We all love rap music for the raw, intense, and honest depiction of life that it conveys. And often, that music feature uptempo, high octane beats. But not every rap song is happy or boastful. In fact, I’d argue that some of the best songs are actually sad rap songs, because they have an emotional resonance that is a bit different from other genres of music.
So, in this article, I’m going to present to you my favorite rap songs that either fall into the category of “sad” or “melancholy”—or ones that are a bit more somber and reflective. Hopefully, you find a couple new songs here to add to your playlist!
Sad Rap Songs Full of Raw Emotion
Let’s kick this off with a Stromae track.
Carmen by Stromae (2013)
Based on lines from the eponymous opera Carmen, this sad song is a critique of modern love and social media. In the opera, love is compared to a bird; here, it is jokingly compared to the Twitter bird logo. The music video is really cool – with English subtitles – and tells the story of a failing relationship and the negative impacts that social media has on the romance.
I really could include all of Belgian rapper Stromae’s discography on this list, but I think that this song stands out in particular because of its relevance to modern society.
The track is great, with the beat taking the starring role – as with most of Stromae’s songs. The lyrics talk about society’s obsession with likes, follows, and material goods:
And that’s how we love, love, love, love
How we consume…
The song is really a hopeless one, made worse with the music video that depicts the infectious Twitter bird killing the singer (…we will all perish like rats) and then moving on to its next victim.
Too Young by Post Malone (2015)
The subject of this song isn’t too hard to guess: Post Malone doesn’t want to die too young. It was written for other rappers who did, in fact, die too young – at the peak of their careers. The lyrics talk of how he wants to make money and be successful.
While that might seem a little superficial at first glance, I think it’s something that a lot of people can relate to. For those who are ambitious, we don’t want to die before we’re able to achieve our dreams.
The track is very repetitive; the lyrics are too. But it kind of contributes to the mood of the song. It feels sort of monotonous in the way that daily life can feel monotonous. The lyrics I don’t wanna die too young are repeated over and over again like a mantra.
Song Cry by Jay-Z (2002)
Jay-Z is known for a lot of things, but being emotionally vulnerable (like, say, Tupac Shakur was) isn’t quite his thing. So that’s what makes Song Cry so special, as Jay-Z sings of being in a marriage with a woman he loves—and how the relationship is falling apart due to his actions.
For Jigga, he’s just so busy trying to secure the bag, he admits that his woman has taken a back seat. While he’s traveling to small towns and “lockin’ a mall down,” she’s at home lonely and wondering what happened to their relationship.
Jay sees the problem and fully acknowledges it—but he doesn’t know what to do about it. And, as the chorus proves, he can’t even fully engage with his own emotions about this—he can’t cry about.
So he has to make the song cry instead.
Divina Commedia by G-Dragon (2017)
GD’s Divina Commedia is really underrated – it’s about fame and coping with the effects of extreme fame, which is something that not a lot of people can relate to. But it’s very dark and honest, almost painful to hear.
While most of the song is hard to relate to, I think that something many can sympathize with is the idea of wearing a mask and hiding your true self:
Why do they say life is a comedy?
Do you laugh and then cry?
What face expression should I make?
What does my face look like? It’s a fake mask
The lyrics also talk about the idea of life being a stage, which reminds me a lot of the “All the world’s a stage” monologue from Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
The track is also really great. It sounds surprisingly calm, almost empty, despite the darkness of the lyrics. It’s very different from a lot of GD’s other songs. In parts of the song, a distorted voice repeats the phrase Gone, I’m numb. It’s so distorted that you can’t even tell what he’s saying even though that part is in English. It’s almost like he doesn’t want you to know. It’s a really nice touch.
The 3rd World by Immortal Technique (2008)
Now, who said that a sad rap song has to feature a sad sounding beat or a somber vocal performance? Because on The 3rd World, Immortal Technique is lighting up you with intensity—and the thumping beat is relentless.
But it’s the lyrics of this song that, while performed in an angry or agitated state, actually showcase a very sad reality for a lot of human beings around the world.
On this song, Tech talks a lot about Africa and Peru, and he relates some of that living experience to America. It’s interesting that a lot rap music in general is born out of the painful experiences of African Americans living in so called urban city “ghettos.” I wouldn’t say that Tech minimizes this pain, but he tries to illustrate that for all terrible circumstances a poor American faces in the inner city (drugs, being over-policing, food deserts and a lack of job opportunities), life is even worse for those living in the so-called “third world.”
