It’s been a little over one year since The Rap Year Book hit book shelves around the world. On October 13th, 2015, the New York Times best-selling author, Shea Serrano, took hip-hop fans of all generations on a historical journey in order to unearth the most iconic and instrumental rap songs ever created. Year by year, beginning in 1979, and continuing all the way to 2014, where “Lifestyle” by Rich Gang (featuring Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan) took the crown as the most influential.
Now, it’s October 2016, and we’ve been held witness to a plethora of significant musical moments in rap over the last two years and thus, the team here at RLGT decided to once again, team up, and bring you our wide array of opinions and perspectives.
What were the most significant moments in rap music in 2015 & 2016? The team answers down below.
@thomasjdjohnson: Blacker the Berry – Kendrick Lamar (2015)
“Blacker The Berry” was the most important rap song of 2015 because it was the loudest assertion of rap’s renewed conviction. Hip-Hop has always been political, never afraid to rub ways wrong, and more often than not gleeful at the prospect of spiking pundits blood pressure.
“Berry” wraps those inclinations in a blunt and drops the ash in the middle of gentrified America. At the 58th Grammy’s (which, as a program and snapshot of The U.S. in the 21st century failed him once again) he (w)rapped his shackles around the mic, as the chain-gang behind him shuttered into place. The air became brittle, fragile and promised to snap.
When he confesses his hypocrisy to a crowd that would later applaud Taylor Swift for having the highest-selling album of the year, he shattered the atmosphere into a bajillion little pieces then stomped all over them. A bonfire raged on, African in Los Angeles. The air became sticky with the collective exhales of a very panicked white-America. Kendrick has long been a people’s champ, an arbiter for “real hip-hop, bro,” but “Blacker The Berry” brought with it a dramatic shift in his career trajectory. Until, he had been the staggeringly gifted heir to Compton, a narrative wunderkind gifted in poetics and prose with an uncanny grasp of the marginalized perspective. Since, he’s been the braided pinnacle of arts most politicized medium. It put him on par with Bob Dylan and Marvin Gaye, architects of music-as- fight.
You could say “Blacker The Berry” is his “Times Are A-Changin,’” but Bob Dylan was never this pissed, and his banjo strummed for the military conflict in Vietnam, not the one in between Canada and Mexico. So don’t say that. You don’t need to say anything really, Lamar doesn’t give you that option.
“Blacker The Berry” is not a “yeah, but…” song. It’s barely even a song; it’s slap across the face that had been winding up since imperial ships departed Africa with human cargo. It’s rap more fed-up than ever and —at a still-rising commercial dominance—giving zero fucks who listens to it. It’s both inspiration for the oppressed and unapologetic warning to the oppressors: Kendrick Lamar is black as the heart of a fucking aryan. Deal with it.
For what it’s worth, the best rap song of 2015 was a tie between “Twerk It” off Slime Season 2, “Notice Me” off Slime Season 2, and every single other song on Slime Season 2. But the most important rap song of 2015 was Kendrick Lamar’s “Blacker The Berry.”
@hussonz: White Iverson – Post Malone (2015)
The song begins with an undemanding and pacifying instrumental that serves as the perfect catalyst to the introduction of a voice from the new school. Post Malone’s voice is distorted yet, still permissive. His vocals sound as if they are drowning, yet they ricochet through the speakers and bounce around before you.
Now the chorus hits and we’re welcomed with the lyrics that we all can remember being etched into our vernaculars for an entire year: saucin’, saucin’, I’m saucin’ on you / I’m swaggin’, I’m swaggin’, I’m swaggin’ oh ooh / I’m ballin’, I’m ballin’, Iverson on you. The traditional trap snares that our genre has come to know so well accompany this unpretentiously compelling lyricism.
You continue listening past the memorable introduction and here comes the enchanting piano shadowed by even more echoing drums. Post’s captivating voice continues on over the harmoniously complete beat for four hypnotizing minutes. And once the song finishes, you can’t help but recognize that you’ve been held witness to a brilliant musical moment.
Part of identifying an important moment in rap history is simply looking past the musical composition and recognizing the budding effects that the song radiates to it’s surrounding.
At the time of composition, Post Malone was an 18-year-old. He had a couple-hundred twitter followers. He had one song on his Soundcloud. The tools at his disposal consisted of FL Studio and Guitar Hero. He was a suburban white kid that grew up in Texas and had a love for rap music. All these notions of normalcy, yet he came to be brilliant.
There’s this idea of regularity and uncomplicatedness that radiates from Post Malone and his music. An idea that we can’t help but recognize as something that we can all learn from going forth in whatever path we chose as our own.
Sometimes being unpretentious and normal has its moments. And that’s what we can all learn from “White Iverson.”
@hospey: Trap Queen – Fetty Wap* (2015)
(*Although “Trap Queen” was released in 2014, the song technically didn’t become the smash that it did until 2015- sue me.)
