Hip Hop at 50

Aux Cord Chronicles XXIII: Love and hip-hop

From relationship drama to true love, our favorite rappers have covered it all

It’s February, so that means love is in the air. But this year, we’re also celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. For the 23rd installment of our Aux Cord Chronicles series, we’ve compiled a list of love songs that address the topic from artists such as DMX, MC Lyte, Future, Lil’ Kim, OutKast, Nicki Minaj, Drake and more. Some are obvious. Some are not. Some are fun. Some are uncomfortably serious. Some are sweet. Some are quite explicit. That’s hip-hop in a nutshell.

The rules for this list are simple. A rapper has to be the lead artist on the song. For example, as much as we wanted to add Mary J. Blige and Lil’ Kim’s “I Can Love You,” we couldn’t. Other than that, everything’s fair game. (For those looking for R&B featuring hip-hop vibes, this Aux Cord Chronicles list is for you.) We’ve got a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in.

Biz Markie — “Just A Friend” (1989)

Sometimes the hardest part about love are the roadblocks in the way. In Biz Markie’s case, it was the “friend.”

Eric B. & Rakim — “Mahogany” (1990)

Rakim’s place in hip-hop history has been cemented for decades. But here? The man was so deeply smitten that he just had to put it on wax.

LL Cool J — “Around the Way Girl” (1990)

While “I Need Love” may be the more appropriate choice, as well as the Boyz II Men-featured “Hey Lover.” But “Round the Way Girl” has always lived in my head rent free. It’s a bona fide classic that shows love to the ladies.

MC Lyte — “Ruffneck” (1993)

Look, everybody has a type. MC Lyte just preferred her man to be a little rough around the edges, and she wasn’t shy about telling them about it. Also, don’t sleep on just how popular a term “ruffneck” was way back when.

Salt-N-Pepa & En Vogue — “Whatta Man” (1993)

No matter what we say, every man’s ego needs some coddling. And if words of affirmation are your love language, then these ladies have you covered.

LL Cool J feat. Total — “Loungin’ ” (1995)

This song is nearly 30 years old and it still sounds just as fresh as it did when I had no business rapping this around my mom.

Lil’ Kim feat. Lil’ Cease — “Crush On You” (1996)

This one boasts a legendary guest spot from Cease, and an iconic hook from Biggie. But the real star here is Kimmy Blanco. She didn’t take one single bar off, while bragging about her ability to bring heaven to Earth — as long as her partner acts right.

Foxy Brown feat. Blackstreet — “Get Me Home” (1996)

The end goal was no secret here. And I love that for all parties involved. Also? I dare you not to say, “Uh oh, uh oh,” while listening. 

DMX — “How’s It Goin’ Down” (1998)

The late, great Earl Simmons may not be the first artist you think of when love songs are mentioned. But there’s no denying that a quarter century ago, Dark Man X dropped one of the most timeless, infectious and romantic records ever. Even if it did deal with infidelity — and the threat of potentially killing his lover’s significant other for trying to run up on him. The point is, he didn’t do it out of respect!

OutKast — “Ms. Jackson” (2000)

In case you don’t know, the song was an olive branch from Andre 3000 to Erykah Badu’s mother. “I probably would never come out and tell Erykah’s mom, ‘I’m sorry for what went down,’ ” Andre 3000 told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But music gives you the chance to say what you want to say. And her mom loved it. She’s like, ‘Where’s my publishing check?’ ”

Charli Baltimore, Vita, Ja Rule, Ashanti — “Down 4 U” (2002)

Ladies, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. So, follow the lead of the women on this track and don’t be afraid to slide in the DMs first!

Lil Wayne — “Receipt” (2005)

Lil Wayne rapped about a billion different topics in his 30-year career. But punch-drunk Lil Wayne has always been an underrated version of himself. This Carter II classic is proof.

Remy Ma feat. Ne-Yo — “Feels So Right” (2006)

In the history of rap singles that should’ve received much more of a push than it did, this is near the very top.

Drake feat. Majid Jordan — “Hold On We’re Going Home” (2013)

Once upon a time, Drake said that he hoped this song would be “played at weddings in 10 years.” Well, I’ve been to more than my fair share of weddings in the last decade, and job well done, because it’s been played at a lot of them.

Kendrick Lamar feat. Zacari — “LOVE.” (2017)

On such a volatile and erratic heatrock of an album from Kenny, this brief change of pace hits squarely in the chest. The second verse is flawless —  utterly flawless.

Meek Mill feat. Ella Mai — “24/7” (2018)

With a perfectly-placed Beyoncé sample, Meek Mill and Ella Mai crafted a phenomenal record about mutual obsession. The endearing kind. Not the restraining order kind.

Pharrell Williams (right) and Snoop Dogg (left) perform at the Video Game Awards in 2004.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell & Charlie Wilson — “Beautiful” (2003)

It’s crazy to believe that in 2003, Snoop Dogg was already more than 10 years into a career that had already gone through several transformations. But we weren’t even close to being halfway through it. Much like he had done with Dr. Dre, linking up with Pharrell would prove to be one of the signature connections in a truly one-of-a-kind career.

Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland — “Dilemma” (2002)

If you weren’t outside when this song dropped, there’s really no way to properly describe just how big of a hit it actually was. I’ll try, though. My mom was adamant this should be her ringtone.

Heavy D & The Boyz feat. Aaron Hall — “Now That We Found Love” (1991)

Heavy D made really fun music — while rapping his butt off at the same time. It’s been more than a decade since we lost him, and the hole he leaves behind can never be filled. R.I.P. to The Overweight Lover.

Mobb Deep feat. 112 — “Hey Luv” (2001)

The Queensbridge public housing duo may be known for being one of the grittiest lyricists of all time. But even thugs need love, too.

R.I.P. Prodigy.

DeJ Loaf — “Easy Love (2014)

On her “Sell Sole” mixtape, Detroit rapper DeJ Loaf encapsulates the feeling of perfect alignment when it comes to finding your “person.” A love that isn’t forced, it simply flows effortlessly. It’s an experience that Black women deserve in dating and relationships.

Busta Rhymes & Mariah Carey feat. Flipmode Squad — “I Know What You Want” (2002)

Just know there could be an entire Aux Cord installment on Mariah Carey’s impact on hip-hop. 

DPGC feat. Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg & Kurupt — “Real Soon” (2005)

Love isn’t always romantic; sometimes friends become family. This Dogg Pound 2000s-era record is dedicated to an incarcerated loved one, while also housing yet another classic Nate Dogg hook.

R.I.P. Nate Dogg.

Common — “The Light” (2000)

This record earned Lonnie Lynn his first Grammy nomination in 2001.

A Tribe Called Quest — “Bonita Applebum” (1990)

If you haven’t read Hanif Abdurraqib’s book of essays on Tribe, please do yourself a favor and change that. It’ll transform how you listen to A Tribe Called Quest.

Lil Wayne — “How to Love” (2011)

Lil Wayne said this 2011 single was inspired by another rap classic directed toward female empowerment. “It was like Tupac had ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ and it was a message to women and little girls across the world just to keep your head up though things are hard,” he told MTV News.

Ja Rule feat. Lil’ Mo & Vita — “Put It On Me” (2000)

Ja was so amazing at these kinds of records, and it’s really a shame he isn’t lauded more. Oftentimes, commercialized rap gets a bad name. But there’s nothing wrong with making really good music that a lot of people love. 

Tupac Shakur — “Do For Love” (1998)

“I’d take a bullet for you.” That’s what Tupac Shakur would reportedly tell his fiancée Kidada Jones (daughter of famed musician Quincy Jones) every night. Nearly 30 years after his death, it’s eerie how accurate he was.

Mase feat. Total — “What You Want (1997)

In a parallel universe, Mase crafts a much longer career spawned by hits like these with a style that was as easy to listen to as it was infectious.

Young Jeezy feat. Jay-Z & Andre 3000 — “I Do” (2011)

If you’re planning a wedding, and you’re looking for a song to walk into your reception with, look no further. The Jeezy hook perfectly bleeds into Dre’s verse. So, so, so, so good.

Jadakiss feat. Mariah Carey — “U Make Me Wanna” (2004)

This reminds me of the Lox/Dipset Verzuz battle when Juelz said Jada and company didn’t make music for the ladies. That went left field very, very quickly. 

The Carters — “Summer” (2018)

Beyonce and Jay-Z’s surprise joint album turns 5 this year — it’s a really solid project that has aged well. Jay-Z is the only one rapping here, and his verses are tee’d up nicely by his wife’s soulful vocals.

Tyler, The Creator feat. Kali Uchis — “See You Again” (2017)

A truly beautiful song about the beauty of love. But what else would you expect by the effortlessly unique Tyler, The Creator?

50 Cent feat. Nate Dogg — “21 Questions” (2003)

Yes, 50 Cent unleashed an entire campaign against Ja Rule for making the same sort of records he would eventually make with songs like this one. But this single from Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is a classic, and if I close my eyes I can still see my senior year in high school like it was yesterday.

Plies feat. T-Pain — “Shawty” (2007)

Some may call this a ballad about love at first sight, others may call it a song about a situationship. However you see it, one thing is for sure, “Shawty” had Plies sprung. Also a good reminder that sometimes it’s cool to just vibe; not every experience has to have a label attached.

J. Cole performs at Made in America on Sept. 6, 2015, in Philadelphia.

Jeff Lombardo/Invision/AP Photo

J. Cole feat. Miguel — “Power Trip” (2013)

J. Cole originally sang the hook on this song until Jay-Z intervened. No knock on J. Cole the crooner, but adding Miguel was definitely the right choice.

UGK feat. OutKast — “International Players Anthem” (2007)

Each verse approaches love in a completely different, but universally endearing way. It’s truly an honor to grow old with this ode. 

R.I.P. Chad Butler.

Nicki Minaj — “Your Love” (2010)

Originally known for her battle raps, Nicki showed off her softer side with this track from her debut album Pink Friday. While Nicki said she never intended to release this song, and later said she wished she had never recorded it, it became her first Top 20 hit in the country and peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Rap Songs chart for eight consecutive weeks.

