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Best Rap Songs of 2011

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10. Shad - "Flawless"

Subtle as a shot of glass to the dome. Shad flowing like his life depends on one rhyme. Easily the best song on The New North LP, an album which featured 30 of Toronto's most promising hip-hop artists, including Boi-1da, Marco Polo, and Kardinal Offishall.

9. J. Cole - "Lost Ones"

J. Cole
© Henry Adaso/About.com
J. Cole offers a poignant picture from three different angles, even raising his pitch to channel the female character in the second verse. A drippy piano lulls its way to the surface and widens like a midnight skirmish, imbuing the track with an uncomfortably chilly vibe as if it was cut in a meat locker. Extra props to Cole for approaching "Lost Ones" with a movie-grade commitment unfamiliar to his peers.

8. Shabazz Palaces - "Swerve...The reeping of all that is worthwhile..."

Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
© Sub Pop
If this single was your gateway to Black Up, you may be excused for thinking you had the album pegged. "Swerve...The reeping of all that is worthwhile (Noir not withstanding)" is perhaps the only song designed intentionally as a standalone on an album that relies on iterlocking parts. It's the album's closer and the only one to feature guest vocalists.

7. Blu Feat. U-God - "DoinNothin'"

A throwback cut reminiscent of Eric B & Rakim's "Don't Sweat The Technique." Beat knocks harder than feds at a kingpin's door.

6. Mr. Muthaf---in eXquire Feat. Danny Brown, El-P, Das Racist - "Huzzah" Remix

© Mishka
New York's Mr. Muthaf---in eXquire assembled a fantastic team of diverse but like-minded emcees for this remix: Danny Brown brings his high-pitched flow; Heems and Kool A.D. bring side-busting humor; El-P steals the show with a play on numbers that every rapper will wish they'd thought of first. Posse cut done right.

5. Nas - "Nasty"

"Nasty" is covered in a sabulous layer of dust. No misguided ambition of chasing radio spins. No shawties who owe him for ice. No grumpy old man eager to display his neoteric wizardry. This is Nas in his element. Boom bap, chest thumps, and what Rah Digga would refer to as "straight spittin'." Nasty Nas is back.

4. Jay-Z/Kanye West - "Primetime"

Watch the Throne
© Def Jam
The best song on Watch the Throne is not on Watch the Throne. This jewel is tucked away in a bonus section fat enough to stand as its own EP. Jay and Ye are in their prime and this is a celebration. But before the party gets going, Jay is going to take us down memory lane for a history lesson using a sophisticated mathematical breakdown. Then, Yeezy drops the prime rib of rap boasts: "I told her run a bubble bath and float in that motherf--ker like a hovercraft, and soak in that motherf--ker 'til I call you back."

3. The Roots Feat. Big K.R.I.T. - "Make My"

The Roots connect with KRIT on the lead cut from UNDUN. "Make My" shows that a late night gig on Fallon hasn't slowed the group down a bit. K.R.I.T. opens this one with a compelling verse: "In the world of night terrors it's hard to dream. Cash rules everything, just call it cream, cause when it rises to the top, you get the finer things." Colder than 3 AM with no blanket in sight.

2. Tyler, the Creator - "Yonkers"

Tyler, the Creator
Photo © Michael Tullberg/Getty Images
He cracked last year's Top 10 with "Bastard" and keeps the shock-rap train going with the dystopian "Yonkers" and its brilliantly bizarre video. This is what happens when you forget everything that's trendy.

1. Kendrick Lamar - "HiiiPower"

Kendrick Lamar - HiiiPOwer
© Top Dawg
Section .80 had so many outstanding moments, none more memorable than the J. Cole-tracked coda, "HiiiPower." K.Dot has been painting a portrait of the 80s babies dilemma for 55 minutes. Now he puts three fingers in the sky and offers parting instructions, urging us to "stay on beat, because our life's an instrumental."
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