Basslines are the cornerstones of all great hip-hop beats.
Despite its crucial role in this genre, the bass is sadly often overlooked. This inspired me to write this list of the best hip-hop bass lines out there.
The listed songs are picked from all eras of hip-hop and showcase the power of the bass in this versatile and ever-evolving genre. From old-school disco samples to electronic basslines played on the keyboard, this list thus has it all.
Also, there are hundreds of great bass tracks that could have made this list. This is just a glimpse into some of my personal favorites. With that said, here are the 22 best hip-hop basslines of all time:
22. The Roots – You Got Me ft. Erykah Badu
- Album: Things Fall Apart
- Year: 1999
Not only is the bass line in “You Got Me” groovy, but it fits the song perfectly.
The tone of the bass is warm and musky. Harmonically, the line plays several chromatic ascends and descends. These create a sense of uncertainty and discomfort while keeping the song smooth on the surface, which perfectly reflects the lyrics.
Thus, this is a perfect example of how a bassline can completely set the mood of a hip-hop track.
21. Atmosphere – You
- Album: When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That S*** Gold
- Year: 2008
From the intro to the repeated 3 high notes in the main groove, the bassline on “You” keeps grooving throughout the whole song.
What I find impressive with this song is how well the bass works with the vocals. Not only is the bassline impressive on its own, but it also adds punch to Slug`s vocals when needed and gives him the perfect amount of breathing room when needed.
20. Black Sheep – The Choice Is Yours
- Album: A Wolf In Sheep`s Clothing
- Year: 1991
“The Choice Is Yours” has one of those basslines that are so simple that it makes you ask “why didn`t I think of that?”
Yet at the same time, it is one of the most genius hip-hop basslines I`ve ever heard. I don`t even want to think about how many times I`ve had it stuck in my head. The “Dunn-du-dun” rhythm of it is so catchy that listening to this song just once will feel like an impossible task.
19. Madvillain – Meat Grinder
- Album: Madvillainy
- Year: 2004
While it is hard to find a bassline that`s crazy enough to match MF DOOM`s flow, “Meat Grinder” certainly comes close. It`s based on a sample from Lewis Howard`s “Hula Rock”, and flawlessly produced by Madlib.
The bassline jumps up a minor 6th in the middle of it after keeping a deep groove down for the first half. This combined with the fuzzy bass tone makes it feel completely mind-bending.
18. Outkast – So Fresh, So Clean
- Album: Stankonia
- Year: 2000
It`s not too uncommon for vocal melodies to be used as guitar solos in the same song. What`s less common though, is for the vocals to sing the bassline.
Hearing “So Fresh, So Clean” by Outkast makes one wonder why this is.
The vocals harmonize with this groovy bassline in the chorus. In the verse, the bass continues to play the same line, which makes for a smooth backdrop to Andre 3000`s and Big Boi`s verses. If your gonna name your song “So Fresh, So Clean”, I can’t think of a bassline that would fit better than this one.
17. 2Pac ft. Dr. Dre – California Love (Remix)
- Album: All Eyez On Me
- Year: 1996
There are 3 key components that make “California Love” a classic. 2Pac`s verse, Dr. Dre`s verse, and one of the most hard-hitting basslines in all of hip-hop`s history.
The bass has a boomy low-end heavy tone which helps drive the song forward for 6 and a half minutes without it ever feeling dull. It has sustained, fast-paced, and slowly descending parts all mixed into the same line and the end result is powerful, groovy, and unique.
16. Gucci Mane – Lemonade
- Album: The State vs. Radric Davis
- Year: 2009
“Lemonade” features a bassline that is moving all over the place in the best way possible. Combined with the high and fast-paced piano chords, it drives the song forward while incorporating fills and stops in creative ways.
While atypical in rap, the bassline also incorporates a straight 8th-note groove. This completely makes the chorus and makes the following verses hit all the much harder when the bass moves back to playing deep notes.
15. The Dayton Family – F.B.I
- Album: F.B.I
- Year: 1996
“F.B.I” kicks the song off with a bass intro so heavy, that it could fit right in on my list of the best metal bass lines.
The low-end heavy and fat bass tone continues to make the track as the verse kicks in. As for the bassline itself, it strikes the perfect balance between grooving and sustaining notes. This keeps the line interesting while keeping the track feel heavy and hard-hitting.
14. Anderson .Paak – TINTS (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
- Album: Oxnard
- Year: 2018
Anderson .Paak has made countless stylish and groovy hits that have done well in the modern hip-hop scene. This can in large part be attributed to the basslines in his beats always being well-crafted and funky.
“Tints” is a perfect example of this. The bass has a fat tone that sits well in the mix, and the bassline is full of small runs that move all across the fretboard without ever feeling intrusive to the vocals.
13. Afroman – Crazy Rap (Colt 45 & 2 Zig Zags)
- Album: The Good Times
- Year: 2001
Once you hear the bassline in “Crazy Rap”, good luck getting it out of your head. In addition to being incredibly catchy, the musky and smooth tone of it perfectly suits the instrumental and lyrics.
Despite the core groove being relatively simple, it has a lot of small variations in it. From bass fills being delayed and played differently to full stops, the line keeps things interesting despite being repeated throughout the whole song.
12. 50 Cent – In Da Club
- Album: Get Rich or Die Tryin’
- Year: 2003
While many might associate “In Da Club” with its synth lead, the bass is also a major part of what makes this beat so incredibly catchy.
What`s so impressive about it is that it consists of just 6 notes, and only 3 different ones. While some basslines are impressive for their complexity, this song is the perfect example of how effective simplicity can be.
