Soundtrack to the End of the World: The best storytellers in hip-hop

Graphic by Derin Savasan

This week on “Soundtrack,” Alex Viveros takes us along for a late-night solo stroll, headphones in, world blocked out, his mind on narratives set to hip-hop.  

When Jess asked me to write for this column this week, I realized something that I hadn’t before; a large number of my friends, even those I’ve been tight with for a lot of my college life, don’t know what my music taste is. 

The truth is, I usually keep my favorite songs private because I think they’re best appreciated in moments alone. I like to reserve my music for late-night walks back home from the Daily office, or long nighttime drives in California.

The best part of hip-hop is its ability to tell a story. My favorite songs are the ones that you can play over and over and still find new meanings, so I encourage you to give these ones a shot.

 

“Devil in a New Dress” (2010) and “Runaway” (2010) by Kanye West

The 2010 album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is, objectively, one of the best albums to be released in the 21st century. Kanye’s influence in hip-hop is unmatched; love him or hate him, it’s undeniable that he’s shaped the vision of many industry leaders today.

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is Kanye at his best, mainly because the whole album feels larger than life. While it’s hard to pin down the best songs on the album, I think that these two hit the hardest. They’re honest and vulnerable in a way that you can’t help but appreciate coming from Yeezy, a self-proclaimed “douchebag.”

In “Devil in a New Dress,” Kanye makes use of an epic sample to tell the story of a dying relationship. The vocal backtrack — a tuned-up version of Smokey Robinson’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (1973) — is unforgettable, and Rick Ross’ verse is some of his best work.

“Runaway” is, to this day, Kanye’s masterpiece. The soft piano opening is quiet, simple and unexpectedly iconic in a song dedicated to the “assholes” of the world. The real kicker, however, comes at the end when Ye transforms a human voice into its own guitar solo in an instrumental that helped him win “Best Rap Album” at the 2012 Grammy Awards.

 

 “DUCKWORTH.” (2017) by Kendrick Lamar

This song made me cry. In his closer to the critically-acclaimed “DAMN.” (2017), Kendrick tells the story of Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, who signed Kendrick at 16 years old to a record label. 

“DUCKWORTH.” is a song about choices, and the ripple effects that they can have on the lives of others. It’s a master class in storytelling, and hits home when you realize that the world may have been very close to losing one of its best rappers in Kendrick Lamar.

As Kendrick puts it: “Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence?/ Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin’ life/ While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight.”

 

Honorable mentions

“Oldie” (2012) by Odd Future

“The Night Me and Your Mama Met” (2016) by Childish Gambino

“Super Rich Kids” (2012) by Frank Ocean 

 


COPYRIGHT 2021 THE TUFTS DAILY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.