Candy hearts by Kyle St. John
Some of you may have been wondering where I disappeared to. Some of you may not have even noticed. I have another post that addresses and pertains to my hiatus, but I lost track of time after getting excited over an idea for the first time in quite a while. So if these posts feel out of order, it’s because they are. But I didn’t realize how close we were to Valentine’s Day, and that silly little commercial holiday actually sparked my creativity for the first time after a pretty shitty case of writer’s block. Ironically, a man is a significant reason behind my lack of inspiration. And unfortunately, it wasn’t because I was madly in love. It was less enjoyable than that. But I haven’t let that stop me from hoping for flowers and creating valentines for my best friends. Part of what’s fueling my adoration for reds and pinks and heart-shaped chocolates despite spending another Valentine’s Day alone is the hopeless romantic that lives very far down inside me. I don’t let that side show often. Still, that side has been itching to come out, especially after a trip to India full of a beautiful celebration of love. So, in honor of Cupid and his bow and arrow, I’ve decided to pay homage to some of the things that fuel our hopeless romantics, from iconic couples to stories of unconditional love. Keep in mind, though, that this is a Hip-Hop blog. So the romance may sound a bit…unconventional. Or, honestly, not that romantic at all. I’m working with what I got.
One of the most referenced couples in Hip-Hop is Bonnie and Clyde, specifically for their unconventional love story. It was the OG ride-or-die love story and became synonymous with this decade’s It-couple, Jay-Z and Beyonce. While Bonnie and Clyde were known for their chaotic, dangerous, passionate love for one another that ultimately led them to their demise, they stuck by each other’s sides until the end of time, a love that anyone with street credit would idolize, making for the perfect subject matter for a gangster love story. Jay-Z and Beyonce started hinting at their growing romance in their song, “’03 Bonnie and Clyde,” where they painted themselves as the criminal couple. In the track, Jay raps, “today I got my thoroughest girl with me, I’m mashin’ the gas, she’s grabbin’ the wheel, it’s trippy. How hard she rides with me, the new Bobby and Whitney.” While that’s another famously referenced couple, mainly attributed to toxic relationships, they were groundbreaking when they first made their debut as a couple, making iconic waves throughout the industry. Jay-Z continues to remark on their relationship by saying, “mami’s a rider and I’m a roller, put us together, how they gon’ stop both us? Whatever she lacks I’m right over her shoulder. When I’m off track, mami is keepin’ me focused. So let’s lock this down like it’s supposed to be, the ’03 Bonnie and Clyde: Hov’ and B.” While healthy relationships weren’t the most common subject matter for Hip-Hop during that time, crowning yourselves as the modern-day Bonnie and Clyde was a surefire way to keep your stable love life glamorous and exciting.
The couple later revisited this dynamic in full in their track “Part II (On the Run),” where Beyonce began the song with the question, “who wants the perfect love story anyway, cliche?” While the song hyperbolizes the nature of their relationship as one full of crime and immediate danger, it perfectly depicts how and why the two became the new standard of relationship goals, especially in Hip-Hop. Despite being two of the most prominent, influential artists in the music industry, they successfully made married life with children look mysterious and sexy. By creating this image for themselves, using Bonnie and Clyde as a reference while hiding the true nature of their relationship behind a veil of privacy and mystery, they became an iconic couple who created their own set of romantic standards while demonstrating their love publicly through the thing they do best; music.
Rich Homie Quan visited this dynamic in his surprising lovesong, “Perfect Flower.” In the song, he maps out his values for an ideal relationship while professing his love, expressing, “I can’t just tell you how I feel, I wanna show the world.” While their development occurred far more publicly, Rich Homie Quan equates actually getting to know his partner to the slow growth of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s relationship, which took years to become what it is now. He admits, “you were nobody when we start talkin’, I didn’t know ya girl. You get emotional and vulnerable when you open up, wanna be like Jay and Beyonce but we not close enough. Can’t get you off my mind, say you took me back time again after time/to be real bae I don’t know how we survived, but we did bae thank God you stayed down.” Despite acknowledging just how much he and his partner had been through as a couple while confessing how much he loves this girl, Rich Homie Quan also recognizes that they still have to grow even further together until they can compare themselves to the gold standard of relationships.
