50 Best Rap Songs of 2011

2011 was an amazing year for hip-hop. The rap scene was bursting at the seams with quality songs and albums, making the task of picking just 50 a difficult one.

In any case, here's the Top 50.

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Gilbere Forte - "Born in '87"

Gilbere Forte (pronounced Djilbere Forté) introduces himself in just under four minutes. He's 23; he's from Flint, Michigan; and he doesn't wear socks with his Timbalands. And by the way, he can rhyme his butt off.

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Shady Records - "2.0 Boys"

Any doubts about Eminem's ability to fit so many egos on one table? Fret not. "2.0 Boys" finds enough elbow room for six great MCs in the time it would take for Kanye to soliloquize about fame.

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Random Axe - "Chewbacca"

Random Axe
Random Axe. © Duck Down

They sound so confident that you almost believe everything they're saying.

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A$AP Rocky - "Peso"

A$Ap in a nutshell: charismatic, fresh, carefree, ill. Tybeats supplies the staggeringly impressive soundtrack.

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Pusha T Feat. Tyler, the Creator - "Trouble on My Mind"

Pusha T and Tyler trade bars atop a gritty Neptunes beat. What separates this from every other Tyler collaboration is that Pusha sticks to his own lane and leaves the shock-rap to the Odd Future leader.

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Immortal Technique Feat. Chuck D, Brother Ali - "Civil War"

Immortal Technique
Immortal Technique. © Koch

What happens when three of the most politically charged emcees team up on a track? Planets collide. Earth spins off its axis. Cheetahs scuttle to their hideouts.

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Elzhi - "Life's a B---"

Elmatic. © Elzhi/Will Sessions

Elzhi doesn't shuffle under the burden of a bonafide masterpiece. Instead, he throws away the crutches and takes on the cut head on, while Nickle Nine does AZ better than AZ.

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Phonte Feat. Elzhi - "Not Here Anymore"

Phonte and 9th Wonder
Phonte and 9th Wonder. Photo © twitter.com/phontigallo

This 9th Wonder and Phonte reunion was the first single from Tay's

Charity Starts At Home

. "Yes, Phonte spits Amazon flame. Watch 9th rekindle it," Tay boasts on the beautifully nostalgic gem. Never underestimate the power of indelible friendship and good music.

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CunninLynguists Feat. Freddie Gibbs – "Hard as They Come"

One of the more surprising pairings of 2011. Gibbs is better when spitting over grimy beats but he sounds right at home here, softening his breathy flow to suit Kno's daisy-age warm groove.

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Styles P - "Harsh"

Easily the coldest song on Style's P's sleeper album,

Master of Ceremonies

. The Ghost is in late 90s mode, and Bussa Bus is still riding the high of his show-stealing guest turns of late. Dumb fresh.

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XV - "Awesome"

Classic hip-hop boast meets a mesmerizing beat. Perfect for days when you need to dust dirt off your shoulder.

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Big K.R.I.T. - "The Vent"

Big Krit - Return of 4eva
Big Krit - Return of 4eva.

A grim soliloquy on modern life and career confusion, the track threatening to come undone under the whirlwind of its own heft.

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Young Jeezy Feat. Jay-Z and Andre 3000

© Def Jam

Drug-as-lady metaphors are nothing new in rap, but damn do these guys make it sound good. Jeezy and Jay-Z take turns recalling their love affair with Lady C (I, Jay-Z, take this unlawful lady to have and to hold until the task force roll"), while Andre 3000 brings it home with a literal and remarkable take on matrimony.

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Drake - "Marvin's Room"

Drake - Take Care
Drake - Take Care. © Young Money

In which Drake drunk-calls an ex and looks pathetic doing it. That Drake is willing to wear his heart on his sleeves is a commendable act in a genre obsessed with machismo.

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Raekwon Feat. Rick Ross - "Molasses"

Raekwon - Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang
Raekwon - Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. © Ice Water

Everyone chips in to make this a memorable song, especially Rick Ross who drops the year's most important rhyme here: "Twitter thug, I'm the Timeline Strangler."

