The 38 Best Rap Songs of 2021

From Megan Thee Stallion to Tyler, the Creator; Playboi Carti to Cardi B; NoCap to Noname
Graphic by Callum Abbott. From left: Earl Sweatshirt photo by Lindsay Ellary, Drake photo by Bauer Griffin/GC/Getty Images, Cardi B photo by Neil WarnerGC Images/GettyImages, Noname photo by Gonzales Photo/Christian Hjorth/PYMCA:Universal Images Group:GettyImages, and Navy Blue photo by AP the Angel.

This year felt like a changing of the guard in rap. While many bigger artists released disappointing albums or stayed quiet, the smaller ones stepped up. Promising newcomers became fixtures. Fixtures became stars. Stars became icons and mentors to a new generation that will surely push the genre’s ever-evolving sound even further. There’s no telling where rap will go next, but the songs below might offer some clues.

Our picks for the best rap songs of the year are listed alphabetically and include several tracks that also appear in our Best Songs of 2021 list. Listen to selections from this list on our Spotify and Apple Music playlists, and check out all of Pitchfork’s 2021 wrap-up coverage here.


Backwoodz Studioz

Armand Hammer and the Alchemist: “Stonefruit”

NYC rappers Elucid and billy woods have been making uncompromising music together as Armand Hammer since 2013, but this year’s collab with veteran producer the Alchemist, Haram, finds them at a rarified new level. The simple production on album closer “Stonefruit” centers a siren synth that sits just behind a beat propelled by triumphant drumrolls and two repeating arpeggios. ELUCID matches the production with a gruff verse about love and its pitfalls, and billy woods follows from the opposite angle, gliding through thorny rhyme schemes (regalia, bougainvillea, marginalia) before zeroing in on the image of a woman who conquers and cannibalizes his body. If Armand Hammer’s brutal realism usually beats the listener into submission, “Stonefruit” is a fantastical balm for our wounds. –Raphael Helfand

Listen: Armand Hammer and the Alchemist, “Stonefruit”


Chaos & Glory Recordings

Azealia Banks: “Fuck Him All Night”

Like the bimbo, the bitch is a classic archetype. Half self-styled genius, half-warrior, the bitch feeds cannilly on the tender meat of respectability politics, refuses to accept an L, and embraces hostility on a level so fundamental it might be cellular. Banks is a bitch with stamina. “Fuck Him All Night” is her and producer Galcher Lustwerk’s spare take on booty house: a horny, repetitive, Chicago-indebted genre of dance music that pickles her spirit like it’s in a vat of vinegar. It’s neither her best track nor her worst, but the vim is—as promised—carnivorous, dramatic, stabby. The single’s cover has her nails splayed across her crotch in denim, spelling out the name of a fading rival (K-A-N-Y-E, right hand; ★-W-E-S-T, left) against lacquer the color of a perfect bruise. –Mina Tavakoli

Listen: Azealia Banks, “Fuck Him All Night”


pgLang / Columbia

Baby Keem: “family ties” [ft. Kendrick Lamar]

“Family Ties” is IMAX rap—a multi-suite affair that opens with a horn fanfare and proceeds to cast a hungry upstart against his rejuvenated mentor, both eager to steal scenes. Its event status is heightened even further because this is the first major song to feature Kendrick Lamar in years. But first up is his cousin Baby Keem, just 20 years old at the time of the single’s release and so excitable at the start of his verse he can hardly finish his words. Keem’s elation quickly morphs into confidence as he lets off a series of playful taunts: “The girl of your dreams to me is a fan/I netted 10 million and did a lil’ dance.” Then there’s Kendrick, who tidily addresses social unrest and a pandemic in just a few lines, reminding Keem, the Pulitzer committee, and the rest of the world that he still sits patiently at the pinnacle—a taste of fury to come. –Matthew Strauss

Listen: Baby Keem, “family ties” [ft. Kendrick Lamar]


The Hip Hop Lab Records / EMPIRE

BabyTron: “Half-Blood Prince”

