Hip-hop has always had a tentative back-and-forth relationship with America. It was the country’s lack of attention to inner-city youth that helped create the genre in the 1970s, and the genre’s anti-law enforcement sentiment and emphasis on violence that’s drawn the the criticism of the country ever since. Today, however, hip-hop has become as ingrained in the culture as baseball and apple pie.
With this cultural relevance, emcees have taken a more appreciative, reflection approach towards their home country– one that’s resulted in everything from Presidential anthems to inspirational odes about making it in America.
So to celebrate the 4th of July, here are ten of the best patriotic hip-hop songs.
1. ‘White America’ by Eminem
If fans can count on one thing from Eminem, it’s that he’ll speak his mind. And nowhere is this better shown than on the opening track from his classic album The Eminem Show. The rapper had become a lightning rod of controversy by 2002, drawing the ire of censorship boards and many parents who felt his lyrics were inappropriate for the youth.
The great irony, of course, is that he harnessed these controversies into “White America,” a reminder that when we live in the United States, we have the right to exercise our freedom of speech. “How many people are proud to be citizens / Of this beautiful country of ours, the stripes and the stars / For the rights that men have died for to protect? / The women and men who have broke their necks / For the freedom of speech the United States government has sworn to uphold,” he poses in the opener.
Em proceeds to poke fun at parents and politicians who feel that censorship is the solution to the country’s problems. Check out the animated music video above.
2. ‘My President’ by Young Jeezy featuring Nas
Barack Obama‘s presidential victory in 2009 was a turning point not only in the nation’s history, but for hip-hop culture. Countless emcees hopped on record to voice their support, and one in particular, Jay-Z, even became close friends with Obama. But in terms of Presidential anthems, not even Hov could touch Young Jeezy‘s celebratory hit “My President.”
Released as the fourth single off Jeezy’s album The Recession, “My President” was recorded the day Obama clinched the Democratic nomination for the Presidency. Jeezy raps his lines with gravelly conviction: “Obama for mankind / We ready for damn change, so y’all let the man shine / Stuntin’ on Martin Luther, feelin’ just like a king / Guess this is what he meant / When he said that he had a dream.”
Nas‘ verse feels like a verbal victory lap, dropping lines about cash, rose golden charms, and Mr. “Real American” himself, Hulk Hogan.
3. ‘Raise Up (USA Flag Remix)’ by Petey Pablo
Petey Pablo‘s “Raise Up” was originally released as a tribute to his hometown of North Carolina. But after the attacks on September 11th, 2001, Pablo remixed the track to encompass the entire United States. The resulting “Raise Up (USA Flag Remix)” is an anthem that promotes positivity and respect for our government: “Say it loud, United States of America / Time to put it down and do it like this / Now fight for somethin’ that’s worth it,” Pablo raps in the opener.
Best known for club hits like “Freek-a-Leek” and “Goodies,” Pablo spits additional lines like “You remember them days y’all / When the teacher told us / About World War I and World War II, now the time has come / For us to REP OUR COUNTRY!”
He closes the song by paying respect to those whose lives were lost during the 9/11 attacks: “I’m talkin about a mother, father, sister, brother, even a cousin / On September 11th, we miss you, and we love you / And we will never, ever forget.”
4. ‘American Dreamin’ by Jay-Z
Jay-Z is the embodiment of the American Dream. From lower class origins as a drug dealer to becoming one of the most recognizable artists on the planet, the man born Shawn Carter truly knows what it takes to make it. And though his 2007 album American Gangster was meant to be a work of fiction, there are moments in the tracklist where Jay brings some of his own experience to the music.
One such moment is “American Dreamin.” Jay busts a tense flow over that shows just how hectic life can be in the inner-cities: “Now see the life’s right there, and it seems right there / It’s not quite near, and it’s not like we’re Professionals, moving the decimals / Know where to cop? Nah! Got a connect? No!”
The wailing Marvin Gaye sample furthers harkens back to more troubled times, while the song’s closing lines, speak to the hope that this country can provide in the darkest of times, “You could redefine / The game as we know it, one dream at a time / I’m American dreamin.”
5. ‘4th of July (Fireworks)’ by Kelis
Kelis has been infusing a hip-hop sensibility to her music ever since she came on the scene in the 1990s. And this bubbly anthem from her 2010 album Flesh Tone is no exception. Working with producer DJ Ammo, Kelis create a song that works on two basic levels; as a spirited ode to love and the euphoria that it brings, and as a dazzling piece of house-hop that’s pretty difficult not to dance along to.
