Love has been at hip-hop’s center since its birth. That’s including love of the game, the love of money, and love of one’s self. Of course, rap has opened up enough to speak of loving someone else. LL Cool J did so in 1984’s “I Need Love,” when he spoke in a fragile voice about being a lonely superstar on the road. That lent itself to parody, though: How does one get so soft after talking so tough on their debut? But things have obviously changed since the ‘80s. Drake has at least an album’s worth of “I Need Love”s, and acting loveless isn’t synonymous with keeping it real these days.
As a result, many more fans are looking to hip-hop to soundtrack February, the month of lovers. There’s the classics, like Fabolous’ romantic monotone and Ja Rule shouting, “WAH WOULD I BE WITHOUT MAH BABAAYY?!” in his throaty voice. Of course, the boo-loving playlist has had some more recent additions, too. Future opened up his heart post-Ciara for one of his best songs, and Kanye West stuffed acid house, Nina Simone, and a Chief Keef feature into an album only to close it with a soul-sampling dedication to his now wife. Nicki Minaj also managed to throw in a cute Slick Rick reference in one of the great love songs of our time.
Whether they’re about a guy relearning how to love or a lover swearing up and down about what he’ll do in the bedroom, the best romantic hip-hop songs makes it clear the passions are genuine and direct. By the way, they’re playable year-round, too. From LL Cool J feeling things to Future trying to let some love into his life, check out the best hip-hop love songs below. And before you ask: No, Drake isn’t half of the list.