Donald Glover — “Summertime Magic” (2018)

Is it a rap song? By technical constructs, no. But Donald Glover’s a rapper and singer, so I’m including it here if for no other reason than I really love the song.

The Notorious B.I.G. — “Me & My B—-” (1994)

I never said all the songs would be sweet lullabies. Yet, in its own way, this Diddy and Chucky Thompson-produced street banger was the Notorious B.I.G.’s idea of a love song.

ScHoolboy Q feat. BJ The Chicago Kid — “Studio” (2014)

To be honest, it’s one of the truly great melodic rap records. Hoover Crip ScHoolboy Q and BJ The Chicago Kid had people from coast to coast vibing out to this. It even earned the pair a Grammy nomination.

Nipsey Hussle — “4 in the Mornin ” (2013)

This is Nipsey Hussle’s ode to the lady in his life and how he hopes his presence is everything she’s been looking for. “I ain’t gon’ lie to you, I know I’m fly to you/ Nah, f— that, girl, I’m the sky to you,” he raps on the Crenshaw standout, “Ocean and the clouds, birds and the bees/ Your friends proud when they know that you f—in’ with me.”

Eve feat. Faith Evans — “Love Is Blind” (1999)

Violence has never been and should never be confused with love. This Eve and Faith Evans duet was important for that exact reason. I was 13 when I heard it. It was also the first time I saw a rap video that dealt with the horrors of domestic violence.

Chance the Rapper feat. Future — “Smoke Break” (2016)

One of the hardest things about relationships is always remembering why you fell in love in the first place. This song is a reminder of that.

Kendrick Lamar feat. Drake — “Poetic Justice” (2012)

The Janet Jackson sample all but demanded this record would be a classic, given the song’s title being a homage to her 1993 movie. Kendrick Lamar and Drake delivered, giving us a prolific collab (and one of Drake’s more underrated, but great guest verses).

Megan Thee Stallion feat. Jhené Aiko — “Consistency” (2022)

This song is pretty self-explanatory. Is it real love? Maybe … maybe not. But like Megan Thee Stallion said, sometimes “d— and consistency’” can feel pretty close.

Future – “Incredible” (2017)

Even the toxic king loves love. Well, sometimes. Here Future waxes poetic about the lady in his life accepting his flaws — and him accepting hers. Once Future starts hinting at the possibility of happily ever after, it’s clear this joint is the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Disney ending from Future.

Wale feat. Jamie Foxx — “Dearly Beloved” (2021)

Wale, and all credit to him, somehow lived up to a truly legendary sample from The Jamie Foxx Show and an equally legendary scene in Black sitcom history.  

The Roots feat. Erykah Badu & Eve — “You Got Me” (1999)

The backstory behind this song — how Jill Scott wrote and sang the hook, but Erykah Badu was put on the single’s official release due to pressure from the label — is well known. Honestly, both versions are heatrocks, so you can’t really go wrong. The song is an intricate story of love, stability and security in a world that’s often in combat over all three. And if you want another track where The Roots get all lovey-dovey again, give “Break You Off” a try.

Big Sean feat. Chance the Rapper & Jeremih — “Living Single” (2016)

A person’s worth should never be dependent on another person valuing them. Marriage isn’t for everyone, nor does everyone want to have kids. But life is all about perspective, especially when it involves matters of the heart.

Dreamville, Ari Lennox & Omen feat. Ty Dolla $ign & Dreezy — “Got Me” (2019)

I got you as long you got me. A simple affirmation that is reflective of what most look for in love — mutual attraction and support. Not to mention Dreezy’s run at the end. She melodically delivers bars about her lack of perfection when it comes to love but having the strength to try again. 

Dave East feat. Jacquees — “Alone” (2019)

Dave East and Jacquees, the self-proclaimed King of R&B, are an unlikely match but it works well … really well.

Lil Baby — “Catch the Sun” (2019)

Sampling “It’s a Shame” by The Spinners, Lil Baby croons about the ways that love can be complicated. It’s an ode to his lady, his family, and those who have held him down over the years, even when they wanted to give up on him.

Messy Marv — “Wanna B Yours” (2005)

We all know the type, the ones who wear all their designer clothes at once and think that means you should be attracted to them. Well, this is an alternative love song about a man who still ends up begging for a woman’s love because the money didn’t impress her.

Ab-Soul — “The Book of Soul” (2012)

Grief is the final act of love. Ab-Soul leaves his heart on the track as he painfully recalls the love he shared with girlfriend Alori Joh and how her death impacted the lens through which he sees life and love. Soul melodically floats over beats that may sound familiar if you’re a fan of MF Doom.

Liner Notes

For an extra-spicy take on Black love, check out Andscape’s new feature film, Three Ways, premiering Feb. 10 on Hulu.

Justin Tinsley is a senior culture writer for Andscape. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single most impactful statement of his generation.

Sheila Matthews is a digital producer at Andscape and a proud HBCU graduate. She believes that "Return of the Mack" should have won a Grammy and her Twitter mentions are open for any debates.