The 50 Best Hip-Hop Songs of 2011 (#50-1)

Everything the White Girl Mob learned, they learned from the above commercial. This is no time for circumlocution.  There are songs to argue about. Everything is explained below. Some guys got it,...
By    December 16, 2011

Everything the White Girl Mob learned, they learned from the above commercial. This is no time for circumlocution.  There are songs to argue about. Everything is explained below. Some guys got it, some guys don’t.

ZIP: V/A – The Passion of the Weiss Top 50 Songs (Left Click)

Alt Link: V/A – Passion of the Weiss Top 50 Songs (Left-Click)

Related — Passion of the Weiss Top Hip Hop Songs List: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007

50.  “Wale-“Chain Music”

“Chain Music” is the year’s best club banger. Wale’s willful ignorance, his semi-invented slang (“geechi”), and the track’s body-moving bass combine to make “Chain Music” a banger that’s cool like “Lean Back” instead of goofy like “No Hands.” That’s a feat in an age when party songs are often just memes. Wale bottles up rap’s contradictions and laughs about them – he’s above flaunting his chains, but has so much fun doing it (“Tried to give ’em light in a message, / But you’d rather have some fuckin’ VVSes”). But central to “Chain Music” is the call-and-response hook which I was chanting before I finished listening to the song for the first time. – Evan Nabavian

49. Fat Trel-“Rolling”

D.C. rapper Fat Trel made his name by tearing through menacing mechanical bangers so “Rollin” is initially a bit light in the ass. Percolating synths, snaps, pumping electro bass and a bored girl chanting on the chorus comes off like the Cataracs. Yet Trel kicks through “Rollin” like it’s a Lex Luger beat, his throaty Diamond District-bellow weaving between the peaking light synths and slaps on the verses. . P-popping stretches further with Trel’s incredibly thick D.C. accent, each P spat like a bullet as Trel careens off the instrumental. He twists and flips syllables extolling his love for ecstasy, finding new ways to brag about his E consumption. When Trel’s off three, he can drink a whole oceanHe’s “got an athlete, she be rollin on the job/ she can swim a mile geeked up, no problem.” Molly’s finally got its “5 On It”. – – Aaron Matthews


BLK HRTS rap like they’re trying to stick you up for your soul. Should you crank “SX, DRGS, VLNC, MNY, and DTH” loud enough, gargoyles will head-bang on basilicas. This is sly confessional, gothic nail-gun rap to make Death Grips look like Death Cab. Sex. Drugs. Violence. Money. Death. The ox blood basics. Art rap the way Arthur Rimbaud would’ve wanted it. Pistols and pocket change. Rapacious greed and songs scarred with knives and naked whores. BLK HRTS are three dudes from Denver, with serrated drug-ruined lungs, who remember when Onyx and M.O.P. made people want to throw furniture. Even if you have Ikea, this will make you want to slam dance, tear clubs up, or commit random acts of arson. In a year when artists unearthed horror-core shards every six feet, BLK HRTS burrowed deeper. Why dig a grave when you can dive straight to hell? –Jeff Weiss

47. Cappadonna-“Can’t Believe It’s Him”

When I heard “Can’t Belive It’s Him” off the surprisingly dope LP The Pilgrimage, I really couldn’t believe it was Cappadonna from the Wu-Tang Clan. Diggler. The Cab Driver. The dart specialist who gets treacherous but hasn’t been coherent since 1998. I can’t believe it’s him. Grown man slickness. Goofy block party chants. Memories of jakes throwing bracelets on the god at Totenville High School. Shaolin jazz. Breakbeats that glide. “Can’t Believe It’s Him” is Pretty Toney-era Ghostface on a Diamond D/Buckwild bender. Uptown Saturday Night with Slick Rick in the portrait. Donna Jay Bird making toasts for fly honies, and that’s word bond. Can’t believe it’s him.–Zilla Rocca

46. Rittz-“Rattle Back”

Lots of white rappers rhyme fast to cover up terrible rap voices or mask their lack of lyrics. Rittz does it because it comes natural. A disciple of Big Pun, Twista and Bone Thugs, he twists syllables and harmonizes like he was born to do it. He sips Bacardi and ginger ale and rides with a girl who looks like Paris Hilton. DJ Burn One creates a consummate trunk rattler, blending driving operatic strings with thunderous bass. Rittz spills syllables like Tech N9ne on speed. In the iPod era, dedications to car systems are few and far between, making “Rattle Back” all the more special. Welcome to 2011, where a white boy can make the best riding song of the year. “Rattle Back” will make your mama’s Gremlin feel like a Maybach fresh off the dealership.–Aaron Matthews

45. Starlito-“Felt Like Givin Up”

Starlito is leagues beyond trap rap’s single-minded aggression, so much so that it’s unfair to place him in the genre just because his songs are needled with hi-hats. His voice shakes with a young man’s pain as he describes the helplessness of his situation, “I felt like giving up before, I swear to God. / Ain’t got no work, ain’t got no job, caught another charge.” Lil Lody’s beat is based on death knells and a spiraling, paranoid melody, but it’s Lito’s fiery double time flow that really stokes your blood pressure. I graduated from college a year ago and I listened to “Felt Like Giving Up” every time I got rejected by an employer. The universality of “Felt Like Giving Up” isn’t just in its message, but in the youthful venom behind it. – Evan Nabavian

44. Zilla Rocca & Has Lo – “Full Spectrum”

The timing for “Full Spectrum’s” late October video release could have hardly been more appropriate. Documenting a late summer trip to New Jersey’s Asbury Park, it rendered the cut’s protagonists, Zilla Rocca and Has-Lo, against a backdrop of the city’s faded glories, including the Empress Hotel, its old heating plant, and gutted Asbury Park Casino. The visuals, popping with their saturated Super 8 colors, remind you how a change in season seems to compartmentalize time and compel it to pass more quickly, meaning “Full Spectrum” could almost be from another era entirely. It makes the song a product of the fall, and rightly so: the flows here have their share of braggadocio, but they also rattle with an analogue nostalgia that goes beyond Biggie and Ice T references to the rappers’ own experiences of air force uncles and hand-me-down leathers, trips to California, manila envelops and silent winters. Zilla and Has-Lo deliver their lyrics via a rattling Dr Quandary beat and descending guitar sample that any other MC would sell their mother for. Preferred dosage? Order the vinyl, light one up, find something with valves, and enjoy. Play it on your iPod if you must but be careful: it’ll rust the leaves on the trees if you walk too close. – Matt Shea

