It’s still a mystery as to why singing became a sign of softness in rap, when rappers have been singing on songs since the beginning of hip hop. Yes, there are rappers like Drake who sing about drunk texting exes and Biz Markie who sang about being friend-zoned but so what? Historically, artists like Queen Latifah, Cee Lo Green and Andre 3000 took singing and incorporated it into their songs so well that their music didn’t suffer from the stigma, they got better. Take a look back on rappers throughout history who sang and rapped and no one gave a fuss.
Hip hop pioneer Kevie Kev aka Waterbed Kev is an important staple in the culture. After being a member of some of the earliest and most influential rap groups like The Fantastic Five and the L Brothers, Kev took off as a solo artist on Sugar Hill Records. His new found freedom inspired his 1983 single “All Night Long (Waterbed)”. Hip hop was in its early stages when “All Night Long” became a hit so whether people were singing, rapping, beat boxing or all three, people accepted it as a brand new phenomenon.
KRS-One is another pioneer of early rap who dabbled in singing. Hailing from the South Bronx, where hip hop originated, KRS sang on tracks to add flare to his educational rhymes and fans ate it up.
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony is one of the most successful rap groups to exist. When west coast rapper Eazy-E passed away, Bone Thugs used their grammy award wining song “The Crossroads” to remember the man who signed them to Ruthless Records back in ’93 and gave them a chance to make an impact on hip hop. To this day, Bone Thugs is synonymous with both rapping and singing.
Everybody and their mom knows the words to Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend”– even millennials thanks to rnb singer Mario’s remake in 2002. Markie struck a chord with the world when he sang about his own experience being put in the friendzone and it became a hit.
Harlem’s own Mase decided to spill his heart on “Jealous Guys” featuring 112 and the result was cringe-worthy to say the least. “Jealous Guys” was off of Mase’s critically acclaimed debut album Harlem World, which was a phenomenal LP. It was almost perfect, minus this train wreck at the end. Regardless of this unfortunate track, Harlem World is still considered a classic.
Little Brother was a trio from North Carolina who took on controversial topics and created satirical tracks to expose black pop culture references in their sophomore album The Minstrel Show. On “Cheatin'”, rapper Phonte sang as his alter ego “Percy Miracles” to poke fun at rnb singers like R. Kelly and Ronald Isley. In this case, it wasn’t the singing that caused attention, it was what he was singing about.
Queen Latifah came onto the scene in the late ’80s rapping about women empowerment, education and issues coming from a life on the streets. She would occasionally sing on hooks and choruses but it wasn’t until her fifth studio album The Dana Owens Album, when she completely ditched rapping to show off her pipes. Since then she has focused more on singing roles such as Matron Mama Morton in Chicago and Motormouth Maybell in Hairspray but she’s still regarded as one of the first females in hip hop.
Missy Elliot can rap in circles around any willing emcee but she can also sing. She makes a big disclaimer in her song “Teary Eyed” by yelling, “2005! There will be no room for y’all with no originality!” Anyone who wanted to put Missy in a box by telling her rappers don’t sing would’ve been left in the past.
In the early 2000’s, Ja Rule was on top of the rap game. With so much commercial success, Rule created a big target on his back that would later land him in jail and end his career. The Queens rapper sang on the hook on many songs like “Put It On Me“, “Mesmerize” featuring Ashanti and “I’m Real” by Jennifer Lopez during his peak. While fans loved hit after hit, rappers like 50 Cent, who already had a ongoing feud with the star, cracked down on Rule’s choice to exercise his pipes instead of sticking to bars.
Lil Wayne’s music catalog has evolved in so many ways over the course of his career. From rapper turned rock star, Wayne had a few moments that made fans hesitate but he rarely dropped the ball on any of his music endeavors. That includes the time he put “How To Love“, which is basically a love ballad. Wayne never shies away from putting out music that is authentic to him so if he wants to sing, you best believe he’s going to sing.
It’s no secret that Snoop Dogg has love for the ladies. So when he wants to play up his game, he picks up his keytar and sings his way into every woman’s heart. No one’s going to check Snoop for singing with a mullet so fine…
Andre 3000 is arguably the best rapper to sing. Given his eccentric nature, changing things up wasn’t that big of a deal. Songs like “Prototype”, Frank Ocean’s “Pink Matter” and “Hey Ya” are some of his best vocals.
Kid Cudi is no stranger to singing but he definitely got the most out of it. In 2012, Cudi won a Grammy for singing 19 words in Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” 19 words. To be fair, he’s proved himself as a “singer” with songs like “Soundtrack 2 My Life” and “Pursuit of Happiness” but it was Yeezy who allowed him to win high honors with that deep husky voice. A win is a win.
Cee Lo Green
Cee Lo Green has one of the craziest voices of all time. Mr. “Fuck You” is basically the Mariah Carey of rap. No one can question that.
J. Cole never really flat out sang until the wrongful execution of teenager Michael Brown inspired his impromptu single “Be Free“. Then he started singing more on his latest album 2014 Forest Hills Drive with songs like “Apparently” and “Hello”. He doesn’t really get the same crap his peer Drake does about rapping and singing but it’s probably because Cole can sing better.
Calling Eminem a soft rapper is false statement. Period. That’s why people who think rappers should stick to rapping for their masculinity’s sake are being stupid. Play them this track and they’ll think again.
Lauryn Hill sang some of the most incredible songs in music history. “Ex-Factor”, “To Zion”, “Everything is Everything”, “Nothing Even Matters”, and more. The list can go on and on.
Kanye West does not give a f*ck if you think rappers shouldn’t sing. He’s going to rap, sing and rant as much as he wants and you can’t tell him nothing. West’s fourth studio album 808s and Heartbreak serves as proof. This Chi town star is not ashamed of his full length auto-tune filled heartache album and that’s it.
Drake is the rapper who is the center of this whole debate. Does singing make him soft? No, his persona makes him soft. We can’t blame the singing because we’ve clearly made it apparent that rappers sing.
Young Money’s Nicki Minaj threw off the whole world with her multiple personalities and hardcore raps but once she belted out “Fly” on Pink Friday, we were like, “damn she can sing too?” She further proved her versatility as an artist on her latest LP The Pinkprint, in which she sings on many of the songs like “Grand Piano”, “I Lied” and “The Night is Still Young”.
Pharrell Williams changed the world with his song “Happy”. Williams is another artist who raps and sings without causing any controversy.
Childish Gambino came out of the gate singing and rapping on his mixtapes and album Because The Internet. His radio hit “3005” starts with Gambino belting the chorus and his newest single “Sober” does the same.
Jhene Aiko pretty much sings her raps. Her sweet sounding voice travels gently along with her melodies so naturally and as a result, her singing and rapping often combine.
[Photo credit: Getty]