I’ll go on and admit that I’ve been feeling a little down and unhappy for the last couple weeks (more on that in a future essay…nothing I can’t handle, I’m a real man). Like most people, I’ve used music a lot to help lift my spirits. Unfortunately, most “feel good” urban music created to reverse a bad mood is made by female Pop Divas or estrogen filled R&B soul singers.
What about us men who don’t have….what do you call it again?
Oh yeah, a vagina….What about us?
True, Mary J Blige is the queen of sharing her pain and triumphs over wrenching musical productions. And Jill Scott can wail a great ballad about overcoming some struggle. But its rare that the fellas, the real dudes out there, have a bass-filled voice telling them that everything will eventually be okay…Especially us gay men.
Gay men who only get encouraged by music from Divas have vaginas. And if you’re upset by me saying that, it means that you have sand in your vagina.
Seriously though, Men need to hear words of encouragement from other men. Women will never know what’s its like to be a man, especially a black man, dealing with the pressures of life.
Songs by female artists seem to encourage wallowing in your own self pity. The male artists in this playlist flip that by saying “Fuck all that shit! You’re the man! Don’t forget it!”
So to launch our new CYPHER AVENUE PLAYLISTS series, here’s the Top 20 Most Uplifting Songs For Men Who Don’t Have a Va-Jay-Jay.
For this list I’ve only selected songs that had a YouTube video link, but there are many more that could have been added. I’ve also embedded the Spotify playlist of this list at the bottom. By the way, these songs are listed in no particular order.
1. “Happy” – Pharrell Williams
I can’t front. This simplistic song is straight up propaganda for feeling good…and like most propaganda, it works…like a mothafucka. And it bangs. Play this song LOUD with the bass “all the way turnt up” and you’ll be feeling better than you were 4 minutes earlier.
2. “Stronger” – Kanye West
“That that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger.” Say what you will about Kanye’s antics, he makes great music. And quiet as its kept, his arrogant personality actually helps to create some pretty uplifting music. If you’re feeling out of shape, play this Daft Punk sampled song while in the gym and it’ll definitely move you to do a few more sets of your workout.
3. “U Don’t Have To Call” – Usher
I’ve only cared for one dude enough to act like a thirsty bitch when he started playing childish emotional games. Looking back, I’m more upset with how I stepped out of character than I am with his actions. It was embarrassing. This “get back on the horse” song by Usher helped me remember that there were plenty more fish in the sea. Shout out to the gay clubs in Atlanta for trapping them in one place like a fishnet for my easy picking.
4. “The World is Yours” – Nas
“Who’s world is this? The world is yours!” Hard to believe that a 20-year-old penned this classic song. Nas has always been ahead of his time poetically, musically and in years. This Pete Rock produced track reminds us that the world is ours for the taking.
5. “So Fresh, So Clean” – Outkast
No matter how you look, no matter how old your are, no matter how much money you make just remember that “ain’t nobody dope as you, you’re just so fresh, so clean (so fresh and so clean, clean).” The self esteem song for men like no other. Thank you Outkast and thank you for reuniting!
6. “Champion” – Kanye West
“Did you realize that you were a champion in their eyes?” “YES I DID!” I love me some Kanye. Confidence and Insecurity goes hand-in-hand and Yeezy has loads of both.
This performance from Saturday Night Live features the song Champion but it also features Kanye messing up on the song Everything I Am and having to recover by freestyling. This shows that even when you mess up, things can all work out in the end.
7. “Live Your Life” – T.I.
“Stop looking at what you ain’t got and start being thankful for what you do got.” Bad grammar aside, Tip has a great point. Many of us are constantly comparing our lives to others instead of remembering that you’re likely doing much better than a lot of people. On top of that, those folks are likely looking at you and doing the same thing. Live the best life you can live, we’re only here for a short amount of time…don’t waste it constantly thinking that its not good enough.
8. “Pursuit Of Happiness” – Kid Cudi
I swear that God made Kid Cudi and I from the same mold. As weird as he is, I get this dude and his music. What makes this track so great is you have a man pouring out his flaws and all while admitting that none of that is stopping him from achieving happiness. There will be ups and downs but the “pursuit” makes it all worthwhile.
