Hip-hop experienced twists and turns throughout 2022.
Once the ball dropped, Gunna ignited the flame with his club-ready single “Pushin P’,” which made the 16th letter in the alphabet top-tier on social media. Also, no one expected the Memphis rookie GloRilla to cause tremors in the genre with her earthshaking anthems “FNF” and “Tomorrow 2.” Her surplus of hits allowed men and women to get loud and rowdy together as they chanted her lyrics with gusto.
And when we weren’t in a partying mood, we received doses of high-octane lyricism and thoughtfulness from our most well-spoken MCs. Kendrick Lamar’s precision and innate ability to connect with listeners remains second to none, as proven on “Rich Spirit” and “N95,” while Jay-Z’s agile wordplay continues to be at a hall-of-fame level after rattling off an impressive 80-bar melee on DJ Khaled’s Grammy-nominated “God Did.” Vince Staples — who delivered a top-five effort on Billboard’s Best 20 Hip-Hop Albums of 2022 — doled out quality records as well, whether it was the DJ Mustard-anchored single “Magic” or the criminally underappreciated gem “When Sparks Fly.”
The quality of hip-hop records in 2022 came from all walks of life and different sectors of the map, keeping us engaged, intrigued and hungry for more. Can 2023 carry the same momentum and “big energy”? Only time will tell; until then, check out Billboard’s Best Hip-Hop Songs of 2022 below.
Latto, "Big Energy"
Since Queen of Da Souf, Latto has proven to be the consummate MC by tossing darts and outshining her counterparts with her unrelenting energy. The bark always matched the bite for Big Latto, but the question of mainstream appeal hovered over her burgeoning career. Instead of succumbing to the pressure, she flaunted her “Big Energy” over the 1981 Tom Tom Club “Genius of Love” sample, famously flipped by Mariah Carey for her 1995 hit “Fantasy.” Latto channeled her inner TLC to deliver a crazy, sexy, cool banger that was sweet for radio airplay and potent national acclaim. — CARL LAMARRE
Lil Baby, "California Breeze"
Sleeper hit “California Breeze” is quintessential Lil Baby, and the Murda Beatz and Mars-produced track is the highlight of his latest album It’s Only Me, peaking at No. 4 on the Hot 100. Floating all over the hi-hat-riddled beat, the Atlanta rapper flexes his signature cadence for a song about reaping the benefits of his success and basking in the West Coast air. – CYDNEY LEE
Ice Spice, "Munch (Feelin' U)"
Bronx rapper Ice Spice made quite the splash this year: the 22-year-old drill newcomer gallivanted with Drake and got an unofficial remix from Cardi B, but most importantly, she delivered one of the biggest anthems of the summer. From the first “You thought I was feelin’ you?,” “Munch” was a certified hit, with TikTok users embracing the track and declaring themselves as baddies who get what they want. Ice Spice’s bars are not especially deep, but her nonchalant energy and featherweight subject matter are what captured the hearts of fans, taking a traditionally rugged template and softening the edges just enough to become a universally embraced hit. — NEENA ROUHANI
Kendrick Lamar, "N95"
The beauty of sitting on the sidelines for five years is all the note-taking and observations you gain. For Kendrick, “N95” is a rousing exhibition against those who live their lives through rose-colored glasses, as his angst and lack of tolerance for the “foo foo” is on display while he looks to expose the truth against cancel culture, gossip, and white lies plaguing society. Even if it’s Lamar against the world, he relishes the underdog role in hopes of preserving what’s left of humanity. It’s an honest and earnest fight that only Lamar can handle. – C.LAMARRE
Doja Cat, "Vegas"
Doja Cat meets “Hound Dog” on her waggish, blockbuster “Vegas” soundtrack single from Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 Elvis biopic. The pop superstar puts a modern twist on Big Mama Thornton’s 1953 impactful blues hit, which the King famously covered in 1956. Cat keeps the tradition alive with her cunning, biting jabs at a man who frivolously has sex, amplified every time late actress Shonka Dukureh howls, “You ain’t nothin’ but a!” – HERAN MAMO
DJ Khaled, "God Did" Feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, John Legend, Fridayy
After 12 studio albums, DJ Khaled posits The Almighty as his biggest collaborator to date, and Khaled prioritized godly affirmations and holy chants when he doled out “God Did” with Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne and rising singer/songwriter Fridayy. Though Wayne and Ross script steely verses doused with grit and inspiration, Jay-Z’s herculean performance steals the show: powered by wit and bravado, his 80-bar clinic about Black excellence and empowerment made rap fans catch the Holy Ghost upon first listen.
