It's been 10 years since Nas and Scarface last worked together on the Houston MC's "In Between Us," but their new collaboration was worth the wait. Last week, DJ Khaled leaked the latest single from his Kiss the Ring LP featuring Nasty and 'Face. The song borrows Common's "I Used to Love H.E.R." concept—a love letter to a personified hip-hop—and is the best song to do so in years. The record’s so good, Khaled may have actually undersold it when he proclaimed, “This shit’s special.” Many MCs—even soulful songbird Erykah Badu took a crack at it—have put a spin on the idea over the years with varying results. One thing is consistent, the author's relationship with hip-hop is always conflicted. Here, XXL ranks the Five Best Love Letters to Hip-Hop.—XXL Staff (@XXL)
No, this isn’t a rap song, but it’s a dreamy, melodic sonnet to the culture by a lady who’s more hip-hop than most rappers. Erykah Badu, known as one of the Queens of Neo soul, acknowledges her love, gratitude, and gratefulness to the culture. Officially released on the soundtrack for Brown Sugar, the song garnered much praise, receiving a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 2003. The music video, which features Crazy Legs, Public Enemy, Lil Flip, and Kool Herc was the best of its kind to document hip-hop’s rise and change over the years. Oh, Common also shares a verse, you know, it’s his forte after all.
Eminem “25 to Life,” Recovery (2010)
With just two verses and a female vocalist offering the chorus, Eminem is “caught in a chase, 25 to life” with hip-hop in this Recovery album cut. As he’s done for much of his career, here Slim Shady looks at how the music and the fame have affected him, and what it’s made him give up—namely, his “freedom.” Like with any deep, complicated relationship built on love, though, it’s not easy to walk away, despite whatever problems one may have. He closes the song by lashing out, “Fuck you, hip hop, I'm leaving you, my life sentence is served, bitch.” Luckily, he hasn’t kept his word just yet.
The Roots ft. Common "Act Too... The Love of My Life," Things Fall Apart (1999)
This deeply musical ode to hip-hop by the legendary Roots crew, featuring Common, the original rapper to anthropomorphize hip-hop, has all the signature elements that were synonymous with the Soulquairan movement. The escalating soundscape, constructed by live instrumentation, reaches a climax as Black Thought and Common spew their love for hip-hop. It sparks a deep sense of appreciation for any brolic-headphone-rocking, purist rap stan during the era of its release. “Caught in the Hype Williams, and lost H.E.R. direction.” Words of wisdom, kid.
1. Common "I Used to Love H.E.R.," Resurrection (1994)
The first of its kind, Com’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” spawned several interpretations since its ’94 release, but none have come close to matching the Chicago lyricist’s concept. Com pens a love letter to a girl he met when he was 10 years old and documents her trajectory from her afrocentric days to her gangsta phase. The plot is brilliantly revealed in the end. "Cause who I'm talkin' about y'all is hip-hop," he rhymes. The song briefly caused friction between Com and Ice Cube—who thought the Chi-Town MC was taking shots at the West Coast on the song. It’s flawless—from No I.D.’s melodic soundscape to the spoiler-free plot.