The songs below reflect the best of the best. Exact order was divined through God, who had bitches on his dick and innumerable neck tattoos. He loved Miley Cyrus. In case of tie, we used algorithm. Nothing is more hip-hop than algorithms. You can argue, but Eric Roberts has never been wrong. Zip file coming soon to a theater near you.
Legendary producer from DITC releases archived beats from everybody’s favorite era in hip hop? Don’t mind if I do. An album of verses from Demigod also-ran, Celph-Titled? Uh…. But taken in minor doses the formula appeased even the grumpiest boom bap dinosaurs. Finally, a chance to wipe the scuffs off their Timbs and put down the copy of Enta Da Stage. Or not. One of the most entertaining joints on the LP, “Fuckmaster Sex” finds Buckwild’s production effortlessly traversing the space between gritty and smooth, offering Celph the backdrop to wax lyrically about the birds and bees. –provided dad told you to aim for “an ass so large it’d take up the space of a 3 car garage.” It’s enough to make Kool Keith blush. — Dan Love
Nine months later, Zilla Rocca and Blurry Drones still hadn’t found any resolution. What’s more, they’d conscripted Has-Lo, Elucid & Nico the Beast into the paranoid scuffle that kick-started their 2009 debut LP, The Slow Twilight. “No Resolution 2” turned out to be perfect shorthand for what had changed in less than a year. “Venus in Furs” still sits slap bang in the middle of the mix, but everything else is different, turning a swaying cruiser into a tricked-out muscle car. If Zilla Rocca on the original “No Resolution” was riding the couch, blunting his way through a caffeine comedown and the depression of the nightly news, part two finds him limbering up like a prize fighter, sweat flicking off in all directions as he punches and jabs at his couplets. The rest of the crew are just as aggressive, savaging their raps before tag-teaming the next man. It’s exhilarating, and finished fast–before you know it, it’s lights out. – Matt Shea
Inseparable from its Set it Off and Heat-inspired video, Mooney, the Count and Co. careen through the streets of Chicago in Escalades, Armani, and Bush Sr. and Palin masks–enough guns to croak several dozen field moose. La Roux map out the getaway, but the Low End Professionals execute with ruthless efficiency. The lyrics rarely extend past grinding 101, but the two Bogus Boys conceal conviction within their cold-blooded cadence, a low budget cognate to Malice and Pusha. La Roux belts her sub zero wail–“doing it for the thrill,” lingers like dirty March snow. Creative Control turns shots of burger flipping and fry frying into a blunt illustration of a dim fast food existence. The acting isn’t bad either–L.E.P. show their plaintive desperation without needing words. The question is simple: do you want to die rich or die poor> No one’s about to replace Richard Wright as the patron saint of Chicago’s disenfranchised, but “Going in For the Kill” poignantly captures the enduring discontent of native sons. –Jeff Weiss
“Bet I” dropped at the exact moment the general public were beginning to doubt B.o.B.’s commitment to actually rapping, as opposed to doing 3rd rate Incubus covers. And sure, Mr. Ray acquits himself nicely but it’s really all about that clicking, pumping beat and the guest verses. Tre steals the show with a hilarious verse but T.I. absolutely demolishes the track, bouncing off and on the beat, and generally making us recognize why he’s still the coolest motherfucker alive. Album cover with him wiping a sadness mark off aside, of course. —Aaron Matthews
46. Dru Down ft. The Jacka – “Hellooo” [Pimp On/Stay Tooned]
Fresh out the pen, the pimp of the year still has his harem in order. Darnel Robinson is pure personality, the Bay Area Slick Rick, frequently incarcerated and swagged out before it became standard operating procedure. The union of the muppet-voiced mack with the muscle of Jacka provides an ideal balance. Jacka is the enforcer and Dru the slippery conman, seducing innocent phone card saleswomen into illicit lifestyles. Dru is all id, complete with funny hat, fur coat, and ornate grill. He’s the best kind of character, one only comfortable playing himself. I will not rest until he gets his own VH1 show.-Weiss
One of the few remaining Hip-Hop producers able to cross the underground-mainstream divide, Alchemist’s return to the West Coast backpack scene as half of Gangrene with the perennially underrated Oh No was cause for celebration. On second single “Chain Swingin”, he unearths a haunting string sample and smothers it with dirty drums, seemingly reveling in the opportunity to unleash his grimiest tendencies. Confident to the point of stubbornness, the track never wavers, remaining in a locked groove with DJ Rome’s cuts offering the only major sonic variation. It’s a testament to his skill behind the boards that it not only works, it feels fresher and more exciting than any number of ultra fussed-over 2010 pop tracks masquerading as rap beats. Meanwhile on the rap front, don’t expect southern twangs and lilts as Al and his partner rip the track to shreds with a serious demeanor (though perhaps not a lyrical acumen) worthy of 80s Rakim. In their world, the water is gutter, the beats are hard and your CD is something they use to break weed on. We should all consider ourselves lucky that there’s still older Gods like Gangrene who remember what rap music is supposed to sound like, but what we should truly be thankful for is that a few of those heads are still surpassing themselves to this day. —Sach O
Slow down son, you’re killing them. You can put this phrase in any rap song and it becomes 39% slicker instantly. When Fat Joe enlisted Young Jeezy for the lead single off his criminally overlooked banging LP The Darkside, “slick” isn’t the word that comes to mind. But “Ha Ha” combines an Eric B and Rakim drumkit with a soothing vocal sample cooked up by Scoop DeVille. Honestly, this is the kind of record LL Cool J needs to be making but he’d use it a purposeful “Hard LL Cool Rap Song” to counteract the saccharine sandbags thrown out of Def Jam’s office every year. As is, it’s the perfect excersion for Joey Crack’s boisterous and gloating bars about being “uglier than Precious” and still “on that hard shit, Joey Viagra”. Slow down, Joe your dick jokes are killing me.--Zilla
The muffled sound quality of Blu’s theGODleeBarnes LP drew detractors when it dropped online back in January, but personally I was just thrilled that dude was dueting with a warped, bluesy Nina Simone sample and killing it. Blu’s penchant for ephemeral soul, blown-out speakers and barely-decipherable rhymes is not likely to gain him cred among fans of the Kanye/Drake/Rick Ross dark, twisted madness stripe currently overtaking hip hop — but for acolytes of dusty samples and blunted beats, he is a minor godsend. Flying Lotus-produced collabs with Wu-Tang veterans are not going to hurt his case among this crowd either. On “Keep It Going”, the latest song to surface from what may or may not be Blu’s upcoming album, NoYork!, the rapper’s nerve-damaged monotone is perfectly suited to the dismal haze of the production.
