The Best Rap Songs of 2015

Like we always do about this time....
By    December 13, 2015

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 50. Isaiah Rashad, “Nelly”

Isaiah Rashad’s “Nelly” is the most complete song to come out of TDE in 2015, even if it doesn’t carry the world-weary weight of anything off labelmate Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. “Back when my brother sold crack and my sister was a real one” is the kind of detail Isaiah throws at audiences as an afterthought–astute, direct. Isaiah never uses three words when two will do, and that type of dedication to writing is something some of his TDE cohorts could learn from.

The song, which really has nothing to do with the band-aided legend, deals with issues like mental health and systemic poverty with a gentle hand. Rashad doesn’t abuse the listener with an onslaught of melancholy; his bravado and wit make the realities of his grim background conversational. For Rashad it’s always just another day in Chattanooga, Tennessee. — DAN FROM THE INTERNET 

49. Gabe Nandez, “Sifu”

Awkward truth: I don’t fucks with most Montreal music–in fact, most of it is anathema to me. I do my best to support and encourage up and coming talent, but my hometown’s musical success stories usually reflect the image Montreal WANTS to promote rather than the reality on the ground – as if this place was some sort of shiny happy mecca for “creative” types. Gabe Nandez is a major exception to this rule: the MTL-via-New Rochelle emcee gets it.

“SIFU” feels like a guided tour of ST-Lo, from it’s Chinatown start to the boarded up storefronts in what’s supposed to be our city’s main shopping artery, to the dingy clubs and dive bars that make the skyrocketing rents in The Plateau area worth paying.  The samples are frosty like November, the beat can’t figure out if it’s weed slow or coke-rush fast, and the words are grim like 4 a.m. when all the drunks have gone home and the only people on the strip are scrounging for a fix before day break. It’d dark, disorienting, psychedelic and more than a little scary… and if that doesn’t sum up the appeal of the “real” Montreal, I dunno what does. Plus, it’s a hell of a lot more fun to listen to than the stuff local publicists are trying to sell me on. SON RAW

48. Ratking, “Arnold Palmer”

“Snow Beach,” a highlight off of Ratking’s stellar debut So It Goes, revels in New York’s last gasps of air before it gentrifies into its final form: stomping grounds for NYU brats. “Arnold Palmer,” from their follow-up EP 700 Fill, is the epilogue. Life goes on. Any melancholy is left to the production, where keys blur like streetlights in fog next to a saxophone eulogy that’s more c’est la vie than mournful.

But the track’s about living in the present, not romanticizing the past. Wiki proses in bursts about bodega ice tea and spitting game; it never stops raining in Hak’s head. “Dream bright, sad soul, dream bright/ And leave the nightmares for saddened soul.” The sentiments aren’t new, but they’re powerful: universally felt, seldom spoken. On any given night, there’s a city-bred teen burning his throat while smoking a bowl. He opens his apartment window for air and the Manhattan skyline stares at him as it distances itself. The kid looks down, sees the 24-hour bodega, and smirks. This one’s for him. BRIAN JOSEPHS

47. Zilla Rocca f/ Armand Hammer & Has Lo, “Fake Surfers 2”

They say there’s no rest for the wicked, so Zilla Rocca must be one tired, surly motherfucker.  It was a hectic year for the Philly subterranean, witnessing the birth of a first child and the re-release of his magnum opus, No Vacation for Murder.  The updated version included four additional tracks, including the ominous Fake Surfers 2.”

Built on a sample of “South Bay Surfers” by Seattle’s lo-fi champions, The Intelligence, Zilla enlists the aid of regular collaborators Has-Lo, Elucid, and billy woods in counting daily grievances, which range from being unfairly labeled to not knowing which label is going to pick up your next album.  The track picks up where “Fake Surfers” left off, proof that the City of Brotherly Love keeps its jawns noir as nails.  CHRIS DALY

46. Ezale, “I Ain’t Trippin Off Nothing”

We might be witnessing the next Bay Area cult favorite bloom right before our eyes.  Ezale emerged in 2013 with a pair of earworms (“5 Mins,” “Foreal Foreal“) that made a splash in his native Oakland and went semi-viral with discerning rap fans everywhere. A brief but satisfying mixtape over old beats followed, cementing his status as a torch bearer of hedonistic California funk rap. Then, right on time for the summer, came “I Aint Tripping Off Nothing,” his first fully original track–and his first single on E-40’s storied Sick Wid It records.

It’s much in the same vein as his earlier efforts: a lot of drug talk over a lot of thump, an irresistible catalyst to whiplashed nods.  An old formula updated with gusto. Fueled by obvious, natural talent and a prodigious amount of drugs, Ezale seems to draw as much joy from the very act of rapping as he does from getting high. His enthusiasm is infectious–we’ve seen all this before, but we feel no weariness of it. Instead, we want to watch him build this whole musical template again from the ground up. ALEX PIYEVSKY 

45. Archibald Slim, “Don’t Call The Cops”

Archibald Slim might be the most reasonable rapper from Atlanta. His name is Archibald, and if that wasn’t enough of a giveaway then the title of his single is “Don’t Call the Cops.” You’d expect at least the threat of violence, but the song is barely even bitter. Slim is interested in getting high, not getting even, and before his neighbor bangs on the door to break up his party, he’d been successfully doing so since breakfast. If anything, the song translates better to “be cool” than “don’t snitch.”

The Awful Records rapper supplies just a single verse, but it’s enough, bookended by repeated-but-polite requests not to tattle. Slim’s style isn’t animated, but it’s not sleepy either. He finds the beat’s pocket and gets comfortable, giving us a brief tour of the barrio while a carousel of synths swirls around him. Like a lot of Awful’s catalogue, the whole thing sounds effortless, and you get the sense that Archibald and his friends could continue cranking out this kind of thing endlessly–or at least until somebody calls the cops. KYLE ELLISON

44. Tao & Hicks, “Greedy Brother 2”

“Greedy Brother 2” sounds less like a rap single than a doomsday countdown finally hitting zero. Tao & Hicks sound more like Kierkegaardian prophets than rappers. The world they occupy–the same one Mobb Deep inhabited twenty years ago, the same one solemnly watched over in solitude by Ka–is collapsing on itself. You’re either broke, a criminal, or a broke criminal, and nihilism moves from ideology to reality. Tao & Hicks have been through hell, armed to the teeth, gripping guns with sweaty palms, eyes over their shoulders all the while. They’re just trying to prosper, still waiting to get out. — THOMAS JOHNSON

43. Natia, “The Wrong Way”

From the Fat Jew’s content mining fiasco to Drake’s Ernest Baker Instagram post, 2015 was the year we finally learned that social media influencers can’t be trusted. Rarely do their links lead you in the right direction. It’s fitting, then, that most people found Natia’s “The Wrong Way” via social recommendation. Though it was technically included on last year’s Newport Diaries, the song didn’t receive attention until Earl Sweatshirt tweeted about it late this summer. Natia, like Earl, is a skateboarding rapper from Los Angeles. This song’s video shows him and his Inglewood compatriots living life as they please, with a hook that encapsulates just how much they enjoy doing it.

