Let me start by saying that it’s not often I get to write about what I love; so whenever the opportunity presents itself, I jump. Special thanks to Tony Hanes and Da Dome for allowing me to share part of my first love with the masses! With that being said, one of the best things about being a Gen X’er is that I got to experience hip-hop in its prime. There was nothing like rushing home after school to check out Fab 5 Freddy, Dre, and Ed Lover on “Yo! MTV Raps” or Chris Thomas, Prime, Joe Clair, Prince Dejour, and Big Lez on “Rap City.” If you’re under the age of about 37, you can’t really appreciate the dopeness of buying that Midnight Marauders, Ready to Die, or The Chronic tape (maybe CD) fresh off the press, hearing certain songs for the first time ever (cause they weren’t getting played on the radio), not realizing that 20 and 30 years later they would still get heavy rotation. Latifah, Method Man, RZA, and Andre Benjamin were solely rappers (none of whom you thought would ever be on TV, let alone movies), ODB literally pulled up in a limo to get food stamps, and screw the Grammys, cause the Source Awards was THE show to watch. To be young again…but I digress.
Since Valentine’s Day is around the corner, I decided to share my list of all-time hip-hop love songs to help everybody get “in the mood for love.” I confess, there’s only a handful of new hip-hop artists that I listen to. Some of these teeter the line of true love, situationships, struggle love, and unrequited love. However, they all have their place in Muva’s Hall of Fame.
In no particular order:
1. “Bonita Applebum”-A Tribe Called Quest (1990)
So simple, yet so dope. Nothing more than a simple guy trying to convince a young lady that he’s interested. Couple that with a crazy sample (including the remix) and you have the masterpiece that is.
2. “Prototype”-Outkast (2003)
I have to take a moment here and explain that my love for Outkast (especially 3 Stacks) is unparalleled. This song has long served as my favorite on (and apparently one of the most covered, I learned). One of the best things about that album was you walked through Dre’s entire range of feelings towards love. But this song…THIS song, said it all: “I hope that you’re the one. If not, you are the prototype.” Damn Gina.
3. “She Lives In My Lap”-Outkast ft. Rosario Dawson (2003)
Also from The Love Below, Dre details those “situationships” that many find themselves in. She’s hella dope. He’s into her and could even marry her. But the thought of all of that is a little too much for him to deal with. So he chooses instead to hang out in this relationship limbo where they’re together, but they’re not. It’s frustrating as hell for her, and in the long run, he realizes that he may have lost the best thing for him. This track also includes a great Geto Boys sample of “Mind is Playing Tricks on Me.”
4. “Slow It Down”-Little Brother (2005)
How could I be from Durham (shout out to the home team) and include a Little Brother track? And how could I include this track? All you need to know is Phonte’s verse. The end.
But before we move on, let me just say that this verse speaks some hard truths that we ladies need to be mindful of. While you’re looking to see how a man treats his mother and the women in his life, pay even closer attention to how the men in his life operate, “cause more than likely, that’s the way they’re gonna do it.” Read your keys, sis.
5. “Ya Cold Wanna Be With Me”-UTFO (1986)
Back when it was HELLA cool to dance to a hip-hop song, UTFO went and blessed us with this simple call to action. “Hey girl, you wanna be with me? Because I need someone to be with, someone to talk to.” They made it clear: they wanted someone that wasn’t materialistic, reciprocated the love they gave, and loved them for who they were, not what they had. How hard is that?
6. “You’re All I Need”-Method Man ft. Mary J. Blige (1994)
Method Man’s ode to the woman he loved had us all wishing we were her. Is there really a more iconic hip-hop/R&B collaboration than this? Almost 25 years later, he is STILL fine as a vintage wine, and so is this song. I see you Meth!!
7. “Excuse Me Miss”-Jay-Z ft. Pharrell (2002)
Some may argue that “03 Bonnie and Clyde” was a better song for this list but, the way my 40 is set up, I prefer the laidback, one-hand-holdin-while-two-steppin vibe of this one. A Neptunes classic.
8. “Come Close”-Common ft. Mary J. Blige (2002)
Listen. Listen. Listen. This. Song. Right. Here. Out of EVERY song on this list (Outkast included), this ranks as my all-time favorite. Another Neptunes classic, Common and MJB just blended perfectly to create this magic. A man telling you that it’s ok to be vulnerable with him cause you’re safe and he wants to help you get to the next level? On a hip-hop record? Yes please!
