With the year halfway gone, let's take a look at the best rap songs of 2013 so far. Check back at the end of the year for a complete list of this year's best hip-hop songs. The Spotify playlist lives here. See 2012's Top 50 Rap Songs.
Flatbush teenager named Jo-Vaughn Scott a.k.a. Joey Bada$$ and Chicago youngun Chancelor Bennett are two of the most exciting rapping humans right now. "Wendy N Becky" finds the two skilled rappers exchanging groupie gripes over a sax track (courtesy of the equally promising Thelonius Martin).
The concept of looking fresh even if the alphabet boys are watching is typically an aside in rap. "Feds Watching," from 2 Chainz' sophomore album, B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time, turns it into a full-blown concept. It works, in spite of Tity Two Necklaces' limited flow. Chainz gets his brag on over Pharrell's gaudy drums. As if to underscore the song's carefree attitude, the music video deviates from an industry standard to feature several dark-skinned black women. Oh, and it turns out feds are watching, after all. Timely soundtrack.
"One of Those Nights" is a Weeknd party and Juicy J sounds like the guest who tells the most ridiculous tales but keeps everyone laughing. Their chemistry is good as gold. No weak moments here.
90s-inspired braggadocio that doesn't sound 90s-inspired. "I move with the elegance of an African elephant" is worth the price of admission (free).
Lupe Fiasco is looking more like a pariah than a messianic figure these days. But one thing the Chicago MC can always count on is his laser tongue. Watch how swiftly he cuts through the droning Atoms for Peace melody on "Animal Pharm," his rich imagination careening through the track, not a single bar wasted. The song nods to George Orwell's Animal Farm, which predicted societal upheaval. Not that Lupe would ever predict societal upheaval: "Like a slow gun fighter gun -- unfired."
Prodigy is in a small group of relentlessly intimidating rappers. He could rap about buying donuts and make it sound like a death threat. And in true Bandana P fashion, every line on Albert Einstein is a mean mug. "Imdkv" is an immediate standout, with Alchemist's hardbody beat and P's slick talk.
Baton Rouge rapper Kevin Gates works in an area of rap that will henceforth be known as "D-boy blues." On "4:30 am," a standout from Stranger Than Fiction, Gates runs one helluva brainstorming session. He packs everything under the trap sun into 2 minutes and 47 seconds: loyalty, regrets, sex, paranoia, betrayal. "Stab wounds from an old friend," he cries, his voice choking on the words. Equal parts guttural bark and emotive drawl—Future's recipe in Gucci Mane's kitchen.
"Kush Coma," from Danny Brown's Old, plays out like the soundtrack to the apocalypse. The beat just keeps building, synths dropping in and out, all circular and paranoiac. Brown's yap of a voice amplifies the tension, as does his claims of smoking "back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back" until his brain goes on vacation, as is likely when it all comes crashing down. Except this track seems to loop on in your brain even after the last synth drops.