When music is created and released to the world, the artist themselves are open to many different opinions and ratings on the art they make. Modern-day rappers tend to drop countless songs, thanks to the pace of the music industry and how quickly tracks take off. Since that's the current reality, the days of an artist having a consensus best song seem like a rarity. That isn't a negative in the least; it opens the discussion and illustrates the fact that fans can have differing tastes about a rapper's catalog. Not everyone's "best" is the same. Here, XXL tries to make sense of it all, highlighting one song as the best from rappers old and new. Billboard charts, RIAA certifications, streaming numbers, YouTube views or otherwise don't mean it's the best. Hear the talent.
A good number of the artists in this list have had big hits recently that aren't actually their best songs. Latto's "Big Energy" hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 this year, changing her career for the better, but her special song lies in album cuts like the Lil Durk-assisted "Like A Thug," from her 777 album. The same is true for Future, whose single "Wait For U" with Drake and Tems topped the Hot 100 and is easily one of 2022's biggest hits. For this purpose, his best song is "Hallucinating," a track off Hndrxx, his 2017 R&B-centered album. What both songs have going for them is they are unique within each respective rapper's discography. Latto's "Like A Thug" is a mostly melodic track while Future's "Hallucinating" takes the stylings of R&B to revolve around topics that aren't usually in the genre, like being rich and using drugs.
There's also a few rappers in the mix whose best track is also one of their biggest. Nicki Minaj's discography spans far and wide, but "Feeling Myself" with Beyoncé showcases her appeal with hard bars and attitude, plus it stands the test of time. The same holds true for A$AP Rocky, as "Praise The Lord (Da Shine)" featuring Skepta is one of his best tracks and one of his biggest, thanks to his flow and how inescapable it was.
Take a look below to see one of the best songs from 32 rappers ranging from newcomers like Polo G and Jack Harlow to legends like Drake and Kendrick Lamar.
Young Thug"Droppin Jewels"
At this point, Young Thug's career is vast enough that there's at least 10 songs that could be called his best. However, none are like "Droppin Jewels," on which he traces the poverty of his youth to the responsibilities he now holds as a rich and famous father, son and significant other.
On "Momma," Kendrick Lamar shares a story of his time in South Africa while poetically drawing parallels between his home of Compton and Black people's connection to the Motherland.
Chief Keef"Sosa Chamberlain"
A living legend and a key component to drill rap spreading all over the world, Chief Keef has blossomed into a clever, unique rapper. The bars and mundane humor of "Sosa Chamberlain" combine to make one of his best songs.
This introspective cut, which is the final song on Key Glock's 2020 project, The Yellow Tape, perfectly encapsulates his childhood, personal struggles and perseverance into one flawless number.
Westside Gunn"Hell On Earth Pt. 2" featuring Benny The Butcher and Conway The Machine
A Griselda posse cut from Westside Gunn's Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Side B, the frontman of the crew rhymes like a man possessed over one of the best beats of his career.
Polo G"A King's Nightmare"
It's unfair that some rappers aren't seen as socially conscious because they don't fit the mold or subject matter of 1990's rappers. An artist who has always been aware of society's ills is Polo G. His track, "A King's Nightmare," is relentless and touches on everything from what leads kids to the street to the real problem of recidivism.
Boldy James is a rap veteran, and a known commodity on the scene since the late 2000s. He's at his most popular now due to him becoming sharper by the year. His 2020 song, "Pinto," off The Alchemist-produced The Price Of Tea In China album, features the lyrically dense street rapper hitting nearly impossible cadences while making every bar land.
A vastly talented rapper-singer who is still just 23 years old, Roddy Ricch has a inimitable talent for making poignant songs about survival. "Down Below" is one of those tracks, a moving summary of his then-newfound musical success. This was a time when he had to find ways to make it through the danger and legal troubles in his life.
Lil Yachty "Pardon Me" featuring Mike WiLL Made-It and Future
Starting off as a snippet that was all over the internet, the full song came to be as "Pardon Me," a Lil Yachty track produced by Mike WiLL Made-It that features Future. All three parties shine and Yachty's comfort and ability to flip from flow to flow help round out a top-tier Pluto performance.
Freddie Gibbs"Gat Damn" with Madlib
Freddie Gibbs' music has always had soul and funk to it, long before he was placed into the somewhat rigid world of underground rap fame. "Gat Damn" is a laid-back Madlib canvas with Gibbs singing and rapping about hustling, being poor, his time in jail and his fallen friends. The track is a seamless, sub-three minute package, plus, it simply jams.
Latto"Like A Thug" featuring Lil Durk
Latto has always been a respected rapper who keeps taking leaps as each year passes. The expansion of her talent has allowed her to take more risks, as she did on "Like A Thug," a track featuring Lil Durk off her 2022 album, 777. Latto sings about seducing a dude who has caught her attention while making it clear she wants him but doesn't need him. It has the sound and feel of syrupy 1990's Atlanta R&B, which is both charming and tightly written.
Jack Harlow"Route 66" featuring EST Gee
Jack Harlow's star turn continued this year when he caught a mega-hit with the nostalgic, Fergie-sampled "First Class." But two years before that, he dropped his debut album, That's What They All Say, featuring the single "Route 66." The track, which is a collab between Jack and his close friend and fellow Kentuckyian EST Gee, is just a fun and flex-filled exchange. Jack is loose and leaning into his charisma, a skill which fed directly into his mercurial rise through rap.
