This was a great year for rap. Let's celebrate it!
(Note: Someone else here is ranking the best mixtapes of the year, so the free stuff isn't on this list. I've already said that if "Blue Chips," "1999," and "Rich Forever" aren't on that mixtape top 10, I'm tendering my resignation.)
10. "Lace Up," MGK
We might be a little biased here. MGK gave us one of the funniest interviews ever on this site, and we'll just be forever grateful for a rapper who extolls to us the virtues of "shitting in bags and throwing them at people."
(Alright, one more sample from that interview:
Okay. So the album went No. 4, right? What's the first thing you did when you found out it went No. 4?
[long pause] Ate a blueberry muffin, I think?
Biases aside, though, MGK's album does deserve a spot on this list. It received middling reviews, but I found it a gripping collection of confessionals that rewarded several listens—once you got through the rapid-fire delivery, which is admittedly the rapper's hook and reason why people ever paid attention to him in the first place, you're left with some of the best lyrics any rapper wrote this year. It's the story of a poor kid living a white-trash life in Cleveland, dreaming of something more and dealing with his many substance-abuse and peer-pressure related demons. Meaning, when you give it a spin, all of a sudden it's 1997 again, and you're back listening for the first time to that other white guy who came from a similar background. It's a good memory.
9. "Cruel Summer," G.O.O.D. Music
I wrote this a few months ago when "Cruel Summer" came out, and I disagree with nearly all of the first impressions I made then. "Cruel Summer" benefits from multiple listens, if only to really appreciate its utterly crazy-ass production—the fact that I called "Higher," which sounds so unlike anything else on the radio, a "filler track" in that earlier article was particularly criminal. As was my dismissal of "Creepers," which might be a signal that Kid Cudi has one more comeback left in him.
Yes, the album is far from perfect. Kanye West doesn't show up enough, it's borderline schizophrenic in its themes, and for every great verse (particularly the impassioned Pusha-T on "New God Flow"), there's an uninspired appearance from someone, like, Cyhi the Prince. But it also has some of the best and most fearless minds in hip-hop coming together for an uncommercial and boundary-expanding collaborative effort (this wasn't radio rap: the album actually didn't do that hot sales-wise). For that reason, I'm more than willing to give Kanye and company credit.
8. "God Forgives, I Don't," Rick Ross
Sure, "Rich Forever" was better, but we're ranking real albums here. "God Forgives, I Don't" is ridiculous, bombastic, and probably more fun to listen to then anything else on this list. Play it out of a tricked-out Maybach and be a fucking bawse today, son.
7. "The Stoned Immaculate," Curren$y
Curren$y has admitted before that he's recorded some of his mixtapes in only two days (no, seriously), so it was nice this year to see the talented New Orleans rapper take his time and produce a full-fledged, major-label work with guest stars and diverse producers, all while not changing his unique, stream-of-consciousness "lifestyle rap" to fit more mainstream conventions. He'll always be the No. 1 weed rapper to true enthusiasts of the genre (sorry, Wiz).
6. "Live From the Underground," Big K.R.I.T.
There's a moment at the very end of the album's second track, "Live From the Underground," when the song begins to segue into the worst of all rap album conventions—the sketch. This one actually means something, though, if only to provide a sly way of acknowledging that, yes, this album is a big deal for Big K.R.I.T. fans.
Stranger: Hey, are you okay down there?
K.R.I.T.: Yeah, I'm fine. Where am I?
S: You're in the mainstream. This is A&R-ville. Where are you from?
K: I'm from Cadillactica, by way of the underground. For short, the South.
Big K.R.I.T., who has given away what seems like hundreds of songs over his career, finally hit it big this year with a mainstream effort. That alone warrants inclusion of "Underground" on here, but the album also happens to be one of the best examples of Southern hip-hop since the OutKast heyday. These are songs about moonshine, country debauchery, and the working poor. It's anti-"Watch the Throne" aimed at the 99%. And, most importantly, it's funky as shit.