Saturated projects, rap beefs and untimely deaths. It has been an eventful year for hip hop. From newcomers Lil Baby to comebacks by some of the genre’s most beloved such as Lil Wayne, the majority of major artists put out music in some capacity. If 2017 was jam-packed with releases, 2018 made it even more impossible to consume every song throughout the year.
However, that doesn’t stop anyone from creating their own personal list of favourite songs of 2018. This list ranks the 50 Best Rap Songs of 2018 (with a few exceptions outside of the genre), with rankings and selection based significantly on replay value, in addition to overall quality. These songs are also songs that have been revisited consistently on an individual level, without the context of an album (i.e. some quality songs are omitted from this list because they are preferred in the listening experience of a complete album).
Out of thousands of songs, it is not easy narrowing down to a mere 50 and having to compromise to fit a range of artists in. Regardless, these are Mic Cheque’s Best Songs of 2018.
Note: Songs released in December 2017 that are part of a 2018 album or single are included.
- D-Block Europe & Yxng Bane, Rap Saved Me
- Drake, Nice for What
- Frank Ocean, Moon River
- Fredo, Playin’ for Keeps
- Gunna & Lil Baby, Sold Out Dates
- Gunna ft. Lil Baby & Young Thug, Oh Okay
- Joji, Slow Dancing in the Dark
- Kids See Ghosts ft. Pusha T, Feel the Love
- Lil Durk ft. Future, Spin the Block
- Metro Boomin ft. Travis Scott, Overdue
- Nines, Line of Fire, Pt. 5
- One Acen ft. WSTRN, Vice Versa
- Royce da 5’9″ ft. J. Cole, Boblo Boat
- Saba, Prom / King
- Sabrina Claudio, Cross Your Mind
- Sneakbo, Intro
- SOB X RBE, Paramedic!
- Travis Scott, AstroThunder
- WSTRN, Ben Ova
50. Travis Scott, “Coffee Bean”
Kicking off the list is the closer to Travis Scott’s highly-anticipated Astroworld. “Coffee Bean” saw Scott enter rare territory of traditional hip hop, rapping about his personal relationships in a way that gave a refreshing break from the rage.
49. The Weeknd, “Privilege”
Album: My Dear Melancholy
The subdued “Privilege” is one of The Weeknd’s best songs thanks to its raw minimalism and emotion in way that hasn’t been heard by The Weeknd for years. On “Privilege”, less is more, featuring a simple, hazy beat and the most gripping lyrical metaphor of the entire project (“I got two red pills to take the blues away”). If My Dear Melancholy really is Trilogy Weeknd, then “Privilege” is the best illustration of the claim.
48. J Hus, “Scene”
Album: Big Spang
The British rapper’s “Scene” is a warning to anyone who wants the smoke. Featuring comedic one-liners, varied deliveries and screwface-of-a-hook, “Scene” is proof that J Hus is this generation’s best product out of the UK.
47. Denzel Curry, “PERCS”
With plenty of bangers to choose from his sophomore album, Denzel Curry’s “Percs” is an explosion personified. Curry merges banger rap with lyrical substance, discrediting hip hop’s glorification of percocets. Nothing better than a replayable song with a message.
46. Novelist, “Nov Wait Stop Wait”
Album: Novelist Guy
It has been a quiet year for grime, but Novelist handed over the best grime song of the year. The beatboxing production of “Nov Wait Stop Wait” pairs up with Novelist’s simplistic one-liners to warrant gun fingers up in the air.
45. BlocBoy JB ft. Drake, “Look Alive”
From Skepta to Lil Baby, Drake is known for his rewarding cosigns. It is no surprise that “Look Alive” shook the rap scene in February. “Look Alive” may not be what it is without Drake, however BlocBoy JB’s shoot compensates for his skeletal yet comedic bars. The track also gave us the best producer tag of the year. Tay Keith, keep fucking these n****s up.
44. 6LACK, “Sorry”
Album: East Atlanta Love Letter
With plenty of highlights to choose off his East Atlanta Love Letter album, 6LACK’s “Sorry” is the most emotionally poignant of them all. “Sorry” is self-aware, acknowledging 6LACK’s own mistakes in a relationship. There’s power in 6LACK’s words. Every word is believable, which is what gives “Sorry” the integrity it needs to be a great song.
