Plenty trends dictated the landscape of music this year. Some of those trends came with songs that defined key phases of 2022. Other artists found joy in reinvention, completing the two extreme sides of the spectrum. In our opinion, a top fifty selection must encompass a range of moods, settings and styles across that spectrum—songs for parties, songs with meticulous songwriting and production, and songs with a message. Some are easy-going and short, some are complex and long; that achieves a balance and appreciation for music of all levels.
As a hip-hop focused platform, the year-end lists provide us a chance to showcase the best of the genre across the UK and US rap scene, but also highlight genres such as R&B, pop and tracks from the Latin and French world. Singles released in the last quarter of 2021 but land on a 2022 album are considered for selection. Dive in and discover Mic Cheque’s standout cuts of the year.
First, some honourable mentions…
- Aya Nakamura, “Méchante”
- Carrtoons & Nigel Hall, “Groceries”
- Curren$y & The Alchemist, “Louis Baggage” (ft. Babyface Ray)
- Faouzia, “Habibi (My Love)”
- Future, “Just the Beginning”
- GloRilla, “Tomorrow 2” (ft. Cardi B)
- Jay Worthy, Larry June & LNDN DRGS, “Leave it Up to Me”
- Jeezy & DJ Drama, “I Ain’t Gone Hold Ya”
- Jim Legxacy, “Candy Reign (!)”
- Jordy & Wretch 32, “Forty Acres”
- Joyce Wrice & Kaytranada, “Iced Tea”
- KayCyy, “Look What I Found” (ft. Lancey Foux)
- Lil Uzi Vert, “Just Wanna Rock”
- Little Simz, “Heart on Fire”
- Ojerime, “Jetset”
- Quavo & Takeoff, “Hotel Lobby (Unc & Phew)”
- Sudan Archives, “Home Maker”
- SZA, “Ghost in the Machine” (ft. Phoebe Bridgers)
50. Pak-Man, “Life Is Real” (ft. Biggapicture)
Album: Big Pakachino
South London’s Pak-Man delivered a trap knocker in “Life is Real”, finding his songwriting in an evolved pocket as he reflects on going through trials and tribulations but coming out unscathed on the other side.
49. DigDat, “Bentayga”
DigDat offered one of the best UK drill tracks of the year with “Bentayga”. It’s loud, abrasive and mean-mugging the whole way.
48. Strandz, “Us Against the World”
Croydon’s latest newcomer instantly captured ears with “Us Against the World”, writing a lover’s street tale, over production sampling Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “Who’s Gonna Take the Blame” that 50 Cent would’ve gladly rapped over in the 2000s. It sets the stage ablaze for the South Londoner to take over in 2023.
47. Lojay & Sarz, “Monalisa” (ft. Chris Brown)
Afrobeats saw one of its greatest years commercially so far. Nigerian artist Lojay recruits Chris Brown for the remix to his hit “Monalisa”, adding a new dynamic to the addictive track.
46. Jeshi, “Sick”
Album: Universal Credit
Jeshi masterfully portrays the struggles of a working-class British citizen on the vivid “Sick”; a. man with nowhere to turn thanks to a system that’s failed him and society.
45. Ravyn Lenae, “Skin Tight” (ft. Steve Lacy)
Ravyn Lenae’s sultry vocals shine on the Steve Lacy-assisted “Skin Tight”, a slow-burning romantic confession that blossoms by the minute.
44. Shygirl, “Shlut”
South London star Shygirl gets physical on an alt-trap cut filled with melodies ranging from electronic whirs, airy guitars and one of the best hooks of the year.
43. Central Cee, “Straight Back to It”
Central Cee’s grind is from Monday to Monday, as told on one of his many highlights of the year. While he has many tracks that could make the list, “Straight Back to It” triumphs thanks to its motivational energy.
42. The Weeknd, “Out of Time”
Album: Dawn FM
The Weeknd delivered a track that Off the Wall Michael Jackson would’ve certainly been proud of, carrying that 80s essence while personifying the Canadian’s city pop vision.
