As 2021 comes to a close, there was plenty of great Hip Hop songs that made our commutes bearable, time with our loved ones more special and pregames much more enjoyable. Whether you subscribe to 10 different streaming services, have a day’s worth of music in your playlist, use YouTube and SoundCloud strictly to find music or still buy physical copies, 2021 offered an eclectic array of songs we couldn’t get enough of. From Tyler, The Creator bringing the Gospel out of NBA YoungBoy on “WUSYANAME” to the return of the chosen one: Ms. Lauryn Hill on “Nobody,” these songs served as soundtracks to our lives, as we opened our doors and embraced the outside once again. Here are HipHopDX’s nominees for Best Hip Hop Songs Of 2021.

BEST HIP HOP SONGS OF 2021 NOMINATIONS

The 2021 Hip Hop SONG of the Year award goes to…

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“WUSYANAME” – TYLER, THE CREATOR F. NBA YOUNGBOY

The unlikely collaboration is the second single off Tyler, the Creator’s excellent Call Me If You Get Lost. The production is soulful and cinematic, with Tyler impressively rapping through the fantasies he has for a crush. YoungBoy provides the softer vocal performance of the two, singing about love and the things that suck about it. – Anthony Malone

 

runner-Ups

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“FAMILY TIES” – BABY KEEM F. KENDRICK LAMAR

Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar’s movements prior to “Family Ties” were shrouded in mystery. Then “Family Ties” finally arrived as the lead single off Keem’s debut album, The Melodic Blue, helping to quell fans’ thirst. Kendrick and Keem’s chemistry couldn’t be closer if they were conjoined by the hip. Keem’s laidback, weird, off-kilter delivery makes way for Kendrick to open his horizons and experiment. K Dot opens his verse with, “smoking on your top fives tonight” with the cadence of an alien taunting his rivals. Then he gives us a reminder, bar for bar, why he’s one of the greatest to touch a mic. – Anthony Malone

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“LIFE OF THE PARTY” – KANYE WEST F. ANDRE 3000

Andre 3000 is rap’s white whale, ever sought and rarely sighted. When he does grace us with a verse, it is invariably awe inspiring. In his most philosophically dense verse of the last decade, 3 Stacks pleads with the deceased Miss Donda to ask his own passed parents questions that have troubled him for quite some time. It’s a heartbreaking rumination on life, death, the passage of time and if indeed there is an afterlife. Andre handles all the topics with grace and wit as fans would expect, yet somehow exceeds expectations. He begins by wondering why, if there is a heaven, his mother wouldn’t be allowed to talk to him. He delves into his family history, creating 3-dimensional scenes with flippant ease, and then asks Miss Donda why his parents were never married, using his aged wisdom to reason into their lives, seeing his parents for the imperfect young people they were. Maturity and brilliance radiate from every line, and the poetic nature of the verse leaves its sentiment ringing in the listener’s ears long after the track comes to a close. Kanye does a solid job as well, but it’s 3 Stacks beautiful verse that carries the track. It’s easily one of the best hip hop songs this year. – Ben Brutocao

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“MY LIFE” – J. COLE F. 21 SAVAGE & MORRAY

Every time J. Cole drops, the internet implodes. Cole’s popularity, skill, and love for Hip Hop are undeniable. On The Off Season, the follow up to 2018’s KOD, Cole seeks to prove the haters and naysayers wrong. His raps are sharp, as if he were sharpening his rhymes in a shed for the past three years. On “My Life” he enlists 21 Savage, and Morray to confront their personal demons. While 21 and Cole impress with their verses, Morray’s hook steals the show, warbling with messages of empowerment and hope. – Anthony Malone

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“NOBODY”
 – NAS F. LAURYN HILL

Social media entered a frenzy when people noticed Lauryn Hill was featured on the tracklist to Nas’ King’s Disease II. Ms. Hill’s return to rhyming was met with excitement and a healthy dose of uncertainty as nearly 25 years have passed since the two bards of Hip Hop first joined forces on It Was Written‘s lead single “If I Ruled The World.” Luckily, both legendary MCs have plenty of fuel left in the tank. Nas’ head-nodding flow on “Nobody” exhibits the same dexterous flow he forged in his youth, but it’s Ms. Hill’s explosive verse that truly steals the show. The track is one of the best hip hop songs this year because it satisfies every audience, young and old.  – Dana Scott

