Year in Music 2015's 10 Best Hip-Hop Songs of 2015: Critics' Picks

Drake Hotline Bling
Courtesy of VEVO

Drake in the video for "Hotline Bling."

Billboard hip-hop editors Adelle Platon and Dan Rys' picks for 2015’s best rap songs.

In 2015, rappers weren't shy about singing their way to the top of the charts, thanks to Fetty Wap's sticky melodies and Drake's inescapable viral smash "Hotline Bling." In other corners of hip-hop, though, consistent timeline favorites like Kendrick Lamar and Future got their bars up in the name of justice (K.Dot's "Alright") or the turn-up ("March Madness"). Regardless of your rap preferences, these DIY wordsmiths delivered the year's best tunes -- including the ones you've hit the Dab to. 

10. Fetty Wap, “My Way”
Sure, one of Fetty Wap’s top 10-charting singles this year landed a Drake remix, but the original “My Way” featuring Wap’s 1738 collaborator Monty had the Internet and even LeBron James hitting notes. The third single off Zoo Wap’s self-titled debut album showcases the New Jersey rapper's strong riff game as he climbs the melodic scale for the track’s catchy hook: “Baby won’t you come my wAaAaAaAayyyy." The bae dedication also weaves in a finger-wag to his lady’s ex and some flex-y bars about his squaaaa’s deep pockets and sparkly bling.

9. Rich Homie Quan, "Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)"
Rich Homie Quan might not have ridden the same buzz in 2015 that he enjoyed the two years prior, but it's starting to seem like crafting songs that stick in the brain is easy for him. No one would accuse "Flex" of being a lyrical marvel, but Quan's upbeat crooning on the hook made this song a playlist staple over the summer, effortlessly rising to No. 26 on the Hot 100 and becoming the highest-charting song of his career. Quan's work as a featured artist has generally gotten him better looks than his solo work, but he did this one all on his own.

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8. Travi$ Scott, “Antidote”
Rap enigma Travi$ Scott couch-stomped his way into club rotations with the inescapable summer 2015 jam “Antidote,” the second single off his major label debut Rodeo. Any civilian on their worst behavior got down to the pill-popping and blowing-money-fast record, which recently went platinum. La Flame’s sonic palette stays consistent on the follow-up to “3500” as he toasts his various vices -- even rapping about kicking off a cameraman on-stage, which actually happened in real-life at HOT 97’s Summer Jam in June -- on one of the year’s most notable hair-whipping party tracks.

7. Kanye West, "All Day"
During the 2015 BRIT Awards, Kanye West led a mob of hooded men in all-black ensembles (which included U.K. rappers Skepta, Novelist and Stormzy) and delivered the dark, bouncy track “All Day.” The collaborators on this track may appear random on paper (Minnesota spitter Allan Kingdom, Theophilus London and Beatles icon Paul McCartney), but Yeezy manages to string it all together with a haunting hook, fire emojis and rap‘n’roll charisma to create a memorable, ball-so-hard anthem.

6. Big Sean, "Blessings" featuring Drake
One of Drake's continuous achievements is his effortless ability to coin new cultural catchphrases with almost every song he releases. On "Blessings," Drizzy lent a hand to Big Sean, and the two went way-ay up, incorporating "blessings on blessings on blessings" into the hip-hop lexicon and taking the song into the top 10 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart along the way.

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5. Drake "Know Yourself"
Not only did the rapper born Aubrey Graham make “running through the 6 with my woes” a thing, the self-proclaimed 6 God played his own hypeman on the Boi-1da, Vinylz and Syk Sense-produced heat. With braggadocious bars and CN Tower-sized confidence, Drake is never not working on excellence, especially as the man of his city, and perhaps, the whole rap game. Drake's self-reflection even landed punk and instrumental covers from Toronto rock group Dilly Dally and the Toronto Symphony, obviously by-products of hashtag winning.

4. Future, "March Madness"
There is a duality in Future's existence that is both blindly self-destructive and fully self-aware, a sense of glamour and despair, simultaneously victorious and ruinous. He tends to stand at the top of the Atlanta hip-hop food chain while conversing with the devil and celebrating and damning his achievements and what they've done to him. Few songs in his increasingly impressive catalog embody that more than "March Madness," the Tarentino-produced 56 Nights banger that became an anthem to debauchery and an indictment of police violence in America. With a dressed-up hook and relentless energy, it's one of the most influential hip-hop songs of 2015, a year when Future fully embodied the artist he always strove to be, for better and for worse.

3. Kendrick Lamar, "Alright"
With one fist raised in the air, Kendrick Lamar soundtracked 2015's biggest protests (including the Black Lives Matter movement and Million Man March) with the impactful To Pimp A Butterfly track "Alright." With Pharrell and Sounwave manning the beat, the Compton MC spun hopelessness into a power record, rapping like a presidential candidate-to-be: "Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright." While TPAB's lead single "King Kunta" was more mainstream-friendly, it would be criminal to overlook the social struggle that K.Dot captured from the frontlines with "Alright."  

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2. Fetty Wap, "Trap Queen"
Now that we can all breathe easy with the conviction that Fetty Wap is more than a one-hit wonder, we can all agree that the one hit that launched him from Paterson, N.J., local to hip-hop star is his best and brightest effort. "Trap Queen" may have released in 2014, but its whirlwind impact was on this past year, as his ad-libs and earnest ode to his ride-or-die turned 1738 into a common number and revolutionized how people greet each other when they walk into a room. Fetty was the breakout rap star of 2015 without a shadow of a doubt -- even if the Grammys would care to disagree -- and "Trap Queen" was the spark that got the ball rolling for him.

1. Drake, "Hotline Bling"
There's a reason why America's most recognizable faces, from President Barack Obama to Donald Trump to Justin Bieber, have covered Drake's "Hotline Bling." Call logs haven't been the same since the Toronto rapper put on his singer suit last July and danced across timelines for one of the year's most GIF-able videos. Despite being accused of jocking D.R.A.M.'s "Cha Cha," the smartphone-savvy ode to love, which samples Timmy Thomas' 1973 hit "Why Can’t We Live Together,” marked a high note in 2015, not just for Drizzy, but anyone who uses the Internet. 

Honorable Mentions:

Young Thug, “Check”

Drake and Future, “Jumpman”

A$AP Rocky, “L$D

Vince Staples, “Norf Norf”

Post Malone “White Iverson”

Billboard Year in Music 2015