Let's be honest: It's been a great year for hip-hop. Mainstream and underground MCs made some of the most refreshing and innovative work in years. It's been a good year for albums, for sure, but also a dynamite one for singles. Here are our picks for the five best five, from artists around the country, of 2012.
See also: *The Worst Rap Tracks of 2012
5. T.I. f/ Lil Wayne
T.I. dominated hip-hop not long ago, before his personal problems slowed his roll. But “Ball” is a back-to-basics jam, or better yet call it back-to-bounce, as it features nods to classic rap call-and-responses over a the quintessential New Orleans “Triggerman” beat. Throw in the excellent Marc Klasfeld-directed video and the fact the both MCs sound like they're having an absolute blast, and you've got one of either artists' most galvanizing cuts in years.
4. Danny Brown
After a critically heralded 2011, in which he pushed the limits of hip-hop, Brown released this year “Grown Up,” a comparably conventional autobiographical sketch — that's also wonderfully fun. Perhaps best known for its video featuring an immediately lovable kid playing Brown as a child, the song memorably combines Brown's sharp wit, inimitable flow and attention-commanding storytelling.
3. Future featuring Diddy and Ludacris
“Same Damn Time (Remix)”
The year's most polarizing artist, Future penned some of 2012's most memorable hooks, including the endlessly quotable “Same Damn Time.” As infectious as the song was by its own damn self, the remix featuring Ludacris and Diddy somehow took it to another level. Is there any question that this is, without hyperbole, Diddy's finest moment ever behind the mic?
2. A$AP Rocky
A student of the game, Harlem's A$AP Rocky spent much of the year doing his Houston, New Orleans and Memphis influences justice, which showed up on his highlight for the year, “Goldie.” With engaging flow and an infectious beat, “Goldie” proves it's possible to use what's old to create something new, without becoming a revivalist.
1. Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d. city is the rare concept album that warrants repeat listens, and its centerpiece is the flawless “Swimming Pools.” While it's effective as a surface level exploration of social drinking, the deeper commentary on peer pressure draws you in. Throw in an instantly memorable hook, a tension-building flow and a one-of-a-kind beat and you've got the best rap single of 2012.