The 43 Best Rap Songs of 2022

From Atlanta to Memphis to Detroit; from lightspeed Jersey club rap to diamond-hard New York drill; rap overflowed with energy again this year. 
Megan Thee Stallion, Flo Milli, Ice Spice, Earl Sweatshirt, and Tyler, the Creator. Image by Callum Abbott, photos via Getty Images.

It’s a testament to rap’s robust health that, even though some of the genre’s biggest names didn’t necessarily put out their best work—Drake whiffed twice, while his opposite number, Kendrick, returned with his most divisive project—there was still enough white-hot energy bubbling underneath to more than make up for it. So much of that heat came from upstart women rappers, including 2022 MVP Glorilla, Flo Milli, and Ice Spice, who came through with some of the year’s most memorable tracks.

The following list, sorted alphabetically, includes rap songs found on Pitchfork’s main year-end tally as well as additional tracks that did not make that list but are still very much worth a listen. 

Listen to selections from this list on our Spotify playlist and Apple Music playlist.

Check out all of Pitchfork’s 2022 wrap-up coverage here.


Anonymuz: “JUNGLE”

“JUNGLE” sounds like an internal monologue blown to cinematic proportions. The Florida-born rapper-producer Anonymuz is known for emotional bloodletting, and after spending the song’s first verse breaking down what it means to live “in the land of the free and the home of the slave,” the second digs into more intimate fears: “What am I planning? What if my fans ignore it?/What if I’m slandered for it? What if I’m damaged?” Blown-out drums and synths amplify the anxiety as Anonymuz switches between light singing and hard-edged rapping, see-sawing between emotional poles without ever fully tipping to either side. –Dylan Green

Listen: Anonymuz, “JUNGLE”

New 11 / 100% Pure Music Entertainment / Defiant / Warner

Asian Doll: “Get Jumped” [ft. Bandmanrill]

Here’s a song that makes all the awful club rap trend-hopping outside of the borders of Jersey and Philly this year worth it. Dallas rapper Asian Doll and chameleonic Bay Area-bred beatmaking brothers Bankroll Got It have little connection to the sound that they’re jacking, yet the kinetic pulse of their production has the right spirit. And Asian Doll, who’s been adopted by New York’s drill scene, sounds like she grew up shaking hips at DJ Jayhood parties in Newark. Bandmanrill, the Jersey rapper partially responsible for bringing the club rap sound nationwide, gives the song extra juice with an opening dash. This isn’t wave-riding; it’s homage. –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: Asian Doll, “Get Jumped” [ft. Bandmanrill]


Azealia Banks: “New Bottega”

Azealia Banks considers the difference between fashion (what you wear) and style (what you possess) on “New Bottega,” which is to say, she is aware of how much she lays claim to. Some of the biggest albums this year drew on club sounds like a strategy, but the Harlem-bred Banks has always made a home inside house music. As she lists the names of designers she likes and doesn’t like in a bad Italian accent, “New Bottega” enters into the Banksian capsule collection—a staple in a malcontent designer’s oeuvre. –Mina Tavakoli 

Listen: Azealia Banks, “New Bottega”


Baby Tate: “Slut Him Out Again” [ft. Kali]

On this even-nastier rework of Baby Tate’s deliciously freaky, Hitkidd-produced single “Slut Him Out,” the Atlanta rapper calls on the wisdom of her elders—Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, Khia—to put a new lover through his paces. He’s in good hands: “I was bumpin’ Trina when I learned how to ride,” Tate brags. Her bubblegum snap teases sex appeal out of spaghetti and the medulla oblongata, and things only heat up when fellow Georgia rapper Kali heats things up for the bisexuals. –Anna Gaca

Listen: Baby Tate, “Slut Him Out Again” [ft. Kali]

Wavy Gang / Empire

Babyface Ray: “Sincerely Face”

