Even the Wet Bandits agree with this list. Do as they say, not as they do. Wealth was attempted to be spread, so as this subjective litany isn’t identical to the Best Album list. There is no Drake because the executive board of this website has a long-standing grudge with his family dating back to the Purim of 343 B.C. Long story.
50. Maxo Kream- “Lewinsky”
I am a big fan of gangsta rap and maybe an even bigger fan of action movies. So in the name of entertainment, I’ve heard and seen scenes of unimaginable carnage, described or shown in minute gory details, and never flinched. By now I should be wholly desensitized to them. But even so, I find ‘Lewinsky’ slightly unsettling.
It’s not the reality of Maxo’s violent personal history in which the song is rooted, he’s far from the first to talk it and actually live it. It’s not the slick video, full of mean mugs and big guns and culminating with the shot of the tied up squirming victims. I’ve seen all that before. What really gets under my skin is the prevailing calm with which the song is executed. In The Silence Of The Lambs, there’s a memorable moment where Hannibal Lecter brutally attacks a nurse while his heartbeat remains at only 85 bpm. This song unspools with similar chilling tranquility of temperament. The beat is creeping, languid and unhurried. There is no urgency in the delivery of the lyrics, nor is there any sense that the author is in any way perturbed (or conversely, excited) by his actions. He comes across as a perfectly dispassionate tool of destruction. He holds his victims’ life in his hands and he doesn’t care if that life is continued or extinguished.
The unsettling part is that by an extension of the artist-audience relationship, that victim is you. — Alex Piyevsky
49. Oddisse ft. Diamond District – “Bonus Flow”
What a weird place Washington D.C. is: creaky septuagenarian lawmakers in tacky suits shuffle around Capitol Hill, trailed by gaggles of twentysomething graduates of Georgetown and Cornell, the supposed best and brightest who gave up six-figure investment banking salaries to sweat through their seersucker suits in the District. It’s a tableau that practically invites defacement.
Its artists have always obliged. Even at the height of hardcore’s vitriol, the Washington strain spewed the most bile. Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Scream: these guys lived at the epicenter of Reagan’s America. Who could blame them for playing faster, screaming louder, and moshing harder than anyone else?
I hear the same thrust in a track like “Bonus Flow.” Oddisee spends the rest of his excellent Tangible Dream mixtape spinning literate yarns over tasteful beats. But here at the end, with his better angels out of his system, he lashes out, casting Diamond District cohorts yU and Uptown XO as his demons.
They rhyme viciously, Uptown opting for a delirious double-time and yU for a sanitarium-cackling insanity, both of them delightedly spraying verbal graffiti all over the National Mall. Maybe if they just rhyme fast enough, if they can come up with one punchline scathing enough, they might be able to crack that eerie Stepford Wives façade that D.C. cultivates so assiduously.
It’s a fantasy. But that’s the role D.C.’s alt culture has always played: to present a frenetic weirdo alternative to the city’s Cheshire Cat grin. I’m sure the Obama Youth are just as happy as were the Reagan. — Jordan Pedersen
48. Nacho Picasso – “Crime Waves “
It was a good year to have a God complex. Yeezus draped himself in the Confederate flag and created a cult to donate their Christmas funds to Donda. (No Eric Schmidt). Nacho Picasso starts out “Crime Waves” with a deistic clip from Hunger Games. He’s a generous tyrant from the home of Starbucks, who raps like he’s wanted for holding Howard Schultz’s family hostage. Jesse Robinson is Nacho, the bad guy, Mike Tyson if he never meet Cus D’Amato, with more tattoos than IQ points.
He’s not the dumb bully, but the smart fuck-up, ritualistically disciplined to make bad decisions. Full House’s Uncle Jesse if he came to clap at your knees. A zombie live-wire with the mantra: “my way is the high way. My way is the high way.” He’s drugged-out up in Rite-Aid, with syrup in his lime-aid. At A3C, I saw him sipping on a double cup inside a gas station convenience store. That is consistency and it’s indicative of the last three years that have seem him drop impressive project after project, painting him as a Pacific Northwest answer to a young Killa Cam. You don’t want to know what will happen if you make him wait for his burnt bread. — Jeff Weiss
47. Milli Mars – “Tokyo Noir”
Milli Mars is one of the best rappers San Antonio has ever produced, if not the best. Tony Parker does not count – as a person from San Antonio or legitimate rapper – and I can’t think of any off the top of my head. (Hit the comments section to give us all a comprehensive list).
