The 20 Best Rap Radio Hits of 2015

So here we go: I did this previous in 2012, 2013, and 2014, the best of rap radio plus lists for four other radio formats (pop, rock, R&B, and country). It was an interesting year, not a lot of new blood other than the newly dominant Fetty Wap, but some favorite artists made some of their best singles to date and a few people I don't usually like surprised me. Here's the Spotify playlist.

1. Kendrick Lamar - "Alright"
#17 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #81 Hot 100
A year ago, the public was whipped into a feeding frenzy over an as-yet-untitled Kendrick song called “King Kunta” that a couple people, including Pharrell, had heard. So it was kind of ironic that “Kunta”’s thunder was stolen by a follow-up single co-produced by Pharrell that became the real breakout hit from To Pimp A Butterly. good kid, m.A.A.d city had three singles that reached the top 5 on rap airplay charts, and nothing from TPAB got into the top 10, but "Alright" feels so much like the legacy song from a great album, a perfect 3-minute encapsulation of what Kendrick does better than anyone. Even before people started chanting it at protests, the song took on a power for me in May after the Baltimore uprising, the night the mayor lifted the curfew and I went out to hear music and a DJ dropped "Alright" and it was just the perfect song for that moment. 

2. Fetty Wap  - "Trap Queen"
#1 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #2 Hot 100
The actual rapping on “Trap Queen” is an afterthought, literally: the 8 bars of non-melodic vocals on the song were added to the track a month after the first version without them went up on Soundcloud in early 2014. But with or without the so-so rhymes, Fetty Wap became the biggest rap-singer to hit the charts since T-Pain, if not Nelly, and “Trap Queen” felt like a surreal culmination of trap music’s long weird journey through pop culture ever since T.I. dropped Trap Muzik.

3. Future - "Fuck Up Some Commas"
#7 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #55 Hot 100
I don’t remember the first time I heard “Fuck Up Some Commas.” I mean I remember listening to Monster, with low expectations after the disappointment of Honest, being creeped out by “Throw Away,” and then not listening to the mixtape again for months. But “Commas” didn’t jump out at me as a standout on that tape, and I really had no clue that it or anything else on Monster would soon fuel a huge career turnaround for Future. I came around the song eventually, though – the beat sounds just evil, and that siren sound effect is employed so perfectly that Southside should probably stop trying to make it work in other tracks.

4. Nicki Minaj f/ Drake and Lil Wayne - "Truffle Butter"
#1 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #14 Hot 100
“Bedrock,” an awful song released shortly pretty early in the rise of Drake and Nicki Minaj, was the last time we’d hear Young Money’s three superstars on the same track for almost 5 years. Then The Pinkprint finally gave the world two Nicki/Drake/Wayne collaborations, probably the last ones will ever hear given the way the label is coming apart at the seams lately: the nightmarish tabloid rap of “Only,” and a really fun track called “Truffle Butter” that completely shrugs off whatever importance might be attached to this collaboration in favor of goofy punchlines over the kind of relaxed housey beat that so rarely seeps into EDM-influenced crossover rap. And lemme say this: Lil Wayne outrapped both his proteges on both of these songs, and on almost every other song he's done with either of them. 

5. Rich Homie Quan - "Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)"
#2 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #26 Hot 100
Quan had a weird year – his affiliation with Young Thug came to an apparent end as they both refocused on their solo careers, and while Quan had the biggest solo single either of them put out this year, his mixtapes attracted way less buzz than Thug’s. And while they both had a lot of unreleased music leaked this year, Quan caught a lot of negative attention for sketchy lyrics in his leaked tracks that alluded to rape and incest. And then, his big hit got kind of weirdly overshadowed by the "Hit The Quan" dance inspired by Quan's moves in the "Flex" video. It was a great song and a great moment for him, though, I still think he doesn’t get enough credit for all the flows and memorable lines he packs into just two verses on a song like this.

