Love has been a singular driving force in popular music for centuries, resulting in everything from R&B torch songs to power ballads. But what about in hip-hop? While rap music has often had a contentious relationship with those willing to express their gentler side, some of the best hip-hop love songs have become huge hits. These 25 hip-hop love songs will prove why.
Think we’ve missed one of yours? Let us know in the comment section, below.
25: 2Pac: Can U Get Away (1995)
Amid all of his “Thug Life” posturing and hard reputation, 2Pac was capable of delivering a more tender cut on his Me Against The World album. Sampling Maze And Frankie Beverly’s “Happy Feelings,” Pac tries to convince his romantic interest to leave an abusive relationship. While 2Pac was sensitive, he was never sentimental.
24: Mos Def: Ms Fat Booty (1999)
Yasiin Bey (or the artist formerly known as Mos Def) made a big splash at the end of the millennium with his introspective lyrical content, just as hip-hop was falling into mainstream commercialism. However, 1999’s Black On Both Sides wasn’t entirely made up of socially-conscious rap. Case in point: “Ms Fat Booty,” which tells the simple story of the MC meeting an incredibly attractive woman named Sharice, dating her for a while, then being heartbroken after never hearing from her again. Mos Def’s tale ends on an ambiguous note: a friend of his spots Sharice dancing with another woman at a strip club.
23: MC Lyte: Poor Georgie (1991)
MC Lyte has the distinction of being the first female solo rapper to release an album. By her third record, the East Flatbush native was a hip-hop institution. In “Poor Georgie,” Lyte tells the story of dating a man she knows is cheating on her, but turning a blind eye as long as she doesn’t see it. Then her man finds out he has cancer, drives drunk, and meets an untimely end. Moral of the story: “If you love someone, you should say it often/You’ll never know when they’ll be layin’ in a coffin.”
22: Jay-Z: Excuse Me Miss (featuring Pharrell) (2002)
Enlisting Pharrell’s falsetto vocals for the hook and The Neptunes on production, “Excuse Me Miss” completed Jay-Z’s transition from rapper to mogul, as he dons an Armani suit and flies around in helicopters while wining and dining the object of his affection. “This is for the grown and sexy,” he raps, before lifting the chorus from “Take You Out” by the king of sensual grooves himself, Luther Vandross.
21: Method Man: I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By (featuring Mary J Blige) (1995)
Method Man did well with his 1994 album, Tical (the first of many solo endeavors by members of Wu-Tang Clan after the group’s debut), but it took a lady’s touch on the remix of his song “All I Need” to push him into the pop charts. Mary J Blige was one of the first R&B superstars with roots in hip-hop, having sung on records by Father MC, Grand Puba and Prince Markie Dee while also including multiple features by rappers on her own albums. Method and Mary were a natural fit, hearkening back to the classic soul duets of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, who recorded the original version of “You’re All I Need To Get By” interpolated in this 1995 hit.
20: Puff Daddy I’ll Be Missing You (featuring Faith Evans and 112) (1997)
Not all hip-hop love songs are of the romantic variety. Puff Daddy’s sonnet to his fallen comrade Notorious BIG, who had been murdered a mere two months earlier, is brought to life with the help of Biggie’s widow, Faith Evans, and R&B stars 112. Relying heavily on the verse, chorus, and structure of The Police’s 1983 hit “Every Breath You Take,” the record mogul turned recording artist Sean Combs had a massive hit of his own.
19: UTFO: Ya Cold Wanna Be With Me (1987)
New York hip-hop group UTFO (Untouchable Force Organization) worked with Brooklyn band turned production team Full Force for several albums in the 80s, including Lethal (1987), which featured the track “Ya Cold Wanna Be With Me.” Doctor Ice, Educated Rapper, and Kangol Kid are trying to navigate their newfound fame, openly wondering if women want to be with them for their status or out of genuine love. The song culminates with the following stanza: “Everybody know that I been wanting you to kiss/Hey girl, here’s a spot you missed.”
18: Raekwon: Ice Cream (featuring Ghostface Killah, Method Man, and Cappadonna ) (1995)
In the wake of the success of the first Wu-Tang Clan album there came a deluge of solo records by group members, as part of producer RZA’s master plan for his crew. While technically a solo effort, Raekwon’s 1995 album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, is filled to the brim with guest appearances, and “Ice Cream” is no exception. Featuring bandmates Ghostface Killah and Method Man, as well as the recording debut of Wu-Tang affiliate Cappadonna, the Staten Island MCs woo women by comparing them to ice cream flavors. An idea so crazy, it just may have worked.