Blu’s ability to sound simultaneously barely-there and completely present is particularly impressive; his rhymes feel like they’re both forcefully burning themselves into your brain and subconsciously snaking their way into your head. He veers in and out of focus, sounding half-submerged in swamp water, half-obscured by the glare of digital fog lights and the shudder of snares echoing in an icebox. It’s difficult to resist the track’s hypnotic pull. Flying Lotus’s beat hyperventilates in a cloud of car exhaust, in a perpetual state of near-collapse, but Blu inhabits it with a single-minded effortlessness, “feet planted / eyes slanted” while the track slowly disintegrates around him.–Thomas Odumade
Black Hippy are the anti-Slaughterhouse: a semi-super group able to amplify their personal strengths while downplaying their weaknesses. Kendrick Lamar’s smoker’s wheeze and slick talk is enforced by Jay Rock’s gruff battering ram approach. Ab-Soul is the loose cannon telling Tracy Chapman to fuck off. And Schoolboy Q presumably handles zipping it and chopping that. The video captures them burning blunts and aimlessly rambling through Downtown LA, and the song has the same casual approach, trading off every eight bars with the chemistry of old friends. They understand that being entertaining is more important than being impressive. Good rap is rarely this effortless or this fun. The song starts with Jay Rock claiming “we don’t give a fuck.” More importantly, they sound like they don’t. What a bunch of hippies. –Weiss
I was never allowed to watch “Married with Children” during its initial run. Something about a toxic marriage where two people degraded each other while raising a pair of trendy yet trashy ferret teenagers didn’t fly with my parents. But when you listen to “Al Bundy”, the first single off Intuition’s Girls Like Me, you realize that misery, loneliness, and lack of duckets can’t affect you as long as you have a comfortable couch and a waistband to rest your hand beneath. Produced by DiBia$ie, the effortlessly jazzy boom bap makes you wistful while Intuition is “Tom Petty, free falling” as a “broke twentysomething, pretending he’s balling”. The lovable loser works well in hip hop–ask the Pharcyde or Skee-Lo. And if you’re a rapper today, dealing with shady promoters, fickle fans, and oversaturated scenes, well…you might find solace in Ed O’Neil. After all, no one ever wanted to be Jefferson D’Arcy. –Zilla
Literally nothing about this song is new, ground-breaking or eye-opening. The beat, the lyrics, the concept — all pretty rote. Heck, it might even be the sequel to “What’s Your Fantasy?,” what with all the question asking going on in the two songs. But still, there’s something about it that makes it exciting. Maybe it’s the little voice modifications that enhance some of the punchlines. Maybe it’s that each verse is kind of a reboot, which gives Luda a chance to charge in to the beat. Or maybe it’s that fist-pumping, “Jersey Shore” synth in the hook. Yeah, it’s probably that. — Trey Kerby
As far as weed songs go, many people swear by “Doobie Ashtray,” by the immortal Dude not named Lebowski. A lot of people swear by, well, “Weed Song” by Bone Thugs. And after this year, “Etc Etc” by Smoke Dza, Curren$y, and Big K.R.I.T. is bound to have some backers. The Ski Beatz beat is lusher than lush, and all three rappers spit the kind of loose, confident verses that ensure them a long stay in the hearts of anyone who listens to rap and smokes kush. Krit boasts about his fuschia gators, and the fact that he’s the only guy from Mississippi on a Ski beat. Curren$y makes the most artistic scab simile and the strangest pregnancy comparison you’ll probably ever hear. And Dza stays consistent with his persona, just bragging about his swag, his cook-up skills, and, of course, the quality of his weed. Etc., Etc.–Jonah Bromwich
A swirling, piano-driven beat with a sliver of shivering vocals, Co$$’s breathless Ras Kass flow preaches the evils of materialism and fake rappers. There’s not a single new theme here but the fire with which Co$$ spits makes it sound like he’d collapse if he stopped for a second. Numonics’ beat keeps getting more intricate as Co$$ blows through his verses with the conviction of a possessed man. — Matthews
For those who prefer boom-bap to the poon-bap of certain other Canadian rappers, Shad fits the bill nicely. While his latest album, TSOL, suffers occasionally from limp, toothless production, “Rose Garden” is one of the few tracks that does as much heavy lifting as Shad. Its beat is so luxurious it’s like chewing on velvet; Shad twists and jumps through the track’s hoops with ease, cracking jokes and dropping references to Mobb Deep, Goodie Mobb-era Cee-Lo, Vince Vaughn, and 24. In the midst of all the low- and high-brow pop culture references, Shad still finds time to both condemn and forgive right-wing fuckhead Glenn Beck in the span of four bars: “If I had two slugs to spray like rah rah/ Glenn Beck better duck like foie gras/ Make shots poke his face like Gaga, but mama says forgive/ So I give him that bar like a Mars then let him live.” This is Shad in a nutshell: a clever shitstarter with a big empathic streak.–Renato Pagnani
