The Rap Up’s 20 Best Rap Songs of 2010

Written by Rizoh. Posted in Lists, Music

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Published on January 03, 2011 with 2 Comments

In times of economic turmoil, good, fun entertainment is just what the doctor ordered. Thanks to the likes of Curren$y, Gibbs, Tyler the Creator, Rick Ross and others we had a healthy dose of such mind-tingling cuts to drown our sorrows in. As you’re about to see, 2010 brought a truckload of rap tunes to smoke, chill, reflect, and impersonate Big Meech to. I rounded up the brain trust for a discussion on the best of the best. Ladies and Gentlemen, raise your glasses and toast to The Rap Up’s 20 Best Rap Songs of 2010. – Rizoh

20. J. Cole – “Blow Up”
“Blow Up” represents the next step in the development of a rising star. If you’ve heard his previous mixtapes and followed the story of his transition into the nation of the Roc, the production of this song probably stood out immediately. It’s easy to see that young Jermaine is working with a new arsenal at his disposal from a musical standpoint as the Hocus Pocus sample starts up behind claps and snares. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Blow Up isn’t lauded for groundbreaking lyrics, despite being far and away more lyrically complex and skillfully composed than most of 2010’s offerings. Unfortunately, J. Cole’s lyrical prowess has been so consistent since we’ve seen him that the listeners have become increasingly difficult to impress. But quick jabs like “You bored her/border like Mexico” punch through the electric guitars and yodels as a reminder that he can still deliver clever lines to sprinkle over the stinging honesty of his storytelling. The first time I heard this song was on the computer, next in the car, then finally from a local bar DJ; and maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was: this song knocks in the club. – Nahshon 
19. Danny Brown – “Black and Brown”
Marshall and Ryan are still the undisputed kings of Motor City rap. But they’re probably looking over their shoulders because that rear-view mirror is getting crowded. Detroit’s current crop of hip-hop talent can hold its own against any constituency in the nation right now, and brilliant 2010 releases like Danny Brown’s The Hybrid and Black Milk’s Album of the Year submit themselves as evidence of this surge. We have the latter to thank for this rousing collaboration between Black and Brown. – Rizoh 

18. Freddie Gibbs – “Born 2 Roll”
Bless Gangsta Gibbs. Bless him for he not only resuscitated Masta Ace’s monster of a beat but delivered it with words infused with the strength of street knowledge. The struggle of the hustle may not be the most original topic but it’s definitely been a while since we heard it done this gritty, hungry and technically proficient. The switches in speed, the alliterated part (“Still believe in God but down to dance with the devil to make a dollar though”) and the delivery of his already strong lyrics all turn something that would’ve been pedestrian in a lot of other emcee’s hands into a song that feels like an urban drama you could pitch to HBO. It doesn’t hurt that it all goes over one of the hardest knocking basslines EVER. – Jaap 

17. Joell Ortiz – “Sing Like Bilal”
This is one of those Premier instrumentals that screams vintage GangStarr –- not vintage Premier or vintage Guru. I say that because, with Guru’s untimely passing, we realized more than anything that hip-hop in 2010 (and for the last few years) needed that undeniable sound that could get acceptance on the mainstream, but is revered by the majority of Hip-Hop lovers, worldwide. It’s arguable to state that Ortiz might hold that status right now – dude’s a motherfucking monster with the bars. He’s been the one who really won with this Slaughterhouse conglomerate, as everything he’s touched in 2010 has turned more heads, be it a throwback instrumental battering mixtape, or the radio-friendly tracks like “Kawl Me”, Joell is getting a grip of well-deserved acceptance, and “Sing Like Bilal” was the perfect marriage for the sound that many of us have been itching for while sobbing into our hands, muttering “Hip-Hop is dead” – even if shit like Free Agent & The YAOWA! Mixtape aren’t officially out yet. – Khal 

