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Article Nov 11 2017 Written by

The Most Perfect Rap Song Ever Written: One Love

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Full disclosure: the first time I’d heard the sample from The Heath Brothers’ Smilin Billy Suite II, it was on Redman’s Soopaman Lova 3 from the Muddy Waters album. As I may have said before, I’d only bought Nas’ Illmatic on cassette after I’d already bought It Was Written. But I will take it a step further and admit that I didn’t even like Illmatic the first time I’d listened to it.

Now before you close out this browser in disgust, let me give you some perspective. I grew up in Texas during the pre-internet days of the 90’s. Even though New York was the mecca and birthplace of Hip Hop, not many people I knew back in high school were getting down with east coast rap like that. Unless you had peoples in other places (or cable), your listening aesthetics were very much influenced by regional media. Most of the rap music getting piped down to us by the radio stations was coming out of Los Angeles (N.W.A. and their affiliates) or Miami (Luther Campbell and his artists) and sometimes Atlanta (Dungeon Family).

Most importantly, my ears hadn’t been exposed to much music outside of 70’s and 80’s R&B. In our house, jazz was the contemporary elevator music that you heard at doctor’s offices. It wasn’t until I’d gotten to college and was exposed to other genres (and a little dope here and there), that my palette was refined enough to enjoy jazz artists like John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, or in this particular case, early 90’s Nas.

best hip hop album 1990s

When I finally revisited Illmatic with some college friends, my ears were more receptive to rich tones and tapestry laid behind Mr. Nasir Jones lyrics. But it was the opening boom bap boom of One Love that I recognized the sample from the Redman cassette I’d bought my senior year in high school. OH SNAP! My mind was blown. I rewound the tape and listened to song again, then I played it back again, repeating this process at least five times before letting the tape play out again. Later that same week, I bought a used copy on compact disc so I could just listen to that one track. I was obsessed.

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Besides being one of the most perfect beats ever created (produced by none other than the illustrious Q-Tip), Nas spits some real shit on this track (keep in mind he was only a teenager at the time). Much like Mobb Deep’s Temperature Rising (which also involved Q-Tip) the song is written as a letter to friends who’ve found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

While Mobb Deep’s tribute is more a tale of doin’ dirt and the immediate consequences, Nas drops nuggets of wisdom; waxing philosophically on the social circumstances that have possibly contributed to the present day conditions of his surroundings. On this track, he is still in the midst of the struggle, (as opposed to later albums, where has risen above his environment to achieve artistic and financial success) and writes encouraging words for his peers to soak up.

Someone could accuse me of doing a very elaborate troll job back when I wrote that If I Ruled the World was the most perfect rap song ever written. And perhaps I was just trying to stir up controversy, but I sincerely believe that One Love would be in the canon for anyone who’d never heard Hip Hop before. If I were introducing one of my little nephews to Nas, maybe I would start with some of his later tracks, Get Down, Street Dreams, If I Ruled the World, and Hip Hop is Dead all knock on an entirely different BPM stratosphere.

But if a literary scholar came up to me and said, “Bobby Mickey, who is this Nas fellow that all the old heads keep caping for, and why does Lonzo Ball thinks he is washed?” then I would sit them down, twist something up, and have a few puffs while we listen to One Love on repeat.

If there were a more perfect Hip Hop track written by anyone (past or present), I couldn’t name it.

[Verse 1]
What up, kid? I know shit is rough doin’ your bid
When the cops came you shoulda slid to my crib
Fuck it, black, no time for lookin’ back, it’s done
Plus, congratulations, you know you got a son
I heard he looks like ya, why don’t your lady write ya?
Told her she should visit, that’s when she got hyper
Flippin’, talkin’ about he acts too rough
He didn’t listen, he be riffin’ while I’m tellin’ him stuff
I was like, “Yeah,” shorty don’t care, she a snake too
Fuckin’ with them niggas from that fake crew that hate you
But yo, guess who got shot in the dome-piece?
Jerome’s niece, on her way home from Jones Beach
It’s bugged, plus little Rob is sellin’ drugs on the dime
Hangin’ out with young thugs that all carry 9’s
And night time is more trife than ever
What up with Cormega? Did you see him? Are y’all together?
If so, then hold the fort down, represent to the fullest
Say what’s up to Herb, Ice and Bullet
I left a half a hundred in your commissary
You was my nigga when push came to shove
(One what?) One love!

