10 Best Hip-Hop Songs of 2013
Even the notion that we’re in a new Golden Age has been tossed around (this particular writer will say that, yes, it’s a terrific period for indie rap but we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves).
When it comes down to the best rap songs of the year, however, we get a slightly different picture. The popularity of singles are, by nature, dictated by chart performance, radio play and club rotation (y’know, things that are supposedly killing hip-hop), so what’s “hotter” ultimately outweighs what’s “better.” Don’t let revisionist history fool you; it always has.
So yeah, there are some pretty obvious picks here, but that’s not to say they aren’t deserving. Drake and Jay Z dominated the charts, French Montana and Ace Hood set the clubs on fire, while YG, Rocko and Rich Homie Quan kept the streets fed. After all, numbers don’t lie.
On the other side of the tracks, Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ tested the limits of hip-hop and its listeners, but not without regressing to his old soulful sound with ‘Bound 2′; J. Cole made a radio hit by throwing out the radio formula; while 20-year-old Chicago kid Chance The Rapper blazed a trail through the industry with pure talent (and a healthy amount of hype, but mostly talent).
All things considered, here are the 10 best hip-hop songs of 2013.
‘Started From the Bottom’
There could have been so many Drake songs on this list. ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home.’ ‘5AM In Toronto.’ ‘Versace’ (which became property of Aubrey Graham’s the second he ordered us to get the fuck off his property). But ‘Started From the Bottom’ is where it all started (no pun intended) for Drake in his mission to claim 2013 as his own.
Mike Zombie’s beat sizzled through the speakers, Aubrey’s verses were both effortlessly melodic and daringly arrogant, and then there was that hook. ‘Started From the Bottom’ was more than just a certified smash, though; it was a middle finger to the snarky critics who would aim to corroborate every lyric, every boast and every claim to his days as a mild-mannered teen actor. But in today’s gentrified hip-hop climate, “the bottom” doesn’t necessarily mean the cruel depths of the ‘hood.
‘Bound 2′ — the emphatic finale to Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ LP — was the antithesis of everything we heard prior. It was warming, it was amusing and, with the powerful pipes of Uncle Charlie Wilson, it was refreshingly familiar. ‘Bound 2′ also provided a much-needed breather from the intense, experimental production and dark sexual subject matter of the album; “I wanna fuck you hard on the sink / After that, give you something to drink,” Yeezy rapped in a rare moment of playfulness. For 3 minutes and 49 seconds, we got that old ‘Ye back; soulful, sample-based hip-hop with lashings of witty confidence. The only headache ‘Bound 2′ gave you was trying to decide if it’s a hint for what Mr. West’s next solo effort will sound like.
We’ll give you a pass for not leaping onto the Chance The Rapper bandwagon after ‘Juice’ sweetened everyone’s palettes. But you were a damn fool if you didn’t believe the Chicago kid had next after he dropped ‘Acid Rain.’ Under the spell of Jake One’s breezy synths and hypnotic woodblock, Chance dived head-first into three-and-a-half-minute, stream-of-consciousness lyrical monologue about being jealous of his rap buddy Vic Mensa, the heartless violence in the Chi and being haunted by his dead homie: “My big homie died young; just turned older than him / I seen it happen, I seen it happen, I see it always / He still be screaming, I see his demons in empty hallways.” Though his rhymes were as vivid and colorful as the single’s cover, ‘Acid Rain’ was by far a moment of psychedelics-fueled magic for Chancelor Bennett. You heard ‘AcidRap,’ didn’t you?
‘Type of Way’
Rich Homie Quan’s ‘Type of Way’ was a slow burner. Despite catching fire in the local Atlanta scene when it arrived as a bonus track on his February mixtape, ‘Still Goin In: Reloaded,’ it wasn’t until the summer months when the track blew up on a national level. But in hip-hop, peaking when the weather’s hot is never a bad thing. The croaky-voiced ATLien and his springy street smash soon caught the ear of Drake, who crowned it “the song of the summer.” Though a Drizzy remix never panned out, Quan did manage to lure Meek Mill and Jeezy onto the record for a late makeover. But here’s the funny thing: it still didn’t top the original.