Natia‘s other songs betray a knack for straightforward rapping, but this one utilizes the type of melodic flow that characterized most of 2015’s biggest hits. He sings about cocaine with a smile on his face, like the foil to Gunplay’s anger. The video qualifies the happiness by beginning with a steely verse from Escobar Rich, another underrated talent who could benefit from a social media co-sign of his own. Sometimes all it takes a good video and influential Twitter fingers to make an existing song new again. That’s how “The Wrong Way” became last year’s best song of this year. WILL HAGLE


42. Nocando, “Requiem”

On October 14th 2014, Ikey Owens was found dead in a hotel, having suffered a heart attack in Mexico while on tour with Jack White. He was 39 years old and a beloved member of the Los Angeles music community. Many eulogizing words have been written, but the grief was encapsulated perfectly by Nocando on his track “Requiem.” There’s a desperation and longing in his voice, a new, courageous side of Nocan. He wails, “We just lost a real one.” Nothing more needs to be said. A friend in arms gone too soon.

Nocando’s battle-rapper background often influences his big-ball bravado style, but “Requiem” is infused with grief and sadness. No bluster, no one-liners, just emotion. It’s a touching tribute to a life cut short. Ikey Owens seemingly played with everyone, an omnipresent voice in the music scene. The man behind the keyboard is gone, but tracks like “Requiem” help his music live on forever. WILL SCHUBE 

41. Speak f/ Antwon, “Tweak”

First, you get SPEAK,  the half-Mexican, half-Jewish Inland Empire-raised hair god and lothario, Then you get Antwon,  San Jose-raised and wry, who could be the Heavy D of rappers that first broke on Tumblr.  Throw the two together and you have the kind of glorious absurdity that we were in desperate need of in 2015, when the twin powers of Future and Young Thug still weren’t enough to derail King Kendrick.

Whatever. SPEAK has a happy habit of running together the most hilarious bars this side of a Kenny Dennis EP. Try, “Ruthless, reckless, sexist/ Restless, but I’m always on the guest list.” Or, “Like Natalie Portman in Closer/ She loves when I spank her and choke her.” Indeed. That thumping, tweaked-out Caleb Stone beat with its cribbed eastern mysticism does the rest. If weed is optional for enjoyment, you’re talking perfect rap music.

They do great video, too. American Apparel models before the bankruptcy. SPEAK dancing like Shakira. An open-shirted Antwon rapping next to a lady’s derriere. The result is cLOUDDEAD with a coke habit and a side operation running dexies to sophomores. You might call it debauchery. SPEAK calls it normal.  MATT SHEA

40. A$AP ROCKY, “Pretty Flacko 2”

After a role in one of the year’s best movies that magnified his cool, quiet charisma, after becoming one of the only black men under 30 that the world of high fashion takes seriously, A$AP Rocky threatened to revert back to old habits. “PF2” provokes nostalgia for four years ago, before the Sundance and Vogue attention. Back when A$AP Rocky was primarily known as a rap aesthete par excellence, a singularly stylish Harlem kid who cherry-picked from the best trees in Houston, Memphis, and New Orleans; the standout track from At.Long.Last.A$AP shows he has harvested his crops.

It’s never about what he says, which by now is well-paved territory: Raf Simons is shouted out, models are chilling with champagne flutes, the word “jiggy” is used unironically. It’s how he says it, and here, over tumbling 808s and the high whine of synthesizer, Rocky adopts a flow indelible in its precision. When he possesses the inclination, his songs portray an aesthetic unlike anybody else in rap. This is couture ski-mask rap, which probably fills a niche you never knew you wanted. DOUGLAS MARTIN

39. Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman, “Environmental Studies”

“Don’t ever count the kid out,” rings Aesop Rock, the twisted indie rapper who was once the jewel in the Def Jux crown. But while former boss El-P hyper-swerved into another galaxy of rap stardom, for Aes it’s been business as usual, blasting tongue-twisting rhymes from his skewered vocal chords to the point where his vernacular closer resembles a kind of alien dialect. “Environmental Studies”, from the excellent five-song EP with Homeboy Sandman, Lice, sees two of New York’s biggest underground talents drop into Inception’s idea of limbo.

Assisted by producer Blockhead–who reigns in everything from a Thom Yorke-esque piano line, shimmering handbells and throbbing jazz bassline–the pair put another brick in their own idealistic surroundings with each breath, Sandman’s low rumbles a perfect counterpoint to his partner’s wackiness. Slept on? Sometimes, but counted out? Never. DEAN VAN NGUYEN 

38. Jonwayne f/ Anderson .Paak, “Green Light”

L.A. is much smaller than it will probably ever get credit for. Too many rap shows and listening parties turn this revelation banal, but there are moments when the the universe brings the city’s most talented together. “Green Light” is one of those moments.

Few rap about rapping as well as Jonwayne–the act itself and the patterns of the genre. Here he moves from nocturnal scribbling to mimicking and indicting the delusional would-be-rapper who asks for his autograph. It’s the voice that hits like a punch to the sternum, but it’s also the diction and delivery. No one else can make eating a poppy seed muffin in your chonies sound hard.

Anderson .Paak, L.A.’s most unsung singing/rapping talent turned Dre’s saving grace, holds down the anchor leg. Half-rapping in his warm rasp, he makes rote tales of rags to riches and femme fatales sound fresh. Like Jonwayne, his gifts are innate as much as they are practiced. If their pairing sounds strange, you probably don’t live here, and you need to get in tune. MAX BELL

37. Chester Watson, “Trident”

There’s something spawning in the hidden corners of hip-hop, again.  Ragged lo-fi rap music, stripped to the bare basics, has started to move out the shadows with young savants like Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples leading the way. One of the most gifted kids specializing in murk is Georgia rapper, Chester Watson. On “Trident,” the teenaged prodigy showcases a smoky, laconic monotone reminiscent of Sweatshirt or MF Doom, and a sparse, bass-heavy beat that seems soaked in muddy waters. Listeners might find Watson’s off-beat rhyme structures alienating, but there’s something universal about his late high-school disaffection. Don’t sleep. DOC ZEUS

36. Posterz, “Bulalay (Welcome to Junga)”

This is a powerful song built out of seemingly disparate parts. There’s the tribal, field recording-style vocal sample from which the song gets its title. The palm-muted guitar riffs that establish a mild rock ’n’ roll feel. And of course the nimble raps from this Montreal trio, who describe a day rolling through the streets and dealing weed.

