Thought Catalog • 10 Hip Hop And R&B Songs For The First Dance At Your Wedding Reception

Originally published by Thought Catalog

Notice I did not say “The Best.” This is by no means an exhaustive list. I myself can’t believe that Boyz II Men is absent from this collection. You’ll also notice that the list is not numbered (i.e. it is in random order)…except for #1. I’m a sap, and I could not hide my bias for the song I imagined playing for my wedding’s first dance when I was pining after my high school crush during the mid-2000s.

In compiling this list, I had some rudimentary criteria. I did not consider songs with too many overt sexual lyrics (I’m saving those for my Valentine’s Day playlist). Furthermore, even though half of these hypothetical weddings will end in divorce, I excluded songs that talked too much about heartache, unrequited love, uncertainty about love, forgiveness, etc. I was looking for Disney fairytale narratives. Finally, I decided to limit my selections to slow-tempo tracks, thus there are only 1.5 rap songs. And I also gave precedence to songs with happy and sweet chord progressions. Without further ado…

10. "The Sweetest Thing" by Lauryn Hill

“The Sweetest Thing” steers clear of the dramatic fireworks of some of the other love songs on this list in favor of subtle nuance. Lauryn captures love’s mundane comforts and playfully laments some of the trivial stumbling blocks, too. Ever the poet, L. Boogie delicately serenades her “Sweet prince of the ghetto. Your kisses taste like amaretto.” That said, I have to admit that my favorite line comes toward the end when she wails “I sometimes watch you in your sleep.” It sounds beautiful in the song but on paper it’s hilariously creepy.

9. "Love of My Life" by Erykah Badu ft. Common

This is probably the most unorthodox song in the group with its fusion of experimental neo-soul sounds. There’s even an eerie arrangement of Rhodes electronic piano notes evoking a SciFi or horror film score. But then in comes the flute to brighten the mood. And although the lyrics are loaded with metaphors that personify the hip hop genre, the references seamlessly apply to interpersonal relationships as well. Of course Badu saves the best for last—belting out the final lyrics with painfully uninhibited raw emotion until the song fades to silence.

8. "Angel of Mine" by Monica

 

This chart-topping love song landed at #62 on Billboard’s U.S. Hot 100 list for the 90’s. It was actually a cover of a song released by a British R&B group Eternal just a year before Monica took a stab at it and made it her own. Monica’s deep voice has a rich earthy texture with a hint of androgyny at times. The lyrics are sweet and simple, making it a bona-fide 90’s classic.

7. "All My Life" by K-Ci & JoJo

Now this is a power ballad of Celine Dion proportions! JoJo actually originally wrote the lyrics with his daughter in mind as inspiration, and the tune still has a universal quality about it, applicable to all genres of love. The vocals of this Grammy-nominated hit are so powerful that singing it requires nothing less than the strength and stamina of an athlete.

6. "Happily Ever After" by Case

This is probably the least well-known song on the list. I suspect the music video cameo by a young, pre-icon status Beyoncé as the main love interest helped sucker me in. But the lyrics explicitly reminisce about a man’s successful marriage proposal to the love of his life. Case joyfully croons his appreciation and admiration for his soulmate and basks in the brightness of their future together. It’s a winner.

5. "Spend My Life With You" Eric Benet ft. Tamia

While also not a huge commercial success, “Spend My Life With You” did get nominated for a Grammy and has shown longevity as being a popular choice among amateur singers doing adorable long-distance webcam duets for YouTube (including the one below). Benet’s falsetto is irresistible and Tamia adds the perfect complement—I just love the way she goes off-roading during the chorus.

4. "Have You Ever" by Brandy

This song was written and produced by music industry heavyweights Diane Warren and David Foster. While the lyrics tell a story of longing, there’s an implicit light at the end of the tunnel. You expect everything to work out in the end. Brandy’s youthful voice is fragile and vulnerable, but she hits those power-ballad high notes with passion and determination.

3. "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" by Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill’s cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” infuses a creative array of hip hop elements into Frankie Valli’s 1967 classic. The lyrics recount a head-over-heels infatuation and they are sung as if being shouted from a rooftop. In transitioning from verse to chorus, Hill’s vocals seamlessly swell from soft and coy to soaring and jubilant. And oh how we savor those throwback background harmonies.

2. "Breathe Again" by Toni Braxton

This is more of a “contemporary adult” R&B song. In other words, it has a slight “elevator music at Macy’s” feel to it. It’s the oldest song on the list. Braxton’s iconic, husky contralto voice actually tells the story of a love that seems to be unraveling. But the lyrics convey such an immense amount of devotion from the singer, I was willing to bend my rules a little. Plus, she’s wearing a fucking wedding dress in the video for crying out loud.

