DAR Hip Hop: The Most Underrated Tracks

-In this genre of hip hop, there are songs that truly don't get their just due. Those are the tracks that captivate us, but they might not actually get the credit they deserve from the masses. Today, we take a moment to reflect on the most underrated hip hop tracks. To be fair, this isn't a list of the absolute, but rather a list of each person's favorite tracks that they think is underrated. Let's start the show.

Hip Hop always has a ton of artists that are underground and deserve a lot more credit and attention. However, not everybody can make it big and become superstars, or sometimes, your career is cut too short on the way of becoming a superstar. Big L for example, has one of the best hip hop albums of all time, Livestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous, but it is still very underrated due to the fact, it's not the in the Illmatic conversation and it could've been if he had been a superstar. Today, I join this conversation and come up with 10 of the most underrated hip hop songs ever created. Let's get to it.

10. Mobb Deep - Still Shinin'

-Not the most underrated song ever of course, but should've gotten more credit. This is one of Mobb Deep's best tracks ever created.

9. AZ - Uncut Raw
-AZ's career in general was underrated. An excellent lyricist in his prime. This song embodies all of that.

8. Clipse - Virginia

-Off the first album from the duo, this track is for sure a slept on classic.

7. The Notorious B.I.G - Respect 
-Biggie on an underrated list? Yes I know, far fetched, but this song is definitely underrated and slept on.

6. Jay-Z ft. Beanie Sigel - Where Have You Been
-How could you deny this one? Seriously. It's one of the more honest Jay tracks ever.

5. Ludacris featuring Twista and Jagged Edge- Freaky Thangs
-I have always felt this was a slept on song. Hands down.

4. Gang Starr - You Know My Steez
Rest In Power Guru. This is a classic.

3. Lords Of The Underground - Chief Rocka

-The artists names speaks for itself and though the song is well known, it's slept on.

2. Mos Def - Mathematics

-This one is the example of a gem and one of the best Mos Def joints.

1. Madvillain - Madvillainy
-A truly slept on gem from this dynamic duo. It tops my list.

By definition, "underrated" means to underestimate the value or importance of something or someone. Now it's difficult to believe this applies to hip hop culture, especially since we hold on to it so dearly and are always appreciating elements of it, whether it's the craft of rapping (MCing), the art of DJing/producing, the talents of graffiti tagging or the skills of breakdancing. Yes, we love it all and always seem to be showing gratitude for those who have contributed to it. Hip hop fans are my favorite fanbase of any genre and that’s because there’s constant conversations about “best lists”, “best tracks”, “best producers” and when something doesn’t fall into a constantly talked about category, the fans create new ones like “Most underrated tracks”, “Most underrated artists” and so on. It’s easy to highlight slept on artists, usually they stay under the radar, don’t hit the mainstream too heavily and somehow manage to pass by before we can really appreciate their work.

What about the artists who’ve released hugely successful chart topping albums, but somehow still have songs that got ignored somewhere along the way? Well, that's when DAR steps in and not only highlights them, but gives us an opportunity to appreciate those hidden gems and give them the importance they deserved! Today, we are taking a look at hip hop’s most underrated TRACKS (not necessarily artists), so let me share the list I’ve compiled in absolutely no particular order.

*Shyheim- Dear God 

-“Dear God” by Shyheim (released in 1996 from The Lost Generation album) is a forgotten, but noteworthy track for a few reasons. Although he was only 17 when he recorded it, the track has an extremely solid theme and is very relatable. It flows incredibly well and Shy’s flow is dope even if he sounds young. It’s a raw, vulnerable and emotional conversation with God so there’s always a need for this content, especially when one is experiencing these things first hand. The beat is a sample from Snoop’s “Murder Was The Case”, which is incredibly ironic given the path Shy’s life took but with lines like these...

