Jhene Aiko had the music world abuzz after releasing her “Triggered Freestyle” on Thursday. The three-minute song is believed to be about her relationship with Detroit rapper Big Sean, who she dated for several years before apparently breaking up sometime last year. She took to Twitter to deny that the song was a diss or that she had any ill will toward Big Sean, clarifying that it was “a moment that for me has passed,” and “something I moved on from the moment I expressed it.”
She’s not the first or last artist to delve into similar moments on record. As the personal lives of rappers become bigger public spectacles than ever before, more artists are embracing their biomythographies and are expressing their feelings about their love lives through art. There’s seemingly a token “love song” on every record, but sometimes rappers transcend generalities and get so specific that we know who inspired the record. Here are some of those moments:
Jay-Z and Beyonce
Jay-Z, Beyonce, and even Solange turned the Carters’ romantic travails into some of the most defining music of this era. Beyonce and Jay-Z are regarded as such an iconic couple that artists like Lil Durk have songs called “My Beyonce,” but as anyone not living under a rock knows, everything hasn’t been smooth sailings in their relationship.
Beyonce explored years of Jay-Z’s immaturity and infidelity with “Becky with the good hair” on Lemonade, a cathartic album in which she expressed a range of emotions about their fracturing relationship and the consuming toll it took on her. From anger to heartache to the deeply personal revelation of a miscarriage, Beyonce told it all and put Jay-Z and the world on notice that he “better grow up.”
And in summer 2017, as only Jay-Z can do, he spun his public exposure into a relative win on 4:44, a mature album in which he explored a range of topics, including therapy, cheating and fatherhood. From the reflective content to the fact that many of the album’s samples were songs Jay-Z was listening to at the time, it was his most personal album. The title track delves into his marital shortcomings so deeply that No ID simply pressed play on the wailing Hannah Williams & The Affirmations sample and left Jay-Z alone to speak his mind. That he did.
Cardi B and Offset
It wasn’t long ago that it seemed like Cardi B and Offset were on the way to their own dueling projects. After Offset was repeatedly exposed and accused of cheating and fathering children with women outside of their union, Cardi B had enough and left him. “Be Careful” from Invasion Of Privacy may not have been written specifically about Offset, but the forewarning lyrics fit her situation perfectly, as she explored being done wrong by a guy who didn’t see her worth.
Offset got his act together after months without Cardi and multiple invasive, public gestures of remorse. He explored his own shortcomings on Father Of 4, where he apologized for breaking her heart on songs like “Don’t Lose Me” and “After Dark.” He also lashed out at the media for reporting on his philandering, including on “Clout,” a song where the couple lashed out at messy blogs together.
Kanye West, 808s & Heatbreak
Thanks in large part to 808s & Heartbreak, this list isn’t exclusively full of rappers apologizing for cheating. Kanye has expressed his love for his wife Kim Kardashian throughout his catalog, most recently on Ye’s “Wouldn’t Leave.”
But it’s his landmark 2008 album which is his most indelible, cathartic contribution to the canon. 808s was a gripping expose of grief, where he admitted that the pain from his mother Donda’s untimely death and his breakup with then-fiance Alexis Phifer was so intense that he couldn’t simply rap it out. He melodically parsed through his break up on songs like “Say You Will,” “Paranoid,” and “Love Lockdown,” where his anguish was palpable even through the autotune filter that he and collaborators like Kid Cudi used to create a genre-bending universe that artists like Drake and Weeknd now roam with their eternal discontent.
Drake, “Best I Ever Had”
Drake has released countless songs about his love life that seem too specific not to be about someone in particular, but he admitted that one of his earliest hits was an ode to a woman “he wasn’t ready” to love as she deserved. The heartfelt “Best I Ever Had” was about his ex nicknamed Nebby, who he told Toronto radio station FLOW 93.5 was “the best, best woman that, that I’d ever had, period I guess. She represented everything about the city that I loved.”
Future, “Turn On Me”
Seemingly every couple months a story pops up that has Future and Ciara’s dysfunctional co-parenting situation at the top of the news cycle. Future has thrown numerous shots at Ciara’s current husband, NFL star Russell Wilson throughout the years. On 2017’s HNDRXX album, he called Russell “a square” on “Turn On Me,” where he also rhymes “I’ve seen so-called good girls turn on me” and referenced a tattoo Ciara got of the Atlanta rapper. On album intro “My Collection,” he again called out Ciara’s sexual history and referenced a since-settled defamation suit Ciara filed against him for his previous barbs toward her.
Big Sean, “Stay Down”
Big Sean’s reference to his then-girlfriend Ariana Grande wasn’t a song or even a verse, but it was perhaps more consequential than any other song on the list. On Dark Sky Paradise’s “Stay Down,” he rhymed “I got a million dollar chick with a billion dollar p—y /every time I c-m, I swear to God I feel like I be rich,” a coarse line that didn’t go over well with Ariana and may have had something to do with her breaking it off with him according to outlets like TMZ. Oops.
T.I. and Tiny have had a rocky road through their marriage, but they still persevere. Perhaps because T.I. came to the following realization on Dime Trap’s “Seasons.” The self-proclaimed “amazing Mr. F-ck Up” rhymed, “All she did was stay down and have my kid / All the time just to realize I ain’t sh*t” on the personal, self-effacing song. T.I. has always been unabashed about his love for Jay-Z, maybe he was inspired by “4:44” to do his own soul searching and realize that “I got married and f*cked it up, that’s what fame did.”
J. Cole “Kevin’s Heart”
J. Cole explored his wandering eye on “Kevin’s Heart,” a personal song from KOD where he attempts to take us into the psyche of a cheating man, and used a timely reference to comedian Kevin Hart’s cheating scandal evoke the universality of feeling like “my phone be blowing up, temptations on my line.”
Prodigy, “Trials Of Love”
The late, great Prodigy beat out everyone on this list with the most creative way of exploring his romantic travails — inviting his wife Kiki to get on a track and duke it out with him. In his My Infamous Life autobiography, Prodigy recalled that his wife wanted to try her hand at rapping, so he let her speak her peace on his H.N.I.C. album’s “Trials Of Love,” a song where she let him have it about cheating and let him know she was having her own fun, rhyming “while you strolled in at 5 I was comin’ in at 3, 3:30.” Not to be outdone on his own album, he retorted her rhymes by not apologizing, but rhyming “I never lost my lust for chicks lovely / you met me on those terms, so that’s how I’m runnin.”