Swearing, cusses, curse words, whatever you want to call them, are one of the foundations of rap & hip-hop music. Whether for flow or emotive purposes, or simply to be contrary and ridiculous, it’s usage is so prevalent we have become somewhat numb to it appearing in rap music. So what happens when you take that away?
What happens when you’ve grown up, got a mortgage, a wife you hate and two and a half kids you regret? What do you play at little Tommy’s 6th birthday party when you grew up blasting Illmatic out your bedroom window, and little Tommy wants to be just like his Daddy, the unoriginal little sh*t?
You calm down, scroll through this page and view the 20 greatest rap songs ever not to contain a single swear word. Obviously.
The rules for this are simple: If the radio would bleep any single word on the track, it doesn’t make the list. The song itself is allowed to talk about explicit material (drugs, shagging etc.), but without dropping an F/W/C-Bomb to make its point.
20 – Ghost In The Machine (B.o.B)
Before B.o.B fell off the cliff named “World of Music”, he made an admittedly quite popular album, and an even more popular song in Airplanes. That song is rubbish. This song, however, despite me disliking Bobby Ray quite a lot thanks to that “YOOVE GOT THE MAGIC, IN ME” nonsense, is decent.
It doesn’t tear up any trees, but the beat itself is solid enough. Nice work, Bobby.
19 – Don’t Breathe Out (Roots Manuva)
One of the two songs on this list to have come out within the past 12 months, proving that it is still possible to find clean rap in this modern, sweary world. Although it is a lot more difficult.
This by Roots Manuva, a largely underground musician from London, has a real edge to it and a lovely Bon Iver feel, the chorus in particular. I also heard it during the coverage for this year’s grand National and remember being very confused at why Clare Balding was talking over this song.
18 – I Got Five On It – Remix (The Luniz)
An incredibly stereotypical hip-hop song from the early 00’s, so much so that I had to listen to it five times just to believe that there was definitely no expletives present.
It has its moments of genuine quality though, especially in the detail in the verses presented by the various members of The Luniz.
17 – Paid In Full (Eric B & Rakim)
Would definitely have ranked higher if it felt like an actual, full-length song, but the sheer amount of samples are off-putting to what otherwise is an absolute classic.
Extra points though for making a song that doesn’t contain a swear word, but makes sure to find a woman who gets turned off in the same monotonous voice as Waylon Smither’s computer.
16 – Gettin’ Jiggy With It (Will Smith)
Probably the only rap star in the world that I could literally pick any song from their discography. It was difficult to pick the best song from the man I am crowning The Cleanest Man In Hip-Hop, but for me this was his biggest hit, and you know what? It actually bangs.
15 – Labor (Aesop Rock)
With basslines like these, who needs f*cks? A genius beat, matched by the strength of the delivery from the underground rapper from New York.
Also featured on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, if you suddenly find yourself having a nostalgia trip.
14 – RoboCop (Kanye West)
First up, an explanation. This song does indeed contain a swear word in its lyrics. About two thirds into it, Kanye is supposed to say the word b*tch. However, he doesn’t. He says tch. He says itch at the absolute most. I know this is clutching at straws, but this list was really hard to make because rappers love to do swears, the swines, so shut your mouth.
13 – Kick, Push (Lupe Fiasco)
I really don’t like skating. I don’t like it’s culture, I don’t like sk8r boys. I don’t like how most skateparks are plonked in the middle of a park and attract about 75% of an areas daytime drug deals. I don’t like the fact I can’t ride a skateboard. I don’t really even like Tony Hawk to be honest, his last name annoys me because it should definitely end in an S.
I like this though.
12 – Road To The Riches (Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo)
“Retro” hip-hop can be a bit hit and miss for me personally, which is probably blasphemy in some corners. For example, I find Dr. Dre’s The Chronic really difficult to listen to.
If it had been more like this song from 1989, I’d have understood the hype I heard about it. A classic beat the first time you hear it, with the catchy synths being painted over by true MC work from Mr G. Rap.
11 – It’s Tricky (Run- DMC)
The soundtrack to my favourite video game of all time! I refuse to believe there is a single person out there who can find it in their heart to hate either this or SSX Tricky.
I was a don at that game, by the way.
10 – Keep Ya Head Up (Tupac)
When artists like Lil Wayne, Will.I.Am, Big Sean, Chris Brown make slower jamz than usual, when they’ve finished that song, they should listen to this.
When they do hypothetically listen to this, they should hypothetically realise the trash they’ve written is nothing like the quality of this from Pac, and hypothetically burn whatever they’ve created with fire.
Hypothetically, of course.
9 – Sunday Candy (Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment)
“Erm, this isn’t a rap song” is what you’re thinking right now. I know you are, of course you are, you’re just so damn predictable.
Well I’ll have you know the majority of this song is performed by none other than Chance The Rapper. Rapper.
Think about that next time you speak out of turn.
8 – Blue Sky (Common)
It takes a brave rapper to sample the Electric Light Orchestra, and for the bravery Mr Common, I am rewarding you with 8th place in this list. Don’t let it get to your head.
7 – Nas Is Like (Nas)
Ever wondered what Nas is like? Like, properly wondered? Here he is, performing one of his best songs, telling you exactly that, and not a swear word in sight. Beautiful.
6 – Hey Ya! (Outkast)
Yes, it’s not strictly a rap song, but Outkast are strictly a rap outfit. As well as being one of the best songs to come out in the past 20 years. Just with it having too much of a pop(ular) vibe, I can’t put it any higher than this. I’m sorry Andre 3000, please don’t get sad and cancel another album.
5 – Express Yourself (N.W.A)
Would you look at that, my favourite N.W.A song of all time actually ends up being their cleanest. The fact that they have a clean song in itself is weird enough, considering I can’t actually spell out the bands full name as kids would have to cover their eyes.
4 – Hip Hop (Mos Def/Yasiin Bey)
Absolute peak Mos Def, before he rediscovered himself and started calling himself Yasiin Bey. Not as ridiculous a transition as Snoop Lion, but whoever Mos is now, he probably won’t ever make anything this good again. It’s the best flowing song on this list.
3 – Me, Myself and I (De La Soul)
De La Soul seem to me to be a guilty pleasure that everyone can openly enjoy. If the hook doesn’t make you want to dance, you are a humourless vacuum and I no longer want you to read this list.
Also can we bring these hairstyles back?
2 – Gangsta’s Paradise (Coolio)
Coolio is a one hit wonder, yes, but what a hit. The moment the chorus hits is one of the best pieces of music created in rap in any era.
It’s a pity Coolio could only follow this to be remembered as a bit of an arse on Celebrity Big Brother, but the world will always have this. Thank you Coolio.
1 – Can I Kick It? (A Tribe Called Quest)
If you like rap music and you haven’t heard of A Tribe Called Quest, not only are you pig ignorant, then you probably don’t realise that at least 4 of your top 5 rappers will have been directly influenced by them.
Not their best song, but certainly their most catchy. Which is mad in itself, as I think most rappers would kill to have something this good as their best ever song.
RIP Phife Dawg and well done to you and the rest of you for topping this list.