Sometimes it’s hard to say out loud how we’re really feeling, but the best songs are able to take all those emotions and set them to music. When it comes to romance, though, hip-hop love songs are particularly adept at capturing the joy and pain that comes with matters of the heart.
Love and hip-hop are such a perfect match because the genre emphasizes lyricism in its descriptions of affairs of the heart. Whether it’s a heartfelt confession about a crush or thoughtful reassurances to a long-term lover, these romantic tracks have long been a key part of how we communicate our tender feelings. From the very first days of making mixtapes for a flame to today’s modern Spotify playlists, the best hip-hop songs of all time have been used to tell stories about high-school sweethearts, high-profile relationships, and everything in between. They’re especially sweet when you know they’re inspired by a real-life romance.
So, below, fall in love with some of the best hip-hop love songs of all time.
“My Boo” by Usher
Iconic call-and-response aside, this song is a dedication to the one that got away. Usher and Alicia Keys, both royalty when it comes to R&B love songs, joined forces to craft this soulful duet. “The song is talking about the first person you ever really had feelings for,” Keys said about the song in a 2004 interview. “I think we all know what that feels like. Even though you move on and meet new people, you always remember that first person.”
Most romantic lyric: “I know we haven't seen each other in a while / But you will always be my boo”
“3005” by Childish Gambino
When you’ve got that person that puts you at ease just by being around them, this is the perfect song to show how you feel. Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, once said that even though “3005” reads like a love song, he actually wrote it to deal with feelings of being alone and scared and recognizing that those can dissipate when you have someone in your life that you care for.
Most romantic lyric: “No matter what you say or what you do / When I’m alone, I’d rather be with you”
“LOVE.” by Kendrick Lamar
In what is likely an ode to his partner Whitney Alford, Kendrick Lamar expresses his devotion and asks her to do the same. The track reads like a series of wedding vows, and it asks the crucial questions needed to know in order to build a lasting relationship.
Most romantic lyric: “Keep it a whole one hund’, don’t got you, I got nothin’”
“See You Again” by Tyler, the Creator
Rap songs about love cover just about every relationship status, including simply longing for someone. This is a song for long-distance couples or anyone who has ever pined for someone that seems to only exist in their dreams.
Most romantic lyric: “Wonder if you look both ways when you cross my mind”
“Pink + White” by Frank Ocean
Doesn’t this song feel like driving at sunset with your favorite person in the passenger seat?
Most romantic lyric: “You showed me love / Glory from above”
“Hide” by Juice WRLD feat. Seezyn
The love of a good person can make you want to leave a previously reckless lifestyle behind. And in this emotional ballad, Juice WRLD and Seezyn rap about how their respective lovers have done this for them.
Most romantic lyric: “Now that you’re here, I want nothing to change”
“Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop)” by Erykah Badu and Common
Why can’t a hip-hop love song be about hip-hop itself? This song personifies the music genre as the object of Badu’s affection, though the lyrics about devotion can be applied to any partnership.
Most romantic lyric: “A friend became the love of my life”
“Thinkin Bout You” by Frank Ocean
Bridget Kelly, who Frank Ocean originally wrote this song for, called it a “vulnerable track.” With lyrics about a tumultuous storm of feelings, she’s right.
Most romantic lyric: “I’ve been thinkin’ bout you, do you think about me still?”
“Your Love” by Nicki Minaj
In an MTV interview about this surprisingly sappy track, Nicki Minaj said she wanted to tell a love story. “It’s just kinda liking a guy where he’s not really for you to like—the forbidden fruit—and me and this other girl happen to like him and we go to war.”
Most romantic lyric: “Find me in your heart / I’m in need of your love”
“How to Love” by Lil Wayne
Wayne said in an MTV interview that this song is about women with “deep reasons for them not knowing how to love.”
Most romantic lyric: “See, I just want you to know that you deserve the best”
“Take Care” by Drake
We should know by now that Aubrey’s music is all about getting us in our feelings. This duet with Rihanna is maybe the best example of that.
Most romantic lyric: “If you let me, here’s what I’ll do / I’ll take care of you”
“21 Questions” by 50 Cent and Nate Dogg
50 Cent has some questions for his potential partner—21 of them, to be exact. It makes sense; whether you’re on top of the world or feeling down and out, you need a partner that will stick with you through the good and bad times.
Most romantic lyric: “You know my style, I say anything to make you smile”
“Just a Friend” by Biz Markie
One of the best ’80s songs of all time, Biz Markie brought a sense of humor to this old-school love song about miscommunication and the importance of labels. It easily has one of the catchiest hooks ever written, and according to Markie it’s based on a true story.
Most romantic lyric: “Oh baby you, you got what I need”
“Always on Time” by Ja Rule and Ashanti
A late-night rendezvous turns into something more in this 2000s chart topper. Through the foulest of weather, Ja’s partner pulls through when it counts.
Most romantic lyric: “But we share something so rare”
“Ms. Jackson” by Outkast
An unexpected pregnancy led to one of the best hip-hop songs of all time. This song was inspired by Andre 3000’s relationship with Erykah Badu, meant to be an apology to Badu’s mother for complications during their relationship.
Most romantic lyric: “Hope that we feel this, feel this way forever”
“I Need Love” by LL Cool J
LL Cool J admits in this track that, even though he may seem suave and detached on the outside, inside he longs for puppy love, establishing his status as a heartthrob.
Most romantic lyric: “For the first time in my life, I see I need love”
“Make Me Better” by Fabolous feat. Neyo
When your partner makes you feel like an elevated version of your already amazing self, this song should come to mind. “You want a girl that completes you and makes you better,” Fabolous says of the single.
Most romantic lyric: “Your boy a good look, but she my better half”
“You Got Me” by The Roots feat. Eve and Erykah Badu
How does love find its way into life on tour? In this hip-hop love song, the Roots tell a story of love and fame, complete with Erykah Badu’s smooth hooks.
Most romantic lyric: “So when you sweating on stage just think of me when you rhyme”
“I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By” by Method Man and Mary J. Blige
Though “I’ll Be There For You” is among some of the most romantic ’90s hip-hop songs, the duet actually samples a 1968 Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell hit. It’s an ode to the old adage, “Behind every great man is an even greater woman.”
Most romantic lyric: “And it was plain to see / You were my destiny”
“Best I Ever Had” by Drake
A song for when you’ve found The One—even if you drift apart. Drake wrote this song for a past flame.
Most romantic lyric: “You could have my heart or we could share it like the last slice”
“’03 Bonnie and Clyde” by Jay-Z and Beyoncé
This song is the ride-or-die blueprint. It’s the first musical collaboration of the power couple and is now best known as our first indicator of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s growing romantic relationship. The fun vibe also makes it one of the best summer songs too.
Most romantic lyric: “All I need in this life of sin is me and my girlfriend”
“Dilemma” by Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland
Only a duet between Nelly and Kelly Rowland could turn infidelity into a chart-topping ballad.
Most romantic lyric: “No matter what I do / All I think about is you”
Originally Appeared on Glamour