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Phonte - "The Good Fight"

Phonte riffs on funemployment with the eyes of a man who's won some, lost some ("If you're thinking about quitting you should probably wait, 'cause everybody gotta do a job that they hate) and the nose of a pragmatic visionary ("Everybody prays for the day that they see the light, but the light at the end of the tunnel is a train").

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Freddie Gibbs - "187 Proof"

Freddie Gibbs Cold Day in Hell
Freddie Gibbs Cold Day in Hell. © @FreddieGibbs

No preambling. Straight rapid-fire from the opening snare. Gibbs makes music with the streets in mind and "187 Proof" is no different. It's also typical of Gibbs to speak from the heart. "I speak a foreign language, I think they call it the truth," he reminds us on the Justice L.E.A.G.U.E. trunk rattler.

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Kanye West - "Eyes Closed"

Kanye West
Kanye West. © Marco Torres

Supposedly a leftover from

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

. Just a teary-eyed boy and a crockpot.

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Azealia Banks - "212"

Azealia Banks
Azealia Banks.

Azealia Banks taps into the power of vocal shifts and musical breaks on her smashmouth single. Dirty talk never sounded so good.

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Lil Wayne - "6 Foot 7 Foot"

Remember how every rapper on earth had his own "A Milli" freestyle? "6 Foot 7 Foot" (produced by the same guy ((Bangladesh)) had the opposite effect. No one wanted to go near this thing. Really, how do you top "Real G's move in silence like lasagna"?

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The Niceguys Feat. Bun B - "Ari Gold" Remix

Bun B joins forces with Houston's best rap group for the "Ari Gold" remix. Yves kicks a torrent of intricate rhymes that will force you to hit the rewind button over and over.

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Wale - "Chain Music"

Wale - Chain Music
Wale - Chain Music. © MMG

Easily the most misunderstood rap song of the year, "Chain Music" is brilliant in its duplicitous act as a middle finger and an apology. Wale bemoans hip-hop's obsession with materialism, simultaneously justifying its submission to the same. "They say karats (carrots) help your vision but somehow it made them listen," he concedes on the Rick Ross-sampling "Chain Music."

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Danny Brown - "Pac Blood"

© Fool's Gold

Danny Brown's morphine metaphors meet a RZA-esque beat for one hell of a drug ode.

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Chip tha Ripper - "Don't Come into My Hood"

Bone Thugs N Harmony

Bone biters couldn’t even bite them proper back in the day. Leave it to fellow Ohio native Chip tha Ripper to cover this throwback gem. Chip draws us into the solemn vibe of "Days of Our Lives" and shoots us out the other end more nostalgic than ever. If your local Ol' Skool station slipped this into rotation, no one would notice.

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k-Os Feat. Drake - "Faith 2.0"

Drake and fellow T-Dot native k-os Drake first connected on "Faith," a gem off the latter's Anchorman mixtape. "Faith 2" finds them exchanging rock solid rhymes, trying to outperform each other. K-os is one of the best rappers to ever come out of Canada. So it's fitting that he's going tête-à-tête with Canada's biggest rap export. The friendly competition yields a diligent track.

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Drake Feat. Kendrick Lamar - "Buried Alive (Interlude)"

In just one verse, Kendrick Lamar sums up his past, present, and future, and does it all in a very poetic manner, double entendres and all.

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Action Bronson - "Barry Horowitz"

Don't like his voice? You'll love his flow. Don't like the flow? You'll love the sports history. Don't care for sports? You'll love the hardbody production. Don't like that? You're clearly a Kenny G fan.

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Black Milk/Danny Brown - "Loosie"

You're going to need a few listens to catch every metaphor, every punchline, every deft exercise in emceeing. "Pissing on your paragraphs, parallel to Paris" will appeal to your alliterative senses. "Morphine metaphors make you do the shoulder lean" will have you laughing out loud. The music--crisp drums and fuzzy synths--is part of the story, but the rhyme is the meat of the collaboration.