Plenty of local scenes around the country tried to recapture the magic of Michigan rap this year, but none of them boasted a one-of-a-kind character like Detroit’s own Babyface Ray. “Sincerely Face” lays out what has made Ray such a pillar: Through his icy delivery, basic rap flexes about Rolexes, courtside seats, and steakhouse dinners sound revelatory. Over a chilly beat, he shrugs his way through a mix of life lessons with inimitable cool. It’s the type of song where the fly aura rubs off on you every time you play it. They only make ’em like this in Michigan. –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: Babyface Ray, “Sincerely Face”


Bad Bunny: “Tití Me Preguntó”

Bad Bunny regards seductive mischief as inextricable from his sensitive disposition: This is how he lets us know he’s complex. The arrangement reflects Bunny’s amiable disregard for monogamy. Producer MAG treats Bunny’s first solo stab at dembow like a coming-out party, lavishing him with keyboard swirls, sampled camera effects, a beat switch-up in the outro, and, terrifyingly, his aunt to shake her finger at her nephew. But Tití doesn’t have to ask for details—Benito will tell her. He giggles at his own admissions, and of course, like cads before him, admits that what he really wants is… love. –Alfred Soto

Listen: Bad Bunny, “Tití Me Preguntó”

TF Entertainment / Anti Media

BandGang Lonnie Bands: “Scorpion Eyes”

“Scorpion Eyes” is a soul cleanse, or at least an attempt at one. BandGang Lonnie Bands, a longtime standout of the Detroit clique BandGang, owns up to his fears and regrets in a way that feels increasingly disturbing as he keeps going. It’s a string of anxious gut-punches that are also uncomfortably mesmerizing. Partially inspired by both real-life tragedy and the fatalistic tone of Tupac’s All Eyez On Me, Lonnie sounds like he’s having trouble getting the confessions out through his clenched delivery. He’s exhausted from not just the fight, but from keeping it locked up in his head. –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: BandGang Lonnie Bands, “Scorpion Eyes”


Bandmanrill: “Real Hips”

Bandmanrill never wastes a good sample. On “Real Hips” the kinetic Newark rapper comes through with the zeal of a personal trainer, transforming a Jersey club classic into a HIIT workout aimed at your abductors. DJ Bake and KilSoSouth ensure the beat is both vigorous and elastic—the right balance for Bandmanrill to rifle through talk of parents, success, and paranoia. He always comes back to that instructional, hands-on-hips hook, though, because this is a reminder that, for how frenzied life can be, having a good time should reign supreme. –Joshua Minsoo Kim

Listen: Bandmanrill, “Real Hips”

Backwoodz Studioz

billy woods: “Heavy Water” [ft. Breeze Brewin and El-P]

billy woods’ raps are dense on a molecular level, mined from research rabbit holes and brought to life with an acid tongue. For his Aethiopes track “Heavy Water,” he teams up with El-P and Breeze Brewin, trading brief-but-dizzying alliterative verses best understood with an accompanying reading list. Over a hypnotic string loop peppered with discordant samples and effects, woods manages to seamlessly name-check Greek myth, The Source, the Nation of Islam, and cutting-edge genetic research in a matter of seconds. It’s a masterful performance that manages to outpace two OGs from the New York underground that share his poetic, social-scientist aesthetic. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Listen: billy woods, “Heavy Water” [ft. Breeze Brewin and El-P]

Do What You Love / 10K Projects

CEO Trayle: “Alter Ego 2” [ft. C4]

Introduced on 2020’s “Alter Ego,” C4 is the voice inside Atlanta-based rapper CEO Trayle’s head that wants him to act on his impulses. On the sequel, C4 taunts Trayle about leaving his street life behind to keep succeeding with music. The song’s piano line is both smooth and fraught, keeping tensions high, as Trayle, a croak in his throat, grapples with own demons. It’s a big guilt trip that Trayle, fortunately, survives, ultimately flicking the devil off his shoulder. –Matthew Strauss

