15. Ab-Soul – “The End Is Near” [Feat. Mac Miller]
Still, without question, the sleeper record of the year, Ab-Soul’s best solo offering of the year is classic Soulo, packed with abstract metaphors and punches, as well as the rapper’s signature attention to diction. “I’m a king and I smoke a lot of weed / That makes sense, there’s ‘bout 33 ounces in a liter (leader),” is one of the best bars of 2013, and Larry Fisherman (Mac Miller) does no slacking on this ominous sounding, technically sound cut.
14. Young Thug – “2 Cups Stuffed”
“L, E, A, N, I-N-G (Lean)! LEAN, LEAN, LEAN, LEAN, LEAN LEAN LEAN!!!”
13. Earl Sweatshirt – “Hive” [Feat. Vince Staples & Casey Veggies]
Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples are two of the most promising young MCs in rap today – their first collaboration on Earl’s self-titled debut, the excellent “epaR” proved to be a sign of things to come – and both continue to flourish on one of the best cuts from Earl’s sophomore album, Doris, entitled “Hive.” Sweatshirt shines in two verses chock full of his patented brand of tongue twisting, but Staples without question steals the show, coming through with one of the best guest verses of the year. The Wolf Gang movement is still in full effect, and as time continues to pass, we’re learning more and more about how talented this kid with the big lips really is.
12. Drake – “Worst Behavior”
You could probably convince us to move this song six slots higher if you’re playing it in the background. Its infectiousness is undeniable; it’s pretty much great for shouting in almost any scenario. How many times do you estimate someone played this following a tough break at the office? “MUTHAFUCKAS NEVA LUH’D US!” It is a contextual chameleon of a hook. Also, Drake channels his inner Ma$e about as well as anybody else did in Harlem World-Appreciation Year.
11. Danny Brown – “The Return” [Feat. Freddie Gibbs]
Ah, here’s one we should all be able to agree on. The Hybrid revisits OutKast’s “Return of the G” with a few twists of his own and brings the ridiculously underrated Freddie Gibbs with him for one of the standout cut’s from Danny’s sophomore, Old [which we ranked as the best album of the year]. Over stellar, funky Paul White production, the duo executes two very different storytelling methods to discuss their drug dealing pasts and the polarity works to perfection. If they really wanted the old Danny Brown, they got him in spades. As it goes, though, they should’ve been careful what they wished for. Danny is a menace.
10. 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,” Kanye 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.
9. Drake – “5AM in Toronto”
2013 is more or less the year Aubrey Graham flipped the script and became the rap force his critics consistently asked for. Sure, he still does his R&B thing, too, but it’s refreshing to get songs like “Tuscan Leather” and “Wu Tang Forever” and “Pound Cake” on the same record. Before the album even dropped, though, he set the tone with “5AM” in Toronto.” Like “9AM in Dallas,” Drake showcases his rap chops. 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, and the record, in itself, is another example of why. Drake is the only winner of 2013 not named Beyoncé.
8. Kendrick Lamar – “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” (Remix) [Feat. Jay Z]
People are going to try to convince you that Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse is better than his acrobatic display in the third verse of the “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” remix…those people are wrong. Go ahead and listen to both back to back, don’t worry I’ll wait. Not only does Kendrick employ more flows in the latter, he also structures his verse much more uniformly, and he out raps the arguable G.O.A.T. in the process. Jay doesn’t exactly sleepwalk through his verse, either. Both MCs perform elegantly, and, together, continue to set the standards for rap. Here Kendrick displays what it takes to be a star in this new age, and Hov shows how a legend ages gracefully. If only Jay had brought this tenacity to Magna Carta Holy Grail…
7. Rocko – “U.O.E.N.O.” [Feat. Future & Rick Ross]
The most controversial record of the year also happened to be one of the best. It’d be wrong to have a year-end top-ten and not have Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O” in it. The record finds Future at his most intoxicating and producer Childish Major at his apex. Rocko himself is one of the game’s 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 title term itself has even flowed over into pop culture as a whole. Unfortunately, the music was overshadowed by the controversy, but even in spite of that, the record remains too permeating to deny.