41. Ice Spice, “Munch (Feelin’ U)”
“You thought I was feeling you?” will go down as one of the greatest curves of all-time, one of the many quotables that surround the Bronx babe’s viral drill track.
40. Anitta, “Envolver”
Album: Versions of Me
The Brazilian’s reggaeton hit made all the waves online. It became the first Latin song without a feature to top the Spotify Global Daily chart, and rightly so with the way it oozes melody on its hooks and complimentary verses.
39. Rachel Chinouriri, “All I Ever Asked”
Another Croydon talent, Rachel Chinouriri waved the flag for indie pop with various singles this year, the best of which was the tender “All I Ever Asked”.
38. Foudeqush & Ludwig Goransson, “Con La Brisa”
Album: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — Music from and Inspired By
Aside from the Rihanna comeback singles, the Wakanda Forever soundtrack was home to the ethereal “Con La Brisa”, the breakout track for the Spanish-singing Foudeqush, produced by Ludwig Göransson, known for his film scores and work with Childish Gambino. “Con La Brisa” is as light as a father, taking you to cloud nine with its nimble production and vocals.
37. Asake, “Ototo”
Album: Mr. Money with the Vibe
Fresh to the afrobeats scene, Asake instantly impressed with his debut album, Mr. Money with the Vibe. It’s the violins in “Ototo” that take all the money, backed by Asake’s lyrics of self-triumph.
36. Little Simz, “Angel”
Album: NO THANK YOU
The opener to Little Simz’s surprise album is gentle beauty, making it hard to get past to the rest of the songs. Simz’s stream of consciousness flows over three golden verses, while Cleo Sol is the crux to the hook.
35. JID, “Lauder Too” (ft. Ravyn Lenae & Eryn Allen Kane)
Album: The Forever Story
The sequel to JID’s iconic is quite the contrast to the first track sonically, but he’s still rapping as if his life depends on it here. From all the highlights on The Forever Story, it’s the jazzy bass and multiple avenues that “Lauder Too” takes across its run to make it a complete unique experience.
34. Boldy James & Nicholas Craven, “Monterey Jack”
Album: Fair Exchange No Robbery
It was hard selecting a highlight for a man that put out four albums in 2022. Yet “Monterey Jack” is the one that represents the best qualities of Boldy James. Menacing, slurring production is his forté, this time handled by Nicholas Craven. Over it, Boldy tells a compelling tale, one that sounds reflective, as if the event happened years back but is detailed so vividly you’re placed right in the scene of the crimes.
33. Gunna, “South to West”
For “South to West” it’s the aerobic horns which makes it the “META GALA” of Gunna’s DS4EVER. His cadence is untouchable over the two minutes, calling for a highly infectious trap anthem.
32. Oxlade, “KU LO SA”
Afrobeats reign in 2022 continued with Oxlade’s “Ku Lo Sa”, heard across TikTok through its sped-up version and COLORS performance. But even the studio version lives up to the hype—a track you simply can’t get enough of.
31. Beyoncé, “Alien Superstar”
Beyoncé picked the perfect title for this song: it sounds and feels extraterrestrial, combining masterfully with her en-vogue attitudes and spoken-word raps.
30. Kodak Black, “Let Me Know”
Album: Back for Everything
Despite his many viral songs this year, “Let Me Know” is the song that truly humanises the controversial artist, opening the veil on the thoughts running through Kodak’s mind.
29. Chief Keef, “Yes Sir”
A decade on and Chicago’s OG driller continues to be weirdly entertaining, charging through a simply addictive flow that’ll have you saying “yes siirrr” all day.
28. Vince Staples, “When Sparks Fly”
Album: RAMONA PARK BROKE MY HEART
“When Sparks Fly” channels hip hop’s favourite metaphor of personifying a gun as a woman, rapping the two verses from its perspective (“I know that you love me, you don’t gotta show me / Off to the world, please, hide me from the police”). The passion’s heard in both the writing, production and sampled hook, making for one of Vince’s best songs of his career.