What do you want Fabby Davis to do? He’s got family on crack, a sick mother, and his daughter’s diapers to change. He doesn’t want to hear about geopolitics or you bitching at him to get put on, or about how Jay-Z is a free mason. He helped create hyphy and never blew up nationally. Atlantic will probably never release his album. He has his own problems, but they still keep coming. Betrayal, petty beefs, everyone thinks he owes him something. This is his take on “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” except instead of Diana Ross samples, Don Cannon and Lil Kev provide classic soul atmospherics and Fab illustrates the perils of fame. All people should ask of him is to make more music like this. -Weiss
There’s something wonderfully invasive about hearing Mike’s authoritative bark cut through these spacey soundscapes, yet he sounds completely at home over Lotus’ shimmering synths and the sounds of crashing Atari spaceships. Killa Kill goes Mike Phelps on these hoes. —Matthews
Search through the pile of shattered dreams left in the wake of Wu Massacre and you’re left with ‘Pimpin’ Chipp’, a spectacular Ghostface-honed narrative likely recovered from the cutting room floor of The Big Doe Rehab. Whilst the rest of the album felt ill-conceived, poorly assembled and frankly downright lazy, ‘Pimpin’ Chipp’ shone a light in the darkness and allowed Pretty Toney to do what he does best. Over a rousing loop from 70’s instrumental outfit Nite-Liters, Ghost Deini details the come-up of pimp, Pretty Chipp, whose loyal employees are conscientious enough to keep their mouths as hot as “wasabi with spicy lentils”. If the rest of the American workforce could muster such commitment, then maybe the country could dig itself out of this recession a little faster.–Love
Ask any hip-hop fan between 25 and 40 and you’ll hear about at least one tape that they would’ve refused to play in front of their parents. For me, it was Eazy E’s It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa. Nothing is more terrifying than the prospect of being 12-years and your mom accidentally overhearing you bumping “Gimme That Nut.” Earl Sweatshirt saw this hell come to life when his parents discovered his music and sent him away to boarding school (or Switzerland, or Utah, or a unicorn sanctuary). So while his crew blew up, he was presumably suffering through passages of “Easter, 1916,” proof positive that no one responsible for the lives of children should listen to this record.
Earl Sweatshirt is Drake’s nemesis—one of the few rappers left who is not safe and in love with his Blackberry. It’s not that safe rappers can’t be good, but more that Odd Future and Earl help to tilt things towards balance. Those shocked by the depravity obviously never listened to Relapse, the very popular album from arguably the most famous rapper of all-time. Parts of that record make “Earl” look like “My Way” (Sid Vicious edition). What makes “Earl” great is that it’s one endless quotable, internal rhymes and bizarre allusions, absurd boasts, sinister threats, and weird voices. It’s hard to blame his parents. What would you do if you discovered your teenager put the ass in assassin while drunk off of six different liquors with a Prince wig plastered on? Personally, I’d congratulate him on giving himself the name, Earl Sweatshirt. –Weiss
Homeboy Sandman’s “The Carpenter” is the best Fast Rap song since Busta’s “Throw the Water on Em” but unlike Bus, Sand never relents. His flow rolls on and on and on over the striking big band thumper produced by 2 Hungry Bros. Listening to the track for the first time is like watching the elevated train chase scene in The French Connection for the first: holy SHIT, this is NOT ending…and it keeps getting better…and there’s more! Frantic and phoentically tight, Homeboy Sandman let’s us know in one breath over a track well over 100bpm that just cause he’s “pro-life don’t mean I ain’t pro-choie” and that he reads Dostoevsky equally as Tolstoy. The new breed of rappers rarely get this serious, much less over beats that would give Talib Kweli an asthma attack. That’s why when I hear the Homeboy, I’m like “oh snap!”. And then I’m like “oh boy!”.-–Zilla
Single-handedly damning their schmaltzy John Legend album as irrelevant, “How I Got Over’s” title track does a better job at inspiring can-do spirit than any number of hackneyed, poorly covered oldies. A palette cleansing mission statement dividing its album in half, it’s one of the rare musical moments where The Roots’ self-satisfied side full on works. Kicking off with up-tempo drumming, like much of the album its energy is tinted by the kind of weariness and reserve one can only acquire through two decades of touring. Vocalist Black Thought can’t SANG, but he can certainly hold a tune and his husky, weathered vocals do more to convey the song’s accusatory frustrations and resigned bitterness than a proper R&B vocalist ever could. Then there’s the rhymes, the kind of rapid-fire bravado and introspection that have come to define the group’s late period renaissance only this time, they’re set to uplifting organs rather than evil, atonal synths. “How I Got Over” won’t go down as the Roots’ biggest single but like their TV talk show run, it’s surprisingly entertaining and totally hard-earned, the kind of feel-good victory you actually feel good supporting. Just try to ignore that covers album – yeeeesh. –-Sach O
