With today’s musical landscape feeling more upbeat than ever, we chart the hip-hop songs bound to put a smile on your face
Since its inception in the 70s, hip-hop has brilliantly appropriated the sounds and energies of other styles of music to create a new, beat-driven sound that persists today. Hip-hop's combined influences, from funk to dancehall – many of them directly sampled in the music – often make even the saddest or hardest songs fun and soulful. Despite a range of pure and derivative forms, some of the best hip-hop songs are equally (and cohesively) able to tell a story, cheer you up, and get a party started.
Hip-hop's positivity and uplifting spirit also speak to its endurance. From 2Pac's “Keep Ya Head Up” to Nas' “I Can” and Kanye West's “Touch the Sky,” there's palpable happiness in a genre that people all too often dismiss as exclusively violent or needlessly decadent. Today, artists like Kid Cudi, Chance the Rapper, Rae Sremmurd, and iLoveMakonnen continue to make hip-hop that uniquely inspires joy, celebrating yourself, and having a good time.
KENDRICK LAMAR – “I”
Besides having a self-affirming hook that repeats the line “I love myself,” Kendrick Lamar's “I” gets its cheerfulness from a sample of the Isley Brothers' 1973 soul hit “Who’s That Lady.” While the song has left fans who expected a continuation of “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” disappointed, it's still brilliant rapping and wordplay on Kendrick's part and boldly encourages confidence, resilience, and love.
D.R.A.M. – “CHA CHA”
Uniting cha-cha-chá and hip-hop production, D.R.A.M.'s “Cha Cha” relies more on singing than rapping but is a feel-good track nonetheless. D.R.A.M. paints a picture of eating Spanish cuisine, hanging out with a pretty girl, dancing, and having fun, making for a song that's equally about seduction as it is seductive. Kaine Solo and Gabe Niles' production hits a sweet spot between the two genres that D.R.A.M.'s lyrics take into a story about youthful pleasure.
ILOVEMAKONNEN FT. WIZ KHALIFA – “I DON'T SELL MOLLY NO MORE”
iLoveMakonnen has a lot to celebrate. In addition to not selling molly anymore, he recently signed to Drake's OVO Sound label (the two recently released a video for Drake's remix of “Tuesday”). Produced by Sonny Digital with light, arcade game-sounding synths, “I Don't Sell Molly No More” draws you in to celebrate Makonnen's triumphs in a way unique to his quirky style of musical storytelling.
LIZZO – “LUV IT”
Lizzo's “Luv It” triumphantly calls out the fakes in the industry, saying she'll “cut the fat and keep the skinny.” Similar to “Pants vs. Dress” from her album LIZZOBANGERS, “Luv It” combines Lizzo's declaration of her realness with bright keys and a crisp beat that make anyone want to dismiss the haters and keep it moving.
ROME FORTUNE FT. ILOVEMAKONNEN - “FRIENDSMAYBE”
Atlanta continues to be a hot city for hip-hop, in many ways thanks to the emergence of experimental styles from rapper/singer/producers Rome Fortune and iLoveMakonnen, in addition to OG Maco, Young Thug, Father, and others. Together on Rome Fortune's Small VVorld free album, Rome and Makonnen turn a song about a girl listening to her lame friends (instead of her man) into a fun, buoyant, and even sympathetic story. Never has complaining been so well-put and also been this fun to listen to.
Young Thug's voice a cappella is enough to make anyone smile, but add it to the chemistry he has with Rich Homie Quan and “London on da Track's poppy”, bass-filled production, and you have “Lifestyle.” “Livin' life like a beginner and this is only beginning,” Thug says, as he talks about coming “from the bottom to the top” and getting to enjoy the lifestyle he has now.
PELL – “RUNAWAY”
Pell's Floating While Dreaming album has plenty of both bright and dark moments, and while “Runaway” is pensive and slightly sad lyrically, it definitely signals eventual hope, belonging, and companionship. With production by Tomas Barfod and Jeppe Kjellberg, “Runaway” is about reconnecting with someone in the future, as Pell says, “On and on til I see you again.”
TKAY MAIDZA – “U-HUH”
Adelaide-based Tkay Maidza has been making plenty of dancefloor-ready songs, from “Finish Them” produced by Bok Bok to last year's “Brontosauras.” “U-Huh,” produced by Elk, is where infectious, quality pop and hip-hop meet.
DEJ LOAF – “AYO”
DeJ Loaf's “Ayo,” off of her new mixtape Sell Sole, has the same celebratory spirit of her breakout song “Try Me,” but with less threats and more turn-up. It's anthemic and something you'd wanna hear in the club (particularly for the “Henny boys and Henny girls”), thanks to production by DDS.
VIC MENSA – “WIMME NAH”
As a song celebrating his success and all the new fans he has (“they wimme nah” = “they with me now”), Vic Mensa also pays tribute to his hometown of Chicago. “I feel like Michael Jordan statue in my city now” sounds perfectly and appropriately proud over Kaytranada's production.