HONORABLE MENTIONS

“Bath Salts” – DMX F. JAY-Z & Nas

Exodus, the first posthumous DMX album, arrived in the final days of May with an epic range of features. But “Bath Salts” quickly stood out as the defining track. Featuring JAY-Z and Nas on the same track, a feat which a decade ago would have felt impossible, “Bath Salts” is arguably one of the most important tracks of all of 2021. In this gathering of New York rap royalty, three kings of the East Coast come together for the final time. Rest in peace to the guardian of Yonkers, Dark Man X. – David Brake

“My Puppy” — KEY! & Tony Seltzer

Atlanta rapper KEY! closed out 2020 with the most cohesive album of his career, The Alpha Jerk, produced in entirety by New York’s underground bard, Tony Seltzer. KEY! raps in a JPEGMAFIA-style stream of consciousness, pumping high-intensity bars that occasionally borderline on screaming. “My Puppy,” is the standout track from an overall excellent project. Tony pairs a whining, distorted synth with rounded, booming drums as KEY! uses the production like a playground, swinging from the monkey bars, taking rides down the slide and doing flips off the swings. – David Brake

“What It Feels Like” – Nipsey Hussle F. JAY-Z

The triumphant brass kicking off “What It Feels Like” sounds like a coronation of the late great Nipsey Hussle’s spirited vocals. He runs another victory lap in the Hip Hop community’s collective heart as his “marathon continues.” The collaborative single featuring JAY-Z has an uplifting, black fist-in-the-air energy which serves as the perfect match for urban cinema’s most powerful film of the new decade, Judas and The Black Messiah. It’s one of the best hip hop songs from a movie soundtrack since Black Panther. – Dana Scott

“Case Closed” – Young Dolph & Key Glock

Cousins Young Dolph and Key Glock had undeniable chemistry. The two rapped like they’re chilling at the cookout, catching family members up on their lives.  But just because there’s camaraderie doesn’t mean there isn’t room for competition. On the standout track from their new Dum & Dummer 2 mixtape, they enter into a friendly contest over who can be the hardest flexer. Glock boasts about his good credit, sexual prowess and deciding not to buy a Ghost in favor of a Richard Mille… though he makes it clear he could have had a Ghost. Dolph jumps in flaunting his VVS stones in his glasses, making millions off ad-libs and turning fine women into freaks, sound effects included. By the time Dolph and Glock reveal their intentions to drop a country album, it becomes impossible to pick a winner. RIP Dolph. – Josh Svetz

“Take Me Home” – Vince Staples F. Fousheé

On his self-titled album, Vince Staples is self-reflective, reading his thoughts like pages off his memoir (if he had one). On “Take Me Home,” Staples runs away from his demons and the aching past that haunts him at night. He finds solace in the streets, a place dually harmful and comforting. He’s assisted by Fousheé, who takes hold of the chorus with enchanting vocals. On the outro, she poses the question for Staples: who’s a friend and enemy? Kenny Beats provides subtle guitar strings that work as a melancholic backdrop for Staples, but when he lays the third verse, the song becomes drenched in paranoia and suspicion. – Anthony Malone

“Miracle Baby” – Alchemist F. MAVI

Alchemist and North Carolina rapper MAVI sound like they were made for each other. Spitting through the swirling textures of Alchemist’s soulful production, MAVI raps with a sense of glory and pride, his bars splintering into topics including metaphysics, the state of the nation and the success he’s experienced over the past few years. Deeply impassioned, “Miracle Baby” is not only the best track from This Thing Of Ours 2, it’s one of MAVI’s finest offerings of the year. – Ben Brutocao

“2010” – Earl Sweatshirt

Each Earl Sweatshirt track is a gift that keeps giving. With each listen, his music expands and contracts, sharing textures, lyrics and notes unheard on the first play. “2010,” the former Odd Future rapper’s most recent track, is another excellent addition to his canon, containing heady bars layered between clever references, all over a wonderfully discordant beat from Black Noi$e. – David Brake

“Off The Grid” – Kanye West F. Playboi Carti & Fivio Foreign

Kanye West‘s DONDA was met with mixed reception, but none can deny the intoxicating energy of “Off The Grid.” Including vintage Yeezus-esque production and some of Ye’s best bars of the album, “Off The Grid” also features arguably the greatest verse in Fivio Foreign’s career and punchy bars from Playboi Carti. Kanye, who also executive produced Carti’s WHOLE LOTTA RED, clearly holds a lot of respect for the Atlanta rapper, as “Off The Grid” sounds like Yeezy’s take on Carti’s frenetic post-SoundCloud sonics. – David Brake

