The 20 Best Rap Radio Hits of 2013

These days, it feels like event albums and mixtapes have taken over the mainstream rap conversation to the degree that hit singles matter less and less. But as much as Kanye wants to wear Yeezus's lack of radio hits as a badge of pride, there is actually some good shit on rap radio these days, much of it by his buddies, so fuck that narrative. Sure, there's a lot of trend-chasing, but there's also a lot of trendsetting, and as always it's interesting to see the sound of radio keep changing, one song at a time, in subtle ways, as the careers of various rappers are nudged up and down by the success and failure of those singles. 

Here's the Spotify playlist

1. Ace Hood f/ Future and Rick Ross - "Bugatti"
#11 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #33 Hot 100
One of the things that really makes Mike WiLL Made It’s tracks standout, even in a year when there are so many of them on the radio that they all kinda blur together, is that he can really make the energy of the beat rise and fall in a way that rappers can’t help but interact with when writing to the beat. Often this means that even the choruses have these 2-part structures where things start out calm in the first half and them explode with the anthemic second half – “No Lie” and “Bandz A Make Her Dance” are good example of this, but “Bugatti” has to be the ultimate. Future fits so much tension into just the hook that he just owns the song, no matter how hard Ace Hood works at grabbing the spotlight, though his effort does ultimately benefit the song. Instead it’s Rick Ross who almost stops the song dead in its tracks, if it weren’t unstoppable, with that lethargic flow and vague supervillain threats of ordering drone strikes on broke boys not quite matching the vibe of the rest of the song.

2. Rich Homie Quan - "Type of Way"
#7 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #50 Hot 100
Whether Future and Rich Homie Quan are just from the same neighborhood or if there’s some more pointed origin of their shared vocal tone, it felt pretty notable that in the year of Future Hendrix’s rap radio saturation, the biggest hit from a rookie was by someone so often compared to him. I’ve even heard DJs blend “Type of Way” and “Honest” together lately, which I’m sure would irritate both of them to hear. But whether or not Quan ever gets as big as Future or fully distinguishes himself as not merely a soundalike, this song feels pretty huge and singular to me, just a fantastic hook and beat and a ton of quotables in the ad libs alone.

3. Yo Gotti f/ YG and Young Jeezy - "Act Right"
#18 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #100 Hot 100
One of the big sounds of the year was Southern rappers over Bay Area-style post-hyphy beats, usually produced by DJ Mustard, but the best one of the year ended up being by another producer, P-Lo, although I and many others frequently misattributed “Act Right” to Mustard anyway. This song and “Bugatti” were big songs to me primarily because they felt like the return of genuinely great hi-hat programming to mainstream rap hits, after a few years of Lex Luger-style hi-hat splatter. Yo Gotti has had such a consistently middling career, scraping by and intermittently catching some momentum off of occasional surprise hits or big name collaborations, but he’s never caught a record as great as this one.

4. Kendrick Lamar f/ Jay-Z - "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe (Remix)"
#2 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #32 Hot 100
Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City was a dope album but I didn’t really feel like I became a Kendrick fan until 2013 – both as this year’s lackluster event albums invariably paled in comparison, and as his run of guest verses showed that he wasn’t entirely the pious, po-faced poet that I sometimes found dull on the album. But even more than the ever-divisive “Control,” it was the remix of “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” that really impressed me, as he ran circles around both Jay-Z’s middling verse and his own verses from the original, eventually making me love a song that I’d previously regarded as a low point on the album. 

5. J. Cole f/ Miguel - "Power Trip"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #19 Hot 100
J. Cole is one of the more divisive newer stars in hip-hop – depending who you ask he’s either the heir to Nas or a laughable chump. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between, but one song that most people could agree on was “Power Trip” (although I think it’s still a little overrated in that it’s about equal to last year’s slept on hit “Nobody’s Perfect” featuring Missy Elliott). The “I Love H.E.R.”-style metaphor at the center of the song is the worst thing about it, but the production is genuinely odd, all these different clunky rhythms and ugly textures somehow locking together to create something addictively catchy that J. Cole sounds great flowing to.

6. 2 Chainz f/ Pharrell - "Feds Watching"
#10 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #66 Hot 100
When 2013 unexpectedly became The Year Of Pharrell on the back of two groovy pop hits, it was instantly inevitable that some rappers would attempt to piggyback on the buzz, despite the fact that the Neptunes hadn’t made a hot rap single in maybe 8 years. It seemed like a terrible idea for 2 Chainz of all people to link up with Skateboard P, and the middling commercial performance of both the song and its album ostensibly bear that out, but this song was a hell of a grower, every verse is fire and the chorus is massive.