With as minimalist a beat as “Pop Champagne,” or “Drop it Like It’s Hot,” but thankfully without Jim Jones, autotune, or Pharrell rapping, “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley” is the standout track on Lloyd Banks’ unfairly slept-on album The Hunger For More 2. Juelz Satana contributes a typically excellent guest verse, in which we learn that he has a girl whom he refers to as “cigar” because, hey, she’s Cuban. Lloyd Banks remains the best thing to come out of G-Unit other than those brightly colored beaters and he shows that to be true here, rapidly running through the variegated reasons that girls might be interested in getting to know him better (not the least of which is that he apparently owns a Beamer, a Benz, and a Bentley). The song’s even good enough to forgive Banks for rapping “I’m so fly, I’m so Fairy” in the very first verse.--Bromwich
In which Suga Free and DJ Quik craft one of the most joyous us-against-the-world invectives in recent memory. “I don’t care ‘bout nobody that don’t care ‘bout me,” sings Suga Free over Quik’s liquid funk, calling out John Mayer for his dubious comments in Playboy and coming to the defence of Tiger Woods, advising him to “never apologize to no prostitute.” Elin Nordegren presumably threw out her copies of Quik Is the Name and Rhythm-al-ism after hearing this song. Suga Free only needs one verse to accomplish what he sets out to — namely pissing everyone off while sounding smooth as fuck — the track then unfurling its Moroder synths as the two let their glorious reunion sink in. You might think that Suga Free doesn’t need to continually let his haters know that he’s made it and they haven’t, but that’s the kind of guy he is: even though he’s left those who said he’d end up dead or a reefer head in the dust, he still can’t let them forget it. —Pagnani
“Unapologetic”, 2010’s smartest rap song, finds two of Project Blowed’s best new wave of recruits Open Mike Eagle and Nocando calling out EVERYBODY: sneaker fiends, ashamed backpackers, ravers, weak openers at rap shows, subtly racist fans, Viacom, Little Brother. Everyone gets a slice in the modern era of fragmented listeners, critical commentators, and dwinlding results from doing what you love. No crying, no bemoaning the pop crowd, no rehashing 90’s beats as a point of rebellion and isolation. Just lazer beam thoughts propelled by two guys who are ok with being outcasts because sometimes the norm just fucking sucks. They promise. — Zilla
Moaning about thoe fabled good ol’ days is one way of connecting with a hip hop audience for whom contemporary rap feels degenerative. Making a dope song that sounds like it’s been locked in a time capsule for a decade and a half is the alternative favored by French outfit The Funk League and it’s a methodology beautifully realized on ‘Through Good & Bad’. With sleighbells lacing a neck-snapping beat and horns on the hook you’d be forgiven for thinking the mid-90’s was running on a perpetual loop within the space-time continuum. Throw in some eloquent reflections on the ups and downs of the relationship rollercoaster delivered by Flushing’s own veteran Large Pro and you have a bona fide jam. Completely derivative and completely great: This is revivalist rap of the highest order. –Love
A coalition between legendary Chitown producers No I.D. and the Legendary Traxster resulted in this smouldering beat. People always position Twista as the fast-rapping-dude without ever giving him his due as a lyricist. And helpfully the beat is at the perfect tempo for the Chi rapper to spit circles around it, warning that he will “make you shut the fuck up like silencers or pantomimes.” Raekwon sounds fantastic, oozing quiet menace as he threatens to drop a fridge on you, Lox-style and makes allusions to his African lawyer. And at one point, Twist mentions that his rhyming is “as good as Pelican Brief is”. Funny, he never struck me as a Grisham fan.--Matthews
In a year where we discovered the sweeping influence of Ian Mathias Bavitz touched not only The Knux but Danny Brown, Aesop Rock started his post-Def Jux career by creating an official online home, www.900bats.com, dedicated to the “900 bats needeleslly torched to death by renovation workers in Jupitar, India”. Right. Now that he spends his time eating burgers with Rob Sonic in Vegas, posting videos from Kimya Dawson, and building model rocketships to be shot into the San Francisco night. Bazooka Tooth can be picky with his output and do whatever the hell he wants. Case in point: adding arthouse swamp jaw burners to Philly group Grimace Federation’s “Bosico” on a whim and posting it on his site for free. The track isn’t far off from Aesop’s own production on Bazooka Tooth or Fast Cars Danger, Fire, and Knives but the bars are more direct this year: “You never met a button that you ain’t push, or a sucka that you ain’t mush”. Welcome to Bat Country. -Zilla Roccca
Big Krit is an accomplished student of the Southern Rap cannon with a taste for Golden Era East coast soul, but the best sample on his debut Big Krit Wuz Here comes courtesy of a contemporary chunky teenage white girl singer/songwriter from the UK. Krit’s most surprising source material displays two things: the outside-the-box thinking that separates him from the pack and makes his writing so compelling, and most importantly, his prodigious talents behind the boards. There are few people who showed as much care and discipline in fleshing out their loops in 2010. “Hometown Hero” is a show stopper, a mission statement in content and a blueprint in form: Krit’s impassioned drawl and witty similes spit over stirringly flipped production. You get the sense we’ll be seeing him again near the top of this list next year. — Abe Beame
It’s an E-40 song called “BITCH”. With 50 Cent and Too $hort. Come on. You know you want to.
