Hard is a word that wields a lot of power in hip-hop. Often, it’s treated like a unit of measurement for abstract ideas like street cred or masculinity. But when it comes to beats, there’s just no other word for it: drums that punch you in the face or horns that feel like they’re blaring right in your ear—shit that simply sounds hard. Some of hip-hop’s best beats sway or creep or groove, but tracks are never quite as satisfying as when they sound like a giant brick wall of percussion. Some of them forced their way into mass consciousness, while others were simply too tough for the radio, but these are The 25 Hardest Rap Beats of All Time.
The warning shot before The Chronic that introduced Snoop Dogg to the world—the title track from the soundtrack to the 1992 crime thriller Deep Cover—established once and for all that Dr. Dre would have a career after N.W.A. The tense pings of piano over the foreboding upright bass are evidence of the influence of A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, which Dre would later tell Q-Tip was the album he was trying to top with The Chronic. The G-funk banger managed to sound even harder six years later, when the beat was memorably borrowed by Big Punisher and Fat Joe for “Twinz” (a lyrical standout on Pun’s Capital Punishment).
As one half of Organized Konfusion, Pharoahe Monch became one of underground rap’s most revered lyricists. Like it or not, however, he’s ultimately become most associated with “Simon Says,” the monstrous banger that preceded his 1999 solo debut, Internal Affairs, without a doubt the hardest song ever released by Rawkus Records. Unfortunately, the uncleared sample from Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla score resulted in a lawsuit that has long kept the album out of print.