AN ODE TO KEYS IN HIP HOP (VOL 1)

Invented in 1700 and a major part of music, the Piano is a beautiful instrument. Its beauty has encompassed classical and chamber music to whatever genre of music it finds itself. It is played using a keyboard which is a row of keys…in fact I won’t bore you guys with this LOL. However Wikipedia is one click away for the select few who are nerdy like that.

In Hip hop, as well as other music genres the piano or in this article,’keys’ have been used heavily by prominent producers. Before signature tags and explicit unique references, you could guess correctly who the producer of a song was, the biggest give away being ; the instrument used. A lot of producers work with their favorite instrument and the piano has been used by a lot of them.

During the formative years of Hip-hop, Keys and samples formed a major part of Hip-hop production as well as the TR-808. They were not only used to soothe our listening pleasures with melody and balance, other instruments were often transferred to the Keys to achieve optimum utilization of their potentials, including drums — producers will know. To celebrate the influence of keys on Hip-hop Culture towards giving us memorable listening experiences, we have curated this list that cuts across several generations of the evolution of Hip-hop with patience and careful perusal, I’m sure you will find some of your favorite songs in there. Without delay, we introduce you to first part of this celebratory list;

Dr. Dre ft Snoop Dogg — Still D.R.E
There is no way under heaven, earth, sky or sea I’m compiling this list without including a Dr Dre song, Dre deserves a special list with regards to this subject matter. Still D.R.E is a classic West coast song; a standard Dr Dre sound, the piano keys bounce back and forth leaving you lost in Compton’s very own universe. Some will argue Dre almost single handedly created Hip-hop’s compatibility with keys; we might not disagree.

Highlight: Really? This is very obvious the freaking keys I tell you. if you do not find these keys infectious and you somehow resist humming along to the keys of this song, then you must be weird in many ways.

Future — ‘Commas’

‘Commas’, originally a stand out feature from 2014’s Monster mixtape, it was only right *in Ty Dolla$ign voice* it got re-released as the lead single to DS2. Spinz and Southside are responsible for the production, bringing down the piano keys like raindrops to your ear. It’s pure and we know Future doesn’t have mercy on any instrumental.

Highlight: The entire chorus, and the Akon name drop cum simile

J.Cole — ‘Love Yourz’
Jermaine Cole brings to a beautiful end his 2014 Forest Hills Drive Album (Although this is not the last track) with a melodious piano sound that graces his artistic and poetic delivery. It’s a song for the heart; a song that sends a message,like most of Cole’s songs. It’s a track that speaks to you and the piano keys make that message clearer. If the Piano loops on this track do not tug at your heart, then I really can’t trust you.

Highlight: Intro and Outro lines ‘Heart beating fast let a n**** know that he alive…’
Who to thank for this masterpiece? look no further than Ilmind, Cardiak & CritiCal.

Kanye West ft Adam Levine — Heard ’Em Say

In an interview, Kanye claimed he met Adam Levine on a plane and they got talking, which led to this song. We’re grateful to God for this brand of serendipity. Like a lot of Kanye fans, I pine for the old Kanye; old music sound and style to be particular. Heard ’Em Say was a peculiar song on Late Registration and Adam’ Levine’s feature was as sublime as the keys that accompanied his vocals. In fact, the keys accentuated Adam’s trademark vocals on this one. Trust Kanye to utilize to to full effect a cascading piano melody that contains excerpts from “Someone That I Used To Love” as performed by Natalie Cole
Highlight : The freaking keys! They do most of the work in this song.

Jay Z ft Alicia Keys — Empire state of mind
Any song about the geographical location of the composer is expected to be great because the composer or singer exerts great dexterity and releases a lot of passion to make the song a street anthem or at least a regular anthem. Empire State was a classic dedicated to a city that has so many classics dedicated to her. Let the piano lead you. #NuffSaid

Highlight : Alicia keys’ entire performance.

50 Cent — If I can’t
Oh, Get Rich or Die trying! Dre’s brilliance shone on this album. Remember when I said we could do a just Dre list? Yes? No? Okay now you see. Even though this is a 50 track, Dre marks it.The deep piano riffs marked this one.

Highlight: The lines in the second verse ‘Oh no, look who crept in with the fofo…’ (you should be able to complete that line in your head if you want me to believe you are not an alien)

Dr Dre ft Snoop Dogg and Akon — Kush
When Kush was released, Dre was quick to clear the air that his then planned album won’t be centered around drugs and the likes. But there is no denying that this single was lit and a way to bring the Maestro back to the forefront, thanks to some additional production from his Protege DJ Khalil. Snoop’s addition was epic but I believe T.Pain would have given this song a better chorus.

Highlight : Snoop’s verse ‘ hm! Still I am, tighter than the pants on Will.i.am’


The piano is a very beautiful instrument, and it’s able to mimic whatever sounds available perfectly. Although this list presents songs that use the keys blatantly but peacefully, we can all agree that for years to come this same raw and blatant sound will always find its way to our ever evolving Hip-hop universe. Like i mentioned earlier, while this list doesn’t represent the greatest Hip-hop songs, rich on piano riffs, I’m sure the keys in these songs deserve celebration. Keep it Locked for Vol 2.

By Duminiyk for UrbanCentral (@Duminiyk on Twitter)

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