I’m almost positive I’ve written about this song before, but how can I write about the romantic tracks that ignite my personal flame without mentioning “Eclipse” by Nujabes. This song gives me so many butterflies. Substantial describes the nature of his and his partner’s relationship by claiming, “it’s like with Bonnie and Clyde, Tony and Maria. Romeo and Juliet, Akeem and Lisa. Basically inseparable, and it’s more than sexual.” Every couple he namedropped had a unique and special bond with intimacy and desire that spanned beyond sex. And yet, each of those loves was extremely pure. While only one of those couples has a positive fate, the other love stories aren’t any less romantic, sharing trials and tribulations that strengthen their love to a point where you want nothing but to see them come out on top. Substantial continues to describe the innocent nature of these relationships by rapping, “got my heart racing and about to have a heart attack, wantin’ to be loved by you just you, there’s nobody who loves you like I do. And I ain’t scared to show it, but these feelings are hard to put into words, and I’m a poet slash MC, so give me credit for expressing them, because writin’ this was more nervous than I ever been.” Falling in love can make you vulnerable, pushing you to do things you never imagined. It can make you look past prior hang-ups or lose any sensibility, and if you know it’s worth it, you’ll fight as hard as you need to to make it happen.
This one was challenging, but I was determined to find a reference to one of my favorite movies, Dirty Dancing. At first, the only thing I could think of was an extremely violent Eminem song that did nothing to put me in the Valentine’s Day mood, but then I decided to go a bit more international. In Dave’s “In The Fire,” the British rapper pays homage to the iconic chick-flick by cleverly rhyming, “man are comin’ out with these bangers and dirty dancin’, nobody puts baby in a corner, I uplift my girl like I’m Swayze in the water. And if it’s already written, maybe I’m the author.” Quite frankly, there’s not much analysis to be done here. I just thought it was cute. Especially that imagery of Patrick Swayze during the water scene.
One movie that has made its way into countless Hip-Hop songs in various forms is How Stella Got Her Groove Back. While most of the references were used to demonstrate just how hot a girl was, I found a few that were just a tad more flattering. In Kanye West’s remix of “Throw Some D’s,” he uses the movie to showcase not only the object of his desire’s appearance but also her independence and worth. He cleverly raps, “walking down Melrose, spot where they sell clothes. That chick know she bad, tell by the Chloe bag. She ain’t no hoodrat, she ain’t gotta prove that. I peep the McCartney’s, Stella got her groove back.” The witty use of Stella McCartney alludes to the idea that she’s most likely a classy older woman with money and high taste, causing her to stand out and steal Ye’s attention.
But a few artists went above and beyond just a classic namedrop to create a poetic lovesong full of timeless references, using imagery to truly emote just how strong they felt about their significant other. In MC Lyte’s “It’s All Yours,” she engages all of the senses to create the perfect setting for a classic old-school love story. She begins the song by rapping, “our love is old-school like Mary Jane’s. Boston baked beans and candy canes. Exchange a look on the number two train, run catch kiss sunshine or rain. Jackson 5, Good Times, The Jeffersons.” The references create a feel-good, youthful dynamic for the relationship that beautifully reflects the innocence that can be felt during a first love. She continues on to express the more practical side of their relationship, describing it as “like a Romeo and Juliet flick. So surreal but yet picturesque. There were problems I can admit, but we handled it and still the candles lit. So glad that we didn’t just jet, cause now we reaping the benefits.” As the references mature, MC Lyte showcases that the relationship was too genuine to remain as puppy love. It was meant for growth, accompanied by hardships they overcame, bringing them closer together. She reiterates this development by thinking aloud, “who would have thought? The cute little boy from down the street would fall in love with me. It’s like a number one dream come true to have somebody you love, love you. And that’s all that matters, is that we grow together make sure we never shatter.” She matures the relationship even further with her last reference, finally describing their connection as “destiny like Bonnie and Clyde. We’ll die of old age side by side,” showing that after everything they’ve been through, they are meant to be together until the end of time.
Similarly, in Rapsody’s “Feel Like (Love Love),” Common joins her to pay homage to some of the best romance movies to amplify their love. She begins her story with, “took a cab to your pad singing Billie Jean. It was like my favorite movie’s favorite love scene. You know, Sidney and Dre, Brown Sugar thing, Love and Basketball, too, when Maxwell sing. It was just me and you like Lisa Ling, On our OWN, Love Jones, Lisa and Akeem. We was playing all of ’em, James Earl and Miss Claudine, every Black love movie that you ever seen.” These movies showcase beautiful, wholesome love stories that would make anyone gush. Everyone hopes for the tales we see in movies to unfold in our lives, and that’s the fantasy Rapsody is unraveling before our eyes. She continues to drop movie titles, rapping, “take it back like Boomerang for a day or two, catching feelings and I ain’t even laid with you. If I could go back I would go and save it all for you, like the best man thought his best friend in the movie do.” By outlining each of these iconic films, she demonstrates how she feels when she’s in a healthy, loving relationship with this person and how these fictitious, perfect stories make us all feel with giddiness and butterflies. She describes their dynamic connection as “another love film playing, wonder what it is this week. Purple Rain, Apollonia, The Kid. Another a day I can’t tell you I got some love to give.” No matter how much things develop between them, all Rapsody can feel is an anxious excitement that she knows will send her into another lovesick frenzy. Common ends the song with an ode to one of his signature rom-coms, Just Wright, when he raps, “you can be my Queen Latifah, I can be your Scott McKnight. It’s right.”
Q-Tip paid respect in an even more innovative way when he recruited Busta Rhymes to hop on Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice,” a song dedicated to his 1993 film where he briefly played across Janet Jackson. Rather than discussing the film’s plot, he told the adoring story of his time with Janet, where he developed a real-life crush on his on-screen love interest because… How could you not? Tip recounts his experiences, rapping that “we grew up with her through the lens of a camera. Didn’t have much, but dare said I’m having her, shorty was the joint, here’s my case and point. Me and ‘Pac rollin’ L’s in the trailer, both of us get to scheming how to nail her. First movie about to come out in the theater.” He continues to detail their imagined relationship, talking about how “we kissed, I took her control, we swapped as all the film rolled/in my mind it would prolong/the scene was deaded, but I wanted my own edit. Me and Justice kissing keep it going, two pros with credit.” Despite acting for the kiss, it felt all too real for Q-Tip, replaying that memory as if the love was true. And although he expresses remorse for not taking things further, he also fondly ends the song with the lines, “I’d give anything to be her dancer, a captivating lady, I used to be her baby. Good Times, they never fading, look back and celebrate Poetic Justice.” Similarly, Common and Mos Def transmitted their roles in iconic romantic love stories into some of Hip-Hop’s most romantic songs, including “Next Time” and “Brown Sugar (Fine).”
While falling in love can come in different shapes and sizes, we all remember the things we want to feel from the first hints we get of it, whether real or fictional. I still remember some of my first and favorite love stories; the butterflies and giggles I get haven’t changed as I’ve gotten older. It’s a feeling I desire to replicate in a way that makes sense to me. I know there’s no perfect love story, but none of these couples or movies had a plot without conflict. It comes with the territory. So if you’re feeling particularly lonely this Valentine’s Day, rather than putting on a chick-flick and crying because you don’t have that romance, celebrate the fact that it’s something worth searching for that you’ll find when you least expect it.