The 20 Best Rap Radio Hits of 2016.
I've been doing this for 5 years now (see 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015), so you know how it goes. Here's the Spotify playlist.
1. Chance The Rapper f/ 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne "No Problem"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #43 Hot 100
Much like Rich Homie Quan had last year's biggest rap radio hit on an indie label, there's been an impressive amount of radio hits in 2015 without a major label behind them, including #1, #2 and #10 on this list. But what struck me most about the biggest of those songs is that it opens with Chance The Rapper openly threatening any major label that stands in his way (apparently Def Jam blocked a Big Sean verse from appearing on Coloring Book, which is a net positive, but whatever). And then the song ends with a rapper who's made hundreds of millions of dollars for major labels pleading for the release of his long-shelved album, which is probably the best possible advertisement for Chance's DIY business model.
2. Young M.A "OOOUUU"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #19 Hot 100
At the beginning of the year, I thought the minor airplay of The Internet's "Girl" and Gizzle's verse on Puff Daddy's "You Could Be My Lover" might represent some new visibility and acceptance of queer women on urban radio, not knowing that someone as uproarious and brash as Young M.A would kick in the door rapping about her strap-on in heavy rotation a few months later. Even though her big hit jacks the flow of another New York rapper's breakthrough song from a couple years earlier, Bobby Shmurda, "OOOUUU" still feels as fresh and unexpected now as it did the first time I heard it in June, a few weeks before its national buzz picked up. And I knew it was one of my favorite beats of the year when I felt offended by the bad replica beat Nicki Minaj used for her freestyle.
3. Kevin Gates - "Really Really"
#16 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #46 Hot 100
Translating the popularity of a steady trickle of mixtapes and singles into a blockbuster album is biggest career hurdle facing southern rappers these days, and Atlantic's patient rollout for Islah is a model of how to do it right. "Really Really" was hanging around the Hot 100 for months and going platinum even before it went to radio as the follow-up to "2 Phones," and even if it wasn't as big a hit as I wanted it to be, it still felt like one of those perfect crossover anthems like T.I. used to make.
4. Young Greatness - "Moolah"
#11 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #85 Hot 100
I think my biggest surprise of 2016 is that Jazze Pha came out of nowhere with one of my favorite beats. Where has that dude been all those years?
5. DJ Khaled f/ Drake - "For Free"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #13 Hot 100
Drake is the biggest rapper of the decade and this year he released his biggest album, but there was a little cognitive dissonance in that for the first time in his career, the 4 most popular songs on the album were ones he sang on. And most of the rap songs on Views were really just not fun at all and were responsible for the album's muted critical reception. So a goofy 2-minute sex rap that Drake tossed to DJ Khaled to throw ad libs on ended up being by far his most memorably moment as a rapper in 2016, because he actually sounded like he was having fun and trying a different kind of beat.
6. O.T. Genasis f/ Young Dolph - "Cut It"
#4 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #35 Hot 100
O.T. Genasis is an odd artist: a rapper from Long Beach who came up under the wing of Busta Rhymes and makes the most cartoonish caricature of trap music in the world. But after "Coco" sounded like an obvious one hit wonder, he came back with a bigger and much better song that grudgingly earned my respect, and continued Young Dolph's run of memorable guest verses that are bigger than any of his solo singles.
7. Young Thug - "Best Friend"
#8 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #45 Hot 100
Although "Best Friend" was one of the clear breakouts of Young Thug's flood of summer 2015 music, 300 took their sweet time promoting it to radio and finally gave him his first solo platinum single.
8. Rae Sremmurd f/ Gucci Mane - "Black Beatles"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #1 Hot 100
After SremmLife's staggering run of 5 platinum singles, Rae Sremmurd's second album got off to a slow start with 2 singles that failed to connect and had SremmLife 2 looking like it would go down as rap's Pinkerton. And then, "Black Beatles" started the climb the charts, and the viral "mannequin challenge" gave the song that extra boost to turn it into a crossover smash. But I think my favorite thing about this song is that it features one of Gucci Mane's best recent verses and him having his first #1 kind of puts a perfect cap on his 2016 comeback.
9. D.R.A.M. f/ Lil Yachty - "Broccoli"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #5 Hot 100
In this post-Drake world where every rapper sings and every singer raps, it's hard to know exactly where to situate some of these songs when I do genre-based lists. So I make judgment calls like that Dreezy is a rapper who sang on her biggest hit, and D.R.A.M. is a singer who rapped on his biggest hit. All year, even before they appeared on the XXL Freshmen issue cover, Lil Yachty was one of the 4 horsemen of the 2016 rap generation gap apocalypse along with Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage and Kodak Black. But while those guys are still slowly creeping into light rotation on radio, Yachty's "Broccoli" feature became the first real serious hit out of that group, but I would still say that I prefer D.R.A.M.'s verse, which I identify with very strongly because I too define prosperity by how often I can eat a nova lox bagel.