“You make me high / Just like the sky, like the 4th of July / You make me high / Just like the sky, like the 4th of July,” she passionately sings out. NME described the song as “mainly frazzled, sonically-saturated electro that reminds us of Speakerboxxx / The Love Below at its most boxing-clever.” It may not be the most grimy entry on this list, but it definitely sounds like a summer celebration.
6. ‘America the Beautiful’ by Homeboy Sandman
Queens emcee Homeboy Sandman has been putting out some of the most consistent hip-hop of the past few years. And “America the Beautiful,” a humble banger from his 2015 album Hallways is a prime example. Producer Jonwayne loops a hypnotic sample around Sandman’s rhymes, which focus on the many privileges available in the United States that are taken for granted.
“Eviction laws will buy you 6 extra months in your apartment / The public park and the park bench / The streetlights in the darkness / It’s all awesome,” he spits. Sandman also talks about how the institutions he wants to make better are privileges in a sense, with lines like “Okay the streets aren’t paved with gold / At least they paved tho / Weaker than the euro, stronger than the peso / But you get what you pay for, so be grateful.”
7. ‘Proud to Be An American’ by Beyoncé
For most of the American public, Beyoncé‘s talent knows no bounds. Her ability to fuses R&B, hip-hop, and pop music has been unparalleled in the modern age, and she put this ability to good use in 2011 when she released a cover of the seminal song “Proud to Be An American.”
This version revamps the soft guitars of the original for smooth hip-hop production and an emphasis on Queen Bey’s powerful vocals. The results? A cover that passes with flying stars and stripes.
“Proud to Be An American” was released on iTunes, and all the proceeds went toward the New York Police & Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund. “I cannot think about anything more appropriate to do to help these families,” Beyoncé said in a statement about the tune, Almost 10 years [after 9/11], it is still so painful for all Americans, especially those who lost loved ones.”
8. ‘American Bad Ass’ by Kid Rock
Kid Rock has dabbled in a number of genres over the years, including pop, country, heavy metal, and hip-hop. But regardless of genre, the artist born Robert Ritchie sure knows how to celebrate his heritage, as can be seen with the 2000 song “American Bad Ass.”
Rock lifts the instrumental from Metallica’s “Sad But True” to expel a rap-rock anthem about everything that’s great in America. “I like AC/DC and ZZ Top / Bocephus, Beasties, and the Kings of Rock / Skynyrd, Seger, Limp, Korn, the Stones / David Allen Coe, and No Show Jones / Yeah! Pass that bottle around / Got the rock from Detroit and soul from Motown.”
When it comes to pride, however, nothing is as triumphant– and grahic– as the chorus: I’m an American Bad Ass, watch me kick / You can roll with Rock or you can suck my d**k / I’m a porno flick, I’m like Amazing Grace / I’m gonna f**k some hoes after I rock this place.”
9. ‘No Stoppin’ Us (USA)’ by MC Hammer
Like so many emcees after 9/11, MC Hammer was inspired to put his patriotic feelings into music. The result was 2002’s Active Duty, an American-centric album that paid tribute to the lives of those who were lost in the Twin Towers attack. And, in typical Hammer fashion, the lead single “No Stoppin’ Us (USA)” was both dance-ready and uplifting in its message.
Hammer shot the video for “No Stoppin’ Us (USA)” in Washington, D.C. with the support of several members of the United States Congress. Among them were J.C. Watts, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Thomas M. Davis, Earl Hilliard, Alcee Hastings, Rep. Diane Watson, Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Rep. Corinne Brown— all of whom make cameos. It isn’t everyday that you see Congress and hip-hop come together so harmoniously.
10. ‘Made in America’ by Jay-Z & Kanye West featuring Frank Ocean
The sentiment of “Made in America” is heard in its opening moments: “Sweet Mother Mary, sweet father Joseph / Sweet Jesus, we made it in America.” It’s a ode to all that is successful, and everyone who overcame their struggles to come out on top in this country. Frank Ocean sings the chorus with tenderness, while the verses, laid out by superstars Jay-Z and Kanye West, expand upon their status.
“I pledge allegiance to my Grandma / For that banana pudding, our piece of Americana,” Jay raps, tying together his past and present together through iconography, “Our apple pie was supplied through Arm and Hammer, Straight out the kitchen, shh, don’t wake Nana.”
Both emcees appreciate what America has given them, and like the rest of us, they’re compelled to make sure it stands for the next generation: “Built a republic that still stands / I’m tryna lead a nation, to leave to my little man’s.”
For additional songs to play this 4th of July, click the link below.