Brand Nubian - Love Me Or Leave Me Alone
"You gotta understand, I'm a man that needs fulfilling. And if you ain't with it somebody else is willing."
Before he was making headlines for calling white people "guests" in hip-hop, Lord Jamar was asking for approval of his own. A single off of Brand Nubian's acclaimed In God We Trust album released in 1991, "Love Me Or Leave Me Alone" has reached iconic status in the hip-hop game, being referenced in everything from films to Jay Z's "Public Service Announcement" in 2008. The single itself cracked the Billboard Hot 100 and helped bring the group to mainstream radio.
Drake - Marvin's Room
"Fuck that nigga that you love so bad. I know you still think about the times we had."
"Marvins Room" is performed from the point of view of an inebriated Drake as he calls up an ex-girlfriend to rant about his various frustrations and loneliness. While initially leaked via Drake's October's Very Own blog, the song was later included on the emcee's sophomore album Take Care after positive reception from fans. American pop singer JoJo recorded a remix entitled "Can't Do Better", which reinterprets the concept from a feminine standpoint. Drake highlighted JoJo's reimagining as "really shocking...she actually took the time to write really potent new lyrics." Check out the JoJo remix here.
El-P - The Overly Dramatic Truth
"Help me help you walk away, leave this un-amazing grace. You don't know from pure disgrace; you still think I'm here to save. I'm not even really here, I can't give what I can't take."
Unlike most emcees, El-P isn't afraid to beat up on himself from time-to-time. "The Overly Dramatic Truth" finds the Run The Jewels rapper blaming himself for a relationship gone wrong--being a woman he genuinely cares about to stay away from him, knowing he'll only hurt her. The track comes from El-P's criminally-underrated I'll Sleep When You're Dead LP.
Eminem - Kim
"At first, I'm like aight, you wanna throw me out, that's fine. But not for him to take my place. Are you out your mind?
This couch, this TV, this whole house is mine!"
One of hip-hop's all-time great songs, "Kim" took an already enormously popular Slim Shady and immediately turned him into one of the game's premiere storytellers. Dark, brooding and gruesome, the six-minute Dre-produced track was so NSFW that it had to be removed entirely from the clean version of The Marshall Mathers LP, replaced by a new song titled "The Kids." Rolling Stone called it "most harrowing sick-love song since Guns N' Roses' "Used to Love Her."
Frank Ocean feat. Andre 3000 - Pink Matter
"Make her swab the muphucking wood; Make her walk the muphucking plank; Make her rob a muphucking bank, with no mask on and a rusty revolver."
Andre 3000 has a bone to pick with a woman that broke his heart. Breaking down the situation with two symbolically-driven verses, the Outkast member proves why he'll always be a contender for the crown of the south.
Ghostface Killah feat. Ne-Yo - Back Like That
"If it's one thing I learned that, never trust a female on no scale, you just confirmed that. Bounce to your momma house, pack your shit. I don't care if you crying, you're a ruthless chick."
As RZA would tell you, Ghostface doesn't take any shit--not from any man and, as "Back Like That" emphasizes, not from any woman. Ne-Yo's first guest feature to grace mainstream radio is also Ghost's most successful single as a solo artist. The single was so successful, as a matter of fact, that Ghostface decided to remix the thing for three separate albums. The original is featured on Fishscale, while a Kanye West-featuring rendition appeared on More Fish, and a third version with a full verse from Ne-Yo himself appeared on GhostDeini the Great.
Jay-Z - Song Cry
"I can understand why you want a divorce now, though I can't let you know it--pride won't let me show it; pretend to be heroic, that's just one to grow with, but deep inside a nigga so sick."
The penultimate break-up single in hip-hop history, "Song Cry" finds Jay at the very peak of his game. Off of the infamous Blueprint album, the single combines rich storytelling with wit and lyrical dexterity. Jigga claims that the inspiration for the track came from three relationships, drawing from each to create something more relatable to the everyman. "Song Cry" was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance but lost to "Hot in Herre" by Nelly. It contains a sample of "Sounds Like a Love Song" by Bobby Glenn.
Joe Budden - Off 2 The Races
"Love me from far cause you scared to get close, but what are you fearing the most? If happiness is the finish line, I beat you there. I always thought that when you’d put the baggage down I’d meet you there."
One rarely expects a light listen when spinning a Joe Budden record, but even the most devout of fans were surprised by how personal the rapper was willing to get on this one. A loose track from A Loose Quarter, "Off 2 The Races" finds Budden getting over the hurt caused by his ex-flame Tahiry three years after their break-up.
Kanye West - Heartless
"How could you be so Dr. Evil? You bringing out a side of me that I don't know. I decided we weren't gonna speak, so why we up 3 AM on the phone?"
808s & Heartbreak wasn't particularly well-received in its conception but, as time has shown, it has gone on to become one of the few releases that was truly "ahead of its time." To date, "Heartless" remains one of the best selling singles of all time, selling 5.5 million digital copies since 2009.