9. “Show Goes On” – Lupe Fiasco
This epic song by outspoken socially conscious rapper Lupe Fiasco always puts smile on my face, no matter my mood. Check these lyrics to see why: “So no matter what you been through/no matter what you into/no matter what you see when you look outside your window/brown grass or green grass/picket fence or barbed wire/Never ever put them down/you just lift your arms higher/raise em till’ your arms tired/Let em’ know you’re there/That you struggling and survivin’ that you gonna persevere.”
10. “Champagne Life” – Ne-Yo
Who said that Men can’t feel good and look good while doing it? Ne-Yo’s classy uplifting song Champagne Life reminds us to “toast it up” to life. The opening lyrics set it off nicely: “Got an addiction for life and this living…Like everyday’s my birthday, know what I’m getting!”
11. “Blue Sky” – Common
When I reviewed Common’s album, The Dreamer, The Believer, I pointed out this song in particular as one of its best: “This is probably one of the best Hip Hop songs of the year. On top of that, its got one of those inspiring messages that we all can appreciate: Bust your fucking ass, stick to your dreams and one day you’ll achieve them. Common is living proof of this. Think about it…he went from being a rap underdog, living on the fringes of the music industry, to being a bona fide Hollywood actor landing those coveted “the black guy” roles in big franchise films (aka The light-skinned Tyrese Gibson). Common’s success is inspiring because since he’s always been so down-to-Earth, he makes it feel like “one of us” actually made it.”
12. “Touch the Sky” – Kanye West
Guess who’s back?! Kanye does it again…this track just makes me wanna say fuck all my problems and do a two-step in the middle of my living room! I’mma touch the sky!
13. “Keep Ya Head Up” – 2Pac
Tupac Shakur was another artist mentally way beyond his years. Think about this: This uplifting, positive, socially conscious track that just about every man and woman can relate to was released when he was only 22-years-old, only 3 years before his death. We lost a great young man on September 13, 1996…Got to keep your head up, indeed.
14. “Hate It Or Love It” – The Game
Holding it down for the west coast is The Game with a Dr. Dre produced track featuring 50 Cent. “I’m gonna shine, homie, until my heart stop,” says 50 in the hook.
15. “Get By” – Talib Kweli
Ever since his introduction in the rap group Reflection Eternal (alongside Mos Def and DJ Hi-Tek) I’ve been a big fan of Talib Kweli. When I purchased his 2002 album “Quality” this uplifting track “Get By” became an instant favorite…By the 2:45 mark you feel as if you just got a motivational sermon by a church pastor. And guess who produced the track, none other than Kanye West, his forth appearance on this list so far.
16. “Headlines” – Drake
“I had someone tell me I fell off. Oooh, I needed that.” The answer to 85% of all internal problems that men have is confidence. On this track, Drake reminds us of that the less you give a fuck and just focus on doing the best you that you can do, stress will melt like butter. Drake’s entire (successful) career is proof of this.
17. “Keep it Human” – Kaoz
Although the least known of all the musicians on this list, he’s not a stranger to the pages of Cypher Avenue. Rapper Kaoz made a rare uplifting song for the LGBT community 3 years before anyone even knew what a Macklemore was.
18. “Mirror” – Wayne
This may seem like an odd choice for this list be follow me for a second. This Lil Wayne song Mirror featuring Bruno Mars speaks to the only person that can heal your internal problems: The man in the mirror on the wall. Even if you have a boyfriend, one close friend or even an “Arc” of gay buddies, the man in the mirror is and will always be your BEST friend.
19. “Just What I Am” – Kid Cudi
Featuring fellow rapper King Chip, the Kid Cudi song “Just As I Am” blends chanting melodies with Cudi’s (infamous) love for smoking weed and his self acceptance for being different. One dealing with internal conflicts about his sexuality could easily use song as a masculine male alternative to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way”.
20. “Good Life” – Kanye West
“I GO FOR MINE, I GOT TO SHINE!” Yeah man! You know I had to end it with the God Kanye. I dare anyone with testicles in a bad mood to listen to this song and not catch yourself bobbing your head by the end of it. It’s easy to experience the good life no matter where you are, how old you are, what you look like or how much money you have because life is what YOU MAKE IT!
We CHOOSE how events, situations and the actions of other people will affect us. That doesn’t mean to live in denial of realities however it also doesn’t mean its acceptable to wallow in self pity and sadness.
This list has now come full circle. If you CHOOSE to be “happy” like Pharrell tells us, you’ll discover that you’re already living “the good life!”