The 20 Best Rap Radio Hits of 2017

2017 was a pretty interesting year in rap. More than in any other genre, streaming disrupted the usual starmaking channels, and a whole new crop of rappers came out of SoundCloud and elsewhere to run the charts. Some of them translated that success to terrestrial radio, and some didn't (shout out to mercifully not having to hear XXXtentacion on the radio). Drake took his foot off the Hot 100's neck for the first time in 8 years, which helped make things feel a little less stale, and Kendrick and Migos got to enjoy the best years of their respective careers without their relationships with Drake monopolizing the news cycle. 

I put all these songs into a Spotify playlist. And here's the rap lists I did in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, and the 2017 R&B and rock lists I did earlier this week. 

1. Lil Uzi Vert - "XO TOUR Llif3"
#7 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #7 Hot 100
In some ways, the latest wave of rap stars proclaiming themselves 'rock stars' just all feels too familiar to me. Even Lil Uzi Vert's nasal pop punk sense of melody reminds me strongly of Rebirth-era Lil Wayne. But "XO TOUR Llif3" felt to me like a pretty singular moment where it all clicked and I thought Uzi actually shifted into a much more unique figure in pop culture than he was going to be when his biggest song was "Money Longer" or "You Was Right." Thick-skinned gangsta rap fans actually got creeped out by this song until they were given the explanation that "all my friends are dead" just means 'dead presidents.' But what really impresses me about "XO TOUR Llif3" (or for that matter "The Way Life Goes" or XXXtentacion's "Look At Me") is the linear vocal performance where the second chorus is delivered in a completely different intonation from the first, with ebbing and flowing energy in place of the usual static rap hook that's the same every time you hear it.

2. GoldLink f/ Shy Glizzy and Brent Faiyaz - "Crew"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #45 Hot 100
"Crew" was on D.C. radio every day for about 6 months before it caught on in the rest of the country, which means I've been marinating in it for almost a year and I'm still not remotely sick of it. It's hard to think of a time since "Still Tippin'" that 3 artists from the same area got their biggest hit all together with the same song and it crystallized this perfect little cultural moment for a city. I interviewed Shy Glizzy a few years ago and the "Crew" video was shot in the town where I was born, Cheverly, Maryland, so every time this song hit a new peak or got performed on TV or got a Grammy nom, it just felt like this well deserved win that everyone was rooting for.

3. Migos - "T-Shirt"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #19 Hot 100
After he was, as the ancients have said for thousands of years, left off "Bad & Boujee," my personal favorite Takeoff got perhaps his best showcase to date on a Migos single. I don't know why producers would call themselves Nard & B, it sounds like a pair of testicles that sing R&B, but they did an amazing job on the "T-Shirt" beat.

4. Cardi B - "Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #1 Hot 100
Every day, another vapid internet celebrity like Jake Paul or the "cash me outside" girl releases a new awful rap song. But Cardi B, a stripper turned Instagram personality turned VH1 reality star, had the gift of gab to coin a dozen catchphrases before we even heard her rap. And  back in January, when Cardi released her second mixtape and was showing signs of improvement, I said "the more money they put into her production, the higher her ceiling gets." But I wouldn't say that I really could've predicted that she'd release a #1 song just a few months later. And sure, Kodak Black birthed to flow, but to her credit, few people who jack flows have ever given a songwriting credit to the originator, much less named the track after them. And there's some poetic justice in a shitty rapist dude's signature song being hijacked by a woman.

5. Future "Mask Off"

#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #5 Hot 100
It's odd to think that after a half decade of increasing ubiquity, Future hadn't really had a Hot 100 hit on the scale of "Mask Off" or even anything close to it. But that flute loop was enough of a novelty in the context of his catalog that its viral popularity steamrolled right over Epic's planned single. I thought that a chorus where the most memorable lines are "fuck it" and "molly, percocet" would lose a lot in the translation to the radio edit, but after a couple weeks it sounded fine as is.

6. Tee Grizzley - "First Day Out"
#19 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #48 Hot 100
This song is such a blatant rewrite of Meek Mill's "Dreams & Nightmares," but that's one of my favorite songs of the decade, so I'm not really bothered that someone tried to capture a little of that energy for themselves, it really suits Tee Grizzley well.

7. Kendrick Lamar f/ Rihanna - "Loyalty"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #14 Hot 100
I always thought Kendrick's most overt attempt at radio singles, even when successful, felt kind of stiff and forced and conflicted. And "Humble," as much of an instant commercial triumph as it was, just never really sounded good to me. The rest of DAMN. however, was a surprisingly good attempt at a crowd-pleasing record, with some surprises like a far more relaxed and easygoing Rihanna collaboration than rap albums that rely on that song to sell records usually get.

8. 2 Chainz f/ Gucci Mane and Quavo - "Good Drank"
#10 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #70 Hot 100
Mike Dean has spent so many years as an in-house producer for Rap-A-Lot Records before he became part of the endless sequence of 5-producer teams that complex Frankenstein tracks for Kanye West and Travis Scott that it was really refreshing to hear a couple of great southern MCs on a straightforward solo Mike Dean production. Quavo wrote a great hook, but I'll always be grateful for the time he couldn't make it to The Tonight Show to perform the song and 2 Chainz brought out a gospel choir to sing the chorus, really one of my favorite live TV moments of 2017.