43. The Grimm Teachaz ft. Son Doobie – “I Getz”

I’m not going to try to trick you. I already did that once. No one got it. Tha Grimm Teachaz weren’t really signed to Jive Records in 1993. This video never aired on YO! MTV Raps. The KDZ, Kenny Dennis, The Killer Deacon is Serengeti. The Prime Midnight Dark Force is really Hi-Fidel. Son Doobie is really Son Doobie. “I Getz” is a joke—easily the best hip-hop lampoon since Lonely Island. But its tone is totally unique. This isn’t ‘93 parody per se. This is high concept full-length comic rap-opera, the sort that no one has successfully attempted since A Prince Among Thieves. Serengeti and Hi-Fidel grew up on the Golden Age. But rather than attempt to pass off some frozen yogurt mimesis of boom-bap, they built an entire world around an album allegedly suspended in amber. Their story was that Jive gypped them and the album was shelved. The video was found almost 20 years later. Here it is fresh from 93. Beats, rhymes, flows, patterns, age-tinted color tones, the dial perfectly stopped on the true year of the Funky Child. Son Doobie hasn’t aged a bit. —Jeff Weiss

42. Killer Mike -“Ric Flair”

Ric Flair was a loud, flashy wrestler with irrepressible charisma, a taste for expensive clothes, and an unexplainable hold over women. He was in a lot of ways the first rapping wrestler. Killer Mike’s track is not the first rap song dedicated to Ric Flair (Cam’ron has that honour) but in many ways Mike taps into what Ric represented to rap music: unstoppable braggadocio. Three verses sum up what makes Killer Mike great: a blend of wisdom (“Long as you chase money, you ain’t gotta chase women”), big balling “(getting buried like a pharaoh”) and ignorance (“got two Nickis menaging for the Gucci”). The stomping drums and soulful crooning backing Mike makes it sound like a inauguration address, Killa Kill addressing the people from behind a golden podium. Just some game for a student from a teacher, and you’d be wise to pay attention. Wooo. – Aaron Matthews

41. Berner ft. Big Krit, Wiz Khalifa-“Yoko Ono”

Berner is what would happen if you merged the lesser talent of N2 Deep with Turtle from Entourage. I have no clue how he lucked into this beat and line-up of guest stars, but imagine that it involved massive quantities of illicit goods moving out of Vallejo. You can probably guess what “Yoko Ono” is about. Even that was lucky. How is it possible that by 2011 no rapper thought to call a song about Asian women, “Yoko Ono.” You win again, Berner, you always do.

Riding a flute sample that sounds like if Jay-Z’s “Things U Do” had been intended for a Jackie Chan soundtrack, Wiz, Chris “Murphy” Brown, and K.R.I.T. pretty much ignore the metaphor. So does Berner save for his rhetorical question: “where all the bad asian bitches at?” I don’t even think he knows. The other dudes are here to collect their checks and appear at the video shoot to flirt with ersatz Ono’s. That’s okay. Sometimes rap can be pretty bad but completely great. This is a big dumb banger that takes you back to the era of Bob Bellamy. No one tell Yoko Ono about it. If Rosa Parks thought she had a right to sue Outkast…–Jeff Weiss

40. DaVinci – “Smoke the Night Away (ft. Rae Rosero)”

DaVinci may never top the Billboard charts or be featured on a Drake song. None of his songs will likely used in a gritty New York-based gangster film or even a man child-driven summer comedy. Trendy is antithetical to everything that DaVinci stands for—the Bay Area rapper is about one thing, and one thing only—his “fucking gwapo.” If you’re not an asset, you’re a fucking liability. In other words, “Smoke the Night Away” isn’t a coping mechanism to deal with the harsh realities of the Fillmore projects he comes from, but rather a way of life.

His no-bullshit cash-rules-everything-around-him raps convey both a sense of environment-caused desperation and never-stressed cool. You can almost picture DaVinci mopping his brow while laying down his verses in a dingy, smoke-filled recording booth as undercurrents of G-funk-y synths bubble underneath the track’s austere ski mask-and-getaway van surface. “Solid niggas see me, show respect, and give me dap” he raps, and for a live-and-die-by-your-word hustler like DaVinci, that’s the ultimate indicator of success. –Renato Pagnani

39. Jonwayne ft. Blqbird-“Experiment 17”

In a year when LA’s Low End Theory collective family put out some of the game’s most compelling and progressive hip-hop, young Jonwayne had an all-too-quietly impressive year, dropping spacey, angry Nintendo beat tapes and eloquent rapper-producer projects with the same genius carelessness and casual electronic polish.

On I Don’t Care, the 21-year-old basement dweller spits verses of refreshingly deep lyrical and personal exploration over punchy, contemplative, moody jazz samples sliced and dusted into easy forward-motion that takes note of its beautiful, offbeat surroundings, as best displayed by “Experiment 17.” Along with an excellent guest verse by Blqbrd, Jonwayne’s ambiguous observations and messages (“The pain’s just a piff, bang your spliff against the blacker wall”) are anchored by a beat so clean and pure and simple, with the perfect amount of art-house detail, heavily distorted background crooning, faint left-ear alien echoes, occasional lonely, isolated beeps. Low End’s most low key 2011 release is the perfect mellow balance to the subterranean celebration that was Blu, FlyFlo, and company’s No York. It’s also a peek at the family’s next star.-Tosten Burks

38. Snoop Dogg-“My Own Way (ft. Mr. Porter)”

Snoop Dogg is worse than useless without a dope producer next to him. It’s apparent on Doggumentary where the only worthwhile songs depend on beats from Jake One, Mr. Porter, and Battlecat. But I prefer the optimist’s view: Doggumentary has beats from Jake One, Mr. Porter, and Battlecat! As much as Snoop loves the records that keep him famous, he still has an ear for gangsta revelry and theatrics. And when he’s doing fan service, he does more than just crudely imitate his records from 18 years ago. “My Own Way” features a midnight black beat from Dr. Dre’s chief deputy Mr. Porter. Snoop reveals a dormant ruthlessness tapered off by 40+ years on Earth and Porter sings the melancholy hook. This is the kind of record I’d be happy to hear on Detox – icy, straightforward, and evolved. – Evan Nabavian

37. Raekwon ft. Rick Ross & Ghostface Killah-“Molasses”

“Molasses” plays out like a low-key mob movie directed by the Wu Gambinos (no Donald Glover). There are the runners in camo jackets hanging out on park benches at 3am, the shooters driving expensive cars behind them for protection. Workers bag crack in the backseat of a luxury whip. Raekwon parties at Stephen King’s digs with a dancer named Britney while holding the wedding ring of a woman named after Martin Luther King Jr’s widow. But have you ever expected Wu-Tang’s dynamic duo to play it straight? Rae compares himself to the Blair Witch while Ghostface eyes those “Warn a Brother” tees always being peddled at shirt stands. Kilos in coffins and rocket launchers are smuggled through customs, the latter being a present from a surefire candidate for Auntie of the Year. Just another drive through the underworld with Rae and Ghost over a track that flips the sample from “Shadowboxin'”?

