The art of the hook is one of the most unappreciated crafts in hip hop. While we can spend hours debating lyrics, rhyme structures, and punchlines, the first thing to catch our attention and the last thing to linger in our brains will always be the chorus. In the mainstream world, hooks make or break singles. If Lloyd didn’t help Young Money out on “Bedrock”, I doubt the song would have had anywhere near the same amount of success. In the underground hip-hop world, hooks can still make songs more enjoyable, but will always be less appreciated than the ones on “radio” songs. The “screw a hook” mentality is one championed by rappers and fans who prefer lyrical dexterity over poppy melodies. To be honest, though, some hooks are just too tight.
A strong hook can do a lot for a song. If it is catchy enough, it can push a song beyond its normal circle of listeners. “Bedrock” is the perfect example. One time I started playing it at the radio station I work at and the alt-rock music director immediately complained that the song would be stuck in her head all day. I told her I was sorry (I really was) and immediately changed the song.
In my opinion, though, hooks are actually more important on underground rap songs. For me, it comes from my desire for underground rappers to garner more attention for themselves. A catchy hook could help a smart, talented rapper like Tonedeff or Emilio Rojas appeal to fans outside of their loyal supporters. The more rappers there are in the collective mainstream consciousness, the more competitive and dynamic the game becomes.
While some rappers might avoid hooks, there are some that thrive writing and singing them. These rappers/singers might be able to hold their own on a verse, but their melodic voices are perfect for filling a chorus. A couple of guys have even managed to make careers out of this musical niche.
Before you hit the skip for the list of the top 5 hook rappers, check out this appropriately themed Murphy Lee throwback.
5. Diddy - The hook itself seems to represent what Diddy is all about, putting himself in places people will notice, allowing him to crank out hits and make money. More than just hooks, Diddy is also notorious for his intros and ad-libs over many Biggy songs; “Hypnotize” and “Victory” are two perfect examples.
4. Snoop Dogg – While Snoop certainly holds his own lyrically, his high (in more than one way) and melodic voice has made him the choice man for some famous hooks. His resume includes hooks for classics like “Still Dre”, 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.”, and Lupe’s “High Definition.”
3. Pharrell - Just like all the other guys on this list, Pharrell’s smooth vocals have produced many banging hooks. Given his all-star production capabilities, its no wonder Pharrell gets so many opportunities to jump on the chorus. Some of his hottest hooks include Common’s “Universal Mind Control”, Snoop’s “Beautiful”, and recent work on Jay-Z’s “So Ambitious” off The Blueprint 3.
2. T-Pain – The self-proclaimed ring leader has probably been on the most songs in the past 5 years. It’s true, T-Pain has been the king of hip-pop choruses. His heavy use of auto-tune has caused some controversy, but you gotta give the guy credit for finding a musical niche and exploiting the hell out of it. His high-pitched, stretched out style can get annoying over the course of an entire song, but combining a hot beat with Pain on the hook can easily propel any song into the Top 40.
1. Nate Dogg - Leaps and bounds ahead of the rest, Nate Dogg is by far the most infamous hook rapper in hip-hop. Nate was the go to man for the likes of Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, and Eminem in the late 90′s and early 2000′s. At once both melodic and guttural, Nat’es voice works over any beat or type of song. Some of his classics include “21 Questions”, “The Next Episode”, and my personal favorite “Gangsta Nation” (video below). Between the span of 1995 to 2007, Nate Dogg has been nominated for four Grammy for collaborations ranging from Warren G to Ludacris. And he did it with no auto-tune.