Storytelling in Hip Hop

A playlist of rap songs that tell a powerful story

If I had a penny for how many times I have heard how modern day rap and hip-hop ain’t what they used to be, I’d be rich. Everyone is talking about it, but is it true? Is modern day rap really just a whole bunch of hubbas and huddas with an off beat trap mix in the background?

Well, as quoted by Snoop Dogg on westfesttv, “I don’t know who created [modern rap] but all them n*ggs sound the same”.

You’ve gotta recognize his point. Not meaning to flak on any modern artists, but what is all this about them female dogs and money?  It ain’t fresh, it ain’t new. What happened to the golden years of hip-hop and rap?

As a breakdancer, I have been introduced to a whole load of the “golden” rappers and artists like, Public Enemy, Jurassic 5, Tribe Called Quest, Sound Providers and more. What’s missing in a lot of these new songs is a story. In rap songs, the story isn’t only  told through the lyrics, but also through the beat and the vibe. Rap isn’t just about bustin’ the best rhymes, it’s about so much more.

I have provided a playlist of rappers and raps songs, from old to new, that I feel capture the essence of storytelling, all while using a unique beat and providing a great vibe.

Warning: This playlist features songs which may contain vulgar language and offensive connotations.



  • Atmosphere- The Woman with the Tattooed Hands

I listed Atmosphere as number one because in almost everyone of his songs, he uses some sort of storytelling device. “The Woman with the Tattooed Hands” is just one song of his many, but each one is unique in  beat and lyrics. This song in particular is one which tells a story throughout the entire song, using the dynamic of beat to guide the lyrics which compliment the mood. He uses a load of imagery and it takes some listening, but once you really tune in, there are metaphors scattered all throughout the lyrics.



        Immortal Technique- Dance With the Devil

Immortal Technique is one of the more serious artists. He’s known for rapping about corruption, greed and systematic problems. “Dance With the Devil” is such a striking song because the story he’s telling throughout is heart wrenching and leaves you feeling hopeless. This is an example of a song that owes its value to it’s the story.



  • Lil Dicky- Professional Rapper

This song is an extreme example of storytelling devices in rap. Lil Dicky is a new kind of rapper that has been emerging. He is not by any means a serious rapper, but rather considers himself a comedian. I added this song not because of the beat, not because of the rhymes, but purely because Lil Dicky uses rap as an outlet to portray a literal story.



  • Blackstar- Respiration

Everything about this song is insane. It’s got one of the dopest instrumentals and some of the greatest lyrics and rhymes. However, the hard hitting point of the song is its message. Through the use of metaphors and other storytelling devices, Blackstar raps about struggles  and drops more knowledge than so many new rappers.  It’s not just the lyrics guiding the listener, it’s a mixture of the beat and instrument choice. It’s a kind of vibe that puts the listener in the song. This song is one of the purest forms of hip hop.



  • Living Legends- Remember Who You Are

There’s a lot of things the Living Legends did right with this song. Firstly, the message of the song is about life’s purpose and the quest of an individual to find it. Throughout the song, the rappers talk about the multitude of paths and ideas that one can take to find their purpose and discover who “you” are, while using an awesome instrumental in the background.



  • Gang Starr- Moment of Truth

Gang Starr is notorious for a load of meaningful songs, and this one certainly is one of their top. This song is so unique because it uses aphorism and other storytelling devices to create a message which portrays a sense of hope and pride to the listener. It’s a classic and certainly considered amongt some of the greatest rap songs.



  • Lupe Fiasco- Hurt Me Soul

Lupe Fiasco is known for some really groovy beats, but this one is one of my favorite. Right off the bat, he starts by calling out the “mainstream” rappers who are popular right now on the grounds that they are degrading to women. In so many cases this is true, and it captures another point of why modern rap is not what rap used to be about. It brings rapping back down to earth in a really funky groove.



  • The Avalanches- Because I’m Me

The Avalanches featured Camp Lo in this song, and they combine their lyrical genius with some really uplifting instrumentals- involving trumpets, drums, rattles and more. I especially like this song because it captures such a great vibe using the vintage sounding vocals and the uplifting tone. This is an example of a song that tells a story through the beat and the vibe, more so than the actual lyrics.