The 10 Best Rap Songs of 2017: Critics' Picks
If there's one thing that we learned in 2017, it's that hip-hop is definitely in good hands, courtesy of so many young and hungry stars. A bevy of rookies forcefully took the proverbial bull by the horns and cemented their standings in the rap rankings with booming singles.
The beautiful thing about all the records that made tremors this year were the stark differences in sounds and content. Detroit MC, Tee Grizzley, won the streets over with his honesty and grit, while Lil Uzi Vert grabbed the minds of hapless teenagers grappling with their adolescence. The avid hip-hop heads weren't neglected either, as they received a strong showing from Kendrick Lamar, whose tongue-twisting delivery helped him find a home in their playlists.
Vibe out to Billboard's Top 10 best rap songs of 2017 below.
10. Tee Grizzley, "First Day Out"
Though mumble rap permeated the hip-hop scene in 2017, Tee Grizzley elbowed his way into the discussion with his undeniable single "First Day Out." From the onset, the bone-chilling record finds Grizzley reflecting about his cold nights behind bars -- but halfway through the record, Grizzley's level of aggression spikes, as the beat switches into a dark and ominous soundscape. "Thirty months ago n---as ain't think that I was coming home/ Shout out to them n----as' freaks that I been cumming on," he spews at his foes. Grizzley's unfiltered approached won over rap luminary JAY-Z, who gushed about the MC's authenticity during an August interview with RapRadar. -- CARL LAMARRE
9. French Montana feat. Swae Lee, "Unforgettable"
French Montana didn’t end 2016 at his best: MC4 leaked months early, thanks to a Target release mishap, throwing a major kink into his plans. Fortunately, he battled back in 2017 with his highest-charting single ever, “Unforgettable.” Anchored by Swae Lee’s delicate hook, “Unforgettable” nailed the Afrobeats sound that artists like Wizkid and Burna Boy have been importing for a few years now. -- ROSS SCARANO
8. Playboi Carti, "Magnolia"
Playboi Carti's unconventional rap style and penchant for funky ad-libs are what made "Magnolia" such a game-changer. Yeah, the Pi'erre Bourne-produced track was an earworm all by itself, but once Carti peppered the beat with his swagger, he milly-rocked his way into the hearts of the hip-hop world. Proceed with caution, because Carti isn't leaving the block anytime soon. -- C.L.
7. GoldLink feat. Shy Glizzy & Brent Faiyaz, "Crew"
There wasn’t a catchier sung rap hook in 2017. Brent Faiyaz’s smooth delivery combined with Teddy Walton’s beat, which incorporates sampled vocals from his friend Zacari, makes you feel like cash falling in slow motion. Shy Glizzy may have the show-stealing verse, but there’s no denying that this raised GoldLink’s clout in a major way. A platinum plaque and a Grammy nomination later, being down and out feels way longer than a week ago. -- R.S.
6. 21 Savage, "Bank Account"
For a song that served as his first stab at production (with an assist from Metro Boomin), 21 Savage came up with a multi-faceted gem that sticks out not just for its memorable hook and verses, but for its simplicity -- and the unexpected complexities within it. A deep, booming low end is offset entirely by a clean, uncomplicated four-note piano line that repeats throughout the track, which provides a kind of lightness to the menace of Savage's lyricism and delivery -- though even there he's less morbid and dour than his reputation would assume.
Savage is often praised for his ability to set the mood and atmosphere of a track, or to bend it to his will; with "Bank Account" (and really, almost the entirety of his output in 2017), he's proven that his real mastery comes in his ability to ride a beat and deliver a payoff at the exact right moment. It may not be a lyrical masterpiece, but when he lands "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 M's in my bank account," right as the bass kicks back in, he's proving that strength again. -- DAN RYS
5. Future, "Mask Off"
If you’re #Futurehive, you know that nobody really understands Future like you do. Case in point: “Mask Off,” which has been cast as patient zero for the flute-sample craze of 2017 and also dismissed as an empty ode to drug collaboration. But if you’re a stan, you know that the key lyric is: “My guillotine, drink promethazine.” Future is one of rap’s most underappreciated lyricists and what he accomplishes so economically in that line (as well as the surprising rhyme he locates between those two contrasting "-ine"s) is what separates him from other rappers. There’s always another layer to his songs, you just have to know the meaning. -- R.S.
4. Kendrick Lamar, "DNA."
From the very beginning, "DNA." hits like a sledgehammer, Kendrick amping up the energy of Mike WiLL Made-It's droning bass-heavy beat with a non-stop onslaught of introspective bars that wrap around each frame, at times with a breathless abandon. And that's before the mid-song switch up, when Kendrick's delivery somehow becomes even more frantic and urgent and the production abandons all convention, delivering sonic destruction at will to devastating effect. The result is an astounding feat on both sides, a song that's impossible to digest in any reasonable amount of time. -- D.R.
3. Cardi B, "Bodak Yellow"
All it took was one record for Cardi B to become Rap's Selena. "Bodak Yellow" shattered everyone's expectations, as her brash delivery made the record undeniable. Dripping in confidence, Cardi dropkicks her competitors with hard-hitting lines like "Drop two mixtapes in six months, what bitch is working hard as me?" and "I just run and check the mail, another check from Mona Scott." To solidify Cardi's smoldering run, she netted her first ever Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 with "Bodak Yellow" -- placing her in great company, as she became the first woman since Lauryn Hill in 1998 to have a solo rap single top the Hot 100. Talk about goals. -- C.L.
2. Migos feat. Lil Uzi Vert, "Bad & Boujee"
Despite the frigid temperatures last winter, "Bad and Boujee" warmed up the party scene. With Metro Boomin' whipping up the infectious club banger, Migos sprinkled a fistful of one-liners like "Raindrop, droptop," to make the track a fun one for all ages. The Atlanta trio even invited rising star Lil Uzi Vert to feast on the Boomin-produced track, making the record a star-studded affair. The record proved to be the catalyst in cementing Migos' banner year, leading the way to them earning their first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with Culture. -- C.L.
1. Lil Uzi Vert, "XO TOUR Llif3"
At the beginning of 2017, Lil Uzi Vert was clearly among the most promising young rappers around, with a rabid following and a respectable recent catalog of strong mixtapes. But few could have predicted that Uzi would deliver the type of song, in "XO TOUR Llif3," that would not just become an anthem for a calendar year, but for a generation of kids searching for their own version of Kurt Cobain. In just over three woozy minutes, Uzi details a relationship gone bad amid the pressures of sudden fame and riches with a nihilistic and occasionally suicidal abandon, leading to its now-ubiquitous hook -- "Push me to the edge / All my friends are dead" -- which doubles as an exhausted, fed-up dare and a lonely, almost desperate plea for relief.
With its irresistibly-catchy lyrics and near-total disregard for the norms of melody and vocal structure, "XO Tour Llif3" managed to capture the zeitgeist of the youth in a way that few have come close to over the past few years, and announced himself as an era-defining superstar in the process. -- D.R.