43. Jay Rock, “Rotation 112th”
2018 finally gave Jay Rock the success he deserved. Forget “King’s Dead”, “Rotation 112th” is where the party is at. Rock’s flow on the first verse is infectious, emerging in a track that is as West Coast as a song can get.
42. Paris ft. Gunna, “Po’ed Up”
Newcomer Paris put out one of the trap songs with the most replay value of the year. His rock-influenced vocals slots comfortably over the 808s before passing the song to Gunna, who comes in so smoothly (“Runnin’ in that foreign, got two hunnid in the console”).
41. Ard Adz, “Unwritten Bars”
Without a hook to support it, Ard Adz’s “Unwritten Bars” manages to find its way onto the list thanks to Adz’s passion in his lines. Through the continuous verse, Ard Adz touches on a handful of topics, reflecting on his friends in jail, his album release and the struggle to reach where he is now. As the title suggests, the fact it was freestyled makes the song even more impressive. “Unwritten Bars” makes it easy to get lost in the words, and is proof that sometimes a hook is not even needed.
40. Rosalía, “Malamenté”
Album: El mal querer
Forget reggaeton, Rosalia shows that flamenco is where the quality is at. “Malamenté” succeeds without uttering a word of English. Rosalia’s gentle, seductive vocals and the catchy claps are the elements that drive the appeal of the song, as there is not much else going on that overcomplicates the track.
39. Mac Miller, “Self Care”
It took his unfortunate death for the world to open their ears to Mac Miller’s cry for help. “Self Care” is the most important song about mental health of the year. It is insightful, optimistic and creative, reminding listeners that the person you should look out in your life for the most is yourself.
38. Slowthai, “T N Biscuits”
Coming in with the lines “Drug dealer / I wear Nike, not Fila”, British MC Slowthai was bound to grab ears. Considering few UK rappers are experimenting with sounds, “T N Biscuits” is a breath of fresh air from an artist that is bound to have a successful 2019.
37. XXXTentacion, “Sad!”
A BMW seatbelt warning is the base for one of the most commercially successful songs of the year. “Sad!” is toxic, but the melody is undeniable for an artist that has been blacklisted by mainstream media since his brief rise to fame.
36. Asco x Loski, “Cheque”
Album: Better Late Than Never
British rappers Asco and Loski paired up for a strong UK collaboration. Loski’s signature flow and knack for hooks gives “Cheque” the melodic appeal, while Asco’s flashy bars add the final touch to a song that has been on replay for the whole year.
35. AJ Tracey ft. Not3s, “Butterflies”
Album: AJ Tracey
Dancehall may be exhausted at this point, but AJ Tracey’s “Butterflies” is an exception of the year. While most UK artists have moved on to afroswing, AJ Tracey and Not3s create a curveball with undeniable melody that made “Butterflies” the summer anthem of 2018.
34. ASAP Rocky ft. Skepta, “Praise the Lord (Da Shine)”
“Mask Off” has a run for its money for Best Flute Instrumental with 2018’s “Praise the Lord”. Rocky’s and Skepta’s synchronised flows and one-liners are the highlights of the song, stopping and starting with the pockets of the beat (“Pockets loaded, rocket loaded, okay lets rock and roll this / Time to go, lock, stock and two smoking barrels” / “She came, I came, now what’s, my name? / My chain, my pants, my pants with the chain”). It was a collaboration waiting to happen, and is a significant moment of the year for bridging the gap between the UK and US rap scenes.
33. 2 Chainz ft. YG & Offset, “Proud”
Album: The Play Don’t Care Who Makes It
A forgotten release of 2018, 2 Chainz “Proud” deserves all the recognition. The beat is infectious and all three rappers match each other’s performance.
32. Vegedream, “Ramenez la coupe à la maison”
Album: Marchand de sable
French rapper Vegedream’s “Ramenez la coupe a la maison” is a reminder of how exceptional the 2018 FIFA World Cup was. Vegedream brings the most catchy hook of the year in an unofficial anthem for the French national team, incorporating the names of the players to celebrate the victory.
31. Headie One ft. RV, “Know Better”
Album: The One Tape
“Know Better” produced the UK quotable of the year (“Excellent finish, Mo Salah”), also qualifying as one of the best drill tracks of 2018.
