We’ve drawn past the midpoint of 2013, and it has been quite a year thus far. There have been big releases from some of hip-hop’s biggest stars and some surprise newcomers as well. This year, we’ve seen a wealth of diversity with a plethora of artists perfecting their individual sounds. In honor of this growth, we’ve compiled the top records in the genre from an eventful six (almost seven) months. Take a look at the 15 Best Rap Songs of 2013 so far.
Update: Now that the year is over, we have the best songs for the complete year.
15. ScHoolboy Q – “Yay Yay”
ScHoolboy Q makes his living on gritty street anthems [See: “Oxy Music,” “Nightmare on Figg St.,” “Kamikaze,” etc.] and “Yay Yay” may be his darkest work yet. Boi-1da worked up a haunting masterpiece. ScHoolBoy doesn’t rewrite the rap bible with this one, but his words still hold weight despite that.
14. Drake – “Started From the Bottom”
Few songs have been more frequently quoted or had more influence than “Started From the Bottom.” So why is it not higher on the list? Despite its catchiness, it’s really just one long, glorified chorus.
13. Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire – “Noble Drew Ali”
Few artists come across as more authentic than Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire. “Noble Drew Ali” is some of his most menacing work yet, carving out somewhat of a niche for himself as an uncontrollable force of raw rap energy. The song is a manifestation of his authenticity in the form of a warning to the fake.
12. Lupe Fiasco – “Animal Pharm”
Read the dystopian George Orwell novel and then read the Rap Genius interpretations. Lupe, a rap genius, is the reason for Rap Genius.
11. Ab-Soul – “The End Is Near” [Feat. Mac Miller]
“The End Is Near” is a Larry Fisherman-produced gem that seemingly appeared out of nowhere. The barren soundscape serves as the perfect backdrop for Soulo’s typical abstract, apocalyptic shtick. Mac Miller adds one of his most technically sound verses yet. Ab-soul presents an early candidate for bar of the year with, “I’m a king and I smoke a lot of weed / That makes sense, there’s ‘bout 33 ounces in a liter (leader).” This was 2013’s sleeper record.
10. Young Thug – “2 Cups Stuffed”
“L, E, A, N, I-N-G (Lean)! LEAN, LEAN, LEAN, LEAN, LEAN LEAN LEAN!!!”
9. Kanye West – “Black Skinhead”
“Black Skinhead” isn’t as provocative as its title suggests, but it is both haunting and hostile. Utilizing a dark sample from Marilyn Manson‘s “Beautiful People,” he spits bars power-packed with quotables. You’d be hard pressed to find a record more brooding, and what it lacks in charm it makes up for in wit. “I keep it 300, like the Romans / 300 bitches, where the Trojans?” he spouts confidently as if he didn’t just make a gross historical error, and that’s because, like everything else he does, it still works.
8. Drake – “5AM in Toronto”
Transparency has been the key to Drake’s success, and “5AM in Toronto” proved to be one of his most candid records to date. Every now and then, Drake really brings his rap shit, and like with “9AM in Dallas,” he flexes his lyrical chops here. Boi-1da, who produced both, seems to bring the best out of the Toronto MC. The greatest thing about this record is that it provides sobering truth. “It’s funny when you think a nigga blew up after Lupe,” Graham spits only half joking—three years in and he’s already considered a rap king. The record, in itself, is another example of why.
7. Kendrick Lamar – “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe (Remix)” [Feat. Jay-Z]
The past, present, and future all collided on what has proven to be the best remix of the year thus far. The “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe (Remix)” was a rare torch-passing moment that saw a young star in Kendrick Lamar one-up one of the all-time greats in Jay-Z. It’s the audible version of watching a young, spry Kobe go head-to-head with Jordan in a Wizards uniform in ’01. Kendrick’s third verse should be studied by all who hope to perfect the craft of writing rhymes. It’s worth mentioning that Jay’s verse was nothing to sleep on either. Together, the two continue to set the standards for rap–Kendrick is displaying what it takes to be a star in this new age and Hov is showing how a legend ages gracefully.
6. Jay-Z – “Open Letter”
“I done turned Havana to Atlanta,” Jay-Z casually raps in his sharp response to critics, openly mocking those who continue to question his limits. “Open Letter” was a timely release that followed both Jay’s Cuban vacation with wife Beyonce and his resignation as minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets. In typical fashion, the legendary MC dismisses politics and sports ownership with an indifference that only he can muster. Every line is spewed solely for the purpose of reminding you who he is. He’s Jay-Z, rap legend and entrepreneur; the game needs him, not vice versa. The record reeks of hubris. “Open Letter” proved there are few artists more clever or potent than Jay.
5. Rocko – “U.O.E.N.O” [Feat. Future & Rick Ross]
The most controversial record of the year (so far) also happened to be one of the best. Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O” finds Future at his most intoxicating and producer Childish Major at his apex. Rocko himself is one of the games more underappreciated MCs and “U.O.E.N.O” displayed not only his gift of gab, but also his ability to create undeniably catchy records. The term itself has even flowed over into pop culture. Unfortunately, the music itself was overshadowed by the controversy, but even in spite of that the record remains too permeating to deny.
4. Pusha T – “Numbers on the Boards”
Yuuchk. No record this year has been more savage than the destructive “Numbers On The Boards,” which delivers not just punches but haymakers. Pusha T has settled into his role as G.O.O.D. Music enforcer and continues to provide records that pad his résumé. “Numbers On The Boards” is abrasive and aggressive with a nostalgia-inducing retro feel. This is vintage. This is dookie chains and Gazelle frames. This is hip-hop.
3. Chance the Rapper – “Pusha Man/Paranoia” [Feat. Nate Fox & Lili K.]
“Pusha Man/Paranoia,” the seven-minute behemoth divided by seconds of silence, is really two individual records smashed together that serve as two sides of the same coin. The significantly shorter “Pusha Man,” is a manifestation of Chance The Rapper’s goofy, drug-riddled personality. It’s humorous and infectious. The longer, darker, “Paranoia,” is an embodiment of the Chicago cage Chance grew up in. It’s conscious and cautious. Both songs are filled with masterful wordplay and dizzying flows. Both songs introduced a new force to be reckoned with in the rap game.
2. J. Cole – “Let Nas Down (Remix)” [Feat. Nas]
There’s something supernatural about Nas rapping over No I.D. production. The remix to J. Cole’s somber story about living up to the expectations of a living legend features only a verse from the aforementioned legend himself, and the Queens great pivots beautifully, not only explaining his perspective, but also consoling and crowning Cole at the same time. As the horns cry, Nas in rare form, turns in arguably one of the best verses of his storied career. “Made Nas Proud,” as it has been tagged, serves as a beautiful moment in hip-hop history.
1. Kanye West – “New Slaves” [Feat. Frank Ocean]
Two Kanye records in the Top 10? Yup. Even without the avant-garde guerilla marketing strategy, “New Slaves” would have been the most refreshing record of the year so far. Its hyper-minimalist approach was a stark contrast to Kanye’s previous effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but still maintained the typical Kanye aesthetic. The song once again pitted conscious-Kanye against superficial-Kanye as a sort of yin and yang, creating near perfect harmony. No song was a bigger spectacle and none was of higher quality. Put those two elements together and you’ve got the best song of 2013 (for now).
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