Mars’ “Tokyo Noir” is eerie and sinister, the soundtrack to grainy security cam footage from some seedy locale. The crisp drums hit hard, and the muted alarms on the track approach the manic in their melody. With respect to the rhymes, Mars offers confident and deftly rapped braggadocio for he and his crew while using vocal-filters. The opposition is left leaking in the trunk and all future pictures will be painted with post-homicide crimson. Even your mother and your father are not safe.
If any of the above sounds appealing, check Milli Mars’ latest project, The Toyotomi E.P. There are samurai swords and femme fatales and San Antonio’s J.J. Gittes is on the case in Tokyo. The last sentence was possible, and thus whether that case is in little Tokyo (in Texas?) or the Japanese capital is irrelevant. –Max Bell
46. YC the Cynic – “Molotovs at Poisedon”
Calling yourself God causes a listener to raise an eyebrow. YC know this, so he points as many guns as possible at the deity-claiming perp. His debut album, GNK, is full of mythological imagery and reference to gods of all kinds, but not once does he say that he’s the most holy. That would go against his character.
In our interview with YC, he revealed himself to be first and foremost a man about his community, selfless and hardworking, more about the well-being of others than simply his own. Seeing the song performed live he asked the audience to think of someone they truly loathed, and to repeat the hook after him: “Do you know who you’re fucking with?” By the third go round, the audience was deafening with participation. The people will always be greater than the individual. — Brad Beatson
45. Vince Staples ft. Schoolboy Q – “Back Selling Crack”
Vince Staples’ sorely underheard collaborative mixtape with Mac Miller (Stolen Youth) contained several instances of his dead-eyed, easy-sounding and straightforward ruminations on life in Long Beach. But “Back Sellin Crack” probably contains the most succinct illustration of what kind of MC the Long Beach native is: funny, profane, vulgar, defiant, paranoid, tough, pessimistic, confident, disinterested and frequently irreligious. Okay, maybe that last sentence wasn’t very succinct but his various qualities make for a new spin on a some old rap motifs. Put it this way: it’s one thing not to trust bitches and a whole other thing to lump ya moms in with those bitches.
Staples’ performance here indicates his viability in a variety of context. He sounds just as comfortable next to Schoolboy Q’s energetic (and welcome) yelps as he did while making folks wonder “who the fuck is this new nigga that just shit all over Earl?” after hearing his guest verses on ‘Doris‘. It takes a special MC to sound equally competent next to Earl’s more cerebral and technique-laden stylings and Q at his rantiest. The hope is that Staples’ manages to translate the calm and assured personality that’s obvious on Back Sellin Crack to a wider audience now that he’s on the Def Jam payroll. I’d bet on the kid; he sounds too nonplussed to let anything get to him. –MobbDeen
44. Black Milk – “Perfected on Puritan Avenue”
Just when you thought you could safely put Black Milk on the back-burner, he moves to Dallas and releases this. “Perfected on Puritan Ave” sounds less Dilla and more Madlib, only with a serious slab of acid-washed heart. You could argue it’s the most fascinating piece of rap music released all year. And while new cities equal new artistic horizons, this is all Detroit origin story – “Yeah, Puritan Ave, looking over your shoulder / You don’t realize you’re from the ghetto till you get a little older” – the shudder-inducing soul compelling you reach for the replay button. It sounds like Curtis Cross is refreshed and making music for himself again. All jazz flameouts essential all the time. — Matt Shea
43. Zeroh ft. Jonwayne & Quelle Chris – “Watching Me”
“Loosen up and laugh, there’s no need to be pompous.” Quelle, the first of the three hyper-verbal MC’s featured on “Watching Me” nails it down early on. These Def Jux, Detroit, and Stones Throw legatees, Quelle, Jonwayne and Zeroh—some of the best in this particular class, each of whom is worth following up on– absorbed the most important lesson possible from the failures of their lyrical ancestors. What did being holier-than-thou ever do for the talented MC, other than marginalize him and his fellows, leaving rappers as talented as these flopping outside the mainstream? So here’s a reconstructed environment over mellow piano, listenable, emotional and never pointing out just how over your head it really is. – Jonah Bromwich
42. Isaiah Rashad ft. SZA – “Ronnie Drake”
TDE knows classic gangsta rap’s golden rule: all the posturing and swag ain’t worth shit if you don’t have the music to back it up. The lyrics to “Ronnie Drake” are as hard as anything else out there, but whereas most trappers this year were spitting boasts over the same old hi-hats and gothic church bells, Isaiah Rashad and Sza’s introductory single kept it funky.
