The Top 50 Rap Songs of 2014 (All)

The Passion of the Weiss staff present the first volume of the compilation album "Best Rap of 2014: 25 Shots to the Dome"
By    December 18, 2014

Top50RapSongsHeader

In the interest of avoiding excess repetition, this Best Rap Songs list strove to include what didn’t make our Best Albums list. Singles were given priority over album tracks. Rap songs that were good were given priority over songs that were bad. White rappers had to submit petitions that included three different references from people with criminal records. This is what made the cut. Now follow 2 Chainz into the cave to get your fix. —Ed.

50. Kevin Abstract – “Drugs”/Anderson Paak – “Drugs”

If Charles Bukowski was a soul-struck Hellfyre Club affiliate who was dragged unexpectedly to a HARD event (take your pick) and found himself hours later pressed up next to some fur-booted hard bodies on the Venice beach boardwalk, he might write a poem with words like the ones in “Drugs.”

It’s not just the romantic nihilism that Paak brings to the PBR&B party (“Who gives a fuck about your history / Nobody mentioned it”) Miguel, Frank Ocean and The Weeknd have been kicking up that dust for a couple years already. It’s not the mere vulnerability either (although there is a special brand of it here: “There’s no love / She don’t even like me / But if we have drugs / She could be my wifey.”) It’s the Chinaski-grade lightheartedness about a situation that is begging to take a turn for the shitty and depressive if you just don’t own up to it.

Of all the places where EDM has sweatily bumped-up against rap, the low-lit drug-lit tent corner has probably been the spot most heavily frequented. Not so many of these moments capture the liberation and the shame and the impatience packed into the every capsule of today’s designer drug culture like “Drugs.”

These admissions, disguised behind the hypnotic light beams and ratcheting thumps and click-click-booms as promotions, are only as “made-up” as a Bukowski character could’ve been. – Alex Dwyer

Kevin Abstract is more straightforward than his name might suggest. Calling a song “Drugs” is like calling it “sex,” “violence,” or “rap good.” If Anderson Paak’s contraband seems procured from would-be kingpins renting Entourage mansions, the teenaged Abstract’s narcotics are copped next to the lockers. Both songs offer vulnerability, but Paak has the awareness that this cycle will soon end. What makes Abstract’s version so visceral is that you see the isolation through the eyes of someone too young to know that this a temporary prison.

His mom tells him he’s on too many drugs. So does his girl, so does his dad. He’s too young to leave, but old enough to feel completely alone. Old enough to threaten to leak his girlfriend’s nudes on the Internet. His world feels bound by four walls and the wireless, somewhere in nowhere Corpus Christi, TX. Draining the last of his high school years bumping Kid Cudi, Dipset, and Frank Ocean, alternately fearing and fantasizing about everything he’ll do when he escapes. For now, there’s just the drugs. — Weiss

49. Cam & Chyna – “Do Dat”

If Tinashe’s “2 On” and Mila J’s “My Main” taught us anything this year, it’s that DJ Mustard should produce more songs for women. Although “Do Dat,” from Cam & China, wasn’t crafted by Dijon’s own fair hands (it comes via D.R.U.G.S. and Beatboy), the song was at least born out of the school of ratchet that he founded. So there’s that winning combination of a one-handed Fisher Price keyboard pattern and hefty bass, while the Inglewood duo spits a stream of filth that’ll leave the prudish scurrying for disinfectant to scrub their speakers with. As two former members of jerkin’ five-piece Pink Dollaz that’s to be expected, but “Do Dat” goes above and beyond high expectations. Cam & China are bold, direct and raw enough to satisfy Dirt McGirt, so may their union continue to bear forbidden fruit into the New Year. — Kyle Ellison

48. The Koreatown Oddity – “Film Roll Splices and the Deleted Scenes”

The costumes and punchlines tell you that DOOM and Kool Keith are the two most direct fathers to Dominique Purdy’s rap style. But if you open your ears, the influences go way further than rap parochialism. Within the first few bars, he’s already lamenting the early obituaries filed on Mitch Hedburg and Patrice O’ Neal. He’s got the gift of compressing incredible amounts of biographical attention into a few bars (“8th grade, anime nickname, sporting waves, bald fade, black and Orange Air Forces.”) Or flashbacks to getting jacked for bus passes. The terror of police profiling stays in the front of his mind, but not so much that he’s not willing to risk a trip to the original El Cholo on Western. Get the guacamole.

It fits that the Koreatown is in his name, because the references are hyper-local — right down to the Sportie LA shout out, pupusas, Roscoe’s and Korean slang. These are the film roll splices and deleted scenes, fraying coils of memory, exhumed through rap music. Richard Hamilton winning the chip at UCONN. Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy references. Even a Jayo Felony shout. Ras G handles the beat to make the eccentricity covalent. This brings you back without beating you over the head. He might wear a mask but these are the tattoos under his sleeves. — Weiss

 

47. Saba – “401K”

Saba’s Comfort Zone didn’t make our Top 50 albums list. No democracy is perfect. But we would’ve been remiss had we not included “401K” on this list. Arguably the best song on the tape, it ranks among the year’s most impassioned critiques of the problems that swaths of Chicago have faced for decades: poverty, unemployment, gang violence…

Over a beat infused with hard drums and atmospheric soul, Saba outlines the stark trade offs in a world as black and white as the homicides printed in the Chicago Tribune. When high GPA and perfect classroom attendance doesn’t translate to a job and money in the bank, 401Ks are traded for AKs, W-9s for 9 millimeters. On the corner, college doesn’t seem like a viable escape. If you aren’t a victim to the violence, starvation may still stop your vital signs. Saba knows the Chicago he deftly raps about will never be perfect, but he also knows it can improve. He won’t stop until it does. Songs like this are a first step. — Max Bell

 

46. Meek Mill “Off the Corner feat Rick Ross”

A certain strain of gangster rap promises you the world if you have the temerity to take it. It feeds the starving wolf lurking in every restless young man and says “Work harder than the rest of them and one day you can buy and sell all these motherfuckers”. Miserable, insignificant, and wretched though you may be, there’s a black Rolls Royce Wraith waiting for you if you want it bad enough.

“Off The Corner” vindicates the children of Get Rich or Die Tryin. Meek Mill raps with unimpeachable gall and bravado, made all the more contemptuous by the shrillness in his voice. The self-styled millionaire made his money from the meanest beginnings so he could throw it in everyone’s faces. Meek’s flow is punchy and brash in a way that makes you stand ten feet tall whereas Rick Ross’ heft signals the iron-fisted power accrued over years. Coupled with a flashy, theatrical beat, it’s enough to impart a drug kingpin’s invincibility for a span of four minutes. Brag rap is truly great when it’s irrefutable and “Off The Corner” is a supreme example. – Evan Nabavian

45. Jon Waltz – “Bang”

The rap and R&B collision course has endured since well before Chris Rock’s prophecies on “Champagne.” But once Drake stepped into the cipher with a yarmulkah, a bag of lemongrass candles, and a mission to be the light-skinned Keith Sweat, it became complete. Never underestimate the powers of ruthless yet polite Canadian efficiency. It ultimately tipped the paradigm for what’s acceptable for rappers to do.