Listen: CEO Trayle, “Alter Ego 2” [ft. C4]

Glo Gang / RBC

Chief Keef: “Bitch Where”

Chief Keef is at an emotional crossroads. The Chicago native is still as wild and irreverent as ever (“At the gun range, sound checkin’, it sound clear”) but he’s also uncharacteristically grateful to still be alive and creating after a decade in the industry. “Bitch Where” plays these fantastical tonal leaps against a triumphant beat made for a king returning from war, but once the smoke clears, a message from Keef’s grandmother maintains the air of gratitude: “Keep going, baby. Keep going. Granny just love how you move and doing yourself.” –Dylan Green

Listen: Chief Keef, “Bitch Where”


Danger Mouse / Black Thought: “Belize” [ft. MF DOOM]

MF DOOM’s appearance on Cheat Codes represents a bit of unfinished business: Danger Mouse, who originally produced DOOM’s long-vaulted verse, had long wanted the Roots’ Black Thought for the track. What could’ve been an autumnal team-up between two all-time rap technicians became, with DOOM’s passing in 2020, a melancholic meeting across the veil. The Villain’s sardonic epitaph (“They knew he was a negro/So no need to show faces”) draws as much blood as the world’s longest Erik Estrada joke, while Black Thought’s polished yet playful verse is a tribute to the sly anarchy DOOM could elicit, whether or not he was in the room. –Brad Shoup 

Listen: Danger Mouse / Black Thought, “Belize” [ft. MF DOOM]

OVO Sound / Republic

Drake: “Sticky”

On an album that often sounds like he’s searching for something (novelty, if you’re being generous; relevance if you’re not), “Sticky” is where Drake issues his demands: for more guests at the Met Gala, for police escorts, for a kiss, requested in curling French-Canadian. Like the best Drake songs, “Sticky” pressure-cooks his brashest impulses until they congeal into something tender. The club closes; the neon lights sputter out, and “it’s you alone with your regrets.” The stickiest situations are always the ones that trap you in your own thoughts. –Dani Blum

Listen: Drake, “Sticky”

Quality Control / UMG

Duke Deuce: “Just Say That” [ft. Glorilla]

It was a mathematical rule: If you added Glorilla to your song in 2022, no matter who you were, your song was instantly 1) one million times better and 2) no longer your song. Crunk-revivalist goofball Duke Deuce is not an easy man to upstage—he dresses up in full 18th-century regalia and a Beethoven wig for his videos—but the minute Glorilla eases onto “Just Say That,” the highlight from June’s CRUNKSTAR, it’s over. She might only spit half a verse, but her voice sticks to the track in a way that even a walking exclamation point like Deuce is helpless against. –Jayson Greene

Listen: Duke Deuce, “Just Say That” [ft. Glorilla]

Tan Cressida / Warner

Earl Sweatshirt: “Tabula Rasa” [ft. Armand Hammer]

After a pair of laconic records whose goal seemed, at times, to obfuscate, Earl Sweatshirt returned this year with SICK!, an album dominated by songs that cut through the noise. Its centerpiece is “Tabula Rasa,” a patient piano number that pairs him with the unvarnished New York duo Armand Hammer. While Elucid and billy woods rap—vividly—about human connections made, broken, and fraying, Earl details the way a similar disintegration forced him to remake himself. “This game of telephone massive,” he raps during his loping verse. “I do what I have to with the fragments.” –Paul A. Thompson

Listen: Earl Sweatshirt, “Tabula Rasa” [ft. Armand Hammer]

Backwoodz Studioz

Elucid: “Nostrand” [ft. billy woods]

Elucid’s bars on “Nostrand” scan like spells, abstract spiritual messages to the ancestors that tell a story—just not one necessarily meant for the listener to be able to follow. Yet the emotional heft of the New York rapper’s incantations is unmistakable, especially when paired with a spooky synth-bass beat and a verse from his Armand Hammer co-conspirator billy woods. This is the embodiment of the existential horror one finds after peeling back the layers of your sense of self. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Listen: Elucid, “Nostrand” [ft. billy woods]