I’m from where the gold and diamonds are ripped from the earth
Right next to the slave castles where the water is cursed
From where police brutality is not half as nice
It makes the hood in America look like paradise
The 3rd World is a great song, but it really does showcase the sad reality of how human beings treat one another throughout the entire world—not just North America.
U by Kendrick Lamar (2015)
This one is a heartbreaking, stream-of-consciousness rap by Kendrick Lamar. He has spoken about his struggles with depression and this song certainly reflects the self-hatred that comes with living with depression – especially when you’re in the spotlight.
The emotion in his voice is so clear that it’s painful. It’s hard to listen to and sort of the opposite of a catchy song – but that’s the point. It’s not supposed to be enjoyable. You feel like you’re getting a glimpse into someone’s head and hearing all the negative things they’ve ever thought about themselves.
He repeats the phrase Loving you is complicated, loving you is complicated, and you realize that the “you” he has been speaking of this whole time has been himself.
Other lyrics are even harder to hear:
I f*****’ tell you f*****’ failure—you ain’t no leader!
I never liked you, forever despise you—I don’t need ya!
It’s torturous to listen to someone attack themselves so harshly. And you don’t get any comfort at the end either.
And if I told your secrets the world’ll know money can’t stop a suicidal weakness
BODY by MINO (2016)
While this is a quite sensual song, it’s also very heavy and sad. The lyrics talk about missing someone, about feeling their absence. It’s so heartbreakingly lonely because he’s missing someone’s physical presence, but not necessarily the person themselves. In other words, he misses the body and not the person.
It’s sad because it shows that he wasn’t even truly happy when he was with that person, but without them he’s even sadder. The track helps create an atmosphere that really fits the vibe and the lyrics. The instrumentals are sensual, but also sort of surreal and dreamlike.
Through the Wire by Kanye West (2003)
By now, most people are aware that Kanye West was in a serious car accident that caused his mouth to be wired shut. On Through the Wire, Kanye speaks about this ordeal—and how it affected everyone around him.
It’s a sad song, in that Kanye emphasizes with his loved ones regarding the emotions they must’ve felt when they learned about, and continued dealing with, his accident.
How do you console my mom or give her light support
Tellin’ her her son’s on life support?
And just imagine how my girl feel
On the plane scared as hell that her guy look like Emmett Till
But thankfully, by the end of the song, things get a bit more hopeful. Kanye sings of being “unbreakable,” talking about how he’s turned tragedy to triumph and will continue to “spit my soul through the wire.”
Nothing Lasts Forever by J Cole (2011)
This one is about a broken-up relationship. It feels a lot like a conversation between exes, where they admit their own shortcomings in their past relationship.
I tried, you tried, we tried
All of the times that we had together
We should’ve known nothing last forever
It’s very well done, but also a bit odd because the chorus is just so catchy and gets stuck in your head even though it’s actually really sad.
Streetlight by Changbin ft. Bang Chan (2019)
In this song, Changbin talks about being lonely, but also about being a light for someone else:
Like a streetlight, like a streetlight
At the end of a lonely day, standing vacantly
In the middle of the lonely night, I try my best to smile brightly
He is in pain, but knows he has to be strong for other people.
I just wanted to be someone else’s strength
I can’t be the reason that they lose strength
While he wants to continue to be strong and help the people around him, he also admits that he wants someone else to care about him too:
I need someone before I collapse
Ask me again if I’m okay, please, anybody
In this interview, he discusses his songwriting process in general, as well as for his own solo, Streetlight. The track is simple, and it’s Changbin’s distinctive rap voice that makes this piece stand out.
Overall, it’s a somewhat positive take on the subject of loneliness. While he is suffering, he doesn’t want others to suffer and so he continues to be their “streetlight.”
Scared of the Dark by Lil Wayne & Ty Dolla $ign (2018)
This rap makes references to Lil Wayne’s suicide attempt – I’m behind the trigger, what if I am the target?
The “fall” and “dark” he talks about throughout the song refer to his own death. He isn’t afraid of it and almost wants it in some ways. But because he repeats it so much, we start to feel like maybe he’s just trying to convince himself; maybe he’s actually terrified.
