join in a round of milkshakes. But nothing was goofier than Joc's motorcycle dance, immortalized by Tom Cruise, that was arguably as much a viral component of the song's success as that catchy hook.

14. Three 6 Mafia f/ Young Buck, 8Ball & MJG "Stay Fly" (2005)

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Album: Most Known Unknown
Producer: DJ Paul, Juicy J
Label: Sony BMG

A six-man posse cut entirely comprised of MCs from the perennially slept-on state of Tennessee is not a typical recipe for a monster hit. That is, unless you also have a monster hook. Whether it's the original "Stay High or the more famous bowdlerized radio edit version, the hook of "Stay Fly" remains a mind-numbingly simple mantra: "gotta stay fly/ til I die." But it's the way Juicy J stretches out the vowels at the end of each line of the couplet that makes it immortal, with his voice being muted and then cut back in, over half a dozen times, in time with the track's delirious, Willie Hutch-sampling beat.

13. 50 Cent "I Get Money" (2007)

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Album: Curtis
Producer: Apex
Label: Aftermath/Interscope/Shady

Say what you will about him and his legacy, but Fif will always remain one of rap's greatest hook writers, often tailoring perfect little 8 bar melodies to the beat. And sometimes, he can craft one of the most memorable songs of his career simply by tossing a few scattershot phrases over a loop. Producer Apex laid the foundation with his menacing combination of jacked Swizz Beatz drums, buzzsaw synths and the "I get money, money I got" mantra courtesy of Audio Two's classic "Top Billin'." But what put the track over the top was the random stream of boasts and slogans 50 hollered over the top: "I-I get it! Yeah! Yeah, I run New York!"

12. Kanye West f/ Big Sean, 2 Chainz, & Pusha T "Mercy" (2012)

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Album: Cruel Summer
Producer: Lifted, Mike Dean, Mike WiLL Made It, Kanye West, Hudson Mohawke, Phines West
Label: GOOD Music/Def Jam

Many times, Kanye West has stitched together radio gold from disparate sample sources, but he's never created a hook with quite the same bizarre alchemy as last year's chart-topping G.O.O.D. Music posse cut. The track's chorus is comprised of two wildly different vocal samples: first, a few slowed down bars from the otherwise fairly unknown rapper YB's 2011 track "Lambo"—and not even consecutive lines, as the "Mercy" edit mercifully passes over the "Yeah my name is James/ but with these hoes I am not worthy" howler that occurs between the more famous couplets. Then, the disembodied voice of dancehall toaster Fuzzy Jones pipes in, speaking of "a weeping and a moaning and a gnashing of teeth" in barely comprehensible patois, making for one of the darkest and most addictively surreal summer jams in recent memory.

11. Cali Swag District "Teach Me How To Dougie" (2010)

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Album: The Kickback
Producer: RunWay Star
Label: Capitol

In popular music, dance songs have always fueled sequels and response songs, from "Let's Twist Again" to your "Gangnam Style" YouTube parody of choice. In the case of Southern California's jerk scene, though, a spinoff ended up eclipsing the success of the songs it was based on. Lil Wil's "My Dougie" and Audio Push's "Teach Me How To Jerk" were already moderate national hits when Cali Swag District smushed the two hooks together, to create a chorus so memorably catchy in its own right that those other two songs eventually became mere footnotes to the enormous popularity of "Teach Me How To Dougie."

10. Kanye West "Gold Digger" (2005)

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Album: Late Registration
Producer: Kanye West, Jon Brion
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

It shouldn't have worked. Jamie Foxx, coming off of his Oscar-winning portrayal of Ray Charles, shouldn't have been able to get away with reprising his mimicry of the music legend for a goofy rap song, at least not without getting laughed off the charts and besmirching the credibility of his award-worthy role. But Kanye West, who he'd struck gold with just a couple years earlier on Twista's "Slow Jamz," had a track with an "I Got A Woman" and a truly great idea, and the rest is history. The fact that West's most memorable end rhyme in the chorus leans on a certain racial epithet should render the radio edit fairly awkward, but "Ain't messing with no broke broke" just works, possibly better than the real line.

9. Kid Cudi "Day N Nite" (2008)

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Album: Man on the Moon:The End of Day
Producer: Dot Da Genius/Kid Cudi
Label: GOOD Music/Fools Gold Records/Universal Motown/Data Records

Few rap hits have cannily predicted the sound of the next few years as well as Scott Mescudi's breakthrough hit. Part of that, of course, is due to the fact that "Day N Nite" caught the ear of Kanye West, who enlisted Kid Cudi to help out on his also hugely influential 808s & Heartbreaks. But even so, the morose, stoned, and yet strangely danceable sound and tone of "Day N Nite" would be a sign of things to come in hip-hop, with Cudi's melodic delivery marking him as the kind of rapper who didn't always have to rap but would never sound like a happy go lucky pop star. The hook is simple—given the redundancy of the phrase "lonely loner," it's almost too simple—but it's impossible to forget once you hear it.

8. 50 Cent "Wanksta" (2002)

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Album: 8 Mile soundtrack
Producer: John "J-Praize" Freeman
Label: Aftermath/Interscope/Shady/G-Unit Records

Conventional rap wisdom states that it's fine and good to make hits, and to go at other rappers' necks on wax, but not as the same time; you put "Izzo" on the A side and "Takeover" on the B side. But 50 Cent was never one for obeying the traditional boundaries of beef, from his breakthrough single "How To Rob" to the 2005 single "Window Shopper," which came in two mixes: one that named the rappers who he was insulting as window shoppers, and one that didn't. "Wanksta," however, remains Fif's greatest power play, a playground taunt at Ja Rule that was so catchy that it set 50 up for the megaselling success he'd soon enjoy while helping to take his opponent down a peg.

