Ubiquitous major-label last great hope 2 Chainz makes four appearances on this list. None of those appearances are on any of his own songs, though he is a nice addition to each and everyone of them, particularly “Beez In The Trap,” where he mentions Nicki Minaj’s “doo-hickey.” But this is just the story of major-label rap music this year: A whole lot of nothing you didn’t ask for, to get to that something you actually want to hear. And so, to provide a little more variety to this glorified list of my favorite songs from the first six months of 2012, I’ve included some non-rap picks, as well.
50 Cent, feat. Kidd Kidd “O.J.”
Fiddy goes dumb, samples Kirby’s Epic Yarn, makes his best song since “Ski Mask Way.”
Ab-Soul “Pineal Gland”
DMT is a moderately popular, kind of scary drug, and it still is.
BBU, feat. GLC “My Hood”
Conscious rappers master knowingness and sophisticated ignorance. GLC bats clean-up.
Big K.R.I.T. “I Got This”
The elbow-throwing, sing-along your smart friends decided they can enjoy.
Big Kuntry King “Goin’ In”
Grandiose Grand Hustler’s shoulda-been single shoots the shake club into outer space.
Woah, what is this? A Burial song that actually moves? Golly!
Chromatics “Back From the Grave”
All your friends and family are dead. Bummer jam of 2012!
A hard-partying invective against homophobia and hypocrisy in the church.
Drake, feat. the Weeknd “Crew Love (DJ Pierre Remix)”
Soporific slow jam for your bros with a tinge of footwork gets the Baltimore Club treatment.
Dustin Wong “Toe Tore Oh”
Ex-Ponytail and pleasant, avant-garde guitarist pays tribute to Hayao Miyazaki.
E-40, feat. Juicy J & 2 Chainz “They Point”
“A Milli” producer approximates DJ Mustard, and E-40 has fun with #hashtags, just because.
Ed Schrader’s Music Beat “Rats (Schwarz Remix feat. ISSUE)”
Dubby, clubby, rappy remix of post-post-post punks from Baltimore with E-40’s other weirdo son.
Evan Voytas “You Don’t Even Know Where It’s At”
Annoying-voiced FlyLo guitarist and jazzy-wazzy fancy-pants gets his Toro Y Moi on.
Fiend “Street Player”
International Jones snatches Chicago back from Pitbull, likes his chips with no salsa.
Future “Permanent Scar”
Emotive, thoughtful Auto-Tune in 2012 is not a myth. I’ve heard it!
Gangrene “Vodka & Ayahuasca”
Really wanna talk to Alchemist about third-rate Italo-proggers like Antonius Rex and Jacula.
Grimes, feat. Majical Cloudz “Nightmusic”
After the Mists of Avalon book club, there’s a fantasy-themed rave on the roof. Be there, bruh.
Grip Plyaz “Died (in Yo Pussy)”
Because the blogosphere needs its own “Rack City.”
Gucci Mane, feat. 2 Chainz “Get It Back”
Gucci and the new Diet caffeine-free Gucci go off over Tetris music from Mike Will Made It.
Haleek Maul “Fraulein”
Barbadian teen and pure product of the Internet with a deathwish gets mad real.
Himanshu, feat. Lovedeep Singh Pawan, “Choorhay Lare”
Nehru Jackets‘ best, but we whiteboy rap nerds lack the cultural awareness to write about it.
Homeboy Sandman “Hold Your Head”
If the Based God actually cared.
Jackie Chain, feat. Zilla “Ladies In the House”
Scatman John and Jackie Chain together makes too much sense.
John Talabot “Oro y Sangre”
“Sucker MC’s” drums and chillwave synths. A Tumblr rapper should rhyme over this.
Jonwayne “Live At Guitar Center”
The best James Ferraro song released this year.
Kanye West, feat. Big Sean, Pusha T & 2 Chainz “Mercy”
A noisy, bullying shadow looming over the rest of radio rap’s current playlist.
“Crank Dat” meets the “Ha Dance” on the set of Fassbinder’s World on a Wire.
Lee Bannon “Phone Drone”
This is your brain on the Internet.
M.I.A. “Bad Girls”
Slinky single doesn’t pretend /\/\/\Y/\ never existed. Video of the year.
Main Attrakionz “Take Her Shoppin'”
Saddest, sweetest song ever about ballin’ kinda out of control.
Maps & Atlases “Winter”
Beardo bait gets down and shakes its ass, just a little bit.
“I just wanna have fun / Have fun and make money.” Easier said than done, dude!
Nicki Minaj, feat. 2 Chainz “Beez In The Trap”
Bleep-and-squeak homage to Schoolly D and Ice-T. What was that about “real hip-hop?”
Oddisee “The Gold Is Mine”
D.C. producer/rapper riffs on Metronomy’s pop squonk, boasts about sustainability.
Pallbearer “The Legend”
Candlemass gobble up painkillers, jump on a dragon, and ride it to Little Rock, Arkansas.
PICNICTYME, feat. A.Dd+ “Horizons”
A sleepy hook melts over a bassline played by someone in gardening gloves.
Pilotpriest “The Golden Child”
(G)lo-fi vocal house tribute to mid-tier Eddie Murphy vehicle. Welcome to 2012.
Pop. 1280 “Nature Boy”
If Pussy Galore were okay with their singer going to Brown. Mannered, literary pigfuck.
Rick Ross, feat. Drake & French Montana, “Stay Schemin'”
French Montana eeyores out a hook, while Drake and Rozay act like dicks. That beat, though!
Robert Glasper Experiment “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Terrible idea executed extremely well. You’d be forgiven for not realizing it’s a Nirvana cover.
Screaming Females “Rotten Apple”
If I were in 8th grade right now this would totally be life-changing. Still kind of is.
Todd Terje “Inspector Norse”
Disco-edit Einstein and neo-space disco savant time-travels with an O.G. synth.
Tyga “Rack City”
Monolithically minimal. The death knell for Lex Luger’s trap sound, the return of snap.
Diplo and Ursher rip off SBTRKT and Sampha and make the slow-burn single of the year.
Waka Flocka Flame “Rooster in My Rari”
Waka untamed and yelling about his dick. Label head hides under his desk.
WZRD “Teleport 2 Me, Jamie”
Cudi drops the grungified butt-rock, samples Drive, actually locates Winding-Refn’s pathos.
Zack Browning “Secret Pulse”
Imagine Philip Glass with an 8-bit fetish orchestrating the theme from Silver Surfer for NES.