Ab-Soul ft. Danny Brown & Jhene Aiko "Terrorist Threats"
There’s a reason that there’s so much hype around Top Dawg Entertainment and their crew of artists, and it’s not just because of Kendrick Lamar’s celebrated album good kid, m.A.A.d city.
With “Terrorist Threats,” one of the standouts from May’s Control System, K. Dot’s Black Hippy cohort Ab-Soul reminds that there’s a gang of talent on the roster. With fellow distinctive MC Danny Brown riding shotgun, Soulo flexes his depth and creativity, infusing political and social commentary into intricately crafted rhymes. “Kick yo’ game, spit yo’ flow/Can’t fuck with this Top Dawg shit, though,” Jhené Aiko kicks to open the song. True, indeed.
Previously: Ab-Soul Control System Review
Big Sean "Guap"
Before Big Sean heads into 2013, he offered fans a few freebies leading up to his sophomore effort, Hall of Fame: Memoirs of a Detroit Player. Out of “24 Karats of Gold” and “Mula,” “Guap” separates itself with its tropical vibes and self-assured rhymes from Sean Don. If you got haters, just tune them out with Sean’s infectious chorus: “Okay, this to all of my enemies that seeing me gettin’ guap right now.”
Kendrick Lamar "Swimming Pools (Drank)"
If you really think about it, “Swimming Pools” serves like a soul record. It has a lot of pain, and a lot of angst merged together like Play-Doh. If it was liquor, it’s not a celebratory drink. It’s more like a sake bomb that’s bound to hurt your brain, but stirs your inner emotion. The likable side, obviously, is the smirk-inducing vibe, Kendrick’s delivery, and most importantly the thought: “Even though we’re going to regret this shot in the morning, the process was joyous.”
Previously: Kendrick Lamar good kid, m.A.A.d city Review
Joey Bada$$ ft. Chuck Strangers "Fromdatomb$"
Joey Bada$$’ 1999 mixtape had rap nostalgia written all over it. “Fromdatomb$” featuring Chuck Strangers makes this list because the blueprint of a ‘90s sound never really gets old for hip-hop heads. Joey plays this role on his tape by leaning back to soaring samples of dusty soul and slow grooves. “Fromdatomb$” will hold up throughout 2013 as every rap fan’s throwback to the new old school.
Meek Mill ft. Big Sean "Burn"
This year, Big Sean and Meek Mill stepped out of their mentor’s shadows to successfully build their own following with massive solo singles and guest verses. When the two came together for “Burn,” the result was explosive as they went bar for bar over Jahlil Beats’ fiery production. Even as the year is coming to end, “Burn” still gets the crowd on their feet at any hip-hop show or club. It’s because Meek and Sean complement each other so well by trading boasts that hit hard. You can’t find that type of energy anywhere else.
Previously: Meek Mill Dreams and Nightmares Review
Gunplay "Jump Out"
Leave it to Gunplay to drop the riot-inducing mixtape of 2012 with Bogota Rich. “Jump Out” is gully rap at its best with the MMG rapper laying down some of his most memorable rhymes. It helps that the production is punctuated with gunshots and screams that gives us more reasons to turn up.
Here’s why it’s a great record. First, it unveiled a personal side of baby daddy/father Nasir Jones that was never told before. Second, the backdrop was so classically boom-bap, yet it had the right mainstream radio elements. Third, it’s a completely relatable record for the daughters, fathers, and mothers. All of those components combined with that catchy edge? Bananas.
Previously: Nas Life Is Good Review
Trinidad James "All Gold Everything"
Nowadays, you can’t go anywhere without hearing Trinidad James’ line: “Popped a molly, I’m sweatin’—woo!” The Atlanta upstart released his first mixtape, Don’t Be S.A.F.E., back in July. Since then, James has achieved instant success due in part to the relatability of “All Gold Everything.” He’s talking to every scene in hip-hop throughout his verse—”hipster bitches,” “hood niggas,” “Freshmen” and more. Although he still has a lot of ground to cover, “All Gold Everything” is enough to show his originality is here to stay.
Previously: Rappers in All Gold Everything
Big Boi ft. T.I. & Ludacris "In the A"
Salutes to Big Boi for carrying on the OutKast legacy through actual albums. He’s also completely comfortable in his zone to swing lyrical Jedi wizardry with ATL’s younger veterans. With each Southern legend’s distinctive braggadocio attacking the beat’s triumphant flare, the song’s an anthem for the Hawks, Braves, and the Falcons. Just thump it out.