Until the elephant in the room grunts preceding his arrival halfway through. With his booming voice threatening to mangle the mournful trumpets into scrap metal, Rick Ross dubs himself the Timeline Strangler and his goons having irregular bathing habits due to their ankle monitors. The Bawse huffs and stomps his way through his verse, brimming with confidence and challenging confrontation like a bull in the back of the Italian restaurant. Slurping spaghetti and clutching Uzis in sports cars in a haze of angel dust smoke? Get Scorsese on it. — Douglas Martin

36. Propain [Feat. J-Dawg] – “Real Talk”

“Real Talk” is the type of snarling, world weary banger that Clifton Harris Jr. once perfected before an unfortunate addiction to jail time and sugary Jim Jonsin pop fluff completely de-fanged him. Luckily, standout Houstonian newcomer, Propain, is around to remind us of the importance of delivering the appropriate anthem for struggling hustlers and people without many options everywhere. It can be thankless work.

Propain’s voice thunders with a scathingly sincere anger on “Real Talk” about growing up piss broke, having his father leave him after “the magnum burst” and despite having a college education, few real options other than turning to drugs. His verses drip with a pained sense of self-awareness that places him as perhaps the finest young star in what Houston rap guru (and the Passion’s very own) Shea Serrano describes as the “New Houston Collective.” Not to be overlooked, fellow Houston hardhead, J-Dawg, is as ornery and ill-tempered as ever, barking threats and playing the meaner counterpart to Propain’s weary everyman. “Real Talk” is the best track on 2010’s criminally overlooked mixtape, #Departure,” and demonstrates why Propain could be primed for big things when the rap world’s fickle gaze inevitably turns back to Houston.  —Doc Zeus

35. Ka – “Cold Facts

Character is who you are in the dark. In Brownsville, it’s dark and hell is hot, and that’s the gutter where Ka and them chill. The first track off the Roc Marciano collaborator’s Grief Pedigree project, Ka’s “Cold Facts” is the year’s most uncompromising rap single, its sole ambition to be absorbed. With a throat full of gravel, Ka describes a Brownville beyond good and evil with nouns, not adjectives. It’s a staring contest with the abyss. “Praise me when I’m dead, make bread when I’m breathing. Can’t take it when I’m leaving. Judge me too quick, mistake me as a heathen.” This is what rap sounded like 5,000 years ago.–Barry Schwartz

34. Nacho Picasso ft. Jarv Dee-“Moor Gang”

An oozing, slapping deconstruction of synthy ambience, “Moor Gang” is not just Seattle-upstart Nacho Picasso’s dopest song of the year, it’s also 2011’s most successful example of endearing earworm nerd rap in a year that brought to prominence many bad nerd rappers. “I got an odd flow/One that the gods quote,” Picasso starts the song, succinctly introducing a soft, low-breath, nasally snarl that earnestly stages the swift, stoned stories and speculations of an immature comic book lover with swag. He probably even watches Archer.

“Big butts and boobs/blunts and booze/Watching Ninja Turtle II: Secret of the Ooze/With my Steven Urkel frames and my custom-made shoes,” Picasso slurs, showing off the thesis of his personality. He is a thuggin’ black dweeb rapping simply because he loves weaving ridiculous boasts and internal rhymes about eye boogers and Andre the Giant, not because some TV star told him it was okay for black people to do so. He plays a very specific and new hip-hop character and he plays it well because he doesn’t draw attention to the newness of playing that character. He is childish, no need for labeling it as such. –-Tosten Burks

33. The Cool Kids ft. Bun B-“Gas Station”

Chuck Inglish and (Sir?) Mikey Rocks rose to prominence three years ago with music that sounded like the most swagged-out STOMP performance ever. It makes sense that an official debut might make a little more use of things you can actually find in a studio. So, for better or for worse, When Fish Ride Bicycles is a little less minimal and a little more musical. Whether it is worth the wait and the hype and the invention of the term hipster-rap or not, there are, like, instruments on here. Real ones. Guitars and full drum sets. They are fresh, but also often ill-used by people who clearly don’t instinctively play them.

The album is most successful when the duo flexes its musicality but remembers the trashcan origins, as on “Gas Station.” The simple hook, the patient kick drum and snaps, and Mikey’s smooth-talk laziness (“Throw it in reverse for a shorty with the works/Write my number on some paper then throw it in her purse/As I ride by, first things first/nine times out of ten that cool ahit usually works”) all recall vintage Cool Kids, and when blended with the polished synths, clean electric guitar licks, and Bun B celebrity feature — purely above-ground opportunities — the track is a major label triumph. At the intersection of old and new. Haven’t The Cool Kids always been about refreshing the past? —Tosten Burks

32. Common & Nas – “Ghetto Dreams”

Common and Nas, two rap veterans unimpeachable at their apex, but who share a penchant for tedious pontification, release a song called “Ghetto Dreams.” Looks promising on paper, but that’s not always a sure thing. So it was a fantastic surprise when “Ghetto Dreams” wasn’t a hard-to-define exploration of “dreams.” Instead, the two men spit three great verses about women over epic production from No ID, both sounding more rejuvenated than they have since the beginning of last decade.

Common sounds like a cagey teenager, asking for “a bitch who looks good and cooks good” and whose titties aren’t fake, imagining a combination of LL’s around-the-way girl and Beyonce. Nas slips knowing self-criticism into the front end of his verse, promising to stay focused on women instead of leaping all over the place. Then he starts spitting reckless, talking about his explicit experiences with female lawyers and congresswomen, threatening to take your woman, not so he can smoke weed with her, but to buy her Vera Wang sandals and debut her on the carpet at his next non-profit. It’s a track that mixes the ferocity (and libido) of youth with the knowledge and experience that comes with having done this rap thing for more than two decades.–Jonah Bromwich

31. Space Ghost Purpp-“Keep Bringin the Phonk”

I nominate Spaceghostpurrp for rookie of the year. BLVCKLVD RVDIX may have been slightly TOO lo-fi for its own good, but the kid’s potential was too bright not to shine through the mixtape’s murk and grime. On “Tha Phonk,” dramatic cop-show-turned-g-funk synths collide with cheap-ass 808s and a stilted delivery to form an intoxicatingly wrong rap song that gets it all right. Isn’t it ironic? After 10 years of moaning for a 90s revival, the backpackers finally get one and it’s made up of nearly every single rap trope that they hated back in the days. That’s Spaceghost’s genius though: by smashing his rap collection to bits and randomly reassembling the pieces, he manages to actually sound *gasp* original. Give me this over Lil Brother any day of the week. —Sach O

30. Fiend – “Cross The Atlantic”

Its not hard for Bill Conti’s score from “Rocky” to become annoyingly maudlin when used as the obvious sample for a rap song. After thirty years of juiced up gym bros have been getting themselves effin’ pysched to lift heavy objects to it, its easy to roll your eyes at rappers lame enough to use any sample that Puffy might have once earnestly used. However, there is something so thematically perfect about an artist as underdog as forgotten No Limit relic, Fiend, using “Going The Distance” that you forget about the cheesiness of the tropes involved and ride for the old veteran to go one last round with the industry that has passed him by. Especially when you’re using the Menahan Band’s riff on Rocky.

