There are thousands of great rap songs throughout hip-hop history, but the storytelling odes tend to resonate more for the topics explored. One question remains: how's it going to end? Some of the best tracks don't always have a happy ending though.
A great deal of storytelling rap songs come with sad endings. Among them is Slick Rick's classic 1989 track "A Children's Story." It's a cautionary tale filled with intrigue, suspense and, of course, a tragic conclusion. Another one is OutKast's 2000 song "Toilet Tisha," on which the Atlanta duo details a sad story about a young woman dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.
Unfortunately, there are even storytelling tracks with violent endings. Eminem's 2000 song "Kim" comes to mind as one of the most infamous for the Detroit rhymer's profanity-laced screaming match with his ex-girlfriend, which then leads to her gruesome death. On Scarface's captivating 1991 track "A Minute to Pray and a Second to Die," he details the final breaths of a vengeful drug dealer who gets shot and killed in an ambush.
While many storytelling rap songs may have sad endings, some are aimed to be socially conscious and address the social ills of our times. Rapsody's "Jesus Coming" is a thought-provoking 2017 track that deals with the issue of gun violence that affects Black families. And despite the somber tone throughout XXXTentacion's 2017 tune "Jocelyn Flores," a tribute to a deceased friend who took her own life, it highlights the ways in which people are struggling with depression and mental illness.
From Eminem to XXXTentacion and more, check out XXL's storytelling rap songs that don't have a happy ending below.
Eminem's relationship with his former girlfriend Kimberly Scott has always been volatile, but it also helped tap into his diabolical mind under his alter ego, Slim Shady. On his 2000 song "Kim," from his classic album, The Marshall Mathers LP, Em narrates a screaming match with Kim that tragically ends in her murder. Near the end of the six-minute song, you can hear what appears to be Em slashing Kim's throat and screaming, "You were supposed to love me!/Now bleed, bitch, bleed! Bleed, bitch, bleed! Bleed!" The song is so explicit that it was replaced with the South Park-themed track "The Kids" on clean versions of the album.
After reading a newspaper article about a 12-year-old girl who threw her newborn baby in a trash compactor, Tupac Shakur was compelled to write a song about teen pregnancy and the broken welfare system. Released in 1991, "Brenda's Got a Baby" is a sad tale about a girl named Brenda who's struggling to care for her unwanted baby. After running out of options, Brenda, unfortunately, settles for prostitution to provide for her newborn. "So she sees sex as a way of leavin' hell/It's payin' the rent, so she really can't complain/Prostitute found slain and Brenda's her name, she's got a baby," Tupac raps. A sad ending indeed.
Eve tackles domestic violence on her 1999 track "Love Is Blind," which appears on her debut album, Let There Be Eve...Ruff Ryders' First Lady. On the song, Eve raps about a best friend constantly mistreated by an abusive boyfriend. Near the end of the song, Eve heartbreakingly recalls losing her dear friend by the hands of her cruel boyfriend. "I don't even know you and I want you dead/Don't know the facts, but I saw the blood pour from her head/See I laid down beside her in the hospital bed/And about two hours later, doctors said she was dead," she raps. In the final verse, Eve gets her revenge and guns down the boyfriend.
"Rose Capicchioni" Joyner Lucas
Based on a true story, Joyner Lucas' 2015 song "Ross Capicchioni" is a tale about a high school teen in Detroit named Ross who survives being shot multiple times by another student he befriended at school. On the seven-minute song, the Massachusetts rapper vividly details two perspectives from the side of both the murderer and the victim. Joyner raps about how the pair's friendship grew, and details the motive behind the violent attack on Ross. There's no happy ending on this song, but it does offer a viewpoint on the peer pressure teens have to handle, which often leads to deadly consequences.
"Keisha's Song (Her Pain)"Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s track “Keisha's Song (Her Pain)” is from the Compton rapper’s 2011 debut album Section.80. It’s a cautionary tale about a young woman named Keisha who becomes a prostitute to make a living. On the song, K-Dot doesn’t speak badly about Keisha or her line of work but rather explains what led her to prostitution in the first place. At the end of the song, Kendrick sadly details Keisha’s gruesome death by a john. The Compton rhymer delivered a sequel to “Keisha’s Song” on the good kid, m.A.A.d city track “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” on which he talks about Keisha's sister's reaction to the song.
