In rap, the term “brother” has become quite contorted. Something that used to be a label for either a real sibling or someone so close to you that they’re sibling-adjacent has become much more regular. In modern rap, there has been much critique of the term “big bro,” which gets thrown around carelessly within the clout machine. All of this said, there are still rappers who use the word with a sense of gravity and would never call someone their brother unless they were truly worthy.
Throughout Hip Hop history, the term has been lyrically used in many contexts. Brotherly relationships can be very complex, and rappers have found new ways to explore them in their songs. This list cherry-picked bars that used the label at its most meaningful level. Here are the best 17 lyrics about brothers in no particular order.
1. God’s Plan by Drake: “I don’t wanna die for them to miss me/ Yes, I see the things that they wishin’ on me/ Hope I got some brothers that outlive me/ They gon’ tell the story, s**t was different with me.”
Drake once said, “I made a career off reminiscing.” However, in these bars he is talking about the future. It’s a great setup bar that initially sounds as if he’s wishing those he refers to as brothers a long life — until he flips it and makes it about his own legacy.
Though the lyric may reek a bit of narcissism, it seems to be in response to the constant critique that someone of Drake’s stature must face. He values those whom he considers brothers so much because of their unwavering loyalty. He believes they would honor him even in death.
2. XXX. by Kendrick Lamar and U2: “Let somebody touch my momma, touch my sister, touch my woman/ Touch my daddy, touch my niece, touch my nephew, touch my brother/ You should chip a n**ga, then throw the blower in his lap/ Matter fact, I’m ’bout to speak at this convention/ Call you back.”
This bar by the Compton emcee comes amid a barrage of aggressive philosophies on an often underappreciated track from his fourth studio album, DAMN. In the song, Kendrick Lamar ruminates on how he remains a peaceful and thoughtful person unless someone initiates violence against one of his loved ones. If this occurred, Lamar claims that the essence of the Compton that raised him would come out in full force.
His brother is grouped in with a set of family members all deemed untouchable. Lamar soon transitions into his reality of being a part of “stop the violence” meetings in his community while also knowing this reality in the back of his mind. He is a constant analyzer of his own contradictions.
3. Stan by Eminem and Dido: “That’s my little brother, man, he’s only 6 years old/ We waited in the blisterin’ cold for you, for four hours, and you just said, ‘No.'”
Eminem delivers an unforgettable bar about his little brother in this epic story from the perspective of an adoring fan. In this particular part of the song, the fan goes from eager to annoyed that Eminem, from his perspective, feels like he’s above him. The storyteller wishes that Em would acknowledge his devotion or, at the very least, be apologetic to him and his brother.
The award-winning rapper invented a term still used today with this song. Through his rapping from a fan’s frustrated perspective, he analyzed the psyche of obsession. Oddly, as the song was a critique of this mindset, the term has become a badge of honor to many.
4. OOOUUU by Young M.A: “My brother told me, ‘F**k ’em, get that money sis!’/ ‘You just keep on grindin’ on your hungry s**t.’”
The best kind of sibling is the one who hypes you up when you’re doing well and when you need motivation. Young M.A captures this feeling perfectly in this bar. Within it, she describes a brother figure who urges her to block out the haters, keep her head down and keep grinding.
“OOOUUU” is one of the greatest hype tracks of the modern era. No one can get you hyped like a sibling because they’ve known you your whole life or at least most of it. They know exactly what will inspire you to reach your goals.
5. Big Brother by Kanye West: “My big brother was B.I.G.’s brother/ Used to be Dame and Biggs’ brother.”
This is the first bar on this list from a song that is entirely about a brother. This is Kanye West’s ode to JAY-Z. One-Take Hov acted as more than just a mentor to Ye. JAY-Z was essentially his older brother figure since West was an only child and JAY was his entry onto the big stage in the rap game.
In this particular bar, West flexes that his brother is also a bro to a set of other icons in rap. While Dame is more of JAY-Z’s peer, The Notorious B.I.G. could be considered a mentor to him in the same way that he is to Ye. The lyric does a slick job of breaking down the rap lineage.