27. FKA Twigs, “Papi Bones” (ft. Shygirl)
This year, FKA Twigs took her talents to new territory. “Papi Bones” finds two most abstract talents of Britain joining forces for a track crafted for the dancefloor.
26. 070 Shake, “History”
Album: You Can’t Kill Me
The three-part “History” switches from church hymn to Great Gatsby score, followed by a gripping breakdown that brings finality to the lovesick tale.
25. D-Block Europe & Ghost Killer Track, “Elegant & Gang”
Album: Lap 5
Out of every dozen D-Block Europe songs, there will be one gem that shows why they are one of the biggest artists in the UK. “Elegant & Gang” fixates on a phrase that every London boyfriend will be saying to their significant other.
24. K-Trap & Skepta, “Warm (Remix)”
The remix to K-Trap’s sleeper hit was a worthy rendition. Rarely heard on drill beats, Skepta lays a pristine verse with a slew of memorable one-liners and statements of intent. K-Trap follows up with a new verse of his own, acknowledging the surprise collaboration and completing a remix that certainly compliments the levels of the original.
23. Nas, “Michael & Quincy”
Album: King’s Disease III
Nas reels back the years on the Hit-Boy produced “Michael & Quincy”, one of the many standouts from their fourth collaborative album. It begins with an ominous beat, evolving every thirty seconds until its rewarding switch-up that thematically packs in a Michael Jackson reference in every line.
22. Earl Sweatshirt, “2010”
The futuristic “2010” effortlessly finds Earl Sweatshirt rhyming with the mic on fire.
21. Real Boston Richey & Future, “Bullseye 2”
Album: Public Housing
Now signed to Freebandz, Florida’s Real Boston Richey remixes his gruff 2021 track to add an appearance by label boss Future, who lays one of the best guest verses of the year.
20. Rob49 & Lil Baby, “Vulture Island V2”
Album: Welcome to Vulture Island
Representing New Orleans, Rob49 also benefits from a big remix, recruiting Lil Baby for the remix to “Vulture Island”. Its slasher strings and ridiculous improvs (“yee yee”) make it one of the best trap collabs of the year, showing just how to take a regular trap song and personalise it to stand out.
19. Nas, “Beef”
Album: King’s Disease III
On another KD3 highlight, Nas raps from the first-person perspective of beef (“I’m the words that get misinterpreted / I’m the get back, I’m the first to hit, I’m the worst of it / Lurkin’ on your premises, I am your nemesis”). This is a classic Nas song waiting to be knighted, in line with sister tracks like “I Gave You Power” and “Fetus”, writing three perfect verses that feel plucked straight out of Nas’ 90s book of rhymes
18. Ab-Soul, “Moonshooter”
Ab-Soul’s return came with a heavy heart. “Moonshooter” was his reintroduction after narrowly escaping life-threatening circumstances. Its ghostly production is eery yet enchanting, and Soul’s clever lines were dearly missed (“Shoot for the moon and keep a gun around / In a world so cold, at least the sun is out”).
17. Future, “Puffin on Zootiez”
Album: I Never Liked You
Future floats over the transportive “PUFFIN ON ZOOTIEZ”, showcasing what he does best: creating an audio environment to get lost in.
16. Youngs Teflon, “Body Language” (ft. Stardom)
Album: All Eyes on Me Against the World
The beloved UK rap track of the year was Youngs Teflon’s “Body Language”, assisted by Birmingham’s Stardom, going back and forth to lay sharp bars and contrasting yet complimentary flows.
15. Q, “Stereo Driver”
You can either recreate a nostalgic genre and modernise it, or take the listener back to that time through sheer realism. Q achieves the latter on the wonderful “Stereo Driver”, a song that you could easily believe came out in the 80s if you didn’t check the year on your DSP. Q recreates 80s synth-wave with the aura of a Price or Maxwell; it’s enough of an impression to show he is a star in the making.
