It’s fortunate that hip-hop’s rise to global dominance and the golden era of television happened to overlap during our lifetimes. Leading up to this point, both were often dismissed as low-brow entertainment. Now the cultural impact of these two art forms is undeniable.
So with that in mind, let’s look at some of the best times TV and rap overlapped. If you know of any TV references from rap songs that don’t appear on the list, I probably left them out because they included certain language that I shouldn’t include in a fun, entertainment listicle. I’m not out here trying to get cancelled. Also, I may not be aware of your favorite references, so leave them in the comments.
Here, in no specific order, are the best TV references in hip-hop.
1. Stormzy, “Big for Your Boots”
I’m too hot
Drug money in my shoebox
I’m the man of the house and my shows sold out
Like the brudda from The Boondocks
This one might be a bit of inside baseball, but here London grime sensation Stormzy is calling attention to the drop in quality after Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder left the show prior to its final season.
2. Das Racist, “Hahahaha, jk?”
I’m on the block like street meat
Call me Dwight Schrute the way that I eat beats
This is probably the best entry on the list. I have no idea why I placed it second, but I’m not changing it.
3. The Office, “Lazy Scranton”
4. Das Racist, “Rapping 2 U”
White boy wasted, let me write a stanza quick
Matter fact, yo, all my boys in bands and shit
Haters mad cause they got Costanza dicks
You know, like the show, Seinfeld
5. Wale, The Mixtape About Nothing
Wale’s appreciation of Seinfeld is not a big secret. The rapper’s been pretty vocal about his fandom for the sitcom. This first became apparent with the release of The Mixtape About Nothing, which features a cameo from Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the outro for the track “The Vacation from Ourselves.”
6. Wale, The Album About Nothing
Wale’s Seinfeld fandom came full circle with the release of The Album About Nothing, which he collabed on with Jerry Seinfeld himself.
Saturday Morning Jams
7. Das Racist, “Rapping 2 U”
White people love me like they love Subarus
Rolling with the super crew, something like Scooby-Doo
You’ll notice the group who wrote “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” have multiple entries on this list. You’ll see that is the case for several artists, as not all lyricists are comfortable dropping references to their favorite Hanna-Barbera properties.
8. MF DOOM, “Accordion”
Living off borrowed time, the clock tick faster
That’d be the hour they knock the slick blaster
Dick Dastardly and Muttley with sick laughter
A gun fight and they come to cut the mixmaster
9. Das Racist, “Rainbow in the Dark”
Yo I’m in the building, building with Belding
Ask for whom the bell rings
Something like a neo-rap Zack Attack
Finna spark an L and have myself a Big Mac Attack
One of the more subtle allusions to Saved By the Bell you’re likely to find.
10. Wu-Tang Clan, “Method Man”
What’s the commotion? Oh my Lord
Another corn chopped by the Wu-Tang sword
“Hey, hey, hey” like Fat Albert
It’s the Method Man, ain’t no if ands about it
11. Tyler, the Creator, “Yonkers”
This ain’t no V. Tech shit, or Columbine
But after bowling, I went home for some damn Adventure Time
12. Childish Gambino, “Crawl”
Rec league, I ain’t paying to ball
Y’all B-string like a broke guitar
And I still put it down like the family dog
Yeah, I murder some, murder one
Explain it all, Ferguson
As you may know, Childish Gambino is the stage name for writer and actor Donald Glover. He’ll be showing up again later, but here’s a delightful nod to the pesky younger brother from Clarissa Explains It All.
13. Run the Jewels, “Nobody Speak”
I rob Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, Linus, and Lucy
Put coke in the doobie, roll woolies to smoke with Snoopy
14. Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire, “The Last Huzzah (Remix)”
Hiding my rhyme book from the Grammaton Clerics
Mishka bear, knots obnoxious as Roger Klotz
Roger Klotz is the main antagonist from the cartoon Doug, which was good before the show moved to ABC.
15. Big Baby Scumbag, “Trappin’ Out the Krusty Krab”
Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, I pull up in that Ghost.
I feel like SpongeBob in this bitch because I do the most
I put that burner to your head and make you feel that chrome
I make it hard for you to breath like you in Sandy’s dome
TRAPPIN OUT THE KRUSTY KRAB
prod. @cartanmadeit 🦀🧽🐙🐡🍔
— BLACK JOE DIRT (@BIGBABYSCUMBAG) July 10, 2021
Succession: Cash Rules Everything Around Me
16. Pusha T, “Puppets (Succession Remix)”
All of it.