7. Wale f/ Tiara Thomas - "Bad"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #21 Hot 100
Wale becoming rap radio’s biggest non-Drake purveyor of R&B slow jams since Ja Rule has generally been an unexpected and terrible development. But this song is pretty undeniable, and while I prefer the original Tiara Thomas solo version, Wale did his thing and didn’t fuck it up too much.

8. Lil Wayne f/ Drake and Future - "Love Me"
#5 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #9 Hot 100
2013 was the year that Lil Wayne’s half decade of constant artistic deterioration finally seemed to be noticed by the general public, and the way I Am Not A Human Being II relied heavily on other artists still at the top of their game seemed to implicitly acknowledge that. Still, his verses on this were pretty catchy, as far as filler between Future hooks went this year.

9. Sage The Gemini - "Red Nose"
#22 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #52 Hot 100
When Billboard started implementing changes to their charts over the past 14 months that weighed YouTube and other streaming sites to a degree that seemingly often trumps radio play, it seemed to primarily benefit corny white rap like Macklemore or skeevy viral things like Baauer’s “Harlem Shake,” and put any non-superstar street rappers at an extreme disadvantage. But in the past few months, something unexpected happened, when Vine memes started to spill over onto YouTube and iTunes and give a chart resurgence to regional rap and strip club rap, mostly by Bay Area artists, including The FiNaTTicz, Clyde Carson, and two songs by Sage The Gemini. “Gas Pedal” got the bigger download numbers of the two Sage songs, but “Red Nose” was the one that took off at radio, becoming the first Vine rap phenomenon to carry over to radio.

10. YG f/ Rich Homie Quan and Young Jeezy - "My N***a"
#9 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #19 Hot 100
Coming quickly on the heels of Sage’s Vine rap radio breakthrough, however, is this even bigger YG song. I remember the first time I caught wind of this song catching on, I looked around on Vine and saw a ton of videos of white people mouthing the N-word, which really turned me off the song for a while, but it’s pretty undeniable. Also you can just go with the official clean edit, “My Hitta,” or the popular alternate lyric, “Mac Miller, Mac Miller, Mac Miller.” Half of Quan’s hook is basically a retread of the mixtape Weezy classic “Sky Is The Limit,” though.

11. Young Jeezy f/ 2 Chainz - "R.I.P."
#12 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #58 Hot 100
I feel like this song would’ve had more impact if “I’m Different” hadn’t beaten it to the punch, but it still felt like a pretty key moment in DJ Mustard’s stealth takeover of southern rap, and this song has really had legs relative to its overall popularity.

12. Meek Mill - "Levels"
#40 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Meek Mill’s “Dreams & Nightmares” was maybe my favorite rap song period of the last couple years, and got a lot of club/mix show burn (and was, weirdly, a daytime heavy rotation hit on Baltimore’s 92Q), so I thought about including it here, but really it was “Levels” (and to a lesser degree "Believe It") that gave him some life on the airplay charts this year. Still should’ve been much bigger than it was, though, felt like Meek using his great “Started From The Bottom” remix as a jumping off point to take that sound further.

13. Future f/ Kelly Rowland - "Neva End (Remix)"
#5 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #52 Hot 100
“Turn Off The Lights” hitting as a single may have been the watershed moment that turned Future into the new auteur of the rap ballad, but the other song he and Mike WiLL Made It recorded the very same night has always been its equal to me. And I loved how Kelly Ro brought just the right amount of new flavor to the remix so that releasing those songs as back-to-back singles didn’t feel too redundant.

14. 2 Chainz - "Used 2"
#31 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
In 2013, a lot of the talk was about everyone copping Ma$e flows, but I think it may be more notable that Juvenile “Back That Azz Up” flows popped up on both “Used 2” and Jay-Z’s next single, “Part II (On The Run).” Like T.I.’s “Ball” last year, there’s an odd feeling seeing Lil Wayne show up in grimy New Orleans rap videos only when one of his Atlanta buddies wants to pay homage to ‘90s Cash Money.