Detroit rapper BabyTron can and will rap over anything. In the two years since his single “Cheat Code” went viral, he’s become as known for his ear for chaotic beats as he has for his absurd punchlines and punny mixtape titles (see: Sleeve Nash). “Half-Blood Prince,” the opening song to his Bin Reaper 2 project, samples—of all things—the theme music for Harry Potter, and Tron wastes no time getting bars off: “Scooby-Doo, hopping out the van gon’ leave a mystery/Should’ve went to Hogwarts, I’m doing wizardry.” It’s over-the-top in the way most Detroit street rap is, but BabyTron’s presence and control make it rise above. –Dylan Green

Listen: BabyTron, “Half-Blood Prince”


Ugly Hag

Backxwash: “I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses” [ft. Ada Rook]

Rapper-producer Backxwash finds clarity in rage. The title track from her latest album channels rap, metal, and industrial into a tornado of pent-up anger, world history, and potent soul-searching. “The artistry that I’m giving, ghosted up in the matrix,” the Zambian-Canadian artist bellows. “Almost like our ancients weren’t posted up in the slave ships.” Confronting sinister specters of the past, she offers an exorcism that’s both aggressive and beautiful. –Dylan Green

Listen: Backxwash, “I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses” [ft. Ada Rook]


Bruiser Brigade

Bruiser Wolf: “Dope Game $tupid”

Bruiser Wolf can sound like a stand-up comedian, an Adult Swim character, and the silkiest mack alive all at the same time. On “Dope Game $tupid,” over a beat as shaky as a Jenga tower, he races through daft sex brags before getting stuck on a single point: Dealing is dumb, but it’s damn hard to quit. “The dope game stupid, but the boy still do it,” he repeats on the hook. In Wolf’s hands, the struggle sounds almost hallucinogenic, with images of coke cooking in potholes and a potential snitch keeping as silent as an imaginary friend. He’s weird and darkly funny—but stupid? Like a fox. –Dean Van Nguyen

Listen: Bruiser Wolf, “Dope Game $tupid”


Atlantic

Cardi B: “Up”

For her follow-up to the sex-soaked romp “WAP,” Cardi said she wanted to return to the “gangster violence” of her debut mixtape, inspired by the sounds of drill. And though it would be generous to say she merely borrowed from the subgenre for the song’s hook, “Up” is vintage Cardi. Atop a beat driven by a bouncy sub-bass track, her relentless flow and rapid-fire alliteration (“Big bag bussin’ out the Bentley Bentayga/Man, Balenciaga Bardi back and all these bitches fucked”) pummel her detractors into submission. Few rappers can sling a diss bar like she can—a fact that whoever’s “breath smell like horse sex” can likely attest to. The latest salvo in Cardi’s eternal war against the haters, “Up,” like the artist who wrote it, is rooted in a supreme sense of self-confidence. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Listen: Cardi B, “Up”


Quality Control / UMG

City Girls: “Twerkulator”

“Twerkulator” fuses regions, eras, and sounds, weaving samples from Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force’s foundational 1982 electro-rap record “Planet Rock” and Cajmere’s 1992 house touchstone “The Percolator” into a beat that throws back to the blunt minimalism of Miami bass music. Incorporating all that history made it tougher to put out—after a leaked version went viral on TikTok in 2020, sample clearance issues delayed its proper release for a year—but it also practically guaranteed its power. “Pop that pussy on some Luke shit,” Yung Miami instructs on the song, offering another nod to raunchy rap pioneer Uncle Luke. Even with this amalgam of references, the City Girls’ stamp still rings loud and clear. –Ivie Ani

Listen: City Girls, “Twerkulator”


Kemosabe / RCA

Doja Cat: “Get Into It (Yuh)”

The best Doja Cat singles work their way into your brain, and then, when you least expect it, involuntarily funnel back out through your vocal cords. On “Get Into It (Yuh),” it’s the way she bends her voice on the hook, going from a croaky whisper to a sweet-sounding chant. Then there’s the light, dreamy melody that’s perfect to whistle along to. The only problem is, when you sing it back to yourself, it won’t sound nearly as good. –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: Doja Cat, “Get Into It (Yuh)”


OVO

Drake: “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” [ft. Rick Ross]

In a music industry teeming with absurdity, Drake traffics in the preposterous more than most. “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” is a six-and-a-half-minute single without a hook, built on a repetitive vocal loop, about a chicken-wing baron and his favorite dry rub. And while Rick Ross’ velveteen raps about buying sports teams and social distancing with snitches are comfortably familiar, it’s Drake’s five-minute stream-of-consciousness diary entry that makes the track a lot more memorable than your average Funkmaster Flex freestyle.