14. Denzel Curry, “Melt Session #1” (ft. Robert Glasper)
Album: Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Few explored the mental state this year quite like Denzel Curry. “Accountability, I take responsibility / For all my actions, I packed em in these soliloquies,” he declares on the powerful opener to his 2022 album. It sets a perfect tone of intent, and is just as impactful outside of the album experience.
13. Loyle Carner, “Hate”
Loyle Carner returned with one of the best rap songs of the year, standing out with its bombastic drums and focused subject matter as he grapples between keeping a negative outlook (“Let me tell you what I hate”) versus a positive outlook (“Let me tell you what I love”).
12. Kendrick Lamar, “Die Hard” (ft. Blxst & Amanda Reifer)
Album: Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
Kendrick Lamar’s return was marked by the most personal songs of his career. However, he was still able to keep a light balance with songs fit for casual entertainment. “Die Hard” is one of his catchiest songs to date, a romantic ode filled to the brim with melodies by Blxst and Amanda Reifer.
11. Burna Boy, “Last Last”
Album: Love, Damini
Burna Boy channelled heartbreak into one of the biggest afrobeat anthems of 2022. His track “Last Last” received the “Essence” treatment, assisted by the prominent Toni Braxton sample to lead choruses of chants across the globe.
10. 070 Shake, “Skin and Bones”
Album: You Can’t Kill Me
070 Shake has become the sage for lovesick anthems. “Skin and Bones” combines synths with alternative R&B and passionate songwriting to help transmit every particle of Shake’s emotions (“You treat me like I’m more than a pair of skin and bones, and that really made a difference in my story”). It is a cinematic journey from top to bottom, accessible to the mainstream but inventive enough to make any listener be in awe of its composition.
9. Pusha T, “Diet Coke”
Album: It’s Almost Dry
Razor-sharp in his bars, as always, is Pusha T on one of the best rap singles of the year. “Diet Coke” has enough quotables to fill a whole page, but a couple standouts are “Missy was our only misdemeanour” and “The Porsche’s horses revving like ‘Look at me'”. His playful, clever lines skitter across the 88-Keys beat and Kanye chops as Push raps about, well, lines. It’s what he does best, and we come back fiending for it every time.
8. Benny the Butcher, “Johnny P’s Caddy” (ft. J. Cole)
Album: Tana Talk 4
To understand how good of a year hip hop had, no further evidence is needed than “Johnny P’s Caddy”. This is the song an avid fan would nominate to represent hip hop in 2022; two of the best lyricists in the game collaborating for the first time over a customary Alchemist beat. It is a lyrical showdown, one that is led by Benny the Butcher and challenged by one of J. Cole’s all-timer verses. No hooks, just raw bars and hunger—the fundamentals of a classic rap song.
7. Kendrick Lamar, “N95”
Album: Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers
Kendrick orders superficial masks to be taken off on “N95”, the “DNA” of Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. Its stadium synths grant Kendrick a hit that’s right in line with today’s hip hop landscape, but has the writing and personality to individualise it as well.
6. Black Thought & Danger Mouse, “Aquamarine” (ft. Michael Kiwanuka)
Album: Cheat Codes
Black Thought and Danger Mouse reached their summit on the heroic “Aquamarine”. Assisted by British singer Michael Kiwanuka, Black Thought performs two all-timer verses which feel like a personal reckoning (“Hustlin’ nicks of reefer to tusslin’ with the reaper / Sensory deprivation to ultimate synesthesia / Freein’ our brothers’ keeper from teeth of another creature / Breakin’ and enterin’ to the theater, the search and seizure”). His rhymes have bewildered listeners for decades, and they continue to do so on “Aquamarine”.
5. JID & J. Cole, “Stick” (ft. Kenny Mason & Sheck Wes)
Album: D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape
There’s loud, and then there’s deafening. Dreamville’s “Stick” is the hardest rap song of 2022, packed with the highest dose of adrenaline possible. JID kicks off the first verse, while affiliate Kenny Mason screams down the hook and the second verse. Sheck Wes tackles the track’s midpoint, which comes three-and-a-half minutes into the song. Ultimately, the best is left till last, allowing J. Cole to body one of his best verses ever. This is in-your-face, speaker-splitting rap.