It’s hard to argue that 2015 wasn’t the year of Fetty Wap. Put in the most vulgar way possible, Fetty went from a random Soundcloud rapper with one eye from not New York City, to the New Jersey reppin’, hit-making machine that was behind a handful of the years biggest rap hits. It’s safe to say once you get a Drake feature you’ve commercially made it – but even before “My Way” blew up, the ENTIRE world was singing along to “Trap Queen.”
An infectious beat (which was bought for a couple hundred dollars on Soundcloud) with an unmistakably memorable intro, captivating lyricism (although not quite on the level of “The like ‘Monty, can you be my baby daddy?’, I’m like Yea”), and a unique sing-song rapping style quickly made “Trap Queen” the biggest song in the country.It all happened out of nowhere. Once proving himself with a few more hits, and dropping a (mostly) successful debut album later in the year, Fetty Wap became a household name in 2015.
Though we haven’t heard much from the rap-game’s Cyclops since, best bet at least one more hit to remind us what once was will be soon to come.
@raysuniverse: Antidote – Travis Scott (2015)
Travis $cott might be one of the more interesting characters in modern day hip hop. As far as his sound goes he’s clearly admitted to not being an expert in creating sophisticated lyrics and probably doesn’t care much to do so; but instead he’s captured the attention of millions by incorporating those hard hitting 808 drums, aggressive trap elements and auto-tune to supplement his simple messages.
Combining all of those components has given La Flame the perfect recipe to serve up his fans a large platter of bangers over the last couple of years. “Antidote” is Travis Scott’s most perfect example of his craft. Officially released on July 28th, 2015, the WondaGurl and Eestbound produced track was the second single off of Scott’s debut studio album Rodeo released on September 4th, 2016.
With “Antidote,” there is a certain cloud of energy that follows where the song goes and immediately becomes infectious to any individual that listens to it.
Although the track makes for one of the best songs to turn up to, its dark nature also makes it very versatile for occasions of the listener’s choosing. From festivals to house parties, or from train commutes to chilling in your backyard, “Antidote” is by far one of the few tracks of 2015 that can guarantee a lift of energy in any environment.
@carlyweiler: Foreign Fields – Kacy Hill (2015)
Ok, ok, you caught me. No, Foreign Fields is not technically a rap song, but if you look at the bigger picture it very much is a rap song – but more importantly it is a very important song for 2015.
In 2014, Hill signed with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music label, being not only the second female to ever sign with them (important), but also the first “non-hip hop” artist as well (important), going on to release this absolutely breathtaking work of art – Foreign Fields – from her EP Bloo in 2015. But I say non-hip hop lightly, because even though Hill is described as having a dream-pop sound, it is evident through her lyrics that she is more than some pop princess.
Foreign Fields is probably one of the most poetic songs I’ve ever heard, and isn’t that kind of the basis for rap? I mean, check out the last few lyrics of verse 2: “Velvet touch to swollen brace / Languorous movements we both make / Lithe perception, who’s to blame? / Osculate until we break”.
If I were reading that without knowing the context or sound behind it, I would think that maybe Kendrick Lamar wrote it (and that he had gone a little soft). To me, lyrics like Hill’s hold more of a hip-hop air than anything from the pop realm – they are what make her songs so unique. She herself even said in an interview that she is “obsessed” with words, constantly striving to find the next big, beautiful thing.
Being under G.O.O.D Music, Hill has been able to enter the rap world by a means inherently unconventional to the style of rap – in a way that could very well change the way we perceive genres in years to come.
@thomasjdjohnson: FDT – YG (2016)
“Fuck Donald Trump” is the most important rap song of 2016. It just is. I know it, you know it, and neither of us need to see next months election results to explain why. Your mom and her book-club friends know it, and they’ve never even heard of YG.
It’s not about the buoyancy of Swish’s nuvo-G Funk beat, or a Crip and a Blood (and consequently two white dudes) sharing bars. Donald Trump has the complexion of a bag of Sweet-Chilli Heat Doritos, and a comparable IQ as a humble handful of ‘em. That will be a problem if he winds up running the worlds largest military.
It’s Hilary’s unofficial walk-out song, and a strong contender for a new national anthem. Of, like, any country. Government pressure led to a censored version replacing the original on Still Brazy. Name another song this year that got the pentagon in sweats.
Fuck Donald Trump. #YG2020
@hussonz: Surfin’ – Kid Cudi (2016)
It’s 2016 and our genre has two indisputable kingpins. It’s undeniable that both Kanye West and Drake had monstrous years in rap with their 2016 releases, VIEWS and The Life of Pablo. Two critically acclaimed (I use that phrase lightly with VIEWS) albums at the peak of two illustrious rap careers.
Having understood this, there’s a whisper of something different (change, maybe) in the air as 2016 starts to come to a close. It started early last year, when we all took part in publicly humiliating a man and completely assassinating his credibility for simply revealing the truth. Meek Mill’s rap career was altered into a meme over night, and we loved it.
Fast forward almost one year and the likes of Andre 3000 have this to say: “I was under the impression / That everyone wrote they own verses / It’s comin’ back different and, yeah, that shit hurts me / I’m hummin’ and whistlin’ to those not deserving.”
