50 Best Rap Songs of 2015

2015 will be fondly remembered as the year hip-hop got its groove back. After riding a tumultuous conceptual downturn in 2014, hip-hop rediscovered and redefined its creative headspace. With 2015 now in our rearview mirror, let's look back and reflect on the year's best rap songs.

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Boosie Badazz - "All I Know"

Boosie Badazz - All I Know

"They hated Jesus, so you know they gon' hate on me because of my power."

Sacrilegious? Maybe. Baton Rouge icon Boosie Badazz (​pka Lil Boosie) released ​Touch Down 2 Cause Hell, following a lengthy incarceration. So forgive him for getting carried away on the jubilant "All I Know." As Boosie recounts the hustler's money-over-everything mentality, the Walu-directed video shows everyday Americans getting ready for the grind. The reward for hustlin' hard every day? A really fun pool party at Boosie's crib.

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Skepta - "Shutdown" (Remix) (Ft. Idris Elba)


Skepta is a pivotal player in the UK's grime scene. Idris Elba is a natural badman. Put the two together and you get an epic combo. Idris comes through with a gruff, rugged verse that name-checks his most memorable acting roles, including The Wire and Luther.

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Ghostface x Adrian Younge - "Get the Money"


It is said that Adrian Younge recorded all the songs on Twelve Reasons to Die II on an analog tape to capture the warm texture of old records. Warm and fuzzy, yes. And not a single drum loop out of place. Staples shows confidence next to a veteran technician.

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Chuck Inglish - "2003"

Chuck Inglish - 2003

“Hey, I’m talking when LeBron was a rookie,” Chuck Inglish rhymes at the start of “2003.” As the title betrays, Chuck takes us on a trip down memory lane for this one, which is a weird thing to say about the year 2003. He also name-checks Murphy Lee, two-way pagers, AJ & Free, S.Dots and CD burners. Damn, I can’t believe that was 12 years ago. The song features Chachi Pajamas of Grey Sweatpants, which is such a badass stage name.

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Slum Village - "Right Back" (Ft. De La Soul)

De La Soul
Getty Images

What happens when two of the greatest rap groups of all time collaborate on a J Dilla instrumental? Magic, that’s what. De La Soul and Slum Village tag team on “Right Back,” a track off SV's album YES

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Meek Mill - "Check"

Meek Mill
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Meek Mill had a rough year, what with Drake "ethering" him and all. But this here "Check" was one of his finer moments. "Check" finds the Philly MC wrapping a hook around one word. Metro Boomin and Southside match Meek's fury with an ominous backdrop.

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Migos - "Pretty Little Lady"


"She know the work from Monday through Thursday she earned it
She don’t care about my money, I sip my tea like Kermit"

"Pretty Little Lady" is an update to Webbie's "Independent." Migos salute the ladies who handle their own business. Bonus points to Quavo for taking "no" for an answer: "I really wanna take little mama home and go crazy/But she won't let me, I can't do nothing but respect it."

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Lil Wayne - "Hot Boy"

Lil Wayne
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

“Hot Boy” has Lil Wayne feeling nostalgic. Weezy name-checks his former Hot Boy partners, old Cash Money guard over Bankroll Fresh’s “Hot Boy.” He raps: “Hot boy, hot boy n—- Young Turk / That been my brother since day one, like January the first.” The song appears on Stevie J’s mixtape, Appreciation 8.

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Fetty Wap - "Again"

Fetty Wap
Fetty Wap. Marco Torres

Fetty Wap inspired so much joy in 2015. His songs carry an inviting exuberance that makes him easy to root for. "Again," like much of his debut, is instantly catchy. Perfect exhibition of the warm presence that had us all going "1738" and "Yeaaahhh baby."

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Tyler, the Creator - "SMUCKERS" (Ft. Kanye West & Lil Wayne)

Tyler Cherry Bomb

"Smuckers" is a moment of respite from the loud and indulgent. Here, you get a glimpse of Tyler's strong qualities as a composer. It's comfort zone, too. In Tyler's disjointed world, Yeezy and Weezy start off wobbly but find their feet along the way.

