We didn’t hear as much DMV rap music on the airwaves in 2018 as we did in 2017 — an exceptional yesteryear that delivered massive national hits from Logic, GoldLink and Shy Glizzy. But isn’t the radio supposed to be a relic of the past anyway?
Out in digital space, young listeners seemed to be paying very close attention to rappers from the District, Maryland and Virginia in 2018 — and especially to voices from Prince George’s County, where a new style of offbeat rhyming began to congeal around Goonew, a trash talker who likes to step outside of a song’s rhythm as if he’s momentarily walking on air. At first, he sounds all wrong. Then you can’t stop listening to him.
Other DMV rappers worked in entirely different but equally stylish modes, either broadcasting their charisma in song-length bursts or rationing it out across entire albums. And altogether, the motley breadth of these recordings feels far more auspicious for the local rap ecosystem than any hit single or Grammy nod ever could. Instead of worrying about a national audience, the scene finally appears to be listening to itself.
BEST DMV RAP SONGS OF 2018
1. YungManny, “Moana”
Just listen to this immeasurably inventive teenager huff and puff over a spare three-note piano loop, making his boasts sound like jokes, making his jokes feel like threats, making Prince George’s County sound like the center of the universe, making rap’s horizons feel vast.
2. YBN Cordae, “Kung Fu”
The Suitland-raised lyricist is the DMV’s newest star in waiting, and this dense cut shows why. Deep in the knottiest verse of “Kung Fu,” Cordae astutely notes, “My future’s a tad bright.”
3. LuLu P, “Get The Door”
As LuLu explains at the top of the song from the very bottom of his throat, “The ‘p’ is for pursuit.” Then he goes chasing after the beat like a snail chasing after a dribble of maple syrup.
4. The Khan and WiFiGawd, “Snow Leopard”
Back in June, these two played one the most visceral rap shows I’ve ever witnessed — a pitch-black party thrown in a vacant retail space where the only light came from audience members waving their phones around. Here, they link up for a hallucinogenic singalong that feels just as exciting and strange.
5. JG Riff and JG Whop, “Celebration”
Here’s a daydream about domestic bliss, exuberant and exhausted, delivered with street-wise sensitivity. As JG Riff puts it, “I just want a big old house so I can decorate.”
6. MoonMan Ballin, “Moonflow”
This one’s nasty. Over a piano riff worthy of a slasher flick and a wink of go-go congas, MoonMan Ballin exudes playful menace in a nonstop ooze.
7. XanMan and Lil Dude, “Many Men”
Swerving ahead of the beat as they swap verses, this fantastic duet ultimately feels like a half-throttle race toward the moment when XanMan finally banishes his “goofy” enemies “to Comic-Con.”
8. Chelly The MC, “In They Place”
Chelly minted plenty of terrific new music this year, but her strongest follow-up to last year’s declaration of self, “Northeast Baby,” was this similarly sing-songy taunt aimed at everyone else.
9. Lul Big Brother, “Perro Perro”
If his stage alias wasn’t enough of a hint, this guy has a thing for paradoxes — and that makes the barely-there rhymes of “Perro Perro” one of his cooler riddles. Is he holding something back? Or barely trying?
10. Baby Boof, “Red Light”
“Turn your cellphone off,” Baby Boof chants in drowsy deadpan, politely requesting that we give this weird, warbling, X-rated lullaby our undivided attention.
BEST DMV RAP ALBUMS OF 2018
1. Rico Nasty, “Nasty”
Rico faced big-big-big expectations this year, and this 14-track album gave her just enough space to raise her voice and show her multitudes. She sneers in rainbows.
2. Sir E.U and Tony Kill, “African American Psycho”
The DMV is brimming with all kinds of wild styles, but no one within a 60-mile radius of the Washington Monument sounds as wild or as stylish as Sir E.U does on this way-out collaboration with producer Tony Kill.
3. Goonew and Lil Gray, “Positive Goon”
Goonew released a series of dizzying albums this year — “Goonwick,” “Big 64,” “Goonrich Urkel” — but here, he has a stabilizing foil in Lil Gray. Both rappers have figured out how to wander off the beat in mesmerizing ways — and without ever bumping into each other.
4. Q Da Fool, “100 Keys”
As grimy as this Largo native wants to keep it, there’s still an incredible amount of sunshine in his voice. After this tuneful collaboration with super producer Zaytoven, there’s more melody, too.
5. Ras Nebyu, “Uptown Lion Walkin”
Frustrated with nonstop gentrification, one of the District’s most thoughtful rappers decided to lace up his shoes and walk it out, composing rhymes for “Uptown Lion Walkin” as he strolled down city streets that seemed to be changing beneath his feet.
6. Shy Glizzy, “Fully Loaded”
Did Shy’s show-stealing verse on GoldLink’s “Crew” actually change his voice, or did it just change the way we hear it? It used to sound sharp and piercing. Across this introspective album, it feels smooth and steadfast.
7. Rezt, “Murrlin”
Across 10 easy-breezy tracks, this Upper Marlboro native raps in sighs and whispers so cool you can practically feel the temperature drop with each subsequent rhyme.
8. Baby Ahk, “Designer Dope Boy”
After this promising Prince George’s County rapper was shot and killed in October, listening to his melodic, paranoid over-the-shoulder glances instantly became a completely different experience.
9. El Cousteau, “Straight Drop Season”
If you’re trying to figure out how this lovable loudmouth manages to go off without ever veering off the rails, point your ears toward the title track of “Straight Drop Season” where he explains it himself: “I have no manners!” Then he lowers his voice to offer an addendum: “But I have standards.”
10. Model Home, “4”
Nappy Nappa jump-starts this album by citing Crime Mob’s “Knuck if You Buck,” but a blink later, he’s already long gone, off to join producer Patrick Cain in an alternate dimension of zero-gravity rhymes and brain-scrambling noise. As Model Home, the duo dropped four of these albums in 2018. Start here, buckle up, and count backward.