From hook to bars, young artists are given leeway to write complete songs: radio-friendly melodies that aren’t mutually exclusive to rappity raps. See Jon Waltz, 18-years old and clearly apart of his morose generation. The video for “Bang” shows an artist shrouded in the darkness, invoking pills, pools of liquor and the feeling of drowning. It’s what “Swimming Pools (Drank)” has wrought — teenagers unafraid to reflect on struggles with substance abuse and the violence that comes easily when people are getting that first little taste of the nightlife.

“Bang” is a song about guns, substance abuse, and death. Prayer and dreams. He hails from Memphis, but this doesn’t sound like anything from Triple Six, Yo Gotti, Snootie Wild, or really anything extracted from the last 20 years of Tennessee music. You might point its provenance to the numb vortex of the Internet. You could malign the absence of regional tics. But you’d be overlooking that at its core, “Bang” is basically the blues. —Weiss

44. Kodak Black “4th Quarter”

When I interviewed Kodak Black in late September, we discussed his prior encounters with the justice system, and his future efforts to avoid imprisonment. Shortly thereafter, he went to juvenile hall again. Photos with “#FreeKodak” were posted, and a spate of fellow delinquents popped up to claim they’d encountered the diminutive rapper while serving time. None of this is outwardly remarkable– Kodak is far from the only 17-year old overly familiar with his nearest police precinct, but other 17-year olds also haven’t opened for Migos and Lil Boosie.

“4th Quarter,” from Kodak’s debut Project Baby, features compatriots The Kolyons, but Kodak is the undoubted star. Concert footage shows his fellow teens, dreadlocked and pastel Polo’d, rapping along to every line of “4th Quarter;” Kodak’s a legitimate regional star, whose lack of press is somewhat mystifying. Even if my fellow mouth-breathing bloggers haven’t taken notice, “4th Quarter” has garnered some possibly unwanted attention from Kodak’s peers. Rich the Kid, who Kodak collaborated with, immediately turned around and beat jacked him. “Goin Crazy,” featuring Migos, is the exact same beat as “4th Quarter,” amply noted by Kodak fans on Twitter and YouTube. Fortunately, a lack of mainstream media attention and minor league beat thieving are small obstacles for a rapper whose hero, Lil Boosie, has found great success well outside the myopic eyes of the press.

Though Kodak’s voice isn’t nearly as high pitched as Boosie’s (whose is?), there’s more than a fleeting resemblance between the two artists– Boosie is prone to vacillating between self-reflection and ignorance, a skill, and dichotomy not lost on Kodak. “4th Quarter” isn’t Kodak’s most introspective song, but it’s almost certainly his biggest hit. Kodak doesn’t need bloggers when he has over-eager 18-year old twerkers on stage. —Torii MacAdams

43. Russ – “Coming Through”

Rappers preach self-love more often than they should. It’s fine in moderation, but many a Twitter timeline has probably hurt sales in the self-help section at those Barnes & Noble stores still standing. When committed to wax, the message often comes off as preachy, saccharine, and boring.

Russ’ “Comin Thru” isn’t an answer to the former, but it’s an example of how you turn self-belief into something that shirks the insipid and unsentimental. It’s also the best synthesis of the southern rapper’s promising lyrical ability and pop sensibilities. When not rapping better than most with SoundCloud profiles, he half-sings catchy hooks and deals in honesty without the nauseating smarm. He also produced the piano driven beat, borrowing from the Beatnuts and thus adding to the import and efficacy of his words.

Too much self-love can eliminate the possibility for self-examination, affording the practitioner an undeserved contentedness. In just one line (“I’m going to drop a classic debut called I’m Not Finished”), Russ proves he’ll never succumb to that deluded and artistically damning pitfall. He has every right to believe in himself. — Max Bell

 

42. Tunji Ige – “Day 2 Day”/”Day2Day Remix ft. Michael Christmas & Makonnen”

The year’s sneakiest hit may also be its silliest. Before known ball busters Makonnen and Michael Christmas jumped onto 19-year-old West Chester University wiz kid Tunji Ige’s sly techno chords and hiccupping snare, the original showcased Tunji slinging cul-de-sac blues out of basements in Pennsylvania and Chicago’s Wonda taking 19 wives for no reason. The hook is all bravado, until post-spliff Tunji looks up above and falls in love, which is kind of how the single functions in general—cocky punch lines undercut by crooning, stoned serenading where the G’s don’t play.

But on the remix, with Boston’s finest afro bragging about the Illuminati following him on Twitter and telling haters to get off his vas deferens, and Makonnen telling ecstasy-loving techno girls to use him, abuse him, and take all his love away over a kick drum and hand clap-heavy outro, what started as a gangster grin twists into a glorious, hyper self-aware romp. An age-old template: gather funny friends and let hilarity ensue. — Tosten Burks

41. clipping. – “Work, Work ft. Cocc Pistol Cree”

Towards the end of “Work, Work,” clipping.’s MC, Daveed Diggs, delivers a set of lines about playing it cool and playing it gangsta—only to turn around and say it’s all in your head and, in fact, “It really doesn’t matter because you’re already dead / No obituaries for the most part / Nobody cares, you are not even a costar.” This makes for a sobering lyrical turn, and it’s also a funny dig at the fantasy scenarios that show up in so many generic rap tunes. But it’s hardly the only thing that makes this track killer. Cocc Pistol Cree almost steals the show with her slicing-and-dicing guest verse. Daveed puts in a memorable performance in the video by recounting his verses while bent over in a curb-stomp position. And then there’s that beat, which sounds like an instrument out of a Javanese gamelan orchestra that’s been carefully fashioned into a shimmering loop all its own.

I’m thinking “Work, Work” has the word “work” in the title twice because this L.A. trio wants to emphasize that sometimes you just need to put in the labor, whether you’re going to get the credit for it or not. Well, they deserve the credit for this one, and any perks to go with it. — Peter Holslin

40. Stepbrothers “See the Rich Man Play ft. Roc Marciano”

Life is just chance. You can go from an NBA prospect to being thankful that you got your MBA in accounting with a single hard fall You could buy a car tomorrow that will save your life when you get into a gnarly accident. “See the Rich Man Play” follows three different iterations of the gambling man, ruminations delivered over a low-key sample with a field recording of the multi-colored blaring of slot machines. Alchemist comes from the perspective of a man with a gambling addiction (no Walter White cover-up story), glossy-eyed as he watches poker chips on the playing table, desperate for a win while envisioning the bottom of the bucket. Evidence plays the underboss carrying the briefcase and dreaming of the day his luck finally renders him able to cash in for real.