“Cross the Atlantic” is a thinking man’s thug motivation class; a graduate level course for those who long ago fell out of the rankings, but want to take one last shot at the title. When Menahan’s horn stabs start going, Fiend uses the song to exorcise ten years of pent-up frustration and delivers the type of sage wisdom that can only be found in those who lived a life of achievement and regret can deliver. It’s the type of underdog anthem that will have you ready to take on all the Apollo Creeds to the sound of the final bell.– Doc Zeus

29. Action Bronson -“Barry Horowitz”

Fault Action Bronson for being shallow, but what the Chocolatier lacks in subject matter, he more than makes up for in pure energy, technique, and character. Bronson is rap’s most well defined personality – and beard – this side of Rick Ross. Yes, he sounds like Ghostface and yes, he talks about food a lot and yes, this sentence has been in every Action Bronson write-up ever. These are the gimmicks. But the reason Bronson hasn’t lyric’d himself into a corner like every other boring New York purist is his bigness. No, that’s not a fat joke.

As a writer, Bronson uses broad strokes, primary colors, lowbrow humor, and six sticks of butter, molding a huge personality and presence.  “Barry Horowitz” is the most impressive and amusing example. Dr. Seuss references, lamb, Shaq, King Kong, and “blunts filled with citrus mixed with orange lime.” No one right now but the “heavyweight primate with a Harvard mind” has imagery this joyously proud. Action Bronson is what he is, and that’s a lot. No, that’s not a fat joke. —Tosten Burks

28. Lil Wayne ft. Cory Gunz – “6 Foot, 7 Foot”

Wayne ALMOST had us fooled. Sure “6 Foot, 7 Foot,” rehashed A Milli’s micro-sampling and long-winded lyricism, but you can’t deny that it was exactly what Wayne needed to prove to the world that prison hadn’t dulled his pen. Or…lyrical memory. Whatever. The point is that after one of the worse rock albums since the Nu-Metal era and some odds and sods unfit for raps biggest superstar, “6 Foot, 7 Foot” was the triumphant return we were waiting for. Credit goes to Bangladesh – twisting Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat” until his vocals sound like chicken-scratched funk guitar, the producer went a long way towards proving that he’s one of the only beatmakers working for the majors still capable of advanced sample-science. As for Wayne, well the non-sequiturs may not mean much but they sure sound better than his singing – or anything else off the Carter IV for that matter. I still don’t know how Corey Gunz landed on this though.–Sach O

27. Jackie Chain & Gangsta Boo- “Don’t Violate”

The formula of combining a rising southern star with a seasoned veteran to spit game over a wailing countryfried guitar beat was used successfully several times this year, this song was one of its better iterations. DJ Burn One, arguably the reigning master of country rap tune orchestration, starts his beat off like a muscle car revving up. The gears of feedback warm up for a second and then the engine turns over as his now ubiquitous “KSHH… BURN ONE” tag comes in and we’re off, all cylinders firing in tune with the chanted chorus. Jackie Chain takes first and third spots, waxing playalistic doubletime with razor precision, channeling a distinguished lineage that stretches all the way back to Iceberg Slim. Gangsta Boo, firmly in the midst of her mini-revival, supplements as the living embodiments of the ‘Ladies is pimps too’ idea. Usually on songs like this the veteran’s role is to ground the proceedings with a sage old-head presence, but instead Boo attacks the track wiht the infectious energy of a rookie impatient to show off her skills. Of course, none of this is particularly unique or original, especially in the context of the people involved. But it doesn’t need to be particularly novel, it just needs to ride. And it rides pretty damn hard. —Alex Piyevski

26. Gonjasufi – “The Lowz”

Spent a Halloween weekend in Vegas with two songs in my head: the Wu’s “MGM” and “Lowz.” The latter moves like Wu-Tang’s snake-in-the-grass style from two years prior to Forever, before they went digital and the drugs strung ODB out. Gonjasufi plays Big Baby Jesus. A slurring demented prophet blurring the line between singing and rapping. Organs blaze like an Italian horror film. Drums beat like brass knuckles. This sounds like the score to tracking a killer at a carnival. Gonjasufi’s sense of vengeance starts out Mansonic: broke as ever, broken leather, poking eyes out, wanting to choke hold fools. The lowz—defined not as debilitating but something to overcome. Rap as psychological struggle. Sufi ends up refraining from slashing “the vampires” that he sees everywhere. Maybe it’s the opposite of October music. This is isn’t made for little kid ghoul parties or New Line horror, it’s to made to withstand the slashing of the day to day.--Weiss

25. The Game ft. Tyler, The Creator & Lil Wayne – “Martians Vs. Goblins”

Goblin was compelling. It was also overlong, chaotic, unfocused and occasionally lacked good rapping. What really converted me into a Tyler fan was his guest verses. When you cameo on someone else’s song, you rarely overstay your welcome. You’re also forced to compete. And that’s what Tyler does here, hating on Bruno Mars and Tyler Perry, mocking Game on his own track, and big-upping Wolf Gang. What’s funny is that Game, the rap Zelig, adapts to Tyler’s style extremely well, sounding like a grouchy, old, surprisingly likable uncle. He’s angry and playfully deranged, threatening Rihanna, talking about comics, and bumbling over the comics company that owns the licensing rights to Captain America. Both rappers also go at Lebron, which is awesome, because I hate that guy. Also, Lil Wayne shows up to do the hook and watch other people rap, which was kind of his favorite thing to do this year. – Jonah Bromwich

24. Nas – Nasty

The video: Nas, in full Esco mode, strips down to jeans, a chain and a black wife beater, transitioning from a limo to the booth, shedding the spoils of his career, passing them to a crowd of widely grinning kids.They follow him in lockstep and wind up rapping in a makeshift Queensbridge booth. A hook-less sermon of Hip Hop hellfire, a return to form from the concept rap wilderness, a brief respite from radio rap played regularly on the radio throughout 2011. – Abe Beame

23. Mexicans with Guns – “Highway to Hell ( ft. Freddie Gibbs & Bun B)

Mexicans with Guns logo

There’s nothing more impressive than a rapper mastering the explosive elements of his craft to deliver vicious raw lyricism. Both Bun B and Freddie Gibbs are grandmasters, with their lyrical acumen lacerating the Aztlan rumble of Mexicans with Guns’ beat. Freddie and Bun tread familiar territory — trading war stories over MTG’s thundering, bass — yet their stories are rife with pain and an occasionally palpable sense of self-loathing. Gibbs opens his verse declaring that he’s a “no good sinner” and the next time he might be in church he might be in a casket. Meanwhile, Bun struggles with the morality of shooting a young rival in cold blood and fears an imminent revenge. Is Bun describing the fate that will befall a young Freddie Gibbs and lead him to the grave? We never really know. All that’s certain is that “Highway to Hell” is a masterful gangsta rap storytelling. – Doc Zeus