9. YFN Lucci f/ PnB Rock - "Everyday We Lit"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #33 Hot 100
I don't know if YFN Lucci always tells his producers to use pianos or what, but his songs always have the best piano sounds. When PnB Rock says "check out my neck," is he referring to his jewelry, his freakishly long neck, or his legendarily bad neck tattoo that says "just do me" next to a janky Nike swoosh?

10. DJ Khaled f/ Beyonce and Jay-Z - "Shining"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #57 Hot 100
It was quickly overshadowed by two pretty awful other singles from the Khaled album, but this song has held up. I used to joke about the terrible track record for Jay-Z/Beyonce collaborations, and I still don't want them to do an album together, but I feel like their hit rate has improved, I love "Shining" and "Family Feud" and "Part II (On The Run)." 

11. Fat Joe & Remy Ma f/ Ty Dolla $ign - "Money Showers"
#14 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Roughly 200 songs were released this year that featured Ty Dolla $ign singing over samples of '80s and '90s R&B hits. And this one, with Ralph Tresvant pleading in the background, was by far my favorite.

12. Playboi Carti "Magnolia"
#21 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #29 Hot 100
Pi'erre Bourne came out of the gate with one of the most memorable producer tags in recent memory, a sample from a 1996 episode of "The Jamie Foxx Show." But what I really enjoyed about "Magnolia" was how Bourne kept Foxx's imitation of a door creaking after the line in the drop, and then looped that sound and made it an integral part of the beat. I think we need to think of this song as an addition to Jamie Foxx's musical canon, alongside bangers like "Slow Jamz" and "Blame It."

13. Travis Scott f/ Kendrick Lamar "Goosebumps"
#8 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #32 Hot 100
Travis Scott made the increasingly trendy decision to not have any feature credits on last year's Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight (except for "Pick Up The Phone," since he basically pried the song away from Young Thug to begin with). So that means that when the album's biggest hit, "Goosebumps," plays on streaming services or appears on Billboard charts,there's no mention of Kendrick Lamar, which is pretty messed up since without him this would just be another track where Travis Scott can barely finish one verse without stammering "orrrr I don't know."

14. Gucci Mane f/ Migos "I Get The Bag"
#4 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #11 Hot 100
Gucci Mane's post-prison career has been like one big well-deserved homecoming party. But I can't help but notice but that guest spots like "Black Beatles" have been bigger than his own records, and he's often felt like a guest on his own recent singles. I wouldn't say this is an indictment of Gucci -- a lot of the best songs on Mr. Davis and Everybody Looking are solo tracks -- so much as it exposes the fact that people are more excited about the idea of Gucci Mane right now than his music. So he'll probably never have another hit like "Lemonade" or "Wasted" where he does the hook and drives the whole thing. But "I Get The Bag" is pretty great and a much more fitting record to become his highest charting solo single than the terrible Drake collab "Both" that dominated radio earlier in the year. 

15. Future - "Incredible"
#29 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
A lot of it was down to timing, and a side effect of just how big "Mask Off" blew up, but I still think that one of the biggest failures of rap radio in 2017 was that an album full of as many potential hits as HNDRXX was almost completely passed over. 

16. Jay-Z - "4:44"
#16 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #35 Hot 100
I don't think "Song Cry 2 (Bawl So Hard)" is really the monument of emotional maturity it's been made out to be, but I still thought this was a pretty good and bold choice for the first radio single from an album that had more overtly radio-friendly songs. 

17. Joe Gifted f/ Frontstreet "Water" 

#23 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
I have no idea who Joe Gifted is or who Frontstreet is or even where they're from, and it seems almost refreshing in today's hip hop climate that anyone got a radio hit without being a full service celebrity with a well known backstory or even a Wikipedia entry. And I like the way this song rips off the "Fuck Up Some Commas" siren. 

18. 2 Chainz f/ Trey Songz, Jhene Aiko and Ty Dolla $ign - "It's A Vibe"
#14 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #44 Hot 100
A rap song featuring three R&B singers looks weird or desperate, but this song really summed up the Pretty Girls Like Trap Music aesthetic pretty well, and Tity's one verse ("gas in a Ziploc, now that's loud and clear") is great. 

19. Yo Gotti f/ Nicki Minaj "Rake It Up"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #8 Hot 100
The Chyna/China/China/China/China bars are ridiculous, but otherwise this songoes off and it really felt like Nicki needed a win like this for her 2017 to have not been completely disastrous. 

20. Jeezy f/ Bankroll Fresh - "All There"
#25 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
It wasn't as big as, say, Juvenile and Soulja Slim's "Slow Motion," but I still think it's kind of cool when major artists take a song they made with someone who recently passed away and make it into a bigger hit than anything that artist had in their lifetime, good sendoff for Bankroll fresh. I still think the title of the song should be "Cheeto What I Snack On," though, that's definitely the most memorable part of the song. 

The 10 Worst Rap Radio Hits of 2017:
1. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie f/ Kodak Black "Drowning"
2. Post Malone f/ 21 Savage "Rockstar"
3. G-Eazy f/ A$AP Rocky and Cardi B - "No Limit"
4. A$AP Ferg - "Plain Jane"
5. 21 Savage "Bank Account"
6. Big Sean "Move" 
7. Nicki Minaj f/ Drake and Lil Wayne "No Frauds"
8. Kodak Black "Tunnel Vision"
9. Lil Pump "Gucci Gang"
10. DJ Khaled f/ Quavo, Chance The Rapper, Lil Wayne and Justin Bieber "I'm The One"
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