“Just making it cool to rap about love again.”
– “Give Me” by Atmosphere
If you’re going through a bad break-up or fight with your better half, you’re not alone. Been there, done that, drank the Kool-Aid…and it’s a bitter bitch. The good news is that many of our friends in music have been brave enough to step up and write about their own relationship troubles, spilling their guts for all of us to wallow in when we’re feeling the aftermath of having our hearts—still beating—ripped from our unsuspecting chests.
For many, using music to help connect with ourselves on a deep, real level helps speed along the healing process and give us perspective while we’re waiting for the phone to ring, bottle of wine in hand. Here is a small playlist of independent hip hop songs that have guided me through some rough waters. I know they’ll do the same for you.
From God Loves Ugly, the album that arguably made Atmosphere famous underground, “F*@k You Lucy” is an instant classic.
Ant’s work on the song is perfect: he is somehow able to capture that feeling you get the moment you realize it’s over, when your stomach drops and painful adrenalin starts swimming through your veins, and embed it into the sound of this song. When you hear “F*@k You Lucy,” you can feel the story in your gut.
With lyrics like “Gettin’ in a million memories just to forget her,” and “Interpret the eyes, read the lines on her face. The sunshine is fake, how much time did I waste?” Slug materializes everything you felt and thought during the most fucked-up time of your worst break-up. Walk through the depression and the anger along with him as he finds his way through the phases of break-up grief.
For me, the highlight of the song is the third verse. Resentment creeps in, and Slug does a beautiful job of tying it back to the real root, pain, closing the song with a nod to the self-medicating ritual that helps him get through that pain. In the last moments, he imagines her sitting and thinking about him like he’s thinking about her.
“Do I sound mad? Well I guess I’m a little pissed. Every action has a point, five points make a fist, you close ’em, you swing ’em, it hurts when it hits. And the truth can be a bitch, but if the boot fits…I got an idea, you should get a tattoo that says ‘warning,’ that’s all, just a warning. So the potential victim can take a left and save breath, and avoid you, sober and upset in the morning. I wanna scream ‘Fuck you, Lucy,’ but the problem is I love you, Lucy. So instead I’mma finish my drink and have another, while you think about how you used to be my lover.”
Editor’s Note: About eight years ago, I wrote a song called, “Fuck You Chris,” inspired by this song and a break-up I was going through at the time. Email me and I’ll send you the mp3.
2. “Breaking Up” by Classified
I love this song, also beautifully produced, because it was one of the first that introduced me to Classified, and he tells a great story about how maybe everything does happen for a reason, even if you can’t see it at the time. It’s a song about a devastating break-up he never thought would happen, but the unexpected silver lining made it all worth it in the end.
In the first couple verses, he walks the listener through his history with the girl that he wooed as a teenager and whisked away to a bigger city once she graduated, and then later about the relationship he always wanted slowly unraveling before his eyes.
“More hatin’ than there was lovin’, both arguing about nothin’, neither one of us apologized, I guess the two of us were too stubborn.”
Many of us have been in a similar situation, loving someone enough to not want to hurt them but reluctantly realizing that it’s not going to work out. Those are some of the hardest break-ups to live through, and Classified walks us through the moments when he realized it was over.
“I never thought we would break up, never thought I’d find another like her. Still thinking’ we’d get back together and these loose ends would become tighter. But no way, no luck, threw the towel in, we broke up, I moved out, choked up, depressed every day I woke up.”
And then in finding himself as an individual again, even after learning his girl had moved on with someone else.
“Now I’m trying to move along and I felt it difficult to stay strong, but dark days always brighten up if the fight in ya keeps movin’ on.”
Then he introduces us to the silver lining of the story. He reconnects with a girl and everything starts to be okay again.
“And I forgot about my dark days, she taught me heartbreak can lead to happiness. When I was down and had no faith, she showed me everything is okay. My soul mate, I never woulda thought a break-up could end so great.”
This ending is so powerful, and I love the positive message. I can see a lot of people being really touched by this story, especially those of you who are going through a bad break-up with someone who you love and still want to be with. If that’s you, this song will help you realize that this isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning.
3. “Walking Away” by Brother Ali
Produced by my favorite, Ant, this song is one of my favorites off of Ali’s The Undisputed Truth. He describes his escape from a toxic long-term relationship. When you listen to the happy, whistle of the melody, it feels like a new day. It feels like freedom.
He begins by giving us background into why there will be no more energy put into this relationship: “Fresh out of forced tears, kisses, and hugs, you about to lose the company your misery loves.” Like it’s not even sad anymore, it’s just what needs to be done because the bad outweighs the good and the stress of that is killing the both of you.
And then freedom rings: “Since you never listen to a word I ever said, maybe seeing this door slam will get it through your head. I don’t love you, I don’t think I ever did, and if you hadn’t tried to kill me, I’da stayed for the kid. There’s nothing more for us to say. Got my mind made up, I’m walkin’ away. Sometimes we just outgrow the role that we play. Hope you find a happy ending to your story someday.”
And he continues to bare his soul, letting all the toxic feelings that have been holding him captive for so long fly away with today’s new breeze.
“Round and round and round we used to go. I never fucked you right or made enough bread, I know. If I’m such a bastard, and mistreated you so, then how is it you’re losing your mind to see me go?”
“You got a sick stone under your ribs, where a heart is supposed to live. Sick, twisted, and vindictive with your windows dim.”
“How you threaten to kill the most precious, gift that you’ll ever be blessed with, unless you’re twisted and demented and depressed as shit, and alone since you’ve faithfully slayed your friendships.”
This song is the song to give to that friend yours who’s stuck with someone miserable because he/she thinks he/she can’t do any better. In this world, there are victims and there are champions. Don’t settle for the victims. Get liberated.
4. “Happymess” by Atmosphere
Not a break-up song, but this is one of my favorite songs to listen to when I’m in the middle of a fight with my significant other. Especially if it’s my fault and I’m doing a lot of self-reflection or self-loathing. Not a song for the stubborn.
Again, Ant captures the mood beautifully (when doesn’t he). And Slug…look, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Slug has a way of expressing his thoughts…my thoughts…maybe all of our thoughts…in a way I never could.
“I take the blame, but it ain’t to be impressive. feels like a cop out to label it lessons.”
That. Right there. That.
“And here you are, right in front of me, offering it all, like ‘tell me what you want from me.’ I wanna love you today and forever, let me clear my throat, and rub my wings together.”
The imagery this song conjures up is beautiful.
“You’ve seen me at my lowest moments. You gave me sight when I had broken focus. With a smile that opens up like a rose does, even when all felt so fucking hopeless.”
Ugh. I can’t even…ugh. Amen, Sluggo. There’s nothing more sobering and humbling in the world than unexpected grace when you least deserve it.