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Dej Loaf - "Like a Hoe"

Dej Loaf

“Like a Hoe” is the slick, menacing cut from Detroit's leading lady Dej Loaf. Tracked by “Try Me” producer DDS, “Like a Hoe” follows the same rules as their previous collaboration: ominous keys matched by a take-no-prisoners attitude. “I’ve been actin’ up since adolescence / No one could tell me sh-t, I had my own preference,” barks Dej. Gawdly.

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Fashawn - "Something to Believe in" (Ft. Nas)


Guess I'm at a crossroads, lost hope and I lost quotes
My heart smokes for the fire that ya'll done provoked

I counted 8 internal rhymes in the opening bar alone. Add in the song's message ("Give me somethin'...somethin' to believe in"), Aloe Blacc's soulful singing, Nas' confetti of quotables ("Business is warfare" ... "I'm torn between the religions my necklaces represent") and you have a sureshot on your hands.

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Tink - "I Like"

Tink - rapper
Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Is there anything Tink can't do? She tipped her hat to Biggie on "Ratchet Commandments," rocked an Aaliyah sample on "Million" and served up a Crisco-slick burner on "I Like," which finds her working her smooth pipes on a C-Sick beat. 

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King Los - "Glory to the Lord"

King Los Glory to the Lord

After working a slick Mustard beat on "Can't Fade Us," Baltimore's King Los takes us to church with "Glory to the Lord." R. Kelly stops by to talk smack, count his blessings and declare himself the R&B James Brown (a more tolerable title than Pied Piper of whatever).

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Heems - "Damn Girl"

Heems. Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

You wouldn't know it from "Damn Girl," but Heems' Eat, Pray, Thug is actually a solemn album. On an album that's unflinchingly direct and at times heavy, "Damn Girl" provides a moment of levity. It may also surprise Das Racist fans unfamiliar with his vocal range. Heems described it as one of his favorite songs on the album when I spoke with him last year. It's easy to see why.

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Shy Glizzy - "Funeral" Remix (Ft. Jeezy)

Shy Glizzy Remix

At the top of 2015, Shy Glizzy revived "Funeral" with a new verse from Jeezy. Same melancholic, same chorus, same sentiment. Snowman, however, adds a touch of humor to an otherwise solemn song: "Thank God I paid all my mama’s house/Cause in my grave I don’t wanna hear my mama out."

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Chance the Rapper - "Israel" (Ft. Noname Gypsy)

Chance the Rapper and Justin Bieber
Chance the Rapper and Justin Bieber. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Passing the mic back and forth is the foundation on which rap collaborations were built. Chance the Rapper and Noname Gypsy playfully trade rhymes in the spirit of Phife Dawg and Q-Tip, Wyclef and L'Boogie, Phonte and Big Pooh. "Sparring is training," Chance says repeatedly as if trying to convince himself. The song itself sounds like a warm-up session. As it evolves, though, so does its beautiful tit-for-tat structure. You can hear how much fun these two were having in the studio. It's the sort of genuine studio chemistry that's rare in today's ​Gmail-powered collaborative environment.

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WOKE - "The Lavishment of Light Lookin" (ft. George Clinton)

Adult Swim

WOKE is a dreamy supergroup comprised of Shabazz Palaces, Flying Lotus and Thundercat. Read that lineup again and try to think of what a song from them might sound like. Give up? Check out "The Lavishment of Light Lookin'" which features funk deity George Clinton. What awaits is equal parts Afrofuturism, spiritualism and funk magic.

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Wiz Khalifa - "Lit"

Wiz Khalifa - "Lit"

In which human exhaust pipe Wiz Khalifa extols his favorite pastime. "Lit" sports a languid beat from Big Jerm and Dru Tang. The accompanying music video chronicles a day in the life of Wiz: bowling, beer pong and … surprise … smoking sessions.

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A$AP Rocky - "Jukebox Joints"

ASAP Rocky - At Long Last

Joe Fox, whom A$AP Rocky met on the streets of London, appears on Rocky's second album 1-2-3-4-5 times. When his name is called on "Jukebox Joints," he answers. Rocky trades bars with Kanye West, which is more good news. The intricate beat switch, lyrical exchange, sharp vocals and disparate musical elements make "Jukebox Joints" a real treat.

