Some complain that Valentine’s Day is none other than a manufactured holiday, but most people enjoy the Day of Love for what it is. Whether you’re single and not ready to mingle, crushing on unrequited love, starting a new romance, been locked down for a while, or haven’t figured out your “situationship” just yet, Valentine’s Day is a good time to kick back and enjoy the energy of the season.
We here at HNHH wanted to get into the warm and fuzzy spirit of Valentine’s Day by putting together a possible 10-track playlist of some of our favorite love jams—specifically, those 1990s and early 2000s favorites that feature rappers and R&B artists collaborating together. They’ve become classic that we could definitely keep on rotation all year-round, but this is the perfect time to highlight all aspects of romance as written by a handful of our most admired artists.
Now, please understand that this isn’t a “Top 10” list; we’ve just put together 10 tracks that shine a light on romance, love, and…well…sex. We hope you enjoy this walk down Lover’s (Memory) Lane, and make sure to let us know which songs you’re vibing to and what other tracks you have on your Valentine’s Day playlist.
“Hey Lover” — LL Cool J ft. Boyz II Men
By 1995, LL Cool J was enjoying his 10th year in the industry. His icon status was solidified and he was known for his hard-hitting bars and magnetic charm with the ladies, and for his sixth album Mr. Smith, he partnered with Boyz II Men for the project’s lead single “Hey Lover.”
The rapper spun a tale of quietly observing a woman who has caught his attention. He spoke about seeing her around the way with her boyfriend, who “drinks too much and smokes too many blunts,” but LL says boldly in the first verse that he’s made it his “mission” to win her over.
However, he later says he doesn’t want to “violate [her] relationship” as Boyz II Men harmonize in the chorus, “This is more than a crush.” The classic earned LL Cool a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1997 and the Hype Williams-directed visual became a staple on music television, so watch the music video below and reserve this track for someone who is just out of your reach.
And I be workin’ out everyday thinkin’ bout you
Looking at my own eyes in the rearview
Catchin flashbacks of our eye contact
Wish I could lay ya on your stomach and caress your back
I would hold ya in my arms and ease your fears
I can’t believe it, I hadn’t had a crush in years
“Let’s Get Married (Remix)” — Jagged Edge ft. Rev Run, Jermaine Dupri
We should clarify that both the original and remix versions of this song are classics, but we decided to pick the one that will get a party started. Rev Run from Run-DMC makes an appearance on the updated version alongside So So Def mogul Jermaine Dupri as the entire crew highlights their desire to jump the broom.
Since 2000, millions of people around the world from nightclubs to reception halls have been hitting dancefloors while singing, “We ain’t getting’ no younger, we might as well do it,” showing that you can both dedicate this song to the one you love while keeping the party going. Of all the songs in Rap and Hip Hop that celebrate saying “I do,” we have to say “Let’s Get Married” is a favorite.
Didn’t you know I loved you from the start? (Yeah)
When I think about
All these years we’ve put in this relationship (Yeah)
Who knew we’d make it this far?
Then I think about (Ha)
Where would I be if we were to just to fall apart (And what?)
And I can’t stand the thought of losing you (Let’s go)
“Come Close” — Common ft. Mary J. Blige
It should come as no surprise to see production from The Neptunes on this list. Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo are responsible for the head-bobbing beat on “Come Close,” Common’s 2002 single featuring vocals from Mary J. Blige. At the time, Common was dating Erykah Badu and it’s said that the track was inspired by, and written to, the Baduizm singer.
The music video was particularly moving for fans as Common is seen standing outside of his girlfriend’s window, professing his love lyrically while expressing his words with toss-away poster board donning simplistic artwork. In the end, you learn that he’s communicating this way visually because his girlfriend, who watches at the window, is deaf, making the wholesome love story one that people pine to become.
I want to build a tribe with you
Protect and provide for you
Truth is I can’t hide from you
The pimp in me, may have to die with you
“21 Questions” — 50 Cent ft. Nate Dogg
The ladies were put to the test with 50 Cent’s “21 Questions,” and not everyone passed. The 2003 single featured the late Nate Dogg who held down the hook as Fif rapped through his verses with questions that were poised to his partner. The rapper wanted to know if he was broke, went to jail, wasn’t famous, or needed help…would she still be with him? 50 Cent seemed locked in with the woman he loves (“I’ll treat you how you want to be treated, just teach me how”), but he still had some things to work on before she would completely give him her trust.
This Dirty Swift production was mixed by Dr. Dre and topped Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, taking the No. 1 spot. This was the second single from Fif’s debut studio album Get Rich or Die Tryin’—and the album’s lead single, “In Da Club,” also peaked in the No. 1 position, as well.
If I got locked up and sentenced to a quarter-century
Could I count on you to be there to support me mentally?
If I went back to a hooptie from a Benz
Would you poof and disappear like some of my friends?
If I was hit and I was hurt, would you be by my side?
If it was time to put in work, would you be down to ride?
“Put It On Me” — Ja Rule ft. Vita, Lil Mo
If there’s something Ja Rule is good for, it’s dropping off a hit with the help of an R&B singer. The New York rapper released his sophomore studio album Rule 3:36 in 2000, and with it came his classic hit, “Put It On Me.” While the initial version only featured Vita, a rapper on Murder Inc., Lil Mo was added to the chorus to help round out the sound we all know and love.
Ja’s coarse voice croons for his woman to “put it on” him and he’s said in interviews that the inspiration behind the song came to him after having an argument with his wife, his high school sweetheart, Aisha. He added that many of the lyrics speak to things they go through in real life, so that may be why fans connect to the track so well.