It’s yet more evidence that the Canadian former child actor is at his best when he embraces his ridiculousness. He chides his mother for dressing him like a dork for class pictures, name-drops a stripper he once honored by retiring her jersey at a club, and fends off moms at the PTA meeting curious about his connections to Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé. It’s impossible to tell if he’s being entirely serious, which lets us all in on the joke. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Listen: Drake, “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” [ft. Rick Ross]


KaineRecords

Duwap Kaine: “The Benjamin Franklin Love Story”

This wavy ode to big bills is a trip. For nearly four minutes, Duwap Kaine constantly changes his Auto-Tuned delivery: Sometimes he’s cranked up to sound like an update of the TikTok text-to-speech voice, sometimes he’s lowered to the point where he actually has to hold the melody. The beat is erratic as well, with its blissful tune randomly dropping out completely to spotlight faintly pounding drums. It keeps going and going this way, sucking you into a trance, hypnotizing you as Duwap wails about his love for money. –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: Duwap Kaine, “The Benjamin Franklin Love Story”


Tan Cressida / Warner

Earl Sweatshirt: “2010”

“2010” is Earl Sweatshirt’s galaxy brain version of punchline rap. Over a Black Noi$e beat that’s more clear-eyed than nearly anything he has rapped on in years, Earl mixes deeply personal lines about his mom (“Had her stressin’ up the wall playin’ Mary J. songs”) with expert-level wordplay (“5-0s on me like the Olympics”). It’s playful yet sharp, bridging the gap between introspection and fun, a blurred memory of pure emotion. –Matthew Strauss

Listen: Earl Sweatshirt, “2010”


Self-released

Injury Reserve: “Postpostpartum”

Seven years in, Injury Reserve are grappling with their legacy as avant-rap trailblazers. This is most explicit on “Postpostpartum,” a standout single from the Arizona group’s sophomore album, By the Time I Get to Phoenix. Over a beat that sounds like a sunset melting over the horizon, lead vocalist Ritchie With a T acknowledges all the “lowercase t’s” he’s inspired over the years before reminding the world where it all started: “I’m just doing my thing/But then they profiting like bees to a pollen.” In light of founding member Stepa J. Groggs’s death last year, “Postpostpartum” plays like a contemplative pledge of resilience in the face of the future. –Dylan Green

Listen: Injury Reserve, “Postpostpartum”


Top Dawg / Warner

Isaiah Rashad: “From the Garden” [ft. Lil Uzi Vert]

Isaiah Rashad makes juggling demons and the trappings of success look easy, even fun. On “From the Garden,” a standout from the TDE stalwart’s first album in five years, he barrels through emotions over a sinister, bottom-feeding beat. One minute, he talks about how he’ll “barbecue with Satan,” the next he reveals he’s been saving money for a friend who’s been locked up in prison. “Garden” moves with such velocity that Rashad and guest Lil Uzi Vert’s flex raps near the end of their respective verses fit right in, highlighting the dual intensity of their constantly morphing worlds. –Dylan Green

Listen: Isaiah Rashad, “From the Garden” [ft. Lil Uzi Vert]


Iron Works

Ka: “I Need All That”

Ka has built a rap career from the shadows, quietly documenting the stories of the streets from whence he came, streets he now helps protect as a fire captain in Brooklyn. His tone and flow on “I Need All That”—and the rest of his latest LP, A Martyr’s Reward—exude wisdom and gravitas, the musings of a philosopher who’s seen more than they could ever tell. Ka’s perspective is almost the antithesis of American conspicuous consumption: He needs things that have been stolen from Black people—their style, their art, their culture. Their land. Behind a plaintive piano loop and strolling hi-hats, Ka manages to elevate a somber mood with raps about reclaiming oneself in the face of adversity. –Matthew Ismael Ruiz

Listen: Ka, “I Need All That”


UMG

Kay Flock: “Being Honest”