4. Steve Lacy, “Bad Habit”
Album: Gemini Rights
The most organic TikTok story of the year is infamously in the hands of Steve Lacy. To those familiar with Lacy’s modest career, “Bad Habit” was just another single promoting his second album. From the get go, it was evidently a phenomenal song worthy of hitting the charts. Worthy, but not capable; purely due to Lacy’s low profile. That is until TikTok decided it had other plans. Next thing you knew, “Bad Habit” flew to number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Bad Habit” went viral for a reason; its retro lo-fi sound fits the current landscape of DIY tunes. Though it’s far from rudimentary. With “Bad Habit”, Lacy brought back the traditional pop song structure, constructed with verses, hooks, a bridge and a fourth quarter breakdown—all while appealing to the modern trends. How often do you hear such a formula nowadays?
For Lacy, the success was sudden, but thoroughly deserved. “Bad Habit” is a year-defining song that had the virality but the quality to back it.
3. Rosalía, “DESPECHÁ”
Album: MOTOMAMI (Deluxe)
Album cycles are close to unpredictable nowadays. An artist can put out plenty singles to support their record, but all plans can go out the window if the audience is powerful enough. Rather than her lead single with The Weeknd, it was “DESPECHÁ” that would become Rosalía’s biggest song of her career so far. Previewed during her Motomami tour, it was soon granted official release and a placement on the deluxe edition of the album—a move that was likely planned, but the success was never guaranteed in the way it ended up being.
Simple yet infectious, “DESPECHÁ” is a strong contender for 2022’s Song of the Summer. Backed by a mere two piano chords, Rosalía sings a perfectly melodic hook and rapped verses fine-tuned for any ear, completing the mambo-inspired track to the point where it’s impossible to sit still.
There’s a reason why the Latin artists are dominating the pop space, and Rosalía’s “DESPECHÁ” is the perfect example of how addictive their product is.
2. Kendrick Lamar, “The Heart Part 5”
Album: Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (Digital Bonus Track)
On 9 May 2022, hip hop froze in excitement. A YouTube Premiere video went up that revealed the imminent release of “The Heart Part 5”. We all knew what that meant. Kendrick Lamar was returning, with a comeback single and an album that would land just days later. Heavily sampling Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”, the track was no hint towards the artistic direction of Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, but rather a standalone piece that dissects celebrity spotlights. The key music video incorporates deepfakes of Will Smith, Kobe Bryant, Nipsey Hussle and more, while rapping from their perspectives.
The song ended up hinting at celebrity controversy, cancel culture and hip hop martyrdom, areas that Kendrick would go to spotlight on himself on his 2022 album. It demonstrates a masterful talent of songwriting, one that few possess, and few that can pull it off like Kendrick Lamar.
1. Denzel Curry, “Walkin”
Album: Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Rap music evokes vivid imagery with its lyricism, an aspect no other genre can match. All the greats have done it, but there is always a new way to reinvent. Denzel Curry’s “Walkin” offers the finest audiovisual experience, evoking the image of Denzel walking through a desert en route to find the answers to his questions. “Walkin” paints a struggle, one that is being powered through by Denzel despite all the odds. It’s motivational not just for Denzel but the listener as well, channelling that persevering attitude and owning it yourself.
“Clear a path as I keep on walkin’ / Ain’t no stopping in this dirty, filthy, rotten, nasty, little world we call our home” relays a truth, a reality of our environment that’s stained beyond repair. Denzel knows this, but continues to get through life; his goals must be reached no matter what the conditions are. This is a necessary message, and is the reason why we come to hip hop at its peak. Denzel’s message resonates through sharp lyricism, and a ghoulish sample backed by boom-bap drums, before transforming into a trap-infused propellant.
When the song ends, the mantra continues with you, extracted from the song to inhabit your life. Few songs that achieve that while excelling in the composition as well. “Walkin” is right in line with the new, the old, and the space in between, standing tall as one of the best singles of the year.