I undoubtedly enjoyed (again, I use the term “enjoyed” ever so lightly with Drake) TLOP and VIEWS just as much as the rest of the world did; however, when someone like Andre (who I admire to the utmost degree) reiterates some of the points made by Meek Mill, it leaves you with an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach.
That’s why my pick for 2016 is “Surfin’” by Kid Cudi featuring Pharrell Williams.
This pick won’t come as a surprise to anyone that knows me well. My relationship with Kid Cudi and his music has been well documented on this platform, and even though I’ve chosen to stay quiet regarding Scott’s admission in to rehab (rightfully so because I’m neither experienced or qualified enough to speak on a subject as delicate as mental health) I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the standout release from his forthcoming album Passion Pain Demon Slayin’.
After being constantly bombarded with a plethora of music from two artists with severe god complexes and a long list of ghost writers; it’s a breath of fresh air to hear Kid Cudi get back to the basics with the promotion of selflessness, enrichment, and the lost art of riding your own waves.
We’re all rooting for you, Scott.
@hospey: No Problem – Chance the Rapper (2016)
As a self-proclaimed Chance the Rapper stan (I’m currently writing this from a Greyhound Bus on a 15 hour spur of the moment journey to go watch him in concert for the 4th time) I would without a doubt feel comfortable calling 2016 the first real public introduction to Chancellor Bennett.
After building his name with a strong cult-like internet following, a powerful chain of festival circuiting, and having a large hand in 2015’s SURF, Chance was finally poised to gain the type of commercial recognition he has so rightfully deserved for years.
After touring 2013’s Acid Rap for a few years, Chance returned with Coloring Book, his 3rd mixtape in 2016 and the reception was unanimously praised. Not only did the lead single “No Problem” feature Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz marking a momentous shift in the caliber of artists that Chance’s skills attracted (if Kanye, Cole, Badu, Sean, Twista, & Busta amongst others weren’t enough), but the album even sparked a petition to be able to get stream-only project eligible for the 2016 Grammys.
Fresh off getting Weezy and Tity Boi on day-time TV by performing the track on Ellen, “No Problem” is still burning up the airwaves… and the metaphorical internet airwaves as we speak. If the act of being happy was personified, its name would be Chance.
World, I introduce to you, Chance the Rapper.
@carlyweiler: FDT – YG (2016)
You might be thinking that I chose this song because I love YG (did I tell you about that one time I saw YG live yet?), but that’s only partly true. I do love YG – he’s unpredictable and wild and I find that intriguing – but this song is important for more than that reason.
FDT, otherwise known as F*** Donald Trump, is probably the most – or should I say most blatantly – politically directed rap song since Public Enemy did what they did best. The track starts off strong right from the intro – take a read: “Me and all my peoples, we always thought he was straight. Influential mothafucka when it came to the business. But now, since we know how you really feel, this how we feel.”
The fact that he starts the song talking about how he once admired Trump is bold, especially considering that we are currently in a world where anything Trump-related now coincides with ideals of Neo-Nazism (basically).And then we get to the good part; the part where YG addresses Trump’s blazing racism and acts the part of the heroin instead of the usual antagonist he portrays. “It wouldn’t be the USA without Mexicans / And if it’s time to team up, shit, let’s begin”. Now, he doesn’t say it with the poeticism of higher ups, but he doesn’t beat around the bush either. He created a song that unites people on a topic that is tearing America apart. Oh, and one last important thing about this track – it has a sequel; FDT Part 2. Can you remember the last political song that had a sequel? Me neither.
@raysuniverse: Ultra Light Beam – Kanye West (2016)
When the opening song of your album starts with an audio clip from a viral Instagram post, followed by an incredible verse sung by Kelly Price, AND then followed up by maybe one of Chance The Rapper’s best verses of 2016 AND FINALLY wrapped up with a blessing from Pastor Kirk Franklin, it becomes an obvious contender to be 2016’s most influential song across any genre.
It seems like whatever move Kanye West makes it has people turning their heads. He seems to inevitably knocking on our doors and making sure that you don’t walk away from that door without seeing or hearing his name.
Yeezy Season has picked up stronger than ever before during the year of 2016. The storm continues to blow through everyone with release of new music and his ever-growing brand with Adidas. Ultra Light Beam serves as the people’s anthem. It is the gospel song that people have been waiting to hear. It has people excited, it has people feeling blessed, and it has people loving Kanye West. There is a very insightful interview that Fonzworth Bentley (one of Kanye’s right-hand-men) did with Fader where he describes the curation of the song. It’s a definitely a must read because it will make listeners appreciate the effort that went into ULB.
Ultra Light Beam didn’t just end up being a record; Kanye West was able to once again break barriers with it. Along with Chance the Rapper, they have made gospel rap “cool.” West’s utilization of different talents created a dynamic track that can’t be matched with any of his past work, and definitely not with the work from his peers.
ULB shows that Kanye West is indeed a human being, which may be hard for some people to believe. People seem to forget that Kanye West has a strong connection with religion, which has driven him to be as successful as he is today. ULB is just another example (I am a God, Jesus Walks) of his sanity, his respect for himself and the world we live in.