Top 100 Rap Songs of 2008

Do you remember your favorite rap songs from 2008? This roundup of the best songs from that year might bring back memories of your favorites and introduce you to a few you missed. Cuts from Jay-Z, Eminem, GZA, and many others make the list.

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Jay-Z - "Jockin' Jay-Z (Dope Boy Fresh)"

THISDAY's Africa Rising Music and Fashion Festival
Chris Jackson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Backed by Kanye West's thunderous bass concoction, Jay-Z brushes the dirt off his shoulder and hurls a curve ball at Noah Gallagher. The drum-powered "Jockin' Jay-Z" is a buzz cut from "Blueprint 3."

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Amanda Diva - "Windows Over Harlem"

Hip-hop and soul converge beautifully on this nostalgic single from Amanda Diva's criminally underrated "Life Experience" EP. [Video]

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Illa J - "R U Listening" (Feat. Guilty Simpson)

© Delicious Vinyl

Good music truly does flow in the Yancey family. Illa J, the 21-year old brother of late hip-hop icon J Dilla, is working relentlessly to keep the Yancey flag flying high. He holds his own on this nostalgic smash from the Dilla-produced debut album, "Yancey Boys."

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Cool Kids - "Gettin' It" (Feat. Lil' Wayne)

Cool Kids.

The Cool Kids urge kids to say their ABCs not "Ay Bay Bays," while Weezy brags about treating women like *gasp* queens. Everybody wins.

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Nappy Roots - "Good Day"

Taken from Nappy Roots' "The Humdinger," their first major album in five years, "Good Day" hardly deviates from the formula for success: hard-hitting, catchy, and absolutely inspirational.

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EPMD - "Roc Da Spot"

EPMD - We Mean Business
EPMD - We Mean Business. © Universal

Fans of senior citizen rap will be ecstatic to learn that Parrish and Erick Sermon will still be rhyming well into their 60s. As long as they keep making 'em like this, no one's complaining.

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N.E.R.D. - "Anti Matter"

© Scott Gries/Getty Images

This rare moment of pure rapping on shows that Skateboard P can kick a mean 16 when he's not busy indulging in fashion references.

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Wale's Brother Ali - "2nd Time Around"

Despite Wale's two-verse onslaught, Brother Ali is the real star of "2nd Time Around." Ali's verse is unsurprisingly nasty, as he hurls a plethora of insults at wankstas, "People are starving and you're talking about balling?" he raps.

The killer rhyme arrives at the end though: "You can't even scan, your fans are downloading you. There's no connection, so they're not supporting you."

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Kidz in the Hall - "Love Hangover" (Feat. Estelle)

© Duck Down

To hear Estelle and Kidz in the Hall tell it, love can be pretty freakin' awesome! [Video]

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Big Boi - "Sumthin's Gotta Give" (Feat. Mary J Blige)


"Sumthin's Gotta Give," the lead single from "Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty," takes stock of America's economic woes and culminates with an Obama endorsement. Indeed, 2008 was the year of Obama rap. [Audio]

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A.C. - "New Soul"

"These dudes are making commercial songs, but they ain't doing tracks from commercials," new rapper A.C. laments at the beginning of "New Soul." A.C. then proceeds to flip Yael Naim's "New Soul," popularized by Apple's Macbook Air commercial, into a hip-hop banger. [Video]

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Eminem - "I'm Having a Relapse"

Eminem. © Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Eminem proves that his lyrical chops are still intact on this radio freestyle announcing his comeback album, "The Relapse." [Audio]

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Crooked I - "Dream Big" (Feat. Akon)

An unlikely collaboration between the West Coast's most underrated lyricist and pop megastar, Akon yields a compelling tune about grass-to-grace ascension.

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Breeze Evahflowin' - "Radio Song"

Breeze Evahflowin - Radio

Badly-named Cali rapper Breez Evahflowin' pays a heartfelt tribute to hip-hop on this stripped-down banger.