“42” – Pi’erre Bourne

Pi’erre Bourne’s skills as a rapper are still being honed, but on “42,” from The Life Of Pi’erre 5, the rapper/producer’s latest album, the artist showcases the maturity and growth he’s undergone over the course of the five-project series. Bourne rides the beat’s pocket as he croons over electric production, full of computerized chimes and swelling synths. Bourne’s been responsible for a number of catchy hooks over his career, but none can hold a flame to the exhilarating chorus of “42.” – David Brake

“Whole Lotta Money” — BIA F. Nicki Minaj

Thanks to Tik Tok’s ability to make a song an overnight-success, Bia’s viral single “Whole Lotta Money” shot to No.3 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart immediately. The heavy-bass beat overlapped with the mellow tone of Bia’s voice makes “Whole Lotta Money” the perfect track to flex to – encouraging the most financially-deficient person to feel rich. The infectious single caught wind of Rap royalty Nicki Minaj back in July, as she hopped on the remix sending the single to No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Since then, Bia and Nicki Minaj have formed their friendship under the nickname “Barbia,” setting Bia up as one to watch in 2022. – Amber Corrine

“Sky” — Playboi Carti

After years of waiting, Whole Lotta Red — Playboi Carti’s follow-up to 2018’s classic Die Lit — finally arrived on Christmas. The reception was admittedly more mixed than was to be expected from a hotly anticipated album from one of rap’s true superstars. But whether you love it or you hate it, the project produced some true gems, including “Sky,” a synth-heavy, melody-forward anthem that has quickly outperformed its counterparts, and then went on to TikTok virality. Art Dealer’s moody masterpiece of a beat sounds like Daft Punk dipped in lean and perfectly upholds the song’s structure, building drama for Carti’s cathartic chorus, which is easily the best hook on the entire album. – David Brake

“Lay Wit Ya” – Isaiah Rashad F. Duke Deuce

After a hiatus that only rivals his TDE boss Kendrick Lamar, Isaiah Rashad returned from a long soul search this May with brand new music in the form of “Lay Wit Ya.” Rashad’s battles with mental health and addiction have unfolded publicly, and he’s been transparent about the effects his struggles have had on his music. To the delight of his cult-like following of fans, the Cilvia Demo rapper seems to be in a healthier place. The menacing and rhythmic production from Hollywood Cole serves as a springboard for Rashad and his Memphis counterpart, Duke Deuce, as the two bounce across the song, rapping about women and big wheeled Chevys. It’s one of the best hip hop songs this year from the south. – David Brake

“Thot Shit” – Megan Thee Stallion

Megan Thee Stallion isn’t distracted by noise, fake friends or pesky drama. The Houston rap star creates on her own terms, and has developed an unshakeable confidence impervious to opps, as is apparent on “Thot Shit,” her latest single produced by OG Parker and LilJuMadeDaBeat. Rapping as Tina Snow, her brazen alter ego, Meg pummels the beat with a braggadocious flair as she takes full control over her own body and narrative. Sizzling and electric, “Thot Shit” features Megan doing what she does best: creating banging anthems primed for Hot Girl Summer. – David Brake

“Seeing Green” – Nicki Minaj F. Lil Wayne & Drake

Nicki Minaj released the Young Money reunion posse cut on the re-release of her pivotal mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty. “Seeing Green” brings Nicki, Lil Wayne, and Drake back together to a time when Young Money ruled the charts. The soulful Heather Headly sample provides the tone for the track — celebratory, triumphant, and powerful. Each artist raps like it’s their last verses with invigorating wit and charisma. From Weezy’s looped Atlanta bars, Nicki’s ferocity in her pen, and Drake’s slam dunk of a verse—“Seeing Green” doesn’t play on nostalgia; it’s a display of veterans teaching game to the new school. – Anthony Malone

“Who Want Smoke??” – Nardo Wick F. 21 Savage, Lil Durk & G Herbo

There’s something alluring about rap that feels dangerous. With many major artists taking brand deals, making McDonalds’ meals and going out of their way publicly to show their bars are fantasy, rather than real life, it leaves a space open for a rapper who flaunts everything Tipper Gore thought was wrong with rap. In comes newcomer Nardo Wick, a Florida rapper who proudly dons the villain persona with no remorse. “Who Want Smoke??” is his crowning achievement thus far, filled with memorable threats of violence and moments that latch onto the listeners’ psyche long after the song ends. Add in some cold blooded bars from G Herbo, Lil Durk and the original dead-eyed nihilist of rap 21 Savage and you have a recipe for a memorable track that sports a hypnotic effect on repeat listens. It’s one of the best hip hop songs from Florida this year.  – Josh Svetz

Be sure to check out some of our other Year End Award Categories and our previous year’s winners below: