Springtime, when we start shedding the layers of the winter months both physically and metaphorically. There’s something about the blossoming flowers of spring that evokes powerful feelings of romance and love, and no medium has become as adept at conveying those feelings as music.
Hip-hop has always had a soft spot for love songs, especially given its proximity to, and often shared space with, R&B. As the lines between conventional hip-hop and R&B continue to intersect in compelling and experimental ways, the power and importance of love are bubbling up in more hip-hop records than ever before.
With love in the air and my headphones on, I decided to make a cheat sheet of all the fantastic love songs that have been tossed into our laps so far this year. To be clear, though, this is not a ranking and these selections are in no particular order.
Kendrick Lamar - "LOVE." ft. Zacari
"LOVE." is the epitome of spring fever. Kendrick took TDE affiliate Zacari’s template for a sultry slow jam and infused it with the noxious Kung Fu Kenny energy that permeates the entirety of DAMN., delivering a performance that is equal parts corny and heartfelt, a sort of meta nod to the cognitive dissonance love tends to produce in our minds when we're under its spell. As for Zacari, his falsetto-driven hook has me doing the invisible air grab move every single time the song is played in the car. This is springtime in audio form.
GoldLink - "Have You Seen That Girl?"
I could have easily included 90% of GoldLink's new album At What Cost on this list, but “Have You Seen That Girl?” condenses the DC native’s ability to succinctly express emotions over a lush soundscape into one single track. While the song is technically more of a summertime vibe than springtime, around my neck of the woods, beautiful women are already enjoying the fashion freedom that warm weather permits. GoldLink waxing romantic over a bouncy KAYTRANADA instrumental will literally provide us with a soundtrack for enjoying those fleeting infatuations we experience while walking the streets teeming with springtime sensuality.
Drake - "Passionfruit"
At this point in his career, Drake knows that indulging in his romantically-rooted vulnerabilities is a recipe for success. Much like Drake's classic love song “Marvin’s Room,” this More Life standout finds Drake lamenting over the difficulties of a long distance relationship. "Passionfruit" may not be the bubbly, lust-laden anthem one might think to play during a spring day, but it does showcase Drake’s strengths in shining a light on the sometimes stressful intricacies of maintaining love once we find it. The airy, catchy-as-hell production from Nana Rogues doesn’t hurt one bit, either.
Smino - "Netflix & Dusse"
Similar to GoldLink’s album, Smino’s absolutely wonderful blkswn is filled to the brim with bouncy odes to feelings of both lust and love, often simultaneously. “Netflix & Dusse” is the best example of these finely-measured mixtures of earthly indulgences and heavenly delights, a juxtaposition perfectly posited by the song’s title. Smino’s verses are chock-full of the masterful wordplay that highlights blkswn and the hook to “Netflix & Dusse” is the St. Louis native at his most sonically pleasing. If given the chance (and the budget), "Netflix & Dusse" should have every opportunity to dominate the airwaves of mainstream radio throughout the coming months.
J.I.D - "All Bad" ft. Mereba
The crazy, hair-pulling aspect of love can, at times, be just as bad as it is good. Whereas most of J.I.D’s album of the year contenderThe Never Story is centered around mind-numbing lyricism, “All Bad” tones things down to address the difficult hurdle of honesty between lovers. J.I.D’s near-whisper delivery perfectly compliments Mereba’s soul-studded verse, with a hook tying it all together that’s so tender it makes you want to cry when nothing’s wrong. This is that song for the end of the night when your love life isn't quite going as planned.
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Thundercat - "Show You The Way" ft. Michael McDonald & Kenny Loggins
Back in February, Thundercat teased his since-released Drunk with a song that remains the most random collaboration of 2017, “Show You The Way” featuring yacht rock legends Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. As we’ve come to expect from Thundercat, “Show You The Way” is steeped in vintage soul, and that effect is definitely intensified with the addition of McDonald and Loggins. The sultry jam plays out like an evening in a dimly lit lounge filled with just enough velvet to retain its classiness. Never in my life did I expect to jam so hard to Michael McDonald.
Oddisee - "This Girl I Know"
My favorite love songs have always been those that use the role of partner as a metaphor for other passions. An homage of sorts to Common’s iconic track “I Used To Love H.E.R.,” Oddisee uses “This Girl I Know” to explore his love of hip-hop, personified. The concept of hip-hop as a woman has been explored countless times over the past 30 years, but few have the same potency and wit as Common’s legendary take on the technique. In that regard, “This Girl I Know” is stunning proof that the technique still contains some life yet. Oddisee takes on the role of a jealous lover in such a believable manner that you forget he’s talking about music the entire time, a testament to the DC emcee and producer’s investment in his craft.
Sampha - "Incomplete Kisses"
The last few years have seen a multitude of distinct new voices and sonic directions in R&B, and Sampha happens to be the most captivating of them all. One of my favorite tracks off his phenomenal 2017 release
of the year (so far)—“Incomplete Kisses” showcases both Sampha’s emotionally dense vocal talents as well as his pristine clarity as a songwriter. “Incomplete Kisses” is a perfectly off-kilter love jam that encourages us to truly follow our hearts in the quest of not missing out on could-have-been's.
Syd - "Know"
The deceptively soft-spoken Syd (of The Internet) blew the doors off of any perceived limits on her artistry with her solo debut Fin, an album that finally offers the next logical step along the lineage of R&B/pop icons like Janet Jackson, Aaliyah and others like them. On the album’s second track, “Know,” Syd’s silky vocals lull listeners into a sensual swing driven by a slinky bed of synths and drums from Nick Green of Nickey Davey. “Know” explores the excitement and intensity of a secret love affair, with Syd gently delivering her words as though to keep them out of the wrong ears.
Kodak Black - "Save You"
Given his off-the-mic history and the fact that I truly didn’t believe Boosie-lite was capable of delivering a legitimate love song, I had some serious hesitations about including Kodak Black on this list. I usually listen to artists like Kodak to temper my emotions, not evoke them, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t craft a legitimately sweet love song with “Save You.” I use the term “sweet” very loosely, but in a Kodak Black kind of way, this is undeniably heartfelt. Now, if someone could just tune down the vocals a few octaves, this song could be a candidate for your next “after hours” playlist.
We will be updating this list throughout 2017 in order to provide our readers with the very best love songs our favorite artists have to offer.