15. Jay-Z f/ Rick Ross - "Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit"
#30 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #64 Hot 100
Big Sean may spend the rest of his career regretting that he didn’t get to keep “Clique” to launch Hall Of Fame. And to a lesser extent, I think Rick Ross may live to regret that he let Jay keep this song for Magna Carta Holy Grail when it probably would’ve been a huge lead single for Mastermind, especially compared to boring-ass “No Games” (although apparently there’s a new Rozay/Jay collaboration called “The Devil Is A Lie” coming, so we’ll see how that does). Jay-Z doesn’t even show up until 2 and a half minutes in, which makes it barely his song to an even greater degree than that Jeezy song that was the best thing about The Blueprint 3.

16. Kendrick Lamar f/ Drake - "Poetic Justice"
#3 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #26 Hot 100
“Poetic Justice” hit as a single right around the time that Game did a stupid song sampling D’Angelo’s “Lady,” so I had a moment where I thought rap radio was just gonna start defiling the memories of ‘90s R&B’s greatest moments, in some kind of reverse Ashanti situation. So far, though, that hasn’t quite happened, and I’ve come around to really digging “Poetic Justice.”

17. Wale f/ Juicy J and Nicki Minaj - "Clappers"
#12 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
The rap industry’s current obsession with piling features on singles, even when they don’t fit the artist, reached its apex in 2013, when Wale featuring Juicy J and Juicy J featuring Wale were both on the radio at the same time, when nobody really wanted to hear them on a song together in the first place. That’s not to say that Juice and Nicki didn’t kill “Clappers,” though, which seemed specifically engineered to appeal to me right down to the title. Living near D.C. for most of my life, I’ll never be mad at Wale putting Go-Go samples on national radio, especially with R.I.P. shout outs to Chuck Brown. The Gifted wasn't shit as an album, but this, "Bad" and "Love Hate Thing" may be low key the best trio of hits any rap album had this year. 

18. Juicy J f/ Big Sean and Young Jeezy - "Show Out"
#23 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #75 Hot 100
Mike WiLL Made It was one of 5 credit producers on G.O.O.D. Music’s “Mercy,” so it’s unclear what he specifically contributed to that beat. But he was the only producer on “Show Out,” and that song absolutely feels like some kind of echo of “Mercy,” whether deliberate or not, in the tempo, the central synth riff, and in the vocal cadence of the chorus (“Lamborghini, mercy” = “every time I go out,” etc.). But it also knocked, so I didn't mind. And again, it was way better than "Bounce It," which was for some reason more successful. 

19. Migos f/ Drake - "Versace (Remix)"
#15 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #99 Hot 100
Zaytoven really never got the props he deserved when Gucci was hot, so him getting hot again is probably my favorite thing about the whole Migos project, which I have mixed feelings about. The degree to which Drake’s verse overshadowed the original song that originated his flow was pretty stupid, though – that Ebro interview where he basically told Migos to their faces that he never listened to the song past the Drake verse was pretty ridiculous, classic New York industry bullshit.

20. French Montana - "Ain't Worried About Nothin'"
#10 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #63 Hot 100
Over the last couple years, one of the biggest patterns in major label rap is Drake handing new stars the surefire lead single to get their album a release date, followed by a lot of unsuccessful flailing in an attempt to have a hit without Drake (although Kendrick may have put an end to his generosity this year). French seemed like the least likely rapper to buck that trend, especially after his terrible album sales made "Pop That" seem even more like a fluke success that had nothing to do with him. And then he turned around and had a genuine solo hit, albeit one that sounded like an unapologetic mashup of Wayne's "No Worries" and Watch The Throne's "Who Gon' Stop Me." 

Bonus bile:
The 10 Worst Rap Radio Hits of 2013
1. Jay-Z f/ Justin Timberlake - "Holy Grail"
2. Rocko f/ Rick Ross and Future - "UOENO"
3. Future f/ Lil Wayne - "Karate Chop (Remix)"
4. DJ Khaled f/ Drake, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross - "No New Friends (SFTB Remix)"
5. Drake - "Started From The Bottom"
6. B.o.B f/ Juicy J and T.I. - "We Still In This Bitch"
7. Mike WiLL Made It f/ Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J - "23"
8. Rich Gang f/ Birdman, Lil Wayne, Mack Maine, Nicki Minaj and Future - "Tapout"
9. Drake f/ 2 Chainz and Big Sean - "All Me"
10. Big Sean f/ Jhene Aiko and Lil Wayne - "Beware"
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