1. "21 Questions" by 50 Cent ft. Nate Dogg

Rapper 50 Cent reveals his romantic side in his hit song “21 Questions.” Producer Dirty Swift sampled elements of the great Barry White’s “It’s Only Love Doing Its Thing” to create the cut’s backbone: a bittersweet guitar riff (which you can learn by following the YouTube tutorial below!). The aptly titled track features 50 gently reciting a list of questions to his significant other that range from cute and mellow to sobering, starting with “If I fell off tomorrow would you still love me?” Brownie points for casting one of my girl crushes Meagan Good as the main love interest in the video.

Thought Catalog • "American Psychonaut"

Email me to access or receive a PDF copy of my short e-book "American Psychonaut" published by Thought Catalog's digital imprint in 2014.

33 pages including diptych photography series (shot by Christopher Turner).

33 pages including diptych photography series (shot by Christopher Turner).

Excerpt

Still seated, my eyes wandered toward the ground. I felt self-conscious about my attire–pajamas, essentially. Given my appearance, I probably gave off a vibe like I was just some loser who stayed in bed till midday then played videos games till daybreak...whose mother still cooked for him...who has no future...and is jobless. Or worse, some creep who locked himself inside his bedroom, watched porn and masturbated the day away, every day. I did other things, too, I tried to communicate telepathically. Big, important, productive things. Challenging things.
The handcuffs were much tighter than I would have imagined. I tried to estimate how much longer I would be in them and calculate if that was a tolerable amount given the rate at which the pain was increasing. Might there be an appropriate opportunity for me to ask about the handcuff situation, without seeming defiant or high-maintenance of course, I wondered to myself.
“Do you have some shoes around here?” Officer Villanueva asked. “Yeah, over there behind the door.”
“And socks?”
“Yeah, there should be in the top drawer up here.”
I motioned with my chin at the chest to my right. “Are these ok?”
“Yeah, those’re fine.”
“And you want pants?”
“Oh...of course. Those’re some sweat pants on the desk over there.”
I was in my room, surrounded by all my things, yet it felt entirely erroneous to refer to any of it as “my” this or “my” that. I didn’t seem to own anything at this moment. But then I mustered the audacity to ask,
“And can you grab that hat?”
I hadn’t showered in who knows how long, and I wasn’t sure if I would get to do so in who knows how much longer. My hair was oily with grafts of dandruff flaking off of my scalp. I didn’t feel entitled to much, but I felt entitled to a baseball cap.
“Here I’ll help you put your socks on.”
Officer Villanueva got down on one knee right before me. I immediately tensed up. He opened the mouth of a sock in front of my right foot, so I unfolded my legs, scooted back in the seat of my chair, pointed my toe, and tried to aim my foot into the sock as I lowered it.
Then I let out an uncontrollable, nervous little giggle. I just couldn’t fight it back. I sensed that Officer Villanueva was offended by my laugh. Although he was still facing down at my feet, I swore I could see a snarl on his face from the corner of my eye. And I could just hear the words getting muttered in his head, “...fucking queer.” Because I just knew he interpreted my giggle as this creepy little telltale sign that my gay ass was secretly relishing all this male attention being doted on me and my licentious gutter mind was sexualizing his inadvertently tender act. Great, I thought, he’s projecting onto my mind some Cinderella fantasy about getting my glass shoe slipped on by Prince Charming. I quickly turned to my uncle.

Vox Media • "Gay non-football fan in San Francisco tells why he's watching this Super Bowl"

An humor article I wrote for Outsports.com (click for original publication, January 31, 2013)

I consider myself a sporty gay. I love tennis. I cried twice during the past Olympics. I played soccer and ran track in high school. I did intramural basketball in college. But the closest I’ve ever come to playing football was capture the flag (it’s feeble distant cousin) during middle school P.E. class. And I never quite got into watching it as a spectator either.

Although I am a San Francisco native and my home team -- the 49ers -- have triumphantly earned a berth in the Super Bowl, I am having a difficult time even passing for a fairweather fan. My friends, family, and most importantly, my Facebook news feed are all abuzz with excitement for the Niners’ “Quest for Six.” But even among the newly gold-blooded bandwagoners, I feel like a pyrite-blooded imposter phoning in my enthusiasm on Manti Te'o’s girlfriend’s pay-as-you-go SIM card.

But I can’t just avoid the imminent hoopla. Feb. 3 happens to be my birthday and my friends decided to economically conflate my birthday celebration with their Super Bowl viewing party.

Therefore, I’m going to be a good sport and try to make the best of the situation by attempting to find some elements of the big game that might pique my interest. And since I’m sure there are a lot of similarly indifferent gay guys out there who will also be stuck at Super Bowl parties trying their best to care, I am going to share my findings.