Emerging from his mansion to bless 40 water with a guest verse, Fiddy proves that he’s still got the knack for this rap shit when he isn’t trying to make music for 14-year-old girls. Too $hort meanwhile continues his streak as rap’s old perverted uncle, growing funnier by the day without quite lapsing into self-parody. Then there’s 40 Water, still rap’s most underrated veteran, he blesses the track with more pimp knowledge per-second than anyone this side of Do or Die. But to be really real with y’all? This one’s not about the lyrics, it’s about a laid-back beat, three major personalities on the mic and one of the year’s stand out choruses all coming together to make a great SONG. — Sach O
The interesting thing about the iTunes bonus track “African Drums” off The Stimulus Package is that it really doesn’t sound…that African. A hint of Soul Assassins xylophones with a dash of Aftermath string stabs and some rolling drum fills doesn’t scream out Fela Kuti. My guess it’s a track Free bodied fresh off the plane from the motherland. References to the Nile, Cairo, King Tut, the Arabian Sea, and most importantly Prince Akeem from Coming to America are sprinkled throughout. But Freezer doesn’t come off as the Pro-Black Dead Mike from CB4 (“I’m black y’all”). Instead, he incorporates snippets from his travels along his usual bravado: King Tut was “ruling over Egypt, now I’m on my way to ruling over rap, body people on they remix”. And now the currensy of Zamuda bears his likeness. –Zilla
You can only find Shabazz Palaces on the black list. They dip leaves in blackness to form carbon. You think it’s all good cause Jay-Z got a hoop team? Nah. Might bust on you scandlers. These are habits. Tilted hats everywhere. You can’t mack shit. If they want it they can have it. Let them handle it. I see them in the city looking sharper than a cactus. Quick, let me pour Barbara a glass of Chablis. The way her body talks is so fabulous. But when the room is dipped in blackness, you better hope you fulfilled your mother’s last wish. Rebels is drastic. Devils in caskets. But they do it for us. Because we can have it. That hot sauce sprinkled on our cabbage. –-Zilla
This track is a giant “Fuck You” to anyone who claims New York rap is dead and that NY emcees switching up their beats and flows to appeal southern audiences counts as any sort of progression. The formula’s simple: hard drums, mournful piano samples, a brilliant scratched hook, dope lyrics and a tribute to Big L that manages to pay respects without ever feeling forced. This updated classicism is surprising coming from Vado whose Dipset affiliates spent the better part of the last decade subverting and resisting Illmatic-style NY classicism in favor of outlandish boasts, but its perfectly welcome. Marrying Dipset Swag to Golden Era quality control, Vado’s Large on the Streets was just that: large on NY’s streets. —Sach O
It’s fair to say we’d still be saying “who dat” if Jigga never saw it fit to cosign Jermaine Cole. Definitely a bit early to crown the kid, but Cole attacks the warped blaxploitation horns and undulating percussion with a tenacity that matches his borderline-Tourette’s hand gestures in the video. He’s crafted a major label single that encapsulates his writing talents without pandering to a pop audience, yet never descends to Canibus-level science dropping . Probably the most straightforwardly lyrical single to drop on major label since “A Milli.” And “Who Dat” excels on the primal level of what all good rap should aspire to: saying fly rhymes over a dope beat, weaving clever metaphors together with a contagious bravado. And while I’m still not sure what being “Will Smith to the hood” means, I wholeheartedly endorse Cole rapping over “Getting’ Jiggy With It”. –Aaron Matthews
Though the abysmal first-week showing of Soulja Boy’s third album, The DeAndre Way, probably dooms him (it didn’t crack the top 50), it’s really quite good, not a “Yah Trick Yah” in the bunch. The best is “Speakers Going Hammer,” a delightful piece of fantasy that works, in part, because he unexpectedly pronounces every word in the title like John Tesh would. “Speakers go-ing hammer,” he says, in his best white person, “bammer bammer bammer.” There are those distinctive Soulja Boy steel drums, and a siren, which serves to put the neighborhood on notice: Someone you know with a really good system is driving through, and you are never allowed to make fun of him again. Would that it were. — Ben Westhoff
My grandpa always used to say “Hurry up and wait” anytime my dad would accelerate through a yellow light, which probably means my family is entitled to a share of the royalties for this song. Legal issues aside, let’s just all admit that this is the best use of a vocal sample as song melody since at least “Ohh!” and possibly as far back as “A Milli.” Plus, if you pay attention, you can learn some pretty important life lessons from Mr. Cando. Seriously, everybody hates their job so just shut up about it. Geez. –Trey Kerby
You’d think more Cali rappers would have been in line to drop Prop 19 anthems but then, stoners aren’t exactly known for their political acumen and motivation. Leave it to LA’s most underrated and musically gifted new emcees to come through however, dropping a gem for the cause that’ll stand as a weed anthem long after the midterms forgotten. Over a gem of a beat that switches from psychedelic guitars to synthetic string sections on the drop of a dime, The Knux wax romantic to mary-jane as only true aficionados can, dropping in a few political messages but paying homage to the herb first and foremost. Legalization would have been great but honestly, who cares? We’re all smoking to this song one way or another. –Sach O
Trance’s latent influence on rap production this year resulted in 90% unlistenable garbage with the remaining 10% consisting solely of Block Beataz production. “Feel The” mercifully ignores outdated Euro-pop styles entirely in favor of a lean and mean southern banger that knocks in the system and gets the d-boys hype for a night on the town. It doesn’t re-invent the wheel but it’ll get those 22s spinning. Also, G-Side and 6 Tre rap competently about 2010-rapper stuff (drugs, clothes, swag, spaceships) and try not to get overshadowed by the track’s vocal effects and monstrous bass. –– Sach O
This is a verbatim e-mail I sent to Jeff when he posted “Butter Knives” to the site last week: YOOOOOOO WHAT THE FUCK!!! THIS SHIT IS FACE MELTINGLY DOPE!!! AAARRRGGHHH!!!!!! Such is the power of Raekwon’s best performance of the year: it inspires the increasingly rare total rap-fan geek-out. Eliminating any lingering doubts that OBFCL2 was a one-off fluke or a collective nostalgia trip, “Butter Knives” finds Wu-Tang’s man of the hour in prime form and flowing with an intensity that was feared lost to the world only a few short years ago. In a year where Rae held his own against Freeway, Curren$y, Gangrene, Rick Ross, Yelawolf and Kanye West, his words on “Butter Knives” act as a triumphant victory lap but more importantly, they feel like a warm-up for an even deadlier 2011.