16. Kanye West – “Monster”
“Have you heard? Kanye has a new album out. I’ve heard some people on the internet say it’s pretty good”. Mr. West has certainly made sure those are unlikely remarks to ever be uttered by anyone on our humble little green ‘n blue sphere. Ever since the Louis Vutton Don started his G.O.O.D. Music Friday series, forever changing the marketing plan of any major label paying attention, he’s beecome the talk of the town. That proverbial town being the globalized village of the worldwide web. Whether it was the sheer WTFness of the line-up on “Monster” or its hard-knocking drums, there was no getting around this joint. It was the perfect setup for what to expect from his album, namely that you should ditch all expectations. With several disparate musicians stitched together and a more invigorated Jay-Z than anywhere to be found on the lackluster Blueprint 3, Ricky Rozay could have almost finished his intro verse by screaming “Igor, it’s aliiiiive!” A monster of a record indeed. One that rightfully stomped all over the last quarter of 2010. – Jaap 

15. PackFM – “Nasty”
Much more than an eye-catching title, I Fucking Hate Rappers was a manifestation of not only backroom conversations or flippant one-liners that most cats put on their freestyles –- this was hip-hop’s dopest speaking out against the ills, in multiple songs. QN5 has never been one to push the envelope, and the latest album from PackFM allows him to not only show how different he is in appearance from today’s swaggadocious Ken dolls, but also in the ferocity of his bars. Albums like this are what the game needs more of: open, honest dissections of current, unrealistic trends, as well as glowing exhibits of proper lyricism and, fuck it, just good hip-hop music. – Khal 

14. Jay Electronica – “Shiny Suit Theory”
A cello drives “Shiny Suit Theory,” which sees newly appointed Roc heir Jay Electronica rubbing minds with kingmaker Jigga on one of many collaborations to come. Jay Elect raps an entire verse from Diddy’s perspective, revealing an intimate conversation he had with his former BFF before driving a stake right through his heart. – Rizoh 

13. Reflection Eternal – “In The Red”
Both Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek have etched out reasonably successful solo paths for themselves over the years, but it never stopped fans from clamoring for a reunion. Not only did they prove that their chemistry from the heyday of Rawkus Records was still there, they actually surpassed their creative success there with a well-balanced, smart and highly enjoyable album. The prime example of their collaborative power is “In The Red,” a subtle and layered production that gains exactly the right amount of tension with a subdued electric guitar bubbling right under the surface. “Can you feel it?” asks Kweli, and your head is already nodding as a preemptive response. He lets the beat breathe when it needs to and expertly latches his flow onto the guitar’s melody during his verses. This is a hip-hop duo at its best, when beat and lyrics merge into perfect unison and and both the mic wielder and deck handler now how to compliment each other’s strong points. As of this year Reflection Eternal can proudly stand beside Pete & CL, Guru & Premier and Eric B & Rakim in the pantheon of the great hip-hop duos. – Jaap


12. The Roots ft. Truck North, P.O.R.N. & Dice Raw – “Walk Alone”
The Roots’ How I Got Over got pushed back, and almost forgotten, in the summer of 2010, which was a crying shame. With their work on Jimmy Fallon, the album with John Legend, and other ventures, a lot of heads almost forgot this dropped. Heavy on features, this album had a somber, melancholy feel to it, and “Walk Alone” exuded all of the grown-man “alone thoughts” that we have on a daily basis. Black Thought shines on this, expanding on what it’s like, being a man who can hide in plain sight, given his status with The Roots, but also as a Black Man in America. It’s almost cliché to call Tariq underrated, but every Roots album has a number of stunning pictures that he paints, and over this sparse piano-driven number, Black delivers much food for Thought. – Khal 

11. B.o.B. – “Airplanes II” (Ft. Eminem)
The other day I was sitting around with a few of my white , er, friends who don’t listen to Hip-Hop. They were all laughing about how nobody listens to Paramore anymore, then one of them turns directly to me and says, “But the chick from that band did a song with B.o.B. right?”. Well Fred, yes, Haley Williams is on this song. Everywhere I went for 4 or 5 months, this song was playing. Granted, it was while they were trying to promote that Eminem album but truthfully, this may be the best song in Bobby Ray’s (non-mixtape) catalog. It harnesses his unique storytelling style, ridiculous ad-libs, and most importantly Airplanes II shows discipline. This song is meant to tell a story and convey an emotion, and young artists often struggle to stay on the topic. B.o.B’s adventures have included a few hits and misses so far, but this one shines through because there is no BS: No shoutouts, no bling-bling, no overproduction. In that way, it is reminiscent of Jay-Z’s “Song Cry.” Having the ever-lyrically ferocious Marshall Mathers never hurts either. – Nahshon 

10. Tyler the Creator – “Bastard”
“This is what the devil plays before he goes to sleep. Some food for thought, some food for death, go ‘head and fucking eat. My father’s dead, well I don’t know we never fucking meet. I cut my wrist and play piano cause I’m so depressed. Somebody call the pastor, this bastard is so possessed. This meeting just begun, nigga I’m Satan’s son.”