30. Nines ft. J Styles, “Trapstar”
Album: Crop Circle
It was a good year for British rapper Nines, putting out one of the best albums of the year with Crop Circle. “Trapstar” is a major highlight off the project, exercising Nines’ signature nonchalant flow and similes (“Started going through them bricks like crash test dummies”).
29. ASAP Rocky, “ASAP Forever”
After a string of lacklustre singles, “ASAP Forever” finally proved what ASAP Rocky is capable of. Boasting one of the most creative samples of the year, “ASAP Forever” is slurring frat anthem and a brief return to artistic brilliance.
28. Metro Boomin ft. Travis Scott / ft. Gunna & Young Thug, “Only 1 (Interlude)” / “Lesbian”
Album: Not All Heroes Wear Capes
Metro Boomin’s Not All Heroes Wear Capes was not short of seamless transitions. “Only 1 (Interlude)” by Travis Scott leading into Gunna and Young Thug’s “Lesbian” was a perfect segue, virtually serving as the intro to “Lesbian” and split only through track listing. The main attraction is a nocturnal odyssey, Gunna and Thugga acting as thieves in the nights as they rap over Metro Boomin’s sparkling keys. There were more than likely no sister tracks quite like these in 2018.
27. M Huncho, “Elevation”
Album: 48 Hours
“Rolling with my J, no Hus”, opens up British crooner M Huncho on his breakout single “Elevation”. References to Persian rugs, zoobies and BlackBerry games are administered with sweet AutoTuned melodies, owning a style that no one else in the UK is able to pull off quite like M Huncho.
26. Kids See Ghosts, “Reborn”
Album: Kids See Ghosts
“Keep moving forward” was the mantra of the year thanks to Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s “Reborn”, a sweet lullaby of optimism from two artists battling demons. Kanye raps an insightful verse that wipes the floor with the raps on Ye, delivered in a form that is both self-aware and genuine. Kid Cudi’s gentle hums bring the peace to “Reborn”, ensuring the repetition of positivity is drilled into the listener’s head. With “Reborn”, Kanye and Cudi show that there always is light at the end of the tunnel.
25. Ard Adz, “Kenny Freestyle”
Another insightful cut from the British MC continue to make the case for his knack for hookless songs. The bars are purposeful, opening with “Assalamalakum, my name’s Adam and my heart’s cold” and continuing with bars dedicated to his mother (“Daddy weren’t there so God gave a man the best mum”). Without the need for a strict subject matter, “Kenny Freestyle” works best purely through the words of Ard Adz.
24. Trippie Redd, “Topanga”
Album: A Love Letter to You 3
“Topanga” is the strongest single Trippie Redd has released to date, an element he’s been unable to muster even with his Travis Scott collaboration “Dark Knight Dummo”. On “Topanga”, Trippie Redd brings back chipmunk soul samples
23. DigDat, “Air Force” / “Air Force (Remix)”
Fresh home from a stretch, UK newcomer DigDat’s “Air Force” is a supreme blend of drill and lyrical wordplay. Both the solo version and remix featuring K-Trap and Kreps & Konan administer smoke to enemies, the most brutal of which ascends from K-Trap’s savage verse (“See me one, I’ll drench him / Unknown T, dig it and bend it”). “Air Force” is one of the few British songs of the year that tap youth culture with lyricism. So if you do not own a pair of Air Forces, you better go get some.
22. Ambush Buzzworl, “Man Can’t”
UK rapper Ambush Buzzworl blew up earlier in the year with his “Jumpy” single, but “Man Can’t” is the track that reigns supreme. The flute melody mixed with Buzzworl’s delivery and one liners generate extreme replay value, deserving of more attention than it received (“Come round like fella what’s hapnin’?”).