6. Pusha-T – “Numbers On The Boards”
“Mix drug and show money: Biggs Burke on tour,” Pusha-T opens the second verse of the destructive “Numbers On The Boards,” and the metaphor is very clearly a brief synopsis of the record’s dichotomy: flash meets authenticity. Pusha-T has settled into his role as G.O.O.D. Music enforcer, and he continues to provide records that pad his resumé. “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.
5. Chance The Rapper – “Pusha Man / Paranoia” [Feat. Nate Fox & Lili K.]
No song more successfully explores the dichotomy of Chance The Rapper as an artist than “Pusha Man / Paranoia,” a dual sided manifestation of the Chicago MC’s psyche. On the one hand, “Pusha Man” is goofy and bursting with personality; it is a clear representation of Chance as an individual. On the other hand, “Paranoia” is dark and saddled with layers of socio-political context. It is a representation of the Chicago cage he grew up in and how it shaped him. The song rounds out our year-end top five on the merits of its masterful wordplay and dizzying flows. Without question, Chance The Rapper emerged this year as the rising star to watch.
4. Young Thug – “Danny Glover”
Young Thug is without question 2013’s Rookie of the Year in trap music. There is something indisputably charismatic about his uncontrollable flows and his weird interpretations of melody. No two songs of his are alike, and he is particularly gifted at form-fitting his incredibly unique style to the production of trap greats like 808 Mafia, Dun Deal, C4, Metro Boomin’, and Lex Luger. “Danny Glover” is just one of his many triumphs in 2013, but it wins out because it is inexplicably brilliant. It sounds like nothing of this world, and it creeps into our top five because originality is always a winner. Plus, it’s really good.
3. Nas – “Let Nas Down” (Remix)
Nas & No I.D. are still an unfuckwitable tandem. (If you need further proof, see Life Is Good.) Despite dropping one spot, it’s hard to argue that the “Let Nas Down” remix wasn’t one of the finest moments in rap this year. Nas just gets better with age, and he flexes his storytelling chops again for this passing-of-the-torch moment. The Queens artist pivots beautifully on this remix to J. Cole’s somber story about failing the expectations of a living legend, not only explaining his perspective, but also consoling and coronating Cole at the same time. Nas’ remix, coined “Made Nas Proud,” is a testament to his class, and the record is a fantastic conclusion to a saga that puts hip-hop camaraderie on display. It’s only side-effect is that it makes the original seem so weak.
2. Pusha-T – “Nosetalgia” [Feat. Kendrick Lamar]
We are blessed to live in a universe where two nearly flawless verses from Pusha-T and Kendrick Lamar exist together in perfect harmony over rugged Nottz production. Thank the Based God every day for that. “Nosetalgia” is basically as good as it gets as far as rap is concerned; it provides charismatic, hard-hitting punches, displays of lyrical dexterity and acuity, clever scheming and structuring. These two MCs are at the top of their craft here. You can argue over who had the better verse until your face turns blue , but regardless of the answer, it’s clear that together the two lyricists created a better record than almost anyone in the game. Anyone, that is, except…
1. Kanye West – “New Slaves” [Feat. Frank Ocean]
No shocker here. “New Slaves” was our #1 Rap Song of 2013 at the midway point, and it still reigns supreme despite a furious second half flurry of great tracks. There simply wasn’t a better song this year. “New Slaves” once again pitted conscious Kanye against superficial Kanye as a sort of yin and yang, creating a near perfect friction. The minimalist synths give way to a beautiful wave of sound toward the end, highlighted by an inspired feature by Frank Ocean. It’s simply majestic. Despite all that nonsense about its second verse being the greatest of all time, the song stands as the greatest we stumbled upon in this wacky year. No song was a bigger spectacle, and none was of higher quality. Put those two elements together and you’ve got the best rap song of 2013. [Editor’s Note: But let’s use the word “slave” more responsibly in 2014. Slaves don’t get to go shopping. S.K.]
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