The 20 Best Rap Radio Hits of 2014

In 2013, big name albums drove the mainstream rap conversation and generated most of the radio hits, resulting in playlists that were heavy on Wale/Cole/Kendrick/Drake/Octogenarian Hov/etc. songs with R&B hooks or Future in a melodic mode. In 2014, rap radio was full of actual rap singles, often attached to mixtapes or EPs or no full-length project at all, with multiple verses and rapped hooks (or no hook at all). I'm not placing these songs or these broad trends on a spectrum of whether they're more or less "real" or more or less "lyrical" than this or that, I'm just stating a fact: I heard more rapping in rap songs on the radio. A lot of the rappers I heard were new and divisive and easily dismissed as flashes in the pan, but they brought a new energy to the airwaves that hopefully won't dissipate as we enter a new cycle of Wale/Cole/Kendrick/Drake/Kanye albums over the next few months. Here are the lists I did in 2012 and 2013, and the Spotify playlist for this year.

1. T.I. f/ Young Thug - "About The Money"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #42 Hot 100
Young Thug came up under Gucci Mane and idolizes Lil Wayne, so it's a little counterintuitive that the greatest song he's made with an established southern rap superstar is a guy like T.I. who he has little shared past or audible influence from (there's a great T.I. interview where he notes that he was slow to work with any Gucci disciples "because he's, you know, a diarrhea mouth"). But "About The Money" is a great song partly because it's two very different voices, from different generations of Atlanta rap, bouncing off of each other for the first time and finding a weird compatible energy. You can hear it in how they split up the chorus, in how Tip reverts to his old style of twitchy ad libs over Thug's half of the chorus, in how Tip references UGK because Thug's producer London On Da Track's organ riff so clearly reminds him of Pimp C beats.

2. Rae Sremmurd - "No Flex Zone"
#8 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #36 Hot 100
Mike WiLL Made It's crawling tempos and spacey low pass filter synths seem kind of like Atlanta rap's pendulum swing in the opposite direction of the snap music era, when drums and synths and voices were all kind of high and clipped and attention-grabbing. So I didn't expect the first new act he's really taken under his wing and introduced his public to be a couple of teenagers whose debut single sounded like the best ringtone rap single in 5 years. Once I realized "No Flex Zone" was a Mike WiLL beat, I started to recognized some of his signature textures, but those bleepy keyboards and yelping voices still sound quite a bit different from what I considered the Mike WiLL sound when it dominated 2012 and 2013.

3. Bobby Shmurda - "Hot N***a"
#3 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #6 Hot 100
A 20ish kid spits some bars over a beat from an established artist's song, raps it to a camera in his neighborhood, and uploads it to YouTube: something that has happened literally thousands if not millions of times over the last decade, and has only on a handful of occasions played even a tiny role in that artist eventually becoming famous. And then, this year, lightning struck and one of those videos went viral because the rapper did a goofy dance for a few seconds. And, even more improbably, that attention snowballed into a gangsta rap song with a stolen beat and no chorus becoming a daytime radio staple, New York's biggest non-Jay/non-Nicki since, what, "We Fly High"? It was all just so astronomically unlikely and entertaining to see unfold. And really I love anytime something from a verse becomes so catchy that people treat it like a chorus.

4. YG f/ Drake - "Who Do You Love?"
#16 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #54 Hot 100
My Krazy Life was the undisputed champion of a legendarily tepid year for major label rap albums, and in a more just world that would've meant a whole parade of hit singles following in the wake of "My N***a." Instead, the immediate follow-up featuring Drake managed to get less spins than pretty much every Drake collaboration ever attached to a major label album. Still, pretty fantastic song.

5. Young Thug - "Stoner"
#10 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #47 Hot 100
One of my favorite experiences as a music listener is to be proven wrong, to hear a song that makes me suddenly love an artist I'd previously disliked. And it's hard to think of an example in recent memory more dramatic than my eye-rolling impatience with 1017 Thug and my instant adoration of "Stoner." Just an incredible beat and perfect showcase for how his oddball vocal contortions can work in the service of both agile rapping and hugely catchy melodies.

