25. Grimace Federation “Bosico (Aesop Rock Remix)” [900 Bats]

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

24. Big K.R.I.T. – “Hometown Hero” [Def Jam]

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

23. E-40 ft. Too Short & 50 Cent – “Bitch” [Sick Wid It]

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

22. Freeway & Jake One – “African Drums” – [Rhymesayers]

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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

21. Shabazz Palaces “32 Leaves Dipped in Blackness Making Clouds Forming Altered Carbon” [Sub Pop]

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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

20. Vado – “Large in the Streets” [U.N.]

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

19. J Cole – “Who Dat” [Roc Nation]

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

18. Soulja Boy – “Speakers Going Hammer” – [Interscope]

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

17. Nocando – “Hurry Up and Wait” – [Alpha Pup]

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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

16. The Knux – “Medusa (Let’s Get Stoned)” – [Cherrytree/Interscope]

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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

15. G-Side ft. 6 Tre & Codie G – “Feel The”- [Slow Motion Soundz]

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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

14. Raekwon – “Butter Knives” [Ice Water]

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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

13. Tyler, the Creator – “Bastard” – [OFWGKTA]

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

12. Black Milk ft. Danny Brown – “Black & Brown” – [Decon]

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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

11. Waka Flaka Flame – “Hard in the Paint” – [Brick Squad/Asylum]

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

10. Rick Ross ft Styles P – B.M.F – [Def Jam]

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

9. Das Racist ft. El-P – “Sit Down, Man” – [Self-Released]

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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.)

8. Jay Electronica – “Shiny Suit Theory ft.  Jay-Z” [Dogon/Roc Nation]

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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

7. Danny Brown – “Nowhere 2 Go”- [Rappers I Know]

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

6. Freddie Gibbs – “The Ghetto” – [Self-Released]

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

5. Roc Marciano – “Scarface N**ga” – [Fat Beats]

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“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

4. Curren$y – King Kong – [DD172/Def Jam]

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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

3. Big Boi – “Shutterbugg” – [Def Jam]

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

2. Kanye West ft. John Legend – “Blame Game” – [Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam]

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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

1. Yelawolf – “Looking for Alien Love” [Self-Released]

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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