“Bulalay” has the structure of pop—anchored around a big, languid chorus — but it’s much moodier than anything that would rank on even the lowest reaches of the Billboard charts. Resonant bass tones and thick reverb filters help create a humid atmosphere, while the tension slowly builds with the plucked guitars and layered beat. It’s an ode to a carefree day spent in a volatile urban environment, capturing a youthful spirit but also an underlying sense of danger—which, of course, only adds to the allure. PETER HOLSLIN

35. T-Pain, “Classic Man (T-Mix)”

T-Pain never stopped making good music, we just stopped listening. (His acapella NPR Tiny Desk session doesn’t count, you stupid hipster.) His fall from the public consciousness is more a condemnation of our desire to tear down our true heroes than anything. After we’re all long gone, T-Pain, the Greek Gawd of the strip club, will go down in history as one of our generation’s most important architects.

His T-mix of Jidenna’s “Classic Man” is a lay-up for an artist that has silently been dropping gems for the past year. The Tallahassee hero flips the track to talk about classic cars, which is admittedly corny even for T-Pain, yet works on every conceivable level, because it’s T-Pain. Describing the man’s vocal melodies as ahead of their time is a disservice to the vocals and to time (and to yourself). There are guest turns from Vantrease and Young Cash, but guess who the star is?

T-Pain should have never have to “prove” he can sing without auto-tune again. It shouldn’t matter if he drenches his voice in vocoder or screams to the heavens like the last man in a choir on a post-apocalyptic world of agnostic industry plants. T-Pain was always the hero we didn’t deserve. DAN FROM THE INTERNET 

34. WOKE, “The Lavishments of Light Looking”

What do we talk about when we talk about Afrofuturism? George Clinton is considered one of the godfathers of the philosophy, yet he doesn’t quite know how to describe it. When I spoke to him, he basically defined it as whatever it is that Flying Lotus does. But you can make an argument that the rough equivalent of Afrofuturism is Clinton’s own Funkentelechy: maximizing one’s potential through the funk.

“The Lavishments of Light Looking,” which sounds like what you’d hope from the superhero lineup of FlyLo, Thundercat, George Clinton, and Shabazz Palaces, plays out like this type of act of self-actualization. The beat glitters in formlessness before Ishmael Butler wills it into its infectious stomp. Crusty-busty-gang-banging-niggas banished, the groove plateaus before it breathes to make room for Clinton, who flips the mundane into witticisms (“Running around the center of a square/ Sitting in the corner of a circle”). There is no Mothership here. Sun Ra insisted space is the place. Here, Butler notes that this illumination is just taking place in a room. Why seek the stars when there’s a galaxy right here within us? BRIAN JOSEPHS 

33. Open Mike Eagle, “Ziggy Starfish (Anti-Anxiety Raps)”

Open Mike Eagle’s A Special Episode Of… is only six quick songs, but it packs the punch of a ferocious full-length. At the center of the record (well, the end) is “Ziggy Starfish (Anti-Anxiety Raps).” There are plenty of quotable lines on the track, but, “Woke up thinking I’m Batman/Every town is like Gotham/I log in to my Twitter page and start bending over like Gollum/This dumb cred is like crack rock and I never seem to hit bottom,” speaks to that horrible draw we all feel to fluorescent screens.

Eagle’s not overly reliant on hooks, so on “Ziggy” he lets his wit and Gold Panda’s fantastic beat do the heavy lifting. Since the beginning of the decade, he’s been arguably our best political-leaning rapper, which is more important now than ever before. But what “Ziggy Starfish” so perfectly displays is Mike’s ability to simply rap his ass off, and to get back to his hotel before he falls apart.  WILL SCHUBE 

32. RJ & Choice, “Get Rich”

A rapper rapping about how he’s better than other rappers isn’t exactly new, but in the case of RJ, the boasts are credible. The rising L.A. rapper carries himself with an effortless confidence on “Get Rich,” acknowledging his humble upbringings and tireless work ethic early on—“Niggas rap rich but I been broke”—only to deploy a millionaire’s bounty of internal rhymes, street slang, and soulful “ooooohs.”

All of this is happening over a shimmery, synth’d-out interpolation of the beat from The Chronic‘s “Fuck Wit Dre Day”: a bold choice that not-so-subtly couches RJ and fellow Mustard protege Choice within the legacies of past West Coast masters. Of course, it’s hard to say if these two are really capable of achieving the creative and monetary fortunes of a Dr. Dre or a Snoop Dogg, but you can’t fault them for aiming high. PETER HOLSLIN

31. Mick Jenkins, “Your Love”

Canada Dry on me to anyone who saw this coming. After the misty, morally forceful extended-metaphoric epic The Water[s], Mick Jenkins returned this year with a sly EP with less urgent stakes and beats made for the dance floor. The standout single isn’t a contrived attempt at lyrical house nor a cheap appeal to nightlife ethics; dude admits upfront he’s double-cupping water and doesn’t really do the club. But he rides Kaytranada’s nostalgic disco chords and slapped bass like a natural and flashes a sense of humor often missing from last year’s sermons—appealing to a woman who smuggled water past the bouncer, proposing to be a couple like a Mase song. Proof the preacher gets down and has a future beyond the pulpit. The poetic holiness of Lupe without acting like a chaperone. — TOSTEN BURKS

30. Miguel f/ Kurupt, “NWA”

On Wildheart, Miguel’s third album, he does his damndest to shake off casual R&B fans. If his previous album, Kaleidoscope Dream, was a springboard for stardom, then Wildheart is him shying away reflexively. It’s built around Miguel’s dark, airy brand of cool, and no track embodies that facet of his personality as much as “NWA,” the closest thing to a street single that one could expect from a soft-spoken guy that traffics in love songs. Here, he’s assisted by the monarch of misogyny, Kurupt—which, considering Kurupt’s age and current standing in pop culture, is a pretty ballsy move in itself. It’s the type of collaboration that should’ve been doomed to failure, and yet succeeds for that very reason. HAROLD STALLWORTH

29. Mark Ronson f/ Mystikal, “Feel Right”

This is the perfect illustration of what happens when a naturally funky rapper raps over organic reconstructed funk. Effervescent, joyous, unpredictable, and most crucially, fun. The preceding sentences are barely veiled shots at the album that launched a billion essays, but don’t let the pettiness detract from the simple alchemy of a simple guitar riff, virtuoso drumming and an expert horn section helmed by the infinitely-more-tolerable-than-Diplo tourist known as Mark Ronson (with a big assist from pop dynamo Bruno Mars and his writing team).

