All motivational hip-hop songs have some combination of at least two of the following elements: A bit of bass, some sort of “If I win, we win” rhetoric, a tweetable mantra, and, more recently, some Mike WiLL Made-It production. Even though they may share traceable commonalities, these songs never quite feel formulaic. They get in your bone marrow and thrill, sometimes even more so with each listen. Some of these sort of anthems haven’t aged well—no one’s throwing elbows and getting that gig-economy money to a Run-D.M.C. joint—but there are plenty throughout the decades that will still have you believing that you have 10 more pounds of muscle than you actually have, and more digits in your bank account than you actually do. That’s just the vicarious power of good rap music. As a matter of fact, you’ve probably aged worse than most of these songs have over time.
The anthems vary quite a bit in subject matter. One has an explicit lyric reference to African ancestry. Others describe wanton acts of violence. A few motivate posthumously. One dropped after the rapper’s grandmother told him people thought he fell off. Somehow, they all hit a chord and inspire self-improvement, regardless of what or who it is you’re actually improving for. LeBron James has certainly used some of the listed artists for one his Instagram clips. If they’re good enough for him, they ought to be good enough for you.
Not a lot of people know what the “VVS” that Future refers to is, and a vast majority of America has never worn the “Don C snapbacks” that Kanye West’s boasts about. Yet they motivate like the other 25 songs on this list. It’s not just the words, it’s the feeling. Get your inspiration on through the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B, Lil Wayne, Dipset, and Mike WiLL Made-It below.