The piano is one of the most versatile instruments. Nearly every professional recording studio has one close at hand, and the sound fits into any style. Rap is no exception! Whether as an aspect of sampling or as its own melodic vehicle, the piano plays a huge role in this genre.
Read on to listen to the best rap songs with piano. You’re sure to be inspired.
1. “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” by Tupac
Song year: 1996
Tupac was one of the reigning kings of rap in the 90s, and this song is a staple of his work. “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” uses the piano as its foundation that drives the harmonic direction and adds layers of tone. This tune samples a pop ballad from the previous decade, “A Dream” by DeBarge, where the piano is also front and centre.
2. “Hard Piano” by Pusha T feat. Rick Ross
Song year: 2018
A piano riff with a heavy pedal sets the tone for this dark song. Travel, women, and money are the themes as Pusha T spits about his rise to fame and learning who around him is trustworthy. “Hard Piano” and its album Daytona saw acclaim from critics and rap aficionados alike, as they praised its style and the seeming return of old-school rap.
3. “Mockingbird” by Eminem
Song year: 2004
Eminem is famous for writing songs for his daughter, Hailie. The music video includes what is presumably homemade footage of his daughter playing, talking, and dressing up in costume. Piano underlines the entire track in a minor key to reflect his regret about poverty and the struggles of raising children. Eminem’s masterful, lullaby-like writing nabbed a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance.
4. “Homecoming” by Kanye West feat. Chris Martin
Song year: 2007
It’s no surprise this tune is heavy on the piano, seeing as it’s a dynamic-duo collaboration with Martin of Coldplay fame. West carries the verses with his unique brand of conscious rap and lets Martin take over on the chorus with a sung melody. The piano lines, which run throughout, make up a significant chunk of the production.
5. “Still D.R.E.” by Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg
Song year: 1999
This is one of the most iconic rap-piano sounds of all time. Announcing itself at the very outset, with rolled chords in the upper register, the sparkling riff persists throughout the track, mirroring the square rhythm of the drums.
“Still D.R.E.” signals Dre’s return to the hip-hop scene and has been featured in multiple video games and TV shows. Most recently, Dre and Snoop performed it live along with a panel of other rappers at the Superbowl LVI Halftime Show, with Dre himself on the piano.
6. “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo
Song year: 2017
Lizzo burst onto the scene a few years ago with her sassy and unapologetic attitude and impressive talent. A blend of melody, rap, and modern catchphrases, this ode to girl power went viral on TikTok and contributed to Lizzo’s notoriety. The introductory notes, played in the lower register of the piano, were one of the year’s biggest earworms. Rolling Stone called “Truth Hurts” the 24th biggest song of the decade.
7. “N.Y. State of Mind” by Nas
Song year: 1994
The 90s were undeniably a golden age of rap. This East Coast style track is from Nas’ debut effort Illmatic, considered one of the all-time best hip-hop albums. The piano is the central figure here, and the left hand performs double duty as both rhythm and bassline. The right hand is more of an effect, producing a rolled chord like to the notes that begin “Still D.R.E.” (which would drop a few years later).
8. “California Love” by Tupac feat. Dr. Dre
Song year: 1995
Another 90s staple, “California Love,” was Tupac’s smash hit right out of his prison stint. It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for a Grammy after Tupac’s death. The collaboration with Dre uses a heavy piano riff to match the steady drumbeat, letting the rappers flow freely over the top of the texture.
9. “C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)” by Wu-Tang Clan
Song year: 1994
The piano scintillates on the higher end of the keyboard here, partnering with a left-hand chord that creates a repetitive sample for the duration of the song. The harmony doesn’t move much, as the track prefers to let rap be the focus. As a result, the piano playfully outlines a minor chord but doesn’t develop independently as a melodic element.
10. “Megan’s Piano” by Megan Thee Stallion
Song year: 2021
This brand-new offering from one of the biggest female rappers of our time is short but packs a big punch in just under two minutes. Megan’s quick spitting layers over a trap track complete with staccato piano notes for just a hint of melody. Rapping about her “rich girl energy,” the fire lyrics make you wonder if Megan’s piano playing is an expensive baby grand.
11. “I’m Different” by 2 Chainz
Song year: 2012
This tune is an interesting blend of genres. The artist raps about the stereotypical themes of money, women, drugs, and a luxurious lifestyle. But behind the glamor lies an underpinning of classical music to anchor the message. The piano begins with notes at the extreme high-pitched end of the keyboard, then mixes with a symphonic violin sampling a la Mozart.
12. “Knockin’ Doorz Down” by Pimp C
Song year: 2006
Slower and more deliberate than a lot of rap tracks, “Knockin’ Doorz Down” is a rap collab that is impossible not to move your body to. The piano here is the melodic driver, alternating between two different keys to signal harmonic structure. A solemn bell chime reflects the music’s dark tone as the video shows a group of gang members making their plans and appearing in court.
13. “Friends” by Whodini
Song year: 1984
This early hip-hop tune predates the others on our list. More similar to an 80s vibe, its age is reflected in the style and production values. It takes a verse or two for the piano to join in, but once it does, its bold tinkles steal the show. Next up is a synth bass providing a pitch contrast, followed by masterful sampling.
14. “Drowning” by Boogie Wit da Hoodie feat. Kodak Black
Song year: 2017
Rather than isolated notes, the piano in “Drowning” creates a rich layer of sound. Chords that sound closer to a Beethoven sonata than hip-hop support the trap beat, allowing the two rappers to show off their skills over the top. This track shot to fame when it went viral on TikTok in the year it dropped.
15. “Ambitionz Az a Ridah” by Tupac
Song year: 1996
There’s a reason Tupac made our list three times! The way he incorporates piano into his tracks is impossible to ignore. Here, the rapper sends a message about street life and his plan to find and keep success. The piano plays along with a teasing string track and coy piccolo for a multi-layered orchestral treat to the ears.
Best Rap Songs With Piano, Final Thoughts
Those are the top rap songs with piano.
The evolution of piano in rap music is as crucial to its development as vocal styles or audio production. Many rappers, such as Dr. Dre, even play it themselves to add some flair to their performance. It’s doubtful that any “classical” instrument has a more solid place in the rap/hip-hop genre than the piano, which will most likely continue to be a bedrock for many creative years to come.