Over a laid back beat that recalled nothing if not Pharcyde circa Labcabin; Top Dog’s newest signees hide the medicine in the ice cream, alternating between philosophy and ignorance, smooth and rough, Hip-Hop and R&B. In a year that basically served as a victory lap for Kendrick’s Good Kid m.A.A.d City, this sleeper heralded big things for TDE’s next wave, if ever we get that damn ScHoolboy album. — Son Raw
41. Doe B – “Return of Da Mac”
Covers are risky, regardless of genre. More specifically, since we don’t do covers in rap (shouts to Beans and Bleek’s “So What You Sayin”), it’s easy to go wrong if you go in over a familiar sample – unless you’re a shiny mogul that gets away with brazen rap violations or a mogul that’s so devoid of good ideas that you think a fucking Alphaville sample is a good idea. Actually, the latter was a bad idea period.
The risk quadruples when you combine TWO familiar songs/samples (excuse my focus on risk – it’s how I feed myself). Somehow, Doe B pulled it off. Dunno how it occurred to him to catch our attention with THAT Mark Morrison sample then revert to fairly standard pimp talk over Project Pat’s “Gorilla Pimp,” but shit’s undeniable. Maybe musical risk assessment skills intensify when you wear an eyepatch, kinda like how this kid that had polio punched me harder than anyone ever has when we were 13.
Then Doe B invited Project Pat to come do Project Pat things over that Mark Morrison sample and it was over. I’d bet Project Pat got the idea to shoot a video for “Gorilla Pimp” 14 years after the song’s release because Doe B gave his classic a new lease of life. Doe B is a begetter of great ideas mane. Salute him.
Still, I don’t want ANYONE else, Doe B included, trying this shit ever again. Won’t work. – MobbDeen
40. Droop-E ft. Nite Jewel & J Stalin – “N the Traffic”
“‘N the Traffic” is one of those rare and precious instant neck-snappers. It takes about two seconds for its sub-bass and fluttering synths to colonize your body from the shoulders up, another ten to transport you to a passenger seat, Olympic Torch-sized blunt ablaze, crawling through a cityscape. Once Nite Jewel aka Ramona Gonzalez drops in for the hook, you’re stuck until the track drops you off. Droop-E and J-Stalin both come through with smooth, relaxed verses – you’ve got to float over a beat like this, and neither of the two disappoint. Their restraint here is impressive, too. They could’ve easily rode this butter beat out for another three or four minutes, but they’ve kept it short and sweet, saying their piece and bringing us back to that indelible hook.