As the first two stories pain a vague but still deeply felt character sketches, the song seems to be perfect musical accompaniment for the impish side of Roc Marciano’s personality, as he rifles off a series of still life images that seem like accessories for a major player: Tips, mind-blowing sex, glasses of nectar, pills being pooled like Tic Tacs, alcohol spilling all over the ground. Marciano sounds completely at home over this type of beat, crafting that high-life style usually offset by his grit. But with “See the Rich Man Play,” where his colleagues bring things down to earth, he’s rolling past them in the finest import car he can find, having the time of his life while the other two are pulling their pockets inside out to find another bet. — Martin Douglas

39. Father – “2 Dead 6 Wounded”

There are catchier and more popular tracks on Father’s Young Hot Ebony, but this one stuck with me more than most.  Maybe because gangsta rap is still my favorite kinds of rap, and here its DNA is infused with Awful Records’ offbeat formula and so transformed into some new mutant strain which satisfies both my old tastes and my craving for a new sound. The snippet of a news broadcast lamenting the deadly results of a shooting could’ve just as easily opened any rap song about violence dating back to 1992ish. However, Father’s clipped delivery, abstracted lyrics and sparse production exemplify the conceptual “weirdness” which first drew the public’s attention to his ragtag band of talents. There’s also the undeniable musical talent which underscores their efforts and anchors and heartens even their strangest leanings.  Rappers have been talking about shooting people for decades, in some ways it has become almost as rote as smoking weed.  It’s refreshing to hear somebody put a new spin on it. – Alex Piyevsky

38. Cousin Stizz – “Shout Out”

Drugs and money: addictive, indivisible, and transferrable. Cousin Stizz knows. He’s not in the club; he’s in the cut counting up with another abundant shipment of dope from his benevolent plug on the way. If the feds swarm, he’ll remain silent. Until then, he’ll gleefully expound upon the eternal love affair between drugs and dead presidents. Thus, we have “Shoutout”.

The beat is thick, slow, and glinting, like codeine poured into a gold plated double cup. While “Peso” or “Bird on a Wire” comparisons are applicable, their percussion occasionally feels too hard, at odds with their respective swirling chords. Here, Obeatz has managed to make a suite that is at once hypnotically inert and head nodding, seemingly stationary and still clipping along to the pace of a perfectly integrated bass line and sparse snare hits. Whenever I hear it, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious seems like the only apt descriptor. Stizz may be from Boston, but he doesn’t rap like Guru or (thankfully) Benzino. His voice, cadence, and delivery smack of the southern, but even that doesn’t fit entirely. There’s also faint rasp, undoubtedly acquired from inhaling one wonky blunt after another. His lyrics aren’t revolutionary or revelatory, but they remind you of the potency of a simple, repeated turn of phrase.

There was a time when mellow rap songs could crack Billboard. But in the age of the endless turn up, a relaxed but aggressive shout out can do wonders. — Max Bell

37. 100s – “Ten Freaky Hoes”

Despite just 22 years in the Mack game, Blaxploitation aficionado and future Herbal Essences ambassador 100s rhymes with the authority of a veteran lady-killer. On “Ten Freaky Hoes,” the California local retraces the crocodile skinned footsteps of his pimp forefathers and shares the sexy exploits of his 10 chosen thots. A master of entertaining yet morally questionable tales, 100s raps about Mya’s crazy hair, Porscha hating her job and being nonplussed at Donna’s momma catching him in the act.

Alongside his ice-cold raps, 100’s croons over astral R&B and channels inspiration from his dirty heroes Rick James and Bobby Brown. Throwback elements intact with Roger Troutman style talk-box vocals and storytelling reminiscent of Too $hort, the song conveys a slick retro vibe without coming across as parody. This year’s excellent eight-track EP IVRY further guided 100s ascent as the dapper youth with an ear for explicit rhymes and smutty grooves. Unfortunately, he recently rebranded himself as Kossisko so cosmic tracks like these might sadly the last we hear in a while. While you hide your purple tinted tears behind dark shades, turn the music up and pretend the sleaze never stops. — Jimmy Ness

36. IAMSU! – “Only that Real ft. 2 Chainz & Sage the Gemini”

IamSu! makes hits. If you live outside of the West, you might not have heard a lot of them. While YG and Mustard secured their fan base in Bompton, Su and his HBK compatriots supplied the Bay with a surfeit of material that split the difference between Baton Rouge’s ratchet minimalism and hyphy slaps. Su’s debut album, Sincerely Yours, may not have matched My Krazy Life in scope, but it was one of the best rap albums of 2014 with mainstream viability that lacked major label backing. That’s probably part of the reason why “Only that Real” remains one of this year’s most slept-on rap singles.

Produced by HBK stalwart P Lo, “Only that Real” is built around the most eerily inviting and infectious synth chords this side of the Mississippi. The percussion the clangs and clamors with the portent of Richmond bound BART cars. Su effortlessly glides over the beat with one smooth and soft-spoken boast after another, blowing racks and using his juice to get women who’ve been kicked out of the club back in; 2 Chainz makes another hilarious guest appearance, delivering nonsensical non-sequiturs with a deadpan only afforded to people who get drunk and high at the same time; and Sage the Gemini holds down the anchor leg with enough auto-tuned ‘90s references to start a Tumblr page. Though it only reached #28 on Billboard’s Rhythmic chart, “Only that Real” is this year’s highest charting hit from Yay area for a reason. Listen to it or may the thizz face of Mac Dre forever haunt your dreams.– Max Bell

35. Tree – “Probably Nu It”

Tree is consistently one of the most overlooked and underrated rappers in Chicago. He’s not part of the drill camp; he didn’t come up in the city’s fertile open mic scene. So how does a 30-year-old fit in with younger Windy City contemporaries? He doesn’t. He goes left. He creates soul trap.