Showing no sign of fatigue whatsoever, Rae spits his darts with the fury and precision of a man whose success has rekindled a lust for words. It’s as if his recent success has emboldened him to go in even harder: no joke, this obliterates nearly everything he released last year. Then there’s that BEAT. Reaching further back than the Cuban Linx days, “Butter Knives” features vintage Wu-Tang drums, bass, strings and kung-fu samples, delivering all the energy of classic banger without sounding forced or second generation. If this is a teaser for Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, get your gooses ready: it’s gonna be a cold winter. –Sach O
This is how you start a career. Off the first recorded words, Tyler is all post-adolescent rage and fury. He tells 2 Dope Boyz and Nah Right to fuck off, but they’re just straw men — stand-ins for stiff adult bullshit (college, jobs, families, post-drank cliche jerkin Slauson rappers.. ). Like Jack White said on “The Union Forever,” Tyler wants to be everything you hate. He’s 19 years old. He just wants gingers, donuts, skateboarding, cartoons. If he were 30, he’d have Peter Pan syndrome. But at 19, nothing makes more sense. Every teenager has some variation of this story, but few know the right way to tell it. Over a spare sinister piano loop and synths that glow like toxic waste, Tyler uses a visit with the shrink to tell his story — channeling the spirit of Holden Caulfield if he were the demon seed.
“Sandwiches” may the Odd Future manifesto, (“the golf wang hooligans is fucking up the school again/and showing you and yours that breaking rules is fucking cool again”) but “Bastard” is why they’re still going to be around when rebellion gets old. The murder and rape references are shock-value artifice, they get your attention and it worked. But “Bastard” is the most honest rap song of 2010. No one knew Tyler before, but in six minutes, the picture is clear — tall, dark, skinny, ears big as fuck, single mother, constantly suspended, bullied, going from AP classes to junior college, rolling with skaters and musicians with intuition. He created Odd Future because he knows he’s more talented than 40 year old rappers talking about Gucci. If it doesn’t strike a chord, you either weren’t that type of teenager or you forgot what it was like to be 16. But for those who are or were once angry for both reasons seen and unseen, Tyler acts as an agent of retribution. Ignore the off-base comparisons — comparing them to Wu-Tang does no one any favors. However, OFWGKTA understand what the GZA once said: if ain’t raw, it’s worthless. Let’s hope Tyler never gets his father’s e-mail. –Weiss
From the weepy mob-movie strings at the beginning, you’re informed immediately that “Black and Brown” is an event song. Elongated intros and codas are standard on Black’s (not-quite) Album of the Year, but this is where the practice is executed perfectly, where every single note feels like either a vital build of tension or a necessary blast of release. Milk opens the song with a verse that displays his reliable use of assonance and alliteration as percussion, but once he cedes the spotlight to Danny Brown, you are made well-aware of whose track this belongs to. Though this is far from his first high-profile appearance, “Black and Brown” is made to feel like The Entrance of Danny Brown. And the Linwood MC rises to the occasion by running amok all over Milk’s booming drums, spilling out Beverly Hills Cop references, wearing out back issues of Nintendo Power by citing both Shinobi and Kirby’s Dream Land, and toting pot in turkey bags (a trick clearly taught to him by recent collaborator Tony Yayo, with his years of weed-carrying experience). By the time Brown’s verse is over and you’re frothing at the mouth looking for the rewind button, he’s onto the next pirogi. –Douglas Martin
Orchestral-sounding gangsta rap music to jog to – now we’re talking. Anyone who judged Waka Flocka as a goofy, OJ da Jucieman-esque, lightweight, accidental hip hop star was blown out of the peanut gallery by “Hard in da Paint,” which combines bluster, threats, and real pathos into a four minute statement of purpose. Though many rapper/producer combos have claimed Snoop/Dre-like synergy, Waka Flocka and his 19-year-old beatmaker Lex Luger have made the strongest case in recent memory, as the song would not have accepted substitutions. It’s hard to say which is the track’s strongest line, “When my little brother died I said, ‘Fuck school,’” or “Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-BOW!” — but both speak Waka’s truths in his inimitable way. –-Ben Westhoff
Lex Lugor beats all sound the fucking same: we’re talking about huge, stomping, apocalyptic post-crunk monstrosities meant to induce testosterone rushes in 6 seconds or less. On one hand, that’s instant energy for the club, on the other hand once you’ve heard the best, why bother with the rest? Along with Flocka’s “Hard in the Paint”, Rick Ross’ “B.M.F” stands as the high point in the Lugor oeuvre, a demonic, synthesized haunted-house perfect for the Bawse to spit his most deluded fantasies to. Here, he claimed to run one of Atlanta’s most notorious street gangs, a claim that sat none-too-well with affiliate Young Jeezy whose freestyle over the same beat failed to usurp the original. That’s because Rawse is one of the few remaining emcees that can make gangster rap FUN. Sure he’s about as believable as a coke kingpin as Ice-T is as a detective but who cares when the results are this good? Plus, if you’re up for some proper rhymes, wait for Styles P’s show stealing verse on the back end which serves as your annual reminder that the Lox can still spit like crazy provided someone else picks the beat and figures out the song concept. –-Sach O
You’ll have to excuse my inclination towards natural born cynicism (the only true philosophy of existence) but the first time I heard “Combination Pizza Hut & Taco Bell,” I wanted to punch those guy in the throat with the razor tipped edges of RZA’s funny ass rings. Nearly everything about Das Racist reeked of the synthetic lifeless cultural currency that modern hipster culture almost exclusively trades in. Now I had long decided to live and let live with the hipsters of the world because jade recognize jade and if nothing else, they make for good drinking buddies. This was stepping the line, though. How dare you try to poison hip hop with the same sense of nauseous cultural entitlement as you did rock music? You ain’t that clever, dudes.
