20 Best Feel-Good Songs by Great Black Artists
We selected 20 of the greatest feel-good songs, from contemporary artists such as Beyonce and Kanye West to legendary performers that include Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. Check out the BoomBox’s favorite songs from black artists who know how to have a good time.
20. ‘Ride Wit Me,’ Nelly
The third single from Nelly‘s debut LP, ‘Country Grammar,’ did not garner as much chart success as its title track, but still, ‘Ride Wit Me’ became an instant favorite, thanks in part to an impossibly catchy guitar riff. Combined with carefree lyrics about cruising with the top down, chasing girls and living the easy life, it remained an indisputable warm weather go-to. So much so, that in 2010, the cast of ABC’s ‘Glee’ even performed their own cover of the song.
19. ‘Night To Remember,’ Shalamar
1970s group Shalamar found success with their popular blend of upbeat disco- soul, and more notably with their 1982 hit ‘Night To Remember.’ During a live performance of the track on BBC’s ‘Top of the Pops’ show later that same year, dancer Jeffrey Daniel executed the “Moonwalk” for the first time on TV, capturing the attention of a young Michael Jackson. From there, the rest is musical history.
18. ‘Ordinary People,’ John Legend
With three successful solo albums under his belt, John Legend has detailed the many highs and low of romantic relationships over the years, but it was his 2004 single, ‘Ordinary Love, that first demonstrated his raw talent for tackling human emotion. Over a pared down piano melody — his musical weapon of choice — Legend croons about love’s ability to triumph over the many hurdles we encounter, earning him one of his very first Grammy Awards.
17. ‘Can I Kick It?,’ A Tribe Called Quest
Try as hard as you can and it will still be difficult to equate this song with anything but a laid-back afternoon kicking it with your best friends. The hypnotic, extended introduction transports listeners down memory lane, even before Q- Tip officially begins the song 30 seconds later, asking, “Can I Kick It?” While historical references may date the track, playful quips such as, “If you feel the urge to freak, do the jitterbug,” simply never get old on this ATCQ track.
16. ‘The Light,’ Common
Common‘s introspective and uplifting lyrics have earned him accolades for being a conscious MC, and his Grammy-nominated single ‘The Light’ is a prime exhibition of his craft. The heartfelt tune, released in 2000, is one of hip- hop’s most tender and sincere love songs to date, thanks to lyrics like, “Love has no limit, let’s spend it slow forever.” Rumors that the song was dedicated to Common’s onetime girlfriend Erykah Baduonly enhanced its appeal to the masses.
15. ‘I’m Every Woman,’ Whitney Houston
In 1992, Whitney Houston released her rendition of Chaka Khan‘s 1978 breakout hit, reinventing the song for a new generation of women who dared to dream of doing and having it all. The fresh cover, recorded for ‘The Bodyguard’ soundtrack, bumped the girl power meter up a notch with video appearances from Khan herself, as well as the members of TLC. Whitney, Chaka, TLC together. Need we say more?
14. ‘Only You,’ 112
112‘s 1996 debut marked one of the earliest R&B releases on Diddy’s Bad Boy Records. The group’s first single, ‘Only You,’ was remixed with verses from the Notorious B.I.G. and Mase — at the peak of their respective careers — instantly making the song a stuck-in-your-head variety. Hit play, and it will likely transport you to a dance floor somewhere in your memory, or at least conjure up images of four guys, dressed in all-white-everything, dancing in front of a back lit screen in the original video. Bad Boy, baby.
13. ‘Real Love,’ Mary J. Blige
On the second single from her 1992 debut album, ‘What’s The 411?’ a young Mary J. set the tone for early ’90s R&B with this youthful, but soulful anthem about the quest for a fulfilling romance. Crafted over a catchy drum sample from Audio Two’s 1998 track ‘Top Billin’,’ the future Queen of R&B scored her own classic, carefree love song way before all of that drama and the impending ‘Growing Pains.’
12. ‘Dear Mama,’ Tupac
Every musician paints a portrait of their personal journey but Tupac‘s 1995 tribute to his mother, Afeni Shakur tugged at the heartstrings, with its focus on the struggles of an impoverished single parent. Over a nostalgic beat, the late rapper rhymes about the woman who shaped him as a man, thanking her for sacrifices, acknowledging her hardships and cementing ‘Dear Mama’ as a classic tribute to dynamic mothers everywhere.
11. ‘Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang,’ Dr. Dre
No feel-good playlist is complete without this classic number from the breezier coast, which introduced Dr. Dre and ‘The Chronic’ to the hip-hop game back in ’92. Over one of Dre’s signature beats — which became instantly recognizable by the era of Aftermath Records — the Doc and Snoop let loose their free-wheeling, Cali-tinged rhymes, breathing new life into the rap scene without ever looking back. Like Snoop said, “Unfadeable, so please don’t try to fade this.”
