It isn't really up for debate: 2017 was the greatest year in DMV rap history.
If you need proof, flip the radio on anywhere in this country and count the minutes before you hear the voice of GoldLink or Shy Glizzy or Logic. (And if you need to be reminded what "the DMV" stands for, it's short for "the District, Maryland and Virginia.")
While our city's most notable rappers were off becoming national hitmakers, a widening cast of new voices began to emerge back at home. Some have scored major label deals. Others remain proudly D.I.Y. But regardless of how it's getting out there, the music keeps coming — and to mark the moment, I've ranked my 25 favorite songs by rappers who claim the DMV as home.
Who didn't make the cut? Trailblazers Wale and Fat Trel each released strong stuff this year, but it didn't burn as hot as their followers'. And the honorable mentions could go on and on and on: Phil Ade, Beau Young Prince, Big Flock, Ezko, Global Dan, Kingpen Slim, Layla Khepri, Oochie, Noochie and many more. Maybe next year's list could be a top 50.
One last thing before we start counting down: Despite the year's momentousness, some still worry that DMV rappers have failed to establish a coherent sound, style, trademark or vibe. Listening to all of the variety coursing through these 25 songs, I hope they never do.
25. Logic feat. Alessia Cara, Khalid, “1-800-273-8255”
Everything about the ascent of this Maryland rapper’s chart-topping, Grammy-nominated, undeniably catchy suicide prevention ballad feels so against the odds.
24. Sugg Savage, “Fill in the Blank”
The Fort Washington native isn’t here to play Mad Libs. Over a skittery beat, she’s rapping about an unwritten future that shimmers with possibility.
23. 3 Oh Black, “Legg Walk”
The only real break in this effusion of trash-talk comes during a shout-out to the local go-go scene, namely the groups TOB and TCB.
22. Shabazz PBG, “Package”
Listen to those syllables catch and burn in the back of Shabazz PBG’s throat. Then pass him a Ricola.
21. Q Da Fool, “Numbers”
“We don’t got no conscience,” Q promises on the hardhearted refrain, but there’s a spark in his voice that suggests he still has a capacity for joy.
20. Ciscero feat. Mike of Doom, “Hol Up Wait”
Apt title! Working against a woozy beat, these two speedily spill their words in all the wrong places, as if trying to speed things up and slow them down at the same time.
19. Oddisee, “You Grew Up”
A black kid befriends a white kid. The white kid’s dad loses his job and blames immigrants. The kids’ friendship disintegrates. The white kid grows up in this “cult called America” and becomes a murderous cop. That’s just the first verse.
18. Chaz French, “Way Out”
“Lately, I’ve been looking for a way out,” Chaz shouts on this tune’s claustrophobic hook. And in real life, he found one, scoring a major label deal and dropping a well-received album, “True Colors.”
17. IDK feat. Yung Gleesh, “Pizza Shop”
Rapping en route to an armed robbery, IDK narrates from the perspective of the conflicted would-be criminal while Gleesh plays the devil perched on his shoulder.
16. Rezt, “Geppetto”
There’s something hypnotic about Rezt’s voice — a conspiratorial whisper that registers somewhere between a rasp and a purr. You’ll want to listen closely.
15. WiFiGawd feat. Sickboyrari, “Scope”
This gravity-resistant track opens WiFiGawd’s glutted “Uptsouljah 4.0” album like a fresh breeze floating down Georgia Avenue.
14. Chelly The MC, “Northeast Baby”
Which DMV rapper radiated more neighborhood pride in 2017 than Chelly did on this exuberant ode? “We on every single corner like the 7-Eleven!”
13. Lil Dude, “No Hiding”
Evidence that Lil Dude currently splits his time between Atlanta and Prince George’s County: his stylish rhymes owe plenty to Migos, but his Twitter handle is still @Riverdale_Guy.
12. Nappy Nappa, “Do My Dance”
When Nappa promises to “make something out of nothing,” he’s talking about his ambition, but really about the mystery of music-making itself.
11. London Dior feat. Rico Nasty, “Party”
This endorphin rush of a track comes with a tragic coda — London Dior, born Dasia Lasha’e Redd, died in a car accident in May.
10. Sir E.U, “Snot Cool”
Sir E.U knows that rap music can be bent, twisted and elongated into unexpected shapes. Here he stretches his voice into a stream-of-consciousness attack on capitalism, imperialism and white supremacy.
9. Kelow LaTesha feat. Lil Uzi Vert, “Finna (Remix)”
With one of the most colorful names in the game by her side, Kelow gives the most hallucinogenic cut in her catalogue a fresh coat of paint.
8. WillThaRapper feat. Gucci Mane, “Pull Up, Hop Out (Remix)”
As excellent as it is, this icy street anthem is more than two years old. But after scoring a big record deal, Will brought it back to life with a cameo from Gucci Mane, probably the city’s biggest non-native rap hero after Scarface.
7. Lul Big Brother, “Break It Up”
Rapping cool and steady over what sounds like an old touchtone phone speaking in tongues, Lul Big Brother makes his priorities clear: “I don’t want friends, I want millions.”
6. The Khan feat. Lil Tracy, “Vices”
The psychedelic licorice-twist of melody at the center of this song proves that tunes about oversized rap dreams really should sound big and dreamy.
5. El Cousteau feat. Lightshow, “Make Me Sick”
Do not miss this beautiful, hilarious, exhilarating temper-tantrum from a bespectacled rookie whose wild-styles clearly inspired Lightshow to deliver his best verse of 2017.
4. Mike of Doom, “Diva”
“I’m Darth with the art like, ‘Luke, I’m your father.’” That’s what this Maryland outsider is muttering over a foggy boom-bap beat, sounding suave, nerdy, half-asleep and totally alive in a single breath.
3. Corbin Butler feat. Ras Nebyu, “Coolin”
“They gon’ ask about me like the wi-fi,” Butler raps over this fittingly titled duet, but here’s a better question: Why don’t these two make a whole album together?
2. Rico Nasty, “Poppin”
This was a massive year for Rico Nasty, a wildly charismatic new voice who appears to have channeled all of her over-the-topness into this song. Next year, she’ll probably be a star. For now, she just sounds like one.
1. GoldLink feat. Shy Glizzy, Brent Faiyaz, “Crew”
“Crew” is surely the greatest rap song to ever leak out of the District — a summer jam that taught Brent Faiyaz how to levitate, a slow-burner that allowed Shy Glizzy to perfect his sneer, a premonition during which GoldLink raps as if he saw it all coming: “What a time, what a year.”