If “Sit Down, Man,” the titular track off the second of the group’s two mixtapes this year, is that Das Racist are capable of making rap music that appeals to people who actually enjoy rap. I don’t know if it’s the eerie, grimy production of Scoop Deville (doing his best El-P impression) or the presence of the Funcrusher himself on the track but these boys seem to have been (with all likelihood) shamed into making a song that doesn’t ooze an unearned sense of cultural superiority nor exists to make a cheap joke. The song seethes with a sense of rage about their status as genuine racial outsiders to society that their usual shallow oeuvre only can hint at. Meanwhile, El-P’s guest verse is a whirlwind of twenty-first century pre-apocalyptic fury that we expect and practically need in these dark times. I have no idea if these guys can possibly make something this great, but if they can’t, they might have to take their own advice and take a seat. –-Doc Zeus
(Editor’s Note: Zeus wrote this review chowing down on a chalupa from the combination Pizza Hut & Taco on Broadway & Flushing. He does respect the group’s restaurant advice.)
You have to wonder whether or not, Diddy’s oblique tweets about Jay Electronica’s betrayal triggered Jay’s verse on “Shiny Suit Theory.” You have to wonder if it was the shrink shouted out in the hook that prompted Jay Elect to spit two-thirds of a verse from Puff’s point of view, as a way to cope with his crippling fear of putting out a full album–thus opening him up to scrutiny and criticism. After the Voodoo Man kicks a few of his normal scientific and religious references, he gets into the meat of the verse, rattling off Combs’ sound advice that success and integrity are not mutually exclusive terms, saying, “Nigga, what you scared of?/Terrorize these artificial rap niggas and spread love.” Before ending his verse, Elect remembers Puff’s constructive provocation: “I thought you said it’s the return of the black kings?/Luxurious homes, fur coats and fat chains?”
“In this manila envelope, the results of my insanity.” On the latter-half of the song, the elder Jay weaves in and out of the Mad Men-inspired jingle loop like every album he’s recorded since The Black Album never even happened. The 2003 album is even referenced when he namedrops Warren Buffett, only this time he’s not comparing himself to the man, but standing beside him on the cover of Forbes, weaving it into this compelling look at the nature of his own celebrity (“Went from warrin’ to Warren/Undercovers to covers”). After the God MC once again acknowledges his regal status by referring to himself as “the immaculate conception of rappers-slash-hustlers,” the verse takes a satirical turn, where he rhymes from the POV of the examination doctor, spitting, “You must be off your rocker if you think you’ll make it off the strip before they ‘Pac ‘ya/Nigga, you gotta be psychotic or mixing something potent with your vodka,” before hitting the jugular with the last line: “Don’t believe in dreams/Since when did black men become kings?”–Douglas Martin
In his hyped, breathless yelp, Danny Brown runs through a stream-of-consciousness narrative detailing his hopes, dreams and fears in D-Town. Daydreaming about owning a crib on Boston-Edison, fiends O.D.ing on the toilet like Elvis. Remembering friends dead, in jail or off the block. The systematic cycle of street life and jail, what Nas was writing about on “2nd Childhood”. Playing the corner, feeling you’ll never got old. Friends who don’t have shit, Air Force 1s with holes in them. How’s Danny’s living better now, copping vintage Polos and furniture “you touch and be like, what’s this, velvet?”His words are matched by Denmark Vessey’s droning synths and creeping bass, sounding like a midnight stroll through Detroit streets. “Nowhere 2 Go” is an audible tour through Danny’s life and his hometown, capturing the city as most urban citizens experience it: a flow of loosely connected thoughts, reminisces and aspirations. –Aaron Matthews
Sometimes, I think Freddie Gibbs was built in a laboratory as a rap Frankenstein. Take some east coast wordplay, west coast attitude, Midwest flow, southern inflection and mix it all in a pot and you’re halfway to the kind of consensus building appeal that Freddie Gibbs is blessed with. For “The Ghetto”, he resurrects a long-forgotten Milk Bone track and then OWNS it, painting a shadowy picture of life in the hood that was fucked up years before people started whispering about “jobless recoveries”. The Kay Gee produced “Keep it Real” is the sort of NYC true-school classic that landed just below the “untouchable” threshold making it the perfect candidate for a 2010 remake. Had Gibbs pilfered say, “93 till Infinity” all he’d have gotten was a chorus of groans and eye-rolls at yet another obvious grab, making this flip all the smarter. Don’t get it twisted though, his choice crate digging serves his wordplay rather than the opposite and what separates “The Ghetto” from the gangsterism glut is the eye for detail. Miles beyond his competitors, Freddie Gibbs is the kind of emcee who can paint a scene you’ve witness a thousand times and yet still make it feel fresh, imbuing it with details hinting at an unspeakably bleak past that’s still dangerously close to his present. A song good enough to bring back the term “reality Rap”. –Sach O
“Scarface N*gga” is like drugs to an addict, blood is splattered like love never mattered. Find him with his Cleopatra in At-lanta. Banging out beats from black hammers with bad grammar. Marc is Mario Puzo out here. Sticking your whole click like voodoo out here. He’s the shooter out here, you doo-doo out here. Snatching fatty girls like FUBU out here, yeah. You’re just asparagus on a plate. First date: an Arabic bitch in Golden State. Don’t be embarassed if he carries hard weight. Matter fact, just hand over the karats and don’t hate. Twin shotties hug the North Face. Ditch bodies before the court dates. Fuck the law, he’s buying up department stores. With warlord cash that’s hotter than Arkansas. Scarface. N*gga. Thousand dollar suits and boots…..--Zilla Rocca
We ain’t never gonna run out of weed. Some rappers claim they’ll never fall off, Curren$y just wants to let you know that he’s got kush on infinity. Somehow positioning himself as the heir to Jay-Z’s cockiness, Devin the Dude’s weed habit and Witchdoctor’s gothic southern ambiguity, the N.O emcee dominates this track and lets you know that everyone’s favorite giant ape ain’t got shit on him. You’d think a track called “King Kong” would be a hulking beast of song but unlike most of his peers, Curren$y doesn’t do hulking so the track is a mellow roller, as perfect for a New Orleans day as a cold New York night. On point lyrics, a chill beat to smoke to and attitude by the ton, this is the moment where Curren$y went from “the other Wayne weed-carrier” to a serious problem. –Sach O
Let’s be honest: y’all motherfuckers forgot about ‘Twan. While Dre was being praised to the dark side of the moons of Jupiter for his cheap Prince imitations and descending from Mount Olympus every six months or so to bless the undeserving mortals with a few verses from the Book of 3000, Big Boi was being locked in the deepest dungeons of label hell. Despite being bequeathed with such gems as “Royal Flush” and “Shine Blockas,” Arista tried to subtlety force our hero to abandon his solo dreams and record another Outkast album with Andre. After signing with Def Jam, he was quickly shipped to the Island of Misfit Veteran Rappers that the Roots, Ghostface and Redman have been unceremoniously dumped in. No promotion for you, big boy! Thus, its something of a minor miracle that “Shutterbugg” became the summer’s most unlikely hit.