11. Aesop Rock – Labor
- Album: Labor Days
- Year: 2001
While Aesop`s lyrics can take a long time to properly understand, the bassline on “Labor” will immediately catch your attention.
It`s a line that combines deep and high notes in a smooth manner. Despite moving all over the place, it blends in seamlessly with the track. The added vibrato also makes it stand out more than it already did, making it an easy addition to this list.
10. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – The Message
- Album: The Message
- Year: 1982
“The Message” is one of the most influential and iconic songs in all of hip-hop.
Despite being from 1982, the bassline has a futuristic and spacey tone to it. While it`s common for basslines to start slow and then pick up speed, this one does the opposite. Not only does this make the line catchy, but it makes an already creative song all the more innovative.
9. Nas – N.Y. State of Mind
- Album: Illmatic
- Year: 1994
Nas is one of the best rappers at picking beats that both fit his flow and the theme of the song.
“N.Y. State Of Mind” is a great example of this. The bass line is catchy with its big well-timed leaps, but also incredibly dark as it incorporates both a minor second and a major seventh into the same line. This sense of disharmony sets the perfect backdrop for the scenes that Nas is describing in this song.
8. N.W.A. – Express Yourself
- Album: Straight Outta Compton
- Year: 1988
If Ice Cube`s verse wasn`t enough to hook you in already, it`s also backed up by an upbeat bassline that is impossible to get out of your head.
The bass is sampled from Charles Wright`s 1970 song with the same name. While uncommon for N.W.A, this song is in a major key. The grooviness of the bass would be enough to make it stand out on its own, but the uncharacteristic positivity of the beat makes it all the more iconic.
7. Earl Sweatshirt – Shattered Dreams
- Album: Some Rap Songs
- Year: 2018
Earl Sweatshirt switched up his sound a lot on his 2018 release “Some Rap Songs”. While rap fans had various feelings about this change, there is no denying that this album has some amazing bass lines on it.
To me, the most noteworthy of them is found on “Shattered Dreams”. The bass works extremely well with the rest of the beat and combines sustained and fast notes seamlessly. It is especially impressive how well it is able to play off the vocals and the guitar at the same time.
6. Kendrick Lamar – King Kunta
- Album: To Pimp A Butterfly
- Year: 2015
The reason “To Pimp A Butterfly” could be the best hip-hop album of this millennium is that it has everything. Luckily for bass enthusiasts, “everything” includes groovy bass lines.
From the very beginning, the low-end heavy and smooth bass drives this relatively progressive hip-hop track forward. Despite the song both decreasing and increasing in intensity throughout it, the bass holds it together and makes the track feel cohesive.
5. Young MC – Bust A Move
- Album: Stone Cold Rhymin’
- Year: 1989
“Bust A Move” by Young MC features an absolutely mind-melting bassline.
This is in one part because of the groove itself, but more prominently because the bass tone makes a major change mid-song.
The bass goes from a smooth and soft tone to a fat and attack-heavy one that starts driving the track forward. Despite this song being more than 30 years old, I am yet to hear a single hip-hop track change up the bass tone mid-song as well as “Bust A Move”.
4. Brockhampton – SWEET
- Album: SATURATION 2
- Year: 2017
How Brockhampton managed to put out 3 albums of excellent quality in the latter half of 2017 will never stop amazing me. What`s more impressive is that most of the songs in the Saturation trilogy feature innovative beats with great basslines.
My favorite among these is “SWEET”. Despite featuring verses from 5 different rappers, it manages to fit them all perfectly. It also manages to blend in seamlessly with an otherwise chaotic beat, all while remaining groovy.
3. Grandmaster Melle Mel - White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)
- Album: Released as a twelve-inch single
- Year: 1983
Based on a bassline from Liquid Liquid`s “Caravan”, “White Lines” is a great example of how 2 notes are enough to create a great hip-hop bassline.
For most of the song, the bass is just playing an A and a C. They are however played incredibly fast, which creates a groove that has a fitting sense of urgency. If we take a look at the lyrics, this effect feels all the more genius.
2. A Tribe Called Quest – Excursions
- Album: The Low-End Theory
- Year: 1991
Picking just one bassline from “The Low-End Theory” felt impossible. In the end, I went with “Excursions”, but honestly, half of this list could consist of songs from this album.
As for why this song made the cut, it is one of the most catchy bass lines I have ever heard in hip-hop. When the bass enters and the vocals follow on top, they create an amazing buildup before the song kicks off. As the song progresses the bass keeps driving the song forward while adding in stops at the perfect spots.
1. The Sugar Hill Gang – Rapper’s Delight
- Album: Sugarhill Gang
- Year: 1980
While Rapper`s Delight was the first commercial release by a hip-hop group, few basslines have topped it since. It`s sampled from Chic`s 1979 track “Good Times”, and is possibly the most iconic bassline in all of hip-hop.
At its core, it is based on a disco bassline, so there is no surprise that it is so funky. While the sound of hip-hop and the technical proficiency of rappers have evolved a lot since 1980, it is safe to say that this bassline has stood the test of time.
Are you a hip-hop bassist?
If this list of the best hip-hop bass lines inspired you to become a hip-hop bassist, I couldn`t recommend it more. It is one of the most fun and diverse genres I`ve had the chance to play. Hip-hop has also allowed me to be more creative with what types of basslines I choose to write than any other type of music.
I`ve taken these experiences and used them to write a guide on playing hip-hop as a bassist. I recommend reading it if you are an aspiring hip-hop bassist, or looking to become one.