FKA twigs: “honda” [ft. Pa Salieu]

Where FKA twigs’ 2019 album MAGDALENE peeled back the skin of a visceral pain, her 2022 mixtape CAPRISONGS rediscovered a sense of somatic joy. twigs leans all the way into that physicality on “honda,” a dubby duet with the English artist Pa Salieu. Over a bone-deep bassline, Salieu and twigs’ voices twist around one another, mirroring the tangled, dancing limbs they sing about. At first listen, “honda” is all sensual chemistry, felt across a dancefloor, or speeding down the highway. But Salieu’s breezy monologue about looking at himself in the mirror frames the song in a different light: It’s also about those moments you feel entirely in your own body, reclaiming your “one-of-a-kind” self. –Aimee Cliff

Listen: FKA twigs, “honda” [ft. Pa Salieu]


Flo Milli: “Big Steppa”

On “Big Steppa,” Flo Milli’s dons her Louboutins and makes a runway out of haters’ necks. Channeling the original HBIC, Tiffany “New York” Pollard, on her debut album You Still Here, Ho?, the deliciously arrogant Alabama rapper commands a production as brash as her ego, sneering: “Your bitch can’t do better/Watch me, it just upset her/Bitch, could never.” If you’re praying on her downfall, you might want to add in a plea for her to give a fuck. –Heven Haile

Listen: Flo Milli, “Big Steppa”

BLAC NOIZE! / Campsouth Records

Glorilla / Hitkidd: “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)”

Landing like a crunkafied version of Trina’s “Single Again” but with a rowdy Lil Phat on the chorus, Glorilla’s “F.N.F.” is a flashy relationship-status update that makes a breakup feel like a riot. Instead of solitary nights spent crying over a tub of ice cream, Glo goes looking for debauchery with her home girls, leading the charge into the streets with an invigorating “Let’s goooo!!!!” Flanked by her bad bitch army, she stomps over a thunderous HitKidd beat and has the last laugh over an ex who wasted her time: “Life's great, pussy still good/Still eating cake, wishing that a bitch would.” Don’t even try texting: Glorilla’s too busy twerking at intersections, hanging out car windows, and making the world know she’s free. –Heven Haile

Listen: Glorilla / Hitkidd, “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)”

CMG / Interscope

Glorilla: “Tomorrow 2 (Remix)” [ft. Cardi B]

Memphis rapper Glorilla accomplished her goal of terrorizing bad friends and exes on the original “Tomorrow.” Sounding equally tart and dismissive, Cardi B makes the remix all the more intimidating. As ever, though, even Angry Cardi has to cut her barbs with humor—her best dig, about owning “condos in that bitch head,” is sandwiched between a line about scissoring and a slurping sound effect. The point is this: Every new day is a chance to brush off the past, smile, and move on, but not before making a quick stop to hurt a few feelings. –Clover Hope

Listen: Glorilla, “Tomorrow 2 (Remix)” [ft. Cardi B]

BLAC NOIZE! / Campsouth Records

Hitkidd / Gloss Up / K Carbon: “Shabooya” [ft. Slimeroni and Aleza]

After Glorilla’s viral tracks redirected the rap conversation towards Tennessee this year, the Hitkidd-produced “Shabooya” re-introduces her “Set the Tone” co-stars Gloss Up, K Carbon, Aleza, and Slimeroni. Using the “roll call” bus chant as a template, they’re all hilariously brazen, whether robbing men blind, shitting on bitches, or getting raunchy: “Didn’t let him fuck/He ate my ass/What a bummer,” drawls Gloss Up. Choose your fighter: Individually, they’re unbothered, bubbly, cheery, vicious.  Collectively, they’re the vanguard of Memphis rap. –Heven Haile

