The 10 best rap songs of 2011

"I don't know art, but I know what I like." "There's no accounting for taste." "Opinions are like assholes." There's validity to each one of these statements, but that doesn't mean that anyone's going to agree with any feelings anyone else expresses about anything on the Internet. And while hip-hop's reign as pop's lingua franca is fading, people remain mad for rap, even if nobody can really agree on what rap is, or what's best about, or what's worst. Gimme Noise could be a rap neophyte or an obsessive, stone-purist XXL freelancer or Rick Rubin or Mark Ronson; in each case, the list below would be different, and in each case, somebody would find a reason to pile on and dissect and infer vociferously and just hate. All of that will likely happen here, too, but maybe that's healthy - the fact that, you know, the very act of quasi-arbitratry year-end list-making is enough to raise hackles. It means that people care. That they're listening and downloading and processing and rendering myriad personal judgments. Is modern rock, at this point, capable of inspiring such comment-box fervor? Are people really invested enough in guitar thunder in 2011? Hopefully we'll find out soon.

In the meantime, well, here are the 10 rap songs we couldn't get enough of this year. (Sadly, not including this, which I just found on YouTube and almost makes up for that one bullshit Dipset reunion single. KILLA CAM!)

Heaven help us all.

10. MellowHype, "igotagun"

In 2039, we'll wistfully look back at singles like this, at how simple and innocent and whimsical shock rap - and society in general - used to be. Also, I still have no idea what the "40 dollars a month" thing at the end is about; 40 dollars a month, for whatever, sounds pretty reasonable to us.

9. Sole & The Skyrider Band feat. Lil B & Pictureplane, "Captain Bad Swag"

"Twelve trillion on my dick/I'm a U.S. citizen," and we're off to some seriously warped races, yeah? The principles have no more conception of what this song means than you or I or Ben Bernanke, but we should all be glad it exists.

8. Dog Leather, "Troll Spray"

This is spinal noise rap, capable of absolving whatever guilt you may happen to feel about no longer giving a shit about the Beastie Boys or their attendant physical maladies. Reading along at home, Lonely Island? Be jealous.

6 & 7. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, "Thuggin'" and Freddie Gibbs, "187 Proof"

Just a couple years ago, hyperbole like "Freddie Gibbs is the future of rap" had me throwing up in my mouth a little whenever I stumbled across it. But the guy has away of growing on you like a fungus, wearing down your resolve, maybe because his gangsta grind is so smoothly and unfadably relentless and because dude has a unbelievable work ethic. (No wonder Young Jeezy signed him.) These are two of his better bangers, outstanding mission statements in a burgeoning catalog of hardbodied, flint-hearted mission statements. Also for 2K11 grab "Already," his team-up with producer Statik Selektah and slept-on Texas rapper Trae tha Truth.

5. Fat Trel, "Y'all Niggas Ain't Real"

Well, you heard the man.

4. Pusha T feat. 50 Cent & Pharrell Williams, "Raid"

In a world full of event-rap epic fails, songs like this scare me a little because the collision of two seemingly incompatible worlds just jibes so beautifully. In that way, "Raid" reminds me a lot of, say, Child Rebel Solider, in that everybody rolls up with their A-game and makes synergistic street swagger seem almost obscenely, impossibly easy. In four breezy, menacing minutes, Push justifies his hype; 50 Cent counteracts a raft of failed singles; and it's possible to make it through a Pharrell Williams joint without shaking one's head and mutter "ninja fell off" or wanting to punch dude in the face (you won't want to do any of those things - trust us). Also, it's fun to imagine these three chasing each other around the studio, laughing, spraying one another with cans of roach spray.  

3. Rye Rye, "Shake It To The Ground"

DJ Blaqstarr & Rye Rye: Shake It To The Ground from Mad Decent on Vimeo.

A couple years back, I reviewed "Pro Nails" - that shitty Kid Sister song with Kanye - for 5ingles; at that point, the lady MC's long-delayed LP was finally on the verge of materializing. Naturally, some troll zinged me because "Pro Nails" been a single years before that. History will inevitably repeat itself here, because poor Ryeisha Berrain has been cutting killer club-rap jams for what seems like forever, and every new year sees the promise of an official, for-purchase-in-stores Rye Rye album, you know? And then the thing gets shelved yet a-fucking-gain - which happened twice this year, in the February/March timeframe, then closer to the World Series - and songs that were already a couple years old are allowed to get staler and staler, though we're fairly sure that we'll never get sick of "Ground." It's an old song. It was supposed to be on an album that was supposed to drop this year. So sue me, or at least snap up RYEot PowRR.

2. Danny Brown, "Blunt After Blunt"

Any cut from XXX would reasonably fit here, but I chose this one because Brown comes across as epically demented. Interviewers need to ask this guy what it means to take "blunts to the face"; I seriously want to know.

1. Kimya Dawson and Aesop Rock, "The Library"

So what would you like to know about the Dewey Decimal system?

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