10. YFN Lucci f/ Migos and Trouble "Key To The Streets"
#11 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #70 Hot 100
"Key To The Streets" is not the best possible breakthrough song for YFN Lucci because I suspect that a lot of people just hear Quavo's voice and assume that the other prominent voice on the song is one of the other Migos. But it's also an effective signature for Lucci in the sense that all of his best songs are forlorn-sounding piano ballads.
11. Dae Dae - "Wat U Mean (Aye, Aye, Aye)"
#7 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #66 Hot 100
"Wat U Mean" features probably the best opening bars of any of these songs, I just love the way Dae Dae lays into his flow before the drums kick in. And as a boring old dad it's kind of nice to have a rap hit that is very plainly just about working hard to feed your family.
12. Fat Joe and Remy Ma featuring French Montana - "All The Way Up"
#7 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #27 Hot 100
Much like Gucci on "Black Beatles," I think my favorite thing about "All The Way Up" is that it helped revive Remy Ma's post-prison rap career after it looked like she might just settle into a VH1 reality show career purgatory.
13. Future - "Wicked"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #41 Hot 100
In further proof that mixtape rappers really have no idea what songs will connect and when, "Wicked" was tossed out on Future's free January mixtape Purple Reign and then became a bigger hit than anything on the chart-topping February album EVOL, so it was eventually tacked onto the end of the album.
14. Yo Gotti f/ E-40 - "Law"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #79 Hot 100
A couple years Jay-Z's senior, E-40 is the oldest rapper who still has new music on the radio, with a run of guest verses on hits by Big Sean, Ty Dolla $ign and Yo Gotti, and two of his biggest later solo singles ("Function" and "Choices") were certified platinum this year. But I mostly like "Law" because it kind of got back to what Yo Gotti excels at, after he had the biggest song of his career with a goofy "ten Instagram commandments" song about social media etiquette.
15. Amine - "Caroline"
#27 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #12 Hot 100
I had no idea what to make of this song at first, but I like it more every time I hear it, and I feel like it's still on its way to getting much bigger.
16. DJ Luke Nasty - "Might Be"
#4 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #78 Hot 100
Anderson Paak is one of the more buzzed about new artists of 2016, but while he's still waiting on his own first radio hit, another artist basically jacked the beat and hook of a song from one of his indie albums and rode it to heavy rotation. It's kind of fucked, but I still like Luke Nasty's version of "Might Be" as much as Paak's, if not more.
17. Kevin Gates - "2 Phones"
#5 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #17 Hot 100
Brittany "Starrah" Hazzard is the 2016 MVP you probably haven't heard of, co-writing Kevin Gates's biggest hit as well as Rihanna's "Needed Me," Dreezy's "Body," Drake's "Fake Love," and a shitload of other hot songs. Don't sleep.
18. Travi$ Scott and Young Thug f/ Quavo - "Pick Up The Phone"
#16 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #43 Hot 100
Another Starrah hook, which Travi$ Scott was canny enough to rescue from the growing pile of potential hits in Young Thug's vault.
19. Curren$y f/ Lil Wayne and August Alsina - "Bottom Of The Bottle"
#14 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #97 Hot 100
15 years after Curren$y started his career with post-peak No Limit and a full decade after he had one minor hit with Young Money and jumped ship before it became a star factory, Curren$y reunited with Lil Wayne and landed the biggest radio song of his career. It doesn't really represent much of what's made him a respected cult star, but it's a catchy little song.
20. Plies - "Ran Off On The Plug Twice"
#27 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
True story: the teleprompting company I work for does a lot of work with Ritz Carlton's parent company, Marriott, and I found myself at the Ritz Carlton HQ in Chevy Chase, Maryland with their chief officer of sales and marketing right around the time "Ritz Carlton" by Plies was blowing up. I asked him if he'd heard the song and he replied "oh, we know about it" with the weary tone that gave me the impression they knew they could neither stop the song nor capitalize on "wanna fuck me, baby, pull up at the Ritz Carlton." In the end, though, Plies changed the song title to one of the lines in the verses that went viral, which maybe gave that guy a little less of a headache.
The 10 Worst Rap Radio Hits of 2016:
1. Desiigner - "Panda"
2. Wale - "My PYT"
3. ScHoolboy Q f/ Kanye West - "THat Part"
4. Lil Dicky f/ Fetty Wap and Rich Homie Quan - "Save Dat Money"
5. DJ Khaled f/ Nicki Minaj, August Alsina, Chris Brown, Rick Ross, Jeremih, and Future - "Do You Mind"
6. MadeinTYO - "Uber Everywhere"
7. A$AP Ferg f/ Future - "New Level"
8. TK N Cash - "3 Times In A Row"
9. Fetty Wap - "Wake Up"
10. Lil Yachty - "1 Night"