Hip-hop – which believe it or not turns 50 this year — has always blossomed from love. It may seem corny to the average hip-hop head, but in an industry based on stealing the hearts of listeners, love is a universal language. Rappers who can balance vulnerability with machismo are undeniable chart-toppers whether it comes to self-love, love for their homies or even love of riches. If you’re a love hater, here’s a fact — Certified Lover Boy Drake was crowned Billboard’s Artist of the Decade in 2021.
But on this list, only one song from Drake’s love catalog will be mentioned. We’re also rounding up our top affectionate hip-hop cuts from classic ‘80s throwbacks to Y2K-era favorites to modern masterpieces.
To kick-off Valentine’s Day, check out the Best Hip-Hop Love Songs of All Time below.
Editor’s Note: A lot of these songs come from some of the greatest to ever pick up a mic. Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Lil Kim, LL Cool J, Drake, 50 Cent and The Notorious B.I.G. all appear on Billboard and Vibe’s recently unveiled list of the 50 Greatest Rappers of All Time, released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, which was born out of block parties in the Bronx back in 1973.
While the best rappers of all time is a subject for hot debate, there’s also a less contentious top 50 list you can turn your attention to. Billboard’s Top 50 Love Songs of All Time isn’t an editorial list, but rather a roundup of songs with love (or some variation on the word) in the title that have performed the best on Billboard’s charts over the years. You can check that out here.
Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland – "Dilemma"
“Dilemma” was such a smash hit that in 2002, it didn’t just reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the track made both Nelly and Kelly Rowland’s albums. With elements of Patti LaBelle’s 1983 song “Love, Need and Want You,” the LaBelle vocalist even made an appearance in the video as Rowland’s mother. While Nelly was no stranger to singing, he showed off his balladeer chops on “Dilemma” as Rowland effortlessly carried the irresistible hook.
LL Cool J feat. Boyz II Men – "Hey Lover"
In 1995, LL Cool J wasn’t quite the baby face that fans became familiar with on 1987’s “I Need Love” — his boyish sensibilities had grown mature. With ethereal vocals from Boyz II Men and a sample from Michael Jackson’s Thriller track “The Lady in My Life,” “Hey Lover” was the first single from LL’s sixth album Mr. Smith. The song also nabbed a Grammy Award for best rap solo performance in 1997. While LL had grown into Mr. Smith, on “Hey Lover” he proved exactly why Ladies Love Cool James.
Method Man & Mary J. Blige – "I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need to Get By"
Method Man was known for being a part of gritty Shaolin rap collective Wu-Tang Clan, but on “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need to Get By” he tapped into a softer side. With the incomparable Mary J. Blige, the song interpolates the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell 1968 classic “You’re All I Need to Get By” into ’90s hip-hop heaven.
Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell – "Beautiful"
One of their first collaborations, Snoop Dogg and Pharrell fit naturally on “Beautiful” from the Dogg’s 2002 album Paid tha Cost to Be da Boss. While the Dogg was known for exuding a pimp persona, on “Beautiful” he turned in his quintessential player role for appreciating and protecting his lady. Also featuring Charlie Wilson on vocals, the track was a predecessor to joining forces on 2004 Snoop Dogg track “Signs” and his 2015 disco-centric album Bush.
Mac Miller ft. Anderson . Paak – "Dang!"
Mac Miller’s 2016 album The Divine Feminine was an ode to every woman and lead single “Dang!” was an irresistible call to win his girl back. With horn-driven production and a funky hook from Anderson .Paak, Miller gets into his heartbreak bag all in the name of keeping love intact.
The Notorious B.I.G. – "One More Chance/Stay With Me (Remix)"
The original “One More Chance” was missing something. Appearing on 1995 album Ready to Die, the Biggie song seemed to have all the right elements: a hook sung by women and an effortless flow. The remix called for a slower pace, sampling 1983 DeBarge song “Stay With Me” with seamless vocals from Notorious B.I.G.’s wife Faith Evans and Mary J. Blige.
Common – "The Light"
In 2000, Common had fallen in love with fellow Soulquarian Erykah Badu. The love was expansive enough to turn into verses and thus, “The Light” was born. Produced by the late J Dilla, “The Light” samples 1980 Bobby Caldwell song “Open Your Eyes,” warping his vocals into a disorienting course. Common’s passion shines through as he professes his admiration of Badu in love-letter form.
A Tribe Called Quest – "Bonita Applebum"
People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm was A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 debut album, but “Bonita Applebum ” was their endearing breakthrough. One of the group’s earliest demos, de facto leader Q-Tip (who also produced the track) gets into loverman territory, cooing sweet nothings to Bonita over samples of ’60s/’70s songs “Daylight” by RAMP, “Memory Bank” by Rotary Connection and “Fool Yourself” by Little Feat.