6. Rae Sremmurd f/ Nicki Minaj and Young Thug - "Throw Sum Mo"
#1 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #30 Hot 100
After a breakout year in 2014 that included three huge hits where he was the dominant voice on the hook and first verse, Young Thug had a strangely muted radio presence in 2015, his only real hit being the 3rd verse on someone else’s song (although “Best Friend” seems to be gearing up to be big in 2016). It was a great song and a great verse, though, with Lil Wayne diss so subliminal that Thug himself may not have realized it, when he says “pulled up with a bitch, she look like New New” (because, see, New New was a character in ATL played by Lauren London, who has a baby by Wayne).

7. Colonel Loud f/ T.I., Young Dolph and Ricco Barrino - "California"
#13 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, # Hot 100
Young Dolph started to crawl out of that lower middle tier of trap rappers this year with the solo hit “Preach,” but he really sounds like a plausible star for the first time on “California,” a song that theoretically belongs to the 4th voice you hear on the track, after the beat and the hook and the Tip and Dolph verses have already commanded your attention.

8. K Camp - "Comfortable"
#7 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #54 Hot 100
“California” features a great Maze sample, but K Camp pretty much got his Frankie Beverly on with his singing on “Comfortable,” one of most disarmingly pretty, warm-hearted rap&B summer jams in recent memory.

9. Silento - "Watch Me"
#10 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #3 Hot 100
The millennial “Land Of 1000 Dances” rolled a half dozen previous southern rap dance crazes, going back as far as the “Crank Dat” era that kind of started it all, into one perfectly digestible pop moment that found its way into presidential campaigns and Nickelodeon promos. “Watch me meh meh” was the #1 most requested song from my 6-year-old in 2015, just as “the happy song” was in 2014.

10. Young Dro - "We In Da City"
#13 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay
Atlanta rap careers are unpredictable but often driven directly by work ethic: we’ve seen artists like Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz and Future ebb and flow and occasionally end up with a major hit seemingly out of sheer will to just keep lobbing songs and mixtapes out until one hits. Young Dro was never the significant force in Atlanta that he arguably deserved to be just off of the strength of his influential lyrical style, but he’s kept plugging away in the 9 years since his career peak, and finally wound up with his biggest solo hit since “Shoulder Lean.”

11. Meek Mill w/ Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown - "All Eyes On You"
#1 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #21 Hot 100
For all the talk of how Meek Mill’s ill-fated beef with Drake destroyed his future career prospects, or how his relationship with Nicki Minaj was becoming a PR problem for one or both of them, it was interesting to see their slow jam duet continue rising up the airplay charts, hit #1 and stay there long after the smoke cleared from the Drake disses. And as mushy R&B rap songs go, it legitimately is a great one, creatively repurposing the “Notorious Thugs” flow and, for pretty much the only time in recent memory, justifying Chris Brown’s appearance with a great chorus.

12. Fetty Wap f/ Remy Boyz - "679"
#2 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #4 Hot 100
Pity poor P-Dice – he may not possess Fetty Wap’s charisma or prowess with a hook, but his “679” verse is better than any of the 9 guest spots his former groupmate Monty placed on Fetty’s debut album. But P-Dice had the misfortune to fall out with the other Remy Boyz just as one of them was becoming a pop phenomenon, and that one amusing Loon-referencing verse will probably remain his only moment in the spotlight forever.

13. Dej Loaf f/ Big Sean - "Back Up"
#11 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #47 Hot 100
Nobody in mainstream rap in 2015 fits more punchlines into every verse than Big Sean, and nobody has a worse ratio of good punchlines to bad punchlines than Big Sean (these are not unrelated statistics). So when he gets off a concise, well executed line, I almost want to cheer him on like Charlie Brown finally kicked the football. “See what I’m saying, no closed caption” is still his best, but “the check is 7 figures, I might try and dial the shit” is up there. 

14. Rae Sremmurd - "This Could Be Us"
#9 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #49 Hot 100
Rae Sremmurd may have gotten compliments on their melodicism from Rivers Cuomo, and won out over Prince for the distinction of the best song based on the “this could be us but you playin’” Twitter meme, but truly “This Could Be Us” is the best Billy Joel song in decades. And Slim Jimmy does a hell of a good Project Pat impression for someone who was 7 years old when Mista Don’t Play dropped.