Bronx teenager Kay Flock has the voice of a much older man, suitable for projecting menace and hinting at relentless pain. It’s reminiscent of G Herbo, when the Chicago rapper was pioneering drill nearly a decade ago. Herbo solidified this connection by showing up on a remix of “Being Honest,” but it’s the original, solo version of the track that gives Kay Flock the most space to express his tormented worldview. The song’s verses are stark, filled with loneliness and missed calls and death, all atop a sample of the late XXXTentacion’s “changes” made to sound as if it were an unearthed pop relic from the ’60s. In a year when New York’s mutation of drill seemed to be stagnating, Kay Flock injected it with new life. –Paul A. Thompson

Listen: Kay Flock, “Being Honest”


DALE PLAY

L-Gante: “Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 38”

Argentine rapper L-Gante’s “Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 38” is the sticky smash driving a new urbano style called Cumbia 420 that operates at the intersection of cumbia, reggaeton, and weed. Earlier this year, the fiendish track topped Argentina’s pop chart, and it’s easy to hear why: L-Gante’s immaculately sinister croak cuts through a beat that incorporates EDM bombast and an addictive brrrrrp sound effect that could be sourced from a Hans Zimmer movie score. He whizzes through local slang, rapping about the partying and women that make him feel powerful. You don’t have to be a stoner to appreciate the song, but L-Gante’s call to light a porro with him and let go is undeniable all the same. –Gio Santiago

Listen: L-Gante, “Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 38”


Age 101

Little Simz: “Introvert”

“Introvert” is the opening in a chilling, fantastical score where Little Simz is the messiah tasked with preventing evil from ending the world. Rather than sheer gospel, the song plays like theme music for a champion boxer jogging into the ring before Michael Buffer announces, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”—except the match is taking place at a cathedral over the sounds of church horns and bells. Simz vigilantly defends her title–over 10 years in the game–with steady, precise jabs: “I see sinners in a church, I see sinners in a church.” Here, she embraces being a loner and continues throwing bows, even if it means bad manners in the house of the Lord. –Veracia Ankrah

Listen: Little Simz, “Introvert”


Shiny

Maassai: “Grace Jones”

Brooklyn’s Maassai makes oblong rap music that candidly acknowledges her pain while forging a path towards healing. On “Grace Jones,” a highlight from her introspective album With the Shifts, she looks to boundary-breaking model and musician Grace Jones as inspiration to think beyond the status quo. Though the wandering keys and hazy production are warm and relaxed, her dense wordplay breaks down unfair systems and superficial Instagram radicals alike. By documenting frustration and hope in equal measure, Maassai creates a nuanced document of resilience. –Vrinda Jagota

Listen: Maassai, “Grace Jones”


Griselda

Mach-Hommy: “Kriminel”

Over the summer, Mach-Hommy talked about his inner conflict as a member of the Haitian diaspora amid the country’s ongoing turmoil. “A lot of our psychological energy and makeup is kind of, like, split between two places because we have to be where we are,” the elusive New Jersey rapper told NPR. “But, we also—we can’t leave where we come from.” On “Kriminel,” the heart of his 2021 album Pray for Haiti, he raps a haunting verse about the toll of everything sent home—and what home sends back. The beat loops a spectral vocal as a parade of family members visit him in his sleep. While he’s awake, another cousin reminds him to “send that fucking MoneyGram before he crack.” Toggling between Creole and English, Mach sounds ragged with worry as he details a life in constant commune with the tragedies of the past and an uncertain present. –Ross Scarano

Listen: Mach-Hommy, “Kriminel”


New York Lab

Mavi: “Time Travel”

Mavi’s 2019 record Let the Sun Talk was a spiritual journey of self-discovery and Black liberation that established the North Carolina artist as a leader of rap’s underground vanguard. Two years later, he sounds hungrier than ever, suffering no fools. On “Time Travel,” he narrates the battle between his ego and insecurities. “Often I be embarrassed over how brazen I be,” he raps over shimmering keys, “but it beats bein’ embarrassed over how lazy they be.” For nearly four minutes, he breathlessly runs through references both Biblical and mythological in between nods to Nickelodeon cartoons and his beloved hometown Charlotte Hornets, painting a self portrait that feels both superhuman and achingly relatable. –Brandon Callender

Listen: Mavi, “Time Travel”


300

Megan Thee Stallion: “Thot Shit”

The moment Megan starts rapping on “Thot Shit,” the track begins to throb. “Booked, but I squeeze a lil’ head in my calendar/Looking at the mirror like, ‘Damn, I don’t brag enough,’” she raps. With a fantastic music video designed to push back against the moral panic over last year’s “WAP,” Megan goes from relishing her sexuality to weaponizing it; when she twerks on a garbage can steamrolling a senator or spreads her legs out on his desk, it’s clear that this is combat. “Thot Shit” is a state of mind, a no-holds-barred way of approaching the world. She snatches back a flippant word used by and for women, and turns it into a battle cry. –Dani Blum

Listen: Megan Thee Stallion, “Thot Shit”


Self-released

Monaleo: “Beating Down Yo Block”

On her viral single “Beating Down Yo Block,” Houston rapper Monaleo is dauntless and defiant, a brat and a boss, a benevolent leader and, potentially, the last thing you see before you meet your maker: “I’m pretty but I’ll take a n***a life and that’s the tea, bitch,” she raps in her take-no-shit Texas drawl. Born out of horrific struggle—the 20-year-old recorded the track as a way to gas herself up after leaving an abusive ex—“Beating Down Yo Block” is a beatific clapback. Another famed Houstonite once insisted that the best revenge is your paper, but Monaleo has another idea that could be even more effective: make a song he’ll never be able to escape, no matter how hard he tries. –Shaad D’Souza

Listen: Monaleo, “Beating Down Yo Block”


Freedom Sounds

Navy Blue: “Ritual”

Navy Blue’s “Ritual” is like an abstract run-on sentence that leaves you hanging on every single word, waiting to see what happens next. There are recurring motifs—references to footballers Edgar Davids, Ronaldo, and Carlos Tevez are sprinkled in, along with mentions of rice, beans, and fried fish that’ll make your stomach growl—all brought together through Navy Blue’s effortless flow and an instrumental that could soundtrack a classic Hollywood film. Then, things suddenly snap to reality, as he alludes to a dependency on marijuana that led him to check into a rehab facility last year. “Boy, was I addicted/It’s all in the ritual,” he raps at the very end of the song, the lines adding melancholy and triumph to everything that came before. –Matthew Strauss

Listen: Navy Blue, “Ritual”


Self-released

NoCap: “Vaccine”

At this point, NoCap might have as many acoustic guitars on his albums as Taylor Swift. They provide a perfect canvas for the bluesy Mobile, Alabama crooner, who sings about his pain and struggle with the clever wordplay of a battle rapper. On the first half of “Vaccine,” the guitar plucking backdrops a bizarre but catchy hook where he wails, “We give that nigga shots just like Johnson & Johnson”—it should be corny, but it’s not. The second half is even better. It’s straight up sung like a heart-wrenching ballad, though the lyrics aren’t actually that deep. It’s what a NoCap performance on The Voice might sound like. –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: NoCap, “Vaccine”


Self-released

Noname: “Rainforest”

“Rainforest” is equal parts Twitter timeline cleanse and reality check. Rapper and radical thought leader Noname condemns the worship of billionaires, the emptiness of consumer culture, and rampant environmental decay, but the song isn’t a biting anthem as much as a solemn lament. Over featherlight syncopations and acoustic guitar plucks, she sounds disappointed but resolute as she lays out how racism and capitalism poison the way we feel and love. “I just wanna dance tonight,” she raps in the hook, knowing it can never be so simple. –Ivie Ani

Listen: Noname, “Rainforest”


Warner

Pa Salieu: “Glidin’” [ft. Slowthai]

With “Glidin’,” Coventry, England rapper Pa Salieu takes two hip-hop tropes—the tough-talk anthem and the imperial display of skill—and slams them together. Salieu, who made his name with serious songs that are shrouded in fun, could be hovering over the proverbial rap game or the real travails of his youth when he says, simply and evocatively, “Any kinda smoke, man glidin’.” Slowthai, a Midlands neighbor from Northampton, matches Salieu’s intensity while leaning a bit more toward the flexing side of things, the id to Salieu’s more conflicted superego. Together, they offer a welcomed burst of energy, a reason to celebrate. –Matthew Strauss

Listen: Pa Salieu, “Glidin’” [ft. Slowthai]


Self-released

Pink Siifu: “Call the Bro (Tapped In)” [ft. Maxo]

Pink Siifu’s album Gumbo’! captures the joyous, intimate, and somewhat chaotic feel of a family reunion. It’s an ambitious record that connects the sounds that touched the Birmingham, Alabama-born artist’s soul as a child to the sprawling, independent-minded musical community he is at the center of today. Slow-grooving highlight “Call tha Bro (Tapped In)” has the restorative quality of a home-cooked meal. A buttery saxophone solo and sultry bassline wrap around Siifu and guest star Maxo’s verses, as they pray for their relatives to stay out of trouble. It’s a meditative smoke break that gives the two space to hash out their woes without interruption. –Brandon Callender

Listen: Pink Siifu, “Call the Bro (Tapped In)” [ft. Maxo]


AWGE / Interscope

Playboi Carti: “Slay3r”

Of all the rock bands Playboi Carti could have bragged that he “could’ve joined,” it makes sense that he chose Slayer. Many of the rapper’s obsessions are reflected in the larger-than-life thrash metal group: leather-clad showmanship, a wicked mix of catchiness and confrontation, satanism at arena-scale. Ironically, “Slay3r” sounds downright bubbly next to the post-Yeezus darkwave found elsewhere on Whole Lotta Red. But Carti’s vocals, which alternate between a stage whisper and a squeaky rasp, lend the ascending synths and distant chirps a slippery, even sinister, edge. If attitude is what matters, Carti is ready for his audition. –Mehan Jayasuriya

Listen: Playboi Carti, “Slay3r”


Atlantic

Pooh Shiesty: “Back in Blood” [ft. Lil Durk]

“Back in Blood” is a perfect breakout rap single. It’s a simple, well-told story of the politics of revenge accented by Pooh Shiesty’s Tennessee drawl, packaged in the gothic bounce of producer YC’s beat. Lil Durk’s instantly quotable lines “Pooh Shiesty, that’s my dawg/But Pooh, you know I’m really shiesty” made the song go viral, but Shiesty and Durk’s conversational chemistry is a huge draw in itself. This is a song that knows exactly what it is: a rush that will inspire crowd chants and excitable callbacks for years to come. –Dylan Green

Listen: Pooh Shiesty, “Back in Blood” [ft. Lil Durk]


Remble / Warner

Remble: “Gordon R Freestyle”

Remble raps like he volunteered to read aloud in class, perfectly annunciating every threat, moving at a steady pace to make sure each drop of shit talk resonates clearly. “Gordon R Freestyle” is punchline rap in the mold of his mentor of sorts, Drakeo the Ruler, but while Drakeo used that style to create a sense of paranoia, Remble gets jokes off at the expense of his enemies. The opening line is probably the strongest: “Are you willing to die for those Christians?/Do you really feel fly in True Religion?” It’s funny, until you realize he’s dead serious. –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: Remble, “Gordon R Freestyle”


#Boyz Entertainment

Rio Da Yung OG: “Last Day Out”

Vulnerability isn’t usually Rio Da Yung OG’s forte. The unpredictable and hilarious Flint, Michigan rapper is often too busy delivering punchlines about robbing the plug while his son watches, or punishing his girlfriend’s kid for interrupting while they were getting busy, to get into his feelings. “Last Day Out” is different. It’s a temporary goodbye as he prepares for a jail sentence. Throughout the track, he self-reflects, takes a trip down memory lane, and leaves his immediate family and fellow Flint rappers with parting words. He tries to shrug it off, but you can tell he’s crushed. –Alphonse Pierre

Further Reading: A Guide to Michigan Rap

Listen: Rio Da Yung OG, “Last Day Out”


NewBreedTrapperRecords

Rxk Nephew: “American tterroristt”