Ultimate plaudits go to Mystikal’s barn-burner performance. He’s no longer the star he was, but he’s still energetic and nonsensical in the tradition of his spiritual and musical forefather, James Brown. For showing us exactly how natural and fun funk and rap can sound together in 2015, Ronson and Mystikal deserve all the props. MOBB DEEN

28. Jeff Cherry, “I’m Sorry”

Apologies are hard. Of course, Jeff Chery’s “I’m Sorry” isnt’ really an act of remorse: it’s a taunt, a slippery mission statement that smirks at studio apartments and domestic cars. And just so we don’t bury the lede, know that Chery’s not from Atlanta; he’s a New Yorker, a New Yorker who heard all the screeds about preserving the feeling and scoffed at them. So the slurred, constantly shifting flows are in fact studied, but thankfully don’t feel that way.

“I’m Sorry” is taken from the wildly uneven, occasionally excellent compilation Rolling Stones 2. Chery pops up alongside probably-too-hot-for-TV half-stars like Zuse and YFN Lucci, but he’s the most magnetic by a few lengths. The one-bar falsetto, the matter-of-fact automobile schedules, the first time Madison Square Garden has sounded cool since the early ‘80s—it all conspires to make “I’m Sorry” the least apologetic song of 2015. PAUL THOMPSON

27. Mos Def & Ski Beats, “Sensei on the Block”

Yasiin Bey has drifted from rap, but rap fans never turned their back on Bey. “Sensei of the Block” serves as Exhibit A of why we show infinite patience. Escaping to the 36 chambers, Mos takes the martial arts motif and rides it hard as Ski’s flickering steel drums ricket like a grainy old 35mm flick. The rapper’s surrealist shit-talking is delivered in short, choppy lines that cut like the swift swoop of a butterfly sword, capping his relentless flow with the tuneful scat of Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best,” off The Karate Kid soundtrack.

“Next step is to get Mos to do this full length with ya boy,” tweeted Ski, who leaked the supposedly five-year-old joint himself. It may not yet have stirred him from his musical slumber, but it did underline why we’re willing to wait. DEAN VAN NGUYEN 

26. Tink, “Ratchet Commandments”

Tink has had enough of millennial ratchets on Instagram. To that end, she has compiled a list of Commandments (Thou shalt not: Fuck up on a n****, Lie upon the bible, Put trust in these men, Pacify the truth, Slip up on a heathen, Let a n**** see you sweat, or Respond to these bitches). If you don’t abstain from these behaviors, you’re a ratchet. Sorry.

We at Passion of the Weiss have compiled a list of women who do not meet Tink’s requirements and according to her criteria are probably ratchets. We’ll leave it to you to decide which rules they’ve broken.

Carly Fiorina
Taylor Swift
Kristen Stewart
Monica Lewinsky
Hillary Clinton
Khloe Kardashian
Angela Merkel
LeAnn Rimes
The girl who announced she was pregnant with Fetty Wap’s baby on Instagram by tagging him on her stomach
Katy Perry
Ann Coulter
Angelina Jolie
Michelle Malkin
Meg Ryan
Kathie Lee Gifford
Michele Bachmann


25. Makonnen f/ Migos & Rich the Kid – “Whip It”

Makonnen is a sad man who makes happy music. He’s the Pagliacci of MDMA, a fallen seraphim whose life’s work is inseparable from the second day of the work week. If “Whip It” projects any of Makonnen’s wistfulness, it’s in his signature lilt–there’s too little space between Migos and Rich the Kid’s flying elbows for extended meditations on commerce’s deleterious effects.

The chakras of Migos and Rich the Kid are a rather different hue than Makonnen’s, but in tandem they’re more kaleidoscopic than murky. Makonnen and Migos have more in common than it would seem: they’re bedroom auto-didacts, whose strange, left-field styles have become taken for granted. “Whip It” doesn’t attempt anything overly-ambitious–it is, after all, a song about selling drugs–because most of the artistic derring-do was accomplished far in advance. TORII MACADAMS

24. Kevin Gates, “Really Really”

Gates’s career has been mired in regrettable mistakes and controversy lately, so perhaps this sonically stripped-down laundry list of boasts, sprinkled with a few rebukes to his critics, is meant to repair some of the damage done to his reputation. It’s slated for his debut album Islah, which will also feature ‘The Truth,” another single meant to tell his side of the story. This is a noble intention, and in a way it speaks to why this song is on our list, and why any other Gates song might make the list as well.

Regardless of his transgressions and personal peculiarities, Gates is great a rapper, one of the best doing it today.  He is a “lyrical song writer and he can sing,” just as the song says, but there’s more to it.  Every word he raps or sings, even when he’s not on the defensive, even when he’s boasting, sounds like a plea to the audience on his behalf.  He doesn’t assume his audience’s attention, doesn’t take it for granted, he works and begs for it.  And as an artist he earns it. ALEX PIYEVSKY 

23. Earl Sweatshirt, “Grief”

Misanthropy is the fifth element of hip-hop. You don’t have to look past the majors (or Twitter, really) to find a rapper dissatisfied with everyone and everything. It’s often sadboy posturing for the sake of sales, or feigned genuflection at the gilded altar of the ‘90s. But if you know the feeling, you know when it’s real. The first single off of Earl Sweatshirt’s second album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, “Grief,” is what happens when keeping it real goes wrong.

Backed by a slogging, subterranean funeral dirge, Sweatshirt is distrustful, paranoid, and bristling at the slightest provocation. His distaste for hook-reliant rappers is earned through an ascetic devotion to craft, but at what cost? He finds himself engaging in the same initially entertaining, but ultimately soul sucking enterprise of addiction and full-fledged debauchery as those he derides.

The song ends with Sweatshirt lamenting his grandmother’s passing, thinking about what it means to die. It could mean a coffin, but it might also mean wasted time and a fractured mind. Maybe you don’t identify with any of the above. Fine. Sweatshirt probably doesn’t dislike you any less. If you do, you know it’s hard to find grief this good elsewhere. MAX BELL

22. Kanye West f/ Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney, “All Day”

Kanye West premiered “All Day” this March with a BRIT-scaring performance, complete with ample censor beeps and hoards of black men clad in black hoodies waving black flamethrowers. And though the performance may have frightened our friends across the pond, at home we waited with bated breath for the CDQ, too-dirty-for-the-BBC version of the song to appear online and confirm what we were already thinking: Kanye West made another Perfect Song. (Or at least I was–the song ended up not sticking, and peaked at #15 on the Billboard Top 100.)