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Talib Kweli - "Cold Rain"

Talib Kweli. © Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Piano loops rise and fall with the momentum of the song, while Kweli powers through with confident rhymes. Best song on the criminally underappreciated

Gutter Rainbows


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Common Feat. Nas - "Ghetto Dreams"

Common - The Dreamer/The Believer
© Warner

"Ghetto Dreams" is the only song on

The Dreamer/The Believer

to feature a guest rapper. And who better to trade verses with Common than Nas? It gives us two recently single MCs in peak form, as they describe the women of their dreams with boyish verve.

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Tech N9ne Feat. Yelwolf, Busta Rhymes, etc - "Worldwide Choppers"

Photo © Henry Adaso/About.com

You know it's a truly competitive speed-rapping contest when Busta Rhymes is the slowest tongue twister on the track. One of the most memorable posse cuts of 2011.

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Evidence Feat. Raekwon & Ras Kass - "The Red Carpet"

© ABB Records

This collaboration works amazingly well not because all three emcees are talented (they are), but because of how well they blend together. Ev, Rae, and Ras inject their disparate worlds of thought into an Alchemist track that's brimming with soul. The outcome is an experience that penetrates the subconscious and leaves a visceral residue in your brain.

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Lupe Fiasco - "All Black Everything"

Lupe Fiasco
Lupe Fiasco. © James Knowler/Getty

The best song on


is this Utopian reimagination of modern society. The production hints at Kanye West; the lyrics are wonderfully imaginative: slavery never happened, W.E.B. DuBois penned the U.S. Constitution and Martin Luther King eulogized a Malcolm X who lived into old age. 50 Cent invented Eminem.

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Pusha T - "My God"

This is new territory for Pusha T of the Clipse, this whole solo career thing. But is there any doubt about his ability to carry an album? OK, maybe just a little. Still, he showed up and showed out on "My God," the lead cut from

Fear of God II: Let Us Pray

. It. Is. Absolutely. Disgusting. The drums don't drop until a full minute into the song. By then, Pusha already has your full attention. Bow.

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Game - "Ricky"

© Interscope

"Ricky" is a brisk walk through Compton, the anti-"Today Was a Good Day." No mindless namedropping--the references are all part of his history, both personal and professional. “Blood of a slave, heart of a giant” is a hat tip to his idol Nas. He’s in a Stillmatic state of mind. “I’m from where niggas get murdered over stock rims, and punched in the jaw just for a cocked brim” is a nod to his other idol Jay-Z nodding to his own hood on “Where I’m From.” “Shot myself like Plaxico” is double entendre.” “With a tre-pound, forty shells bouncin’ off the ground” isn’t tough talk; it’s “how my living room sound when my brother got shot down.”

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Killer Mike - "Burn"

"Burn" is a salient, Funkadelic-inspired instabanger that echoes the frustrations of the disgruntled. Perfect for days when you wake up and feel like burning everything down.

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Uzoy - "Pack It Up"

Uzoy - The DEFinition

One hit of "Pack it Up" and you'll squint and swear you've seen this one before. Uncross your eyes. You haven't. Uzoy is a blast of fresh air. "Pack It Up" appears on Uzoy's criminally underrated mixtape, The [DEF]inition.

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DJ Khaled Feat. Drake, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne - "I'm on One"

Drake - Miss Me
Drake - Miss Me.

A hypnotic take on the grinding trope, in which Drake pretty much spells out the things he works for (wealth and status) and ultimately tags same as an excuse to seek comfort in the double-stacked cup. While Rick Ross and Lil Wayne take turns pounding their chests, it's Drake who brings balance with the realization that his grind isn't just for the flashy life.

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Jay-Z/Kanye West - "N-ggas in Paris"

Watch the Throne Artwork
Watch the Throne Artwork. © Def Jam

It's Hit-Boy's megacatchy 4/4 beat. It's the ironic title. It's the subtle social commentary. It's the exotic bliss. It's the anthemic vibe. It's that rare oomph that makes "N-ggas in Paris" worth listening to five, six, seven, even eleven times in a row.

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Kendrick Lamar - "A.D.H.D."