A fan favorite among rap heads, Lost Boyz's 1996 song "Renee" is a ghetto love story with an unhappy ending. On the song, Mr. Cheeks recounts meeting Renee and their budding romance. "Hey ,man, I never been in love/But every time I'm burstin' in and outta state, it's shorty that I'm thinking of," he spits on the track. Tragically, at the end of the song, Cheeks details the sad news of finding out that his beloved Renee has been shot and passing away at the hospital. "I'm pouring beer out for my shorty who ain't here/I'm from the ghetto, so listen, this is how I shed my tears," he solemnly raps.
J. Cole's 2013 track "3 Wishes" is a concept song with a sad ending. On the song, the North Carolina rhymer thinks of three wishes he could grant to three people he deeply cares for in his life. In the first verse, Cole wishes that his friend's mother didn't have to struggle to put food on the table. In the second verse, Cole wishes he could have stopped his stepfather from beating his mom. In the final verse, Cole wishes that his best friend be released from prison, but sadly, that won't happen because his friend is serving a 10-year prison bid for murder.
"I Got a Story to Tell" The Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G. was a masterful storyteller. One of his great storytelling tunes is the 1997 track “I Got a Story to Tell.” On the Buckwild-produced banger, the late Brooklyn rhymer narrates a story about his sexual liaison with a woman who is married to a New York Knicks player. But when said b-baller comes home unexpectedly, Biggie’s entanglement turns into a home robbery. In a May 2016 interview with Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, Diddy confirmed that it was a true story and the mysterious Knicks player was actually the late b-baller Anthony Mason. "That story is true," he said. "I can confirm that with love."
"Jocelyn Flores" XXXTentacion
In May 2017, a model named Jocelyn Flores tragically took her own life just hours after modeling some clothes for XXXTentacion's proposed apparel line. Her tragic story deeply affected the late Florida rapper. So much so that he felt compelled to write a song about her. "Jocelyn Flores" is his tribute to his late model. "I'm in pain, wanna put ten shots in my brain/I've been trippin' 'bout some things, can't change/Suicidal, same time I'm tame," he confesses on the song. Although it's a somber tune, it has connected with people struggling with mental illness. "Jocelyn Flores" would eventually reach double platinum status by the RIAA.
"Family Matters" Featuring Arin RayYBN Cordae
YBN Cordae examines his family upbringing on the somber "Family Matters" from his 2019 album The Lost Boy. Throughout the song, the North Carolina rapper details some of his family members' struggles while growing up. In one verse, Cordae talks about an aunt who is a prostitute and a cousin who is addicted to Xans. If it wasn't for his supportive grandmother, Cordae feels he wouldn't have become a successful rapper. "Cryin' on this airplane how I wrote this verse/They be sufferin' in silence, they don't tell me a thing/All they tell me is, 'Nigga, go excel in your dreams,'" he raps. In the end, "Family Matter" is a very sad song.
"Dark & Violent" Denzel Curry Featuring J.K. the Rapper & Nell
As the title suggests, Denzel Curry’s 2013 song “Dark & Violent” is, um, dark and violent. Over eerie productions that include repetitive gunshot blasts, Denzel, along with rappers J.K. The Reaper and Nell, tell the story of two men who hatch a scheme to rob a bank. By the end of the song, the two armed men meet their demise before they could get away with the bank’s money. "13 shots rung out and it left two ghost,” raps Denzel. “Tales from the dark side, jack move, riding/Trials and tribulations of the dark and violent."
"A Children's Story" Slick Rick
Released in 1989, Slick Rick's "A Children's Story" is arguably one of the greatest storytelling rap songs in hip-hop history. It's a cautionary tale filled with intrigue, suspense, and, of course, a tragic conclusion. On the song, Rick narrates the story of a kid who gets addicted to performing armed robberies. But when the kid robs an undercover cop, he finds himself in a long chase with police both on foot and in a car. Sadly, the young teen gets surrounded by the police and is shot dead. "He was only seventeen, in a madman's dream/The cops shot the kid, I still hear him scream," Rick raps at the end of the song.
OutKast's 2000 song "Toilet Tisha" is poetically somber with the Atlanta duo detailing the plight of a 14-year-old girl who becomes pregnant. In the first verse, Dré explains the scenario of Tisha having to deal with an unwanted pregnancy and the burden that weighs heavily on her shoulders. Sadly, Tisha takes her own life and Big Boi delivers the heartbreaking eulogy. "You see Tisha had issues/And her decision-making skills were still in its early stages, you know what I'm talkin' about," he raps. "Therefore she could not properly handle a blessing in which she thought to be an obstacle in her path to adulthood, pause."
"Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story" R.A. the Rugged Man
R.A. The Rugged Man’s 2006 “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story” is a blistering track about the rapper’s real-life father Staff Sgt. John A. Thorburn. The military veteran was a highly-decorated war hero who was shot down behind enemy lines in Vietnam. Although he survived, he didn’t escape the pain he endured while in combat. Throughout the song, R.A. vividly details his father’s health issues after coming home from Vietnam. Thorburn was affected by Agent Orange, which caused two of his children to be born severely handicapped. It’s a powerful story with an incredibly sad ending. Nevertheless, R.A. deserves a medal of honor for this brilliant piece of storytelling.
Rapsody is never afraid to address social issues affecting the Black community. Case in point: her 2017 song "Jesus Coming" offers three different sad stories of people affected by gun violence. In the first story, a young man is shot at a party and is watching his life flash before his eyes. In the second tale, a young mother witnesses her baby getting struck by a stray bullet after gunshots rang out. And finally, in the third story, a wife is burying her husband who was shot and killed while serving in the military. "Jesus Coming" is one of Rapsody's most captivating storytelling songs.
Nas' 1997 song "I Gave You Power" features the Queensbridge legend rapping from the viewpoint of an illegal gun. Throughout the song, Nas chronicles the destruction the weapon causes by the hand of an unlawful owner. "I see niggas bleeding, running from me in fear/Stunningly, tears fall down the eyes of these so-called tough guys/For years, I've been used in robberies/Giving niggas heart to follow me/Placing peoples in graves, funerals made 'cause I was sprayed," he raps over the suspenseful DJ Premier-produced beat. The song comes to a sad ending when the gun owner gets killed and someone else picks up the gun to continue the killing spree.
"Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa" De La Soul
De La Soul's 1991 song "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa" features rappers Posdnuos and Trugoy telling the story of a Philadelphia girl named Millie who's being sexually abused by her father. Despite Millie telling the authorities that her dad is molesting her, no one believes her because her father is a respected member of the community. At the end of the song, Millie snaps and shoots and kills her father while he's volunteering as Santa Claus at Macy's department store. Interestingly, in 2009, Minneapolis rhymer Atmosphere dropped a continuation to De La's storytelling track called "Millie Fell Off the Fire Escape," on which he details what happened after the shooting and Millie's accidental death.
"Last Good Sleep" Company Flow
Back in 1997, rapper-producer El-P, while in the group Company Flow, had a thematic breakthrough with his bleak track “Last Good Sleep.” The song is a harrowing account of a young El-P experiencing his mom getting beaten nearly to death by his stepfather. “You should have known what happened/I was young and oblivious/He almost killed your mom/If I knew I could have done something/You’ll never see him again/Yeah, but I see him every night/And cover my ears in tears as he beats his fucking wife,” he raps. Despite its somber tone, it’s a powerful listen and one of El-P’s best songs.
"A Minute to Pray and a Second to Die" Scarface
Scarface is one of the best storytellers in hip-hop. One of his most powerful storytelling odes is "A Minute to Pray and a Second to Die." Released in 1991, the Houston legend details the story of a vengeful drug dealer named J.D. who seeks retaliation against his enemy Black after being the victim of a drive-by shooting. Scarface vividly narrates how J.D. guns down Black’s brother and mother with no remorse before embarking on his mission to kill Black. Ultimately, at the end of the song, J.D. gets ambushed and is shot and killed.
"Dear Old Nicki" Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj's rap skills should never be questioned; she's got the bars to prove her talents and plenty of accolades awarding her feats. When it comes to her music, the Queens-bred rapper has showcased her versatility on record plenty of times throughout her career. That goes for her storytelling tracks. On the Kane Beatz-produced song "Dear Old Nicki," on her 2010 debut album, Pink Friday, Nicki digs deep into herself to address the old Nicki from the past, back when she was the "braveheart" who "stole Wayne heart." While she's got all the fame and money, she's lost her former self and ditched who she once was. "But I still miss us, when we was just on some stupid shit/And it's still fuck the media/They ridiculed you, never believed in ya/They just deaded you, left you in all black/But dear old Nicki, please call back," she raps. This track doesn't deal with murder or suicide, but it's sadness comes from realizing that sometimes change means leaving a bit of your better self behind.