“All Day” is danceable, unlike its predecessor, “Wolves.” It’s musical, unlike anything on Yeezus save for “Bound 2.” Kanye ironically draws on the UK’s grime scene to create an all-American banger full of anti-American sentiment. Best of all, he uses his platform to answer the age-old question: if you don’t know the exact number of runners who are on your staff, but you can get a runner at any time, how many runners do you have on call? HALEY POTIKER 

21. Lil Herb, “L’s”

Lil Herb’s hurried, gravelly cadences have channelled some of drill music’s finest bludgeonings, but pair the clotted hi-hats with a soul sample and he’ll make you cry. Ballin’ Like I’m Kobe has several of the year’s best rap ballads (see also: “Peace of Mind” and “100 Days, 100 Nights”) but “L’s” is the most brutal. Herb’s hook flips a deadly omen, the letter used to rep Lamron and No Limit, into an alliterative plea for long life. The barely-20 old soul’s first verse reflects on middle school basketball, his two-parent home, and the madness that normalizes shootouts into target practice.

In the second, he’s too haunted by ghosts to even finish a list of lost friends, too burdened by his phone conversations with their mothers to understand what’s next. At the end he rushes through memories of studio sessions with Capo (the late Marvin Carr) like he’s desperate to leave the booth. His central question, “How would I live if God guaranteed my life was long?” has little faith in the possibility. The coldest and most vulnerable killer left standing. TOSTEN BURKS

20. NxWorries, “Suede”

He glides up in a bespoke candy-red LeMans that imbibes his swagger; mind the the suede interior and the wood grain steering wheel. Rims? But of course. He bequeaths Kelly and friend the honor of rolling with him tonight, but on his terms. That means get your unworthy hands off the tape deck. Tonight, it’s Marvin Gaye, Bloodstone, and–no, definitely not Barry White. Anderson .Paak divests himself of labels like “pimp” and “player” because his character on “Suede” is cooler than the Dolemite surrogates that Snoop and 50 used to play. Also his pierced septum would shatter the illusion. “Suede” is the non-canon origin myth of the American pimp, who may or may not be a pimp.

It’s the 40-years-later reboot soundtracked by prolific L.A. beatmaker Knxwledge instead of Willie Hutch. Smoothness and slick-talk are its virtues. Paak’s raspy singing and rapping bear a charisma that brightens every pearl of wisdom. “I’m far from a pimp, but I’m close to you,”–that’s obfuscation, a player move. When he’s this silky, Paak can make you believe anything. He is a pimp, after all. EVAN NABAVIAN 

19. Rich Homie Quan, “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)”

Rich Homie Quan didn’t have to flex. Perhaps influenced by the Sony leak to contribute to an ongoing discourse about the gender pay gap, “Flex” is a song about paychecks and paradoxes. For example, Quan has 3,000 hundred-dollar bills in the pocket of his skinny jeans (he “don’t wear big clothes like Ma$e”). You’d think he would need a briefcase for all that money, or at least some oversized Fubu gear. But “Flex” doesn’t only break rules of nature–it also breaks the rules of the Potiker household. Growing up, my father drilled it into us that we must never (1) talk about money, or (2) explain our own jokes. With “I only fuck with bitches for their toupee (their top, nigga),” Quan would cause my dad to shake his head disparagingly. I’m sorry, Dad.  HALEY POTIKER

18. Danny Brown & Clams Casino, “Worth It”

2015 went by without a new Danny Brown album, a distressing development in today’s fast moving rap landscape. Old’s two-pronged attack remains brilliant, but I want to hear The Bruiser tackle subsequent developments. Van you imagine him over 808 Mafia’s skulking darkness, or Slackk’s Asian abstractions? Until he comes up with his next shit, “Worth It” with Clams Casino will have to do.

While they both came up in the same era, this feels beamed straight out of next year: a hazy rush that defies standard beat counts. Clams’ beat sounds like Los Angeles-era Fly Lo and Danny muses on whether the price of celebrity is worth the pain and anguish that comes with, a standard trope that takes on heightened urgency thanks to the emcee’s deranged yelp. This isn’t punchline Danny Brown, nor is it Mr Turn Up: it’s DB at his weirdest and most unhinged, tapping into the rock star ID and staring into the void.  Suddenly his low profile actually makes sense. SON RAW

17. J-Zone, “Time for a Crime Wave”

As a gentrifying Midwestern transplant infecting Brooklyn, J-Zone gets me.  On “Time For A Crime Wave,” the national treasure offers the cure to noxious hipster entitlement, violent police, and the system that strips local culture away in favor of the invader’s comfort–a good ol’ fashioned crime spike.

Equally underrated as a social commentator and as a musician, “Time For A Crime Wave” is Public Enemy as interpreted through Tim Dog, with chaotic jazz and funk blends that disorient and captivate in equal measure. The bleak humor in J-Zone’s raps hides a genuine concern with the Disneyfied direction that New York City has moved toward over the last twenty-five years. “Time For A Crime Wave” is blunt and ballsy–threatening to whip a transplant’s ass for complaining 60K ain’t enough to live in the “cool” neighbors anymore. Your favorite could fucking never. DOC ZEUS

16. Ty Dolla Sign f/ Future & Rae Sremmurd, “Blase”

Y’all can keep that humorless, icy cold creeper The Weeknd. I need a wink in my kinky R&B. Thank the god of his “Saved” video, then, for Ty Dolla $ign, who is rich in both raunch and ridiculousness. Thanks to Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” which Ty wrote, he’s now also just plain rich, and thus debauched boys being debauched boys is the theme of “Blasé.” That it’s not another boring retread of that rapper-owned Maserati-travelled road is a testament to Ty’s rose-gold touch with hooks, even one that literally means “indifferent.” Dolla $ign knew smart money this year bet on Future, and so he led with Nayvadius slur-swallowing the chorus, saving his own warm, mapled voice to cozy up and smooth out the song. Pass the rosé. There are a lot of girls at this table. REBECCA HAITHCOAT

15. Ty Money, “United Center”

Robbed games of dice, shooters in rental cars, arrests with no warning. A black body, abandoned in front of the United Center, still wearing Jordans. A mother, in the morning cooking breakfast with no stove, in the evening interviewed on the news. Dense descending breathless flows over piano scales, power electric guitar, synth pads harmonizing with gregorian choral mourning.

