While much of hip-hop music is aggressive and full of bravado, some rappers take a step back and explore his or her feelings in a song. On many of these tracks, rappers detail the grief, stress or isolation they have endured during the ups and downs of their rap careers.
Most recently, Jeezy‘s latest single, “Therapy for My Soul,” features the Atlanta rhymer using the track as a therapy session and cleansing his soul of past conflicts in his career. In particular, his beef with Freddie Gibbs who was formerly signed to Jeezy’s Corporate Thugz Entertainment (CTE) record label back in 2011. Since Gibbs parted ways with CTE, he and Jeezy have been at odds. “When that shit went down with Gibbs, I couldn’t trust ’em/Invested my hard-earn money, tied up my bread/But he gon’ try to tell you I’m flawed, that’s in his head,” Jeezy raps on the song.
Other rappers will reflect on an incident and give listeners some words of wisdom on what they’ve learned from their past experiences. On Future‘s 2015 tune “Kno The Meaning,” the Freebandz leader details the emotional roller coaster he went through after DJ Esco was arrested in Dubai for weed possession and jailed for 56 nights. According to Future, police confiscated a hard drive of recorded music, which left him on his own to create new songs from scratch. “He had my hard drive on him when he caught the case/When they took him into custody, they took my life away,” Hendrix rhymes. The Atlanta rapper believes the incident helped boost his creativity and made him one of the most prominent rappers in the game.
For many artists, baring their soul on a song is therapeutic. So, XXL highlights a list of songs that sound more like hip-hop therapy sessions. Take a listen below.
“Therapy for My Soul”
On “Therapy for My Soul,”Jeezy turns the song into his therapy session as he reflects on past conflicts in his rap career. Over J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s soulful production, the Snowman takes aim at Freddie Gibbs, who was formerly signed to Jeezy’s Corporate Thugz Entertainment (CTE) record label back in 2011.
“When that shit went down with Gibbs, I couldn’t trust ’em/Invested my hard-earn money, tied up my bread/But he gon’ try to tell you I’m flawed, that’s in his head/It’s happening just the way that I said it, good on your own/And if I’m honest nothin’ gangsta about you, leave this alone, yeah,” he raps.
Jeezy also addresses 50 Cent, who called out Jeezy for not checking in with BMF co-founder Southwest T after T was released from prison back in May.
“Snow on Tha Bluff”
J. Cole keeps it real through his 2020 single “Snow on tha Bluff.” The Dreamville Records leader addressed a myriad of issues on the song, including racism, police brutality and economic inequality, but Cole also appeared to respond to Noname’s perceived criticism of him (and other rappers) for not being outspoken about social issues affecting Black people. “Now I ain’t no dummy to think I’m above criticism/So when I see something that’s valid, I listen/But shit, it’s something about the queen tone that’s botherin’ me,” he raps on the song.
Cole then adds, “Just ’cause you woke and I’m not, that shit ain’t no reason to talk like you better than me/How you gon’ lead when you attackin’ the very same niggas that really do need the shit that you sayin’?/Instead of conveyin’ you holier, come help us get up to speed.”
Cole would later hop on Twitter to explain that he appreciates Noname’s leadership on social issues but wanted to reiterate that slamming him, and other rappers, who feel they are unequipped to be social activists doesn’t make them terrible people.
Kendrick Lamar is in his feelings on the 2017 track “Feel.” from his Pulitzer Prize-winning album, Damn. On the song, the Compton rhymer appears to be questioning everything around him, including his friends, family members and his associates. Kendrick really vents on his second verse as he opens up about depression and his mental state.
“I feel like it’s just me/Look, I feel like I can’t breathe/Look, I feel like I can’t sleep/Look, I feel heartless, often off this/Feelin’ of fallin’, of fallin’ apart with/Darkest hours, lost it,” he raps. Throughout the song, Kendrick is seeking spiritual guidance through his anxiety as he raps, “Ain’t nobody prayin’ for me/Who prayin’ for me?/Ain’t nobody prayin’.”
