Each year we forgo the usual “top songs” lists, because 1) the iTunes/Billboard charts will tell you that, and 2) we usually don’t agree at all. Instead, we go back to our 12″ vinyl single foundations and present a list of the best loose, underground tracks that didn’t have an official album or artist mixtape to call home, and were distributed primarily via the blog scene and via digital retailers. Here are our picks for rap’s 25 best “blog bangers” of 2013. This list coincides with the release of Blog So Hard 3: B-Side Wins Again, dropping tomorrow.
25. Dizzy Wright – “No Writer’s Block, I Like To Write” – Vegas’ own Dizzy Wright celebrated hitting 300,000 fans on Facebook with this bluesy b-side for free download to close out the year.
24. B.o.B. – “How 2 Rap” – As far as responses to Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse go, we thought B.o.B. had the best, simply because he rose above it. Sure, he toyed with both Kendrick and Migos’ flows, but took the high road by showing his many levels of talent with a guitar solo.
23. RJD2 – “Her Majesty’s Socialist Request (Candy Panther Remix)” (feat. J-Live) – RJD2 delivered a nice cherry-on-top to his More Is Than Isn’t LP with this remix featuring verses from J-Live. J is still in top form here, making us amped for the release of Around The Sun, due Spring 2014.
23. Jeru The Damaja – “Solar Flares” (prod. Large Professor) – Wait…what?!? After doing a behind the scenes documentary this year for Complex on his classic debut single, “Come Clean”, Jeru quickly followed up with the release of a new track, “Solar Flares”, produced by the Extra P. The track comes from the as-of-yet unreleased EP, The Hammer, which we hope to see this year. The sun don’t freeze…
21. De La Soul – “Get Away” (feat. The Spirit Of The Wu) – This track, based around the opening skit of 1997′s Wu-Tang Forever album, put De La back in Stakes Is High commentary-mode, which is just how we like them. Here’s hoping we see the three release their new LP, You’re Welcome this year.
20. Big Daddy Kane + DJ Premier – “28 Bars Of Kane” – The nice thing about corporate America is that they have money to blow on projects like this, and record sales aren’t a part of the equation. This track was commissioned for Nike’s Air Jordan XX8. Never mind the shoe, we got Preem and Kane on a track together. Too bad it was only a minute long…
19. Madlib + Freddie Gibbs – “Harold’s” – The b-side to Gibbs and Madlib’s “Deeper” 12inch found Freddie rapping about taking girls to his favorite restaurant, over a chilled out, classic west coast beat. How about that album, fellas?
18. Killer Mike – “Villain” – The only rap cut from DC Comics’ Injustice: Gods Among Us video game soundtrack, found Mike going back to his southern roots on this dark track. After his last two albums, Mike’s risen to the top of our favorite emcee rankings, so this was a nice post-Run The Jewels addition.
17. Captain Murphy (Flying Lotus) – “Between Villains” (feat. Viktor Vaughn + Earl Sweatshirt + Thundercat) – Again corporate America at work, as this was #11 in Adult Swim’s singles series, teaming up MF Doom and Earl Sweatshirt over a Flying Lotus beat that sounds like something from Portishead’s Dummy. Win-win.
16. Danny Brown – “#HottestMC” (prod. Harry Fraud) – 2013 was definitely the year that lyrics came back into the fold, and Danny Brown’s “Hottest MC” helped play a role in that. After being displeased with MTV’s picks for the list, Danny delivered his own response record to the list, paying tribute to his rhyming heroes with the line: “BIG turned in his grave, a earthquake in granada / When Pun shed a tear, went hurricane for a week / When Big L get upset, it start tornadoin’ trees.”
15. Jay Z – “Open Letter (J. Period Remix)” (feat. Common) – This possible outtake from the Magna Carta Holy Grail sessions preceded Jay’s Samsung atomic bomb, detailing his controversial trip to Cuba. J. Period took it a step further by recording a new verse for the track from Common, whom expanded on Hov’s original narrative. Jay might truthfully want to rhyme like Common Sense; this might just be the closest thing to that ever happening.
14. Joey Bada$$ + DJ Premier – “Unorthodox” – Mountain Dew commissioned this collaboration with arguably the greatest producer of all time and one of our favorite, rising New York City emcees. Bet you legal had a hard time signing off on an artist with “ass” in his name.
13. Childish Gambino – “Yaphet Kotto (Freestyle)” – This gem preceded the release of Donald Glover’s Because The Internet LP, and was left off the final tracklist. He called it a freestyle, but this was clearly a fully realized track, where he channels internet haters from the perspective of the “worst rapper ever”.
12. Big K.R.I.T. – “Just Last Week” – K.R.I.T. gave us a taste of this on his King Remembered In Time mixtape, but followed through later in the year with the release of the full-length version of the track. Easily one of the best uses of Future of the year, save “Bugatti”.