[Hook: Q-Tip]
One love, one love, one love, one love
One love, one love, one love, one love
One love, one love, one love, one love
One love, one love, one love, one love

[Verse 2]
Dear Born, you’ll be out soon, stay strong
Out in New York the same shit is goin’ on
The crackheads stalkin’, loudmouths is talkin’
Hold, check out the story yesterday when I was walkin’
That nigga you shot last year tried to appear
Like he hurtin’ somethin’
Word to mother, I heard him frontin’
And he be pumpin’ on your block
Your man gave him your Glock
And now they run together — what up, son? Whatever
Since I’m on the streets I’ma put it to a cease
But I heard you blew a nigga with a ox for the phone piece
Wildin’ on the Island, but now in Elmira
Better chill, ‘cause them niggas will put that ass on fire
Last time you wrote you said they tried you in the showers
But maintain, when you come home the corner’s ours
On the reals, all these crab niggas know the deal
When we start the revolution all they probably do is squeal
But chill, see you on the next V-I
I gave your mom dukes loot for kicks, plus sent you flicks
Your brother’s buckwildin’ in 4-Main, he wrote me
He might beat his case, ’til he come home he’ll play it lowkey
So stay civilized, time flies
Though incarcerated your mind dies
I hate it when your moms cries
It kinda makes me want to murder, for reala
I even got a mask and gloves to bust slugs, but one love

[Hook: Q-Tip]
One love, one love, one love, one love
One love, one love, one love, one love
One love, one love, one love, one love
One love, one love, one love, one love

[Verse 3]
Sometimes I sit back with a Buddha sack
Mind’s in another world, thinkin’
“How can we exist through the facts?”
Written in school text books, bibles, et cetera
Fuck a school lecture, the lies get me vexed-er
So I be ghost from my projects
I take my pen and pad for the weekend
Hittin’ L’s while I’m sleepin’
A two-day stay, you may say I need the time alone
To relax my dome, no phone, left the 9 at home
You see the streets had me stressed somethin’ terrible
Fuckin’ with the corners have a nigga up in Bellevue
Or HDM, hit with numbers from 8 to 10
A future in a maximum state pen is grim
So I comes back home, nobody’s out but Shorty Doo-Wop
Rollin’ two phillies together: in the Bridge we call ’em oo-wops
He said: “Nas, niggas caught me bustin’ off the roof
So I wear a bulletproof and pack a black tre-deuce.”
He inhaled so deep, shut his eyes like he was sleep
Started coughin’, one eye peeked to watch me speak
I sat back like The Mack, my army suit was black
We was chillin’ on these benches
Where he pumped his loose cracks
I took the L when he passed it, this little bastard
Keeps me blasted and starts talkin’ mad shit
I had to school him, told him don’t let niggas fool him
‘Cause when the pistol blows
The one that’s murdered be the cool one
Tough luck when niggas are struck, families fucked up
Coulda caught your man, but didn’t look when you bucked up
Mistakes happen, so take heed, never bust up
At the crowd, catch him solo, make the right man bleed
Shorty’s laugh was cold-blooded as he spoke so foul
Only twelve, tryin’ to tell me that he liked my style
Then I rose, wipin’ the blunt’s ash from my clothes
Then froze, only to blow the herb smoke through my nose
And told my little man I’ma ghost, I broze
Left some jewels in his skull that he can sell if he chose
Words of wisdom from Nas: try to rise up above
Keep an eye out for Jake, Shorty Wop, one love

[Hook: Q-Tip]
One love, one love, one love, one love
One love, one love, one love, one love
One love, one love, one love, one love
One love, one love, one love, one love

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Written by

Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be f…

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