A thoroughbred instrument solo on a hip-hop song can take it from satisfactory to superior with the quickness. Whether cooked up from scratch in the studio or crafted due to some production magic, the effectively golden move can really stretch a song into its peak form.
Throughout hip-hop history, guitars have always been go-tos for magical foundations. Take for instance Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album cut “Devil in A New Dress.” There are no downfalls of that unsparing gem, but the best part is easily Mike Dean shredding his electric guitar before Rick Ross drops in to lay down some big boss bars.
Speaking of guitars, the string board is also the tool of choice for the outro on Childish Gambino’s song “The Worst Guys” with Chance The Rapper. The track is placed early on the rapper's Because The Internet album at No. 5. However, with producer Ludwig Göransson’s unblemished arrangement, you’ll still be thinking about the sublime solo toward the end of the project.
Just like rap and rock, hip-hop and jazz genres meet in the middle like the letter H too. Certain artists like Ty Dolla $ign almost always utilize something like horns to help fortify what’s already been designed. For Ty’s 2013 Beach House 2 cut “Float,” he drafted producer Terrace Martin to compose a heavenly saxophone solo for the outro of the euphoric record.
The list goes on and today, XXL brings it to life. Here are 20 standing ovation-worthy instrument solos on hip-hop songs.
"Devil in A New Dress"Kanye West Featuring Rick Ross
Mike Dean’s guitar solo on “Devil in A New Dress” is one of the best moments on the inebriating song, which is featured on Kanye West’s 2010 magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Serving as the prelude to Rick Ross’ smooth sailing verse at the end of the track, the electric guitar steals the show midway. It’s a musical moment that in all 73 seconds of its life will force a kaleidoscope of musical notes to be projected on the back of your eyelids. ’Til this day, it hits harder than Pablo Sanchez on Backyard Baseball. No cap.
"Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe"Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 sophomore masterpiece, good kid m.A.A.d city is filled with iconic moments throughout, but among the best is the violin at the end of track No. 2, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Using a bit of production magic utilized by Sounwave—K. Dot’s go-to beat builder for crafting hits—the heavenly strings sound like they’re coming straight out of a church. The solo is soft and fluid on the ear, yet its execution is fortified enough to give you the stank face.
"Float"Ty Dolla $ign Featuring IAMSU and Terrace Martin
Ty Dolla $ign is one of the best A&Rs in the game, and that extends past vocals and into instrumentation. Housed on his 2013 thoroughbred mixtape, Beach House 2, is a track called “Float,” which samples Tweet’s R&B classic “My Place.” At the end of the track, there’s a blissfully piercing saxophone solo laid down by Terrace Martin. Considering his big dog status in the modern jazz world, it comes as no surprise that he made his sax sing its ass off.
"Easy Rider"Action Bronson
The outro to Action Bronson’s 2015 debut studio album, Mr. Wonderful, has one of the coldest guitar solos featured on a rap song within the last decade. The shredding solo finishes both the song and album with prestige. This track is best heard with your amplifier on full blast. Guitarist Curt Chambers is to thank for such a special moment, fit for riding a Harley off into the sunset.
"B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)"OutKast
OutKast’s “B.O.B (Bombs Over Baghdad)”, a 2000 track that became a radio favorite during the Irag War in 2003, is funky and groovy enough to rewind time back to the Blaxploitation era upon listening. Adding to the entrancing production is a Jimmy Hendrix-esque guitar solo, coded by David Whild. The psychedelic offering birthed one of the most memorable qualities of the duo’s multiplatinum-selling memento, Stankonia. It also further proves just how lethal strings can be on rap songs.
"The Worst Guys"Childish Gambino Featuring Chance The Rapper
Childish Gambino’s “The Worst Guys” featuring Chance The Rapper is the best glimpse of what their ghosted collaborative project would sound like. Featured as the fifth song on Gambino’s best album, Because The Internet, the lyrically witty gem is built with a beat that leans on the electric guitar in the background. At the end of the record though, the instrument takes lead thanks to a solo crafted by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson. When isolated, the shredding sounds near perfect. You can see for yourself here.
"Beautiful Lasers (2 Ways)"Lupe Fiasco Featuring Poo Bear
Dan Manzoor is the man behind the strings on Lupe Fiasco’s introspective 2011 record “Beautiful Lasers (2 Ways).” The LASERS album favorite is heightened by the guitar solo at the end, which is paraded in the background as Poo Bear repeats the chorus. The worlds of rap and rock music have an interesting and successful track record, especially in moments like this when they tend to mesh beautifully.
"A Christmas Fucking Miracle"Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels’ “A Christmas Fucking Miracle,” a 2013 track that samples Big Daddy Kane’s “ Ain't No Half-Steppin,” has a simple, yet eerie beat where the guitar is heard louder than every other sound. The end of the song features a solo, lightning strike of a moment created by Little Shalimar. His searing instrumentation heard here on the groups self-titled album is the reason why he’s been featured as a producer on every RTJ project thus far. And furthermore, why this song is low-key one of the best in their catalog.
