It’s been a massive year for Hip Hop. With some of the freshest voices overshadowing the old guard, it’s been a breathless flurry of releases from wordsmiths the world over. Producers have pushed the envelope of their beats, marketing ploys went overboard, and in the meantime everybody was getting turnt up and twerking. Take that as you will. It’s been prolific, overblown and exhaustively exciting.
I started writing this as the top ‘singles’ of the year, but what really consists of a single these days? In an era where people just buy their favourite tracks off iTunes and albums are given away for free, mixtapes are the calling cards of most rap artists and remixes, where anyone and everyone will nick a beat and throw down their bars, for better or (quite often) for worse. So I just went with the biggest songs I’ve heard - be they album cuts or straight-up-summer-smashes. Here’s the top ten hip hop songs of the year. Tell me how wrong I am in the comments below.
10. J. Cole - Let Nas Down (Remix) feat. Nas
J. Cole, after some solid early mixtapes, never really hit it off for me. His tale of trying to live up to Nas’ shadow is full of 90’s cool, but then the king of New York himself decides to come down to pass the torch. And in the process, murdered J. Cole with one verse that was signifcantly better than the entirety of Born Sinner.
9. A$AP Ferg - Shabba feat. A$AP Rocky
The A$AP boys are in town and they’re taking no prisoners. Yeah, it’s brash, loud and obnoxious, and it’s deifying a pseudo-dancehall icon (and massive homophobe) in the form of Shabba Ranks, but it’s big. He’s put in that work to be 2013’s Trap Lord, and this is the track that shows it.
8. Action Bronson & Party Supplies - Contemporary Man
The wonder of Hip Hop, over the course of 30 years, is that it has always reappropriated other styles of music through sampling and remixing. It’s part of the fibre of the genre. So when Bam Bam comes along, takes a bunch of 5 massive 80’s joints (including f**king Phil Collins) and goes mad over the top of them... I flipped out. One of the highlights of the excellent Blue Chips 2.
7. Big Sean - Control feat. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica
Everyone knows why this is here. Sure, it’s Big Sean (yawn) and it might also be one of the friendliest diss tracks in some time, but goddamn you remember when you first heard it. Nothing blew up on the twittersphere this year in the rap game like when K-Dot suddenly namechecks half the crew, simultaneously confessing his love for them as well as his desire to bury them. Oh and Jay Electronica features, which is always cause for a celebration (it was even a killer verse, but it was pointless after what happened before).
6. Busta Rhymes - Thank You feat. Q-Tip, Lil’ Wayne & Kanye West
If the thought of the Busta & Q-Tip mixtape doesn’t fill you with joy then you’re probably dead inside. And this track couldn’t be a more perfect warm-up. The almost disco-style beat has the perfect push for the Abstract and The Dragon to bounce off each other in joyous tandem.
5. Pusha T - Numbers On The Boards
What constantly blows me away is just how weird this beat is. The buzz of the bassline and the clack of the drums that sound like they’re falling over. Yet it just works, and with Pusha’s cocaine flow snarling over the top of it, there’s no denying who it could be.
4. SchoolBoy Q - Collard Greens feat. Kendrick Lamar
Undeniably one of the most exciting albums for the new year, Oxymoron is (hopefully) going to be worth the wait. But it’s certainly worth its weight in bass, judging by this driving, sub-heavy calling card. Schoolboy Q flows through his drawling weed bars, whilst Kendrick delivers yet another of the best verses of the year, seemingly effortlessly trading in Spanish before launching skyward.
3. Drake - Hold On We’re Going Home
One of the biggest hip hop tunes of the year... That isn’t even really that hip hop. It sounds like a New Wave track, all cold neon lights and warm synths, rolling along neatly under Drake’s croon. ‘Started From The Bottom’ may have been his big club banger, but it was this one that caught the ear of the world over and was inescapable over summer. It’s also got a ridiculous video that someone rightly described as the ‘November Rain’ of hip hop videos. I don’t know how it’s happened, but it’s great.
2. Kanye West - New Slaves
Truly ferocious. Yeezus is an absolute masterpiece, a slice of Kanye’s I-Don’t-Give-A-F**k attitude streamlined into one roaringly focussed 10 track collection. It’s the singular vision of a pop culture icon perfectly realized. This track is an ideal realization of that; politically charged and sonically punishing. And that switch in the beat in the final third elevates it from it’s dark musical purgatory towards the shining ceilings of Yeezus’ heaven.
1. Chance The Rapper - Cocoa Butter Kisses feat. Vic Mensa & Twista
This has been Chance’s year. And what a year. Since the release of the superb Acid Rap, he’s gone from strength to strength, from blog to magazine cover, from one-to-watch list to best-of-the-year list. And if this is a calling card, then it couldn’t be better: his rubbery wordplay in that trademark sing-song delivery. Recruiting his best mate and friendly rival the (almost equally) brilliant Vic Mensa. The technicolour production that has the multiple touchstones of his native Chi-Town. And even Twista appears to quite some aplomb. I mean, where the hell has he been? It’s upbeat, it’s clever, it’s brilliant. It’s an easy choice.
Earl Sweatshirt - Chum
Shad - Stylin’
Migos - Versace feat. Drake
Kendrick Lamar - B**ch Don’t Kill My Vibe (Remix) feat. Jay Z
Black Milk - Sunday Night / Monday Morning
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Harold’s
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