By Donna-Claire Chesman for DJBooth
Few things are as prestigious and career-making as delivering a song of the summer. From Cardi B and KYLE using smash summertime hits to springboard their debut albums to Drake and Kendrick Lamar reminding us of their continual reign, to the phenomenon of Fetty Wap stealing hip hop’s heart, a big summer rap song is a cultural landmark.
To kick off summer 2018, DJBooth has teamed up with TIDAL to deliver a playlist of the top 20 summer rap songs of the current decade. These are the records that are wafting through a clouded basement or smoked-out backyard or soundtracking a late-night drive with the windows down.
Tracks were selected based on a combination of factors, including but not limited to virality, chart placement, cultural impact, nostalgia factor, and the gut instinct that comes by way of a good summer jam.
Press play and relive your best summer memories with us below.
1. “Bodak Yellow” – Cardi B (2017)
The record and career-breaking single that took Cardi B from reality TV fame and middling mixtape success to the GRAMMYs, “Bodak Yellow” was and remains a staple summer hip-hop jam. Produced by J.White, “Bodak Yellow” is not only a fantastic rap song, it’s one that embodies the depth and reach of the genre’s cultural impact.
2. “One Dance” – Drake ft. Wizkid & Kyla (2016)
Drake’s penchant for island flair and Afrobeat secured him another summer hit with “One Dance.” Bright tropical notes offset his moody persona just enough to give the collaboration with Kyla and Wizkid the nuance to be a seasonal standout, ushered in on a bed of warm and teetering keys. “One Dance” went on to become the most popular single of Drake’s career.
3. “XO Tour Llif3” – Lil Uzi Vert (2017)
While Lil Uzi Vert was already achieving mainstream success with his feature on Migos’ hit “Bad and Boujee,” the brooding and hazy “XO Tour Llif3” cemented his superstardom ahead of his debut album, Luv Is Rage 2. “XO Tour Llif3” ascended from sad boy anthem to the blueprint for evocative and melodic hip-hop.
4. “Trap Queen” – Fetty Wap (2014)
Praise be to Fetty Wap. As far as debut singles go, the warbling “Trap Queen” was a behemoth in a sea of middling melodic anthems. The GRAMMY-nominated track adored summer party after summer party, and had hip-hop on its toes, waiting for next move from the North Jersey crooner.
5. “Panda” – Desiigner (2015)
Of all the singles to break a Brooklyn rapper, “Panda,” which is indebted to the South by all means of style, has been the most infectious and widespread in years. With Desiigner’s unique bleat and off-the-wall energy, “Panda” dominated the summer and a chunk of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo.
6. “I’m the One” – DJ Khaled ft. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper & Lil Wayne (2017)
Not all collaborations are created equal, but “I’m the One” was the single to rule all summer jam posse cuts. The warm and gummy melody, carried by Bieber’s soft croon and accented by Chance The Rapper’s sticky and quotable verse made this track an all-time smash hit. “I’m the One,” more than any other 2017 single, sounds like the pool party we’ve all been dying to attend.
7. “Magnolia” – Playboi Carti (2017)
Pi’erre Bourne-produced smash “Magnolia” didn’t just put Playboi Carti on the map, it cemented him in the thick of hip-hop’s rising class. The oscillating beat, the warble of Carti’s delivery, and the classic bar that is “In New York I milly rock” led to a score of notable remixes that kept Playboi Carti’s name in the rap conversation all summer and beyond.
8. “Super Bass” – Nicki Minaj (2011)
When hip-hop and EDM were still playfully flirting with each other, Nicki Minaj seized the momentum with “Super Bass.” Bridging the gap between Minaj’s pop excellence and her sharp rap skill, “Super Bass” is a tightly wound earworm that’s endured almost a decade.
9. “Unforgettable” – French Montana ft. Swae Lee (2017)
Teaming up with Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee, French Montana delivered the Afrobeat-tinged “Unforgettable.” This track ruled dancefloors all summer because it sounds like a late-night headrush, like catching your second wind at the party. The mealy quality of Montana’s voice shines but it’s Swae Lee’s croon that carries this track across the tidal wave of synths all the way up the charts.
