Hip-hop is the music of the people, and the sound of grumbling bellies sets the beat. In the game of life, it's eat or be eaten, and only the hungriest survive to tell their story.
Songs about struggle are a cornerstone of the genre. Brooding tales of desperation often become heralded classics. Everyone can relate to being down on one's luck, and we all need motivation to get us through.
So when you find yourself down and out, put on one of these jams and remind yourself to get up, get out, and get something.
Rick Ross - "Hold Me Back"
Even Bawses struggle sometimes. Rose fuels his grind with cacophonous strings and evil bass booms. He lets spew a laundry list of aggravating setbacks that would have a lesser man hanging up his hat and crying in his hands. Real bosses take the bad on the chin and hustle through the hate. Ross is lucky to have a team that's in it to win it with him, and he gives them a shoutout, as well as his mom. Mom's might be the best motivation there is, besides the looks on the haters' faces when you make it.
Kanye West - "Touch the Sky"
Mr. West puts the horns and upbeat on the struggle, giving hustlers and dreamers something to hold their head up to while staying steady on the grind. This is his celebration, before he set most of the world on fire with his braggy antics and don't-give-a-fuck attitude. Just remember, before he had the Throne, West shopped his rhymes to label after label, getting laughed at and shoved into a corner as a beat-maker in a cage. If you keep believing in yourself, you too may one day steal mics from award recipients and get the chance to get in your zone.
Kid Cudi - "Pursuit of Happiness"
Cleveland's patron saint of stoner outsiders brings a touch of indie rock to his struggle music. It's got that downtempo melancholy that hip-hop is usually afraid to touch but makes every tight-jeaned white kid feel the burn. Sure, the Steve Aoki remix may be a way bigger hit at festivals and nightclubs, but there's something about this introspective, quiet jam that speaks to the scared hopefulness in all of us. It's always darkest before the light, so hang tight. Plus, that Ratatat guitar goes hard.
Wale - "Ambition" ft. Meek Mill and Rick Ross
This D.C. rapper turns his vision into a reality with his music, delivering an ode to the driving force within us all. Even if you come from low beginnings, your ambition and drive can lead you to bigger and brighter tomorrows. But Wale knows it takes more than just dreaming to make it. You've got to dig yourself out of the hole with hard work, no matter how hard the bad times may get. As he says, real recognizes real, and hard work and positive attitudes pay off in the long run.
Outkast - "Git Up, Git Out"
The struggle sounds real funky in the South, but that doesn't make it any easier to stay motivated. Fortune favors the brave, though, so Outkast and Goodie Mob joined forces to give street hustlers an anthem that both motivates and elevates the masses. Andre 3000 was a high school dropout, but he went on to be one of the most memorable characters in hip-hop! Don't ever let yourself lose hope, because all life needs is persistence.
Nas - "Surviving the Times"
Storytelling is a big part of hip-hop, and Nas delivers an amazing personal history on this record off 2007's Greatest Hits. It's a retrospective look at his entire career to date, celebrating his victories and shaking his head at all the twists and turns he and his crew took along the way. It's inspiring to watch somebody hailed as one of the greatest retell his struggle firsthand, and you can hear the pride and astonishment in his words. His career continues today, but this moment of personal clarity will be a classic forever.
Eminem - Lose Yourself
Without a doubt, Eminem's "Lose Yourself" is one of the all-time struggle anthems of the genre. His film 8 Mile, loosely based on his own life, paints the picture of a young man who knows in his heart he can achieve despite the obstacles life continuously throws in his face. You must be quick to seize opportunity when you hope to succeed against all odds, and Em uses this song as a way to remind aspiring individuals to give everything their all when the crack in the door makes itself known.
Kendrick Lamar - "Sing About Me"
Kendrick is hip-hop's newest savior. His Good Kid / M.A.A.D. City album is an instant classic and brought conceptualism and storytelling back to the spotlight of a genre falling into a superficial rut. The whole thing tells the story of his hard times trying to make it out of Compton to the world stage, and this song near the end brings home just how harrowing a life on the streets can be. It's easy to lose yourself out there, but Kendrick kept a hold on his sanity and turned hurt into art with great results. His time in the spotlight has just begun, but he's already secured the legacy he hopes for in the chorus.
The Notorious B.I.G. - "Juicy"
"Juicy" first hit radio in 1994, but it still gets major play all over the country. It's got a slick beat that sounds like sunshine and palm trees, because Biggie finally made it from selling drugs to records. His life has become the quintessential hip-hop backstory, and rappers continue to live in his shadow almost two decades after his death. Arguably the greatest rapper of all time, everything about Biggie's life and death represents the "struggle," and no doubt speakers will bump his beats for eternity.
2Pac - "Keep Ya Head Up"
Bottom line: No matter what happens in your life, and shit is definitely going to hit the fan, you've got to keep your head up and keep going. Nothing worth having comes easy, and 2Pac tries to let people know. When everyone wanted to gang bang, he did too, but he also dropped mad positivity bombs on a people that needed to hear something encouraging: women, blacks, the poor, everyone trying to make it up from the bottom. He was killed when he was just 25 years old, and he never did live to see a black president, but hey, we got there, right? So let's keep going.