11. Ab-Soul – “Christopher DRONEr” – Quite easily one of the most gripping news stories of 2013, Ab-Soul used the Christopher Dorner case as the backdrop for this ultra-paranoid single, which also referenced Kanye’s “New Slaves” and the governments use of drone strikes. Topical rap.
10. Action Bronson – “Strictly For The Jeeps (Queens Day Remix)” (feat. LL Cool J + Lloyd Banks) – This cut from Action’s Saaab Stories EP got the remix treatment and only saw release on Flex’s Who You Mad At? Me Or Yourself mixtape. As the cut is a loose-knit remake of EPMD and LL Cool J’s “Rampage”, Action brought LL in for a guest spot, who slayed his verse. Banks is here, too.
9. A$AP Rocky – “R. Cali” – This 808-banger from the Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack was a nice compliment to the material released on Long.Live.A$AP, and showed steady improvement from the up-and-coming emcee. Easily the best original track in GTAV.
8. Jason Dean – “Bring It Hardcore” (feat. M.O.P.) – Mosh-pit banger. We haven’t heard M.O.P. like this in years. Easily the best thing they’ve done since the Warriorz era. Let this dude produce on your next album, fellas.
7. Swizz Beatz – “Hands Up” (feat. Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, 2 Chainz) – Swizz ruled the club-banger circuit some years ago, with definitive 100BPM hits like “Party Up”, “Bring Em Out”, “Tambourine”, etc. He’s lately tried some different things, but “Hands Up” brought us back to the old Swizz we (DJ’s) all know and love. Funny thing is, this cut was more about lyrical competition than filling dance floors, almost acting as a spiritual successor to Kanye West’s “Monster”, and everyone brought their A-game. More like this, please.
6. Common – “Congratulations” (prod. No I.D.) – It’s likely we’ll be seeing a new album from Common this year, and “Congratulations” was a dope precursor to that project. A vividly hilarious tale about Com acting as the best man at his friend’s wedding, over a pared down No I.D. beat. Both Com and No I.D. are in top form on this cut.
5. Schoolboy Q – “Collard Greens” (feat. Kendrick Lamar) – Q & Kendrick brought the best out in one another on this infectious, dub driven anthem, which may or may not appear Oxymoron. Q is styling all over this one. “This your favorite song.”
4. Drake – “5 AM In Toronto” – Drake was talking so greasy on this one, it could be argued that Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Control” was in fact a response to this record. Almost a precursor to “Control”, Drake gets a lot off his chest on this one, with Slick Rick-levels of pretension in these verses. Lines like “The part I love most is they need me more than they hate me / So they never take shots, I got everybody on safety” and “Give these niggas the look, the verse, and even the hook / That’s why every song sound like Drake featuring Drake” are likely to have pissed off many-a-rapper.
3. J. Cole – “Let Nas Down (Remix)” (feat. Nas) – Nas’ response record to J. Cole’s Born Sinner album cut was a thoughtful, honest retort to Cole’s original. The original, horn-driven track in tact, Nas confesses his own shortcomings as an early 90′s up-and-coming rapper, revealing that Cole actually made him proud. Positivity!
2. Eminem – “Don’t Front” (feat. Buckshot) – One aspect of Eminem’s MMLP2 that impressed the hell out of us was how many classic rappers he name-dropped. We know Em’s knowledge of hip-hop is deep, but what made is smile is the fact that he acknowledged the people that influenced him over the years, when we all know he is well past the point of having to do so. That’s why this late addition to the album, which only found its way as a part of the Call Of Duty: Ghosts pre-order package was such a treat. Em remade the album version of Black Moon’s “I Gotcha Opin”, and destroyed the track, even grabbing Buckshot for a feature. Now can we get a remix with the Barry White sample?
1. Big Sean – “Control” (feat. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica) – Quite easily the most talked about song of the year, Kendrick Lamar’s controversial verse on “Control” raised many eyebrows. Not only did he place himself among the best emcees in the history of rap, but he also crowned himself the “king of New York”, and called out the names of all the “new” emcees he competes with, suggesting he wants to destroy them all. This song also brought lyricism back to the forefront, and spawned dozens of response records, some from people that weren’t even mentioned on the song. Oh yeah, Big Sean and Jay Electronica are also on this song. Speaking of which, Big Sean says that the song was left off of Hall Of Fame due to “sample clearances”. What that probably really means is due to “my label wouldn’t let me get murdered on my own shit” clearances. Well done, King Kendrick.
That’s all folks. Here is the year-end mix coinciding with this list, Blog So Hard 3: B-Side Wins Again, mixed by Pizzo.
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