22. Flash Bang Grenada – “In a Perfect World (ft. Open Mike Eagle)”

Flashbang Grenada open mike eagle & Nocando

A perfect world isn’t realized with trees for breakfasts and Benz stretches. It needs pockmarks and warts, insane unemployment, beautiful girls with flat asses. Light needs darkness. The foot doesn’t feel itself until it touches the ground. “In a Perfect World” by Flash Bang Grenada (Busdriver & Nocando) and Open Mike Eagle doesn’t preach peace, love, and all the children of the world uniting to sing “I Believe I Can Fly”. Their utopia is paranoia tempered. Injustices halted but not reversed. Ann Coulter, The Tea Party, and Lockheed Martin are allowed to breathe — they just report to Steve Harvey. Mama won’t cry when 2pac dies. Fear is negotiable. It’s not Trackmasters reimagining Kurtis Blow; it’s MONO/POLY watching 12 Monkeys and hoping the ending plays out differently. And in both cases, Louie Armstrong is saluted. – Zilla Rocca

21. Chris Brown- “Look at Me Now (ft. ft. Lil Wayne & Busta Rhymes)”

As a DJ, sometimes I have to compromise and throw the crowd a bone in order to get them into some more advanced material. A little wobbly dubstep here and some pop tunes there make the experimental, genre-twisting Afro-Futurist stuff I want to play go down a lot smoother. I never WANTED to rinse out “Look at me Now” but I’ll be damn if I didn’t end up getting high on my own supply – this is a damn good rap tune. No thanks to Chris Brown, mind you. The woman beating-twerp fully owns his douchebag persona with a grating sing-songy flow and asinine bars about “hari-kari” (do it Chris, do it) but survive that first verse and you’ll be rewarded with Busta’s best rhyme since “Throw the Water on em’” and an absolutely bonkers flow form Lil Wayne, all over one of the year’s best beats. The rare crossover rap tune that crossed over for the right reasons. – Sach O

20. Waka Flocka Flame – “Round of Applause”

“Round of Applause” is a “Fuck You” at first glance. It’s seemingly a conscious decision by both Waka and producer Lex Luger to play against type, to wrest control back from those who would write them off as one-dimensional. And it’s true that they definitely have developed a sound—unrestrained id rap over aggro rabblerousers—but over the past year, no one has done it with more abandon. The lead single from Waka’s forthcoming sophomore album, Triple F Life: Friends, Fans, and Family, “Round of Applause” doesn’t threaten to overthrow Waka’s established eco-system of testosterone and broken beer bottles, but it does add something approaching nuance, if you look at it from juuuuust the right angle. It proves that Waka’s single dimension can be stretched without snapping into a million adlibs. He’s still smoking too much weed, ingesting too much ecstasy, and engaging in other knuckle-headed activities (like pouring alcohol down stripper’s backsides).

But this time around, his debaucherous revelry is kept in check by Luger’s moodiest track yet – an elongated laffy-taffy riff and a string of flute-like funhouse synths that float through sticky strip-club ambience. If he didn’t punctuate every line with ad-libs so enthusiastic and so primal that they could probably carry the track themelves, “Round of Applause” might even be described as subtle. But this is Waka Flock Flame, and if you were wondering, yes, he will be your baby daddy. – Renato Pagnani

19. El-P -“Drones Over Brooklyn”

I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge fan of El-P’s political rants disguised as sci-fi prison rape allegories. Give me political rants disguised as B-Boyin’, drum choppin’, wild stylin’, piano loop twistin’, lyrically lyrical lyricalisin’, Sir Nose helium voicin’, battle rappin’, flow switchin’, Bomb Squadin’, looter salutin’, fad rap dissin’, zone walkin’, orphan hell hatchin’, blown out FUNK any day of the week. “Drones Over Brooklyn” is all of that plus another verse of lyrics I didn’t want to parse through for that last sentence, and it’s the perfect return for those among us who prefe r ouch examples at their baddest. For a man whose career has carried Ultramagnetic’s torch waaaaaaay past the year 3000 – consider this an updated mission statement. A rap tune so dope, you’ll almost forget that it predicted indefinite civilian detention a few months before the fact. – Sach O

18. Yelawolf-“Hard White (Up In The Club) (ft. Lil Jon)”

On paper, “Hard White” is a pro-forma introductory track for a rapper who needs commercial minting. Pair a buzzing rapper with a proven hitmaker, make sure he says his name a few times so people parse it, then shop it to radio. So Yela takes a trip to the club, backed by a knocking Hydrox instrumental and crunk impresario Lil’ Jon playing hype-man. Jon’s not much of a wing man, but his energy is infectious as he passes the crunk torch to the next great white hope.

For people waiting on the next rap saviour, Yela dismisses his own hype and reminds you to focus on the main attraction: the flow. Yela’s pure rapping ability elevates the material, a potent reminder of why people we were excited about Catfish Billy in the first place. He bobs and weaves between sawed-off shottie blast drums and rattles off Gatling syllables like he was trying to shoot through the instrumentals. He proclaims his Alabama roots and flaunts his hick-dom, swigging Jack behind a velvet rope and cursing out bougie bitches. “Hard White” is genuinely fun, something most modern club tracks forget about. To quote a YouTube comment, I also like the part when Lil’ Jon shouts “Happy birthday!” – Aaron Matthews

17. ADD+ – “Insomniac Dreaming”

Dallas Texas rap crew ADd+

A.Dd+’s When Pigs Fly was easily one of the best records of 2011. But it really took the “Insomniac Dreaming” to confirm the Dallas duo as a coming force in hip-hop. Picnictyme’s production was undoubtedly a highlight of When Pigs Fly, and no one knew how Paris P and Slim Gravy would fare away from such soulful funk. Hence, them hooking up with Black Milk to rightfully earn the underground seal of approval. Matched to a stripped-back beat, A.Dd+’s ballsy braggadocio is allowed to breathe and quickly grow into the sonic gaps provided by the Detroit-based producer. It allows two already ample personalities to take over and pilot the spirit of the cut. They seem a little more in control here, or perhaps just more at ease with their craft and sonic surrounds. That confidence comes straight through in their rhymes, Slim opining, “I live my wishes, I’m tryin’ through expeditions/ I would have never thought that I’d made it/ But now like fuck it, I hate it, but love attention.” Get on board: A.Dd+ are the real deal. – Matt Shea

16. Slick Rick – “Need Some Bad”

After a combined fifty years in the rap music industry, it seems as if “Need Some Bad” was conjured from the fevered minds of fantasy A&Rs and true school believers. As unlikely as it seems, Slick Rick and DJ Premier had never crossed paths until a soon-to- be-forgotten Jonah Hill movie (I’m assuming because it’s Jonah Hill…) set them off to finally have a great adventure together. Because Primo is Primo and understands how to get the best of an artist, he lays a light, funky playground perfect for Slick Rick’s brand of off-color sex jokes and pitch black comedy to play in. Meanwhile, the Ruler’s flow remains as smooth and effortless as the days he was kicking dirty limericks to Doug E. Fresh’s voice box. Slick Rick might be the coolest motherfucker on the planet but he’s always been willing to play the fool. He jokes about masturbation in strip clubs, sexual frustration, and the pains of being an aging perv trying to score with floozies half his age and half his IQ. Uncle Ricky might have become the dirty old man of hip hop but “Need Some Bad” proves that swag will never die. It just pops viagra. – Doc Zeus

