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Deep Cuts: Joyful Hip-Hop

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Artist: De La Soul

Album: 3 Feet High and Rising

Released: March 3, 1989

This is perhaps the most unabashedly romantic song in the history of rap. De La Soul, the original hippies of hip-hop, crafts a song that tracks the trajectory of a relationship from courtship to marriage with the sincerity that only love can bring. Prince Paul’s production puts the song over the top, laying a whistling refrain over a simple, Steely Dan-sampled beat that simultaneously reminisces about the excitement of falling in love while providing a guiding light for the future.

School Spirit

Artist: Kanye West

Album: The College Dropout

Released: February 10, 2004

https://youtube.com/watch?v=pUMd6rFxS34

Before the beautiful narcissism that has come to define Kanye’s recent work, there was “School Spirit,” a song that serves as his victory lap over higher education and the thematic centrepiece of his debut album. He’s dropped out of school and he couldn’t be happier—now his real life can begin. The soul samples used earlier on the album to sympathize with socioeconomic reality that adult life brings are turned into the stuff of dreams on this track as Kanye triumphantly sinks his teeth into every hypocrisy that he faced in school.

Every Ghetto, Every City

Artist: Lauryn Hill

Album: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Released: Auguest 25, 1998

Cheesy? Maybe. Similar in content to Kanye’s “School Spirit”—though not in tone—this song takes a deep look into the past and sends a thank you note rather than a poison-penned letter. Mixing rap, soul, and R&B in a way that only Hill can, she reflects and expresses gratitude for the things that made her who she is today, from the car jackings and economic strife to Saturday morning cartoons and playing in the park. Carlos Santana’s bouncing guitar keeps the song upbeat as Hill tells the listener that where you come from makes you who you are—for better or worse. You can practically hear her smiling the whole time.

The World Is Yours

Artist: Nas

Album: Illmatic

Released: April 19, 1994

Offering a respite from the mostly depressing content of the rest of Nas’ debut album, “The World is Yours” sees Nas delve into his dreams and take an optimistic look towards the future. Though he struggles throughout the song to reconcile the bleakness of today with the beauty of his tomorrow, the song’s refrain encourages the idea that the world is yours and you can make it whatever you want it to be. The darkness of Queens’ that Illmatic presents may seem inescapable, but hip-hop always offers a way out.

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