17: Gang Starr: Lovesick (1990)
The duo of Brooklyn transplants Gang Starr, consisting of a Boston-bred MC named Guru and Houston-bred producer DJ Premier, made for a winning combination from the late 80s to the early 00s. From their sophomore album, Step In The Arena, “Lovesick” has Guru bemoaning his significant other’s jealousy and feelings of neglect.
16: Fat Boys: Don’t You Dog Me (1984)
By 1983, East New York teenagers Prince Markie Dee, Kool Rock Ski, and Buff Love were one of the two biggest hip-hop groups in the world (the other being Run-DMC), and their debut album – produced by hip-hop legend Kurtis Blow – went gold by May 1985. “Don’t You Dog Me” is from the “drum machine era” of hip-hop, before sampling became the modus operandi, and features Prince Markie Dee pleading with his current love interest not to play him for his money, like his ex did. Fat Boys light up the screen in the 1985 film Krush Groove, where they lip-syncing this song in high school after getting kicked out of science class.
15: Spoonie Gee: Love Rap (featuring The Treacherous Three) (1980)
If there is a godfather of hip-hop love songs, it’s Spoonie Gee – with the help of The Treacherous Three, who appear on the intro to “Love Rap.” In 1980, hip-hop was still in its infancy, with Spoonie Gee having released one of the genre’s first singles, “Spoonin’ Rap” the previous year. As a live phenomenon, hip-hop didn’t have songs with discernible verses and choruses, or even consistent themes, and “Love Rap” reflects this. The Harlem MC rhymes for nearly six continuous minutes about his love affair over live drums and congas provided by Pumpkin and Pooche Costello, respectively. Grab your utensil of choice and dig in.
14: Biz Markie: Just A Friend (1989)
The Diabolical Biz Markie, who went from beatboxing for MC Shan and Roxanne Shante to being a marquee artist within the Juice Crew collective, built this ballad by interpolating the chorus of Freddie Scott’s 1968 song “(You) Got What I Need” over the drums from “Get Out Of My Life, Woman” by Lee Dorsey. Biz’s so-bad-it’s-good singing, interspersed with stories about finding out his love interests’ male friends were more than “just a friend,” proved to be an infectious combination. Markie’s second album, The Biz Never Sleeps, went gold and the “Just A Friend” single went platinum, reaching No.9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Cold Chillin’ Records had a major hit on its hands.
13: MC Shan: Left Me Lonely (featuring TJ Swan) (1987)
Inspired by Larry Smith’s production work on Whodini’s “One Love,” producer Marley Marl crafted this ballad with his longtime friend, keyboardist Andre Booth. Their Queensbridge neighbor MC Shan raps about heartbreak, and the original hip-hop crooner TJ Swan sings the hook. Shan and Swan soon found themselves opening shows for much more established R&B groups in 1987, blowing them off the stage.
12: The Roots: You Got Me (featuring Erykah Badu and Eve) (1999)
Over a classic Scott Storch beat, The Roots delivered one of the ultimate hip-hop love songs with “You Got Me” from their career-shifting album Things Fall Apart. Originally featuring Jill Scott, the final version had Erykah Badu on the hook and fellow Philly MC Eve handling a guest verse, with Black Thought applying his masterful lyricism to a street-savvy love story.
11: A Tribe Called Quest: Bonita Applebum (1990)
Q-Tip falls head over heels for a woman with an extreme hourglass figure (38-24-37, to be exact). With any luck, the interest is mutual – though we never find out. He is willing to kiss her “where some brothers won’t”, and, if required, he’s got “crazy prophylactics.” A Tribe Called Quest, who were fast becoming one of the most beloved hip-hop groups ever, grew up mere blocks from LL Cool J in Saint Albans, Queens. Must have been something in the water.
10: Whodini: One Love (1986)
Before hip-hop broke through into the mainstream, Brooklyn’s Whodini were one of the first groups to go gold and platinum. Unlike their leather-clad Queens counterparts Run-DMC, Jalil, Ecstasy, and Grandmaster Dee had a ladies’-men vibe about them. Lifted from their third album, Back In Black, “One Love” is a lesson in not taking one’s significant other for granted. It later formed the basis of Nas’ 1994 song by the same name.
9: Eric B & Rakim: Mahogany (1990)
The God MC Rakim Allah isn’t usually the first name that comes to mind where hip-hop love songs are concerned, but he had a few up the sleeve of his Dapper Dan jacket. From Eric B & Rakim’s third album, Let The Rhythm Hit ’Em, “Mahogany” tells the story of the rapper meeting a girl before a performance in New York, massaging her brain with his intimate knowledge, rocking the mic, and then going home with her. Straightforward, no plot twist.