6. Rich Homie Quan f/ Problem - "Walk Thru"
#9 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #74 Hot 100
It's reductive to both Rich Homie Quan and Future to compare them to each other more than necessary, but it really did surprise me, even after the success of "Type of Way," that Quan would be the more frequent radio presence of the two in 2014. Future just had "Move That Dope" and a few seconds of shine on a DJ Khaled track, while Quan had "My N***a" spilling over from 2013 plus "Lifestyle," "Walk Thru," and Yo Gotti's "I Know." Quan keeps coming with some of the best ad lib rebuttals in the game, my favorite on "Walk Thru" is "who got more money, you or me? (ME!)."

7. DeJ Loaf - "Try Me"
#10 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #46 Hot 100
One of those left field hits from a complete unknown that takes a minute to get used to, and then sounds amazing. A lot of more famous MCs jumped on the track and just didn't sound as good as DeJ Loaf did (and huge gasface to the stations that play this with a terrible Wiz Khalifa verse tacked on).

8. Drake - "0 To 100 / The Catch Up"
#4 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #35 Hot 100
Ever since scoring a huge hit off of a free mixtape before he was technically signed, Drake has always been at the forefront of getting radio to play songs that aren't perfectly affixed to an album campaign. And in 2014 he seemed intent on pushing the singles from Nothing Was The Same off the airwaves just 3 months after it was released with newer music, first "Trophies" (repurposed as the single from a terrible Young Money compilation), then an avalanche of Soundcloud loosies that will probably be too old to include on Views From The 6 by the time it drops. That "The Catch Up" part can fuck off, but "0 To 100" is a great beat, maybe even worth Drake getting his ass kicked by Diddy over, the first time a Drake song has sounded like anyone who made it has heard Wu Tang (unlike "Wu Tang Forever"). It's still full of embarrassing moments like any Drake song, though, my least favorite being when he says "that's my n***a" in reference to his white friend whose name is Noah.

9. Jay-Z f/ Beyonce - "Part II (On The Run)"
#5 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #77 Hot 100
One of the only rap hits featuring an R&B singer of any real value this year, it feels out of place to even acknowledge it here, especially since it was generally Exhibit A in Beyonce reaching her artistic pinnacle while her husband is getting too old to keep up. I do like hearing him do the Juvie flow on this, though, easily my favorite Timbaland beat of the last few years.

10. Migos - "Fight Night"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #69 Hot 100
The smarmy "better than the Beatles" memes are even worse than the weak stretches of their overrated mixtapes, but it's undeniable that Migos had a pretty good year, coming out of the shadow of their Drake co-sign with two songs that got more airplay than "Versace" ever did. I like when the guy who sounds like Rick Ross raps more than the Gucci Mane/Mike Jones hybrid guy.

11. Rich Gang f/ Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan and Birdman - "Lifestyle"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #16 Hot 100
Even without Birdman hovering over it, this song would feel to me a bit like Thug and London On Da Track's version of one of those sunny happy later Big Tymers singles. It also tends to make me laugh uncontrollably, whether I'm trying to sing along with the chorus or just remembering one of my finest tweets. Quan's verse is some genuinely great rapping, though.

12. Young Thug f/ Nicki Minaj - "Danny Glover (Remix)"
#41 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
When "Stoner" and "Danny Glover" started building buzz at the same time, I actively rooted for the former and against the latter. Once "Stoner" arose the undisputed airplay victor, though, I came around to the charms of "Danny Glover," which reached its chart peak many months later, when Asylum/Atlantic worked it and tried to tell everyone the title was "2 Bitches." A lot of songs by newer artists blew up this year with stations tacking on an unnecessary verse by an established MC, and Nicki's "Danny Glover" verse was the only one that grew on me enough that I'm willing to think of it as part of the song.

13. Kendrick Lamar - "i"
#11 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #39 Hot 100
The overreaction on both sides about this song has become kind of entrenched to the point that it's hard to talk about it. But I think it's a good song that got treated as a sellout ironically because it wasn't a safe familiar sequel to good kid (or "Control" or whatever people were expecting from a new Kendrick record). It seems like if a street single dropped at the same time, or if this was the single he moved with after the album was out like "Crooked Smile" or "I Can," it wouldn't have caused all that drama, so maybe it was just a strategic error. Still, it deserved better.

