A true storyteller can make you feel what they’re saying in their words and make a story stand out. It’s not just about the story you’re telling, it’s about how you’re telling it. Since Hip Hop is deeply rooted in Storytelling I felt it was only right to do this list.
There are many great Hip Hop storytelling songs out there. These songs are a just a few of them, so in no particular order here it is…
Slick Rick - Children's Story (1988)
A story told by one of Hip Hop’s best storytellers and probably the most known storytelling song ever. In the song, Slick Rick is telling a children’s tale about two kids who decide to start robbing people, one day one of the kids tries to rob an undercover cop which results to him being chased by the police and eventually shot dead. The message Slick Rick gives here is, go in a more positive direction instead of going down the wrong path otherwise it’s going to end badly. (“Just another case about the wrong path, straight ‘n narrow or yo soul gets cast”)
Lost Boyz – Renee (1996)
Mr Cheeks takes us through the journey of him meeting a woman called Renee who he gets to know and ends up falling in love with her. Unfortunately, the love story comes to a tragic end when Renee gets shot, so as Mr Cheeks is telling the story, you also get to hear the harsh reality of life in the ghetto. This song is one the best storytelling songs because the flow and the lyrics make you feel as if you’re right there with them. (“I jumps on the van wyck, I gotta make it there quick, A yo, this shit is gettin mad thick”)
“A ghetto love is the law that we live by, day by day I wonder why my shorty had to die, I reminisce over my ghetto princess every day, give it up for my shorty”
Raekwon ft Ghostface Killah - Heaven and Hell (1994)
With the help of RZA’s production and Blue Raspberry’s vocals, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah deliver this song in a classic back & forth style, telling us the story of life in the blocks of Staten Island and how people are going through hell and living in it. The heaven part is meant to symbolize making it big, making money, living lavish lifestyles etc. The story is about not realizing that you can make it in life therefore it leads to still living in hell even though you’re in your heaven. ( “What do you believe in heaven or hell? You don’t believe in heaven cause we’re living in hell, so it’s your life”)
Method Man ft Mary J Blige - You're All I Need (1995)
Method Man delivers a gangster love story with Mary J Blige singing the classic hook. Throughout the song, Method Man expresses the love and admiration he has for his lady and acknowledges the fact that she has been there through thick and thin, and he is willing to settle down and start a family. This track was different from his other releases such as Bring the pain or Release Yo Delf and gave people (girls especially) a chance to see him in a new light.
“There are few things that’s forever, my lady, we can make war or make babies, back when I was nothing, you made a brother feel like he was something”
Pete Rock and CL Smooth - T.R.O.Y (They Reminisce Over You) (1992)
CL Smooth takes us through his own childhood memories with his family, from being the son of a single teenage mother, his siblings, the male figures in his life and finally making it in the rap game. He also reminisces about the first time he met Trouble T.Roy (of Heavy D and the Boyz) who was a close friend of Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s that passed away which is why the song is a dedication to him. Pete Rock’s smooth jazz production combined with CL Smooth lyrics makes this one of the best storytelling songs ever.
“T to the R the O-Y, how did you and I meet? In front of Big Lou’s, fighting in the street, but only you saw what took many time to see”
Bone Thugs n Harmony - Creepin On Ah Come Up (1994)
On this track Krayzie, Layzie and Bizzy Bone each tell a story of wanting to get quick money and robbing people for it and how they’re not afraid to do it. Each member has a different story to tell about why they want to get quick money.
Krayzie has just come out of jail and he’s broke so he needs to get back on his feet (“Fresh out the pen, and I’m low on ends, fuck calm, I tried to stay thug”). Layzie is feeling down because he has no money so he decides to rob a jewellery store (“Grabbed a couple herring bones, and some rings and some brooches, still thinkin’ how them diamonds was shining”). Bizzy is high and feels like the smoke is messing up his conscience (“It’s just that simple. I took my conscience and fried ‘em”). He decides to rob people for money aswell. (“He made out with a smooth thirty G’s)
The song is quite different from the other songs on this list but it’s still a classic.
