When you look at 2016 from the grand scale of things, it was not a good year for rap music. But, in all of the mindless dribble, if you look very closely, you’ll see that there were hidden gems along the way. Here are the top ten rap songs, in my opinion, of 2016:
1. ULT by Denzel Curry
Why It’s Great: I know, I know, you’ve never even heard of this song. Denzel Curry, another tragically underrated rapper, became famous a few years ago with his infectiously aggressive “Ultimate”, the song whose first few lines everyone loves to scream. Before “ULT”, I simply knew him as the only 2016 XXL Freshmen with any talent (along with Lil Dicky). “ULT” is not just a song, it’s an anthem ㄧ an anthem about Curry using his platform as a poet to bring about social justice and political revolution. Not only are his rhymes full of incredible meaning, but they flow in a way that’s unique to Curry. He raps with an in-your-face flow that is quick and furious, but impossible to misinterpret. If there’s a God in heaven, Denzel Curry will be getting more recognition for his genius, and “ULT” is an embodiment of that genius.
Best Line: “True to you so keep it true to me,
Haters cannot put an end to me because I truly know who is my enemy.”
2. “False Prophets” by J. Cole
Why It’s Great: J. Cole has consistently dispelled the myth that rap is dead, and “False Prophets” is just another instance of him doing that. Cole takes a disappointed look at the current state of the rap game, criticizing the hypocritical nature of today’s best-selling rappers. He takes an indirect jab at Kanye, remarking that no matter how many times Kanye tells us he’s a genius, his behavior speaks volumes in a different direction. Cole saves this single from becoming a diss track, however, by taking a good ard look at himself in the mirror, admitting that it’s likely he became a rapper for the some of the same superficial reasons that everyone else is. “False Prophets” went very low key in 2016, but that doesn’t change the message or J. Cole’s prophetic style in which it’s told.
Best Line: “Guess I’m included in that category as a rapper who done had the glory
My highest moments come from telling’ all the saddest stories.”
3.“Bounce Back” by Big Sean
Why It’s Great: Big Sean has got to be one of the most underrated rappers in the industry. This single, which went big in early December, serves as his own hyper-stylized “Eye of the Tiger”. He declares his dedication to greatness, and his ability to juggle the lifestyle he loves with his passion for music. He has faith in God, but he doesn’t let Him do any of the work for him. “Bounce Back” has a killer beat, and an Instagram-famous hook line in “Last night took an L”, but any rap song can only be as great as its verse lyrics. This track features some of Big Sean’s most impressive flow and clever wordplay, without sacrificing its instrumental impact. If you really want the full experience of this hit, make sure you check the music video on Youtube. It’s something else. With “Bounce Back”, it’s quite clear that Big Sean took no L’s.
Best Line: “I’ma need like 10 feet,
Or get stomped out with ten feet.
I’ma always lose my temper,
You cannot ‘count to ten’ me”
4. “Chill Bill” by Rob $tone ft. J.Davis and Spooks
Why It’s Great: The beat here is what does it. Rob $tone had the genius idea of taking the ominous whistling noise from Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 classic, “Kill Bill”, and turning it into the beat for a rap song. And boy, does it work. The first 33 seconds consist only of the whistling noise and a symbol, but it goes all out at 0:34. When the beat drops and Rob $tone starts rhyming, it becomes a rap song that you cannot resist moving your head to. It’s no secret that this song is style over substance, but who cares when the style is this good? Rob $tone keeps with the rhythm of the whistling throughout his entire verse, but J.Davis and Spooks add their own flair to the beat. Nonetheless, whoever’s rapping, this track is sure to stick in your head and make you thankful for it being there.
Best Line: “Growing up, I was always in the middle,
So I had to hold it down for my older and my little.”
5. “Cinderella” by Mac Miller feat. Ty Dolla $ign
Why It’s Great: Mac Miller’s The Divine Feminine album was an attempt to redefine his image. He went from the white trash rich kid who likes to party and sleep, to the white trash rich kid who likes to party, sleep, and worship women. So, his venture into uncharted romantic territory can be seen as a success, because it did what he wanted it to do: it exposed his vulnerable side, and “Cinderella” is a song that makes every pulsing vein in Mac Miller’s heart visible. The track starts with what sounds like the peaceful, high-pitched plucking of guitar strings, and Ty Dolla $ign soon hooks you with his raspy, imperfect signing. But we aren’t asking for perfect from these two…we’re asking for genuine. Mac is up next with his first verse, which he raps in the album’s signature series of short, rhythmic up and down’s. “Cinderella” gives you a look at the hearts of two party animals, and their drive to keep the love they’re able to find.