21. Travis Scott ft. Gunna, “Yosemite”
Thanks to Turbo, guitar trap became the latest trend of 2018. When Scott opts to take a backseat, it is impressive how valuable the guest appearances are. Most add a unique flavour to the respective song, or lend their sound to Travis to forge a formidable collaboration. That is the case with “Yosemite”, pulling the recycled production off the best through Travis Scott’s soothing hums, Gunna’s laidback delivery and accompanying catchy hook (“Ice on my neck / Flawless baguettes / Hop off a jet / Barely get rest”). While it is Travis Scott entering
20. Bad Bunny ft. Drake, “MIA”
Latin trap was overplayed this year, the majority of which had one sprinting to the skip button. However an exception is “MIA”, an undeniably infectious Latin pop song. Driven by an impressive performance by Drake, the melody of the hook is a contagion to the ear, based off a basic lyrical concept but pulled off to a tee (“Tell them you’re mine, mine / You know you’re mine, mine”). “MIA” may just have been the catchiest pop song of the year (sorry, Ariana Grande).
19. 6ix9ine, “KOODA”
Yes, 6ix9ine has made his way onto this list. Dropping in December 2017 and landing on his February ’18 mixtape Day69, “KOODA” is the perfect example of 6ix9ine’s niche; hyper-aggressive rage rap. “KOODA” is violent, powered by the menacing piano keys while 6ix9ine exercises his signature flows to conjure catchy bar after catchy bar. Since “KOODA”, 6ix9ine hasn’t been able to recapture the appeal of his emerging five-single string (see “FEFE” for reference), and quite possibly may never be able to. His bars may not be believable, but they make for a hell of a banger.
18. City Morgue, “33rd Blakk Glass”
Album: City Morgue Vol. 1: Hell or High Water
Metal rap graced 2018 thanks to “33rd Blakk Glass”, a song that sounds like it has guzzled about ten Red Bulls and picked up a machete – in both hands. The duo Zillakami and Sosmula screech across the booming electric guitars, the former of which is able to pull off the best performance due to his raspy smoker’s voice as he barks the hooks (“Chop ’em down, war dog, let ’em all off / All out war till you get it called off”). “33rd Blakk Glass” is a genre crossover many would not expect to succeed, but it works.
17. J. Cole, “Brackets”
J. Cole has been the poster rap for ‘grown-man rap’ in 2018, taking the torch off Jay Z and his 2017 album 4:44. “Brackets” is the best example of conscious Cole, spewing one of the greatest verses of the year as he vents his frustrations with American taxes and voting system. The content is topped off with strokes of melody (“Whoa whoa whoa whoa”), a soothing sung verse by Cole and a humourous skit midway. “Brackets” does not derive from a rapper called J. Cole, but from an American citizen striving for a better tomorrow. Sure, tax money delegation may not be as easy as tapping from an app on your screen, but Cole’s heart is in the right place.
16. LD ft. Tiggs da Author, “Detention”
Album: The Masked One
British drill collective’s frontman opened his debut solo mixtape with a bang. “Detention” is not your typical drill song; the repetitive drill percussion heard on the majority of drill tracks are absent. Instead, LD flexes his stature on whirring sirens, hefty drops and signature bars (“It feels so right when I do a n***a wrong)”. LD demands his credit for nurturing the drill lane, but simultaneously sits back and basks in his creation, much like Victor Frankenstein and his monster. In LD’s case, “Detention” is his monster.
15. Lil Wayne, “Used 2”
Album: Tha Carter V
“Used 2” oozes energy from start to finish, loaded with mindblowing one-liners, Rocky references and phenomenal flow all over the Metro Boomin-produced beat (“Run up in a n**ga house, pistol in that n**ga mouth / Safe code now n**ga, cough it up or spit it out”). The song represents everything likeable about Lil Wayne, leaving no speck of a misstep for what is the best song off Wayne’s long-awaited Carter V.
14. Travis Scott ft. Juice Wrld & Sheck Wes, “No Bystanders”
While “Houstonfornication” is Travis Scott’s space shuttle to a remote island, “No Bystanders” is the polar opposite; a call to rage all night. Assisted by Juice WRLD and Sheck Wes’ chant, the track is a thumping, heroic anthem of colossal energy. Skittering flutes, subtle strings, and an addictive drum pattern are some of the few details to the production that elevate “No Bystanders” to grandeur status. Conveniently “No Bystanders” is also the home to the best verse of Scott’s Astroworld. Scott’s rapid flow and infectious cadence puts him in a technical mode we are rarely exposed to (“Bicentennial man / Put the city on slam / She get trippy off Xans, lost twenty-one grams / Weren’t no video dance”).