“It sounds like nothing that is out,” J. Cole told MTV of ‘Power Trip.’ The whole damn-this-girl-got-me-up-all-night narrative is not exactly brand spanking new in popular music, but Jermaine was at least correct about his sound, which was a beautiful, reverberating marriage between bouncy bass and soothing soul. The fact that Miguel only played a supporting role on the hook spoke volumes about Cole’s artistic depth, too. The Roc Nation MC revealed his — and a certain legendary rapper’s — displeasure with his 2011 breakout single, ‘Work Out,’ on ‘Let Nas Down,’ but ‘Power Trip’ sounded like a natural step forward in the evermore encouraging career of Jermaine Cole.
‘Ain’t Worried About Nothin’
On his long-awaited debut LP, ‘Excuse My French,’ French Montana basically (and unsurprisingly) just stumbled through his own version of a DJ Khaled album (sorry, Trent). It was by no means the “best album to come out in a decade,” but the Moroccan mumbler was hiding a few diamonds in the rough — case in point: ‘Ain’t Worried About Nothin.’ This was French — an artist blatantly indifferent to the art of emceeing — reveling in his ig’nant, no-fucks-given glory over some slapping Rico Love and Earl & E’s production. It was actually kinda refreshing to be able to yell, “I ain’t worried ’bout nothin!” and forget about all those feelings that Drake and co. keep us caught up in.
Ace Hood. Future. Rick Ross. Mike WiLL Made It. ‘Bugatti’ was as formulaic as rap hits come, but a hit it was. Mike’s production shattered speakers as per, Rozay bullied the “broke boys,” while Ace rapped with intensity. But it was guest crooner Future who steered the song with a toxic hook that had you feeling like a Sang Noir Veyron was parked in your driveway, even if your mom’s piece of crap Pontiac Aztek was your crushing reality. Not only lighting up clubs across the country, ‘Bugatti’ climbed as high as No. 33 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it Ace Hood’s most successful single of his career.
Perennial underground buzz-maker Rocko was one of the most unlikely sources for a national hit in 2013, but ‘U.E.O.N.O.’ proved to be the catalyst for the Atlanta rapper’s biggest crossover success. Childish Major’s sinewy production held you in a trance, Rocko’s opening verse was boastful and on-beat, while Future made it even harder for you not to crown him the best hookman in rap.
But then Rick Ross showed up and was all like, “Put molly all in her champagne / She ain’t even know it / I took her home and I enjoyed that / She ain’t even know it.” It was date rapegate for Rozay and, boy, did he know it. The MMG mogul duly got dropped from his partnership with Reebok and enjoyed the benefits of being every feminist group’s public enemy number one. Despite being marred by controversy, ‘U.O.E.N.O.’ climbed as high as No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was remixed by everyone from A$AP Rocky and Wiz Khalifa to Lil Wayne and TDE.
Though ‘Type of Way’ was the song that set it all off for Rich Homie Quan, the ATLien proved he was more than a just one hit wonder with ‘My N—a’ (or ‘My Hitta,’ if you copped the clean version). Despite being billed as YG’s song, Quan outshone his more famous counterparts with a raspy, slurred hook, which unfolded into a magnetizing half-singing, half-rapping verse. You probably didn’t catch everything he was saying, you just knew it sounded fucking good.
Cracking the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100, ‘My N—a’ was not only YG and Quan’s biggest single in their young careers, it gifted the aging Jeezy his highest-charting effort since 2009’s ‘Hard’ with Rihanna.
Justin Timberlake and Jay Z issued their letter of intent early by dropping ‘Suit & Tie’ — the lead single from Justin’s massively anticipated comeback album, ‘The 20/20 Experience — in January. Six months later, the powerhouse pair returned for more pop dominance on ‘Holy Grail’ — the opening single from Hov’s surprise 12th LP, ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail.’
Although the song was in fact recorded during the ‘Watch the Throne’ sessions two years prior, it served as the exquisite center piece to ‘MCHG.’ Raindrop keys, lush synths and a majestic Timberlake ballad played like the opening of Heaven’s pearly gates, where we were met with the divine presence of Shawn Carter: “Blue told me remind you n—as / Fuck that shit you talking ’bout, I’m that n—a.”