Inseparable, we chose pain over pleasure
For that you’ll forever be a, part of me
Mind, body, and soul ain’t no I in we, baby (No, no)
When you cry, who wipes your tears (you)
When you scared, who’s telling you there’s nothin to fear (you)
“Beautiful” — Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell
Everyone felt as if they were looking good after Snoop Dogg shared his single “Beautiful.” The 2003 single featured the talents of megaproducer Pharrell Williams and R&B legend Charlie Wilson, and it may be best remembered due to its music video that was set in Rio de Janeiro.
Initially, Pharrell would later reveal, he had to warm up to the song because he wasn’t sold on his addition to the creative flow. This is a “love” song that’s a little rough around the edges, but in Snoop’s own Doggy Style way, he communicates all the reasons why his woman has captured—and held—his attention.
Pharrell and Uncle Wilson’s vocals blend effortlessly as they bring it all together in the end (“See, I just want you / To know that you are really special”) to offset some of Snoop’s edgier deliveries. “Beautiful” is on the more flirtatious end of the spectrum and still unforgettable.
When I see my baby boo, sh*t, I get foolish
Smack a n*gga that tries to pursue it
Homeboy, she taken, just move it
I asked you nicely, don’t make the Dogg lose it
We just blow dro and keep the flow movin’
“I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By” — Method Man ft. Mary J. Blige
In 1995, Method Man and Mary J. Blige delivered a single that, when played in a public setting, will cause the entire room to erupt in chorus. “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By” samples the 1968 Motown classic, “You’re All I Need to Get By” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. This reimagined Hip Hop version of the Soul-centered favorite has been hailed as one of the greatest Hip Hop songs in certain circles, so it undoubtedly had to make an appearance on our Valentine’s Day playlist.
Method and Mary J.’s collaboration served as the remix to the Wu-Tang icon’s track “All I Need” from his debut album, Tical. Method Man has admitted that when the idea of a duet with an R&B singer was pitched, he didn’t want any part of it because he felt as if there was a wave going on at the time where rappers’ images were being changed into ladies’ men.
In the end, he opted to create the song and penned the lyrics about his wife, who at the time it was still his girlfriend. The rapper missed her while he was out on tour so he flew her out to visit him, and that’s when he reportedly wrote his portions of the song.
It be true me for you, that’s how it is
I be your Noah, you be my Wiz
I’m your mister, you my misses with hugs and kisses
Valentine cards and birthday wishes, please
We on another level of planning, of understanding
The bond between man and woman, and child
The highest elevation ’cause we above
All that romance crap, just show your love
“Into You” — Fabolous ft. Tamia
A few Fabolous tracks for this list were up for debate and we decided to go with his beloved collaboration with R&B icon, Tamia. Conversations about the 2003 single have recently been reignited after there seems to be some confusion about whether or not Ashanti was intended to be on the track, but in the end, fans are happy that Fab and Tamia collided for a classic.
The song samples “Say Yeah” by The Commodores and appears on the rapper’s sophomore studio album Street Dreams as well as the singer’s More. Lyrically, Fabolous spits bars about glowing up with his woman as they live lavishly while he does whatever is needed to keep her content. This was released years before Fab met his longtime love Emily B, but we’re sure that this is a favorite for the couple, still.
When they ask, I mention my baby girl in the interviews now
And I don’t bring the problems from the ’90s into 2 thou’
There’s no reason to have a friend or two now
‘Cause the kid’s ready to tell you how he feel in a few vows
Maybe, I’m speakin’ general now
But girl I’mma do whatever just to keep a grin on you now
“’03 Bonnie & Clyde” — Jay-Z ft. Beyonce
This was a great era for love songs and we couldn’t end this list without mentioning a Jay-Z and Beyoncé favorite. Prior to the pair of chart-toppers being referred to as the “Knowles-Carters,” Jay tapped his then-girlfriend to assist him on his 2002 single, “’03 Bonnie & Clyde.” The track was a play on Tupac Shakur’s 1996 release “Me and My Girlfriend”—which was sampled on the single—and is one of many collaborations from the power couple.
The world received a glimpse into the everlasting dedication Jay-Z and Beyoncé have for one another on the single, including the chorus where they trade bars about only needing one another and being “down to ride ‘til the very end.” Some who were friends with Jay-Z during that time claimed that this song was how they knew Hov was in love with the Destiny’s Child star.
‘Cause 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
“I Know What You Want” — Busta Rhymes ft. Flipmode Squad, Mariah Carey
She’s known as the queen of Christmas music, but Mariah Carey has been dropping diamonds for decades. When Busta Rhymes called Mimi for assistance on his single “I Know What You Want,” she lent her vocals along with the famed Flipmode Squad including Rah Digga, Baby Sham, Rampage, and Spliff Star. “I Know What You Want” was featured on Busta’s sixth studio album It Ain’t Safe No More…, and while it wasn’t a huge No. 1 success upon its release, it’s outlasted many chart-toppers from that time.
Each verse is brief as to fit in all the emcees on the lineup, but they weave together to carry a central theme of a couple holding one another down through in a lifelong partnership from the streets to the houses on the hills. Busta, Flipmode, and Mariah delivered a tender-yet-thug-love classic that deserves to be spun a few times on Valentine’s Day and beyond.
I feel your love for me, baby, and how it move through you
I been longin’ for the moment to talk the truth to you (Listen)
I’m never home, I always get up and go
Puttin’ you through the unnecessary rigmarole
I never meant to put a thousand pounds of stress on your head
I love the way we sleep and how we always cuddle in bed