10. ‘So Fresh, So Clean,’ Outkast
OutKast members Big Boi and Andre 3000 harness some old school swag on this ‘Stankonia’ single with talk of Monte Carlos, Teddy Pendergrass and late nights at the Apollo, set to a smooth funky beat, that oozes laid-back cool. And if there was any doubt that they were the coolest dudes on the planet, refer to the lyrics to hear Big Boi explain why he’s as cool as “sippin’ a milkshake in a snowstorm.”
9. ‘Step in the Name of Love,’ R. Kelly
R. Kelly‘s standard bedroom-friendly lyrics take a backseat on this PG-rated tune, which has become a dance floor favorite at memorable events from marriages to birthday parties and even neighborhood block parties. With Kellz’ detailed dancing instructions on the track’s breakdown — “Step, step, side to side/ Round and round, dip it now” — this song was undeniably crafted for dancing, or stepping, the night away with a loved one.
8. ‘If I Ruled The World,’ Nas
In 1996, Nas put lyrics to that age-old dream of world domination, with lofty desires for new whips and trips to Paris, accompanied by visions of catapulting the revolutionary Coretta Scott King to power. Lauryn Hill’s haunting vocals on the chorus — a spin on The Delfonic’s ‘Walk Right Up To The Sun’ set to the thumping bass line — resonate throughout the song, creating the fleeting feeling of floating in a dream… where you rule the world.
7. ‘Respect’ Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin‘s two-time Grammy award-winning rendition of Otis Redding’s 1965 track overshadowed its predecessor to become the original anthem of female empowerment. But with Aretha’s soulful and commanding vocals over a lively melody, both men and women absorbed the positive, progressive message of the tune. It’s believed that a troubled marriage inspired Aretha’s passion on the track, because sometimes everyone needs a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
6. ‘Doo Wop (That Thing),’ Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill‘s first and only studio album, 1998′s ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,’ spawned the hit single ‘Doo Wop (That Thing),’ which was the sometimes-AWOL musician’s closest effort to a pop song. At its root, the track is based in important social commentary but upbeat drums, peek-a-boo horns and Hill’s energetic vocals all combine for a casual listen that screams summertime.
5. ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),’ Beyonce
In lieu of the usual heartbreak sob story, Beyonce puts a positive spin on romance gone sour, by making one point: Men, it’s your loss. On the chart-topping hit from 2008′s ‘I Am…Sasha Fierce,’ Hov‘s No. 1 gal coins one of the most exciting R&B-pop catch phrases since Aretha’s ‘Respect’ with, “If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.” The accompanying dance moves — including that unmistakable hand snap — are also integral to the enjoyment of this track.
4. ‘Juicy,’ Notorious B.I.G.
Biggie‘s timeless rags-to-riches tale from his debut album, ‘Ready To Die,’ is often touted as hip-hop’s version of the American Dream, as told by one of the genre’s greatest wordsmiths. With a rising profile in the music industry, the late rapper — then only 22 years old — reminisces, details difficult days in the hood and remembers those who didn’t want him to succeed, as he enjoys his success. In modern day jargon, this is a cult favorite track about #winning.
3. ‘Stronger,’ Kanye West
No contemporary artist understands the significance of moving forward after a public setback quite like Kanye West. Appropriate then is the driving single from his ‘Graduation’ album, a fast-paced, bass-thumping number harping on the importance of perseverance. ‘Ye’s signature through-the-roof swagger plus a sample of Daft Punk’s ‘Harder, Better, Faster’ equaled a 2008 Grammy win for Best Rap Solo Performance and the perfect pick-me-up song for those slip-of-the-tongue moments.
2. ‘I Want To Be Where You Are,’ Michael Jackson
Long before he was the King of Pop, 14-year-old Michael Jackson belted out the words to this classic love song with the same fervor that would later make him an icon. And while the romantic lyrics (“I could love you better than I used to/ And give you all the love I have inside”) might have been advanced for a tween, Michael’s childish innocence still seeps into the tune, retaining its appeal, almost four decades after its original release.
1. ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),’ Marvin Gaye
This classic love song was first recorded and released by Marvin Gaye in 1964, during his residency as Motown’s leading solo vocalist. Since then, it’s been covered countless times and featured in popular films, but still no version can measure up to the original. Gaye’s smooth, buttery vocals add another dimension to the simple, heartfelt lyrics, “You were better to me than I’ve been to myself/ For me, there’s you and there ain’t nobody else.”