Listen: Hitkidd / Gloss Up / K Carbon, “Shabooya” [ft. Slimeroni and Aleza]


Ice Spice: “Munch (Feelin’ U)”

Merriam-Webster defines “munch” as a verb that means “to eat with a chewing action.” Which is wrong. Or, at least, incomplete. Because according to Ice Spice, the word is a noun that describes a particularly clueless kind of guy—a dummy, a sucker, a simp. “You thought I was feelin’ you?” the Bronx drill rapper eyerolls on one of the year’s most memorable hooks, “That nigga a munch/Nigga a eater he ate it for lunch/Bitch I’m a baddie I get what I want.” Ice Spice grew up idolizing both Cardi B and Erykah Badu, and she balances her brashness with a supremely unbothered delivery, as if she’s been swatting away munches for decades. Centuries, even. Merriam-Webster, it’s time to catch up. –Ryan Dombal

Listen: Ice Spice, “Munch (Feelin’ U)”


Ice Spice: “Bikini Bottom”

The follow-up to a viral single can make or break an artist, but anxiety isn’t part of Ice Spice’s vocabulary. After securing NYC’s song of the summer with “Munch (Feelin’ U),” you might expect her to address haters who wish one-hit wonder status upon her, but on “Bikini Bottom,” she’s the embodiment of “Unbothered. Moisturized. Happy. In My Lane. Focused. Flourishing.” “How can I lose if I’m already chose?” she asks over a mischievous, Looney Tunes-chase-sequence-ass beat. Don’t try to answer, the question is rhetorical. –Heven Haile

Listen: Ice Spice, “Bikini Bottom”

Iced Up Records

Icewear Vezzo: “Ace of Spades”

On “Ace of Spades,” Icewear Vezzo sounds tired of his own celebration. The Detroit stalwart raps about closing out the strip club, racing luxury cars, and trips to the jeweler, but his devious tone and producer Ronnie Lucciano’s doomsday piano make it all feel ominous. “Bitch, I’m a real robber,” he raps with a slight snicker in his voice, as if he can’t believe he has to remind you again. Who knew partying and blowing a bag could feel like such backbreaking work? –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: Icewear Vezzo, “Ace of Spades”

Dreamville / Interscope

JID: “Surround Sound” [ft. 21 Savage and Baby Tate]

“Surround Sound” is an exercise in agility. The Atlanta rapper JID’s effusive croak renders his anxieties catchy and poetic (“I’m a Black man with the bloodhounds/MAC-10, making love sounds”), while the beat eases from jittery trap to molasses, built on the same oozing sample of Aretha Franklin’s “One Step Ahead” that was famously interpolated on Mos Def’s 1999 hit “Ms. Fat Booty.” Collab whisperer 21 Savage hops in to rap about money-chasing, and there’s a brief, whispery cameo from Baby Tate, channeling crunk-era Ciara. But this is mainly a showcase for JID’s enveloping lyrical storytelling. –Clover Hope

Listen: JID, “Surround Sound” [ft. 21 Savage and Baby Tate]

Iron Works

Ka: “Ascension”

In the first verse of “Ascension,” Ka describes his style as “measured efficiency.” Indeed, the veteran rapper and producer has cut away all excess from his music, be it programmed drums or nonessential syllables and details. And on this highlight from Languish Arts, one of two albums he dropped in September, the Brownsville, Brooklyn native pries into his childhood—a topic that has grown more central to his writing in recent years—to explain why he believes this cool remove is not only an aesthetic choice but a moral good. Sampled reminiscences about family bookend the song, while Ka bounces, as ever, between the material and metaphysical, the days “long as the solstice” and the uncles’ lives cut short. –Paul A. Thompson

Listen: Ka, “Ascension”

pgLang / Top Dawg Entertainment / Aftermath / Interscope

Kendrick Lamar: “The Heart Part 5”