I’m not scared of the dark
I’m not running, running, running
No, I’m not afraid of the fall
Listening to the track, the instrumentals themselves sort of sound like falling, which really helps create the visual image of someone falling to their own demise. It’s very beautifully done. This song is also featured on the soundtrack of Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse.
Any Song by ZICO (2020)
ZICO’s Any Song reminds me a little bit of Stromae’s Alors On Danse – the lyrics talk about being tired of life, being bored, being stressed, and getting old. Stromae’s song asks us to just dance and this one asks us to just play any song – because it’s just a distraction after all.
Play any song anyway
Anything that’s exciting
Dance whatever I like
To look as if nothing has happened
I don’t want to think of anything
I’ll live as nobody for a moment
I’m sick and tired of my everyday
The track sounds lackadaisical, uninterested – sort of like feigned enthusiasm. It isn’t boring; it’s a bored track whose repetitiveness is a reflection of the monotony of everyday life.
Legends by Juice WRLD (2018)
Written for the two late rappers, XXXTENTACION and Lil Peep, this song is similar to Post Malone’s Too Young given the subject matter. It discusses the idea of dying at the peak of your success. Juice WRLD talks about how he used to want to be a “legend” but no longer does because it seems like all the legends keep dying young.
They tell me I’ma be a legend, I don’t want that title now
‘Cause all the legends seem to die out, what the f*** is this ’bout?
The song starts off sounding a lot like talking, and then it moves on to sound more like rap. It becomes quite repetitive, but we do get some truly shocking lyrics like, “what’s the 27 Club? We ain’t making it past 21” that truly show how young they all are.
Fall Slowly by Joyner Lucas ft. Ashanti (2020)
Fall Slowly is about love – but a kind of destructive love. The lyrics talk of man who is sort of possessive, acting as if he owns his partner, openly admitting that he knows he isn’t good for this person. Then it sort of gets flipped upside down because it’s revealed that his partner is the same and just as bad as him.
In the first pre-chorus, he is the toxic one:
And every time you try to leave, I’m chasin’ after you (Chasin’ after you)
And every time I go, I keep on comin’ back to you (Comin’ back)
‘Cause you belong to me, and I’m the other half of you
And as much as I need you, deep down I know I’m bad for you
You know I’m bad for you (Bad for you, bad for you)
In the second one, it is his partner:
And every time I try to leave, you’re chasin’ after me (Chasin’ after me)
And every time you leave, you keep on comin’ back to me (Comin’ back)
‘Cause I belong to you, and you’re the other half of me
And as much as you need me, deep down you know you’re bad for me
You know you’re bad for me
Overall, a really great rap about a relationship that’s doomed to fail – and Ashanti’s voice goes really well in this song too!
Changes by 2pac ft. Talent (1998)
This one is particularly depressing because it was released in 1998, but not much has changed since then. The lyrics discuss race and inequality, police brutality, and the struggles of poverty. Even then, Tupac saw no changes, so it’s beyond infuriating that, as a country, we’re still dealing with so many of the same problems outlined in this song.
I see no changes, wake up in the morning and I ask myself
Is life worth livin’? Should I blast myself?
I’m tired of bein’ poor and, even worse, I’m black
There is a lot of piano in this song—sometimes it’s quite beautiful while other times its more striking. It’s a really interesting juxtaposition because the lyrics on Changes can be equally stark. On this track, you get honesty that paints a very bleak picture. There are direct attacks on society and the corruption that exists even in the institutions that are supposed to help its citizens:
Give the crack to the kids, who the hell cares?
One less hungry mouth on the welfare
The song ends hopelessly – even more so because ‘Pac sounds almost sarcastic. He paints a picture that the cycle of violence—which everyone in society, directly or indirectly, has a hand in—won’t ever stop. And that, eventually, it’ll come knocking on his door too.
Some things’ll never change
I think it’s pretty evident that, from this robust list, there’s no doubt a treasure trove of sad rap songs! Some can be songs about love or death, others can be about past pain or neglecting your loved one.
From breakups to depression to racism, there are a whole host of subjects that rappers write about. It isn’t just some catchy tunes about being rich and getting girls. Rap is such a big genre, and the nature of the medium allows people to talk about heavier subjects that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
And thank goodness for that, as it helps us process our own trauma and pain.