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list Jan 21 2016 Written by

Top 10 Hip Hop Songs About Prison

Lifers Group

10. Nas - One Love (1994)

“What up kid? I know shit is rough doing your bid / When the cops came you should have slid to my crib…” 

An emotional highlight on Illmatic, Nas’ verses are not really ABOUT prison but basically a letter to his homie IN prison. The atmospheric xylophone beat-backdrop is provided by Q-Tip, who’s voice also echos on the chorus.

9. 2Pac - 16 On Death Row (1992)

“Dear mama, they sentenced me to death / Today’s my final day, I’m counting every breath / I’m bitter cause I’m dying, so much I haven’t seen / I know you never dreamed, your baby would be dead at 16…” 

Written and recorded in 1992, this track was one of the many posthumous 2Pac releases and included on the R U Still Down album. It relates the story of a young street thug who gets caught and locked up. With his typical passion and anger, 2Pac shows us the hopelessness and almost inevitable fate of many inner-city youths.

8. Capone N Noreaga - Phone Time (2002)

“I’m in jail pumpin iron son, and readin books…” 

From Capone-N-Noreaga’s 2000 album The Reunion. The song has Noreaga conversing with Capone on the phone while Capone is in prison, – over a dope L.E.S.-produced instrumental.

7. Snoop Doggy Dogg - Murder Was The Case (1993)

“No more indo, gin and juice / I’m on my way to Chino, rolling on the grey goose / Shackled from head to toe / Twenty-five with an izz-el, with nowhere to gizzo…”

Snoop Dogg at his best, with top notch production from Dr Dre to back up his (almost auto-biographical) storytelling. Classic.

6. Ludacris ft Beanie Sigel, Pimp C & C-Murder - Do Your Time (2006)

“If you doing 25 to life, stay up homie / I got your money on ice so, stay up homie / If you locked in the box keep makin’ it through / Do your time, don’t let your time do you” 

Ludacris’ output has always been a mixed bag – he is capable of dopeness, but also of poppy wackness. This is a dope track however, on which guests Beanie Sigel, C-Murder, and Pimp C explain what they went through during recent prison stints.

5. Continental Five - Stress (2013)

“Hate the sound it makes when they close the gates / Wake up at six to eight / nasty cornflakes…” 

Some hardcore shit from 50 Cent’s cousin Continental Five a.k.a. Two-Five. Listen to this song and know prison is a place you don’t want to end up in.

4. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Rikers Island (1987)

“Just to hear the name it makes your spine tingle / This is a jungle where the murderers mingle / They say the place is crowded but there’s room for you / Whether you’re white or you’re black, you’ll be black and blue…” 

This Marley Marl-produced track from Kool G Rap & DJ Polo is one of the hardest Kool G Rap has ever done. And it sends a clear message too: stay out of prison – “cause you won’t be smilin’ on Riker’s Island”.

3. Public Enemy - Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos (1988)

“I got a letter from the government the other day / I opened and read it, it said they were suckers / They wanted me for their army or whatever / Picture me giving a damn – I said never…” 

This has to be one of the most impactful songs Public Enemy ever did, and that is saying something. A powerful story of a jailbreak, directed at the US government and its prison system. Hard-hitting lyrics, perfect instrumental – this is Public Enemy at its best.

2. Ice T - The Tower

“I’m rollin’ up in a big gray bus / And I’m shackled down / Myself that’s who I trust / The minute I arrived / Some sucker got hit / Shanked ten times / Behind some bullshit…” 

The last song of Ice T‘s 1991 classic Original Gangster paints a harrowing picture of being incarcerated. The haunting and ominous instrumental perfectly enhances the lyrics.

1. Lifers Group - Belly Of The Beast (1991)

“I used to have a name, but now I got a number / I used to put suckers six feet under / Now I’m in jail, no longer a rebel / You can’t tell me a damn thing about the ghetto / I’ve been there…”

While other artists have written songs about prison that did not necessarily relate their own, reallife experiences about being incarcerated – this was a group formed in prison, by real inmates who were all serving sentences of 25 years to double life.

Recorded At East Jersey State Prison, New Jersey – this is a powerful message from the inside, telling listeners to wisen up and stay out. “This record ain’t no joke – learn at the expense of our sorrows and don’t end up in the belly of the beast.” This is the real deal.

Honorable Mentions

  • Lifers Group – The Real Deal (1991)
  • WC & The MAAD Circle – Out On A Furlough (1991)
  • 2Pac – Trapped (1991)
  • The Convicts – Penitentiary Blues (1991)
  • Tim Dog – Goin’ Wild In The Penile (1991)
  • Da Lench Mob – Lost In The System (1992)
  • Tragedy – Death Row (1993)
  • Akinyele – 30 Days (1993)
  • Slick Rick – Behind Bars (1994)
  • X-Raided – 25 To Life (1995)
  • Nas – Last Words (1999)
  • Mac Dre – I’ve Been Down (1999)
  • Beanie Sigel – What Ya Life Like (2000)
  • Dead Prez – Police State (2000)
  • MF Grimm – Voices Pt 0 (2002)

 

Written by

HHGA founder. Hip Hop historian. Avid reader. Proud dad. Marketing guy. Top 5 Golden Age MCs: Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, KRS One, Chuck D, Nas…

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