15. Blu – “Ronald Morgan (ft.Edan)”

L.A. rapper Blu

Blu’s bloopity avant-rap triumph No York refused to mine the past. “Ronald Morgan” is the album’s best song because it so masterfully presents the rapper’s present and future. The beat is comfortable yet urgent, a clanky jazz drum jam anchored by creaking organ. This year, Blu was more prolific, mysterious and stunning than ever, dropping not just No York but also the dilapidated, unmastered lo-fi boom-bap-soul of j e s u s, along with a crackly beat tape and an EP of Ariel Pink remixes. Here, he’s just smashing and crumbling syllables into symbols. Whether any of it makes sense is irrelevant; Blu is dabbling in sound, not words. “Funk shrunk, filled with bass, cushioned in syntax/Thanks,” is basically Blu’s new artistic thesis: consistently excellent lyrics humbly pulled down into the tangle of the music.

Tellingly, Edan’s guest verse is staged more clearly than Blu’s. There is no distortion, no volume knobs crunched down. The beat’s cosmic deconstructional breakdown even pulls the curtains away for the verse – the verse of the year. Just my thoughts. Edan wins. No wasted syllables. No wasted breaths. Just wrecked mics. No one boasts like this, because no one has such vivid imagination: “Producer, director/Medusa deflector/Stared her right in the eye, and beheaded her/Editor, better than whatever that was regular/Predator plus competitor makes compredator.” Touche. – Tosten Burks

14. Roc Marciano – “Hoard 90”

Rapper Roc Marciano

In an era when prog-rock-level excess is embraced and regional barriers have crumbled like the Berlin Wall, Roc Marciano is a wildly traditional New York rapper. Vinyl crackles like popcorn on his samples, the drums sound like they’re caked with potting soil. His wordplay and vocabulary– the latter of which being Words With Friends top score caliber– is dipped in Raekwon-like slang. I’d stake my reputation on the fact that he could easily rap circles around 46 of the rappers on this list, but that’s because he came from a place in time and location where you had to be better than everybody else to get noticed. But having rapping skill isn’t the only merit that determines a great rap artist. Marciano wins because of his attention to craft.

Over 60’s cop-drama guitars and rolling drums mixed by the Alchemist, the Hempstead rapper spins stream-of-consciousness barbs overflowing with internal rhyme patterns, showcasing his wit (“Hoes ride dick like pogo stick”), bending words to his will (“The jewelry is luxurious, period”), and displaying the kind of rhyming instincts you can’t learn with an internship. Grimy street scenes are described with a vivid, poetic sense of moving imagery, like if New Jack City were directed by Terrence Malick. You got a Häagen-Dazs heart, this is modern art. –Martin Douglas

13. Big K.R.I.T. -“Dreamin”

There’s a point on Return of 4Eva where Big K.R.I.T. insists that you need to listen to every last second of every song of his in order to understand what he’s saying and where he’s coming from. And while that’s a little overblown in regard to some of his songs (“Sookie Now” is awesomely obvious from the get-go) it’s absolutely true on album highlight “Dreamin.’”

There’s nothing conceptually special about “Dreamin” — it’s a come-up song. But Krit transforms rap tropes into compelling autobiography as we join him on his journey to validation. The sample, “Dream” by The Brothers of Soul is used as a Greek chorus of doubters, who don’t believe in Krit. But in every line, we learn something important about the man, something essential to his rise.

Sure, Scarface and UGK were early influences, but it’s equally important that he ran to tell his Dad about his favorite artists. And yeah, he was writing rhymes on his baseball glove in high school which is somewhat typical, but it’s atypical that Krit still considers the art of writing rhymes a type of poetry (many rappers, most notably Lil’ Wayne, are loath to do so these days). Krit’s slow steady flow endears you to him when he credits his grandmother for pulling some strings with the Lord to help him attain his success. And, when the song ends, the Greek chorus admits they’re wrong, as Krit emphasizes “they used to say” that he was dreamin’. As the The Brothers Soul sample is extended to subtly punctuate Krit’s inspiring transformation, you realize that you had to listen to every single word of that song to enjoy it as much as you should have. – Jonah Bromwich

12. Curren$y – “Scottie Pippen” (ft. Freddie Gibbs)

Rapper Curren$y aka Spitta

This just makes sense. The twin towers of rap consistency over the last three years finally getting together on a song, backed up by a great producer who knows to just get out of the way. Because their flows are so different, this doesn’t devolve into some kind of Slaughterhouse-type pissing contest; Curren$y and Gibbs vibe off of each other with the kind of stoned fluency that Mac and Devin only wish that they had. Spitta remains the model of laid-back cool even when he’s threatening to kick you in the head, modeling himself after the Cobra Kai commander, and putting together the perfect Chicago outfit, Bulls Mitchell and Ness jacket and Scottie Pippens.

Then Gibbs jumps on the track and just annihilates the thing, dropping his most quotable verse of the year. Lines like “breakfast had two titties, two blunts and a turkey bacon sandwich” or “popped that pussy then pulled off in my Pontiac on Pirellis” or “Tryna make a million dollars, fuck a million downloads” have been floating around in my head since the day this dropped. These rappers have personas that are so well-defined that it’s just a joy to hear them on the same joint, like a rap superhero crossover event. And while that would make for a pretty good line of comics (I’d sign up and be a subscriber), I’d much rather just see these guys record an album full of songs like this one. – Jonah Bromwich

11. Kanye West + Jay- Z – “Primetime”

Jay-Z and Kanye West in "Otis"

I know what you’re thinking. “No ‘Niggas in Paris?’ That shit cray!” I’m not saying “Niggas in Paris” isn’t a great song. It strikes a perfect balance between lighthearted baller-rap and shrewd social commentary. I totally understand how satisfying it is to hear the song performed six times in a row at concerts. But on the massive, opulent, and EPICALLY EPIC Watch the Throne, the great irony is that the track with the other Jay-Z/Michael Jordan parallel is both a) a “bonus track” b) the best song on the album.


No I.D.’s dark, after-hours piano sample gives the superstars free reign to drop the heavy weight of their unlikely class privilege and just make a straight up great rap song. Jay plays the numbers game with his career, uses his business acumen to help out Diddy’s vanity vodka brand, searches for Ponce de León, and giddily runs afoul of swank Miami hotels. Kanye turns that widescreen lens inward. He recalls the feeling of riding in first class for the first time and how the champagne bubbles taste that much sweeter from seat IA. He spits a hooky non sequitur (“And float in that motherfucker like a hovercraft!”) and uses stereotypes to fuck with high society (“They don’t want nobody that’s colored out of the line/So I’m late as a motherfucker, colored people time”), displaying the wit, self-awareness, and wisecracking irreverence that made Graduation so great.


