The Top Rap Song of Every Year Since 1989

Since Billboard first began its national survey of song sales in the 1940s, the ever-changing musical landscape has necessitated a growing portfolio of charts that capture the methods, sounds, and places around the nation – and then the world – where music is consumed.

Thirty-five years ago on March 11, 1989, Billboard debuted its first rap chart – Hot Rap Singles, with The Stop the Violence Movement’s “Self Destruction” crowning the initial list. With the genre’s national profile firmly established thanks to acts such as Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J, the first rap-dedicated chart arrived partly, as the list’s first manager, Terri Rossi wrote, to, “give proper credit to the performers, writers and producers who make this music so successful.”

While Hot Rap Songs was originally conceived as a bi-weekly sales chart, the rapid popularity and interest in the genre forced a change to a weekly sales recap before the chart reached its first anniversary. Call it prophetic: The increasing consumption of rap music and growing appetite for hip-hop culture set the stage for the genre’s explosive impact in the coming decades.

Since that first ranking, Billboard has monitored and reported popular tastes through every chapter of rap’s history: the East Coast beginnings, G-Funk’s rise, women MCs getting their proper due, regional rival pockets popping up throughout the U.S., features helping R&B singers – and then pop stars – update their sounds and images, crunk, trap, SoundCloud, drill and the list goes on. The chart’s methodology has also kept up with the times. Beginning as just a sales list, Hot Rap Songs switched to an airplay-only ranking in June 2002 amid the declining number of physical single releases.

“A number of rap’s biggest hits were never released to stores, and thus were absent from our chart,” Geoff Mayfield, Billboard’s then-director of charts, noted. “This change will yield a more relevant chart.”

Updates have since continued, with sales’ return and streaming’s addition to the formula in October 2012.

To recap the chart’s 35th anniversary, Billboard looks at the best of the best – the No. 1 year-end titles on the Hot Rap Songs chart for its entire existence. Together, the annual leaders offer snapshots of rap music’s history, with a range of artists, regions and techniques – samples, cadence and the like – that reveal rap’s expansion from block-party entertainment to an unparalleled influence over mainstream music for the last generation.

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