I will be the first to admit, hip-hop music is not well received by all sectors of the population. Explicit language, graphic themes and inappropriate rhymes cause many to dismiss the genre in exchange for more wholesome music.
But in my humble opinion, hip-hop has gotten a bad rap (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one).
Many hip-hop artists highlight their struggles to survive – both in life and in the music industry. They encourage hard work and perseverance, stress the importance of family and preach the notion of staying true to yourself. In fact, many rappers and hip-hop artists are devout persons of faith (Snoop Dogg, DMX, Mos Def, MC Hammer – to name a few).
More so, hip-hop can serve as a positive inspiration for success in the workplace. A recent study claimed that participants who listened to 50 cent prior to an interview reported higher levels of confidence compared to those who did not listen to heavy hip-hop beats. (I personally prefer some Kanye West tunes before heading in to a meeting or interview.)
So whether you’re a manager, chief executive or entry-level employee, hip-hop offers some motivational lessons for office success. Here are 11 lyrics for keeping it real in the workplace:
Neglected for now, but yo, it gots to be accepted
That what? That life is hectic
– Wu-Tang Clan, C.R.E.A.M.
Let’s just face it: things don’t always go as planned. Whether it’s a last minute client cancellation, an unexpected additional project or a fender bender on your commute home, there will always be curveballs thrown at you in your personal and professional life. But take a note from the Wu-Tang Clan, and accept life’s many idiosyncrasies. The damage will be less detrimental if you learn to adapt and adjust to the unexpected.
I got way too much on my mental, I learn from what I’ve been through
I’m finna do what I didn’t do and still waking up like the rent’s due
– Drake ft. 2 Chainz and Big Sean, All Me
Big Sean closes out this song with a powerful verse highlighting how perseverance and a strong work ethic got him to where he is today. More so, this lyric in particular reminds us to never allow ourselves to become comfortable, and that discomfort is often a sign of progress and growth. To advance our careers and be more fulfilled in life, you need to keep pushing and striving to advance in your career.
Real G’s move in silence like lasagna
– Lil’ Wayne, 6 Foot 7 Foot
My supervisor Pat actually brought this clever line to my attention. Pat is a quieter guy – but one of the hardest workers I know – so it made sense that this resonated with him. Here, Lil’ Wayne gives us a subtle reminder that it’s not always necessary to be in the limelight. Often times, silent heroes are the foundation of an organization’s success.
Life is a blast when you know what you’re doin’
Best to know what you’re doin’ ‘fore your life get ruined
Life is a thrill when your skill is developed
If you ain’t got a skill or trade, then shut the h*** up
– Hieroglyphics ft. Del tha Funkee Homosapien, At The Helm
As someone who has very little idea of what career path to pursue after graduation, I always freak out a tiny bit every time I listen to this song. This hook, though, isn’t meant to deter or discourage. Rather, it’s a push to discover your strong suits and continually seek out ways to improve your skillset.
Doctors say I’m the illest, cause I suffer from realness
– Jay-Z ft. Kanye West, Ni**as in Paris
Now Kanye may define “realness” a bit differently than most, but let’s assume in this case that “suffering from realness” means remaining true to yourself. Embrace your unique talents and be honest about your strengths and successes. But be careful to not let an inflated ego get in your way of being an all-star employee (not that this ever got in Kanye’s way).
Look, if you had, one shot
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it, or just let it slip?
– Eminem, Lose Yourself
In this song, Eminem paints a picture of all of the things that get in the way of taking those big risks: nerves, obligations, distractions, and lack of logical reasoning. The point he’s making is that you can’t let those important moments slip through your hands. Dream big, and don’t be afraid to take a leap. You may not get a second chance.
If you are what you say you are, a superstar
Then have no fear, the camera’s here
– Lupe Fiasco feat. Matthew Santos, Superstar
Confidence goes a long way. It is important to understand your abilities, as well as your capabilities. More so, the attitude that you have of yourself determines other’s perceptions of you – and in turn determines how they treat you. Lupe reminds us in this song to believe ourselves and we will achieve.
