"White Privilege II" is the worst
But I'm not going to go back and reread all the shitty thinkpieces. I'm generally not about that "the only reason that you could possibly think this is if you hate rap" shit talking, but those takes about how this song was an act of solidarity or a performative calling in put me in that spot. The song itself is enough. My hot take at the time was that it had more in common with Eminem's "Kim" than anything else; in length obviously, but also in tone and goal. It is so clearly a song from the perspective a character that wants desperately to justify to the listener that they are justified in their actions. And there's nothing wrong with that on its own, of course. I'm not the person who wants to rubric all rap by authenticity -- though I realize there are real reasons to take that position -- by any means, including that annoying refrain about how I'd be more into it if Macklemore, say, just admitted that was what he was doing. This song's the worst on its own terms, no matter what terms you gift it. It's the worst because it inspires nothing but timidity and the fear of conscience in its makers and its listeners. It's the worst because it sounds like shit for eight fucking minutes.
4. J. Cole - "4 Your Eyez Only"
The Great J. Cole Debate of 2016 was garbage to begin with, and I'm on team hate, for the most part. Part of that's due to what I prioritize; I think J. Cole raps like he's actively repressing his emotions, and it puts his stuff on that same conscious tip that I've had very little patience for forever. "4 Your Eyez Only" almost gets past that, though, and I appreciate that he's got some range. Also: Better than Macklemore.
3. Tory Lanez - "I Told You / Another One"
This song kind of doesn't count, because it's almost clearly two songs slipped together into one. But then, a later one on here does similar, and I'm not fucking including Mac Miller on any list, so Tory Lanez gets it.
And technicalities aside, Lanez tells a solid story with this track. It has pace and narrative and it hits and, unlike Cole, he is capable of displaying multiple emotions. Look, I didn't say that this year was a banner for specifically 8 minute rap tracks. There was one that was terrible, one that was incredible, and one that was absolutely worth mattering. You've seen the first, and the next two are the third and second, respectively.
2. Kendrick Lamar - "untitled 07 | 2014 - 2016"
I'm not as into Kendrick Lamar's surprise album from the beginning of this year as, I think, most (although I'd have put To Pimp A Butterfly at, or at least near, the top had I done an album list last year). But if there's a standout from untitled. unmastered., it's absolutely "untitled 07 | 2014 - 2016." For as much as Lamar is heralded as bringing experimentation into pop rap, I think he's far more the latter than the former; untitled. unmastered. kind of confirmed that for me. But when he does hit that experimentation on all cylinders, it's about as good as any rapper with his level of technical and pop success has ever gotten. "untitled 07 | 2014 - 2016" might not quite be all cylinders, but it's damn close.
1. P.O.S. - "sleepdrone/superposition"
The reason I noticed that this was a trend at all was because, barely a month after Macklemore's shitshow, P.O.S. dropped a huge track of near-identical length. There were two big differences, which you may be able to guess. Have you? They were: talent and reception.
"sleepdrone/superposition" is not only the most exciting thing P.O.S. has done since his recovery, it's the most exciting thing Doomtree has done since No Kings. More than that, even, P.O.S. is positioning himself as one of the strongest voices in an underground scene that's become hugely stratified between the breakthrough noisy shit that's deeply boring and the more experimental end that keeps threatening to disappear up its own ass by failing even to push forward in a way people don't like. More than that, "sleepdrone/superposition" is probably just straight up the best song of the year, in a year that had some heavy fucking competition.
From the way P.O.S. wheels between personal and political statements to the bars from homies to the oppressive and intense production, "sleepdrone/superposition" is fucking incredible, and absolutely worth 8 minutes of your time.