Rap’s full of obnoxious boasts and rants of wanting life’s finer things. But for listeners, most of us just want to make our way and find success and happiness on a simple level. Pushing through to achieve lofty goals takes vision and conviction and, on some days, music to help plow through the obstacles.
Soundtracking the road to success, here are twenty songs to help you aspire for more.
1. 2Pac – “Lord Knows”
Ironically, while Tupac was locked up during the release of Me Against The World, this slow-burning joint was helping many folks cope with their own issues. Actually, when he wasn’t dictating disaster for foes, that’s what the man did best.
2. Big K.R.I.T. – “Children Of The World”
Not everyone has the inner-inspiration to move forward with their dreams, but on this K.R.I.T. Wuz Here stand-out, the Meridian MC knocks down his obstacles like the Whac-A-Mole game at Chuck-E-Cheese to show that nothing should stop you from reaching for above and beyond.
3. Royce Da 5’9” – “Shake This” (Prod. by DJ Premier)
While many rappers have been through sh*tstorms behind the scenes, Nickel saw his issues materialize publicly. So, with drunk driving cases and friendship fall-outs hanging over his head, the Detroit MC defiantly returned in 2008 to shake the weight off his shoulders with this Primo-produced single from Street Hop.
4. Maino Feat. T-Pain – “All The Above”
Before he was waving at haters, Maino wasn’t really known to many mainstream listeners. However, his notoriety on the streets was well-documented. So, when the scar-faced Brooklynite spilled his guts on this T-Pain assisted single, it was fitting that every aspect of his life came together and turned out a platinum single that would end up helping others refuse to lose as well.
5. Jay-Z Feat. J. Cole – “Star Is Born”
Many of the songs on this list focus on personal struggles and how the artists overcame them, but Jay and his protege chose to speak on the end-game for half the MCs in the industry, reminding folks that transitioning from nothing to something happens to someone every day.
6. Kanye West – “Through The Wire”
Battling through an obstacle as inconceivable as a near-death car accident, a budding MC named Kanye West turned tragedy to triumph with this perfectly-flipped gimmick track back in 2004. And even though he was no longer able to get through airport security because of the plate in his chin, the game-changing song would eventually allow him to ride in private jets and sidestep TSA altogether.
7. Blade Icewood – “All To You”
After an AK-47 assault in his home left him temporarily paralyzed, Detroit’s former next up penned this tale of trials and tribulations for his 2005 album Blood, Sweat & Tears to help himself and others to turn their life around. Despite eventually regaining his mobility though, The Great Lake Ruler and acclaimed leader of the Street Lordz would unfortunately be shot to his death coming out of a car-wash before the LP was officially released.
8. Wale – “Nike Boots”
Dedicated to his DMV territory and maintaining your fly when everyone around you doubts, Ralph tied those laces extra tight for his first mainstream single, which still holds weight as one of his better songs three years and one Maybach later.
9. E-40 – “Hope I Don’t Go Back”
Silky smooth and sprinkled with the tightly-twisted raps that got him out of powder sales, E-Feezy speaks on how he went from getting chased by the cops to dictating the streets on this gem from his 1998 double-disc LP, The Element Of Surprise.
10. Joe Cool – “I Wanna Sell Drugs”
Blazing up the track over his own padded production, Joe Cool gave us scriptures from the heart so he wouldn’t have to hit the block and in turn, ended up making quite the name for himself with this honest slice of reality rap that most folks can relate to more often than not.
11. Kendrick Lamar Feat. Ash Riser – “Barbed Wire”
Wanna win? Be prepared to go against the grain and do it with tenacity, much like the gritty spit K.Dot displays on “Barbed Wire.” Key moment: “Oh what a cold world for a broke nigga, it’s bitter, And life’s a bitch, don’t hit women so I bit her.” We’re assuming she was cool with it.
12. Drake Feat. Trey Songz – “Successful”
Drizzy’s always been eyes on the prize since early on in his career. So, with Trey breaking materialism down to its simplest pleasures on the hook, YMCMB’s crooner-extraordinaire used his second mainstream single to paint vivid pictures of the success he always hoped for and would eventually exceed.
13. Outkast Feat. Cee-Lo – “In Due Time”
Fifteen years after serving this spiritual slice of Soul Food, Outkast and Cee-Lo’s message of staying faithful to yourself holds more truth than ever.
14. Ice Cube – “What Can I Do?”
Telling a story of an unfortunate soul who went from rags to riches and back to rags, this unheralded gem from Cube’s Lethal Injection describes what can happen if you try and take the easy way out and don’t get your priorities in check.
15. Little Brother – “Dreams”
The closing moment on LB’s GetBack LP can be the theme song for anyone stuck in a 9 to 5 with aspirations of something greater. However, it’s Tay’s line, “Do you really wanna win or just look good losin?” that should serve as a daily mantra for anyone who takes those dreams seriously.
16. T.I. Feat. Rihanna – “Live Your Life”
Depending on who you ask, TIP’s Paper Trail duet with Rihanna was the biggest song of his career. However, while certain folks will claim strip-club anthems or soundtracks to trapping as Cliff’s pinnacle, he himself would probably be the first person to tell you that this moral gut-check was the not only the defining moment in his catalog, but his life in general
17. Brother Ali – “Forest Whitaker”
For many reasons, confidence isn’t easy to muster up for certain folks. One of the main reasons is appearance. But, for anyone who’s found themselves slumping in the mirror or shaving an uneven cranium, Brother Ali dropped this reminder that you don’t have to be pretty to achieve your goals. Whether you’re attempting to make it in music or win an Oscar, all that matters is staying positive.
18. Dr. Dre Feat. Snoop Doggy Dogg – “Lil Ghetto Boy”
Amidst timeless tales centered around the up & downs of street life, the dynamic duo of Dre & Snoop took some time to expose ways for the youth to survive on the one Chronic single that showed the world how well-rounded the classic LP is.
19. Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy”
There aren’t many words that need to be said about Big’s classic. This is the definition of going from ashy to classy and will be inspiring souls from here ’til infinity.
20. Outkast Feat. Goodie Mob – “Git Up, Git Out”
All the way back on their 1994 debut, ‘Kast linked up with then unknown Goodie Mob to create the quintessential song for those pushing through and trying to stay focused on the forest instead of the trees.
With that said, what are you waiting for?