6. First Day Out by Tee Grizzley: “The feds say my name hot like when the oven on/ B**ch, I came home to my lil’ brother gone.”
Detroit emcee Tee Grizzley used the opportunity to rap about his first day out of prison to fully catapult the next chapter of his career. In this one bar, he succinctly dissected the effect the carceral system can have on one’s psyche in terms of grief. Due to his bid, Tee Grizzley had to internally process the loss of his brother instead of in person with his family.
In the previous bar, he reflected on the paranoia that came with being a recently released prisoner. These stream-of-consciousness lyrics display the complex state of mind that someone in his situation deals with. The combination of sadness and worry is delivered with a certain amount of aggression and frustration. You can feel Tee Grizzley doing his best to reach for peace and humanity within the world that trapped him.
7. a lot by 21 Savage and J. Cole: “Told my brothers take my breath if I turn to a snitch/ But I’m 21 4L, ain’t no way I’ma switch.”
This 21 Savage lyric exemplifies a certain level of street code and loyalty. On his introspective dissection that earned him a Grammy, 21 Savage expresses that he would rather let his brotherly figures take his life than turn on them. He’s expressing that his love for them outweighs his own well-being.
The Atlanta-based rapper uses this bar to propel into a prideful lyric that exemplifies his defiance of the powers that try to make him fold. 21 Savage holds those whom he considers his brothers close and often talks on wax about how important those relationships are to him.
8. Bruddanem by JID: “I was a kid when my brother went in/ Now he lil’ brother, the man/ Kinda like Pac in Above the Rim.”
This bar offers an insight into how the Atlanta emcee views the give-and-take exchange between him and his brother. JID reveals that his older bro entered prison when he was a child, but now that he is free and the rapper has become a successful adult, his brother will look out for him twofold. This is an expression of ultimate gratitude and reciprocation.
JID is a wordsmith of a high level and uses his rhymes to compare his situation to Tupac’s character in the 1994 film Above The Rim. Tupac’s character, Birdie, represents JID’s brother while JID takes the role of the character Shep.
9. Ether by Nas: “Y’all n**gas deal with emotions like b**ches/ What’s sad is I love you ’cause you’re my brother, you traded your soul for riches.”
Nas and JAY-Z have one of the most infamous diss track exchanges of all time. Many still consider Nas’ “Ether” to be the most diabolical song because of lines like this.
The New York-born rapper specifically critiques what he believes is JAY-Z’s soulless capitalism, implying that he lost all semblance of loyalty and purity as he continued to chase a dollar. Nas also claims that as One-Take Hov became more involved in the industry, he lost his street-bred toughness and integrity.
10. Ballin’ by Mustard and Roddy Ricch: “I just mind my business/ I got brothers that did the time, I ain’t kiddin’.”
This is as slick and quick of a bar as they come. Roddy Ricch dismisses the idea of bragging because he has seen the result go left. Ricch is Compton-bred, thus he has seen many rough pathways for people around him. He chooses to move low-key to avoid such difficult fates.
“Ballin’” was an impeccably passionate outcry in 2019. When the song dropped, you could barely go to any function without it blaring and everyone reciting the bars word for word.
11. They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) by Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth: “This song we dedicate/ To the one and only/ Never be another/ He was my brother/ Trouble T-Roy.”
This is one of the most memorable songs about grief in Hip Hop history. Pete Rock and collaborator C.L. Smooth rap about how they process death in a multitude of ways over this sentimental track. The ’90s East Coast rapper uses the outro as a dedication to Troy Dixon, also known as Trouble T-Roy, a close friend he refers to as a brother who passed suddenly.
You may also notice that the first letters of each word in the title spell out an acronym of T-Roy’s name. This detail is intentional since it was his passing that inspired the song. Rock and Smooth used this opportunity to mourn all of those they lost. This was a rap song used as a vigil.
12. Brother’s Keeper by Anderson .Paak and Pusha T: “Am I my brother’s keeper? They still asking ’bout the duo/ Applaud his finding salvation/ But I’m still rhyming ’bout the, you know.”