I wish that you could show some love
Instead of hatin’ so much when you see some other people comin’ up
– Twista, Hope
It’s natural to get jealous when your cube-mate gets the promotion you’ve been striving after for months – or years! But in this song, Twista urges us to think twice before giving into a mentality of envy and disrespect. Instead of becoming jealous, build up your coworkers and encourage success. Respect your coworkers, supervisors and employees despite conflicts and differences of opinion.
I’m on the pursuit of happiness and I know
Everything that shines ain’t always gonna be gold
– Kid Cudi ft. MGMT and Ratatat, Pursuit of Happiness
Referencing a well-known proverb and Shakespeare line, Kid Cudi and MGMT warn us that not all pursuits are worth it in the end. The promise of wealth, power and fame tends to fizzle out. Remember to keep your priorities in check when presented with new business opportunities, projects or promotions.
Well, from my understanding people get better
When they start to understand that they are valuable
– Mos Def, Fear Not of Man
Mos Def addresses the state of hip-hop in this boppin’ tune and proclaims that we are all a vital part to the hip-hop movement. This lyric is not only a call to recognize your own value, but also a reminder that we need to appreciate the work and talents of those around us. Provide positive feedback, praise a job well done and remind coworkers and employees that their work is valued.
It’s my life
It’s my pain and my struggle
The song that I sing to you is my everything
Treat my first like my last, and my last like my first
And my thirst is the same as when I came
– Jay-Z, My 1st Song
This song is actually the last track on Jay-Z’s “The Black Album.” The main takeaway from this chorus is to approach every single new endeavor – no matter how big or small, important or trivial – as if it is your very first project. Refrain from slacking off or becoming careless when your career takes off.
Welp, there you have it: a few of my favorite motivational hip-hop lyrics to get you pumped up to pump up your game in the workplace.
I’m not expecting you all to become avid hip-hop listeners after reading this post (though if you do or already are, I support you in full). I do hope, however, that this list of lyrical mantras demonstrates that inspiration can often be found in unexpected places.
Now, get on with your bad selves and become all-star employees, managers, executives and human beings. Keep these words from the late and great Notorious B.I.G. as you go:
Stay far from timid
Only make moves when your heart’s in it
And live the phrase “sky’s the limit”
**Note: this list is by no means exhaustive. If you have any suggestions or additional songs/lyrics to share, leave them in the comments below!
We like this one from Drake’s “Trophies” whenever we feel unappreciated by management (“my people” referring to our constituents):
If I was doing this for you then I’d have nothing left to prove
Nah, this for me though
I’m just tryna stay alive and take care of my people
And they don’t have no award for that
Not a hip hop fan but…never forget , you’re in it to win it, no matter how you spin it.
Love this article; shared it with colleagues in my office and changed by email signature to include the Wu-Tang Clan quote at the end.
Great post Mallory, I do a lot of running and my playlist is always filled with hip hop/rap. The lyrics always keep me motivated to push harder during my runs.
Great article. As someone who grew up listening to underground hip hop and everyone looking at me weird because of it, I can appreciate this article. Got me through some difficult times and always kept me thinking. You can have entire discussions on lyrics in good hip hop songs which is something that is missing in mainstream music because for a song to be popular, it often has to be simple.
I loved poetry slams too which have a hip hop vibe. Pursuit of Happiness is a great song and anything by Mos Def, Hieroglyphics or Del the Funkee Homosapien. Some other great underground artists that I really like are Atmosphere and Sage Francis.
Nice article as I’m not sure how I stumbled across this piece. Very motivational as I’ve been shaped by hip hop. As an Asian-American “Filipino” I always laugh at how people are surprised I listen to hip hop. Love Tupac, Biggie, Wu Tang, LL Cool J, too many to list.