“I know that I'm a sinner, but God help me out nigga/
I got problems that only death could solve/
A high school dropout, and my GED won't get me no job/”

“I send my blessings/
I know you gone, but it might be for the best/
'Cause life is full of stress/”

“No one to turn to when I sit and think about you/
No longer in the physical, dealing with your spiritual essence/
You're gone but we still feel your presence/
Nothing can bring you back, black”

The song forces you to tap into emotional components of life and struggle and for those who don’t connect with it on that level, it takes you through his own journey of it. This is such a fantastic track and hidden rap gem.

*DMX- Damien 

-Here’s one that is not entirely forgotten, but it definitely doesn’t get the credit it deserves. DMX, who dominated hip hop for a few years, gave us this track which I think is hugely underrated in his catalog. This deserves endless credit, and conceptually D absolutely killed it. It’s a gold mine of references for those who believe in the Illuminati’s puppeteering and he presents it in a way which can be marinated on or enjoyed on the surface. Lyrically it’s powerful and raw, and coupled with the instrumental it presents incredible imagery. He doesn’t stop there, the insight is profound and for the 3 minute plus duration of the track, he truly makes the entire concept of his album come to life. As mainstream as some of DMX’s albums and songs were, somewhere along the way we forgot to keep “Damien” at the forefront!

*The Notorious B.I.G.- I Got A Story To Tell 

-I almost laughed at myself for even considering putting BIG on this list, but the King Of New York also has a couple tracks that got lost amongst the other fan favorites. “I Got A Story To Tell” (released March 1997 from “Life After Death”) is just that in a way, heavily underrated for the brilliance that went into it. The poetic device (dramatic monologue component) is incredible, he alludes to pulling off a robbery after stealing this dude's girl. Now it would have been great as a fictitious story, but what puts it over the top, is that it’s actually true to an extent (confirmed by Jadakiss and Puffy) and it was so well delivered that turning it into a “short film” was a breeze. BIG always provides fantastic imagery and descriptions in his songs, but this was some his best work. The Al Green sample softens out the song, but also highlights the story in the most engaging way. The interesting thing is this was on the “Life After Death” album and almost feels like BIG is speaking beyond the grave. That’s intense, but everything about this just fits together perfectly to make this a hip hop masterpiece that fell in the cracks (somewhat).

*Mos Def- Mathematics
This list would not be complete without Mos Def’s “Mathematics” (released August 1999 from “Black On Both Sides”). I have never once doubted the intelligence and talent of Mos and this song is a perfect display why.  Conceptually the song has to do with the “Supreme Mathematics” of the Five Percent Nation which the ONLY other people I know to do this were The RZA and Clan members. It takes an incredible amount of patience, understanding and intelligence to pull off a track like this with the intricate word plays and layered meanings. Here’s a snippet:

“Yo, check it one for Charlie Hustle, two for Steady Rock/
Three for the fourth coming live, future shock/
It's five dimensions, six senses
Seven firmaments of heaven to hell/
8 Million Stories to tell/
Nine planets faithfully keep in orbit, with the probable tenth/ 
The universe expands length/"

Not only is it sequential, but what he’s saying is accurate. This is an exceptional track, which in my opinion, captures the magnitude of talent and ability that exists in the culture. This is truly a gem.

*Jay-Z featuring Santigold- Brooklyn Go Hard 

-It’s even harder to believe Jay-Z would make it on this list because every single thing he releases is a chart topper, but what about “Brooklyn Go Hard” (Released December 2008 for the “Notorious” Soundtrack). This is another song that deserves endless recognition and praise, but they made it so difficult to access (only on that soundtrack and you have to download the entire album for it). The beat is absolutely incredible, it’s high energy and truly captures everything that is New York, and specifically Brooklyn.  Santigold is the featured vocalist and combined with Jay’s rapping these two truly make a phenomenal ode to BIG. Lyrically, Jay drops wordplay gem after gem with cleverness only he can deliver, like how can you hear this and not think so: “I Jack I Rob I Sin/ ah man I’m Jackie Robinson/ except when I run base I dodge the pen/” and it gets me every time! What I love the most though, is the way Jay ends the verses...“Now please, What the fuck’s harder than thisssss”. The entire song is just pure genius and it kills me that it didn’t get enough recognition upon release.