The mayor and the Sun-Times lying, the blind leading the blind. Grandparents marching in the street. The city’s best lyricist dropped the most vivid and potent response to the CPD’s execution of Laquan McDonald by simply articulating everything outside the dash cam’s frame. — TOSTEN BURKS

14. Dr. Dre f/ Anderson .Paak, “Animals”

It would be a hell of a “Would You Rather” scenario: you get to tell your story in your own way or earn unimaginable wealth. It’s fortunate for Dr. Dre that he didn’t have to choose. Even though he netted $600+ million last year from selling Beats Electronics to Apple, Dre scored an arguably sweeter victory this past year with the twin releases of the biopic Straight Outta Compton and its accompanying album, Compton.
In a polarized and dramatic year for racial relationships, Dre cuts an intriguing figure. As he boasts elsewhere, he’s been a “millionaire before the headphones or the speakers”, but it’s impossible to interpret Dre’s words through a lens other than recent material triumph. On “Animals” Dre has a battered ferocity to his voice as he recounts the rage he’s felt throughout his life at the mercy of systems —justice, educational, economic—that have never had his best interests in mind.
But it’s the youthful voice of Anderson .Paak that gives the song real pathos. As he sings, “Please don’t come around these parts/ and tell me that we’re all a bunch of animals,” he actually sounds hungry and hurt, working through pain in real time. Media voyeurism of all kinds, not just sensationalist news reports but even so-called gangster rap, can have a deleterious effect on people’s views. By channeling unique, contextualized voices “Animals”  humanizes the struggle felt by millions. B MICHAEL PAYNE

13. Serengeti, “Dust Ruff”

Serengeti is the most terrifying rapper in the world. He’s not detailing grisly murder scenes or botched drug deals; the mensch from Chicago instead traffics in the slow decay that you don’t notice until it’s too late. Culinary school dreams turn into you pinning down tablecloths at Little Caesars. The tattoos on your third-favorite stripper’s thigh are fading. His Kenny Dennis character speaks to all of that—the complacency, the eroding self-awareness—but when the music comes under Geti’s own byline, it’s somehow even more unsettling. There are too many ill-fitting delivery aprons for it to be funny anymore. So he hops and skips from motel to half-empty strip club to diner to the unemployment office. And back again. And back again. — PAUL THOMPSON

12. Prince Metropolis Known, “Troy Ave Sucks”

Most people outgrow their indignation at blasphemies like auto-tune, skinny jeans, and Danny Brown’s hair. Not Troy Ave, the self-anointed leader of a crusade to overthrow the “weirdos” and restore New York rap to its bygone dominance. Prince Metropolis Known is an obscure ex-Kool Keith protege whose eccentricities include wearing a lion’s mane and citing The Chronicles of Narnia. He has no place in Troy Ave’s caliphate. Rap beef is a pissing contest between primadonnas animated by passive aggressive social media and ad hominem attacks. Not so on “Troy Ave Sucks,” where Metropolis cuts down Troy Ave with substantiated criticism delivered via battle rap screed. Per the many examples, Troy Ave’s aesthetic is generic, his hype manufactured, and his mission cynical.

Unwittingly, Metropolis offers the manifesto for anyone who’s been admonished for liking rap music made after 2001. The irony is that Metropolis’ delivery is rooted in New York’s late 80s golden era. He claims he had his diapers changed by Grand Mixer D.ST. Metropolis slays the pretender using ancient weapons. According to Jeff’s story at Noisey, Junkadelic Music might have been pressured into taking the song down from SoundCloud. So we listen to a second-hand upload and the song gets the allure of a censored text. Music journalists are in awe of Prince Metropolis Known because he tore down rap’s most regressive tendencies with a trenchant, persuasive wit to which we aspire. Nostalgia isn’t substance. The future is not the past. Troy Ave sucks.  EVAN NABAVIAN

11. Sauce Walka, “Wack 2 Wack”

The unvarnished, unalloyed cruelty of “Wack 2 Wack” has earned Sauce Walka rap music’s 2015 Player Hater of the Year award. The runner-up– Ghostface Killah, for lecturing Action Bronson with stereo remote control in-hand–didn’t receive a single first place vote. “Wack 2 Wack” is legitimately shocking in its disregard for decency; Sauce Walka mocks Drake’s ethnicity, asserts Drake got an STI from the carnally prolific Jhonni Blaze, and, most incredibly, claims that he menaced Drake and his posse of talentless geeks at a Houston steakhouse.

Sauce Walka’s vitriol is particularly potent because there’s not a quark of the erstwhile Canuck’s lumpy existence with which Walka can identify. Sauce Walka is a convicted felon and avowed Blood, who reportedly first sipped lean in a family member’s SLAB. Drake is a former soap opera star turned jealous Facebook stalker, who may have learned how to dance by watching my painfully arrhythmic Beatnik father. The difference between the former and the latter is so great that Sauce Walka can’t pronounce “Aubrey” properly. He’s too real to recognize that combination of phonemes. — TORII MACADAMS

10. Kodak Black, “Ran Up A Check”

In October–the most Drakely month of the year–Drake uploaded a grainy, VHS-style video to Instagram, which showed him half-dancing to Kodak Black’s “Skrt.” In response, Earl Sweatshirt tweeted “drake found kodak black? smh welp,” and further elaborated, in multiple tweets,  “…drake can be a bit of a vulture on young rap niggas and i don’t want lil kodak to be a victim of it…I still feel like drake overall statement isn’t ‘check out this new shit I heard’ it’s always self serving…aye but just like the line between paying homage and wave riding is a blurry so is the one between giving criticism and hating”. Perhaps wisely, Kodak Black himself never entered the fray; much of his agency, with regard to widespread exposure, was subsumed by Drake and Earl. Besides, “Skrt” wasn’t even his best work.

“Ran Up A Check,” unceremoniously uploaded to YouTube three weeks after Lil’ Kodak was released from a rural Virginia juvenile detention center, was his self-appointed summer jam. A rapper with more intricate designs on stardom would’ve foregrounded “Ran Up A Check”’s  pastel ooh-ooh’s with tales of desperate, seasonal romance–not Kodak. He’s incontrovertibly himself: an 18 year-old who receives prison phone calls from a friend called JackBoy, a gold-grilled selfie-taker, a recidivist criminal with “Sniper” tattooed on his face. Therein lies the magic. The soundtrack to Pompano Beach’s teenaged shenanigans could be the soundtrack to a Williamsburg rooftop barbecue. — TORII MACADAMS

9. Cam & China, “Run Up”

Let A Bitch Run Up. Cam and China’s “Run Up” is the tough girl anthem we didn’t know we were missing. The sibling duo best known for their brief stint of Los Angeles regional fame with five-piece rap group Pink Dollaz returned this year with a warning shot. Though their SoundCloud is littered with promise (is this the best sibling rap duo since Clipse?), “Run Up” stands out for its tenacity and menace. The Jay-Nari produced backtrack rattles with Bay Area influence, and the sisters’ attitudes have a Born To Mack swagger.