14. ScHoolboy Q f/ BJ The Chicago Kid - "Studio"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #38 Hot 100
TDE started the year with a lot of bluster about releasing 6 albums, and wound up with 3 albums and an EP, only one of which was a commercial success. And even ScHoolboy Q's #1 album kind of had a weird defeated air to it, after two really good singles ("Man of the Year" and "Collard Greens") stalled out as minor radio hits and Q started giving all these whiny interviews about regretting signing with Interscope. And "Studio" and "2 On" took off and dude had two songs all over the radio, although both were driven by R&B singers, even the one that was technically his record. Not since Lupe went pop has someone rapped so half-heartedly on their biggest hit. And yet it just sounded great on the radio even when you couldn't ignore the "cause ya girl...cause ya girl" trainwreck endings to the verses.

15. Jeezy f/ Jay-Z - "Seen It All"
#18 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #85 Hot 100
Jay-Z almost never shoots videos for guest verses for anyone besides Beyonce, so if he gives you a verse for a song that isn't especially radio-friendly it seems kind of stupid to make it your lead single. But this year Rick Ross, DJ Khaled, and Jeezy all did just that, and only the latter was a particularly good song that got a decent amount of airplay. It helps that it's one of Jay's verses in years.

16. Yo Gotti - "Errrbody"
#23 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #98 Hot 100
It feels weird to say this about an undistinguished perpetual also-ran like Yo Gotti, but the guy has been on a really impressive, underrated run lately. His 2013 album I Am kept spinning off singles well into 2014, ending up with four medium-sized radio hits, and then he released a new song off the back of those that features perhaps his best rapping and most fully realized concept to date.

17. Snootie Wild f/ Yo Gotti - "Yayo (Remix)"
#27 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Just as 2013 was turning into 2014, I started hearing this "all I know is yayo" song that was kind of goofy but outrageously catchy and had some pretty great flows. Now, almost a year later, a similar song that goes "I'm in love with the coco" is even goofier and far more simplistic and charmless, and will probably go on to be much bigger. Not gonna cry for Snootie Wild or anything, but this song was definitely the better of the two.

18. Future f/ Pusha T, Pharrell and Casino - "Move That Dope"
#3 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #46 Hot 100
In the protracted run-up to Honest, as the momentum rapidly drained from Future's career, this song seemed like an odd single to push as they finally released the album. It worked from a radio standpoint, although at the moment it's still kinda looking like Future's last big hit until and unless he gets another one. And it was cool to hear Pharrell rap maybe his best verse ever in a year when he dropped a solo album with barely any rapping. I still can't believe that, after the trouble Wayne got in for what he said on "Karate Chop," Future thought it was a good idea to say "beating that china like Kunta Kinte," but nobody seemed to notice.

19. Rae Sremmurd - "No Type"
#4 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #17 Hot 100
I'm clearly a "No Flex Zone" partisan, and given how this song has quickly eclipsed its success on the charts, I'm on the wrong side of history. I don't care, this song is just okay, but I'm glad it's so big that their EP just got upgraded to an album and given a release date.

20. Lil Boosie and Webbie f/ Kiara - "Show Da World"
#20 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
I'm glad that the artist currently known as Boozie Bad Azz just released a great mixtape, Life After Deathrow, because it was starting to get odd that the most significant music he released the year he got out of prison was an old pre-sentence track released as a radio single. I hope he's got more hits in him, but this was a nice one to hear while he was getting out, did a good job of capturing the earnest soulful side of Boosie that his detractors never seem to notice.

The 10 Worst Rap Radio Hits of 2014:
1. K. Camp - "Cut Her Off"
2. T.I. f/ Iggy Azalea - "No Mediocre"
3. Ca$h Out - "She Twerkin'"
4. Lil Wayne f/ Drake - "Believe Me"
5. Nicki Minaj f/ Chris Brown, Drake and Lil Wayne - "Only"
6. Kid Ink f/ Chris Brown - "Show Me"
7. Wiz Khalifa - "We Dem Boyz"
8. Future f/ Kanye West - "I Won"
9. iLoveMakonnen f/ Drake - "Tuesday (Remix)"
10. Big Sean f/ E-40 - "I Don't Fuck With You"
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