Top 5: The five greatest debut hip-hop singles of all time
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Top 5: The five greatest debut hip-hop singles of all time

Nowadays, with streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music dominating the way fans consume media, fewer hip-hop artists are making albums. The strategy for many rappers is to churn out short singles targeted at specific playlists. However, this is neither honourable nor admirable. With items such as vinyl now re-entering the musical arena, consumers expect more from artists regarding the quality of their music and its format.

The art of making an album is challenging to perfect, and some artists spend years trying to create a cohesive body of work that truly represents them as an artist and showcases their full abilities. Some achieve, and many do not. On the contrary, many musicians make a significant impact with their debut album but fail to create the same effect with their sophomore project.

A huge part of releasing an album is its rollout. A smooth and well-executed project rollout is known to improve sales. Aside from eye-grabbing artwork, your selection of singles also plays a significant role in determining whether your album is successful. People use these tracks to determine if your body of work is likely to be of quality.

On many occasions, artists have put a lot of money into promoting singles that were not of excellent quality and suffered for it. One example of this is Nicki Minaj and her track ‘Massive Attack’ featuring Sean Garrett. It was the lead single of her debut project, Pink Friday. It had an extremely high-budget music video filmed in Dubai and several other locations, yet the single performed poorly compared to other tracks from her album. It was money wasted.

However, on the flip side, some acts have picked their debut singles exceptionally well, and they have been some of their best-performing tracks of all time. In this article, we will show you our picks for the five greatest debut singles ever.

The five best debut singles of all time:

5. ‘Through The Wire’ – Kanye West, College Dropout, (2004)

‘Through The Wire’ was a culture-shifting track. When it was released, nobody could deny Kanye’s talent, and it set him on course to become one of the wealthiest rappers of all time. Before the release of his 20004 debut album, College Dropout, West was considered by many as just a producer. Hip-hop wrote him off as someone who belonged behind an MPC, not a microphone.

However, following the release of this debut single, it was unequivocally official that he was an MC at heart. Sampling Chaka Kahn’s ‘Through The Fire’, Ye wrote the single in a hospital bed and laid down the lyrics while his mouth was still wired shut after a reconstructive jaw surgery. A genuinely iconic song, even Pharrell Williams labelled the track as “phenomenal!”

4. ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ – Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, (1999)

Released in 1998, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill was unlike anything before. Hip-hop is still known for its patriarchal structure, and prior to this single, the notion that a woman could school men on a record would have been laughable. However, Hill defied the odds, and this socially conscious song not only put men in their place but proved that a woman didn’t have to use sex to sell records.

‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ was a welcome culture shock and went straight to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Moreover, it two Grammy awards for ‘Best Female R&B Vocal Performance’ and ‘Best R’n’B Song’. However, despite the establishment classifying it as R’n’B, hip-hop heads know that it is rap music. This debut single was the first-ever number-one rap record performed solely by a female and remained so for over a decade following its release. Truly a gem.

3. ‘Juicy’ – The Noroious B.I.G, Ready To Die, (1994)

‘Juicy’ really needs no introduction as a track. It is widely regarded as one of the best songs of the 1990s and, to this day, has been cited by many as the most incredible hip-hop record ever released. Recorded by the legendary Biggie Smalls, the track samples the 1982 funk song ‘Juicy Fruit’ by Mtume which was a chart-topper when it was first released, so it is no surprise that the Biggie Smalls rework would perform just as well. Right up there with The Chronic, Doggy style and Illmatic, Biggie Smalls debut project, Ready To Die, is a quintessential ’90s album that will be forever popular.

‘Juicy’ is the ultimate underdog story and details the story of the rapper’s life before making it in the music business. On the track, Biggie tells the tale of how he went from being a low-level Brooklyn drug dealer to a megastar and recalls all of his struggles and tribulations. Since its release, the song has gone on to become six times platinum and has aged exceptionally well. It is well and truly a classic and a must-hear for any new rap music fan.

2. ‘Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)’ – Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle, (1993)

Death Row Records has indisputably produced the most legendary hip-hop tracks of all time. However, it is not purely down to Dr Dre, although he played a huge part. Without incredible MCs to grace his tracks, they would be idle instrumentals, but luckily for him, Dre had the perfect person to grace his G-Funk rework of George Clinton’s ‘Atomic Dog’, and that was the Long Beach legend Snoop Doggy Dogg. Having only met Dre (real name Andre Young) a year prior to the release of his debut album, Doggystyle, Snoop Dogg had the perfect vocal tones and intonations for Young’s funky creations, and it’s fair to say he did justice to them. 

Snoop Dogg’s debut album is still his highest-selling body of work. His voice was entrancing, and his character was so compelling that people were instantly drawn to him and his music. Furthermore, with 2pac at his side, he had a star quality that many ’90s rappers didn’t possess. Even though Snoop (real name Calvin Broadus) went on to make fantastic music alongside a multitude of producers, including The Neptunes, nothing compares to the magic of Snoop and Dre in conjunction.

1. ‘Nuthin’ But A G Thang’ – Dr Dre, The Chronic, (1992)

‘Nuthin But A G Thang’ had to be at the top of this list. Not only was it the first G-funk track ever released but it was the lead single of what is widely considered the best hip-hop album of all time. Although that is a highly contentious debate. Nobody can deny the importance of The Chronic. This 1992 project from Dr Dre shifted the power dynamics of hip-hop and pulled the rug from underneath New York City’s feet. 

The Chronic is archived in the USA’s Library of Congress, meaning in America, it is of national importance and is a culturally significant specimen. Even Biggie Smalls Ready To Die pales in comparison to the project, and more importantly, songs such as ‘Big Poppa’ draw influence from The Chronic. The G-funk movement, which spread like wildfire, can be traced back to The Chronic, and its lead single ‘Nuthin But a G Thang’ was the track that put eyes on Dre and Snoop Dogg and would later allow people such as 2pac to rise out of LA. A classic track and undoubtedly the best debut single of all time.