Suffice to say: Droop-E knows exactly how to put together a great track. None of this should come as any surprise given his pedigree – you would assume the son of Bay Area legend E-40 would’ve picked up a thing or two from his old man. What’s really impressive, though, is that Droop-E’s doing his own thing, developing a sound that’s all his own. As “‘N the Traffic” clearly shows, it’s coming along nicely. The bassline rolls and thumps, the drums crack with precision – and those marimbas! Attention to detail, man. This song freaking snaps. Easily my favorite song about being stuck in traffic. –Adam Wray
39. Cory Jreamz – “Nina”
Cory Jreamz is 19 years old and says if he could have dinner with any 5 people it’d have to be: David Lynch, Jonathan Ive, Marina Abramovic, Woody Allen, Nas. The music reflects the anxiety, angst and introspection of his heroes. “Nina” paints a rebel against the system, dreaming of 93 octane and plotting his way to innumerable hits by 25 and the MoMA. He might not have a DJ anymore but he pledges to never stop or be stagnant. And Jreamz somehow manages to plant a catchy hook in an atypical reference heavy spree amidst the angry scattershot beat. In our fantastic interview with Cory he mentions that if he had a million dollars, one thing he’d do is shoot a big budget music video of an idea he’s been saving. Here’s to hoping he gets his break in 2014, or at least a crack at Heidi Klum. — Brad Beatson
38. Don Trip ft. Starlito & Kevin Gates – “Leash on Life”
With Jay-Z’s most arduous hardship fitting a mint condition Basquiat on the walls above his bathroom’s gold-plated toilet, and with Kanye West’s biggest complaint being slowly delivered breakfast pastries, it seems that opulence and #firstworldproblems have long replaced struggle as commercial rap’s defining characteristic. This likely left Don Trip, Starlito, and Kevin Gates confused. These three guys have made a career off of grinding hardest, sweat streaming from their face, their bank accounts chronically in the red. It’s one thing to rap for money, girls, or competitive edge, but what happened to rapping for your life?
A heart-wrenching standout on Trip and Lito’s Step Brothers 2 mixtape, “Leash on Life” finds the duo making their most sullen and sharp decisions, stuck between crack rock and a hard place as they roam perilous blocks. At school, children are poisoned with bullying until one of them reaches his brink. But it’s Kevin Gates, his Baton Rouge baritone at full blast, who brings his partners’ aggrieved sentiments home: “Might be locked up tomorrow but we free tonight / Praying to God I get a leash on life.” Knowing their actions could lead to prison might be a hard pill for Trip and Lito to swallow, but they remember to get their prescriptions filled because the next day isn’t promised. --Alex Koenig
37. Homeboy Sandman – “Men are Mortal”
I’ve discussed with other people and they’ve said they felt the same but I still find it embarrassing: why is it that, when I listen to conscious rap, I always imagine the dude in the earphone to be a nebbishy little shrimp? What kind of terrible socialization have I gone through where I consider brainpower and stature to be inversely proportional?
Even had I not met Homeboy Sandman in person, his track “Men are Mere Mortals” would suggest his size. It is rap as a marvel of physical ability, Olympian breath control, clipped syllables hurdling bars with the ease granted by constant practice. He’s jumping rope in the video just to drive the point home. But this isn’t just lyrical miracles, multiple tales pinned haphazardly onto an overloaded verse. The best Homeboy Sandman songs have two modes—either allow yourself to be lulled into enjoying the staccato rhythm, or, if you feel up to it, lean in and attempt dissection. The amount of subjects that Sand manages to squeeze in here covers all sorts of subject matter, cites the value of wisdom over wealth, indicts Bloomingdales and champions Queens peoples. It’s a clinic and a seminar combined, all delivered by a pro who, now that he’s on Stones Throw, is just beginning to receive his dues. Men are mere mortals but some loom larger than others. — Jonah Bromwich
36. Bun B ft. Lil Boosie, Pimp C, & Big Krit – “Cake”
You can see Bun B flipping through videos on YouTube, watching youngins rack up hits maneuvering from the battle plan he drew he wrote. “That’s my throne,” he’d growl.
But lords never worry, right? The A$AP Mob said as much, and they rattled off banger after banger in 2013. And they seemingly did it without breaking a sweat.
Come to think of it though, it’s probably best to consult a true – er, trill – lord when considering these matters. There are few rappers would could include “trill” or “OG” every album they’ve released in the past decade and not elicit eyerolls. Bun B is one of them. He owns the patent.
To fend off encroachers, he calls in favors, from the pen and beyond the vale: incarcerated Baton Rogue hero Lil Boosie is in prime, cackling Salacious Crumb form here, offering Pappadeaux seafood in exchange for oral remedies. On some absence-make-the-heart-grow-fonder shit, he rattles off the finest verse on the track.