13. Metro Boomin ft. Travis Scott, 21 Savage & Kodak Black, “No More”
Album: Not All Heroes Wear Capes
“No More” featuring Travis Scott, 21 Savage and Kodak Black is the climactic scene before a movie’s ending credits, a despairing ode to the trio’s submission to intoxication. All hope is lost in bars from 21 Savage, who practically sounds defeated from his toxic habits (“It’s like the styrofoam glued to me though / I feel weak for using drugs to ease the pain”). The cut is also the epitome of Metro Boomin’s respect for structure. Rather than Travis Scott redundantly recruited for each hook, each artist takes a hook after their verse before all three artists perform the hook in succession during the song’s finale. Although a minor detail, it is vital in elevating the enjoyment of the song, and showcases the advanced mediation of Metro Boomin as an orchestrator.
12. Travis Scott ft. Phillip Bailey, Kid Cudi, James Blake & Stevie Wonder, “Stop Trying to Be God”
Scott’s flair for detail radiates on the 5-minute sermon “Stop Trying to Be God”. The hums of Kid Cudi and harmonica by Stevie Wonder are meticulously placed, with the enchanting vocals of James Blake stealing the show in the powerful ending. The track is one of the few with fixed subject matter in a Travis Scott song, downplaying the God complex rappers tend to possess. It also grants a refreshing detour from Scott’s pill-popping poetry. “Stop Trying to Be God” is a meditative diatribe, filling a gap in mainstream rap where the subject of God is rarely mentioned.
11. Travis Scott ft. Drake, “Sicko Mode”
Speaking of beat switches, nothing quite springs to mind like “Sicko Mode”. “Sicko Mode” outdoes itself in ambition, packing three songs in one to construct a rollercoaster of a listening experience. Once the song reached the masses, it was stoppable. A song without a fixed chorus, three beat switches and 5 minutes in length managed to hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. This is the sole example of how rap has dominated 2018 to the point where a song that goes against all the fundamentals of a pop song became the most popular song in the country.
The success is deserved. Drake and Travis Scott share impressive chemistry, going back and forth playfully over the verse that became the hook (“I did half a Xan, thirteen hours till I land / Had me out like a light”). The comparison is overused, but “Sicko Mode” truly is a rollercoaster of an experience.
10. K-Trap ft. LD, “Edgware Road”
Album: The Re-Up
The greatest collaboration to emerge out the UK rap scene in 2018 goes to K-Trap and LD with “Edgware Road”. Vicious bells contribute to the darkness of “Edgware Road” alongside K-Trap and his Pyrex while LD sets out to teach his enemies a lesson. From the hook to the verses to the production, “Edgware Road” is a crafted UK drill banger with attention to a concept rather than being a gimmick for clicks.
9. Meek Mill, “Championships”
If you are looking for a summary of Meek Mill from 1987 to 2018, “Championships” provides it all. “Championships” is the 2018 soundtrack for street commentary, featuring powerful verses reminiscing about life on the corner, the trauma acquired from the death of his father, and the desire to break the American justice system. Meek Mill lets this all out over the soaring sample of trumpets and vocals, clashing to create the most inspiring rap song of the year. “Championships” plays like a musical autobiography of Meek Mill’s life, one that paints a gritty picture with every bar uttered. If there is hope for Meek Mill, there is hope for everyone.
8. Nines, “Tony Soprano”
Album: Crop Circle
Few UK rappers are able to rap in the way Nines can. “Tony Soprano” exemplifies Nines’ knack for quotable one-liners and ear for spacey yet luxurious production, all achieved without the need for a hook. The braggadocios one-liners are in abundance, often dropping a clever simile or metaphor to accelerate the vanity (“Your re-up probably fit in a bra / My re-up couldn’t fit in a car”). Nines cruises through “Tony Soprano” like a late-night drive, providing just enough to make it one of the best rap songs to come out of the UK this year.
7. Pusha T, “If You Know You Know”
No one has opened up an album this year quite like Pusha T. On “If You Know You Know”, class is in session. The GOOD Music president composes parables for the D-boys, giving a tap of the nose every time he emphasises the track title. “If You Know You Know” is not short of slick lines and closed references over the explosive sampled production by Kanye West (“The company I keep is not corporate enough / Child Rebel Soldier, you ain’t orphan enough / A rapper turned trapper can’t morph into us / But a trapper turned rapper can morph into Puff”). Simply put, if you do not understand the lifestyle, Pusha T is here to tutor.