10. “Broccoli” – DRAM ft. Lil Yachty (2016)
“Broccoli” reminds us that it feels good to feel good. The Lil Yachty-assisted single from Virginia artist DRAM is all smiles and tinsel, packed with cheeky bars and a cotton-candy tone. Dripping in charisma and wit, “Broccoli” went on to rack up a GRAMMY nomination and remains the blueprint for making an enduring summer smash.
11. “Caroline” – Aminé (2016)
A buoyant summer hit that’s also a love song, that also inspires us to eat more bananas? There’s not much more Portland rapper Aminé could have wanted out of his debut commercial single. Launching Aminé’s profile into the national spotlight, “Caroline” became a day-party staple and the perfect song to sing to that special someone riding shotgun on your way to the beach.
12. “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)” – Rich Homie Quan (2015)
From the taught bounce of the percussion and synths to Rich Homie Quan’s earthy croons, “Flex” is one of those rare, universal bangers, meant to be played in the club, in the whip, at the backyard party, at every party. The single stands as Quan’s highest charting song to date as a solo artist, a dance-ready triumph from the man who promised to never stop goin’ in.
13. “Hot N-gga” – Bobby Shmurda (2014)
The genesis of the Shmoney dance and Bobby Shmurda’s debut single. The building creep of Jahlil Beats’ production makes “Hot N-gga” a menacing earworm. Since it’s 2014, the single has gone on to be a cultural staple (read: memeable content) and remains the explosive start to a hip-hop career cut short.
14. “Power Trip” – J. Cole ft. Miguel (2013)
A Miguel feature can mean a smash hit from the jump. “Power Trip” has J. Cole evoking a harried lover-boy persona that’s striking for all the right reasons: endearing, genuine, and a touch harmless. We’re graced with Cole’s earthy singing and his teetering flow, which made “Power Trip” a nuanced hit from a burgeoning superstar.
15. “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” – Kendrick Lamar (2013)
The year is 2013 and you’ve just heard “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” for the 800th time. You are not upset. As Kendrick spits about being a sinner, you wade through a sweaty house party and wonder if life could ever get more opulent. As Kendrick laments the dangers of his newfound fame, you wonder if he could become the greatest rapper alive.
16. “Classic Man” – Jidenna (2015)
Jidenna’s strengths always funnel into the categories of aesthetic and charisma. His musical talent is solid, but it’s his award-winning presentation that sells the total package, which is what makes “Classic Man” the ultimate Jidenna song. The single sounds like the twist of fruit you get with expensive cocktails. In other words, an audible dollop of perfection.
17. “Rack City” – Tyga (2011)
When “Rack City” dropped, we were living in simpler times. The West Coast anthem became a national phenomenon, spawning a host of memes, remixes, parodies, and the like, which is the only true test of cultural impact. As it stands, “Rack City” was one of Tyga’s finest moments to date, and even if you’ve never heard another Tyga song in your life, you know all the words to this one.
18. “iSpy” – KYLE ft. Lil Yachty (2016)
Self-proclaimed “happy rapper” KYLE was hitting his stride in his native Ventura and the Bay Area, releasing a grip of mixtapes and LPs that embodied a summertime aesthetic, but never dominated the season, that is, until the release of the infectious and shimmering “iSpy” with Lil Yachty. “iSpy” went from ruling the summer to launching KYLE’s transnational solo career.
19. “Congratulations” – Post Malone ft. Quavo (2017)
Post Malone exists to top charts, and with his new-age workman’s anthem “Congratulations,” featuring Quavo, Posty continued his reign as hip-hop’s crooning hitmaker. “Congratulations” is a soundtrack to success in all forms: play it at your graduation party, play it when you get a raise, play it when you don’t hit any red lights on your way home from work. It’s an accessible and playlist-ready feel-good single.
20. “March Madness” – Future (2015)
Few artists are capable of making mind and syllable-bending anthems as consistently as Future. “March Madness” is another definitive, inspirational banger in Future’s catalog, largely regarded as his best song, and there’s even social commentary peppered into the 56 Nights cut. Over the dark veneer of Tarentino’s production, Future warbles his way into finalizing hip-hop stardom.