The 50 Best Hip-Hop Songs of 2011 (#25-1)

This list was inspired by the guiding light of Liberace, Billy Martin, Ali, and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff. ZIP: V/A – The Passion of the Weiss Top 50 Songs (Left Click) Alt Link: V/A –...
By    December 19, 2011

This list was inspired by the guiding light of Liberace, Billy Martin, Ali, and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff.

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

Alt Link: V/A – Passion of the Weiss Top 50 Songs

See Also: The Top 50 Best Hip Hop Songs of 2011 (#50-26)

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

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”
Gangsta 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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