6. Kids See Ghosts, “Cudi Montage”
Album: Kids See Ghosts
Kanye West and Kid Cudi were the kings of mantras this year. The concluding song off their collaborative album has one simple message – “Stay strong”. “Cudi Montage”, continues the duo’s theme of positivity, alongside Kanye’s strongest verse of the year, who discusses the repercussions of gun violence through refreshing wordplay equipped into a clear statement (“Both sides lose somebody – somebody dies, somebody goes to jail”). This is a side of Kanye that was absent on Ye and hasn’t been heard since Watch the Throne. “Cudi Montage” strives to inspire, to motivate and to uplift, ticking all the boxes it needs to.
5. Meek Mill ft. Rick Ross & Jay Z, “What’s Free”
As risky as it is to sample a classic Biggie track front to back, “What’s Free” pulls the flip fantastically. “What’s Free” caused waves due to the show-stopping verse by Jay Z – and rightfully so – but all rappers hold their own as they dissect racial injustice in America. “What’s Free” is a 2018 conscious vignette, layered in ways that evoke multiple epiphanies with every relisten and each bar digested.
4. Pusha T ft. 070 Shake, “Santeria”
Packed with three beat switches, a haunting bridge by 070 Shake and personal lyrics from Pusha T referencing the death of his road manager, “Santeria” embeds itself into memory. “Santeria” is the peak of Daytona, forming a thrilling, layered journey in a stunning three minutes where Pusha has never sounded so alluring. Kanye’s production transports Pusha from a Western landscape to a subdued basement and finally a casino alongside James Bond, all in under three minutes. Perhaps the most captivating element of the song is 070’s Shake Spanish-sung bridge, whose ghostly vocals linger on the senses even after the track has ended.
3. Travis Scott, “Houstonfornication”
Sometimes we need to take a break from the hectic life around us. For Travis Scott, “Houstonfornication” is a call for that timeout. “I might need me some ventilation, a little vacation / Houstonfornication”, he slurs in his half-asleep delivery. On the verses, Scott strips the Auto-Tune and brings the MC out of him, bouncing bars such as “I’m hard to catch, that’s the Butterfly Effect” off the scaling production. For anyone seeking escapism, “Houstonfornication” is the song for them.
2. Dave, “Hangman”
Sometimes, a verse is all you need to captivate a listener. British prodigy Dave proves this with “Hangman”, a standalone single released in response to backlash received from tweets about Stop and Search reform. On “Hangman”, the fake are exposed (“If you died today they wouldn’t donate to your fucking GoFundMe / A lot of man hate me, but man can’t touch me”), friends are mourned (“But when Harry got murdered man was so emotional”) and the youth are schooled (“Boy it’s true / I tell them yutes that skunk weed is gonna poison you”). Backed by only a piano, Dave is given the room to just rap. And that is what makes a song a best rap song of the year – actually rapping.
1. Kanye West ft. PartyNextDoor, Kid Cudi & 070 Shake, “Ghost Town”
Maybe, some day, Kanye West will be able to articulate his ideas appropriately. In the meantime, he can compensate by continuing to make great music. Ye may have been underwhelming, but it birthed a gem of a song in “Ghost Town”, a heavenly hymn fitting of the Wyoming landscape it was birthed in. It takes two lines for Kid Cudi to convey his weeping emotion in his off-key yet raw vocals, pain transmitting from every syllable. Kanye’s own performance is among his strongest in recent years, anticipating the day he will be able to be himself without the so-called judgement from the outside world. “Ghost Town” provides those rare moments of pragmatism by Kanye, often interpreted as an egotistical celebrity but is a human at the end of the day (“Sometimes I take all the shine / Talk like I drank all the wine”).
Despite all these qualities, “Ghost Town” isn’t what it is without 070 Shake, who steals the show in the latter half with her uplifting exclamation of liberation (“I put my hand on a stove, to see if I still bleed / And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free”). Shake’s deep, distinctive voice sets her apart from every other vocalist on Ye competing for the spotlight, solidifying her status as the best guest performance on the best song of the year.