Vince Staples, ‘When Sparks Fly"
In essence, “When Sparks Fly” is a love letter to the only thing Vince Staples’ can count on — his gun. The Ramona Park Broke My Heart deep cut was an automatic standout for its stellar ambiguity and lyrical prowess. “Everywhere you go, we together, inseparable/ You know I’m down for whatever, protective of you/ I don’t wanna use protection with you/ But the glove will keep you safe if you ever get loose,” he raps. The track’s double entendres could be attributed to a romantic partner, yet given the theme of the Long Beach rapper’s fifth album, it’s clear that Staples had something else in mind. – C. LEE
Quavo & Takeoff, "Hotel Lobby"
Quavo and Takeoff proved to be a formidable duo as Unc & Phew with more room to operate on the court sans Offset. The Migos superstars returned to their grimy roots cooking up “bando music” on “Hotel Lobby,” which serves as a bittersweet triumph from their colorful Only Built For Infinity Links album, with the tragic loss of Takeoff taking place less than a month after its arrival. – MICHAEL SAPONARA
Kendrick Lamar, "Rich Spirit"
Kendrick Lamar has long perfected the art of balance: on 2017’s “Element,” he proclaimed, “If I gotta slap a pussy-ass n—-a, I’ma make it look sexy.” The refrain on “Rich Spirit” is simply “Bitch, I’m attractive,” lighthearted enough to encourage a sea of fans to chant the line during his Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers tour, and yet immaculately countered by the father and husband reflecting on the chapters of his life with newfound wisdom. Featuring production from Jahaan Sweet, DJ Dahi, Freno and Sounwave, “Rich Spirit” stands out as an honest cut that does not fall short on unapologetic joy. – N.R.
GloRilla & Cardi B "Tomorrow 2"
The Memphis native parlayed her Hitkidd-produced breakthrough “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)” into a No. 1 R&B/hip-hop airplay hit, a contract with Yo Gotti’s CMG imprint and a first-time Grammy nod for best rap performance. She continues to flex her stance among 2022’s harvest of rising women rappers, pairing with Cardi B for a second No. 1 on Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay with “Tomorrow 2.” Looking ahead as she casts haters aside (“They say they don’t f-ck with me / but I say they can’t f-ck with me”), GloRilla enchants with her deep-voiced, braggadocious flow and next-gen crunk — while putting all on notice that she and Memphis rap are not to be ignored. — GAIL MITCHELL
Drake & 21 Savage, "Jimmy Cooks"
The first 12 songs of Honestly, Nevermind seemed like an innocent exploration for Drake, as he trekked through the dance scene in earnest for the first time in his career. Though he irked rap purists with his childlike curiosity, he knew how to get the streets talking again: “Jimmy Cooks” is a searing outro that pays homage to recently deceased hip-hop figures Lil Keed and DJ Kay Slay, and serves as the catalyst to what would later become Drake and 21’s joint effort Her Loss. They let off a couple of volleys, enough to spark fear and intrigue, all while giving fans a summer scorcher in the process. — C.LAMARRE
Lil Uzi Vert, "Just Wanna Rock"
Many have tried to imitate Lil Uzi Vert’s rockstar persona but they just don’t compare. “Just Wanna Rock” is an undeniable party-starting anthem, and of course, the Philly native launched another trend with the chaotic dance moves that became synonymous with the Jersey club-influenced record. Uzi nearly started a riot in the streets of Manhattan before police shut down the mayhem, which he turned into scenes for his raucous Gibson Hazard-directed music video. – M.S.
Future, "WAIT FOR U" Feat. Drake & Tems
Future’s tender yet Machiavellian side comes to play on “WAIT FOR U.” His vice-riddled, emotionally wrought bars like “Every time I sip on codeine, I get vulnerable” and “Get mad at yourself ‘cause you can’t leave me alone” extract the very essence of Future, while Drake confesses that loving a woman isn’t what he does for a living yet somehow mourns a relationship he couldn’t maintain. But it’s Nigerian star Tems’ breathy, soul-gripping vocals from her 2020 track “Higher” that anchors the brooding duo, who falsely promise they will wait for their women to come back around. – H.M.
Gunna & Future, "Pushin P" Feat. Young Thug
In early January 2022, little did anyone know that when Gunna dropped this second single from DS4Ever, his third studio album, that the title phrase would go viral while becoming the Atlanta rapper’s first Hot 100 top 10 debut (No. 7) — and the album’s highest-charting single. Via social media posts, Gunna described “Pushin’ P” as code for being a stand-up person/true player, embracing qualities such as “being loyal,” “bossing up your bitch” and “being a real ni–a off the Internet.” Against a mesmerizing trap beat, Gunna and Future, joined by Young Thug, contemplate being P in relation to women, wealth and other subjects, culminating in the song’s catchy hook: “I’m pushin’ P, I’m pushin’ P, I’m pushin’ P / Pushin’ P, I’m pushin’ P, P, uh-ah.” – G.M.
GloRilla & Hitkidd - "FNF (LET'S GO)"
Memphis newcomer GloRilla dropping one of the biggest hits of the year was probably not on most music fans’ bingo cards. Nevertheless, the CMG signee came, saw and conquered thanks to her hair-swinging hit record, “FNF.” The Hitkidd-produced beat is immediately enjoyable, inciting mischievous excitement by way of its simple dark piano melody and a drum pattern to get even the most reluctant partygoer out of their seat and onto the dance floor. But it’s GloRilla’s husky, snarling delivery that makes “FNF” best-of-year material. It’s clear that the 23-year-old rapper is just being herself, flapping her arms around a vast parking lot with a squad of girlfriends, one of which flashes a 42-ounce bottle of malt liquor, all of which shout the infectious chorus at the top of their lungs.
With “FNF,” GloRilla achieved the holy grail: a universally loved song that is also an authentic window into her personality. Simultaneously, GloRilla follows in the footsteps of iconic single girl songs’ past, including “Single Again” by Trina and Beyonce’s forever anthem “Single Ladies,” cementing another unapologetic celebration of freedom – all while jumping out the window with her ratchet ass friends. – N.R.