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10 Best Rap Songs of 2018 So Far
At this point, hip-hop has officially become the most dominant genre in popular music. It’s a genre so robust at the moment it’s hard to keep up with the prolific output of rappers who can become the next big name seemingly moments after uploading a single to SoundCloud. No one can blame you for not being able to keep up, so check back with Esquire.com throughout the year as we run down the best rap songs of 2018.
Drake — “God’s Plan”
Whether he means to or not, with every new release Drake is able to out-Drake himself. With “God’s Plan,” he played up his nice guy schtick with a truly touching philanthropic music video. And since this is Drake, fans took it and packaged the idea into the pervasive God’s Plan Starts Playing meme. And plus, this might be the most Drake line of all time: “I only love my bed and my momma, I’m sorry.” It’s impossible not to love Drake, I’m sorry.
Mozzy with Sjava and Reason — “Seasons”
In one breath, emerging Sacramento rapper Mozzy talks about the corrupt justice system, racism, classism, police brutality. On “Seasons,” he raps, “I cried when lil’ brotha died, got high and watched the sunrise / Wiggle on ’em if it’s one time, they done hung all of my people / I love all of my people, I’m in the slums with all of my people / They trynna tell us that we all equal / We gettin’ no justice so it ain’t peaceful, yeah / Think they bluffin’, they ain’t gon’ beat you / Paid attorney, we gon’ need it.” It’s a beautiful and powerful verse, one that’s shocking to hear on a soundtrack for a Disney movie. It’s just another stunning contribution to popular culture from Kendrick Lamar and Black Panther.
Migos — “Made Men”
Migos didn’t hold anything back releasing Culture II on the anniversary of their groundbreaking major label debut. It’s a massive dump of 24 songs, which indicates that they could have maybe used some discretion while pairing down that final album. That’s precisely why there are a number of forgettable tracks along with some truly great ones. Obvious standouts are the Pharrell-produced “Stir Fry” (which technically came out last year, so we can’t include it here) and “Made Men.” On the latter, the beat is a glittering and classy late-night boast. Taking the phrase from classic American mafia, Takeoff casually brags in his first verse, “Not Toby, but we slave for it / No Kunta Kinte, but we slave for it / I waited some days for it” in a brilliant Roots reference.
Rae Sremmurd — “Powerglide”
The melodic vocal gymnastics of Rae Sremmurd are usually something most rappers don’t mess with. Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee play around in those upper registers that make for truly addictive pop-rap. And they can do it over any type of beat, from a bleary trap beat to a driving beat like “Powerglide” featuring Juicy J.
JPEGMAFIA — “MACAULAY CULKIN”
I’ll be the first to admit that JPEGMAFIA might not be for everyone. He embodies the true punk aesthetic of SoundCloud hip-hop. He’s artistically hyperactive—he’s already released three albums this year of frenetic lo-fi rap. These albums have songs like “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies” and “Libtard Anthem.” But beneath that abrasive provocateur is a compelling lyricist, and when he tones it down a bit, like on “Macaulay Culkin,” that writing truly shines. Over a lost, melancholy guitar, he raps Orange is the New Black references and admits, “I play my albums front to back and make it feel important.”
SAINT JHN — “I HEARD YOU GOT TOO LITT LAST NIGHT”
As hip-hop has statistically taken over as the dominant genre of popular music, it’s sometimes difficult to find the line between R&B, pop, and rap. SAINt JHN incorporates all of it, with the woozy, low-end beat and the melancholy sing-song flow so popular. But, like a hazy hangover, the Brooklyn rapper recounts a night out as if it’s a morning drained of dopamine.
SOB X RBE — “Lifestyle”
There’s a perfect balance at play on SOB X RBE tracks. Yhung T.O.’s seductive club choruses are the perfect packaging for forceful, dangerous verses. Take “Lifestyle” for example, where Yhung T.O. sings in the chorus, “I remember late nights all alone / I remember long talks with my cousin through her phone / RIP all of my niggas dead and gone / Give it all to bring you back and to bring my niggas home.” It’s followed by an opening verse from Slimmy B where he raps about people getting murdered at stoplights.
cupcakKe — “Cartoons”
Quite possibly the greatest hype track ever written solely dedicated to cartoon references. There’s certainly no greater joy in hearing the sex-confident chorus dedicated to giving Smurfs blue balls when she raps: “I’m a snack so I attract Scooby Doo’s / Give ’em Smurf dick, that’s balls blue / I don’t look for niggas so fuck Waldo / Bitch, I’m cocky like Johnny Bravo.”
Maxo Kream — “Roaches”
On “Roaches,” Maxo Kream comes out firing with an opening chorus rapping, “Back when the face tatts was for OG killas / Now I’m seein’ tear drops on you Soundcloud niggas / Remember back when music had content and metaphors / Way before the mumble nonsense and poppin’ handlebars.” It’s a visceral attack on a new era of rappers finding pop stardom like Post Malone. What follows is vivid account of his childhood shooting guns, watching his uncle get shot.
Tee Grizzley feat. Meek Mill — “First Day Out Remix”
In some really dark comedy, Meek Mill’s latest verse comes as he’s currently incarcerated on a remix of Tee Grizzley’s ironically titled “First Day Out.” Likely recorded when he was out on probation, Mill’s verse touches on everything from Nicki Minaj to his beef with Drake, “I made a milli from rappin’ and I ain’t look back / I brought that Dawn in my hood, they was like, “What’s that?” / They tried to tell me I lost, nigga, I shook that (shook),” he raps.