The opening theme music for HBO’s Succession already earned an Emmy for songwriter Nicholas Britell, but the ultimate honor is having Pusha T drop a few verses over your instrumental. Here, King Push sermonizes about the themes of greed, power, and family that the show so deftly tackles.
17. Nicholas Britell feat. Kendall Roy, “L to the OG”
Bro, don’t get it twisted, I’ve been through hell
But since I stan Dad, I’m alive and well
Shaper of views, creator of news
Father of many, paid all his dues
Literally, every line of this cringe-worthy ode to the patriarch of the Roy family is perfect in its awfulness. This is only made worse/better by the clumsy delivery from everyone’s favorite sadboy Kendall Roy.
18. Demi Adejuyigbe, “Rejected Lyrics to HBO’s Succession Theme”
All the rich white folk are going to argue
And then whoever’s best
Is going to win that kiss from daddy
Among his other comedic work, Adejuyigbe has done some incredible work writing parody theme songs that spoof the idea of the “movie tie-in” pop hit. Here he provides a succinct, yet accurate, summary of the premise for Succession.
19. Stormzy, “Bad Boys”
Think they’re bad ’cause of Narcos, they’re some Netflix bad boys
I know real shower man, you know reckless bad boys
Lupe Fiasco Gets His Own Little Subsection
20. Lupe Fiasco, “Mural”
Who’s the boss? If it isn’t Alyssa Milano,
Dudikoff, ninja mission into the Congo
21. Lupe Fiasco, “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)”
As classrooms everywhere around me wither
Hither you can be Mr. Burns or Mr. Smithers
The tyrant or the slave, but nowhere in the middle
Of the extremes of America’s dream
Kick, Push into Some Star Trek
22. Lupe Fiasco, “Figaro”
Coast to coast Joe Schmoe’s flows ill, go chill
Not supposed to overdose No-Doz pills
Off pride tykes talk wide through scar meat
Off sides like how Worf rides with Starfleet
23. Beastie Boys, “Ch-Check It Out”
All you Trekkies and TV addicts
Don’t mean to diss, don’t mean to bring static
24. Beastie Boys, “Intergalactic”
I am known to do the wop (wop)
Also known for the Flintstone Flop
Your knees’ll start shaking and your fingers pop
Like a pinch on the neck from Mr. Spock.
This one’s a two-fer!
25. Wale, “The Pessimist”
Light years worth of hopeless
Celebrity celebrating disgusts me
The cerebellum invaded with all these fresh things on
Watchin’ Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta as we speak
26. Childish Gambino, “New Prince (Crown on the Ground)”
This track is getting overwritten: Sports Night banter.
A choice Aaron Sorkin dig from Donald Glover.
27. Pusha T, “Mercy”
Roof gone, George Jefferson
That white frost on that pound cake
So your Duncan Hines is irrelevant, woo
28. Action Bronson, “1 Train”
Swiftly, I shift the Bimmer 860
A heavy smoker, so you know I brought the Blake with me
This seems like a reference to Workaholics’ Blake, who enjoys smoking pot. The two previous entries on the list feature additional artists on both tracks, but it’s really too many people to list. I’m not trying to reprint the guest list from the Source Awards here.
Oh, Kanye. What Happened?
29. Kanye West, “Facts”
I stuck to my Roots, I’m like Jimmy Fallon
30. Kanye West, “Jesus Walks”
I’m just trying to say
The way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis
That’s the way I need Jesus
31. Kanye West, “Dark Fantasy”
Too many Urkels on your team, that’s why your wins low
For as bad as things get, I will always appreciate this incredible Family Matters wordplay.
32. Megan Thee Stallion, “Running Up Freestyle”
When I switch my hair to blonde
I’m finna turn up like Goku
Megan Thee Stallion has a power level of 9,000.
33. Nicki Minaj, “Itty Bitty Piggy”
I was on the plane with Dwayne
You can call me Whitley, I go to Hillman
Listen, I’m the baddest in the school, the baddest in the game
Excuse me, honey, but nobody’s in my lane
A Different World was such a great show, helped only by the inclusion of the funniest man in the world, Sinbad. Here’s another salute because I always wanted flip-up sunglasses like Dwayne Wayne.