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Guilty Simpson - "Run" (feat. Sean Price and Black Milk)

Black Milk's board work on "Run" is further proof that the Detroit native was 2008's hip-hop producer of the year. [Audio]

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Sway - "Jason Waste"

The courthouse jester of UK hip-hop unleashes his sociopathic alter-ego Jason Waste for an exercise in third-person rap. [Audio]

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Skyzoo - "The Necessary Evils"

With its ambitious subject matter and acute delivery, Skyzoo's "Necessary Evils" should be required listening for anyone who doubts the continued relevance of cutting-edge hip-hop. [Video]

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Freeway - "When I Die" (Feat. James Blunt)

© Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Freeway's breathtaking narrative about the rise and fall of Roc-A-Fella reminds us why he's everyone's favorite bearded rapper. [Audio]

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Busta Rhymes - "I Got Bass"


Busta Rhymes is back in fine form. Noise-poppers squelch, funk riffs whistle, and Busta Bus goes for the gusto on this trunk-rattler from "Back on My B.S." [Audio]

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Rukus - "The Boom and The Bap"

Here, Houston rapper Rukus rocks one of the crispiest flows in years. "The Boom and The Bap" finds him reflecting on his passion for hip-hop over a jazz-rap sound bed.

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Charles Hamilton - "Brooklyn Girls"

Charles Hamilton's playful ode to the foxy, feisty women from his favorite borough. [Video]

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Mickey Factz - "Don't Be Light"

Anchored by the Neptunes' remix of Air's "Don't Be Light," Mickey Factz delivers a candid narrative about grabbing life by the horns. [Audio]

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Soulbrotha - "Born for a Purpose"

Whether he's spitting over a reggae-inspired soundtrack or dishing social insight on a soul palette, Soulbrotha always has his Steve Urkel-esque eyeglasses fixed on the big picture. [Video]

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Lil Wayne - "Mr. Carter" (Feat. Jay-Z)

© Universal

Dwayne Carter meets Shawn Carter for a match made in hip-hop heaven. You know you're in for a treat when two successful rappers are spitting with the hunger of newcomers.

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GZA - "Paper Plate"

The Genius calmly belittles 50 Cent and his camp on the heavily-buzzed about "Paper Plate" diss song, in which he proceeds to "spray the Flea-Unit with pesticide." Ouch!

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Ill Bill - "Society Is Brainwashed"

Ill Bill - The Hour of Reprisal
Ill Bill - The Hour of Reprisal.

Ill Bill gives the middle finger to greedy corporate honchos and wimpy people everywhere. [Video]

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Little Vic - "Sister Morphine"

Little Vic - 'Each Dawn I Die'
Little Vic - 'Each Dawn I Die'. © Orena Records

Little Vic story tells his way through social commentary on this marvelous track from his debut album.

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The Game - "My Life" (Feat. Lil Wayne)

© Geffen

The Game takes out a life-sized mirror and gets reflective for a moment, while Wayne assists with a hook so raw he had to borrow T-Pain's autotune thingy to deliver it. [Video]

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Atmosphere - "Guarantees"

After a rough day, Slug heads to a local bar in search of company. He finds the bar empty and resorts to monologue:

"I don't want to go home yet. So I'm a talk to my cigarette and that television set. It doesn't matter what brand or station. Just anything to take away from my current situation."

Notice how the guitar plucks get increasingly louder as the tension in his voice rises. [Video]

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Raekwon - "The G-Hide" (Feat. Ghostface Killah)

© Scott Gries/Getty Images.

Raekwon kicks a mean 16, then hands the mic to his partner-in-rhyme who lunges into some disturbing, movie-like tale like only Tony Starks can.

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Estelle - "American Boy"

© Atlantic

British hip-hopper Estelle dreams up a world where cross-cultural love is the norm, while her American collaborator Kanye West makes like a wiseguy. [Video]

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Murs - "Can It Be (Half A Million Dollars and 18 Months Later)"

Murs - Can It Be?
Murs - Can It Be?.

Sometimes it's necessary to step away from a work of art and observe it from a distance to offer the best possible creative criticism. That’s exactly what Murs has done here. He took time off from rap and watched the game from the sideline. That translates into sharp, informed criticism of the hip-hop culture he loves so much on "Can It Be?"

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Ludacris - "I Do It for Hip Hop" (feat. Nas and Jay-Z)

Whenever Jay-Z and Nas team up for a collaboration, something special always happens. This standout track from Ludacris is no exception.