Tyler the Creator knows how to make an entrance. The leader of the L.A. outfit OFWGKTA has an equal share of venom for everyone and everything who’s ever disappointed him: bloggers, the school system, his father, wack rappers. That last group inspired a good dose of the vitriol on “Bastard” and its accompanying mixtape. Or as he simply puts it: “I created O.F. because I felt way more talented than 40-year old rappers talking about Gucci.” “Bastard” doubles as an introduction and a ballsy mission statement by the 18-year old wordsmith. This is the sound of a man guided by the philosophy that you can’t change the game by biting your tongue. – Rizoh 

9. J. Cole – Curren$y – “Airborne Aquarium”
Ski Beatz admits that he has no idea how Curren$y names his songs. But whatever the process, Ski has also got to admit that he nailed it with this one. Once you get about 8 seconds in, when the adlibs start, the soothing sounds set a serene mood. Once the beat drops, Spitta falls in with a reworked 2pac that calls to mind the contrast between the venom of the late West Coast Hip-Hop magnate and the syrupy rasp of the New Orleans native. From there, an abundance of weed innuendo and veiled references to women and cars float over the smooth bass-lines and snares in the song that acts as the introduction to the second Pilot Talk album of 2010. Maybe it’s an anti-South bias, but most people I’ve spoken to about Curren$y call him “surprisingly” lyrical once they actually think about the lines, and in the writer’s opinion, “Airborne Aquarium” is the crown on his body of work. – Nahshon 

8. “Premeditated Murder”
You could hear minds getting blown from coast to coast when Hollywood Cole unleashed his breakout mixtape, The Warm Up in 2009. He turned heads again when he followed it up with one of 2010’s best mixtapes, Friday Night Lights. “Premeditated Murder,” a standout narrative the latter, stands as evidence that Cole hasn’t lost the spark that propelled him into hip-hop consciousness. – Rizoh 

7. Nas & Damian Marley – “As We Enter”
Distant Relatives refers, of course, to the African diaspora, or even humanity as a whole. But Nasir and Junior Gong prove dancehall and rap aren’t as distantly related as some of us. Both genres have their roots in Jamaican toasting and DJ-ing and after years of growing up in different parts of the world two of its icons reunite them and their chemistry is perfect. Going back and forth in their verses like two lost members of the Beasties Boys, they practically burst with energy over an infectious Mulatu Astatke sample. Old school aesthetics meet in a modern clash of cultures resulting in one of the biggest hangers 2010 had to offer. Y’all feel me, even if it’s in Swahili. – Jaap 

6. Freddie Gibbs “National Anthem (Fuck The World)”
Gibbs is another rapper who your Internets feel is the next to blow. His subject matter might just make someone think “OK, another thug/gangsta rapper”, but he’s joining that group of artists that include cats like Pill, who come from regions of the US that aren’t seen as lyrical hotbeds, but will slide some hot bars and intricate styles with the crillz they are peddling. There’s a number of rappers who live in contradictions, and while Gibbs hasn’t hit 30, at times he sounds like he’s been here before. Str8 Killa No Filla dropped as a mixtape AND an EP, and was met with loads of acclaim, so expect 2011 to really be the test for Gibbs, although with his lackadaisical attitude, one has to wonder if he truly gives a shit – we see him still cooking cocaine bars and distributing them by any means necessary. Be sure to be first in line for testers. – Khal 

5. Shad – “Rose Garden”
Canadian rappers that make it to my headphones have a near perfect record. Shad is no different, although like K’naan, he’s more of a citizen of the world than a strict Canadian. I say that because the odds are than many people haven’t heard of him. Everytime “Rose Garden” starts up, I halfway expect Murs to start rapping over what could easily be a 9th wonder beat. In reality, the Country music sample and intelligent, straight-talk lyrics are in no way foreign to Shad. He’s finishing up a Master’s degree and is well-versed in many musical styles. This song is significant because it marks his break into the American music scene more than any of his previous work. The video for “Rose Garden” is spectacular and simultaneously simple and lays the backdrop perfectly for this song about the ups and downs of an everyman, in contrast to the kingpins, gods, and goons that we hear so much about.