As good as the verses are – Bun and K.R.I.T. acquit themselves nicely as well – it’s all about the hook here. It’s a testament to Chad Butler’s prowess that a refrain this sweet was lying in the vault until now. Makes you want to pour out a cup of lean and maybe lay back on the stuff at the same time.
The usurpers are many, but Bun won’t let his kingdom go without a fight. The message, then, is clear: lords always worry. – Jordan Pedersen
35. Lil Wayne ft. 2 Chainz – “Rich as Fuck”
I don’t know what this says about my life, but a few of my favorite moments of the past year have been soundtracked or inspired by 2 Chainz. There was the time over the summer when a buddy drove up to the clearing where a bunch of us were hanging out, all while straight-up blaring the hook from “Rich As Fuck,” which is only hilarious when you consider it was 10 Canadians throwing a football around in a public park. Then later in the year, I took a home-finding trip to the A and told my wife we weren’t dropping off the rental car until we heard “Feds Watching” again, right before we heard it back-to-back on two different radio stations, which was only topped by the time I caught said wife singing “I just got some pants made out of snakeskin” to herself under her breath after we’d moved down south. And of course, everyone remembers where they were the first time they heard a man shout out both his own wrist and his stove, which are two things that really don’t get enough credit. (You try making a decent risotto without a wrist or stove. You can’t stir it enough.)
Such is the power of 2 Chainz, the dad-joking Versace enthusiast who made the idea of a “Best Lines” list seem kind of pointless. All it takes is the right six seconds to become a fan, so embrace the silliness and see how much better your life immediately becomes. We’re talking about a Lil Wayne song in 2013, so you know it works. – Trey Kerby
34. Lil Durk – “Dis Ain’t What U Want”
This is actually the second time I’ve been asked to write about “Dis Ain’t What U Want.” The first time, I declined.
At first blush, drill never suits me. It’s too simplistic, too vulgar – in a stylistic, not moral sense. And I find its eerie approximation of the reality in Chicago depressing, not thrilling.
A song whose central conceit is that it’s not in your best interest to beef with its narrator? Psh, next.
But I kept coming back to it. Those bleating, tornado-warning synths. The way the drums skitter rather than pound. And then that hook, that triumphant declamation: “I’m here. Don’t fuck with me.” Suddenly, its simplicity seemed admirable.
The reason I keep listening to drill, despite my reservations, is that I think it’s good for me. It’s a reminder that as much as my first inclination is to spurn tracks I perceive as “un-lyrical,” I should probably just trust my ears.
Rap doesn’t have to be one thing. The beauty of the genre is that there’s a seat at the table for everyone: your meat-n-potatoes trappers, your hyper-lyrical thinkers, and your radio-bound Autotuned warblers.
In a sense though, all this intellectualizing is counterproductive. “Dis Ain’t What U Want” isn’t a track that wants you to analyze it. It’s a track that wants you to listen to it.
So next time a new drill track thumps its way into your view, shelve the pontificating. Trust your ears. – Jordan Pedersen
33. A$AP Nast ft. Method Man – “Trillmatic”
-illmatic is a suffix unique to rap. It has two meanings which are in direct opposition to each other. The first is iller than ill, maximum illosity. The second is “more ambitious than talented.” There are those who may have seen the name A$AP Nast in front of a song called “Trillmatic” and assumed they were looking at example of the second definition. Even when Nast comes out with fists clenched, you’re still not convinced. It’s good rapping sure, but does it meet the standard for which he’s aiming?
But after the first minute of Nast owning the Ty Beats production he slides from generalized advice into a scenario and you know that the claim is for real:
“It be the ones that say ‘We got this, you ain’t alone,’ as long as I’m here’
To pull out the Glock 9 and cocked it, he mad you got rich, but on the low you should’ve watched him.”
That kind of transition is difficult to pull off, and Nast makes it seem easy, affirming his place, rapping alongside a rejuvenated Method Man, who, even on autopilot, sounds like he’s the next up in the Wu renaissance parade. — Jonah Bromwich
32. Q-Tip & Busta Rhymes – “Thank You”
When the first verse of “Thank You” ends after a minute and a half and you finally hear Alicia Myers sing “I want to thank you, Heavenly Father,” you might notice that you’ve been holding your breath. That’s the combined effect of Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip’s technical marvel of a performance and the needling beat that builds anticipation for the line it’s been teasing you with. The instincts behind “Thank You” don’t usually produce good rap music. The reunion of Busta and Tip along with the funk sample reek of “taking it back” – cynical fan service for a core audience that wears Midnight Marauders pajamas.