“Probably Nu It”, the first track on the Scion commissioned MCTreeG EP, is possibly my favorite iteration of the soul trap sound. The beat is the definition of minimal, practically all percussion; the melody comes from the bass line. This only works because of Tree’s voice, the searing soul issued from vocal chords that sound like they’ve been tarred by innumerable Newports and shredded by sharp gravel. It belongs to another era but it cuts through jittery hi-hats better than most today. When not singing the infectious hook, Tree stitches together rhymes together like a seamless pair of Horween leather boots. In doing so, he paints one of the most intimate portraits of a woman he knows is bad for his health yet continues to see for the sex. This is the kind of blues that rattles the bone marrow. Tree’s voice may get you up, but his words will cut you at the knees. —Max Bell

34. JunglePussy – “Nah”

What if Juelz Santana shopped at Whole Foods? “You can’t fake real/ I’m eating great eel.” Junglepussy is the B-movie villain who’s more fun than the hero. Steeped in pink furs and leased Range Rovers, she distills the best elements of Dipset and metaphysics into a two-minute sneer. There is nothing nice; she rolls with big shots, made men, lots of plugs. They feed your girl lobsters, love. There are probably a hunnid thinkpeices brewing on Junglepussy’s gender politics, but this isn’t political–it’s a celebration of excess. “Your man never cum; I made him lick the box–he said it hit the spot.”

The rhyme scheme stumbles over itself; “groping limbs” slides into “No Limit” and “Soulja Slim”. The flow jabs and chin-checks (“Youdon’t-know-whatI-got-allup-inmy-fucking-purse”). The juxtaposition Junglepussy presents isn’t one of the boxes we like to check: violent/remorseful, caring/calloused. Instead, hers is a world where stunting on you comes second only to her own self-care. See: “I’ll fuck your face/ No microwaved meals” or “You can’t mistake these oxtails for the chicken spot” or “I seen you eating Mickey D’s, knew you ain’t love yourself/ I’m up at Trader Joe’s, shopping cart full of health”. Get the big picture, bitch, you in a little box. – Paul Thompson

33. Cam’Ron & A-Trak – “Dipsh*ts”

When you hear Dame Dash say “I feel like rapping on this shit,” there are a couple of possible outcomes. Either the beat is good enough to get anyone inspired, or it’s about to get ruined by the man who’s most consistently threatened to rap without ever actually doing it. Kanye proved that anyone involved with Roc-A-Fella could potentially get on the mic, but Dame’s always been the George Steinbrenner of the movement. With “Dipshits,” he’s more like Dan Gilbert, putting the old squad back together and bringing in A-Trak, who kind of looks like Kevin Love. A-Trak’s beat is vintage Dipset perfection, with Just Blaze also working his name into the production credits. Why not?

There are many reasons to love this song but the simplest one is because it exists in 2014, an era when Harlem’s most popular rappers favor luxury fashion over airbrushed white tees. The recipe is foolproof: Cam’ron supplies verses, Juelz takes the hook. It’s always worked and it’s glorious here, even though Jim Jones appears only in the background of the accompanying video.

“Dipshits” was released in a year when early 2000s New York nostalgia was an easy sell, the best group reunion track in a year G-Unit also got together. The song is one of the year’s best because its Dipset back doing what we always want to hear from them — flashy production, flashier Cam verses and undeniable chemistry.  – Will Hagle

32. Shy Glizzy – “Awwsome”/”Awwsome Remix ft. A$AP Rocky & 2 Chainz”

It’s been a bleak year for Washington D.C.’s historically insular rap scene: Oddisee and company fell slightly short with their Diamond District reboot; Fat Trel’s vague alliance with Rick Ross’s vanity imprint has yielded diminished returns; Wale has long outgrown the Beltway; and Yung Gleesh, a former go-go drummer turned flamboyant trap rapper, has still yet to recapture the madcap spirit of his retail debut, Ain’t Shit Changed. These misfires and non-starters underscore the newfound success of Shy Glizzy, arguably the only Washingtonian to produce a shred of memorable rap in 2014.

Glizzy’s now-signature song, “Awwsome,” and its subsequent blockbuster remix, featuring 2 Chainz and A$AP Rocky, are feel good odes to self-worth and net worth. “Awwsome offers a much-needed counter to Kendrick Lamar’s “i,” in that it conveys a constructive message without pandering to a PG-13 audience. But more importantly, it jams, despite carrying a beat so ethereal that it barely exists. — Harold Stallworth

31. Blu – “The Return”

On Below The Heavens, Blu held his psyche at arm’s length: “Dancing In The Rain” dedicates an entire verse to the inner monologue while the friend on the other end of a phone call is ignored. That was 2007. The long, poorly-mixed spiral that led to this year’s Good To Be Home has been well documented; the double album itself has been mostly ignored. Produced entirely by Bombay, Home catches Blu at his basest, where songs like “Rap Dope” and “The 50z” play out exactly as their titles suggest. (That’s not a criticism–no one else is writing lines like “Burn my AC up/ Foreign chick/ Forgot who Jay Z was”.)

In turn, “The Return” bleeds and slinks and knocks, rap-song-as-genre-flick, “How you keep peace these days if you ain’t got a piece by your reach these days?” Blu and Bombay are dutiful and reverent, nodding to the sunrise and the mid-’90s and Slauson and Western. It’s sinister, it’s urgent. “Yeah it feels all good in the hood–I know it ain’t.” At least three different times throughout the song, Blu reminds us that he’s had his name as long as he can remember, that he’s always been the same. It’s not true, but it’s a nice thought. – Paul Thompson

 

30. 50 Cent – “Hold On”

2014 was another year in which 50 Cent got us talking about one of his albums more than we actually listened to it. The Mets first pitch stunt followed by his show there a few weeks later, the Slowbucks chain thievery, the G-Unit reunion. All of that seems so insignificant in retrospect, but at the time 50 had us thinking they were iconic moments in rap history. He had us thinking Animal Ambition was worth buying.

The album is actually alright, but it peaks on the first track. “Hold On” is unlike any other 50 single, stripped down and relaxed. He’s still talking crime in that casually affect-less yet charismatic 50 way, but he sounds less hungry and the beat’s less aggressive. He basically just talks nonsense over each hook, tossing in an iPhone tri-tone at 3:14 that fakes me out and leads to disappointment when I check my own phone every time. It’s a loose song, but that’s what happens when you wake up rich as a motherfucker, and ain’t much changed.