The most prominent duo of actual brothers is front and center in this bar. On his guest verse for Anderson .Paak, Pusha T uses the opportunity to respond to a general desire for his group, Clipse, to get back together. At the time, his brother and partner Malice had taken a religious path away from rap, even changing his moniker to No Malice.
The Bronx native uses this lyric to show respect for his brother’s choices, but also remains firm in his content. Pusha T is one of the most prominent coke rappers of all time and there has never been a point in his career where he has strayed from that specialty.
13. Brothers by Rondonumbanine, L’A Capone and Lil Durk: “Lost a couple n**gas in these cold a** streets/ I lost my brother, so I keep my heat.”
This straightforward bar by Chicago’s Lil Durk has many layers that aren’t so apparent on the surface level. In two lines, he dissects the cycle of violence in his hood. He has seen so much death — including his own brother’s — that he feels he must amass weapons to protect himself despite it potentially leading to more violence.
The subtext in these lyrics is that Lil Durk doesn’t want to do this, but he feels like he needs to do it. The paranoia he experiences due to his upbringing ruminates in much of his raps because it continues to affect him even after he achieved success.
14. My Brother’s a Basehead by De La Soul: “Brother of mine/ We used to be down as partners in crime/ From our parents, your name was forged/ I was the Beaver, you Curious George.”
This brother line is filled with regret. Kelvin “Posdnuos” Mercer, also known as Pos, from the legendary rap group De La Soul reminisces on losing his brother to addiction. In these specific lines, he looks back to a time before the temptations of the world took childhood innocence away.
Going into the specific details of the nicknames related to cartoon characters makes the expression that much more heartbreaking. Pos even weaves in the slick label “partners in crime,” implying that there was a partnership in their childish misdeeds until his brother stopped participating.
15. I Miss My Dawgs by Lil Wayne: “Yeah, those were the times my brother/ Now I recognize real, and I eye my brother/ Yeah, n**ga, Semaj my brother, the squad’s my brother/ The n**gas you left behind is my brothers.”
Lil Wayne talks deeply about the subject of betrayal in this standout song from his album Tha Carter. However, rather than seeking revenge, he extends an open hand for a reconnection. Much of the track refers to Juvenile who was one of Lil Wayne’s partners in his group Hot Boys. At the time, there was some separation between the two Cash Money Records legends.
In this bar near the end of the song, Lil Wayne used his biological brother’s name to compare that blood relationship to the brotherhood he had with his former affiliates. The song was quite vulnerable for its time and was a relatable standout as the artist entered his solo career.
16. Brother Man by Pop Smoke: “Gun in hand/ I ride for my brothers and only my brothers/ You understand.”
For his premier mixtape, Brooklyn drill legend Pop Smoke penned a poignant ode to his brothers in the streets. In this simple yet meaningful half-rapped, half-sung expression, Pop Smoke expresses his willingness to defend what he and his brothers have built. He also makes it clear that anyone outside their circle won’t receive the same treatment.
Pop Smoke was bred in Canarsie — an area in Brooklyn where this type of mentality is necessary for survival. He delivers this line as a sort of mantra for him and his partners to repeat.
17. Brothers by Maxo Kream and KCG Josh: “Grew up with each other, we both had to struggle, we both had to hustle ’cause nobody gave to us/ We both from the gutter, grew up in the jungle, we fight one another, that made us tough/ Used to flip on the mattress and play in them puddles, now we flip packages, play with them duffels/ We just like brothers, my mama your mother, when we got in trouble, they prayed for us.”
This quintessential brother song by Houston’s Maxo Kream locks you in immediately with its hypnotizing flow. The rapper uses this feature to draw you into a very complex imagery-riddled story of his childhood relationship with his brother. While this person is not his real brother, they were close enough that this friend still referred to Kream’s mother as his mom.
Everyone has friends like this — it’s hard to imagine life without these kind of people who feel like siblings because of the experience of maturing with them. Kream purely expresses this in these rhymes.