Future gets introspective on the 2015 song “Kno the Meaning.” Over a somber piano groove, the Atlanta rapper opens up about the emotional roller coaster he went through after DJ Esco was arrested in Dubai for weed possession and jailed for 56 nights.
According to Future, a hard drive containing two years of recorded music was also confiscated, which left him to go into new creative lanes.
“So I had to record new music/That’s when I did Beast Mode,” he reflects.
Elsewhere on the song, Future explains his journey from the streets to being one of the most prominent rappers in the game. “Everything I did, it was premeditated/I just knew there’d come a time when I finally did make it,” he states on the Southside-produced track.
Drake had to get some things off his chest on his “30 for 30 Freestyle,” which appears on What a Time to Be Alive, his 2015 joint project with Future. Inspired by ESPN’s popular 30 for 30 documentary series, Drizzy boasts about his career highs and addresses the haters who want to see his downfall. “The hate is just bringin’ me and my people closer, actually/What happened to the things you niggas said was supposed to happen?/Are we just supposed to ignore the fact that it never happened?” he asks.
But Drake also vents about the negative aspects that come with his success. “Championship celebrations during regular season/Paternity testin’ for women that I never slept with/I’m legally obligated if they request it/So much legal action like I’m Michael Jackson,” he states.
In the end, Drake wants his own 30 for 30 series because his entire career has been comparable to a lauded sports legend’s career highlights.
Juice Wrld was never afraid to be candid in his music. On his 2018 track, “Lean Wit Me,” the late Chicago rhymer opens up about his drug addiction and his attempts to get sober. “Drugs got me sweatin’, but the room gettin’ colder/Lookin’ at the devil and the angel on my shoulder/Will I die tonight? I don’t know, is it over?/Lookin’ for my next high, I’m lookin’ for closure,” he confesses on the song.
The video itself brings the song to life as it features Juice at an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting detailing his spiral downfall into drug addiction. The clip ends with Juice rapping atop an ambulance bus and police surveying a horrific car accident, which suggests that he may have taken a life with his automobile.
“Wait For You to Die”
2 Chainz vents his frustration regarding so many young people dying on the thought-provoking banger “Wait for You to Die,” which is from his 2020 effort, So Help Me God. On the song, the rap veteran recounts his youth on the streets of Atlanta before he left it behind for rap. However, it still haunts him that so many people have perished on those same ATL streets he used to hustle on.
“I’ve been poppin’ over people head like July 4th (Poppin’)/Partner died, I didn’t cry, guess my tears is dried up/When I was winnin’, you weren’t clappin’ for me, your hands was tied up (Tied),” he raps.
Near the end of the track, Chainz delivers powerful words urging his listeners to value life more than death because there’s always someone out there waiting for you to die.
Rapsody’s journey in the music industry hasn’t been easy. On the 2019 tune “Cleo,” the North Carolina MC details the bumps and bruises she had to endure just to get recognized in the male-dominated rap game. Rapsody gets serious on her second verse as she exposes why the music industry is so sexist and elitist.
“White men run this, they don’t want this kind of passion (Talk)/A Black woman story, they don’t want this kind of rapping (Talk),” she raps.
Rapsody then adds, “What good is a Black woman to them? (Yeah)/Raped us in slavery, they raping us again (Yes)/Only put us on TV if our titties jiggling (Uh).” Like the character Cleo in the 1996 film Set It Off, Rapsody sets it off on this bombastic track.
“Everything That’s Missing”
Big Sean offers some words of wisdom on “Everything That’s Missing,” from his 2020 album, Detroit 2. On the song, Sean Don details his early struggles and reflects on them. “It’s not about the trophy, it’s about what it took to grab it/And if you feelin’ stagnant, just know you attractin’ the energy/That you put out there, you a walkin’ magnet/Life can be a struggle, but what isn’t that’s worth havin’? Huh?” he suggests.
Ultimately, Big Sean feels his fame will only bolster other Detroit artists to make their presence felt in the music game. “But through the ups and downs, you make a blueprint that the city can build they own way out/And when they do, it’s gon’ feel like that you almost did it,” he raps.