*Ras Kass- Nature of the Threat
-I’m pretty vocal about my appreciation and love for Ras Kass, his entire catalogue is underrated (IMO), but if I had to pick THE MOST underrated track it would be “Nature Of The Threat” (released October 1996 from “Soul On Ice”). Although it was the most popular song on his debut album, I still don’t think it gets enough attention. Ras has never been afraid to address anything regardless of how controversial or taboo it was and this is a perfect example. Ras’ is exceptional with delivery, the emotion is felt and the lyrics are raw. For those who have never heard it, it’s a crash course in history on the plight of minorities at the hands of the “pale man” and from the minute he drops the first word, it is captivating and flawless. Ras is exceptional and a very well rounded MC, his storytelling is great, but this track is not quite storytelling as much as it’s just dropping knowledge in its purest form. Truly brilliant.

*True God featuring Stephen Joseph- Everything Changes 
-When talking underrated, whether that’s artists or just tracks, I have to mention True God. Once again, this is an artist whose entire catalog is underrated, but the song that I wish got more shine is “Everything Changes” (Released November 2011 from “Soul Revival 1”). Stephen Joseph is who we thank for vocals and it fits the song so perfectly, but what is amazing here are the lyrics. This is the song that reemphasizes the theme of the album. One that is empowering, positive and truthful. I have an immense appreciation for any song that can challenge mainstream thinking and this does that. Here’s a snippet:

“Hold up, are you hearing me/
Running from all the tyranny/
Lyrically moving waters, just know the devil ain't scaring me/
Fear in me don't exist/
I clearly walk through the mist/ Endearing me with the gifts/
That was given, punching my fist/"

*2Pac- Thugz Mansion

If I have powerhouses like Jay and BIG on this list, of course Tupac is gonna make an appearance. Once again, as vast as the fan-base is the one track of his I feel will forever be underrated is “Thugz Mansion” (released October 2002 from “Better Dayz”). Pac was always so vocal about his thoughts on the system, cops, corruption so it comes as no surprise this track would reference those things; It’s poetic, it’s reflective of his experiences and it’s relatable to those living the same life or from the same areas. Because this was released after he had passed away, the lyrics are a little chilling and incredibly saddening. What makes it so great is the “feel of the song” (much like the track “Dear Mama”), as there’s a tranquility and despite the violence and negativity in the lyrics, his delivery makes it soft and peaceful. Tupac was a poetic genius and every note, beat and word in this song is a testament to that.

*Cormega featuring AZ, Redman, and Styles P- MARS (Dream Team)
-Another hidden gem comes from Cormega with the track "MARS (Dream Team)" (released July 2014 from "Mega Philosophy") and this is simply a track for the fans. 'Mega gathered a few of the dope New York MC's and created a track that is just a display of skill. Mega, AZ, Redman and Styles P drop a ton of gems in each of their verses and the variation in their flows and styles makes this a perfect balance and gives us something to look forward to verse after verse. It's really a shame that Cormega always slips under the radar because this contribution is much appreciated.

*Lil Kim- Lighters Up

-Last but certainly not least, this underrated track comes from Lil Kim with her track "Lighters Up" (released September 2005 from "The Naked Truth"). Now we all know that Kim reps Brooklyn and this song is one gigantic shoutout to her neighborhood and borough, but what's so great about this is we get pure lyrical skill. She made an incredibly fun song, mixed in some island accent, and added some Spanish while staying true to the energy and concept of the song. Although this was a single and it is said to have been a "commercial success", it's nowhere near what it deserves. Kim really showed a different, less explicit side and was more rigid than what we would typically expect. I think she absolutely killed it on this.