One of the worst strains of discourse in the field of Kendrickology is the idea that Kendrick Lamar never asked to be considered a spokesperson for the affairs of Black America, that he’s merely a savant that stumbled into a spotlight he’s not suited for, and never wanted. What an insult. “The Heart Part 5” is a three-hundred-and-thirty-two-second-long declaration of Kendrick’s unabashed desire for the pulpit, contending with whether the world no longer has use for his earnestness, and whether he should be ashamed to indulge his ambitions to moral superheroics. That’s actually exactly what the world wants, and it’s what Kendrick wants, too. –Adlan Jackson

Listen: Kendrick Lamar, “The Heart Part 5”

Kenzo B

Kenzo B: “The Realest”

The New York drill scene has been heavily criticized for lowering the quality of technical rapping throughout the city, but those skeptics must not be familiar with Kenzo B. Hailing from the Bronx, the teenage firebreather leaves smoke in her trail on “The Realest” over a sample-drill take on Biggie and 50 Cent’s “Realest Niggas.” Kenzo’s flow is in turbo mode while also staying in full control; there’s no sloppiness here. When she slows down to berate a hater with the rhetorical question “Are you dumb?” the gear-shift makes the line that much more devastating. New York rap is going to be just fine. –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: Kenzo B, “The Realest”

Mavi 4 Mayor

Mavi: “Baking Soda”

On “Baking Soda,” the sun-kissed center of of Mavi’s second album, Laughing so Hard, it Hurts, producers Monte Booker and Amarah break down the beat down so radically that its melodic tendons barely attach to the rhythmic spine—when Mavi murmurs “I been gave my soul away to the drum, I’mma live forever” on the chorus, the drum itself feels a hair’s breadth away from oblivion. It’s a complementary backdrop for Mavi’s elusive insights; what does it mean, exactly, when he says “And your tears is now trees?” The meaning blooms in the line’s lovely, lingering after-image, as the beat crumbles and rebuilds itself like the last dregs of a dream. –Jayson Greene

Listen: Mavi, “Baking Soda”

1501 Certified Entertainment / 300 Entertainment

Megan Thee Stallion: “Plan B”

The high road is unsatisfying and often boring. Mud-slinging reveals something closer to the truth, and on “Plan B,” the truth sets the Houston Hottie free: “Fuck you, still can’t believe I used to trust you/The only accolade you ever made is that I fucked you.” Bolstered by a Jodeci sample, Meg spits with equal parts force and charisma, confronting not just the anger of a bad relationship but also the pain. Just ’cause you’re a bad bitch doesn’t mean you can’t have your feelings hurt. –Jessica Kariisa

Listen: Megan Thee Stallion, “Plan B”

Stomp Down

Monaleo: “We Not Humping (Remix)” [ft. Flo Milli]

When pop-culture feminism goes full-throttle on misandry, the Miami bass-inflected “We Not Humping (Remix)” will be the movement’s rallying song. Equally bratty and lacerating, Monaleo and Flo Milli take turns using the alpha-male ego like a punching bag. Sparing no feelings, these Southern women giggle at erectile dysfunction, berating those who can only last for the duration of a TikTok video, and shaming the ones who failed Eater 101 in a playground-taunt delivery. Don’t worry, they just might let you hang—just come with your jaw loose and most importantly keep your pants zipped. –Heven Haile

Listen: Monaleo, “We Not Humping (Remix)” [ft. Flo Milli]

Nicholas Craven Productions

Nicholas Craven / Boldy James: “Power Nap”

Boldy James is as consistent as they come. The Detroit rapper released three very good collaborative full-lengths so far in 2022—with a fourth coming later this week—and the best of them is Fair Exchange No Robbery, with Montreal producer Nicholas Craven. Craven comes from the Alchemist school of obscure looped samples, and album standout “Power Nap” borrows liberally from jazz singer Marlena Shaw’s “Prelude/I Know I Love Him,” splicing her vocals to repeat the transfixing line, “I… go to sleep.” James embraces the theme, opening his first verse, “Extendo full of sleeping pills, it’s similar to Seroquel.” As usual, the rapper dazzles unassumingly, letting off technical—and meaningful—bars while sounding like he’s barely bothered to roll out of bed. “Power Nap” is a song as relaxing as it is astounding. –Matthew Strauss