DMX’s 1998 song “Slippin’” is a remarkable confessional track about his childhood struggles and the strength it took to overcome his demons to pursue his dreams. “I’m possessed by the darker side, livin’ the cruddy life/Shit like this kept a nigga with a bloody knife/Wanna make records but I’m fuckin’ it up/I’m slippin’, I’m fallin’, I can’t get up,” he delivers. Throughout the song, X wears his heart on his sleeve with his emotional outpourings.
At the end of the track, DMX salutes the day ones who helped lift him out of his doldrums. “And much respect to all my niggas that kept it real/Kept a nigga strong, kept a nigga from doin’ wrong,” he raps. DMX is a modern-day preacher on this inspirational song.
On Eminem’s 1997 song “If I Had,” a young Marshall Mathers is sick and tired of being sick and tired. Co-produced by Em and the Bass Brothers, the slow, plodding track features the Detroit rhymer ranting about a laundry list of things that simply irk him in life.
“Tired of havin’ to deal with the bullshit without grabbin’ the steel/Tired of drownin’ in my sorrow/Tired of havin’ to borrow a dollar for gas to start my Monte Carlo/I’m tired of mutherfuckers sprayin’ shit and dartin’ off/I’m tired of jobs startin’ off/At $5.50 an hour, then this boss wonders why I’m smartin’ off,” he raps.
Back then, this was Eminem’s way of dealing with his anger management issues.
Before his tragic death, XXXTentacion was devastated over the death of Jocelyn Flores, a model he briefly met on a photo shoot for his proposed apparel line. Flores took her own life in May of 2017, and X created the song “Jocelyn Flores” in tribute to her. The song itself is X’s confessional of having his own suicidal thoughts and battling depression.
“I’m in pain, wanna put 10 shots in my brain/I’ve been trippin’ ’bout some things, can’t change/Suicidal, same time I’m tame/Picture this, in bed, get a phone call/Girl that you fucked with killed herself/That was this summer when nobody helped/And ever since then, man, I hate myself,” he bemoans on the song.
In an Instagram Live session, XXXTentacion told viewers about the situation. “It was a devastating situation to deal with, it fucked me up so bad to where I wasn’t on social media for the last few days unless I was addressing something that I needed to,” he said.
If you need to talk to a therapist head over to Psychology Today or want immediate assistance, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Some people might argue that Kanye West‘s 2008 classic album, 808s & Heartbreak, is his therapy session on love and heartache. One of the standout tracks on the LP is the electro, navel-gazing lament “Street Lights.” On the song, ’Ye is metaphorically pondering on his new journey of self-awareness, but is not sure if he’s arrived at his destination yet.
“All the street lights, glowing, happen to be/Just like moments, passing, in front of me/So I hopped in the cab and I paid my fare/See I know my destination, but I’m just not there,” he ponders.
The melancholy sounds will also make you think about your life and the destination waiting for you. “Street Lights” is Kanye’s couch session to help him explore his mental state after a heartbreak.
Mac Miller often used music as his therapy session. One of his many therapeutic songs is “Funeral,” featured on his 2014 album, Faces. Produced by Miller, himself, the late Pittsburgh, Pa. MC details the meaning of life and death.
“Starin’ inside of heaven’s eyes, the gates will never open/I’m smokin’ on this field of hope, waitin’ ’til my deal gets closed/I keep gettin’ hotter, but all I seem to feel is cold/22 don’t feel so old, but I think I’m 82/You mean to tell me God took seven days and all he made was you?” he asks on the track.
Lil Baby reveals his vulnerability on his 2020 single “Emotionally Scarred.” The song, from his latest album, My Turn, features the Atlanta rhymer facing the downside of his newfound fame as he puts his old past behind him. Baby feels that he has to keep his former friends at a distance because they could easily bring him down.
“I just cut off all of my friends and brought my brothers in/I don’t see nobody but me, who I’m gon’ lose to?/I can’t move around without tools, these niggas loose screws,” he raps.
Lil Baby later adds, “I never call myself a G.O.A.T., I leave that up to the people/Everybody can’t go to the top, I had to leave some people.”