Animal Ambition’s modestly good album sales are a reminder that, as 50 says on “Hold On,” the true principles of life are supply and demand. When business is running smoothly, the actual product doesn’t matter as much as the name attached. The PR stunts 50 pulled this year didn’t keep our attention for long, but when those memories fade and only the music remains, at least we’ll still have “Hold On”. – Will Hagle

29. Snootie Wild ft. K Camp – “Made Me”/”Made Me Remix ft. Jeremih & Boosie”

As well as having the greatest rap name this side of Skippa Da Flippa, Snootie Wild has a way with melody. It’s the sort of thing that can make you a star in 2014, but more importantly it can turn a good song into a great one. He’s released at least three great songs this year but none better than the K Camp-featuring “Made Me,” an I-came-from-nothing anthem that you want to sing-rap along to before you even know the words. The beat, from Big Fruit (who surely has the greatest producer name this side of Smoko Ono) is a mix of twinkling bells and jump sound effects from old SNES games. That’s a fine thing on its own, believe it or not, but Snootie throws a dozen different vocal ideas at it and all of them stick. His knack for melody is such that he can even upstage a proper singer like Jeremih on the song’s remix, while Boosie adds a verse that sounds traditional by comparison, but goes in all the same. — Kyle Ellison

28. Jonwayne – “World Championship Karate ft. Quelle Chris & Zeroh”

The Cali MC and beatmaker  Jonwayne dropped a number of gems throughout the year, but he reached new heights with his sixth installment on Aug. 25, “World Championship Karate Champion.”  Over a simple guitar string bend, percolating bass, occasional piano and some Wu-like kung-fu sound effects, Jonwayne not only lays down a thoroughly funky and enjoyable beat, but he ups the game by enlisting the lyrical aid of Quelle Chris and Zeroh to take this track on the offensive.

The three complement one another nicely, each with a similar, laid back flow that is surprisingly potent.  The trio isn’t trying to solve world hunger or bring about world peace, though they’re clearly more than comfortable engaging in ninjitsu wordplay.   Whether it’s it Zeroh announcing, “Hope ya new Pumas get pummeled by 20 dirty cleats,” Chris stating, “Pop an attitude at this altitude? Man that’s cold,” or Jonwayne letting you know he, “leave(s) rappers with Versace gunshot wounds,” don’t let the mush mouthed delivery fool you. As the cleverly repetitive title implies, this is music from stoned Zen masters who take their Mortal Kombat seriously, lyrically breaking boards between tokes.  – Chris Daly

27. Kevin Gates – “Arm and Hammer”

‘America’s Most Haunted’ is how Passion of the Weiss staffer Jimmy Ness titled his write-up on Kevin Gates earlier this year. It couldn’t have been more appropriate.

The Louisiana-based rapper is frightening, not because of his larger than life persona but because he’s an open indication of how precarious our grip on our own sanity is. Gates is a counter to every Rick Rossian fake-ster you ever came across. The dude has lived through his troubles — spending a significant part of his 20s behind bars — and openly admits he’s been broken by what he’s seen. Also, he likes to quote Nicholas Sparks. What a guy.

Anyway, “Arm and Hammer” was the kind of song to have you stripping down to your underpants and playing chicken with your neighbor’s Hyundai. A ferocious, baking soda-themed calling card for By Any Means, which was itself one of the best mixtapes of the year (of course). And the video is just as great, Method Kev giving you a look into what turned over during darker days past. –Matt Shea

26. O.G. Maco – “U Guessed It”

In a post-Yeezus world, everyone wants to talk about minimalism, but it’s rare to hear a record that embodies its guiding principles more fully and successfully than “U Guessed It.” The track, produced by Brandon Thomas, is stripped down to its barest essentials, a brutalist edifice as imposing and empty as the darkened hotel its video is set in.

There’s very little to the track, just a twinkly key loop, clustered hi-hats, and stuttering bass swells, leaving tons of space for Maco and Key! to work. They fill it admirably, their vocals snarling and dynamic, hilarious and irreverent. All the greatest turn up anthems, from “Simon Says” to “Ante Up,” strike the perfect balance between aggression and playfulness, and “U Guessed It” is no exception – it’s a fine addition to the canon, and one of 2014’s most purely enjoyable tracks. — Adam Wray

25. A$AP Rocky – “Multiply”

In a funny way ‘Multiply’ proved A$AP Rocky’s value as a rapper more than any other song he’s released so far.

It was about as good as Kendrick’s new single was terrible, showcasing everything that made Rocky so solid in the first place: the darkness, the confidence, a little bit of anger. The frightening beat probably helped too — something you can fuck with after just one listen, sending it immediately to the repeat pile.

But returning with a song like this illustrated that the New Yorker knows which side his hip-hop bread is really buttered on. It’s a slick, nasty, street-level statement of intent. And that hook though.

So good Juicy didn’t even need do a verse. –Matt Shea

24. Boogie – “Bitter Raps”

On “Bitter Raps,” Boogie is laughingly self-critical, the flaws acknowledged are borderline inextricable from his (and my) generation. Rolling blunts just to take a selfie, late-life gangbanging, and rappers “doing these gay ass poses all over the social tryna be models” are the self-absorbed image-crafting habits Boogie decries — and yet the refrain of “No, we ain’t on the same thing” morphs into “I’m probably on the same thing.”

Hyper-masculinity’s rigid, prescribed behaviors are a particularly wide target for Boogie’s rotten tomatoes. “I hate when niggas get to flexing just to show out for some bitches/ You still ain’t got none/ You smoke ‘em out just for the kisses, always asking for a shotgun/You need to kill that.”

In an LA Weekly interview with our very own Jeff Weiss, Boogie said that “My kid showed me that fighting and tripping on niggas is pointless. We shouldn’t be out here beefing with each other. As black males, we should be close.” Despite being a protective parent to his young son, he also admitted that he’d still rep his set if someone bangs on him in his territory.

“Bitter Raps”’ is thoroughly post-Kendrick Lamar. Boogie is part of a generation of West Coast rappers from violent environs, comfortable discussing their vulnerabilities, a cadre of self-aware artists caught between undesirable gang life and equally undesirable victimhood. What’s a single dad like Boogie to do? Flex for ratchets? Throw up gang signs? Probably smoke a blunt, maybe take a selfie of it. — Torii MacAdams

 

23. Big Sean – “IDFWU”

The more time I spend on this planet, the more I’ve come to realize that being the bigger person is overrated. Believe me. Big Sean figured that shit out long before I did and gave us a song so delightfully catchy and petty that I’m certain that Drake and Chris Brown have exchanged angry texts about it every other week since it dropped—so much so that they’ve allegedly become Eskimo Bros.

Anyway, like all those big ass investment banks that stole your parents’ pensions, this song was always going to be too big to fail. Between the production triumvirate of Kanye, DJ Mustard and DJ Dahi, a 40 Wata feature and Sean’s unabashed embrace of pettiness, along with an underrated vocal performance (bars, flow, hook and all), this song had a lot going for it on merit alone. Add in the tawdry “art imitating life” and hashtag title elements and there was no way this shit wasn’t poppin’ off. And in case I’ve been unclear, it’s a great fuckin’ pop song.