But the X factor that makes “Thank You” jam is genuine affection for the craft. The breathless verses are a reminder of how much fun rapping can be and you can’t help but crack a smile at the duo breaking out the old skills like the Electric Slide at a barbecue. There’s even a hint of the long lost “Woo Hah” Busta when he starts rapping nonsense. Come to think of it, we’ve seen many incarnations of Busta Rhymes, from Leaders of the New School to “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” to “Touch It” to his new home at YMCMB. The jubilant Busta Rhymes seen here cutting it up with Q-Tip likely won’t be around long, so enjoy this gift and be sure to say ‘thank you.’–Evan Nabavian
31. Roc Marciano – “Bruh Man”
January 5, 1995. America is united, howling in slack-jawed delight to learn its beloved Kramer’s given name: “Cosmo.” The mystery of the Seinfeld character’s full government designation had once served as both proof and explanation for his sanctioned eccentricity. Dispossessed of his erstwhile mononymity, however, Cosmo Kramer was revealed to be just another shameful human being like you or me. A man with a name has responsibilities and must honor his debts.
Bruh Man was Martin’s answer to Kramer. Discourteous but contrite, epicurean without being hedonist, Bruh Man was a true hero of modernity. Some say he can still be found scaling the fire escapes of Detroit and stalking its sidewalks with his distinctive exaggerated limp. Unlike his wacky neighbor forebears, Bruh Man was self-sovereign. We will never know his real name; it’s since been lost to memory; or he never had one; or maybe that was his real name all along. Nevertheless, to aspire to the condition of Bruh Man is to aspire to the bodhisattva ideal. He would never betray himself.
The great Roc Marciano Infodump of 2013’s last months yielded nearly two hours of fresh raw Marcberg; “Bruh Man” remains his most consistent biscuit since it leaked back in February. Lord Finesse’s haunting vestigial piano loop echoes off the black ice on Terrace Ave. while Roc stares into the sun above his adopted Los Angeles through Isaac Hayes’ shades, ordained by the deities to sip piña coladas served by white slaves and study film adaptations of lesser-Grisham novels, otherwise known as “Nuttin’ … just chillin.” A Bruh Man lives inside each of us. We are indebted to him. — Disco Vietnam
30. Sage the Gemini – “Red Nose”
First things first: there are few things less erotic than shaking it like a red nosed Pit Bull. No matter how ratchet your Tinder preferences, there’s nothing that can kill desire more than equating yiking with a killer canine. And yet Sage the Gemini has created one of the most vertebrae-snapping and viral songs of 2013. “Gas Pedal” might have been the supreme Vine smash, but “Red Nose” is the better of the two singles. It’s less indebted to Clyde Carson’s “Slow Down” and more of a targeted attack against gravity. I am about as well equipped to describe the orange jello synthesizer jiggles in this song as I am to replicate the dance moves in this video. Whether it’s the “Humpty Dance,” “Crank Dat,” or “You’re a Jerk,” each semester needs a dance song almost as much as everyone needs fossil fuels. People need to get around somehow. And I’m happy to be old enough to have never been guilt tripped into attempting to dance to it. Unlike memories, a 6 second video clip can last forever. –Jeff Weiss
29. IAMSU ft. Juvenile & Kool John – “100 Grand”
IAmSu! is the Bay analogue to Compton’s Y.G. The figureheads of their respective cliques, both are besotted with bouncing booties and make countless bangers for your respective turn up. From Richmond to Berkeley and Oakland to SF, the absence of Su’s slaps at a function is tantamount to treason. Where the two differ – aside from locale and potential set affiliation – is that Su doubles as a great producer.
