Ta-Nehisi suggests that hip-hop doesn’t deal with romantic love particularly well. I agree there are fewer hip-hop ballads than I’d like, but in a way, the genre’s very good and nuanced about responsibility, failure, and compromise. So for Ta-Nehisi’s birthday, here are 10 great tracks from the genre about romantic love.
1. Cee-Lo Green, “All Day Love Affair.” Cee-Lo’s always had the lover-man thing going on, but this makes domesticity look about as blissful as it can get. “I would gladly walk you home but you’re already here,” is as sexy a statement of commitment as there is.
2. Mary J. Blige, “Flying Away.” Perfect flip side to Cee-Lo. I’d actually love to see these two duet.
3. Jay-Z, “Lost One.” I think Beyonce’s generally considered to have gotten the better of the songs that came out of her temporary breakup with her now-husband with “Irreplaceable,” but that Jay-Z teamed up with Chrisette Michele gets him mad points. Also the fact that the song’s a statement of respect of Bey for chasing her career for a while. “But she loves her work more than she does me / And honestly, at twenty-three / I would probably love my work more than I did she / So we, ain’t we / It’s me, and her / ‘Cause what she prefers over me, is work / And that’s, where we, differ /So I have to give her / Free, time, even if it hurts / So breathe, mami, it’s deserved / You’ve been put on this earth to be / All you can be,” is a pretty awesome statement of respect for working women. Because romance is about building a solid, broad-based foundation for both partners to succeed.
4. Ne-Yo, “Miss Independent.” What can I say? I’m a sucker for songs about men who love and respect the hell out of successful women.
5. Floetry, “Opera.” Not a great version of it, starting at 2:25 in this video, but this is a fantastic song about whether sex is enough to keep a romantic relationship together.
6. UGK and OutKast, “International Players Anthem.” This song is a big, messy, wide-ranging conversation about adulthood, manhood, marriage, and relationships. It’s got some slightly nasty stuff about women sabotaging condoms to tie men down. But Bun B’s admission at the end of a show-offy verse about how he’ll show a girl a good time that “we tryin’ to get chose” is one of the great subversions of hip-hop bravado.
7. Frank Ocean, “Songs for Women.” I would totally give Frank Ocean slow-dance lessons. And definitely would not bang Drake in his car.
8. OutKast and Janelle Monae, “Call the Law.” Unlike “Ms. Jackson,” which doesn’t give the woman a question a voice in the song and is strictly in the aftermath of a failed relationship, “Call the Law” is a conversation between Big Boi and the superlative Janelle Monae. It’s about being hurt — and still wanting to make things work out.
9. Kanye West, “Runaway.” While this song may be an enumeration of Kanye’s failures, there’s no question that it’s also an incredibly sincere love song, an enumeration of the wonderfulness of the woman he’s doing dreadful things to.
10. To come full circle, Goodie Mob, “Beautiful Skin.”