Previously: Big Boi Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors Review
Ca$h Out "Cashin' Out"
Best songs don’t always need the most well thought-out motives. Just like you and I, Ca$h Out knows cashing out is a delightful feeling (as long as your checking account is balanced). During Friday night hangouts? Cashing out! The shorty’s about to give it up? Ooh, you cashing out! The new Jordan 11s came out? Son, cashing out! See how Ca$h Out (which surprisingly isn’t the name of a loan service) promotes capitalism for us all? And he helps us celebrate it with pure joy.
Schoolboy Q ft. A$AP Rocky "Hands on the Wheel"
ScHoolboy Q had a hit with this A$AP Rocky featured beat off Habits & Contradictions. The single ended up being one of this year’s hottest summer anthems. That Lissie “Pursuit of Happiness” sample helped too.
Previously: ScHoolboy Q Habits & Contradictions Review
Nicki Minaj ft. 2 Chainz "Beez in the Trap"
Nicki’s street single off Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded featuring 2 Chainz had enough pizzazz to live on radio and in our ears for more than a few months.
Previously: Nicki Minaj Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded Review
French Montana ft. Lil Wayne, Drake & Rick Ross "Pop That"
Content wise, French’s monster posse cut, which featured Rick Ross, Drake and Lil Wayne, was nothing refreshing, however, it did serve as an undeniable banger and fed the summer a smash for the clubs, radio and well, the strip clubs too.
Kid Cudi ft. King Chip "Just What I Am"
Over a psychedelic backdrop produced by himself, Kid Cudi successfully set the stage for his upcoming Indicud album this past summer with the first cut. The records thumping bass and undeniable hook (“I wanna get higher…”) made this joint, with an appearance by King Chip, an ear fixture, something that’s been somewhat of a penchant for the Cudster. “Who gon hold me down now…”
Rick Ross "Hold Me Back"
Do you hear Ross panting throughout this record? Do you hear him giving out detailed steps of his wish to prolong his stay in the drug game? You can’t hold him back. The haters can’t hold him back. While some real gangsters aren’t happy, even they can’t stop Rozay’s money flow. It serves as a meme, which reassures us whenever we feel the need to stride. And it feels great.
Previously: Rick Ross God Forgives, I Don’t Review
A$AP Rocky "Goldie"
As A$AP’s first joint off his highly anticipated Long. Live. A$AP, the single had to kill. And with much fanfare it did—at least amongst tastemakers and advocates of Rocky’s unapologetic delivery. It lacks the high-octane gloss of a Billboard bombshell, but the Harlemite’s effortless spew of contrasting lifestyles serves aptly like the gaudy visual. The Hit-Boy beat of course helped tremendously.
2 Chainz ft. Drake "No Lie"
2 Chainz ended his year with a Grammy nomination for his Def Jam debut, Based on a T.R.U. Story. Chainz teamed with Drake for “No Lie,” a single that showed his crossover appeal was in the details. It featured quality rhymes from both Chainz and Drizzy, as well as a menacing trap beat produced by Mike WiLL Made It. From Chainz going in on the beat to the OVO leader offering a tough hook, “No Lie” still does its work.
Previously: 2 Chainz Based on a T.R.U. Story Review
Odd Future "Oldie"
While we tip our snapbacks to the A$AP Mob and Taylor Gang, Odd Future swept the nation with their crazy live shows. The Los Angeles collective also found time to release another compilation album called The OF Tape Vol.2. “Oldie” was placed at the very end as the de facto posse cut featuring the whole crew rapping for 10 minutes. Every member delivers solid verses, but it’s Earl Sweatshirt reuniting with his brothers that made “Oldie” a monumental moment this year.
Action Bronson & Riff Raff "Bird on a Wire"
You can’t cap off the year without the successes of Action Bronson and Riff Raff. Both rappers have released highly regarded mixtapes under their belts—Bronson and Party Supplies’ Blue Chips and Riff’s Birth of an Icon. So it’s no surprise to see the two have an unmatched chemistry on their collaborative efforts. One of the standouts is “Bird on a Wire” that features Harry Fraud’s hazed out sound. Bronson delivers heat as usual, but this song alone gives us a reason that Jody Highroller is the real deal.
Previously: Action Bronson Blue Chips Review
Dom Kennedy "My Type of Party"
The New West Coast movement has a solid cast of MCs bringing their signature styles to the forefront. Dom Kennedy, who released his tape, Yellow Album, this past June, had a summer hit with “My Type of Party.” Produced by DJ Dahi, it has the right combinations of simplistic rhymes over a mellow beat. While there were many contenders for summer song of 2012, this one wears the crown.