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88 Keys - "Stay Up" (Feat. Kanye West)

© Decon

Like he does on much of "Death of Adam," 88 Keys keeps his sound drenched in atmospheric production and witty rhymes. This is the illest ode to the blue little pills yet.

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Wale - "Go Mode" (Feat. Bun B and Pusha T)

Armed with a ferocious Best Kept Secret beat and flanked by two veterans, Wale turns in one of the year's best odes to unparalleled superfly-ness. [Audio]

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Fonzworth Bentley (feat. Kanye West and Andre 3000) - "Everybody"

Fonzworth Bentley, who was introduced to the MTV audience as Diddy's umbrella-wielding butler on "Making the Band," has quietly crept in through the doors of hip-hop. His Sa-Ra-produced single strikes a balance between funky and improvisational sensibility. The video is reminiscent of OutKast's "Hey Ya!" [Video]

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Bun B - "Damn I'm Cold" (Feat. Lil Wayne)

© Rap-A-Lot.

It's not unusual to hear Lil Wayne rapping about how awesome Lil Wayne is. But what makes "Damn I'm Cold" great is that Weezy actually sounds awesome on this.

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Young Jeezy - "Put On" (Feat. Kanye West)

© Def Jam

Jeezy and Yeezy merge forces on this chart burner from "The Recession." [Video]

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Ill Bill - "My Uncle"

"My Uncle," off Ill Bill’s "The Hour of Reprisal," takes an uncompromising look at his relationship with one of the most influential individuals in the rapper's life, his drug-addled Uncle Howie. [Video]

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EMC - "Traffic" (Feat. Little Brother)

eMC - The Show
eMC - The Show.

EMC and company daydream about watching women and turning New York streets into a block party.

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The Grouch - "Artsy"

While there's a new wave of abhorrence for ringtone rap and Auto-Tune, let's not forget the true enemy of humanity: overly artsy people. [Video]

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N.E.R.D. - "Everyone Nose (All The Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom)"

This hilarious paean to booger sugar had all the girls, and some guys, fiending for more N.E.R.D goodness. Oh yeah, that piano break is nasty.

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Blu - "It's Okay (Pt.1)"

The sly wit and amazing insight of Blu's lyrics are in full display on "It's Okay," as the Cali emcee recalls every single dumb activity from his teenage years. [Audio]

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Ice Cube - "Gangsta Rap" Remix (Feat. Scarface and Nas)

Other rappers would be eager to bury their sordid past after becoming Hollywood bigwigs, but Ice Cube is not one to bite his tongue. Cube teams up with Nas and Scarface to defend hip-hop from its harshest critics. [Audio]

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DJ Muggs and Planet Asia - "9MM"

Legendary producer DJ Muggs crafts an aesthetic of chaotic sonics, augmenting the concoction with horror-movie squeals and feverish drums. Planet Asia's acute lyricism is just icing on the cake. [Video]

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The Roots - "Rising Down" (feat. Mos Def and Styles P)

© Def Jam

In this single, complacency rules, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and these angry realists want you to care. "Between the greenhouse gases and the earth spinning off its axis / got mother nature doing backflips."

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Foxy Brown - "Too Real" (Feat. AZ)

© Koch

This AZ-assisted heater will make you forget all Foxy's previous misfires. Both Crooklyn emcees hold their own on the lyrical end, but Statik Selektah's heartwarming concoction is a show-stealer.

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Termanology - "How We Rock" (Feat. Bun B)

Boston's own Termy Montana teams up with Texas veteran Bun B for a Premo-produced banger. If you can’t feel this, check your pulse.

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Jay Electronica - "Exhibit A (Transformations)"

Jay Electronica exhibits some lyrical ingenuity over this hard-hitting Just Blaze beat.

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Scarface - "Emeritus"

Scarface reminds us, figuratively and literally, that he's still in top form. "Emeritus" is a single from Face's album of the same title.

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Royce da 5'9" - "Shake This"

Don't be fooled by the shallow title, "Shake This" is not a club romp about shaking what ya momma gave ya. Rather, it's a motivational song about overcoming rumors and embarrassing moments in public. In fact, this Royce-Premo track sounds nothing like their previous collaborations ("Hip-Hop," "Boom," etc), but it's a neck-snapper regardless.