9. “The Light”-Common (2000)
Can we just take a minute and recognize that Badu was inspiring the HELL outta these dudes!! She needs to teach a class. This Dilla classic is just dope from start to finish. Even if you can’t rock with the vulnerability of “Come Close” (which, I can’t see how that is humanly possible), then “The Light” is pretty universally accepted. Whereas 3 Stacks is on the fence with his, Common is pretty straightforward. “Granted we’ve known each other for some time, it don’t take a whole day to recognize sunshine.” Listen.
10. “Me and My Bitch”-Notorious B.I.G. (1994)
Truth Moment: I hesitated including this on the list cause of the reference to hitting women. However, this song is a classic in its own right, and sparked and personifies that “struggle” and “ride-or-die” love folks claim to want. Apparently that’s love for some. *Kanye shrug*
11. “Hey Lover”-LL Cool J ft. Boyz II Men (1995)
No list is complete without James Todd Smith. He loves her, but she loves him (even though “him” ain’t ish). So he just watches and admires from afar. Ain’t that how it goes (so I’ve heard)? That “Lady In My Life” sample makes the song even more ingenious. Shout out to Trackmasters.
12. “I Need Love”-LL Cool J (1987)
No explanation needed.
13. “21 Questions”-50 Cent ft. Nate Dogg (2003)
I file this under “great hip-hop songs to two-step to” (and there aren’t a lot of 50 Cent songs that fall under that category). What’s the best way to make your song a hip-hop classic in the 90s and early 2000s? Get MJB or Nate Dogg (RIP) to sing the hook. The point is simple, it’s easy to love me when I’m on top, but if I was down and out, would you still?
14. “Gotta Man”-Eve (1999)
Another song I drop in the “struggle love” bucket, but Eve’s album was pretty dope, and so was the song. One of the best parts of this album was the guy singin “Gotta Girl” at the beginning of the “Philly Cheesesteak” skit that followed this track. Sidebar: I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m glad that Eve finally let that “struggle love” go and got her a real man.
15. “How’s It Goin Down”-DMX ft. Faith Evans (1998)
It’s hard to deny in the late 90’s that DMX wasn’t on top of the world. Another case of he loves her, but she’s with him. This also brought us the classic line “54.11’s, size 7 in girls.”
16. “Teenage Love”-Slick Rick (1988)
This song reminds me of “Green Eyes” by Badu, but whereas hers takes you through all the phases following a breakup, this song takes you through all the phases on the front-end of the relationship. It starts out great and you can’t get enough of each other, but somewhere along the line feelings change, and that’s when it starts to go south. Brilliant.
17 “One Love”-Whodini (1986)
“You’re lucky just to have just one looooove.” Basically, if you get it, don’t blow it, cause the odds are it won’t come around again.
18. “Poetic Justice”-Kendrick Lamar ft. Drake (2012)
I remember when first debuted and K Dot had a concert at The Howard Theatre. I was invited to the show and passed thinkin, Kendrick who? I was so stupid. The “Anytime, Anyplace” sample makes this song. Coupled with K Dot and Aubrey’s verses and it’s a masterpiece.
19. “What You Want”-Mase ft. Total (1997)
Biggie was just killed in the spring, and Harlem World dropped my sophomore year of college. Before Yeezy, can we give Puffy some props for pullin some dope samples out of his bag of tricks. This Curtis Mayfield sample was in my top 5 of all time.
20. “Good Good Love”-Rapsody and B.J. the Chicago Kid (2012)
Another shout out to the home team!! is the TRUTH! But before that, Rapsody blessed us with this gem. It’s vulnerable, it’s honest, it’s unpretty, and it’s real!
21. “How Do I Love Thee”-Queen Latifah (1991)
Nature of a Sista gave us two of my favorite Latifah tracks (“Latifah’s Had it Up to Here” and “Fly Girl”), but “How Do I Love Thee” further pushed the boundaries with some pretty dope jazz/house beats. I’m convinced this entire album was just too ahead of its time.
22. “Brown Skin Lady”-Black Star (1998)
Do I really need to explain this one?
23. “Song Cry”-Jay-Z (2001)
The Blueprint was another front-to-back classic. While this may be more of an ode to a lost love, it’s still a dope love song and cautionary tale of study long, study wrong.
24. “Love”-Kendrick Lamar (2017)
I read somewhere this was dedicated to K Dot’s girlfriend. Even though he sings the entire song, it’s still pretty dope. “Keep it a hunnid I’d rather you trust me than to love me.”
While you prep your Valentine’s mixtape for the one you love, drop a song or two on there to show that special someone just how you really feel about him/her. However, make sure you choose wisely! Happy Valentine’s Day! In the words of my boo 3 Stacks, “every day is the 14th!!”