Listen: Nicholas Craven / Boldy James, “Power Nap”

Auto Reverse

Open Mike Eagle: “for DOOM” 

MF DOOM kept much of the music industry at arm’s length, and Open Mike Eagle was no exception—despite collaborating twice, the two never met. But this single-verse tribute, first shared last year, shortly after DOOM’s passing, and officially released on his 2022 album Component System with the Auto Reverse, hints at a parasocial intimacy achievable only by the most devoted fans. He name-drops early songs and brags about memorizing all of the masked rapper’s lyrics, all while wielding stylistic motifs from DOOM’s oeuvre—a fitting tribute from a stan that’s managed to build a unique style of his own. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Listen: Open Mike Eagle, “for DOOM” 

#Boyz Entertainment LLC / Empire

Peezy: “2 Million Up”

Peezy straddles two eras of Michigan rap on “2 Million Up.” The funky flip of Dennis Edwards’ “Don’t Look Any Further” is a throwback to the R&B hooks and rugged intensity of early 2010s Detroit, where Peezy cut his teeth as Team Eastside’s most commanding presence. But the veteran brings some of the freewheeling, tongue-in-cheek energy of the new generation, which includes his mentee Rio Da Yung OG, to his smirking trip down memory lane—rapping in basements, selling dope, chilling at house parties.  It’s a time-warp that feels appropriate for a scene that embraces its history. –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: Peezy, “2 Million Up”


Pharrell: “Cash In Cash Out” [ft. 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator]

“Cash In Cash Out” sounds like Pharrell heard a Gen-Zer refer to him as “the Minions song guy” and took it personally. Returning to a grittier sound after his work on Pusha-T’s It’s Almost Dry, he sought out two “ravenous wolves”—Tyler the Creator and 21 Savage—to attack extraterrestrial 808s and militant snares. Both rappers trade braggadocious bars, neither relegated to feature status—21 surfing the high-tempo beat while Tyler double-dutches with an increasingly frenetic flow culminating in his conclusive “Woof!” –Heven Haile

Listen: Pharrell, “Cash In Cash Out” [ft. 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator]

G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam

Pusha T: “Diet Coke”

You gotta hand it to Pusha T—it takes dedication to still strive toward drug-rap perfection 20 years after making a song as good as “Grindin.” On “Diet Coke,” he raps over an 88-Keys beat that’s old enough to be called up for jury duty—all vacuum-packed drums and scratched-in vocal samples—but King Push has always made his music outside of linear time, peddling rhymes as eternal as the drug trade itself. “Master recipes under stove lights” he explains on the hook, ostensibly a reference to crack, but he could also be talking about how he manages to pull off this one kind of track again and again. –Dean Van Nguyen

Listen: Pusha T, “Diet Coke”


redveil: “PG Baby”

This was a breakthrough year for 18-year-old rapper-producer redveil, and “PG Baby,” an anthem of perseverance from his latest project Learn 2 Swim, feels like his superhero theme song. Over strobing samples and drum hits, he focuses on the kind of small-scale, hard-won triumphs we can all relate to, exhorting us to try a little harder—“Keep them trucks up on the railing just a little bit longer/Landing make you stronger,” he says on the intro. “PG Baby” channels the feeling of winning a $10 scratch-off and pumping your fist in the middle of 7-Eleven into two-and-a-half minutes of sunny hip-hop. –Dylan Green

Listen: redveil, “PG Baby”

Sugar Trap / Atlantic

Rico Nasty: “Gotsta Get Paid”