Run Up” is both a vicious diss track and an apathetic eye roll. The subjects of Cam and China’s scorn are distinct–the basic bitch, the baby momma, the girl who runs her mouth but can’t back it up–but fluid enough to seem like universal irritants. Lyrics are delivered with a taunting sneer: “You can have him cuz yo nigga he don’t eat it right/ that pussy clean keep it fresh like a suit and tie/ man i don’t want him i just fuck him for the exercise.” This is Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” for girls who laugh at Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”. This is Mean Girls from the perspective of the “unfriendly black hotties” table. Better yet–this is Cam and China. HALEY POTIKER 

8. Freddie Gibbs, “Fuckin’ Up the Count”

A common criticism of Freddie Gibbs’ career to date is that he doesn’t have a distinct, personal sound. Not surprising given his versatility and unusual rap origin. “Fuckin Up The Count” is one of several songs in his vast catalogue that exhibit what Freddie Gibbs’ “sound” is. Untraceable/region-less production, in this case driven by minor-Fender Rhodes piano keys, a memorable hook, supreme vocal technique, sly nods to his influences, and an overall air of menace. That’s the Gibbs formula.

“Fuckin Up The Count” adds dread and helplessness to that menace. Dread derived from the expertly deployed The Wire dialogue samples, and helplessness from sing-song verses packed with casually tossed off snapshots of the narrow set of options available to many young Black boys that find themselves in circumstances similar the ones Freddie Gibbs came through.  There’s something morbid about singing along to a line like “teacher told me go get a job, I said where the scale at” but that’s the sort of melodically moral quandary Gibbs is a master at presenting in his music and one of the many reasons some believe his best work might still be ahead of him, despite the quality of his latest effort. MOBB DEEN

7. Nef the Pharaoh, “Big Tymin'”

Though the Warriors stay winning, it’s been a sad and relatively quiet year for Bay Area rap. The Jacka was taken too soon. 40 and $hort contributed a few guest verses you may or may not have heard. Su, Sage, and the rest of HBK slowed significantly in the wake of their ascendance last year. 100s discovered Prince and INXS and changed his name (RIP 100s). L-Deez’s Lamborghini Ferrari is still criminally underplayed, and Ezale only released one song. Fortunately, Nef the Pharaoh decreed that he is “ballin like Baby.”

“Big Tymin’” is now in regular rotation at Power 106, the L.A. radio station where hip-hop sometimes hangs out. You don’t need analytics from Silicon Valley to tell you that bridging the Bay-to-L.A. gap makes it a veritable hit. More importantly, it’s a hit that wasn’t pushed by the majors. Instead, the single’s rise was as organic as everything in your favorite Vallejo dispensary. Words and cadences from Big Tymers hits like “Still Fly” and “Oh Yeah” are invoked, but never excessively or in poor taste. Nef succeeds because he captures the feeling of feeling like your favorite rapper. The definition of “ballin” is expanded as he relays fluid and relaxed rhymes over YunGas’ Bayou flavored slaps. Fiscal and Sybaritic pleasures are celebrated, but so is fatherhood. If you ask anyone in the Bay, it was Nef’s summer. MAX BELL

6. Boogie, “Oh My”

From Jesus Christ to Justin Bieber, we’ve always been drawn to people publicly wrestling with demons. While Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was the most obvious on-the-record example this year, it was also too obvious (c’mon, “Lucy”?). And hey, good on him for managing to keep his personal life so private in the age of Snapgram, but the lack of any behind-the-music access coupled with his ever-increasing list of off-limits interview topics left me feeling a little cold.

More compelling was underdog L.A. via Long Beach rapper Boogie. Browse his Instagram, and it’s clear he loves daddy duty, posting videos of his happy little boy hamming it up for the camera and subsequently melting my heart (Darius for Kid President). But family isn’t always confined to blood relation, as the sea of red flooding the screen in the video for “Oh My” shows. With Jahlil Beats’ production swerving from royal and righteous to skittering and paranoid, “Oh My” captures Boogie’s internal conflict both sonically and lyrically. When he raps about waking up for school and walking out into his gang-infested neighborhood, you assume he’s thinking not just of his past, but of his baby’s present. The “can’t leave these streets alone” rhetoric was tired, but our voyeurism plus Boogie’s social media vulnerability made the struggle feel real and the stakes high again.

What’s that? You haven’t stalked Boogie’s gram?  “Oh My” is still a hell of a mainstream introduction, complete with a vivid backstory, beasty verses and an anthemic hook that’s kid friendly. Good luck finding another song like that in 2015. REBECCA HAITHCOAT 

5. Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

The love of God is far stronger than any rebuke of man. As young black men who have practically grown up trying to get out of going to church on Sunday, some of us may have caught this lesson once or twice in those moments of actually listening to the sermon being delivered. Kendrick Lamar captures the essence of this lesson through conflict, painkillers that “only put [him] in the twilight,” reparations, and the devil himself. Kendrick has always been at his best when putting himself at the forefront of the tumult, touching on the allure of vice and temptation. Here, he’s weary and downtrodden, at his pastor’s door looking for the reason we all ask ourselves as some point: “If God is real and His love is real, why does it feel like I’m being dragged through shit?”

Alright” is the affirmation of victory through trying times and failure, whether personal or societal. “And we hate po-po/ Wanna kill us dead in the streets fo sho” is an outcry we black folks have been practicing pretty much since the concept of police was institutionalized, but feels particularly topical in an era where malfeasance can’t be swept away because everybody has a camera on their cell phone. These are indeed trying times we live in, and the odds against us have safety in numbers, but underlying sentiment on “Alright” is that human beings are resilient creatures, and whether it’s being robbed by potential car-jackers, the rap industry, or American society, adversity is something people have a knack for overcoming. DOUGLAS MARTIN

4. Vince Staples, “Norf Norf”

Norf Norf” starts with an attempt at escape. The Vince Staples of summers past is dancing at a party, trying to coerce a member of the opposite gender into backseat aerobics. Meanwhile, Crip compatriots lurk in a unlit whip, waiting to pierce young men and midnight with lead projectiles. The function only distracts from the latter until it doesn’t. Someone may have dissed the set. The party recedes as more thoughts of retaliation surface.

Rapping over foghorns and clanging percussion stripped from the city’s shipyards, Staples details life on the north side of Long Beach. Yankee hats and brown bandanas are symbols of unity as much as targets for opposition passing through Ramona Park. It’s safer to stay home and armed than it is to go to school without a tech. Narcotics are sold by father and son. Guns are stashed in the home of every friend and relative.