Royce 5’9” delivers a powerful testimonial on his 2016 song “Tabernacle.” The Detroit rhymer reflects on his 20-year rap career, but it gets deeper than rap. Royce highlights Dec. 29, 1997, the day he experienced three life-changing moments.
First, he meets Eminem backstage at a show and subsequently forms a life-long friendship with him. Second, Royce rushes to the hospital to witness the birth of his son. Third, and tragically, he pays his respect to his grandmother, who died in the same hospital from injuries she suffered in a car accident.
“I learned a lot this day,” raps Royce near the end of the song, featured on his 2016 project, Tabernacle: Trust the Shooter. “I learned that the universe has this way of balancing itself out. For me to lose such a beautiful soul in my granny, and gain such a beautiful soul with my first born son, little Royce, it showed me that God is real, God is real.”
Jay-Z is an advocate for therapy and even allowed himself to be interviewed by a therapist for The New York Times‘ T Magazine in 2017. But one can listen to his 13th studio album, 4:44, for insight into Hov’s clever mind. Particularly on “Marcy Me,” where Jay talks about his humble beginnings growing up in Brooklyn’s Marcy Houses Projects and the uncertainty he faced as a child.
“Uhh, back when ratchet was a ratchet and a vixen was a vixen/And Jam Master Jay was alive, I, I, I was mixin’/Cookin’ coke in the kitchen/Back when Rodman was a Piston,” Hov raps.
“Marcy Me’ is a nostalgic walk through Marcy, and it’s about that hopefulness, that feeling of ‘Man, can I really do this? Can I really be one of the biggest artists in the world?'” he told iHeart Radio in 2017. “You have these dreams, ‘Can I be one of the biggest basketball players?’ We have these dreams.”
Ghostface Killah and the RZA are emotionally distraught on their soul-stirring 2000 song “I Can’t Go to Sleep.” Both Wu-Tang Clan rhymers vent their frustrations with poverty, police brutality, gun violence and other social ills that have plagued the Black community.
“What the fuck is going on? I can’t go to sleep/Feds jumping out their Jeeps, I can’t go to sleep/Babies with flies on they cheeks, it’s hard to go to sleep,” Ghost wails on the Isaac Hayes-sampled track.
RZA follows with his lyrical pain of losing our Black heroes by the act of gun violence. “I can’t go to sleep, I can’t shut my eyes/They shot the father at his mom’s building seven times/They shot Malcolm in the chest in front of his little seeds/Jesse watched as they shot King on the balcony,” he raps.
The urgency in both Ghost and RZA’s lyrics is so palpable you can feel it in your soul.
“Peppers and Onions”
Tierra Whack gets very personal on her 2020 single “Peppers and Onions.” The 2019 XXL Freshman‘s song sounds like a talk therapy session, which features her being very critical of herself and admitting that she’s not perfect. “I’m not perfect, just a person (Yeah, yeah)/I’m only human, yeah/Sometimes happy, sometimes nervous (Yeah, yeah),” she raps on the chorus.
Elsewhere on the track, she travels to dive into her mental health. “I get lost sometimes, Italy, I roam (Yeah)/I had to figure certain things out on my own (Woo)/Make a phone call home to the ones I love (Love),” she rhymes.
For the second verse, Whack recognizes what’s important. “But oftentimes I gotta remind myself/To combine my thoughts and never deny my health (Uh).”
It’s this type of honesty and self-reflection that makes Tierra Whack so relatable to her fans.
Tee Grizzley is going through it on his emotionally-charged 2019 single, “Locked Up.” Over a somber beat, the Detroit rapper details his fractured family life, which consists of both his mother and brother in prison serving bids and his father being brutally murdered.
“My mama locked up, my pops got popped up/Lil’ bro still locked up and it got me fucked up,” he spits.
On the second verse, Grizzley further explains that stress and worry have him messed up. “Nigga run up on me too quick, I’ma lift that Glock up (I’ma lift that Glock up)/’Cause my head fucked up/Too many niggas dyin’, too many niggas locked up,” he raps.