Rico Nasty has the shadowy aura of a mob boss here, her throat rasping as if she’s puffed one too many cigars. The beat reels like it’s choked and light-headed, buoyed by a spiraling dwoink sound, like a cartoon character stepping on a rake. The song’s seedy atmosphere comes courtesy of 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady, but the tough-talking charisma is all Rico’s: “Backpack full of gas, I’m feelin’ like that bitch Dora,” she boasts. “Gotsta Get Paid” is the theme song of a kingpin reclining, secure that everything she needs is under her feet. –Cat Zhang

Listen: Rico Nasty, “Gotsta Get Paid”

Interscope / Top Dawg Entertainment

Schoolboy Q: “Soccer Dad”

Every few years, Schoolboy Q returns to remind us that he could dominate the game—if he felt like it. But on “Soccer Dad,” Q makes it clear that supremacy is not on the agenda right now. Instead, he is content to spend time with his daughter, coaching her up as the rest of the music world quibbles about who’s on top. “The soccer dad, my real life too wavy,” he raps, “You little rappers go and wipe your mouth/And go pull up your pants.” The one-off single, with its world-beating-fanfare beat, is fierce enough to make domesticity sound like the ultimate feat. –Matthew Strauss

Listen: Schoolboy Q, “Soccer Dad”

Zero Fatigue / Motown

Smino: “Pro Freak” [ft. Doechii and Fatman Scoop]

“Pro Freak” is packed with all the effervescence of a Sunday block party. Boosted by Fatman Scoop’s horn-like blare, Smino hypes the audience up for Doechii’s high-tempo verse, which is filled with cheeky bars (“Waist is on Mrs. Incredible”) and clever wordplay (“And you need her like Jolie” she raps, making the top of the line sound like she’s saying “Angelina”). Hang around long enough and you’re rewarded with two songs in one—the final minute a sentimental soliloquy from Smino himself. –Heven Haile

Listen: Smino, “Pro Freak” [ft. Doechii and Fatman Scoop]


TisaKorean: “Backseat”

Houston’s TisaKorean is best known for his boisterous, surreal take on snap music, which he’s dubbed “silly.” By contrast, “Backseat” is intimate and bubbly, with tinny synths and glass-shattering sound effects, making a backseat rendezvous sound like something that would have had Sidekicks blinging during the ringtone era. It’s as playful as a quick fling in a parking lot, the kind that doesn’t lead anywhere but lingers in the brain for days. –Dylan Green

Listen: TisaKorean, “Backseat”

Blacksmith / Motown

Vince Staples: “When Sparks Fly”

Personified firearms—like those found in Nas’ “I Gave You Power” and 2Pac’s “Me and My Girlfriend”—have a rich history in rap music. Vince Staples’ entry into the canon splits the difference between those classics, imbuing the tragedy of Nas’ reluctant murder weapon with a more tender version of 2Pac’s outlaw romance. He’s never sounded more vulnerable. The track’s somber mood—set with a sample from Lyves’ gauzy electronic ballad “No Love”—reflects the tone of the LP on which it appears, a weary epilogue to a discography so far spent recounting the specifics of Staples’ trap in high definition. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Listen: Vince Staples, “When Sparks Fly”

Young Stoner Life

Yung Kayo: “hear you” [ft. Eartheater]

Yung Kayo’s glitchy warble makes for a natural fit within Young Thug’s YSL roster, but the Washington, D.C. native’s music feels closer in spirit to the glittery rave-pop of Drain Gang than to Atlanta trap. On “hear you,” Kayo leaves the material realm, ascending to a dimension of pure light and sound. The presence of Queens-based experimentalist Eartheater might seem leftfield for an album that also features Gunna and Yeat, but her almost-inhuman vocal range makes for a symbiotic duet with Kayo’s unpredictable crooning. –Nadine Smith

Listen: Yung Kayo, “hear you” [ft. Eartheater]