15. Nicki Minaj f/ Beyonce - "Feeling Myself"
#8 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #39 Hot 100
In the cluttered and crowded The Pinkprint radio campaign, “Feeling Myself” wasn’t as big as it should’ve been – it bubbled up very briefly between “Only” and “Truffle Butter,” and the very popular “Feeling Myself” video didn’t appear until months after the song peaked on the charts. But it’s a great song, and a great showcase for both Nicki and B, in all the ways that people said the “Flawless” remix was but it really wasn’t. The beat was so sick that even Just Blaze bowed down.

16. Future f/ Drake - "Where Ya At"
#3 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #28 Hot 100
I was a wet blanket about declaring “Where Ya At” the worst song on DS2 when the album first dropped, and I still resent Drake for jumping on the album at the last second and instantly designating whatever song he appeared on as the de facto single. But the song has grown on me a lot since then, thanks to the fantastic beat, the hilarious video, and the fact that it’s better than every single track on What A Time To Be Alive.

17. Kevin Gates f/ August Alsina - "I Don't Get Tired"
#23 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #90 Hot 100
Seemingly overnight, Kevin Gates went from a rapper who put out a lot of great music with minimal mainstream recognition to this weird social media flashpoint who's famous for talking about booty eating and fucking his cousin and saying "I don't get tired" a lot but still not for his music. So he spun his catchphrase into a song, and it was actually really good, and I'm curious to hear if he can make more singles this strong to finally overshadow all the weird shit.

18. Kid Ink f/ Dej Loaf - "Be Real"
#14 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #43 Hot 100
 The list is almost over, and I'm just now getting to the only DJ Mustard song on the list. Other than 2014 releases like "I Don't Fuck With U" and "Post To Be" that got burn well into 2015, he was really pretty much absent, but "Be Real" was really one of my favorite beats he's done in a while. I wish Dej Loaf got the whole song to herself instead of letting a loser who can't write hooks like Kid Ink benefit from that chorus, but at least "Back Up" came along and gave her a hit of her own this year. 

19. 2 Chainz - "Watch Out"
#29 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay
After one big album and one underperforming (but great) sequel, 2 Chainz has more or less returned to the ATL mixtape wilderness from whence he came, but he occasionally pokes his head out and reminds me why he was briefly a pretty big star -- I'm actually kind of looking forward to his mixtape with Wayne, I think they could be better together than they've been as solo artists lately. "Watch Out" is interesting because it's such a clear copy of the sound of OG Maco's "U Guessed It," which 2 Chainz appeared on the radio remix of, but somehow he takes that overrated song and fits more interesting flows and better punchlines into it and makes the formula his own. It charted better than "U Guessed It," which was funny given Maco's boasts of being able to cynically manipulate the masses into loving his supposedly deliberately bad song. 

20. Kanye West - "All Day"
#8 R&B/Hip Hop Airplay, #15 Hot 100
Kanye West, who I’m pretty sure lost his once-palpable passion for writing rhymes even before 808s & Heartbreak and never really regained it, announced his return to the spotlight at the top of 2015 by Yellow Ledbettering his way through a pair of drumless mumbleballads. And then he released an actual rap song with a kind of resigned, perfunctory air, after Kendrick and Lupe helped him finish writing the verses. “All Day” isn’t a fraction of the banger people anticipated it being back in 2014 when it was a leaked demo and an interview talking point, and Paul McCartney’s melodic contribution was better when he whistled it on a talk show over a decade ago, but the song still represented a decent little rap radio jam, really his first since Cruel Summer almost 3 years earlier. 

The 10 Worst Rap Radio Hits of 2015:
1. Post Malone - "White Iverson"
2. Wiz Khalifa f/ Charlie Puth - "See You Again"
3. Travi$ Scott - "Antidote"
4. J. Cole - "No Role Modelz"
5. J. Cole - "Wet Dreamz"
6. J. Cole - "Apparently"
7. Drake - "How About Now"
8. Big Sean f/ Drake and Kanye West - "Blessings (Remix)"
9. T-Wayne - "Nasty Freestyle"
10. Chedda Da Connect - "Flicka Da Wrist"
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