34. J. Cole, “Best Friend”
Know we be arguing, but ain’t you riding with me
We breaking up, we making up like Dwayne Wayne and Whitley
Drake was on Degrassi
35. Drake, “Unstoppable” feat. Lil Wayne and Santigold
And I belong right where you see me
Ain’t on the fence about it, I ain’t Mr. Feeny
36. Drake, “All Me” feat. 2 Chainz and Big Sean
Damon Wayans, homie don’t play that
On In Living Color, Wayans had a recurring character of the disgruntled and violent clown named Homie. He had a loaded sock that he used to strike people. It was a very interesting time in sketch comedy.
37. Drake, “Jodeci Freestyle”
IRS all in my books getting their Matlock on
All this capital, it’s like I left the caps lock on
This is the first of several references to shows starring Andy Griffith, a well known pillar of the hip-hop community.
38. Beastie Boys, “High Plains Drifter”
Read me my rights as if I didn’t know this
Threw me in the tank with a drunk called Otis
39. ODB, “Protect Ya Neck II the Zoo”
Drugged up from sniffing, you’re the one who’s riffing
I’m not Opie, save that old shit for Andy Griffith
40. Beastie Boys, “Too Many Rappers”
My lyrics spin ’round like a hurricane twister
So get your hologram on off-a Wolf Blitzer
Remember when CNN started using holograms during election coverage? What a pointless endeavor.
41. Czarface and MF DOOM, “Czarwyn’s Theory of People Getting Loose”
I caught ’em and I made ’em cry
Like ads for dog adoption from Sarah McLachlan
42. Wu-Tang Clan, “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta [You know what] Wit”
I be tossin’, enforcin’, my style is awesome
I’m causin’ more family feud than Richard Dawson
And the survey said, “You’re dead!”
43. Vince Staples, “Big Fish”
It’s funny I was going crazy not too long ago
Women problems every morning like the Maury show
44. T.I., “Rubberband Man”
Grand hustle man, more hustles than Hustle Man
“But why the rubber band?” It representing the struggle man!
This is a reference to Tracy Morgan’s recurring character from the sitcom Martin. I don’t have too much else to say about T.I. these days. Speaking of problematic figures.
45. Eminem, “The Real Slim Shady”
Sometimes I wanna get on TV and just let loose
But can’t, but it’s cool for Tom Green to hump a dead moose
“My bum is on your lips, my bum is on your lips”
It’s hard to describe just how well this encompasses the Total Request Live period of our nation’s history.
It’s Not Just the Lyrics
I wanted to pivot here and take a moment to look at a few tracks that repurpose television theme songs to notable effect. We saw this a bit earlier with Pusha T’s take on the Succession theme, but here are a few additional entries that repurpose songs from your favorite shows.
46. Lil Wayne, “Office Musik”
Technically a mash-up rather than an original release from an artist, this combination of Weezy’s “Hustler Musik” and The Office theme is more than just a gimmick.
47. Snoop Dogg, “Batman & Robin” feat. Lady of Rage and RBX
On the other hand is Snoop’s awkward repurposing of the Batman theme from the ’60s. This is not the Dogfather at his best.
48. Cab Fare, “Souls of Mischief”
We don’t talk enough about the show Taxi. Or its incredibly soothing theme song.
49. Busta Rhymes “Turn It Up (Remix)/Fire It Up”
Busta raps over the cool techno theme from Knight Rider. Yes, it is very cool.
50. Weird Al Yankovich, “White and Nerdy”
Happy Days is my favorite theme song
I could sure kick your butt in a game of ping pong
I’ll ace any trivia quiz you bring on
We close things out with the greatest to ever do it, Weird Al. Elevating the art of parody and pastiche, Yankovich is a pop artist the way Andy Warhol was a pop artist. Here he is looping in Happy Days and Star Trek, recognizing that nothing really separates these two distinct shows from anything else in our shared cultural stew.
51. Weird Al Yankovich, “Couch Potato”
Here is the culmination of this entire list. It’s a parody of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” (a song about a movie about his life) turned on its head to describe the experience of endless TV surfing. It could be a list all its own. It is Legion.