All songwriting — regardless of the genre — relies on a certain amount of autobiographical information that transports listeners to a time and place intended to evoke a certain emotion. While some songs are wholly lived experiences, others are composites which tend to blur the line between "true" and "true-ish."
With that being said, there are certain Hip-Hop songs that even avid fans might be surprised to learn are actually true. In some instances, the MC serves as the conduit in the story, and in others, they are simply the one shining the light on the specific event.
Here are seven Hip-Hop songs that are actually based on true stories.
1. "Jack B Nimble" by Masta Ace
"Jack B. Nimble was actually based on a real, true story," Masta Ace confirms. "If you're familiar with the story in New York City of Larry Davis."
According to The New York Times, Davis was wanted in connection with the killing of four young men found in the Longwood section of the Bronx on October 30, 1986. When six officers attempted to apprehended him in an apartment in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, he opened fire — striking four officers. It was at the time the largest number of officers to be wounded in one shooting in the history of the New York Police Department.
The November 1986 shootout ended in Davis' escape and a citywide manhunt that attracted nationwide attention when it widened to include at least five other cities.
After being on the run for 10 months, Davis ultimately surrendered inside a Bronx housing project.
As Ace tells it, "He was in bed with some New York City NYPD police officers in the drug trade, where they were making money off of him and he was kicking money down to them. And then, at some point, something went funky with the relationship, and so they went there to serve a warrant on him, but he knew that they weren't there to serve a warrant. He knew that they were there to kill him. So, when they arrived, he opened fire and he ended up shooting four officers. If you're listen at the very end of the song, when I say, 'Good luck, Jack,' you just hear a whole bunch of gunfire..."
2. "Just to Get a Rep" by Gang Starr
It's a true story," DJ Premier tells us. According to him, he and Guru each bought cars when they signed to Chrysalis Records — a Mazda MPV and a Toyota 4-Runner, respectively.
"We both were showing off our cars because we had just bought them at the same time," he says.
While riding around by himself, Guru was eventually car jacked for his new ride in a rough part of town.
A week later, Guru and Preem saw the culprit and began chasing him. As a result, cops joined in on the high speed chase.
"The cops tried to pull us all over, we're telling them, 'That's our car right there. He stole our shit,'" Premier says. "He's still running, and then boom, he crashed into an ice cream and died instantly."
3. "Brenda's Got a Baby" by 2PacWhile on the set of the 1992 film, Juice, 2Pac was inspired to write "Brenda's Got a Baby" which appeared on his debut album 2Pacalypse Now.
“He was reading the newspapers … a woman had thrown her baby in the trash which was kind of common in New York,” Omar Epps said in an interview, while adding, “[he was] so rattled by it, the whole day, kept bringing it up. Two, three months later his album comes out and I see the video. That was incredible, that’s real life art.”
The real story in question involved a 12-year-old girl who had dumped her newborn down a trash chute in Brooklyn.
"His feet were sticking out from under some newspapers," said Sergeant Insardi of the NYPD. "There was the baby, lying on top of the garbage. He wasn't making a peep when I got there."
4. “Millie Pulled A Pistol on Santa” by De La Soul
Millie is a teenage girl whose father Dillon is the high school social worker. As she desperately seeks help, her friends reject her because Dillon is a pillar of the community — even playing Santa Claus at the mall.
Although the dramatic climax of “Millie” didn’t happen in real life, the storyline of an abused friend was very real.
“I know a young friend who was going through that, her father was abusing her,” Pos revealed to Spin. “I was really upset about that and just applied it to wax — that’s all that was.”
5. "Duckworth" by Kendrick Lamar
Since Kendrick Lamar makes it a point in his music to differentiate between himself and K.Dot — much like Masta Ace does in his music — it can be difficult to identify what is true, and what is informed by truth.
On Kendrick's album, DAMN., he finishes with a track that shares a title with his last name — "Duckworth" — which tells a interconnected story involving Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith and his father, Ducky. Specifically, they shared a similar locale: a drive-thru KFC in the Nickerson Gardens that Tiffith would rob while Ducky was employed there.
"Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence? / Because if Anthony killed Ducky / Top Dawg could be servin' life / While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight."
In order to get on Tiffith's good side — knowing full well that he was a stick up man — Ducky used to give him free food.
The song's producer — 9th Wonder — later confirmed that the events of the song were indeed true.
Top Dawg has confirmed that it's a true story," he said. "The beauty of that is, he chose to tell that story, and we're like four albums in. Usually, people will tell that story the first time."
6. "I Got a Story to Tell" by The Notorious B.I.G.
It's the rap story that refused to die. Fans dissected Biggie's story like it was a cold case in search of the New York Knicks player mentioned in the song. Everyone on the team between September of 1995 and January of 1997 (when Life After Death was recorded) was fair game.
The first piece of the puzzle fell into place when John Starks confirmed that it was indeed true that a player on the Knicks was robbed. Later, Fat Joe added more color to the story and said it was about Anthony Mason — a name that Diddy also later confirmed.
7. "Moment of Truth" by Gang Starr
There were two incidents that almost derailed Gang Starr's entire career: On Feb. 22, 1996, Guru was arrested for carrying a .380 caliber pistol into LaGuardia Airport. About a year later, he was charged with assault. As a result the group was on a four year hiatus after releasing No More Mr. Nice Guy, Step in the Arena, Daily Operation, and Hard to Earn in successive years.
Guru was facing five years. The thought was to record an album which could keep the group relevant during his bid.
"When it came to Moment of Truth, I said, 'Well, you're facing that in real life, we could actually make the cover be you in court, so that if you lose and go to jail, your album matches what really did happen.'" Premier says. "We rented a courthouse for the day to do the photo shoot. "On the second verse, he's talking about nerves, I'm sweating. I want to flip, but I got to get my mind right."