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Fetty Wap - "Trap Queen"

Fetty Wap - Trap Queen

"Trap Queen" was a defining hit in a year that saw rappers sneak drug anthems onto the radio. It was also a career springboard for Fetty Wap, whose debut album relied heavily on the "Trap Queen" formula and had us all going, "Hey what's up hello."

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OG Maco - "Handle Me"

OG Maco

Blessed with the raspiest of voices and the battery of the Energizer bunny, OG Maco has the right to go cuckoo. "Handle Me" is Maco snapping like every rapper has to once in a lifetime. It's more yelled than rapped, though. The aching melancholy of the beat is a befittingly somber backdrop for the frosty occasion. A welcome return? You guessed it.

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Tory Lanez - "Diego"

Tory Lanez

Canadian rapper Tory Lanez has been a gift to the game. His Lost Cause mixtape was ​a real treat. "Diego," a self-produced track (with Play Picasso) is a dark tribute to the hustler's lifestyle. If you like this, you should check out Lost Cause, which is available for free on Tory's Soundcloud.

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Falcons ft. GoldLink and Chaz French - Aquafina

Johnny Nunez/WireImage

GoldLink anchors a breathlessly smooth track while Chaz French works a refreshingly crisp flow over a watch-your-step beat. Producer/DJ Falcons creates a reflectively soulful mood, keeping tempos in the mid. Now you know why GoldLink is on everyone's next-to-blow list this year.

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Travis Scott - "Antidote"

Travis Scott - Antidote

Travis Scott is a capable producer, but here he leans back and lets the troublesome pair of WondaGurl and Eestbound steer the production wheel. "Antidote" is set to what sounds like an atmospheric rainforest, coos and all. The H-town rapper starts out singing and ends with a mean 16 peppered with Kanyeisms ("Kicking the cameraman off of my stages, 'cause I don't like how he snappin' my angles"). 

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Scarface - "Rooted"

Scarface - Deeply Rooted

More cynical than critical, "Rooted" finds Scarface in sharp storytelling form. The title track from Deeply Rooted has all the ingredients of classic 'Face: code of the street sermonizing, complex plot and a deep, nearly ascetic tone.

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YG - "Twist My Fingaz"

YG - Twist My Fingaz

"I'm the only who one who made it out the West without Dre/The only one that got hit and was walking the same day."

"Twist My Fingaz" is G-Funk, Dogg Pound, west coast, 2Pac getting shot outside the studio and leaving the hospital the same day. It's a breath of fresh air to hear YG on a classic beat, away from DJ Mustard's familiar territory.

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Future - "News or Somthn"

Paras Griffin/Getty Images

 Future is that truly rare thing, a sad robot whose professionalism and work ethic match his talent. Rhyming dumb silly over an ominous guitar, Future goes full beast mode on "News or Somthn." The melody is so cushy, even if Future is using the track to mourn homies who fell to gun violence.

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Post Malone - "White Iverson"

Post Malone - White Iverson

Post Malone became a viral sensation with one of the year's biggest singles, "White Iverson." The Syracuse, NY native found inspiration for the song from its namesake. Malone even sports the signature Iverson cornrows made famous in the 90s.

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SHIRT – “2015 Chuchi & JuJo”

SHIRT – 2015 Chuchi & JuJo

Shirt (p/k/a) T-Shirt re-imagines Springtime Carnivore's "Two Scars" on the excellent "2015 Chuchi & JuJo." Shirt fans are used to seeing him spaz. If you're used to Shirt spazzing on beats, you might be surprised to hear him slow things down on this breezy summer tune. 

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Earl Sweatshirt - "Grief"

earl sweatshirt I Don't like Shit I Don't Go Outside

In terms of Earl's proclivity for the manipulation of flow in the service of discovering new techniques, "Grief" was a decidedly appropriate lead track to usher in the excellent I Don't Like Sh-t, I Don't Go Outside. Like the album, "Grief" is dark and fascinating with the brooding setting to match.

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Isaiah Rashad - "Nelly"

Isaiah Rashad

Isaiah Rashad is the least known member of Kendrick Lamar's TDE crew. Rashad has been relatively quiet since his 2014 debut Cilvia Demo. "Nelly," which Rashad unleashed in September, reminds us of his beautiful musical talent. It tugs and kicks at once, as Rashad stalks the beat with his soulful singing.

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Missy Elliott - "WTF (Where They From)"

Missy Elliott - WTF

Missy Elliott singles are momentous events. They fill you with glee. They become water cooler conversation starters. "WTF" fits right in, sounds like Missy picking up where "Lose Control" left off. The video didn't just make you want to get up and dance, it mixed and mashed Afrofuturism with Biggie beanies and Pharrell puppets. It's visual entertainment done right.

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Paul Wall - "Swangin' in the Rain"

Paul Wall - Swangin in the Rain
Paul Wall Music/Empire

The slab god latches onto a loping Scoop Deville track and delivers a signature car culture anthem. It's exactly what "Sittin' Sidewayz" wanted to be as a grown-up.

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Lupe Fiasco - "Deliver"

Lupe Fiasco

When is a song about the pizza man not a song about the pizza man? When you're in Lupe territory, of course. Like much of Tetsuo & Youth, things aren't always what they seem. "Deliver," which features a spry Ty Dollar $ign, vividly limns the dangers of class gulf, capped by the distinction between delivering a hot box of pepperoni to the hood vs the suburbs.

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Big Sean - "Blessings"

Big Sean - "Blessings"

Over organs and twitchy drums that rolls in and out, Big Sean slips on a sleek flow that skitters and ripples. No regrets. Just gratitude. He can't believe how blessed he is, and he's aware it's all relative: "I done lost homies who been with me since Ed, Edd, and Eddy/Who flip like confetti and then when you back they back to call you 'dog'." Drake swings by to tell rivals he has no time to worry about whoever is next; he's just worried about his mother worrying less. 

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Little Simz - "Wings"

Little Simz - Wings
Age 101

Little Simz is one of my favorite new artists. I've been impressed with the young Londoner's growth over the last two years. She approached her slept-on debut with the hunger of a rookie who has everything to prove. Her hunger is what makes "Wings" such a remarkable listen. Every rhyme, every breath is focused on winning you over. If you're still in doubt, "Wings" will make you a believer.

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Mick Jenkins - "Alchemy"

Mick Jenkins - Alchemy

Everyone wrestles with doubts and beliefs. But only a few do it sounding as smart as Mick Jenkins on "Alchemy." "Take off them water wings, I'm losing water weight I been on creatine Curing my countenance, creating this gold from the lead in my pencil," says Jenkins. His pen is sharp, his brain mighty.

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Dr. Dre - "Animals" (feat. Anderson .Paak)

Anderson .Paak

Compton may have been a 90s west coast story, but the subject of "Animals" is one that reverberated throughout 2015 America. When Anderson. Paak sings, "Bullets still ringing, blood on the cement, Black folks grieving," you'll no doubt hear heads in Baltimore, Cleveland, and New York nodding in the affirmative.

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Lupe Fiasco - "Mural"

Lupe Fiasco - "Mural"

One of the things I love about Tetsuo & Youth is that it rarely stays on the same topic for too long. It's divided into four seasons with the music to match. The song that leads off the summer section is "Mural" -- an exquisite 9-minute lesson on rhyming. Lupe weaves a zany mix of swirly pancakes, Moroccan moles, undercover squirrels, alongside faith healers, ex-dealers, and art booms. He designed this as an easter egg basket full of hidden gems. And the Internet responded in kind.

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Rae Sremmurd - "This Could Be Us"

Rae Sremmurd - This Could Be Us

Rae Sremmurd -- brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy -- proved doubters wrong over and over in 2015. Those who had pigeonholed them as a one-hit wonder following the success of "No Flex Zone" watched the Brown boys swag out with subsequent hits: "No Type," "Throw Some Mo" and the biggest of them all "This Could Be Us." This one was my favorite. It has melody, humor and a ton of replay value.