“Shutterbugg” is all the world has pined for about Outkast (since Dre decided he’d rather sing) while being a completely different species of ATLien. The track slips, slides and shuffles with a brand of freaked Roger Troutman-meets-Dirty South funk that serves to separate Big Boi as his own artist and not simply “the Other Guy” in the duo. (Inexplicably,) Scott Storch provides Daddy Fat Sax with a colorful playground of rumbling background vocals and booming bass for him to be as authoritative and rich a rapper as ever. Big Boi practically dances over the track with his wicked lyricism and fiery delivery, threatening to keep “shitting on ******* and pissin’ on the seat.” Keep playin,’ Arista because Big Boi is going to keep on keeping it player. Check the resume.–Doc Zeus
Following 45 minutes of paeans to power and preening, Kanye West pauses to pick up the pieces. “Blame Game” is an acknowledgment that no matter how much money or fame you have, there are always consequences for your actions. It’s the rare admission of fault, the sad realization that quite often there are no victors. Call someone “bitch for short” all you want — you know that you’re equally at fault. Your anger and venom will not salve the wounds — self-inflicted and otherwise — neither black magic nor clever couplets can repair what you broke. Sometimes, being a douchebag does not deserve a toast.
It’s tempting to extrapolate further, but the specifics are too personal to be about anything else. Kanye captures the feeling of disintegration, a universal one, so we empathize with a petulant billionaire who sends girls cock shots. The preeminent 21st century schizo man, Kanye worships the frivolous. He is an aesthete, prone to garish outfits and brand names. He lives on Mt. Olympus, dates bird-women, and has a pool filled with mermaids. Yet everyone has watched a love affair shrink in an astringent bath of accusations and bad ego, so they go along. It’s a shockingly self-aware song, filled with the devastated realization that diagnosing one’s own failings doesn’t mean that they’re fixable. “Blame Game” stares into the void and offers no answers.
For the first time, Kanye not only feels culpable but understands why things happened the way they did. Consequently, anyone afflicted or victimized by similar self-consumption sees their failings anew, drawing fresh blood from old wounds. “Runaway” may be the album’s stylistic centerpiece, but this is its emotional core. Regardless of your opinion on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Pharisee, “Blame Game” cannot be knocked by slighting the tacky decor or strident attitude. Kanye is always human, but he rarely seems mortal. This may be the most powerful song of his career. Unfortunately, I will never be able to think the same way about upholstery again. –-Weiss
This is a baffling decision for the song of the year. “Looking For Alien Love” was not released commercially, had little to no impact, and it’s unclear whether Yelawolf even wanted it to see the light of day. Even his biggest fans would argue that “Pop the Trunk” is a far more logical choice — it’s certainly a better reflection of the hip-hop hillbilly aesthetic he’s cultivated. Even Yela himself would probably ride for “Shutterbugg.” But during a stellar 12-month span in which Wolf has risen from Columbia also-ran to Interscope’s latest white hope, this is the most impressive, interesting, and replayable song of the bunch. It is rap origami, a slate of hieroglyphics, an entirely new form unto itself.
Other rappers have thrived in the abstract — the Def Jukies, Doom, Ghostface, Doseone come readily to mind. But usually they rely on dense clusters of polysyllabic words, double-time, and byzantine encryptions. What’s most surprising about “Looking for Alien Love” is the way in which it achieves a balance of the straightforward and the esoteric. It’s one of the most bizarre songs I’ve ever heard, a cheesy pitched down sample warbles about “looking for love,” Yelawolf impersonates a British person saying “cheerio chap,” and his delivery alternates from spoken word, to late 90s Anticon, to Dungeon Family at the apex of their voodoo (Witchdoctor handled the ceremonies and passed out the peyote.)
Other rappers frequently invoke outer space imagery or celestial themes, but only the original ATliens have been able to approximate writing songs that abandon formal structure to mimic a U.F.O.’s flight path. “Looking for Alien Love” is a series of frantic lunges, words detonate in every direction, filled with multiple meanings. He only supports the Dead unless they’re grateful. He reminds you not to be so fucking impressed, in 93 you had to rap. He describes his journey swimming eight miles on the bottom of Lake Michigan, just to hold the catfish again — obliquely invoking Eminem and long-forgotten Cage disses. He brags “to reel me into the mainstream made ’em nervous, so I wrote to the muffle kickdrums underneath the surface.” He’s both a radical and a chameleon — astonishingly versatile while making sure his music never lacks integrity. There are many selves to choose from. Which explains why he can work with Gucci Mane and El-P, and write the occasional extraterrestrial Alabama organ ballad on the side. A few rappers have traveled this close to the sun, but we have never seen an alien catfish. –Weiss