7. Ja Rule f/ Vita "Put It On Me" (2000)

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Album: Rule 3:36
Producer: Tru Stylze, Irv Gotti
Label: Murder Inc./Def Jam

When Jeffrey Atkins Represents Unconditional Love Exists initially released "Put It On Me" on his second album Rule 3:36, he held down the hook by himself, singing his little Cookie Monster heart out. But it wasn't until Lil Mo hopped on the single mix, echoing his every word with sugary sweet melisma, and vowing "I will, I will, I will" in response to his titular command, that a thug classic was born. Ja spent the next few years getting insanely rich and famous off of this formula, often with less impressive duet partners (no shots, J.Lo), but in Lil Mo he had the perfect foil, and he never wrote a better chorus.

6. Flo Rida f/ T-Pain "Low" (2007)

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Album: Mail On Sunday
DJ Montay
Label: Atlantic

On a level that nobody has quite topped before or since, T-Pain turned hooks for rappers into a cottage industry that, for a few years, worked with incredible efficiency. Whether he was giving veterans like E-40 their biggest mainstream hit, partnering with superstars like Kanye West and Lil Wayne, or giving also-rans like 2 Pistols their moment in the sun, Teddy Penderazdoun’s AutoTuned jingles were instant chart magic. But for whatever reason, “Low” was the sextuple platinum monster that outshined all other T-Pain hooks, and launched Flo Rida into a successful run of regularly revisiting the Top 10 with hooks by Sia, Ke$ha, even the ghost of Etta James. Maybe it was the boots with the fur?

5. Chingy "Right Thurr" (2003)

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Album: Jackpot
Producer: The Trak Starz
Label: Capitol/Disturbing Tha Peace

Chingy is by far the most forgotten MC in recent rap history who went multi-platinum less than a decade ago—he never had the staying power of his St. Louis pop rap predecessor Nelly, and only had a couple more hits than later flash in the pan acts like Huey and Jibbs. But when any of those big hits from Jackpot come on, particular the first, “Right Thurr,” it’s easy to remember why that guy moved units. Sure, he sounded like a squeak toy, but the way lines like “Switch your hips when you’re walkin’, let down your hurr (hair)” pivot around triplet accents was just some killer hook writing.

4. Chamillionaire f/ Krayzie Bone "Ridin'" (2006)

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Album: The Sound of Revenge
Label: Universal/Chamillitary

When Chamillionaire split from Paul Wall and Swishahouse and missed out on the “Still Tippin’” moment of H-town going mainstream in early 2005, it seemed like he’d made a terrible mistake. But instead of leaning on the candy paint zeitgeist, King Koopa wisely banked on his facility for tuneful hooks, linking up with melodic rap forefather Krayzie Bone for the catchiest earworm ever written about crooked cops. The “Ridin’” hook remains a master class in how to craft a real chorus, with the winding, almost foreboding “They see me rollin’, they hatin’” melody setting up the anthemic “Tryin’ to catch me ridin’ dirty” refrain beautifully.

3. Jim Jones "We Fly High" (2006)

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Album: Hustler's P.O.M.E. (Product of My Environment)

What happens when an ad lib threatens to swallow a chorus whole? In a recent study, 76% of Americans, when asked to identify the name of the 2006 breakthrough hit by Dipset capo Jim Jones, referred to the song as “Ballin’” (37% considered the ‘shooting a basketball’ gesture to also be part of the song title). By contrast, only 12% could recite every word of the Max B-penned chorus—who the hell remembers “hips and thighs, oh my” or “foreign rides outside, it’s like show biz”? But it doesn’t matter: those two syllables launched the third most popular Diplomat, however briefly, into first place.

2. OutKast "Ms. Jackson" (2001)

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Album: Stankonia
Earthtone III

Whether we ever know how autobiographical the song is, or who it's about—Andre 3000 swears it’s not about the Badu family—"Ms. Jackson" is the kind of true-to-life song that drew much of its impact from how brutally honest it was about a situation so many people have lived through. The acknowledgment of baby-mama drama, however, isn’t what made "Ms. Jackson" the smash that made Outkast a household name. Andre’s playful, funky way with a melody tied a ribbon on the pain of breakups and custody battles that made it possible for people across America to smile while they sang along, "I'm sorry Ms. Jackson/Oooooh, I am fo' real!"

1. Nelly "Country Grammar" (2000)

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Album: Country Grammar
Producer: Jason "Jay E" Epperson
Label: Derrty/Universal

Rap hooks often rely on a simple, sing-song melody not unlike a nursery rhyme or jump rope song. But one of the biggest pop rap breakthroughs of all time was especially bold it, jacking the playground chant “Down Down Baby” and giving it a hip-hop twist with Range Rovers, street sweepers and instructions to “light it up and take a puff.” Nelly’s nobody’s idea of subversive, but you gotta give him credit for dropping lines like that into what was considered one of the more family-friendly rap hits of the era. The best part? There’s no known author of "Down Down Baby," so Nelly and producer Jay E didn’t have to split their songwriting royalties with anyone else.

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