“Primetime” brings both rappers back to the days where they didn’t openly grasp for world-beating blockbuster rap, where they took small moments that became larger-than life by the strength of their personalities. They actually sound like they’re having the time of their life. It’s a triumph because there’s no pressure to sound triumphant; it’s a massive achievement of small stakes. —Martin Douglas
10. Open Mike Eagle – “Nightmares”

Somewhere between Devin the Dude, Nate Dogg and Ish from Shabazz Palaces, Open Mike Eagle is the wry observer in the back of the class. The inverse of a million rap songs about dreams (including the one three spots prior) “Nightmares” isn’t solely aspirational nor is it a concept track. It’s a statement of purpose and a litany of astute complaints, demands and observations.

Mike wants shag on his floor chart carpeting, and old guys singing four part harmony. He doesn’t call out lying-ass rappers but reminds us that the written life has always been synthesized. It’s designed to deceive. His new friends want to talk sneaker colors but Mike is too busy playing rap Nostradamus: the countryside will flood with tourists eager to see real families while gangbangers will turn to MPC samplers.

Rap must be post-modern, as Mike’s the only rapper stumping for They Might Be Giants instead of Coldplay. Odd comparison on paper but it makes sense, as Mike shares TMBG’s mix of absolute seriousness and profound silliness. He croons over doo-wop harmonies because he knows his lineage. Doo wop to rap music, there’s always a trace of the griot in the modern emcee. He might be down with Project Blowed, yet Mike remembers that the best inner city griots never take themselves too seriously.
Let’s hope he doesn’t take that paper route. – Aaron Matthews

9. Curren$y- “She Don’t Wanna Man”

“She Don’t Wanna Man” is Vicky Christina Barcelona scripted by Spitta Andretti. The seduction isn’t carried out to flamenco guitar in the Spanish countryside but in the shadows and glowing lights of missed calls and texts. Hotel room pay per view, room service, joints burning in the air and rough sex. A soundtrack as phosphorescent as anything off of Atliens. This is the story of the square versus the rider. Rather than an investment banker into scuba diving, Currensy’s foil is a doctor, “cuddlemaster.” Drake knows how to manipulate women, but Curren$y understands what makes them stray. You can get a girl to like you by telling her she looks really beautiful in sweatpants, but you can get her to love you by being creative, cool and empathetic. Antonio becomes Andretti: charming and sly, an all around slick motherfucker. Never a sucker like them other dudes.

Her man wants her to pick the kids up and balance the check book. Curren$y offers what she could have had if she didn’t take the rectangular route, marrying the professional with the gold wristwatch, which he stares at whenever she’s late. Frequently. “She Don’t Wanna Man” is about freedom vs. stability. Irrepressible lust contrasted with the lull of long-term love. This is the perfect mistake, the nightmare of many men: that one day the mother of their children will get bored and only want to ride jets. Instead of “shopping,” she’ll be naked and sated, twisting up post-sex spliffs with another man. Then she’ll return home and you’ll never know what happened. —Jeff Weiss

8. Shabazz Palaces – “Are You…Can You…Were You..”

shabazz palaces in polaroid

“Are You…Can You…Were You (Felt)” goes like this. Movement #1: Hope. Money in your pocket. New sneakers. French press coffee. Breathing in white light. Smoke rings during SportsCenter. Stillness. New undershirts. Starched collars. It’s a feeling. Movement #2: Action over explanation. Staying dipped at all times. Stressing nothing. Wisdom plus swagger. Compassion for the OG’s. Spicy food. Digesting jewels and mining new ones. It’s a feeling. Movement #3: Taking heed to a pimp’s advice. Bending light. Becoming tender to conquer fear. Slowing down. Speeding up. Gun runners outsmarting the system. Street karma – it’s coming for you. Big rubies from below (if you’re lucky). Cutting through your own bullshit – that’s strength. Are you strong? Can you escape? Were you always sharp? It’s a feeling. It’s felt by others, even when you’re gone for a long time. – Zilla Rocca

7. Schoolboy Q-“Druggys Wit Hoes (ft.Ab-Soul)”

Schoolboy Q has the baddest hoes, the finest weed, and the stoner anthem of 2011. Not by accident or anything, the background vocals shout on repeat, “Marijuana hydro, pussy, hoe, ass, titties.” A shameless revelry, bouncing, beeping, and melodic, melodies, yearning guitar licks, legato piano pounds, skittering, paranoid high hats, and punchlines in Spanish – basically, anything but a conscience.

Q is talented and stoned, keeping his flow patient, his message simple, and his lyrics the perfect hybrid strain of ass and assonance. “I been meaning/to be leaning up in that pussy like promethazine/and she took the semen/my willy beamin,” he says, slow and measured as if he could keep pulling similarly ridiculous red-light rhymes out of the smoke for hours. It is this effortless, almost energy-less poetic absurdity that makes Schoolboy endearing and sure to be bumping in every hot-boxed sedan in 2012.

Big-haired Ab-Soul comes on the track with more aggression, his exasperated, high-pitch strain breaking the fog and idle indulgence up a little bit with talk of personal demons, but mostly just there to ask, “Quincey where the weed at? You know I really need that.” In Kendrick Lamar’s shadow, these two black hippies are content to just chill. This year, no one did it better. – Tosten Burks

6. Mr. Muthafuckin’ Exquire – “Huzzah (Remix ft Despot, Das Racist, Danny Brown & El-P)

“Huzzah’s” video is as absurd as it is excellent. But even without it, the track fulfills all the requirements for an excellent posse cut. The rappers go hard as hell (save for Das Racist, who make up for it by being funny) and second, they’re all themselves — rappers with big personalities getting fucked up together and having fun. Despot pours a mixed drink over his cereal. Danny Brown greets Exquire like an old partner, unleashing his nasally honk to control Necro’s jacked beat. El-P keeps shit surgically precise until the end of his verse when starts swilling seven and seven. Exquire’s poor, he’s hungry, he’s lost, he’s disgusting, but he’s gonna have a great time. The rules haven’t really changed since preschool, even applicable to posse cuts. What’s most important is having as much fun as possible. – Jonah Bromwich
5. Danny Brown -“30”

Detroit rapper Danny Brown

“30 is the new 20” is something people over 30 say to make themselves feel better about it. The people who tell others, “You’re only thirty! You’re still a baby!” are like people picking up greeting cards on their way to their grand children’s high school graduation. Approaching 30 can be terrifying. Your metabolism is slowing down, your hairline is starting to recede, you realize how far away you are from the the things you want to achieve. Danny Brown spends a lot of time on XXX rapping about how turning 30 makes it feel like the walls are closing in on you. It comes to a head on the album’s closing track.


