Mr. Sensitivity and Rap’s Emotional Core

Nas, Lupe Fiasco, Jim Jones and others have shown their soft sides. But the trend goes way back.

Nas (Valley Jean/FilmMagic/Getty); Lupe Fiasco (Joe Kohen/Getty);Jim Jones (Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty)

It’s no secret that when even the most guarded of artists release their inner feelings, it spawns some of the greatest, most emotionally rousing hip-hop hits. Some of the newest songs out there represent a revival in the direction of some of the more familiar emotional oldies but goodies.

On Slaughterhouse’s newest album, Welcome to: Our House, Joe Budden, Crooked I, Royce Da 5’9″ and Joell Ortiz talk about different things that affected them emotionally, especially Crooked I’s memorial song for his late uncle, “Goodbye.” That song is in the same tradition of heartfelt rhyming as Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Tha Crossroads” and Tupac’s “Changes.”

The artists are merely reflecting the ups and downs of everyday life: celebration and victory, missing and mourning, redemption from revealing skeletons in the closet, anger, venting, appreciation and, of course, love lost and found.

The very things that Lupe Fiasco shed tears over and continues to rant about — violence, death and social problems in inner cities — were addressed in Ice Cube’s 1990 single “Dead Homiez.” Males in hip-hop — especially black males — have learned to share their fears, doubts, troubles and dreams in a refreshing way — in addition to praising themselves for their mountainous riches, premium bottle service and conquests with willing women, of course.

Whether it’s through somber tunes like Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” and the Puff Daddy-Faith Evans-112 collaboration “I’ll Be Missing You,” made in memory of the fallen, hip-hop’s leading patriarchs have made hits with heavy emotional appeal.

Not all accounts were so sad. Hip-hop mogul Jay-Z may have gotten the “aww” moment of the year with his song “Glory,” which recounts the joy of gaining the title of “dad.” Right after wife BeyoncĂ© delivered their daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, in January, he recorded the song, which features the infant starlet’s cries and coos.

In 2012 hip-hop remains comfortably nestled in its sensitive stage, until it’s ready to be moved. We just have to wait and see who the next rapper will be to cue that musical shift back to the streets, where hardened demeanors flourish. Kennedy would put his money on Meek Mill. “He reminds me a lot of DMX and 50 in that he’s very much a street artist,” he says of the Philadelphia Maybach Music Group rapper. “He comes from that, but he makes great songs that men and women can get into. I think he could really be the next one.”

For now, it’s refreshing that aspects of the music reflect the notion that it isn’t always about promoting an alpha-male persona in order to make a hit. Sprinkling in a little bit of honesty and intimacy is what maintains the relatable persona that hip-hop devotees cherish so much. It just took a few sappy moments to refresh our memories, in case we forgot.

Stacy-Ann Ellis is an editorial intern at The Root.