"Short Summer"Joe Budden Featuring Emanny
Back in his earlier rap days, Joe Budden was no stranger to letting the guitar shine on some of his songs. A good example would be the Emanny-assisted track “Short Summer,” off Budden’s 2010 mixtape, Mood Musik 4: A Turn 4 the Worst. Toward the end of the track, Joe gives instrumentalist Maki Athanasiou ample time to get his notes off with the guitar, which he does effectively and with elite execution. When discussing Joe’s best songs featuring a guitar, “Short Summer” is the only correct answer. If you're not hip, just hear it for yourself.
"No Sleep Till Brooklyn"Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys drafted guitarist Kerry King, of the legendary metal group Slayer, for the guitar riffs on their signature song “No Sleep till Brooklyn.” King snapped, simply put. As one of the best songs off the group’s revered, 1986 debut album, Licensed to Ill, this solo arguably set the bar for how to utilize string instruments properly in hip-hop.
"Gorgeous"Kanye West Featuring Raekwon and Kid Cudi
Thanks to Mike Dean and Ken Lewis, the lush guitar notes on “Gorgeous” might not escape your head once you press play. From the opening lines, the string instrument takes lead and accompanies ’Ye’s subdued lyrics on the track, featured on his 2010 LP, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. But near the conclusion of the record, a solo allows the musical device to thrive on its own. And that it does, bleeding passion onto the track.
Mac Miller was in his bag when he made the vulnerable offering that is his 2016 The Divine Feminine album. He’s always been known to flip a dope sample and pick unconventional beats, but the jazzy instrumentation emphasized on this one was at peak level. For example, listen to the third track, “Stay,” which breaks away at the end and goes into an enrapturing trumpet solo by Keyon Harrold. The trumpet serves as the soundtrack to what sounds like some really intense sex. One way or the other, the moment surely provides pleasure. Rest easy, Mac.
“SpottieOttieDopaliscious” is undeniably in the top tier of OutKast’s discography, though the 1998 song houses the least amount of lyrics in comparison to everything else the group known for in-depth storytelling has dropped. What’s most entrancing about this gem is the horn solos by Jerry Freeman and Darian Emory, featured before and in between verses from Big Boi and André 3000. In fact, the instrumentation is so indisputable that artists like J. Cole (“Who Dat”), Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj (“Flawless (Remix)”) and Lil Wayne plus Drake (“Right Above It”) couldn’t help but sample it.
Drake’s 2011 sophomore album, Take Care, is put together better than anything else he’s released—some will argue against that but real ones know. And that’s why it’s his best project. From the production to the features, Drizzy left little to no room for failure. Perhaps, one of his biggest power moves was getting the legendary Stevie Wonder to deliver a bluesy harmonica solo at the end of “Doing It Wrong.” Stevie took the sonics up to 10 with his addition.
From the second you press play on Lauryn Hill’s 1998 track “Ex-Factor,” the song takes a listener from a physical sense to the clouded heights of musical nirvana. There’s a guitar solo at the end of this The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill standout to close things out. Shout-out to Mike Tyler for ending this classic song the way it should be done: perfectly. Diamond albums don't come without songs and potent moments like this.
OK, back to the Take Care talk. The piano cadences throughout the 20-song LP from “Over My Dead Body” to “Marvins Room” gave Drake the ideal foundation to float his B-side lyrics over. With that being said, many of his fans lived through the depths of their respective simp days with the latter as the soundtrack. Down to the last couple dozens of seconds, featuring a piano solo from Chilly Gonzales, the heartfelt offering concludes with a solo that demonstrates how beautiful pain can be.
"Talking to My Diary"Dr. Dre
As a beat-making G.O.A.T., the production on a Dr. Dre album never lacks. His 2015 LP, Compton, is yet another testament to that. On tracks like “Talking to My Diary,” he goes full-fledged on the utilization of real instruments. Keyboards aside, Ron Blake, Dontae Winslow, Francisco Torres and Jason Freese swoop in on the trumpet, trombone and saxophone, respectively, to deliver one hell of a backdrop on the track and solo at the end. Quality is what this is. We need these vibes on Detox.
"Life's A Bitch"Nas Featuring AZ
Musicality runs in Nas’ family, if you didn’t know. To give some context, looking at his 1994 Illmatic album, his father is the man credited for the dream-like trumpet solo at the end of “Life’s a Bitch” with AZ. For almost a full minute, Olu Dara lets his instrument carol over a looped sample of “Yearning for Your Love” by The GAP Band. What a beautiful ending to a beautiful song.
"Pursuit of Happiness"Kid Cudi Featuring MGMT and Ratatat
Kid Cudi and MGMT did what needed to be done on the 2009 gem “Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare).” So did Ratatat’s Mike Stroud, who let the notes of his guitar spill over on the bridge of the party anthem. His striking solo is everything and then some. It’s the perfect detox away from the carefree lyrics and a deeper dive into the otherworldly vibes of the song’s production, which boasts all of those. Stay tuned for more of these moments on the next installation of the Man on the Moon series.
"Use This Gospel"Kanye West Featuring Clipse and Kenny G
Trust us, we tried to include as few Kanye West examples as possible, but some tracks are just outright unavoidable when we’re talking about instrument solos, like the Kenny G delivers on “Use This Gospel” featuring Clipse. The 2019 track, featured on ’Ye's Jesus Is King album, showcases Kenny G's ability to turn a song to gold once he lets loose on the sax. Whether you like or care about actual jazz music, you have no choice but to respect it after hearing the melodies on this Jesus Is King track.