Lupe Fiasco – "Paris, Tokyo"
On “Paris, Tokyo,” from Lupe Fiasco’s 2006 sophomore album The Cool, Eumir Deodatos’s bossa nova song “San Juan Sunset” lives on. Sampling the piano-led 1978 Love Island track, Fiasco goes into the abyss, promising his lover that he’s never too far, even when he’s traveling across the globe.
Drake – "Best I Ever Had"
Before he became a chart-topping phenom, Drake was So Far Gone. The 2009 EP followed Drake as he was on the pursuit of love and riches, with lead single “Best I Ever Had” being a textbook example of his lovestruck mentality. With chopped-up production from Boi-1da, “Best I Ever Had” took over summer of 2009, and was Drake’s first top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100.
Wale feat. Miguel – "Lotus Flower Bomb"
“Lotus Flower Bomb” was first inspired by a luxury fragrance, thus Wale’s opening verse. No stranger to love, the D.C.-rhymer showers his woman affection as Miguel cleverly emphasizes certain vowels. As a standout from Wale’s sophomore album Ambition from his Maybach Music era, “Lotus Flower Bomb” is an invitation into a world of opulence.
Noname feat. Xavier Omar – "All I Need"
These days, you can find Noname holding down the fort at her Book Club Headquarters, but in 2016, she drifted into a “Telefone delight” on “All I Need.” Featuring crooner Xavier Omar, Noname compares falling in love to entering a magical world of the unknown à la Alice in Wonderland.
Childish Gambino – "3005"
Whether Childish Gambino was specifically talking about love or existentialism on his 2013 hit “3005,” fans may never know. Gliding into a repetitive “hol up” refrain, Gambino gets real about his fears of being alone, pledging to never leave his partner’s side, even when they’re well into a chaotic future.
De La Soul – "Eye Know"
Although the full De La Soul catalog hasn’t made streaming services (yet) their 1989 track “Eye Know” is a joyful staple of finding young love. With the group’s mellow delivery, “Eye Know” floats through a melodic paradise over a memorable whistle from Otis Redding’s 1968 song “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”
50 Cent ft. Nate Dogg – "21 Questions"
Nearly interrogative, 50 Cent sounds off back-to-back queries on his aptly titled 2003 song “21 Questions.” The late Nate Dogg joins as the rapper attempts to decode whether his partner is in the relationship to reap the benefits of his celebrity or authentic love.
Nicki Minaj – "Your Love"
Her 2010 debut album Pink Friday was rampant with alter egos, but on “Your Love,” Nicki Minaj gets to the heart of the matter. Sampling Annie Lennox’s version of “No More I Love You’s,” Minaj compares her affair to a geisha finding her samurai and even relates her devotion to 1988 action film Die Hard.
Jay-Z feat. Beyoncé – "'03 Bonnie & Clyde"
They might be The Carters now, but in 2003, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s early relationship was ascending as “’03 Bonnie & Clyde.” Making history as the couple’s first collaboration, the two put their own twist on posthumous Tupac song “Me & My Girlfriend,” taking to the streets as hip-hop’s premier ride or die couple.
The Pharcyde – "Passin' Me By"
The Pharcyde was all for zany antics on their 1992 debut album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, but slowed it down on the haunting, potent love song “Passin’ Me By.” Passing off rhymes about unrequited love from women who were out of their league, The Pharcyde imagines a time where their existence is acknowledged.
Tupac – "Do for Love"
Three years before Common’s “The Light,” the posthumous Tupac track “Do 4 Love” sampled a different Bobby Caldwell (“What You Won’t Do for Love”) song. Filled with regrets about pining for love through rose colored glasses, Pac teases being a “sucker for love” still unwilling to give up when the going gets tough.
Kendrick Lamar feat. Zacari – "LOVE"
Kendrick Lamar’s 2017 album DAMN. got to the root of self-introspection and spirituality, but on “LOVE” the rapper had a gentler approach. Musing on his longtime partner, Kendrick takes a cue from “21 Questions” to confirm that her love is unconditional.
Lil' Kim feat. Lil Cease - "Crush on You (Remix)"
Lil’ Kim gets salacious on the remix for “Crush on You” from her raunchy 1996 debut album Hard Core. Trading verses with fellow Junior M.A.F.I.A. member Lil Cease, The Queen B persuades her suitor to floss her with expensive things if he wants to make their affair ongoing.