It seems like there's nothing Future can't pull off in the booth, even if it's an R&B song with rap elements. Here, he decides that anyone who thinks they get higher or spend more money than him is delusional. Future executes the off-kilter idea perfectly on "Hallucinating," which is what happens when you're a preternatural talent.
Nipsey Hussle"Stucc In The Grind" featuring Bino Rideaux
"Stucc In Tha Grind," a deep cut from No Pressure, Nipsey Hussle's 2017 collab tape with L.A. rapper Bino Rideaux, is a somber, self-reflective walk through Nipsey's mind. The usual guidance to personal and financial success gives way to a more specific drawing of having to ignore outside noise and level with the dangers of life in the street. On the track, he also speaks to a woman outside of his lifestyle that is becoming enamored by what he does.
50 Cent had one of the quickest runs to the top as a famous rapper in the early-to-mid 2000s, with his charisma, brand of street rap and next-level understanding of hits. "Ski Mask Way" is a mid-career outlier for him, as it is a grimy and haunting tale of robbery closer to underground rap than anything else.
Meek Mill"Oodles O'Noodles Babies"
A street rapper who became a star due to his talent and extremely honest depictions of hustling, Meek Mill's "Oodles O'Noodles Babies" shows him sharing the pain he experienced growing up in Philly as he deals with poverty, drug addiction in his family and the allure of the block.
J. Cole"Punchin' the Clock"
In this short song off his 2021 project The Off-Season, J. Cole efficiently raps about how the traumatic experiences from early in his life are what fuels his subject matter and personal enlightenment as an artist today. Hip-hop is his 9-to-5 job and he takes it seriously on "Punchin' the Clock."
Nicki Minaj"Feeling Myself" featuring Beyoncé
Nicki Minaj has plenty of classic songs as a legendary rapper amongst men and women, but "Feeling Myself," her timeless 2014 collab with Beyoncé, is the kind of fun that still sounds fresh while showcasing the bars that made her rise to the top. This may be the definitive mid-career Nicki Minaj song.
"Money" is a song off JID's latest album, The Never Story, on which he espouses the importance of financial success while also cherishing his experiences of preserving through poverty. He positions it as a track that celebrates being rich, but gets serious and sees the beauty tucked into the hard times.
Yeat has been the internet rap star who quickly got to the big leagues over the last year thanks to a legion of supporters. "Sorry Bout That" is one of his best rap performances due to the futuristic production that has become his calling card.
A$AP Rocky"Praise The Lord (Da Shine)" featuring Skepta
This catchy track, which features legendary London rapper Skepta, is easily one of the most memorable songs from this current phase of A$AP Rocky's career. The appealing flow and unforgettable beat make this a mainstay in Rocky's sets to this day.
Pooh Shiesty"Neighbors" featuring Big30
Pooh Shiesty blew up off his 2020 single "Back In Blood," but "Neighbors" with Big30 was a better vehicle for his rapping ability. The chemistry between the two childhood friends puts the song over the top.
Lil Durk has taken off through deep, emotive tracks. "Durkio Krazy" is one of the best examples for that. On the song, he uses one verse to detail his rough childhood and the next to talk about how things are still dangerous for him now.
Wale"More Love" featuring Shawn Stockman and Sauce
Wale has taken R&B-influenced rap songs to another level throughout his career, and this recent gem, "More Love," is as heartfelt and personal as ever. The go-go underpinnings of the song tie Wale's present and past together in a thoughtful and noticeable way.
G Herbo"Outside Looking In"
G Herbo has been a lyrically focused rapper since he was a teenager. Now as an adult and music industry veteran, he's giving an up-close look at everything he had to persevere through on "Outside Looking In."
Conway The Machine"G Money On The Roof" featuring Flee Lord
Conway The Machine has an excellent rap voice with a real skill at writing detailed street imagery. "G Money On the Roof" lets those strengths shine on a song that would fit in any era of East Coast drug rap.
Cardi B"Drip" featuring Migos
Cardi B has always possessed superstar potential. It turned into a reality in 2018, when her debut album, Invasion of Privacy, topped charts and broke records. "Drip" is not her biggest song, but it's the best example of her raw rapping abilities. Here, she easily keeps pace with Migos (including her husband, Offset) when they were at the peak of their powers.
Rico Nasty's self-confidence and ability to mix rage rap, rock, dance and traditional hip-hop are why she's such a beloved act. "Pressing Me" is a skittering slow-burner, on which she fully leans into being the reason a woman's boyfriend cant stay faithful. He couldn't resist.
Afrobeats are huge all over the globe, and Doja Cat succeeded in creating an energizing track that fused wdifferent worlds. "Woman" is a match made in heaven for its meld of two Black genres, rap and afrobeats, to create a beautiful ode to women in general and the ladies this pop star respects as her musical peers.
Megan Thee Stallion"Budget" featuring Latto
Megan Thee Stallion has quite a few catchy hits under her belt, but it should never be forgotten that she got into the game because of her bars. "Budget," off her latest album, Traumazine, pairs Meg with Latto, another woman rapper who earned her name from respected lyricism and flows. Both show out and Meg's energy is that of bringing another worthy talent into her world.
Drake's discography is immense, but "Jungle" is both unique in its timing and how it birthed his later songs. The Canadian superstar went full R&B on this song, when he was totally established as a upper-tier rap star. "Jungle" is a story about Drake showing a woman his lifestyle. Then, she eventually ends up leaving him as he wrestles with that feeling.
No one can flow like Gunna, although many have tried. His mastery of cadence, plus his quickly improved rapping ability, both reach the skies on "Met Gala," one of his most beloved songs.