And for those of you that have a problem with “IDFWU’s” ubiquity, you can take solace in the fact that E-40’s grown ass managed to top the charts in 2014. That’s gotta count for something, right? If that’s not enough, I can assure you that Drake will attempt to make sweet fuck with Naya Rivera soon. Just wait on it, Sean. — Mobb Deen

22. RiFF RAFF – “TiP TOE WiNG iN MY JAWWDiNZ”

Many have recorded rap songs about sneakers: Run-D.M.C., Raekwon, Nelly, The Pack. Few have tailored their footwear fetish for your turn up. With a beat that somehow sonically approximates the feeling of tiptoeing like the Grinch while rocking a fresh pair of cool grey 11s, Riff Raff continues his mission to boast most vividly, to make stunting the absurdist fantasy it always should be. Many are capable of rapping “dyslexic” and “four-door mango Lexus”; only one man turned walking vision board thought to do it. Riff Raff may not be Anita Baker, but he can whisper rap the hook to “Tip Toe Wing in My Jawwdinz” from the club to his Batcave and back again.

Really, the song is less about wearing Jordans than it is what you do in them: moving to Cali, throwing pesos at strippers with Sergio, eating tempura, courting Brazilian twins who may be deported at any moment, and having a “girls only” sleeping party. Jordans are the first sign of success, and thus they remain on feet once you move from the Ford to the Lotus. While we can’t attend the sleepover, Riff Raff extends Js and a Versace sleeping bag as an olive branch. Accuse him of what you will, but, even when all his Day-Glo gloating is probably closer to reality, he’s never boring. – Max Bell

21. Future – “Move That Dope ft. Pusha T & Pharell”

“Move That Dope” ha to qualify as the ultimate pump-fake of 2014. A song so cheerfully anti-social, motivational and hard that it managed to serve as the perfect counterweight to the saccharine keys and bass of the eponymous first single off his album. Honest came, went and failed to move the needle like Pluto did, but “Move That Dope” managed to capture everyone’s attention from late winter to… I’m guessing now? I don’t remember a night out without hearing “Move That Dope” in 2014 and it also happens to be Future’s highest ever charting solo single on the Billboard 100.

I truly believe that the song would have made an impact without any of the guests on it, but it certainly didn’t hurt to have a nonsensical Pharell, in the midst of his mainstream renaissance, riding shotgun with a ‘completely-in-his-element-to-the-point-of-obvious-onomatopoeia’ Pusha T. Nonetheless, the combination of Mike Will Made It’s cheesy synths, another simple, yet infectious Future hook and a weirdly hypnotic nod to Salt-N-Pepa’s classic, “Push It,” would probably have been enough to get us all really excited about “Move That Dope.” Almost made me wish I still qualified as young, so I could attempt to ruin my life by selling controlled substances. Thankfully, I’m old enough to settle for just feeling real good every time I heard “Move That Dope.” — Mobb Deen[/page]

10. J-Zone – “Mad Rap”

“Cooperators are running shit. That’s people’s models: cooperate and we can survive” – Dame Dash

Nobody wants to be called a “hater” but in the Super Friends era of rap where every rapper is friendly with each other and afraid to rock the boat in fear of upsetting their corporate sponsors, a hater is exactly what is called for.

Enter the perpetually aggrieved J-Zone who boldly declares a need for more hate in the rap game on his blistering single, “Mad Rap.” As a self-proclaimed failed rapper with over 15 years experience making music, J-Zone has exactly zero interest in appeasing anybody and is giving out lyrical two pieces to anybody that inspires his wrath. Zone plays the role of vengeful, rap proletariat directly calling out moneyed black people like Jay Z, Russell Simmons and the entire Los Angeles Clippers for failing to publicly stand up against institutional racism in fear of fucking up their money. Zone is as testy and spitefully hilarious as ever taking a well-deserved shit in the mouth of bourgeois assholes who don’t want you to ever complain. Zone For President in 2016! – Doc Zeus

9. Rustie ft. Danny Brown – “Attak”

Y’all can’t spit like Danny Brown. I mean, literally, unless you’re missing one-and-a-half central incisors, and figuratively, because Detroit’s most drugged Fraggle is inimitable. Brown’s flow vacillates between the highs of helium escaping a balloon and the lows of Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff, dropping octaves as quickly as it takes the cartoon antagonist to realize he’s standing on thin air. Brown’s a pliant rapper; his early work is largely straightforward Detroit rap, but as his cornrows were shorn and traded in for increasingly abstract manes, his beat selection became more abstract in turn.

What Brown never lost in his musical and drug experimentation was his sense of low-level criminality, which he’s discussed candidly on and off wax. “Attack’s” baroque façade of warehouse alarm sirens and grandstanding synths belies Brown’s never fully obscured gullies. “Trap” has been cooped into sterile submission by suburban bicep bros and platinum blondes rolling on ecstasy cut with too much speed—”Attak” is not that. Brown threatens the following: chokeholds for “pussy niggas,” shooting brains out of hats, and further bullets to the chest.

Specificity makes for excellent lyrics; Brown doesn’t just threaten your family but threatens to put your daughter’s fingers in a mousetrap, like Home Alone Macaulay Culkin impersonating Method Man. Brown has a gift for brutal honesty adjacent to brutality, a pattern mirrored by his personal life. Crammed between bluster, brags, and threats, Brown raps “Back in 2003 used to post up and roll up bag of pounds of the mid / Use to trap O.T. with the D, on the Greyhound bus, one pair of jeans / Touchdown in the city like ‘Nigga where the fiends?’ ” The devil is always in the details. — Torii MacAdams

8. YG – “Meet the Flockers”

https://soundcloud.com/deejayrobzett/meet-the-flockers-yg-ft-tee

What exactly makes a good lyricist? Does one have to have litter your rhymes with five-star SAT words? Do you have to spit bars with complex internal rhyme patterns? Do you have dreads and speak on social and political issues ? Do you have to be from New York? Compton rapper YG is nobody’s prototypical idea of a great lyricist but what he does do exceptionally well is write songs – the most important part of being a good rapper.