On this nearly 10-minute barrage, the rambling and unpredictable RXKNephew reels off enough nonsensical conspiracy theories to make Joe Rogan think: This guy is really onto something! The wildest ones—about the COVID vaccine causing mutations and dinosaurs discovering electricity before Benjamin Franklin—might stand out at first, but keep listening. I mean, points are made here: The Bible does have a lot of plot holes! Algebra is some bullshit! And let’s face it, they knew Kelly Clarkson would win American Idol all along! You might not want to elect Nephew to any school boards, but hear him out. –Alphonse Pierre

Listen: Rxk Nephew, “American tterroristt”


ICY / Warner

Saweetie: “Best Friend” [ft. Doja Cat]

Just a few years ago, mainstream collabs between women in rap were as rare as a genuine Notes app apology. Now, there’s an embarrassment of riches, and “Best Friend” is one of those coups: two of rap’s most dominant merging to hype each other up, as good confidants do. (Who hasn’t spotted their Day One on the street and screamed, “Beep beep, is that my bestie in a Tessie”?) Over a beat that bounces like a pogo stick, Saweetie lobs bad-bitchisms at Doja Cat, whose masterful shapeshifting manifests as a bubbly, three-flow verse. As public displays of affection go, this is the kind that’s perfectly admissible. –Clover Hope

Listen: Saweetie, “Best Friend” [ft. Doja Cat]


Because

Shygirl: “BDE” [ft. Slowthai]

The term Big Dick Energy is usually used to describe an understated sense of charisma, but London’s Shygirl means it very literally on “BDE,” her lustful song with Slowthai. Singing almost as if in a trance over a thudding beat and looming synths, Shygirl articulates exactly what she wants: “a big dick boy” to “beat the pussy right.” The lyrics are frank and repetitive, but the song’s tension comes from the way she modulates her vocals—sometimes slinky and unbothered, other times pitched down and gravely, or accelerated into a frenzy. There is so much secondhand delight in hearing Shygirl’s cool dominance, the way she asserts her desire without hesitation. –Vrinda Jagota

Listen: Shygirl, “BDE” [ft. Slowthai]


Columbia

Tyler, the Creator: “Lumberjack”

We’ve always known that Tyler was one of the best rappers working. And yet, for the last decade, he’s seemed to delight in withholding this ability while pursuing other opportunities: orchestral pop, cherry-colored funk, songs about the Grinch. With “Lumberjack,” he returns to hard-nosed rap, though it hardly feels like a capitulation—if anything, it sounds like he’s still thumbing his nose at naysayers. The beat pulls its trembling keys from a Gravediggaz song (probably a nod to critics that tried to pigeonhole Odd Future as “horrorcore”) and the song’s chorus (“Rolls Royce pull up/Black boy hop out”) is delivered like a middle finger. “That’s my nuance, used to be a weirdo,” he deadpans at one point, reminding us that hip-hop’s ultimate insider used to be an outsider. –Mehan Jayasuriya

Listen: Tyler, the Creator, “Lumberjack”


Wikset Enterprise

Wiki: “Can’t Do This Alone” [ft. Navy Blue]

Wiki and Navy Blue come from two different generations of New York’s rap underground, but their uncompromising values—and buoyant chemistry—closes the gap. The heartening joy of friendship can be found in every corner of “Can’t Do This Alone,” a round-the-way winner from Wiki’s Navy-produced LP, Half God. Wiki isn’t passing the torch off to Navy Blue here, though Sage’s prolific year on the mic and behind the boards is certainly worthy of praise. They’re raising a flag together in celebration of their vibrant scene. –Brandon Callender

Listen: Wiki, “Can’t Do This Alone” [ft. Navy Blue]


TwizzyRich

Yeat: “Gët Busy”

“This song already was turnt but here’s a bell,” Yeat raps about halfway through this track, before firing off a massive gonging sound that’s become the Portland artist’s trademark. Zoom out from that moment, though, and there’s a lot more to enjoy here: mini vocal freakouts full of garbled drug concoctions; Dr. Seuss references; twizzies, tizzies, and Lizzies. Cutting his teeth in the influential online rap collective Slayworld over the last few years, Yeat was always a little stranger than his peers, and consequently cast as a minor figure. But in 2021, his surrealist bent became his superpower. –Mano Sundaresan

Listen: Yeat, “Gët Busy”