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Snoop Dogg - "Neva Have 2 Worry"

© Geffen

Snoop defends his foul mouth, reflects on his shortcomings ("swimming with the sharks and I almost drowned"), and thumps his chest ("15 years in the game, man, and I'm still relevant"), without ever raising his voice.

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Atmosphere - "You"

Slug showcases his newfound penchant for optimism, while Ant whips up a snake charmer. The morale of the story: Love your job, no matter how crappy it is. See, kids, hip-hop is mucho inspirational. [Video]

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Statik Selektah (w/ Bun B and Cory Mo) - "Get Out the Way"

This one finds Statik pairing Cory Mo and PA’s finest, Bun B, on a mid-tempo banger. This is hot, and that’s not only because the beat has Premier’s fingerprints all over it. Hearing Pimp C’s “White Gurl” line, “You need to learn the game before you try to play,” will give you the shivers. [Video]

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Pacewon and Mr.Green - "Children Sing"

"Children Sing" starts off like a lullaby you'd sing to a toddler, then turns into a buoyant rap gem. [Video]

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Killer Mike - "Pressure" (Feat. Ice Cube)

What do Killer Mike and Ice Cube have in common? Well, for starters, neither is interested in cookie-cutter music. "Pressure" is a rough, rugged, and raw cut.

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The Alchemist - "Therapy" (Feat. Evidence, Blu, and Kid Cudi)


This is freshly squeezed hip-hop goodness from the Alchemist. Kid Cudi continues to impress, and Blu proves he still doesn’t know how to waste a rhyme.

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Pharoahe Monch - "Broken Heart"

"Broken Heart" is vintage Pharoahe Monch; it's soulful, imaginative, and scintillating. Perfect.

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Common - "Gladiator" (Feat. Pharrell)

© Geffen

Sound architects The Neptunes and rhyme lord Common effortlessly demonstrate their range while showcasing party-starter music.

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Black Milk - "Give the Drummer Sum"

"Give the Drummer Sum" finds Black Milk stacking his much improved lyrical chops atop live horns and gritty drums. This isn't hip-hop; it's art in motion.

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Q-Tip feat. Norah Jones - "Life Is Better"

© Universal Motown

Norah Jones continues her streak of brilliant hip-hop collaborations ("Soon A New Day" with Talib Kweli and "Take Off Your Cool" with Andre 3000) with this silky funk-jazz banger.

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Saigon - "Believe It" (feat. Red 5)

© Henry Adaso

Saigon leaked this street anthem on his way out of Atlantic Records. This soulful drop finds Sai-Giddy addressing his ordeal at the label while simultaneously speaking to the struggle of America's urban youth. [Audio]

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Joell Ortiz - "Memories"

Former Dr. Dre signee Joel Ortiz recalls his fondest hip-hop memories over Salaam Remi's sample-heavy production. [Video]

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Joe Budden - "Who"

On this 15-minute tirade (released in three separate installments), Joe Budden brilliantly dissects hip-hop's ups and downs with the stark honesty of an artist who's seen both ends of the spectrum.

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Ludacris - "Undisputed"

&copy DTP / Def Jam

On this cut, Luda bristles with brutish bark: "I been scouring the earth. / Making my fans catch the Holy Ghost at my shows / like your grandma at church." [Video]

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Large Professor - "The Hardest" (Feat. AZ and Styles P)

Two of the hardest emcees ever, plus one of hip-hop's greatest sound architects, equals four minutes of bliss.

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The Game - "Letter to the King" (Feat. Nas)

The Game - LAX
The Game - LAX. © Geffen

"Letter to the King" is the most compelling tracks on Game's "L.A.X." The Game pays homage to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the civil rights movement, with Nas riding shotgun.

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Pacific Division - "Taste"

Set to jubilant keys and pillowy synths, Pac Div's "Taste" is an intoxicating neck-snapper.

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B.O.B. - "Generation Lost"

Note to new rappers: When all else fails, try a song about zombies.

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The Knux - "Cappuccino" (Remix)

While Krispy and Al Millio may look like Kid-N-Play, they actually sound like a cross between Hieroglyphics and OutKast. The OG version of "Cappuccino" is poignant, but this boom-bap remix makes the latter comparison a bit more prominent.

