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Top 50 Rap Songs of 2012

Counting down 2012's best hip-hop songs

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10. Future - "Turn on the Lights"

Hip-hop's sad robot Future adorably runs down a list of qualities he's looking for in a dream girl ("Turn on the lights, I’m looking for her too/I heard she keep her promises and never cheat on you").

9. A$AP Rocky - "Goldie"

ASAP Rocky - Goldie
© RCA
Rocky transforms his voice into a deep bass that winks at Houston's chopped and screwed sound as a "f-ck you" to mudslingers. Regional boundaries don't exist to him and that's not a crime.

8. Big K.R.I.T. - "Rich Dad, Poor Dad"

Big KRIT - Live from the Underground
© Island Def Jam
The song and flipbook video give us a tour of K.R.I.T.'s childhood, sharing golden nuggets he was fortunate to have received from his old man, reminding us of the type of genuine emotion that elevated him to rap royalty in 2012.

7. Rick Ross - "Stay Schemin'" (Ft. Drake and French Montana)

As far as hits go, "Stay Schemin'" passed every test. It was ubiquitous. It inspired freestyles and remixes and battle raps. And it added the eternally confusing slang "fanute" to rap lingo.

6. Odd Future - "Oldie"

Camaraderie over everything. That's always been Odd Future's secret weapon. Amidst the disparate projects that threatened to splinter the L.A collective, the fellas found time for this fierce showcase. Tyler leads the charge with two gnarly verses; Frank Ocean kicks his shoulder-shrugging, collector's item raps; Hodgy Beats steps up his game; and Earl comes back like, as he says, lateral passing. Even non-rapping member Jasper manages to conjure fits of brilliance. You really have to watch the the impromptu video to fully appreciate what this song means to the crew.

5. Danny Brown - "Grown Up"

Danny Brown revisits his boyhood over hissing snares and a pulsing piano. "Remember when my first meal was school lunch," Brown reminisces. The beauty of the track is how Brown details various stages of his youth as the track progresses. Pure reflective goodness. And a supercute video.

4. GOOD Music - "Mercy"

When that Super Beagle sample drops, you know you're in for a treat. What follows is a parade of each rapper's obsession. For Pusha Ton, it's opulence ("My Audemar like Mardi Gras"); Big Sean, derrière ("build a house 'pon dat ass, that's an asstate"); Kanye, hyperbole ("Step in Def Jam office like I'm the sh-t, tell them give me 50 million or I'm gon' quit"); 2 Chainz, braggadocio ("Money tall like Jordan").

3. El-P - "The Full Retard"

Every discussion on El-P seems to center on his potent production. He's also a murderously skilled rapper; he rhymes vicious, sticks to the topic, and actively avoids prosaic punchlines. Above all, El-P weaves his work with an ineffable quality that makes it impossible to imagine anyone else capturing the same effect. "The Full Retard," a highlight from Cancer 4 Cure, finds him breathing bursts of fire with his patented octane flow. He sounds like the five years separating I'll Sleep When You're Dead and Cancer 4 Cure never happened. The taut rhymes and, yes, blustering beat, are something you'd only expect from El-P.

2. Kendrick Lamar - "Cartoon & Cereal" (Ft. Gunplay)

Kendrick Lamar
© TDE
"Cartoons & Cereal" in one word: Cloudobanger. Music: Space jam done right, all ethereal keys and glitchy drums. Concept: Audiobiography at its grittiest, with Kendrick reflecting on the world as seen from a kid's eyes — cleverly juxtposing light and darkness ("You was holding the handgun, she was giving birth"), while riding the beat like a rodeo. MMG basso Gunplay comes through and makes it doubly enjoyable.

1. Killer Mike - "Reagan"

© Williams Street
Killer Mike comes out swinging at past presidents with the swagger of a southpaw, landing haymakers on Reagan's oppressive policies vis-à-vis the Iran-Contra scandal, while El-P supplies the walk-on music. Instaclassic.
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