K.Dot's music teems with so much heart and humanity. And he never sugarcoats his words. On "A.D.H.D.," K.Dot laments widespread apathy among youths, a phenomenon he likens to the similarly named medical condition.

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Shad - "Flawless"

Subtle as a shot of glass to the dome. Shad flowing like his life depends on one rhyme. Easily the best song on

The New North LP

, an album which featured 30 of Toronto's most promising hip-hop artists, including Boi-1da, Marco Polo, and Kardinal Offishall.

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J. Cole - "Lost Ones"

J. Cole
J. Cole. © Henry Adaso/About.com

J. Cole offers a poignant picture from three different angles, even raising his pitch to channel the female character in the second verse. A drippy piano lulls its way to the surface and widens like a midnight skirmish, imbuing the track with an uncomfortably chilly vibe as if it was cut in a meat locker. Extra props to Cole for approaching "Lost Ones" with a movie-grade commitment unfamiliar to his peers.

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Shabazz Palaces - "Swerve...The reeping of all that is worthwhile..."

Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
Shabazz Palaces - Black Up. © Sub Pop

If this single was your gateway to

Black Up

, you may be excused for thinking you had the album pegged. "Swerve...The reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding)" is perhaps the only song designed intentionally as a standalone on an album that relies on iterlocking parts. It's the album's closer and the only one to feature guest vocalists.

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Blu Feat. U-God - "DoinNothin'"

A throwback cut reminiscent of Eric B & Rakim's "Don't Sweat The Technique." Beat knocks harder than feds at a kingpin's door.

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Mr. Muthaf---in eXquire Feat. Danny Brown, El-P, Das Racist - "Huzzah" Remix

© Mishka

New York's Mr. Muthaf---in eXquire assembled a fantastic team of diverse but like-minded emcees for this remix: Danny Brown brings his high-pitched flow; Heems and Kool A.D. bring side-busting humor; El-P steals the show with a play on numbers that every rapper will wish they'd thought of first. Posse cut done right.

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Nas - "Nasty"

"Nasty" is covered in a sabulous layer of dust. No misguided ambition of chasing radio spins. No shawties who owe him for ice. No grumpy old man eager to display his neoteric wizardry. This is Nas in his element. Boom bap, chest thumps, and what Rah Digga would refer to as "straight spittin'." Nasty Nas is back.

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Jay-Z/Kanye West - "Primetime"

Watch the Throne
Jay-Z/Kanye West - Watch the Throne. © Def Jam

The best song on

Watch the Throne
Watch the Throne

. This jewel is tucked away in a bonus section fat enough to stand as its own EP. Jay and Ye are in their prime and this is a celebration. But before the party gets going, Jay is going to take us down memory lane for a history lesson using a sophisticated mathematical breakdown. Then, Yeezy drops the prime rib of rap boasts: "I told her run a bubble bath and float in that motherf--ker like a hovercraft, and soak in that motherf--ker 'til I call you back."

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The Roots Feat. Big K.R.I.T. - "Make My"

The Roots connect with KRIT on the lead cut from UNDUN. "Make My" shows that a late night gig on Fallon hasn't slowed the group down a bit. K.R.I.T. opens this one with a compelling verse: "In the world of night terrors it's hard to dream. Cash rules everything, just call it cream, cause when it rises to the top, you get the finer things." Colder than 3 AM with no blanket in sight.

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Tyler, the Creator - "Yonkers"

Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator. Photo © Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

He cracked last year's Top 10 with "Bastard" and keeps the shock-rap train going with the dystopian "Yonkers" and its brilliantly bizarre video. This is what happens when you forget everything that's trendy.

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Kendrick Lamar - "HiiiPower"

Kendrick Lamar - HiiiPOwer
Kendrick Lamar - HiiiPOwer. © Top Dawg
Section .80

had so many outstanding moments, none more memorable than the J. Cole-tracked coda, "HiiiPower." K.Dot has been painting a portrait of the 80s babies dilemma for 55 minutes. Now he puts three fingers in the sky and offers parting instructions, urging us to "stay on beat, because our life's an instrumental."