1. Our Straight Allies: Brendon Ayanbadejo, the baby-faced linebacker for Baltimore, has expressed his desire to utilize the heightened media attention surrounding the Super Bowl to promote his passionate support for the marriage equality and anti-bullying movements. He started speaking out for gay rights several years ago, so perhaps he will take things to the next level with his imminent Super Bowl demonstration and use actions rather than words. Personally, I expect nothing short of this type of a gesture from Ayanbadejo.

Of course he isn’t the only NFL player who recently made headlines for championing LGBT causes. Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe colorfully assured anti-gay marriage Maryland state delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr. that the gays “won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster.” Zing!

2. The eye candy: But let’s be real. When I look at an NFL roster, I don’t see a catalog of influential political activists — I see a dessert menu. For many of us, the biggest gift the NFL gave us in 2012 was that comely Rob Gronkowski spread in ESPN’s Body Issue. The Gronk was photographed completely nude holding up a piñata with his ... mysterious cantilever … and wearing a candy necklace.

Although that photoshoot definitely catapulted Rob into my Top 5, it wasn’t quite enough to land him the #1 spot on my list of NFL eye candy. I have to say Cam Newton, who was awarded the Rookie of the Year award last February, is still the hottest guy in the NFL. I mean, even David Letterman got a little hot and bothered when he first laid eyes on him.

Even though Gronkowski and Newton won’t be on display this Super Bowl Sunday, I guarantee it won’t be long after you first tune in before you are feasting your eyes on some steamy beefcake who is a vision in spandex. San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has a Herculean physique that reminds me of a jungle gym because whenever I see a photo of him I get this primitive instinct to just climb him. He also has a Colgate smile and penchant for art and design. Baltimore Raven Dennis Pitta, also a tight end, is your prototypical tall glass of water. In addition to charmingly tousled hair he’s got a sweet demeanor and just seems like the type of guy who would make a good shoulder to cry on. He also just has a really great set of sturdy-looking shoulders in general.

3. Christian Clamor: The all-too-cute Neil Patrick Harris came under fire for his recent CBS Super Bowl promotional campaign where the openly gay actor is shown wearing football eye black with the date of the big game etched in white writing. Many Christians were upset because they interpreted the campaign as an endorsement for the gay agenda at the expense of their poster boy, Tim Tebow, who routinely wears the same stripes of eye black but with Bible verses etched onto them.

The strange thing is that Beyoncé is seen sporting the exact same look as Harris in her Super Bowl promo ads yet nobody has made any fuss over those billboards. I mean, we gays do love our very own Neil Patrick Harris and would go to bat for him any day of the week, but don’t the Christians know we would move mountains and straight run through fire for Beyoncé? If anyone is capable of subliminally galvanizing a gay revolution through strategic eye makeup, it’s Sasha Fierce not NPH.

4. DILF Alert: Jim and John Harbaugh, the head coaches for the two teams facing off, are so hot that I’m actually kind of pissed at their parents because as far I know they don’t have any other brothers, and it’s like, “Why did you only make two?” There is much debate about which of the two brothers is hotter but in my opinion there’s no contest — it's John. From my clinical observations, he clearly seems to be the saner of the two. There are moments when Jim’s face looks a little too much like Jack Nicholson’s in "The Shining" than I’m comfortable with.

Normally, intensity and a little anger is kind of spicy coming from a hunky head coach, but Jim’s aggression isn’t the smoldering kind of energy that we saw from Bill Cowher. When Jim argues with the zebras over a call, he oversells it like a child throwing a temper tantrum or Manu Ginobili flopping over a phantom foul. But the silver lining is that his theatrics make great material for GIFs.

Both Harbaughs are so fit and handsome the NFL really should dress them in something more flattering. The khaki pants and tennis shoes look is a little too … Forrest Gump. I suggest they wear the same pants as the players. Football pants are like Picasso drawings — all it takes is a few simple lines and you have a lovely sight for sore eyes.

But I suppose these are just my unrealistic pipe dreams. Apparently, the NFL is not too keen on making fashion statements. 49ers running back Frank Gore was recently fined over $10,000 for wearing his socks too low. Couldn’t the league just forgive him? I mean, the guy had a few more important things to worry about other than his socks like getting his team to the Super Bowl and his teammate wanting to kill him.

5. Extracurricular Activities: If none of the aforementioned items arouse any interest for football or the Super Bowl just focus on the side attractions. There’s Beyoncé at halftime, the epic commercials, and the Puppy Bowl afterwards. If you’re the gambling type you can bet on just about everything from the coin toss to the amount over/under 1:32 that it takes Alicia Keys to sing the national anthem. And if the rough play on the field turns you off, just imagine the athletes going through all the gentler training they do in order to improve their flexibility and balance like the ballet that Lynn Swann (Lake!) used to rehearse and the yoga that current 49ers tight-end Brian Jennings practices.