Kanye West - Blame Game
"You weren't perfect but you made life worth it. Stick around, some real feelings might surface."
I did my best to restrict this list to one-feature-per-artist but, in Kanye's case, there was too good of an argument for both "Heartless" and "Blame Game" to appear. Whereas "Heartless" took a more offensive approach, blaming Kanye's woman for the source of his anger, "Blame Game" adds depth to the premise; here, Kanye blames himself on an equal playing field as the woman he romanticizes. Add a smooth chorus from John Legend and you've got a break-up song for the ages.
Kendrick Lamar - Opposites Attract
"She says she loves me. So instead of admitting that she has made another mistake, she says she loves me and I don't know about love."
"Opposites Attract" comes off of Kendrick's Overly Dedicated tape pre-mainstream success. A concept record, the track observes a break-up from the point of view of both parties: verse one representing the man's point-of-view; verse two being the woman's. The male cheats and the female questions, but both parties find themselves at fault. The song ends with the “She Says She Loves Me” by Lamont Carey, a piece about domestic violence which ties into the last lines of the second verse.
Download the full tape here.
Lauryn Hill - The Ex Factor
"It could all be simple but you'd rather make it hard. Loving you is like a battle; we both end up scarred."
The second single from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, "The Ex Factor" takes aim at Hill's fellow Fugee member Wyclef Jean, reflecting on their relationship as something beyond repair. The track features elements of Wu-Tang Clan's "Can It All Be So Simple." Although not as successful as "Doo Wop," the single which preceded it, the song still placed in the top 25 on the Billboard charts and was met with wide critical-acclaim.
Lil Wayne - Something You Forgot
"You forgot about the house, you forgot about the ring; I remember everything."
Who said Wayne can't actually say something in his music from time-to-time? "Something You Forgot" is Wayne as his most personal. Sampling Heart's classic "What About Love?" the song finds Weezy F ruminating on a love lost, promising to do anything to get it back--a welcome change from the typically confident punchline rapper. This one is off Tha Carter III Sessions mixtape.
Method Man feat. D'Angelo - Break Ups 2 Make Ups
"Got tired of the games, the lies, the feeble alibis. Now you fuckin with the next guy."
Like his fellow Wu-Tang compadre Ghostface, Method Man isn't one for second chances. Despite a quick reflection on the early times at the track's opening, as "Break Ups 2 Make Ups" builds, it becomes abundantly clear that the woman in question is going to become a source of trouble in Meth's personal life and he needs to cut her out. D'Angelo contributes a simple but effective chorus.
Notorious B.I.G. feat. Lil Kim - Another
"What do ya do when yo' bitch is untrue? Do you cut that hooker off and find someone new? I need another bitch (another bitch) in my life."
Off Life After Death, "Another" finds Biggie and ex-girlfriend Lil Kim taking stabs at unfaithful lovers. It's interesting to note that the opening portion of the song was not rehearsed but rather a real-life argument that happened at the studio after Kim caught Biggie with another woman.
Outkast - Roses
"Caroline, Caroline, all the guys would say she's mighty fine, but mighty fine only got you somewhere half the time and the other half either got you cursed out or coming up short."
Probably the happiest-sounding break-up song to grace these pages, OutKast's "Roses" was one of the few actually collaborative tracks between the duo on their Grammy Award-winning double-disc LP, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. The single itself was an enormous success on its own as well, riding the number one successes "The Way You Move" and "Hey Ya!," the song peaked in the Billboard Hot 100's Top 5.
RZA - Domestic Violence
"Cause you ain't shit, and your mother ain't shit, and your sister ain't shit, and your pussy ain't shit. That weave ain't shit, your ass ain't shit, girl you ain't shit, your daddy ain't shit."
In character as Bobby Digital, RZA lets off some derisive words for an unnamed "bitch" that has him all wound up and ready to give her a beat down. The song puts in the midst of those heated final moments of the character's relationship as they take a turn for the violent. This one is controversial, but it's harrowing realism is something only achievable by a true master of the craft.
Tech N9ne - Psycho Bitch II
"If you with a psycho don't go through with it, be through with it. Right in the midst of happiness her mood'll switch, she'll ruin it. You thinkin that you know women and you're just so intuitive; bet that nigga didn't think at the end of this you would have to shoot a bitch."
This highlight from Tech's double album Killer finds our headliner trying to pass on a "psycho bitch" to his partner Liquid Assassin. A continuation of the original "Psycho Bitch" from Anghellic, this sequel does everything bigger: faster flows, a more epic instrumental--all without compromising the lyrical content. Darkly humorous, this one gets lumped alongside Eminem's "Kim" as one of this list's most sinister entries.
Wale - The Break Up Song
"Life is a movie we both say 'cut,' but most times, darling, the sequel sucks."
Sporting one of the dopest videos of Wale's career, "The Break Up Song" comes from the rapper's acclaimed More About Nothing mixtape. It samples Stevie Wonder’s “All I Do.”