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Young Thug - "Constantly Hatin'"

Young Thug Barter 6

Barter 6 was mostly a solitary affair. On album opener "Constantly Hatin," Thugger makes an exception for mentor Birdman. The outcome? The best song on one of the year's best albums. Even Lil Wayne must imagine what it's like to get his hands on a beat this good.

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Pusha T - "Crutches, Crosses, Caskets"

Pusha T - "Crutches, Crosses, Caskets"

Pusha T closed the year with one of the strongest releases of 2015. As I wrote in my review of Darkest Before Dawn, "Crutches, Crosses, Caskets" is my favorite track on the project. Hence, it shouldn't come as a surprise that it's made my list of 2015's best rap songs. The beat is hypnotic. The metaphors--and I'm a sucker for metaphors--are the stuff "oohs" and "ahhs" are made of: "Banana clips for all you Curious Georges" ... "I let Zillow change my pillows." Only thing left to say is: Yeuck.

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Vince Staples - "Norf Norf"

Vince Staples - Summertime 06

"I ain't never ran from nothin' but the police."

That's not a tossed off line. The video spells out Vince's message in black and white. He's a dangerous Black man, in the back of a cop car, harassed and roughed up. How apropos in a year that brought the deaths of young Black men at the hands of police to a tally of 1,134.

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Donnie Trumpet - "Sunday Candy"

Chance the Rapper

Surf arrived at the perfect time. The jam session vibe of the album is made a great soundtrack for summer road trips and lounge sessions. "Sunday Candy" is the best song on the project, with its cool summer feel.

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Drake - "Know Yourself"


Before Quentin Miller-gate threatened to undo Drake's pen hustle, he went ham on the surprise mixtape If You're Reading This Its Too Late. Album standout "Know Yourself" finds Drake enhancing his contributions to the pop language lexicon.

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Kanye West - "All Day" (Ft. Allan Kingdom, Theophilus London & Paul McCartney)

Kanye So Help Me God
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

At the start of 2015, it looked like we were shaping up for Yeezy Season. "All Day" made the forecast seem like even more likely. Along with the powerful anthem came a visual of 30+ Black men in all black, going ham with Yeezy next to a pyro show. It was perfect. The album was delayed, but "All Day" gave us something to hold onto.

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Kendrick Lamar - "King Kunta"

Kendrick Lamar - "King Kunta"

Like a king doing a victory lap after a long battle, Kendrick Lamar majestically stomps all over "King Kunta." The spirit of James Brown is alive on the funky track, which interpolates the late soul godfather's Grumpy Cat confidence: "I'm mad, but I ain't stressin'." And these words seem prescient in the aftermath of the Drake ghostwriting allegations: "I can dig rappin', but a rapper with a ghostwriter?/What the f--k happened? / I swore I wouldn't tell/But most of y'all share bars, like you got the bottom bunk in a two-man cell."

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Future - "March Madness"

Future March Madness
Free Bandz

"March Madness" is the best song on Future and DJ Esco's mixtape 56 Nights. It's quintessential Future: blurry but focused, vicious yet poised, brash but compelling. In between spells of braggart, Future bemoans the type of cop violence that colored 2015: "All these cops shooting ni---s, tragic." It's the soundtrack of a man chasing a heavy head with a styrofoam cup at midnight.

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Kendrick Lamar - "Alright"

Kendrick Lamar - "Alright"

The place: A club in Austin, TX. The date: April 2015. The theme: a tribute to Erykah Badu. The set list ranged from 90s alt-rap to 90s R&B. After warming up the crowd, the DJ moved on to more contemporary hip-hop.

Like a man who had done this before, he picked the perfect time to drop "Alright." The crowd went bananas. People jumped around in joy, sang in unison, rapped in glee. I saw people of stripes and color chanting "Alright" like it was the last song on earth.

This was the first time I realized the impact Kendrick Lamar was having on the culture. So, next time someone tells me To Pimp a Butterfly is overrated, I'll remind them that they have to be at the right place at the right time.