“Meet The Flockers” is the ideal example of why YG’s My Krazy Life was one of the year’s best written rap albums. Over a creeping G-Funk inspired track, YG and guest crime partner Tee Cee deliver a step-by-step manual to becoming a world-class home invader In the tradition of Biggie’s “10 Crack Commandments.” YG’s rhymes do more with less effectively conveying the details of the paranoid thrills of crime with simplicity and straight-forwardness. It doesn’t hurt that producer Mikely Adam delivers a paranoid creeper of a beat that totally bangs. – Doc Zeus

7. Rae Sremmurd – “No Type”

As far as radio-ready joints go, 2014’s belonged to the duo Rae Sremmurd, and “No Type” is their best work to date. They glide over Mike Will’s icy synths and rumbling sub bass, providing us with the year’s stickiest hook. It’s the rare tune whose ubiquity you can live with. They’ve been compared to Kriss-Kross – even if the intent is pejorative, and its effect reductive, I’d take it as a compliment. They may well end up being two-hit wonders, but they’ll always be the dudes who provided some of 2014 most purely enjoyable tunes – a public service, in my mind. Few artists will ever be able to boast such an accomplishment. The Mike Will-Rae Sremmurd connection is better than we deserved this year. – Adam Wray

6. Migos – “Fight Night”

When they weren’t out shopping for Atlanta’s finest patterned shirts, The Three Migoteers spent most of the year perfecting a formula. It’s somehow inevitable, then, that their crowning achievement of 2014 is the song that smashes it to pieces. Eschewing the trios labyrinthine stop-start trap, “Fight Night” swipes a fluid, rubbery baseline from the Bay (albeit from ATL producer Stack Boy Twaun) and runs with it. A chorus of seal claps cheers the song into action, as Messrs, Quavo, Takeoff and Offset get in the ring to trade boxing blows. This might not be Migos’ usual feng shui, as Takeoff puts it, but there’s more versatility under all of the triplets and repetition than the group is given credit for.

The sheer density of Migos’ tapes can mean it sometimes takes awhile for the best songs to emerge. Subtler hits can often overtake those that bounce right off the bat, but even after the excellent Rich Nigga Timeline, “Fight Night” won’t be budged in a hurry. Other notable things to happen on the song include shouts to Nate Dogg, an ad-lib of the year contender (lil momma!) and the advent of the language ‘Brokanese.’ Most importantly though, Migos find the sweet spot in this simple, limber beat and clutch on to it like their riches depend on it. — Kyle Ellison

5. Action Bronson – “Easy Rider”

Just when you thought Bronsolino’s awesome extramusical endeavors were going to be his only contributions to our culture in 2014, he goes and drops one of his most ferocious songs to date. In advance of his major label debut, Mr. Wonderful (apparently Roc Marciano isn’t the only one who feels he’s Paul Orndorff-esque), comes a Turkish rock-sampling, Dennis Hopper movie-referencing stunner bolstered by Bronson’s natural charisma.

Similar to the aforementioned Marciano—contemporary New York rap’s other premier aesthete—the bulk of Bronson’s rhymes are jump-cut scenes filled with detailed imagery: LSD benders, the climax of the “November Rain” video, a distant cousin of Tattoo from Fantasy Island, his-and-hers machine pistols, callbacks to his favorite example of auto-engineering, and generational updates of “Dreams” are rattled off in rapid succession. As Bam Bam is wont to do, he bros down in exotic places (specifically, “playing Frisbee in the West Indies”) and eats exotic foods by the plateful (specifically, eel). Very loose pants are rocked. Barbs are thrown that could be construed as scathing disses to us fashionphiles (“I heard your bitch still wears Ecko! You don’t even have sneaker money!”).

The trick Bronson pulls off that makes him a special MC is how he weaves these idiosyncrasies into multilayered rhyme schemes. He’s a cult of personality but that’s not all he is; he has serious lyrical chops, an ear for beats that satisfies purists without being succumbing to convention, and a thorough, near-obsessive understanding of his public personality. (I’m almost certain the latter comes from being a huge mark, as there is virtually no difference between wrestling characters and rapper personae.) The results are simple but not formulaic. Action Bronson is a man with uncommon tastes and eccentric exploits, he’s simultaneously a real-ass cat from Queens, that one charming fat guy all your lady friends have crushes on, and the hero of cheesy-but-great action movies. He’s not the man who suffers the same fate as Billy and Wyatt; he was always meant to ride that chopper toward the horizon while the end credits roll. — Martin Douglas

4. Bobby Shmurda – “Hot Nigga”/”Hot Nigga Reggae Remix ft. Roddy Rebel”

“Hot Nigga” will go down as a punchline, as something between a tossed-off meme and a case study on virality. Because how else do you reconcile a hookless song over an old Lloyd Banks mixtape beat becoming one of the year’s biggest hits? But this is reductive. Yes, Vine, yes, crack, yes, the fifth grade. There’s something else: A dead-eyed stare, a fatalistic recklessness. “Hot Nigga” is the police’s least favorite crescendo. The turn up claws higher and impossibly higher until the infamous “MITCH JUST CAUGHT A BODY ‘BOUT A WEEK AGOOO”. When has dry snitching sounded so…cool? Bobby Shmurda scored a cult hit not just with a loose-limbed half-dance, but with a mercurial approach to coping with often grim surroundings.

So pretty soon, everyone is quoting this unmarketable unknown. The Vines come and go, then come around again, but “Hot Nigga” won’t go away. The reggae remix–menacing and absurd in a way New York rap seldom has been since the pink Range Rovers went away–helped keep the single relevant, to be sure. Epic Records jumped at the chance to sign the 20-year-old Shmurda, a Hail Mary in the best of sales climates. (To be clear, his signing was not totally unfounded: Shmurda She Wrote is a startlingly dynamic EP, “Bobby Bitch” an abrasive heat rock.) What first looked like another in the infinite void of made-for-Youtube loosies became the fulcrum for an anachronistic rise.

And now, the coda: Bobby Shmurda’s improbable year was punctuated two nights ago by an arrest–the culmination of a special prosecutor’s investigation into “multiple violent crimes and narcotics trafficking”. There he was, limp as the marionette he turned into in the video that made him famous, cuffed and crying. Just as there exists the effort to make Bobby Shmurda a virtual joke, a scarecrow made of retweets and HTML code, there’s our tendency to view gangsta rap in a vacuum. But songs like “Hot Nigga” don’t just materialize. They’re born from neighborhoods that where “multiple violent crimes and narcotics trafficking” seem like the more sensible career paths. So the Vines will keep looping in perpetuity, but so will the Brooklyn streets where the video was filmed. And so will “Hot Nigga”. — Paul Thompson

 

3. iLoveMakonnen – “Club Going Up on a Tuesday (No Drake)”

The world needed a trap ballad. A magnetizing anthem that sacrificed the sinister yet remained authentic. 25-year-old Atlanta resident and Goldberg doppelganger Makonnen Sheran knew. In the not so distant past, he spent the hours after graveyard shifts on lucrative corners locked in the booth. Once there he combined based rap delivery, trap rap tropes, and croons reminiscent of The Killers’ Brandon Flowers over plinking piano suites. Though often rough and underdeveloped, these songs contained the formula for that ballad. Makonnen perfected it on a Tuesday.