“30” sounds like the interior soundtrack of someone with manic depression. Memories of himself slipping extension cords through the window to play video games in a house where the central heating system was the oven. Overdose fantasies of dying in the arms of an anonymous blond, blue-eyed girl in her twenties. The tragicomedy of having sex with a pregnant woman to avoid having to pay for an abortion. The image of Billy Corgan covering Too Short on a church organ. Even his celebration of being alive and the “gnarly” event of signing to Fool’s Gold are treated as minor victories, a temporary distraction from having a daughter who barely knows him because her mother thought he’d grow up to be a deadbeat.


Thing is, the specifics are peppered with universal themes. He gives himself emphatic pep talks in the mirror. He celebrates the fact that he’s even still alive. He acknowledges that he came from nothing. Tears well up in his eyes from the stress of not being where he wants to be in life. When you grow up ambitious but piss poor, success is a destination that becomes all the more important to you; it’s something that literally becomes a situation of mortality. The allure of death is that much prettier alongside the thought of your life being a complete bust. “30” is what happens when the creeping dread of failure swells to a fever pitch and turns terminal.-Douglas Martin

4. Madlib & Freddie Gibbs-“Thuggin”

Freddie Gibbs and Madlib aka MadgibbsGangsta Gibbs meets the Beat Konducta. Stones Throw meets the most outspoken rapper this side of the Pimp with a pocket full of stones. Since the days of Dare Iz a Dark Side, hard core rap has rarely been this psychedelic. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that rapping well doesn’t matter. It’s not called “swag music” (yet). And Gibbs can rap better than almost everyone. The total package like Lex Luger: breath control, voice, lyrics, flow, conviction. “Thuggin” slams like a steel chair to the spine.

Gibbs is a throwback to when rappers were hustling musicians not brands — when people weren’t afraid to call their peers stupid or fraudulent. Integrity and honesty are paramount to him and you can see the scars in every bar. He puts a lifetime between three lines (“My uncle’s last bitch put him on the glass dick/tried to rob a man to feed his habit/he got blasted.”) The Huey Newton tattoo on his back is his equivalent to the scope on the PE logo. He won’t let you ignore that. In one breath, he’ll brag about how he’ll fuck your girl, her cousin, and then buy food with your EBT card. In the next, he’ll complain about the police harassing drug deals when there are are congressmen getting popped in the head in Arizona. From trunk music to boom-bap to dubstep to blunted West Coast soul, Gibbs tread a lot of turf in 2011. And like his most clear-cut inspirations 2Pac, Scarface, and Ice Cube, he’s earned a reputation as the rare conscious rapper who will knock you unconscious. Jeff Weiss

3. A$AP Rocky -“Peso”

The “Peso” video is the story of what would happen if you followed a crew of eclectically dressed braided kids off the uptown 4 train, and spent a weekend hanging out. Of course, kids shooting dice, drinking 40s and smoking blunts is hardly a novel conceit in a hip hop video. But “Peso” is more than a party. It gained traction because it’s induction into a movement. The style these kids exhibit, the Arbus-like, lovingly shot profiles of the A$AP crew and their surroundings, it’s a vision of a new swagger, a new Harlem.

For me, that is what differentiates “Peso” from the two songs on the list above it. A$AP, Tyler, and Kendrick all blew up in 2011 and front deep, talented, crews. They got large contracts and at least A$AP and Tyler are critical lightning rods that have had the Internets warring over whether they’re worth the key strokes. Both “Yonkers” and “Peso” are bold declarations of style. Tyler’s sinister mythological New York banger builds off of his gritty baritone. While Rocky drips silky quotables over Ty Beats’ glazed donut of a beat. But to me, “Yonkers” feels more like an end — an angry, troubled punk finding his perfect expression. “Peso” feels like an artist in their infancy, but with a precocious understanding of style. Live.Love.A$AP doesn’t need hormonal confessionals or in-joke rape dreams, it’s more concerned with being inventive, infectious and limitless. Hip Hop ripping up the rules and starting from scratch – Abe Beame

2. Kendrick Lamar-“ADHD”

“A.D.H.D.” trumps every other great song on Section 80 because it consolidates all of Kendrick Lamar’s many strengths. It’s anthemic, intelligent and generation-defining, but also an incredible piece of technical rapping. But it’s more. It has intangibles, unfolding in a uniquely striking way every time you listen. The beat is entrancing and stoned, contrasting perfectly with Kendrick’s intensity. Even as he struggles to reject the hedonism that springs from the apathy of his peers, (“eight doobies to the face, fuck that, twelve bottles in the case…fuck that”) he finds himself succumbing to the haze as a way to deal with the loneliness he feels in the crowd.

But just after he starts to give in, a girl who starts to pay attention to him is able to pull him out. Briefly. She notices him at the start of the second verse, and they exchange the foundational idea of the entire album: because our generation was born in the Reagan eighties we have a deficiency, one that manifests most through lack of focus, not caring about anything from one moment to the next, and pointless hyperactivity. It’s A.D.H.D.

It’s prescient, logical, and pointed. But what makes it function is that Kendrick speaks for his generation and himself. He wants to care, but every time his flow speeds up, he gets sucked back in to the party, unable to identify something to focus on. Even as he has the anonymous girl lay out the thesis that he’ll explore for the rest of the album, he himself becomes the first essential piece of evidence. He loses himself as the song fades out with a list of drugs and those same blunted vibes, the music playing out unaccompanied , anonymous amongst a crowd of voices that have blended into chaos. Jonah Bromwich

1. Tyler, the Creator – “Yonkers”

“Bullshit! It was all because of the video!” So what?

I’m supposed to deduct points because the kid was smart enough to parlay Tumblr fame into YouTube spins and a record deal with XL? The second that Yonkers’ Liquid Swords-aping piss-take on 90s NY rap hit you knew that kid was a star. In a world of J. Coles and Kid CuDi’s, Tyler gave Hip-Hop an increasingly rare DMX moment where the slate gets wiped clean and you’re suddenly reminded that “Oh yeah, rap doesn’t HAVE to suck.”

Overnight, everybody was talking about bunch of skate kids, debating their importance and basically crushing their music under a mountain overblown, asinine think pieces. Those think pieces were garbage but that’s not Tyler’s fault. By the time Goblin dropped, the backlash was in full swing. I still love that record but it’s critically indefensible – a self-indulgent 80 minutes of teenage anxiety that would have Husker Du rolling their eyes and laughing the guy. But that’s not what “Yonkers” was about. “Yonkers” was 8 Mile without the corny motivational rap bullshit: the moment where a star is born and for one Internet-second, commands the attention of absolutely everyone who even remotely gives a shit about Hip-Hop. Let’s face it: nobody thought that would happen again but it did. And that’s why “Yonkers” is the song of the year even if Tyler’s a petulant little shit who deserves to get his ass kicked one of these days. –Sach O

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