Ultimately, “Norf Norf” is one of the most incisive and self-aware gangsta rap songs of the last decade. The quick shift from clipped revelry to emptied clips illustrates the impossibility of ignoring the violence. Each action and reaction, no matter how horrifying, is explained away. The ends may not justify the means, but nothing is just. When you can’t run from L.A. County’s 82nd most dangerous city (out of 270), or wait for the change promised by politicians, engaging in the chaos is its own twisted escape.   MAX BELL

3. Future, “March Madness” / “News Or Somthn”

The self-destructive, narcissistic savant creates his magnum opus in the throes of unknowable heartbreak. Future’s 2015 resurgence reads like the second act of a prestige biopic where long-sought success perverts our hero’s heart and unlocks his genius. 56 Nights is nominally inspired by his DJ’s detention in an Arabian prison, but it’s haunted by Future’s break-up with the mother of his child, as documented by acrid social media and gossip sites. Did the maker of “Tony Montana” and “Same Damn Time” recognize himself in People magazine? Much less in the opulent bacchanal of the “Honest” video? “March Madness” is a drug binge in search of normalcy amid a vortex of money, sex, drugs, guns, cars, diamonds, and social upheaval.

Future swears to himself that he’s real. His Aston Martin puts him beyond the reach of police and parasites, but he turns to lean and molly when he can’t stunt on his demons. Sexual conquests are distractions as much as trophies. “We the ones that kept it cool,”  he tells himself. The choked timbre of his voice betrays misery. Despite the admonishments of all things fake, the gun in his pants, the naked women in the next room, and the grandiose 808 Mafia production, Future recognizes a lost cause before the song starts: “Dress it up and make it real for me.” He laughs. “Whatever that fuckin’ means.” EVAN NABAVIAN 

It was exactly a decade ago that Lil Wayne traded Gillie Da Kid for a near-lethal cocktail of drugs and hunger and, through sheer force of will, made himself the biggest rap star on the planet. After the December 2005 release of Tha Carter II, the Louisianan dropped hundreds of freestyles, guest verses, and complete songs across no fewer than a dozen official mixtapes and countless bootleg collections. He leveraged that into buzz for Tha Carter III, which sold a million records in a week when it dropped in June of 2008.

Plenty of rappers use free releases as stopgaps or to establish themselves in the first place—in any other year, Young Thug would have been the undeniable MVP without once showing up on a retail manifest. But Future was the first artist since Wayne to use a string of mixtapes to vault himself from the top of rap’s B-list to its very pinnacle. Unlike Wayne, Future’s downward/upward spiral was neatly organized into three mixtapes and a solo album. You can trace the codeine and heartbreak right from your Apple Music widget. And yet, the best song Future made in 2015 fell through the cracks completely.

Released just weeks before Dirty Sprite 2 hit #1 at Billboard, “News Or Somthn” is Future at his most delightfully unhinged. He details his shooters’ wardrobe (leather Cartier, of course), lies to the ex he’s definitely over (“I just wanna see you happy”), and stares sardonically at his enemies (“Hope you didn’t do it to yourself, that’s tragic”). How much sorrow can you fit in Magic City? — PAUL THOMPSON

2. Jamie xx f/ Young Thug & Popcaan, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”

“I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” is the moment Jeffrey Williams became an icon. It’s “Hey Ya” for a generation that suffered through one of our country’s worst recessions, the militarization of American police against black citizens, and domestic terrorist threats every day of the week. It’s a hopeful song for hopeless times. There’s no phrase this year that could sum up the feeling of sheer joy in the face of utter bleakness like:


For a crop of kids who don’t have many job prospects or the promise that the world will slowly stop moving towards its eventual heat death, sometimes escapist music is all you have. Jamie xx’s sample of The Persuasions’ 1971 song “Good Times” should be too on-the-nose, but ends up being transcendent instead. Think about it: “I know there’s gonna be good times” is the most nonsensical statement for a year where the Earth literally felt like it was falling apart. But the irony of the track’s message coupled with its surprising leading men make it a remarkably prescient hit. Popcaan and Thug croon, yelp, and bark inside and outside the confines of their respective genres, until the genetic codes of Jamaican dancehall and hip-hop begin to blur into a mess of alleles and chromosomes.

“Good Times” sounds like the type of promethazine-laced BBQ music you can pull up on your kids in 2029 screaming “you don’t know nothing about this”.

“Good Times” is the inauguration song we’re going to play when Peewee Longway finally takes the White House 2030.

“Good Times” is the song we’re going to play in 2035 when Future finally stops his 20-year-long mixtape run after winning back Ciara.

“Good Times” is a lot of things, but above all it’s hopeful. It’s druggy, timeless, pop, thuggish, menacing, delightful, full of wonder. This song can be put on anywhere in the world and it wouldn’t feel out of place. All you need to hear is “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times” and for that split second maybe you’ll even believe it. DAN FROM THE INTERNET

1. YG, “Twist My Fingaz”

In a bomplicated world, it’s important to appreciate simplicity. For the last six summers, Keenon Jackson has written West Coast anthems as easily as he once flocked houses. His songs swerve left and right like the light and dark dialectic of most great Southern California artists— Raymond Chandler to Suga Free, Nathaniel West to Nathaniel Hale. Joan Didion said that “the city is burning is LA’s deepest image of itself.” YG just went to sleep flamed up.

This is palm trees and pistols music. Hydraulic bounce and high socks, lowriders and red rags—timeless as a suntan or Tam burger. In the same bar, YG can be hilarious and terrifying, menacing and realistic. He makes party music that could soundtrack a double murder.

If he hates doing interviews, it’s because a song like “Twist My Fingaz” answers all the questions. You want to know what happened when he got shot? He tried to pop first, got popped back, got hit in the hip, [and] couldn’t pop back. He walked out the same hospital the same day.

There’s a reason why he’s the only one who made it out the West without Dre. This song sinks into the marrow of everyone from San Pedro to Santa Clarita. It’s our DNA re-combined and riding a Ray Parker Jr. and Raydio sample—the same one originally lifted for Coolio. In this instance, Terrace Martin laced YG with a vocoder spiritual, the best G-Funk beat since “California Love,” a reminder that Mustard needed YG first, and not the other way around.

The moment that hook hits, you intuitively understand how to blood or C-Walk without ever having been in the set. Your fingers automatically twist into a W. If you’re wearing bellbottoms, your pants automatically cuff. For four minutes and fifteen seconds, you’re invincible. If Kendrick made songs to soundtrack a movement, Y.G. made one to incite it.

It’s dumb to create false binaries between the two Compton artists; they have much more in common than might superficially appear. But it’s also lame to reduce the value of one type of music over the other. Both are important for balance. In this case, Y.G. created a civic anthem that can stand alongside “Gin & Juice” or “Nuthin’ But a G Thang.” This too is the city’s deepest image of itself.

It’s true that Kendrick is probably the one you’d want to hear have a conversation with ‘Pac. They’re cerebral artists obsessed with ecclesiastical themes, repentance, and righting racial wrongs. But YG has the rare gift of effortlessness. He makes the kind of music you can listen to over and over, songs that cut across age and area code. This is how the West Coast feels. And after the interview is over, this is what ‘Pac would be bumping the moment he got behind the wheel. — Jeff Weiss