8: Beastie Boys: Netty’s Girl (1992)
Originally a B-side to Beastie Boys’ 1992 single “Pass The Mic” from Check Your Head, “Netty’s Girl” is a send-up of Eddie Holman’s 1969 hit, “Hey There Lonely Girl.” In the hilarious no-budget music video, Mike D sings in a horrendous falsetto about a girl while riding alone in a pedal boat in LA’s Echo Park Lake. The “Netty” in question, is a defunct restaurant in the neighborhood where the MC spotted his crush. Ironically, Mike’s wife was the one behind the video camera.
7: Heavy D & The Boyz: Nuttin’ But Love (1994)
If there is one MC who stands heads and shoulders above the rest in the category of hip-hop love songs, it’s the overweight lover himself, New York’s own Heavy D. “Nuttin’ But Love” is one of the many hip-hop songs about a woman taking advantage of a man for financial gain, but, in this particular case, the Hevster’s response is: “I must admit, I really dig your operation.” The song’s title itself is a double entendre: he has no money… in fact, he has nothing to offer but love.
6: The Pharcyde: Passin’ Me By (1992)
South Central Los Angeles in the early 90s wasn’t all gats, gangstas, and G-Funk. The Pharcyde’s playful rap style was more reminiscent of the East Coast’s Native Tongues collective than anything Ice Cube or Dr. Dre were doing just a few miles away. “Passin’ Me By,” from their debut album, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, has MCs Bootie Brown, SlimKid3, Imani, and Fatlip fawning over women with whom they don’t stand a chance, including a schoolteacher with a Datsun-driving thug boyfriend. Poor Bootie Brown, he just can’t catch a break.
5: Pete Rock & CL Smooth: Lots Of Lovin’ (1992)
When an unknown teenage DJ calling himself Pete Rock added scratches onto a record by his older cousin Heavy D in 1989, few knew he would one day be considered one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time. “Lots Of Lovin’” is from the critically acclaimed 1992 debut album by Rock and his rhyming partner, CL Smooth. A sample from Ohio Players’ cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” forms the musical foundation of this silky rap laid down by the Smooth one himself, with lyrics firmly within the lovey-dovey category.
4: Slick Rick: Teenage Love (1988)
Slick Rick’s tale of a souring romance between two teenage lovebirds had originally been set to a mid-tempo dance track, but due to the success of his labelmate LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” the previous year, “Teenage Love” was reworked by Eric “Vietnam” Sadler and Hank Shocklee of The Bomb Squad, who gave it a ballad-like quality. Lyrically, the song perfectly sums up the gradual deterioration of a relationship due to one person falling out of love with the other.
3: The Roots: Act Too (The Love Of My Life) (featuring Common) (1999)
The sequel to Common’s “I Used To Love HER” has The Roots’ Black Thought trading verses with Common, who references his feud with Ice Cube, and takes a shot at Puff Daddy (“Her Daddy beat HER, eyes all Puff-ed”). The consensus between Common and The Roots appears to be that hip-hop had continued to lose its way in the five-year interim between both songs, but that it remains “the love of my life.”
2: Common: I Used To Love HER (1994)
As the listener follows this mini-saga about the tribulations of a girl that Chicago rapper Common (then known as Common Sense) is in love with, it becomes apparent that the main character is actually hip-hop personified. Using the backronym HER, which stands for “Hip-Hop in its Essence is Real”, Common caught flack from Los Angeles rapper Ice Cube for insinuating that the West Coast corrupted the genre, leading to a feud that culminated in a number of diss tracks from both sides. It’s almost as if they were fighting over a woman.
1: LL Cool J: I Need Love
LL Cool J is hard as hell, which is what makes this 1987 ballad stick out like a sore thumb. It is also what pushed the Queens MC’s sophomore album, Bigger And Deffer, over the double-platinum mark when he was just 19. “I Need Love” is the song that launched a thousand hip-hop love songs of varying quality by a thousand rappers over the next several years. Just as advertised, Ladies Love Cool James delivers.
Kendrick Lamar feat. Zacari – LOVE
Kanye West feat. Charlie Wilson – Bound 2
De La Soul – Eye Know
Nicki Minaj – Your Love
Snoop Dogg Feat. Pharrell – Beautiful
Black Star – Brown Skin Lady
Big Daddy Kane – Smooth Operator
DMX – How It’s Goin’ Down
LL Cool J – Luv U Better
Beyoncé feat. Jay Z – Bonnie And Clyde 03
Wale feat. Miguel – Lotus Flower Bomb
Ja Rule feat. Ashanti – Always On Time
Ja Rule feat. Vita – Put It On Me
Tyler, The Creator feat. YoungBoy Never Broke Again & Ty Dolla Sign – WUSYANAME
Looking for more? Discover the best love songs ever.