This is only a handful of underrated tracks that stand out to me in the hundreds that exist. AZ, Jadakiss, Pharoahe and of course others, have tracks that also belong. They may not have gotten the shine they deserved upon release, but they serve specific moods, specific circumstances and for that reason, they will never be forgotten. These artists and specifically these tracks are amongst the hidden gems that make hip hop the genre of choice to thousands of fans so within those conversations.

This is not an exhaustive list of my top underrated tracks overall. Just 10 that I feel are deserving of more shine. Let's get right into it.

*Big KRIT: "Red Eye"
-KRIT tracks always give us a window into his soul, but this track always gets me, mainly because of its "I feel you on that" storytelling. If you've heard it, you know why. It's not his best track, but it's one that definitely doesn't get the shine it should among a discography that doesn't get the shine it should. Don't worry, Krizzle. I'll help spread your gospel.

*DMX: "How's It Going Down"

-Pretty much anything DMX is underrated, but this kingpin-tinged fuck story--actually, his entire first album is underrated even though it gets the credit it deserves (if that makes sense). In a sea of sadness and lethargy brought on by the deaths of Pac and Biggie, DMX gave us music that wasn't really like anything we'd heard before. I mean, only DMX could say "you gave me the pussy, that ass is getting fatter" in a "loverman rap" and have it sound gruff, but still suave to a degree.

*Kool G Rap and Prinz: "We G'z"
-Maybe it's because of the Final Fantasy 7 sample, but this one always gets me hype as fuck listening to it. Plus, it's Kool G Rap.

*Jay Z: "American Dreamin"

-Aided by a Marvin sample from I Want You, Jay drops some knowledge about the struggle. It's a bit on the nose with its chorus and how that compares to the plight and blight our youth see. However, it's one of those introspective Jay tracks in years at that point. Sure, AG is a concept album. But Jay got back to making song for the people who were on the same drugs and lived the same life as Basquiat, not those paying millions for his paintings because they looked cool on this one.

*Kendrick Lamar: "The Heart (Parts 1-3)"
-It's Kendrick straight spitting about his glo-up, at three separate points in his career. What more do you want? The beats knock and Kendrick's bars go in. And we're given further glimpses, each time, as to what was around the corner for K Dot.

*Lupe Fiasco: "Pressure"
-I'll go into more detail about this one in a couple weeks. But, just know. This is the track that made me realize that Food & Liquor was a first-listen--and millionth-listen--classic.

*Tech N9ne featuring Kendrick Lamar- Fragile (or any Tech song)

-The guy's a wordsmith at one of the highest levels. But he still doesn't get the spotlight in the mainstream--even after outselling many mainstream acts--he probably deserves. Sure, the chopper flow can put some people off. That's when he switches up the flow and hammers the point home. Oh, that's too slow? Let's chop. One track in particular I want to highlight is his collaboration with Kendrick, "Fragile." It's unlike a lot of what you hear from Tech, but he still delivers, emotes so effortlessly, and then you get Kendrick coming in with the cleanup duty.

*Lupe Fiasco: "Mural"
Lupe gets on here twice because of his Tetsuo and Youth opening. I know, it's "unfair" to call a track released only about a year-and-a-half ago "underrated." But, listen to it. He's spitting BARS and not just for the sake of BARS. The beat just screams "flow on me." His heavy flow that veers off into straight up conversational flow (and still matches the tempo of the beat)? Sublime. You could probably put JUST ABOUT any Lupe track up here and say "this is instant classic," but "Mural" is my other Lupe choice.

*Lil Wayne: "All Alone"
-I really wish this could've had a third verse. It fits right into that era between Mixtape Weezy going mainstream, Carter 2 getting everyone on board, and Carter 3 being delayed until 2008. Or so. It's a track that's kind of simple in its approach. Wayne's commenting on his troubles with women and the Hot Boyz. But, the emotion we get in the track, you feel for Wayne. He lets his cool down and we get an underappreciated Wayne track from this era of Wayne. Now if someone can finally find this beat? Please? A non-rapping rapper I know wants to lament over some shit.