Previously: Dom Kennedy Yellow Album Review
Tyga ft. Lil Wayne "Faded"
Your weekends weren’t complete unless you had Tyga cued up in your playlist. Fueled by the success of “Rack City,” the YMCMB member offered another party anthem in his Lil Wayne collaboration “Faded.” The song that’s seemingly about getting drunk and not caring about anything is pure fun. This is one of T-Raw’s massive hits that won’t be forgotten.
Chief Keef "Love Sosa"
Chief Keef had a regional hit with “I Don’t Like,” but “Love Sosa” proved that he was far from a one-hit wonder. Produced by Young Chop, the lead single off Keef’s Finally Rich has garnered more than 20 million views on YouTube. The buzz surrounding the song included the fact that the song is undeniably infectious from start to finish. Keef’s monstrous hook blending with his street tales was a signature sound that couldn’t be matched. Although Keef has more in his repertoire like “Kobe” and “Hate Being Sober,” its the song’s catchiness that’ll have you singing it again and again.
Previously: Chief Keef Finally Rich Review
G.O.O.D. Music "Mercy"
There were an abundance of rap crews who dominated the airwaves this year. While it’s a pretty clear three-way tie between G.O.O.D. Music, YMCMB, and MMG, we still can’t stop listening to “Mercy.” What originally kicked off G.O.O.D. Fridays again became a certified Platinum single in a matter of months. The verses were some of their best, rapping about cars and ladies that was catchy. This was undeniably the song that took over hip-hop that built the momentum for Cruel Summer.
Previously: G.O.O.D. Music Cruel Summer Review
A$AP Ferg "Work"
A$AP Rocky flourished with a career of his own, but don’t count out A$AP Ferg. In August, the A$AP Mob released Lord$ Never Worry that features the rising A$AP member on tracks such as “Persian Wine” and “Choppas on Deck.” His standout solo track is “Work,” which really set the bar for the tape with its mixture of trap production and a taste of Harlem flavor. The song easily wins as one of the toughest rap songs this year.
Juicy J ft. Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz "Bandz A Make Her Dance"
No other rapper makes his love for strippers more known than Juicy J. “Bandz A Make Her Dance” was not only the summer’s pole banger, it also helped Juicy break out into a viable solo artist. There were plenty of remixes, but the version with 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne exploded onto the club circuit. Mike WiLL laces up another bass-driven beat that has replay value written all over it.
Previously: Juicy J Gives His Wildest Groupie Story [Video]
King L "Val Venis"
Chief Keef isn’t the only rapper out of Chicago gaining national attention. This year, King L (formerly King Louie) celebrated his recent signing to Epic Records with his C-Sick-produced cut, “Val Venis.” Despite its title, the song has little to do with the wrestler. Instead, King L uses the space to rap playful rhymes effortlessly. Add his songwriting ability and personality displayed in “Val Venis,” King L produced a strong contender for underground smash this year.
Future "Turn on the Lights"
Mike WiLL Made It and Future have quite the chemistry and churned out polished songs on Pluto. However, the song that swept the nation was “Turn On The Lights,” which sat atop at No. 1 on Urban Mainstream Radio. There’s isn’t much needed to describe its attraction: Future’s soul-baring vocals over Mike Will’s booming production. The song confidently displays Future’s art of singing and rapping and is deserving of multiple listens.
Previously: Future Pluto Review
Previously: Future’s 10 Most Emo Songs
Young Jeezy "Get Right"
Young Jeezy a.k.a. “El Jefe” fed the streets with his latest mixtape, Its Tha World. “Get Right” is a trap anthem at its best, working in rhymes about calling out the actions of his longtime homies and foes. It exudes with enough of the traditional Snowman that doesn’t falter: “See, I keep it 100 from the fucking start/Call me Mel Gibson, got a brave heart.”
Previously: Young Jeezy Its Tha World Review
Lil Wayne ft. Detail "No Worries"
“Tunechi in this bitch, everybody should be worried.” Contrary to popular belief that Lil Wayne’s level of lyricism isn’t at where its used to be, “No Worries” proved that he could still deliver quality records. Indeed, Wayne doesn’t have any worries, as found in his boasts about everything from money to oral sex. Overall, “No Worries” shows that Wayne is far from hanging up the mic just yet.
Young Scooter "Colombia"
There’s an age-old saying that goes “real G’s move in silence,” but that’s not the case for Gucci Mane’s new artist, Young Scooter, who details his infatuation with flipping birds on his brewing banger blatantly titled “Colombia.” While making bricks with Hector, falling in love with a Cuban and flying to, well, Colombia all seem like a difficult task to manage, the young gunner makes it sound all too easy with this infectious joint that’s sure to get you to fill out that application to brick school.