Best Line: “It’s only right that right after love, I write my name
If it’s forever or never it’s all the same”
6. “No Problem” by Chance the Rapper feat. 2Chainz and Lil Wayne
Why It’s Great: “No Problem” is contagious. As soon as you hear the opening dialogue, “You don’t want zero problems, big fella”, you know you’re going to be jumping up and down in a matter of seconds. It’s a combination of the simplicity of the chant, along with the infectious choir singing, that makes it impossible to resist. With this song, Chance gave us a taste of everything we already loved about him: the rasp and soul of his voice, his infectious energy, and his tendency to rap alongside new, original beats that are unique to his style. We already knew he was talented, thanks to his earlier mixtapes and singles, so he didn’t have much to prove before releasing this one. And, to be honest, I still don’t think he was trying to prove anything with “No Problem”. I think he thought it would be a catchy single for his new album, that people would listen to to have a good time in between tracks. Of course, this song became so much more. It’s now nominated for a Grammy for best rap song of the year, and of course soared to unbelievable popularity upon the release of “Coloring Book” in the spring.
Best Line: “Ooh, watch me come and put them hinges in their hands,
Countin’ Benjis while we meeting, make them shake my other hand”
7.Famous by Kanye West feat. Rihanna and Swizz Beatz
Why It’s Great: Even if you miss the old Kanye and want him back more than anything, you can’t deny that this song makes the new look so good. In this track, Kanye pays his respects to all those who helped make him famous, and for those who’ve kept his celebrity alive. We’re not talking about his agents, or the paparazzi, we’re talking about individual celebrities, who through some scandalous way or another, have kept Kanye in the spotlight. Taylor Swift is the only celebrity who’s mentioned explicitly in the lyrics, but Kanye makes it clear in his music video that the song is directed towards other people as well, such as Donald Trump, Caitlyn Jenner, and George Bush. Chances are you may prefer one-half of “Famous” more than the other, as it starts with a hype diss-track feel to it, then progresses to a tropical house for much of the second half. Whichever half you prefer, or if you find this single to be merely another ego trip for Kanye, it’s already been nominated for Best Rap Song at the Grammy’s and has even garnered the acclaim of “old Kanye” fans, like myself.
Best Line: “If you see ’em in the streets give ’em Kanye’s best
Why? They mad they ain’t famous
They mad they’re still nameless”
8. That Part by Schoolboy Q feat. Kanye West
Why It’s Great: Before “That Part”, Schoolboy Q had been living in the shadow of Kendrick Lamar. As the most successful member of the Black Hippy collective, Kendrick had propelled himself to fame far beyond that of Schoolboy, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul. Because of songs like “Collard Greens” and his features on tracks such as Ferg’s “Work Remix” and Rocky’s “Electric Body”, Schoolboy began to slowly inch his way to success as a solo artist. With “That Part”, his status as a legitimate rapper with real talent was solidified. It’s got a creepy, ominous beat to it, and it’s arranged to give you a tiny taste of Schoolboy before Kanye’s verse, then allows Schoolboy to show what he’s really made of for the rest of the song. Of course, Kanye couldn’t resist having the final say for the last 45 seconds, but that doesn’t matter. Schoolboy Q has proven to us that he’s capable of making his own hits, without the need of a feature on another rapper’s track. We can’t wait to see what he does next.
Best Line: “Tell that filthy track to move away, I need more options
Broke then fix your pockets, all I do is profit”
9. Ooouuu by Young M.A
Why It’s Great: Wait, that’s a girl rapping this song? Yeah, I said the same thing too. Young M.A became an overnight sensation with the release of “Ooouuu”, and we were all happy it happened because this song is seriously fun to listen to. The first time you hear it, it’s the beat that draws you in, as it sounds very reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”. When you hear it for the second time, all you’ll be focusing on is her lyrics, and her ability to deliver each line with a sort of self-satisfied swagger in her voice. It’s the perfect song to hype you up and get you focused on what you really want, whether it’s a football championship or getting a spot in the senior lot before 7:35. The song has a surprisingly religious undertone, as Young M.A reveals her group’s deep faith in Christianity and following the word of Christ. Whatever reason she wrote “Ooouuu”, we don’t care ㅡ we’re just glad she did.
Best Line: “Like I ain’t got a hitter to the left of me?
Like we ain’t in these streets more than Sesame?”
10. Broccoli by D.R.A.M feat. Lil Yachty
Why It’s Great: From the very first note on the keyboard, you’re smiling. D.R.A.M’s raspy, carefree voice delivers the hook almost instantly, and you know it’s going to be all uphill from here. “Broccoli” isn’t about much. Lil Yachty raps about his new life as a 19-year-old rap star, while D.R.A.M tells the story of his rise to fame that’s allowed him to live such a carefree life. And that’s just the word to describe this song: carefree. It’s not meant to be put under a microscope and analyzed thoroughly for some deeper meaning here. Who cares about deeper meaning when it sounds this good? The chorus is what made “Broccoli” the rap song of the summer; all it takes is the bass, two notes on the keyboard, and soft humming of a flute to create the instrumental, which is set to D.R.A.M’s infectiously-happy, and surprisingly good, signing. So don’t listen to “Broccoli” if you’re going to scrutinize it for being simple. That’s the point.
Best Line: “I just did a show and spent the check on my mama,
When I go on vacay I might rent out the Bahamas”
It’s no secret that rap is a changed genre. Whether you love or hate the new direction it’s gone in, there are silver linings everywhere when hits like these are made.