“100 Grand” is the exception, produced instead by fellow HBK Gang member P-Lo. Su probably had some un-credited hand here, but I’ll give it to P-Lo. The bass slithers like a stripper. The keys are minimal, their presence providing danceable melody and their absence affording the necessary menace. And the “hey, hey” chants throughout give the track so much energy you’re likely to find yourself shouting the words involuntarily regardless.
As far as raps are concerned, Su and Kool John deliver. They’re not saying much, but assert their mic and mack supremacy with Yay slang as deftly as needed. Still, the best part of the song is Juvenile. The man responsible for the apotheosis of ratchet anthems before the slang was in vogue delivers his most energetic verse in recent memory. Here it’s clear Juve knows his legacy will remain intact – whether it’s via Su, 2Chainz, or some leather jorts wearing Canadian – as long as cheeks continue to clap. When he dies, violins will be played in the middle of streets from New Orleans to New Mexico. –Max Bell
28. Open Mike Eagle – “Qualifiers (AT Laundromat)”
Is it synesthesia or apartment fumes? Why does it take two lines to do a one liner? And why does it take three beats to do a two-step? These are key questions, questions from a father with shit on his hands and a mind full of jokes about jazz pianist Dave Brubeck. They are questions from Open Mike Eagle, L.A. transplant turned Blowedian and Hellfyre Club’s de facto soft-spoken guru.
If you haven’t tuned into Open Mike by now, then you must not read this site regularly. As an avid Open Mike listener, it’s with kind of, sort of confidence that I say “Qualifiers” is among his best work to date. His singsong cadence and soft-croon have long been perfected, and here he wields both with equal control and abandon. There’s no one else doing smart, honest, and hilarious dad-rap better. ‘Dad-rap’ meaning rap made by a dad, one who changes diapers, potty trains his children, and still finds time to play thirteen games of Words with Friends.
With respect to the beat, Taco Neck has made the inspiration for his sobriquet (a Taco Bell commercial featuring the ever incorrigible Shaq) the mission of this production. “Qualifiers” is mellow yet undeniably head-nodding. Think industrial rap meets soft Casio keyboard melody.
Above all, meditations on the joys and frustrations of fatherhood and rap are rarely this catchy and thought provoking. Respect all qualifiers and play this for comfort as you wrestle with your temporal isolation. –Max Bell
27. Zilla Rocca ft. Doseone – “On the Freak Beat”
There’s a lack of fuss on Zilla Rocca’s latest mixtape, Neo Noir. The Philly rapper and producer collects some third-party favorites – Gaslamp Killer, Javelin, Blackroc – calls in regular collaborators Has-Lo and Curly Castro — and generates one of the most cerebral but freewheeling listens of the year.
The best cut on the record is ‘On the Freak Beat’, Zilla’s team-up with Doseone, which takes Clam Casino and Imogen Heap’s ethereal ‘I’m God’ and fits it with a high-powered rap retread. Zilla delivers his lines with an off-kilter breathlessness, like he wrote them while sweating through a triathlon (or a pub crawl). But the secret weapon is Doseone. In one verse the now Oakland-based spitter reminds fair-weather rap fans that their cLOUDDEAD phase was totally legit; it’s dense but perfectly weighted stuff, right down to the slight drop of character at the end. Like Zilla and Dose say, “Not looking for the right thing, looking for the right now.” – Matt Shea
26. Young Jeezy – “RIP”/RIP Remixes”
Young Jeezy is one of the few 35+ year olds from the ringtone trap era who I don’t mind hearing in 2013. Perhaps it’s because he has a top 5 rasp in rasp history, but more than likely it’s because DJ Mustard is dominating the playing field at this point. This passes the “likely to scrunch your face 1 second into the song” test. And it will for years to come. It inspired numerous remixes, the best of which featured YG, Kendrick Lamar, Chris Brown and LORD RiFFiNGTON. YG’s hung up, Breezy shoots at Drake, and RiFF shamelessly promotes. The King bodies everyone, of course, and delivers this retrospectively omniscient barb: “bitch I’m eatin’ and shit, you a vegan and shit, get off my penis and shit.” It killed the club, the festival, and every DJ set this year. And perhaps Jay’s appetite. — Brad Beatson