“Heard a voice say hey, you never question when you get the blessings so don’t get vexed when your life is stressed.” – Nahshon 

4. Kanye West ft. Rick Ross – “Devil In A New Dress”
For the better part of 2010, Kanye West reinvented himself from a cat who was lambasted for speaking his (Henny-soaked) mind on the bullshit of a VMA award (which in and of itself is kind of silly thing to be battling against) into the realization of a nigga who’s admiration for the finer things finally mirrors the final product of his latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. ‘Ye’s latest was what his fans have waited for, be it for all of the “so-and-so was coming from Hawaii” “secrets”, or for those who weren’t fucking with 808s, the promise of a return to that boom bap was fulfilled. In many ways, he succeeded. This track, along with Rawse’s “Live Fast, Die Young”, are two bottles of fine wine, a world where niggas can rock lavender shoes while exhaling pounds of smoke, exuding cool. 2010 saw ‘Ye give away star-studded jams, most of which dropped on his album, and be it acapella premieres of non-album tracks for random social media board rooms (delivered in a tux, no less), or his diamond teeth, ‘Ye owned the better part of 2010, with no sign of giving up his title. – Khal 

3. Rick Ross – “BMF” (Ft. Styles P.)
If the game was about making an impact then BMF is the song of the year. Compare the saturation of this record (from radio play to club DJ’s and of course, the beloved blogs) to last year’s Jay-Z-composed NYC anthem, “Empire State of Mind.” Blowing Money Fast had Rick Ross everywhere this year, including smack-dab in the middle of a beef with Young Jeezy. The obvious reference in the title is to cocaine trafficking empire for which the oft-referenced Big Meech, a Jeezy associate, is now serving a federal sentence. In reality, “BMF” is a 4 minute celebration of the lifestyle of an enterprising criminal, but at the same time, it managed to land in the intersection of being lyrical (thanks to Styles P), catchy (thanks to Lex Luger), and memorable, thanks to the powerful delivery of Rozay’s slow flow and big hollow voice. All discussion of its fraudulent claims and Ross’ lack of lyrical depth aside, BMF proved to be the recipe for success in 2010. – Nahshon 

2. Big Boi – “Shutterbugg”
No matter its undeniable prominence in pop culture, the countless musicians it has inspired and it’s 30+ years of history there will probably always be some people trying to argue hip-hop is not music. They say rhythm is only part of music and drums and fast talking does not make a song. They will be practically impossible to shut up and keep pouring out new ridiculous and small-minded doctrines supporting their claim. There is a weapon though. Play them a song like Big Boi’s Shutterbugg. There are sounds and influences coming from all angles forming a terrificly cohesive and funky track that leaves the traditional sample, loop and hook approach smoldering in it’s dust. We used to think Andre was the experimental one and Antwon the archer but now we know the Outkast dynamic must be far less binary than that. Scott Storch himself presumably didn’t even know he still had a track like this in him until this half of the Kast took a seat in the co-producer’s chair. General Patton takes a big step out of his partner’s ginormous shadow and doesn’t forget his dancing shoes doing so. If anyone ever tries to tell rap isn’t music again you tell ‘em “Boy, stop!”. – Jaap 

1. Reflection Eternal – “Just Begun”
An abrasive and fully formed meeting of like minds between the veteran duo of Kweli and Mos and Roc Nation draft picks Jay Electronica and J. Cole. Like a classic 91 Lakers team if they had enough quotable rhymes to fill a library. – Rizoh 

The Rap Up’s 20 Best Rap Songs of 2010 [zip]

Panel: @jmonkey, @khal, @nahshon, @rizoh



Rizoh is the most powerful man in all the lands. He lives in Houston where he earned a BS in Nerf Herding. He's the founder of The Rap Up, the former editor of, and is in the Grammy-awaiting band Pervertable Disciples.

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There are currently 2 Comments on The Rap Up’s 20 Best Rap Songs of 2010. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. whoa…what a bad year for hip-hop…only 3-5 songs are really good in that list…”Follow Us” by Big Boi should be top 10

  2. no “t.i.” ” yeah ya know” “im back” or anything else…..this list fuckin sucks yo

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