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Sheek Louch - "Good Love"

© D-Block/Koch Records

Sheek Louch lets his guard down and rhymes about his fruitless search for true love. "Met a lot of women out there on tour. / Ran through 'em all, but I'm just not sure," he raps on the lead single from "Silverback Guerilla." [Video]

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Jadakiss - "From Now Til' Then"

© Def Jam

Mix some hard-boiled rhymes with a flawless Premo beat and you have Jada's most fascinating contribution to rap in 2008.

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Lil Wayne - "A Milli"

Lil Wayne. © James Crump/Getty

Weezy goes on a free-verse rampage, rambling about everything under the sun. But you simply can't turn it off because his flow is so infectious.

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Q-Tip - "Gettin' Up"

Q-Tip issued "Gettin' Up" as the lead single from "The Renaissance," effectively setting the tone for an album that delivered a non-stop joyous listening experience. 

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Kidz in the Hall - "Drivin' Down the Block (Low End Theory)"

© Duck Down

It's rare to find a rap song that sets out to be the ultimate car anthem and actually delivers on its promise. Thankfully, "Drivin' Down the Black" is the beautiful exception to that trend. It's big, bassy, and ridiculously addictive.

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Wale - "The Kramer"

An usually lighthearted Wale gets serious on "The Kramer," in which he weighs in on the N-word debate.

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J Live - "The Upgrade" (Feat. Posdnuous and Oddisee)

Sounds like it was lifted right off a contemporary jazz station. So fresh and so clean.

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Rhymefest - "Stolen"

J Records

"Stolen" is an early buzz cut from Rhymefest's sophomore album, "El Che." He weaves three different narratives of African struggle while referencing conflict-torn regions like Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Rwanda. The video is set in a classroom full of students as diverse as the countries in question.

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Nas - "Sly Fox"

© Def Jam

Nas delivered more than just a scathing indictment of Fox News, he also teamed up with the political organization to deliver over 620,000 petitions against the network in protest of what Nas described as its racist attacks on the African-American community. How real is that? [Video]

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Buckshot and 9th Wonder - "Hold It Down" (feat. Talib Kweli and Tyler Woods)

9th Wonder & Buckshot. © Duck Down Records

Buckshot brings the earnest lyrics. Kweli brings the sweet message, and 9th Wonder supplies the breezy tune that will surely charm any fan of good music.

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Black Milk - "Losing Out" (Feat. Royce da 5'9")

Black Milk © Fat Beats.

Two of Detroit's finest, Black Milk and Nickel Nine, combine for a volley that reminds us there's something in the Motor City water.

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Young Jeezy - "My President" (Feat. Nas)

© Def Jam

The ultimate political rap anthem of 2008 came from the Snowman's rhyme book. Who would've thunk it?

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T.I. and Jay-Z - "Swagga Like Us" (Feat. Kanye West and Lil Wayne)

Kanye's braggart rhymes, Jay-Z's strong presence, Lil Wayne's unique delivery, and T.I.'s multi-syllabic flow make this a quadruple whammy of star power. Throw in an ingenious sample of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes," and you have the perfect street anthem.

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Jay-Z - "History"

Jay-Z © Nick Laham/Getty.

Jay-Z has never been one to get political on the mic, but this year he was front and center stumping for Barack Obama's presidential campaign like his rap contract depended on it. While "History" is not directly about Obama, Jay-Z couldn't resist an opportunity to find the victory in history and release a musical counterpart to the sense of optimism Obama's campaign portrayed.

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Ludacris - "MVP"

© Henry Adaso/

Ludacris dismantles the apparatus of mediocrity and replaces it with his strongest cut in years.

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T.I. - "No Matter What"

© Atlantic

In the business of turning pain into pleasure, T.I. is King. This brooding track from "Paper Trail" finds Tip patting himself on the back."Lyrics so sick with it / Set the standard in Atlanta on how to get, get, get it," he raps. Yet, he also displays strength in the face of adversity: "I lost my partner and my daughter in the same year. Somehow I rise above my problems and remain here."

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Statik Selektah - "To the Top" (with Saigon, Cassidy, Termanology)

Statik Selektah may never win a spelling bee, but he sure knows how to assemble a team of collaborators. A true test of a good producer is how well he’s able to match the right artists with the right beat, and Statik passed that test with flying colors on "Take It to the Top."