“Club Going Up on a Tuesday” is the most relatable trap song of 2014. Whether you’re flipping hard or words about rap music, working from home and working late are universal. Anyone who’s ever had a Wednesday off of work knows the feeling of looking for a release on a Tuesday night. This is why the song works. When paired with Metro Boomin/Sonny Digtial’s soothing, minimal, and muted 808 thump, Makonnen’s shaky warbling earnestly evokes that feeling. In this light, the words aren’t meaningless, they mean whatever you want them to mean. The club goes up wherever you want it to. You just have to press play.

Given Makonnen’s aesthetic and lyrics, the Drake remix was inevitable: Drake’s always sung; he’s always wanted your girl and a backstory as troubled as Makonnen’s. The remix may have resulted in an OVO signing and a Grammy nomination, but “Tuesday” belongs to Makonnen fifty-two weeks a year from now until forever. It’s his style. He made it on his own. – Max Bell

 

2. Vince Staples – “Blue Suede”

No one’s calling it “Long Bitch” to Vince Staples’ face. The Long Beach rapper’s 2014 included two sterling, hard as fuck EPs—Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 and Hell Can Wait—which combined to land him at #10 on our Top 50 albums list. Staples was an integral part of a surprisingly strong year for West Coast rap, vastly outperforming limp releases from the suddenly weakened TDE—this isn’t self-love fuckshit made to sell subcompacts. Staples is following the heavy Nike Cortez footprints Ice Cube stomped before Staples was born, an indignant, sometimes righteous voice teetering on the precipice of violence. Ice Cube, both as ghostwriter for NWA and solo act, was equally capable of catchy hooks and quasi-liberalism passing as g’d up realpolitik. Staples doesn’t yet have his Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, but “Blue Suede’s” street-savvy fatalism and cocky bombast cast him as a younger version of “The Nigga You Love to Hate,” Ice Cube.

So, what’s the pinched squeal that opens “Blue Suede”? The synth from GZA’s “4th Chamber”? Tires burning out post-driveby? Air whistling from bullet-punctured lungs? The sound of grind house horror, a siren alerting the audience that someone is well and truly fully fucked? It is all of these things. “Blue Suede” is a curbside spiritual to premature demise, and a thundering bit of gallows humor—Staples can only hope to outlive the gravesite red roses. “Blue Suede” is the flip side to Staples’ fuck-the-police jam “Hands Up,” a rampaging answer to the question “What if Vince Staples was a fuckup?” Staples abbreviates the ne’er do well gang banging lifestyle; “Finna kill a nigga walking’ to his mom’s tonight / Shit real in the field, get caught, don’t squeal / Best deal that the judge finns offer: life / Play this track in Calipat, get it pippin’ in the prison.” The best writers, rap or otherwise, can tell complex stories economically—it only takes Staples two bars to go from running up on vulnerable rivals to serving a life sentence, listening to rap music as a temporary escape from California’s overcrowded prisons.

Unlike his little homie serving time in Ironwood State Prison, Staples is free enough to lace his suede Jordans, and at 21, is already one of the leaders in a rap scene which had been in dire need of a revival. This was never a given. The alternative, in Staples’ words: “Coulda been a felon selling’ nickels off of Linden / Nigga fuck that.” — Torii MacAdams

1. Young Thug – Year of Young Thug (“Lifestyle,” et. al.)

The-Year-of-Young-Thug

Young Thug is rap’s great wedge issue. He’s one leopard skirt photo shoot away from being deployed in anti-Millennial thinkpieces and Republican mailers. You either love him or you’ve stopped reading this, and are plotting to leak awkward “Danny Glover Freestyles” from our staff.

I attempted to explain his appeal earlier this year. At the risk of self-plagiarism, I’ll repeat it here because why bother to re-word what’s ultimately inexplicable.

“Neither toxicologist nor translator can interpret Young Thug. His vocabulary is a creole of Atlanta trap slang, Hopelandic, and the language of thought—the yeows, yelps, and coos used by babies to communicate. His bloodstream is equal parts Strawberry Jolly Ranchers, promethazine, tropical Fanta, marijuana, molly, and alien drugs beamed in from the plug on Betelgeuse.

It is possible to explain him in terms of conventional lineage. There’s the croaking syllable plasticity of Lil Wayne circa the lunar peaks of his Martian phase. But Thugga hails from one planet further out, an inhospitable and volcanic sphere of choppy rock where the strip clubs only accept hundreds. He shouts out Fabo and OJ the Juiceman. Gucci Mane is his spiritual advisor. But when he looks in the mirror, 22-year old Jeffrey Williams only sees a meal ticket and occasionally Princess Leia buns.

The eccentricity makes him compelling, but it doesn’t make him great. His hooks are sticky as resin. His craggy voice sounds ancient and energetic at the same time. You might question the lifestyle decisions, but few make self-destruction sound so gleeful. He spells out “l-e-a-n-i-n-g” on “2 Cups Stuffed” like Styrofoam and codeine were presents under the Christmas tree. “

If you hate Thug, you could argue that this is toxic. But positivity isn’t always possible from the poisoned. He was raised in the worst slums of Atlanta, surrounded by reckless drug use and gruesome murder rates. He turned himself into one of rap’s biggest young stars sans nepotism, co-sign, or gimmicky #viral video.

So when I hear “Lifestyle,” I hear the cataracts of that pain and the bittersweet joy. The hook might be basic, but sometimes, even minor celebrations become sweeter by remembering emotional and physical casualties. The lack of narrative doesn’t matter, nor do the details of the lifestyle. It can be hedonistic or a moment of peace after a long interior journey. The beauty is its simplicity—the main-vein euphoria, the shit you did just to get here, right now. Or maybe you can just appreciate it for a style exercise as flamboyant and aerial as Dr. J with a red and white blue basketball and Afro bigger than the Ritz.

When our ballots were counted, “Lifestyle” beat out everything else. But 13 other Young Thug songs received year-end votes: “Lifestyle,” “Stoner,” “Danny Glover,” and songs with Zuse (“Treasure”), T.I. (“All About the Money), Travis Scott “Skyfall”), Juicy (“Low,”) Salva, Nick Hook, Freddie Gibbs & ASAP Ferg (Old English”), Migos (“New Atlanta”). Not to ignore his Rich Gang project with Rich Homie Quan and the world’s oldest Baby (votes earned for “Milk Marie” and “Flava.”)

If you had the inclination or infinite capacity for the turn up, you could sit here and rank the best 50 Young Thug songs of the year. But that contradicted what makes him special. None of this seems forcefully conceived or self-conscious. This mix is the 30 best Thug songs of the year – more or less. There’s no tracklist because you don’t need a tracklist.

It’s creativity at its most berserk, when it heeds no limitations or rules you should or shouldn’t avoid breaking. It might not be what you consider to be “real hip-hop,” but creativity trumps legibility every single time. And in a year of total chaos, no style was wilder. — Weiss

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!