Best Rap Bangers of 2018 (Staff Picks)

From Travis Scott's "SICKO MODE" to Jay Rock's "King's Dead," our entire staff shares their picks for the best banger of 2018.
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Best of 2018: Banger

Say what you like, 2018 has been a marked year for music. While critique is very serious business, we are also human and what we like is all the more special than the critical appraisal of a song or album. For the next month, every day, you will find our staff picks for our favorite facets of music from best features to worst songs and everything in-between, based solely on what strikes us as diehard music fans first, and critics second. It's been an incredible year for hip-hop.

Here are our favorite rap bangers of 2018.

"Buckets" — Rae Sremmurd ft. Future

Produced by Marz & Mike WiLL Made-It

With all due respect to Kenny Beats, 2018’s prodigal son of rap bangers, the undeniable power of “Mo Bamba,” and the acclaimed, riotous works of Travis Scott and Playboi Carti, no song made me want to absolutely lose my shit like “Buckets.” Swae and Jxmmi turn in verses that force you to sing along, Future’s guest feature is one of the best of the year, and the head-rattling interplay between Mike WiLL’s 808s and just-ever-so-slightly-off-beat keys makes me want to jack up the volume until I blow my eardrums out. HOW WAS THIS SONG NOT BIGGER?????? —Brendan Varan

"Ice Cream" — Rico Nasty

Produced by Kenny Beats

The best banger of any year has to be a track that makes you remember how you felt in the moment you first heard it, except every single time. For me, that is Rico Nasty’s Kenny Beats-produced “Ice Cream.” The perfection of “Ice Cream” is the buildup of a devolving ice cream truck jingle into the signature “Woah, Kenny!” tag into Rico Nasty screaming “With some white bitches screaming YOLO.” It’s in the way Rico ad-libs “Huh” at tweets from unworthy Twitter pursuers so confidently while Kenny Beats’ looped production feels like playing Mario Party on speed. I have listened to “Ice Cream” more times than I can count, and yet the experience of each listen is as satiating as ice cream itself. —Matt Wilhite

"King's Dead" — Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future & James Blake

Produced by Teddy Walton & Mike WiLL Made-It

All due respect to “SICKO MODE,” “Mo Bamba,” “Look Alive,” and “APESHIT,” but the banger that banged the hardest this year is Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, and James Blake’s “King’s Dead.” There are four reasons why. First, Mike WiLL Made-It’s production is a 150-pound Rottweiler glaring its teeth and growling under its breath, deciding which of your limbs to tear apart first. Second, “You not a gang member, you’s a tourist” is a brutally effective dismantling of fake toughness on a song that, ironically, makes you feel INCREDIBLY tough (full disclosure: I’m a tourist, postcard and all). Third, Kendrick’s “fuck everything” outro feels like taking 25 consecutive jabs to the chin, if that gang member line didn’t already leave you on the ropes. And last but certainly not least, “La di da di da / Slob on me knob.” You love that part and you know it. —Andy James

"Mo Bamba" — Sheck Wes

Produced by Take A Daytrip & 16yrold

The ground trembles wherever “Mo Bamba” is played. Literally, a stampede of feet creates a rumble that shakes venues. There’s an irresistible desire to react in a fit of madness when Sheck Wes begins to encourage our personal riots. Due to rumors of domestic violence attached to his name, how people feel about his music in the future may change, but the magic of “Mo Bamba” in 2018 is forever. —Yoh

"Nonstop" — Drake

Produced by No ID, Noel Cadastre & Tay Keith

Is there such a thing as a low-key rap banger? If so, give the crown to Drake's "Nonstop," a standout selection from his way-too-long 2018 album Scorpion. Produced by No ID, Noel Cadastre and Tay Keith, the latter of whom samples the chorus from the 1995 track “My Head Is Spinnin'” by Memphis artists Mack Daddy Ju and D.J. Squeeky, "Nonstop" is Drake at Peak Flex. You're never in harm's way while the song is being played, but you might get an elbow to the ribs if you don't have your guard up. Also, for those curious, "Nonstop" is somewhere between a Type 2 and Type 3 Drake song. 

"R.I.P." — Playboi Carti

Produced by Pi'erre Bourne

There are plenty of worthy contenders for Banger of the Year, with songs like “Mo Bamba,” “SICKO MODE,” and “APESHIT” breaking sound systems across the country with their thunderous bass and riotous energy. Playboi Carti's “R.I.P.” checks both of those boxes, but the reason it's my favorite banger of 2018 is because of Carti’s glorious declaration at the end of the second verse: “Bought a crib, for my mama, off that mumbling shit.” Black excellence at it’s finest. Hip-hop purists can yell all they want about the lack of lyricism from artists in Carti’s realm, but if all I had to do was whip out a few ad-libs to buy my mom a new house, you better believe I’d be screaming “aye” into the nearest microphone this very moment. —Kenan Draughorne

"SICKO MODE" — Travis Scott ft. Drake

Produced by Rogét Chahayed, Hit-Boy, OZ, Tay Keith & CuBeatz

I mean... What else could it possibly be? Five seamlessly executed beat switches, Travis at his rapping best, questionable Drake bars about Xanax on planes. The song is a perfect example of Scott’s ringleader mentality at work, corralling these different sounds into a song that pulses and seethes with life. It’s impossible to not imagine screaming any one second of this song at your second-grade teacher who yelled at you for trying to eat glue while listening to “SICKO MODE” and that makes it the best banger in the year of our Lord 2018. —Dylan "CineMasai" Green

Travis Scott delivered this year. “SICKO MODE” is the type of track that I imagine Bill Hader’s Stefon conceiving on SNL. This song has everything: Drake, approximately ten beat changes, a truncated yet still contagious Swae Lee bridge, more Drake, and a Clueless reference. If ASTROWORLD is a theme park, “SICKO MODE” is its biggest and best ride. —Ben Taylor

"Trust Issues" — Rico Nasty

Produced by Kenny Beats

There are: diamonds in her dental. There is: crazy in her mental. Rico Nasty yelling "Kenny!" is the producer tag of all our lives. Nothing else needs to be said. —Donna-Claire Chesman

“VENGEANCE | VENGEANCE” — Denzel Curry ft. JPEGMAFIA & ZillaKami

Produced by Mickey De Grand IV & Finatik N Zac

Put together, Denzel Curry, JPEGMAFIA, and ZillaKami are the hip-hop banger equivalent of the Golden State Warriors’ Big 3, but if Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant were all in their respective Monstars form. Denzel’s aggressive delivery, Peggy’s erratic energy, and ZillaKami’s hurried rap-metal flow are like a shot of pure adrenaline to the bloodstream, making the track the hardest-hitting of the year. I still chant along to the chorus during workouts and have—on a number of occasions—found it difficult to prevent myself from attempting to run through walls when the song comes on. —Stephen Barston

“Womp Womp” — Valee ft. Jeremih

Produced by Cássio

If you were to tell me that a Tibetan monk broke a decade-long vow of silence because he unconsciously started humming the chorus to this song, I’d probably take your word at face value. An inexhaustibly catchy banger that would make an on-duty guard at Buckingham Palace break character to start a mosh pit, “Womp Womp” is the type of song that sneaks up on you with an unorthodox groove that is as inventive as it is undeniable. Showcasing an incredible chemistry between Valee and Jeremih, the two artists employ their voices almost like percussion, adding to the song’s overall effect of making you feel like nodding your head without consciously realizing it. —Hershal Pandya

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