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message (1982)
This song took rap from party records to a more social conscious platform and the deep lyrics tell you about the realities of life. Melle Mel compares his environment to a jungle basically saying it’s wild and hard to live in and he’s amazed at people are still going on with life. (“Its’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under”) He goes on to talk about inner-city poverty and the stress of living in this environment. This track paved the way for other groups such as NWA and Public Enemy to talk about social issues in rap.
Scarface - I Seen A Man Die (1994)
Probably my favourite Scarface song ever because of Its realness and his delivery is just raw. The story in the song is about a young man who gets out of jail after seven years and wants to make a change even though the odds are against him (“But he’s black so he’s got one strike against him and he’s young plus he came up in the system”) However he ends up getting back into that life of crime, gets caught by his enemies and ends up in the hospital while feeling regretful and eventually ends up dying.
Throughout the song, Scarface delivers a lot of messages, saying that even if you celebrate killing someone your memories will always chase you “I watch him die and when he dies let us celebrate, you took his life, but your memory you’ll never take”
This lyric which has the title in it “I never understood why, I could never see cry, till I seen a man die” is basically saying why doesn’t that feeling of regret and remorse come before murdering someone. This is what makes this song such a great storytelling song because it really makes you think and put things into perspective.
2Pac ft Stretch – Pain (1994)
2Pac talks about living in rough neighbourhood, feeling hopeless and having no choice but to sell drugs to feed himself and his family (“I had to feed my fuckin family, what else could I do, but be a thug? Out slangin with the homies”).
In this song 2pac doesn’t hold back at all, he goes in deep with no filter in his words and is very literal you can hear the passion/emotion in his voice. He expresses the desperation caused by the lack of options. (“What can I do but be a thug until I’m dead and gone? Keep my brain on the game and stay head strong”)
Stretch also weighs in on how he had to resort to selling coke to make fast money and now he has a lot of street fame which is more pressure since he needs to watch his back which causes his mother a lot of pain. (“A lot of pressure with the street fame, it’s a deep game and my mama always crying, yo there’s so much pain”)
DMX – Slippin (1998)
DMX takes us through his life as a kid from being put in a group home, his father leaving, selling drugs from fourteen years old and how his life got worse when he hit rock bottom. In the song, he talks about self-motivation, trying to make positive changes in his life and makes a vow to himself to strive to be a better person. (“No more endo, look at a video, sayin to myself that could’ve been yo ass on the tv”)
Common - I used to love H.E.R. (1994)
Common tells a story about a girl he met when he was ten years old and he falls in love with her. He talks about how she was original and pure, how fresh and real she was when she was underground before she got into showbiz and now she’s changed, she only hangs out in the suburbs’, and has become a gangster all of a sudden (“And on some dumb shit when she comes to the city, talking about popping locks, servin rocks and hittin switches, Now she’s a gangsta rollin with gangsta bitches”)
He also goes on to say how she’s just not the same anymore since she’s been letting everyone get a taste but he’s still committed to her ( But I’m committed, but so many niggas hit it, that she’s just not the same letting all these groupies do her”).
By the end of the song Common reveals that he is talking about Hip Hop, he was just using a girl as a metaphor for Hip Hop. Which is genius because it’s draws you into the lyrics and tells you that Common clearly wasn’t happy with the state of Hip Hop at that time and he felt like it was too focused on gangsta rap and it was becoming commercial however he still had love for Hip Hop. Even though I understand where he’s coming from, I think rappers from the gangsta rap genre were just rapping about the realities they were living in.
Too Short – The Ghetto (1990)
Too Short gives us an insight of life in Oakland and raps about the struggles of living in the ghetto and trying to get out to live a more successful life while trying to stay alive. The song also goes into deeper issues such as drug abuse and being proud of your race instead trying to act like someone else. (Can’t be white and whites can’t be black, why you wanna act like someone else, all you gotta do is just be yourself”)
Well that’s my list – if you feel like any other songs should be included leave a comment down below. Thanks for reading!
- A Tribe called Quest – I Left My Wallet In El Segundo
- Eminem – Stan
- Snoop Dogg – Murder Was The Case
- Ice Cube – It Was A Good Day
- 2Pac – Brenda’s Got A Baby
- Eve – Love Is Blind