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B.o.B. - "I'll Be in the Sky"

B.o.B. is one of the brightest new rappers to emerge in 2008. And "I'll Be on the Sky" is attention-grabbing for all the right reasons—smart, funky art rap and a strong prelude to his album.

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Nas - "Black President"

"Nas"© Scott Gries/Getty

"Black President" best captures the sentiment behind Barack Obama's 2008 presidential bid. In line with Obama's message of hope and optimism, Nas takes 2Pac's skepticism ("Although it seems heaven sent, we ain't ready to see a black president") and transformed it into a powerful assertion of progress in American politics. It's by far the best Obama tribute ever.

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Q-Tip - "Move/Renaissance Rap"

"Move" is an upbeat gem. It's bouncy enough for the club and frenetic enough for the gym. The latter half of the song reminds us of the many reasons Q-Tip is so special. With a flip of the beat, a bubbly rap song descends into a somber subway banger, as Tip recalls his days as a young MC.

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Jake One (Feat. Brother Ali and Freeway) - "The Truth"

"The Truth" slams into hip-hop perfection with its infectious beat and catchy hook. Freeway's gasoline flow alone will keep your rewind button fully employed.

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Kid Cudi - "Day 'N' Nite"

Kid Cudi crafts a trippy psych-jam for the lonely stoner who wishes to "free his mind at night."

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Elzhi - "Motown 25" (Feat. Royce da 5'9")

© Fat Beats

This giddy lyrical back-and-forth is a good enough reason to pick up this cut. Elzhi and fellow Motor City emcee Royce engage in a fierce rhyming contest over Black Milk's sample-heavy concoction. "Motown 25" is four minutes of non-stop multisyllabic rhyme schemes.

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Busta Rhymes - "Don't Touch Me (Throw da Water on 'Em)"

© Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Accompanied by steady-rolling congas and glistening hi-hats, Busta Rhymes delivers a swaggering jam that explodes into an energetic romp as soon as you press play. Busta hasn't sounded this fierce since he went dread-less.

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The Roots - "Rising Up" (Feat. Wale and Chrisette Michele)

© Okayplayer

The glorious mid-tempo throb of "Rising Up" outshines everything on "Rising Down." From the go-go drums to Chrisette Michelle's soulful chorus and Wale's flawless verse, this is what a hip-hop masterpiece sounds like. [Video]

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Lil Wayne - "Dr. Carter"

Lil' Wayne. © Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Dwayne Carter dons his overalls and proceeds to stitch his ailing patients one after the other. Wayne devotes each verse to a specific element of hip-hop, doling out countless quotables along the way. Easily the year's best concept rap song.

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Nas - "Queens Get the Money"

© Def Jam

Jay Electronica's brooding piano on "Queens Get The Money" is a perfect match for Esco's stream-of-consciousness rhyming on this dashing intro to the Queens rapper's album.

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Reks - "Say Goodnight"

Reks. ©

Reks' passion for hip-hop is so intense you can hear it in his voice. DJ Premier's napalm drums provide a suitable sound bed for Reks' angst-driven lyrics, as the newcomer channels Chuck D's passion on his best track yet. [Video]

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Jay Electronica - "Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)"

Jay Electronica is no ordinary rapper. And "Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)" is no ordinary rap song. Jay flips the theme music from Eternal Sunshine into a gorgeous hip-hop gem. It's powerfully plumbed with acoustic guitar, though the production is lo-fi. The simplicity only accentuates the sound of Jay’s heart breaking. No hip-hop song in recent memory captured so perfectly the sentiment of despair and the possibility of hope. [Audio]

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Big Boi - "Royal Flush" (Feat. Raekwon and Andre 3000)

"Royal Flush" is the perfect rap song; it's clever, fun, and memorable. Interestingly enough, it's Dre who registers the longest verse on this Big Boi gem. No one's complaining, though. How could we, when he's cranking out intoxicating rhymes like, "Crack and I have a lot in common. We both come up in the '80s and we keep that bass pumping."

Big Boi and Raekwon also post some poignant lines of their own, but Dre's verse will stick to your memory even after "Royal Rush" has pumped out its last bass. Then you hit the repeat button.