*Big KRIT: "Something"
KRIT's on here twice. I know, I know. Shut up. It's my part of my list. Just listen to this track and tell me you didn't become a fan of KRIT's lyricism, storytelling, and just emotion. You hear his soul on every bar in this track that, like "Red Eye," focuses on a deteriorating relationship, but from two different perspectives.

My list is honestly tough to pin down. I couldn't decide on exactly 10, so I might go over the top 10 list. I think everyone has a great selection and that there's so many underrated tracks that I might go crazy thinking of my choices. Let me get into my picks.

*The Roots featuring Jill Scott- Complexity

-Released on the 2002 album Phrenology, this song is pretty dope. It's one of my favorite Roots songs, and it has a great hook from Jill along with lyrically in depth verses from Black Thought. A true gem that doesn't get mentioned as much in the epic catalog of The Roots.

*Big KRIT- Bigger Picture

-The soulful production from KRIT and this whole track is something special to me. I listen to his music often and this song is a work of art. KRIT talks directly to the lady he's in limbo with and uses artistic references to talk about the fall and possible rebuild of their relationship. It's a great song.

*Blu- He-Man 
-The soulful sample allows for Blu to drop some of his most raw lyrics backed by a nice female vocal that paints the picture alongside his verses. When I think of Blu and his music, this song sticks out to me the most from his most recent projects.

*Nas- Reason 

-It was between this and "War" from what I feel is the most slept on Nas album, Street's Disciple. Both are underrated, but this song doesn't get enough credit at all. The smooth production and the slick hook allow for Nas to utilize his imagery as best as possible and lyrically he assaults this song.

*Jay-Z- Imaginary Player

-I think that Jay has some slept on songs in his catalog and while I definitely think that some other songs could have been here, this is a top 5 Jay song to me and I don't hear it mentioned enough. It was either this song or "Some People Hate", but this track is one of his greatest songs hands down and a true showing of Jay as the guy we came to know him as afterwards.

*Little Brother- All For You 

-Dedicated to their absent fathers, this gem off the classic Minstrel Show album is forever one of my all time favorite songs. Phonte's verse is absolutely classic and elevates this song to one of the best Little Brother songs ever.

*Blackstar- Thieves In the Night 

-This is a true classic off the monumental Blackstar album. Lyrically its out of this world, and production wise it's smooth as hell. This is probably the greatest verse in Mos Def's career, which says a lot.

*Mos Def featuring Q-Tip- Mr. Nigga 

-Another Mos Def track? Yes indeed. This song is amazing and Mos drops some real knowledge about the reality that we all face even after achieving success. This is a familiar and relatable song that I'm sure we all can understand.

*Common featuring Bilal- It's Your World 
-I debated on putting "Real People" on the list for its amazing soulful and jazzy sound, but this one is undeniable. Common executes storytelling to the highest power, while the vocals of Bilal are top notch and help drive the power of the song home.

*Blu and Exile- Dancing In The Rain

-This song is one of my go to tracks when I'm not really in the greatest of times or just going through things. Blu and Exile create a timeless classic that I can play regularly even today, almost 10 years later.

*Jay Electronica- Better In Tune With The Infinite 
-This song isn't that old, but man is it powerful. The lyrics. The simple piano loop. The singing at the end. Everything about this track is absolutely amazing and one that sticks out to me as probably one of the more underrated songs in the last decade. Might be the best Jay Electronica song.

*Outkast- Funkin Around 

-The funky and electric rhythms coupled with the dope lyrics and verses, along with the smooth hook/bridge from Sleepy Brown and the duo, this is Dungeon Family music at its finest. Possibly the most slept on song in their catalog, that was featured on their greatest hits album.

Have any songs you would like to include? Post them in the comments below and join the discussion.



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