As the year continues wind down, Our Generation Music’s editorial staff took a close look back at our favorite songs of 2021. While in no specific order — and striving to choose projects that held meaning across every sub-genre of hip-hop — each album carries its own weight with immense replay value for years to come. This is the second section of the 2021 Our Generation Awards, which also covers staff-picked albums, music videos and feature our favorite rising stars from the blossoming new wave.
What’s your favorite track of 2021? Let us know in our social comments!
Silk Sonic — “Smokin’ Out The Window”
Silk Sonic was one of music’s most exciting bullet points to come out of 2021. The fusion of the rich-toned pop titan Bruno Mars and multi-talented serenader Anderson .Paak was not only unexpected, but fulfilling as ever after fans waited almost the entire year for the duo’s full-length project.
An Evening with Silk Sonic’s “Smokin Out The Window” was released as the duo’s fourth and final promotional single, and simply put, it’s pure magic. The song reveals more personality and sass from Mars and Paak than ever before, as they spitefully fire off disses to unnamed women in their life who have wronged them. The two-part chorus is, quite possibly, the most exciting portion of music in any genre all year. Over the elegant 1970s/80s jazz and R&B band in the background, their “This b*tch got me payin’ her rent!” exclamation — contrasted with the smoothly sung “Smokin’ out the window” a few lines later — perfectly demonstrates the amount of talent and versatility Silk Sonic possesses. If you are looking for a track where Bruno and Anderson reach their full potential together, “Smokin Out The Window” is your song of the year. — Thomas Galindo
With our ears to the ground of the new wave, we truly couldn’t decide whether to put “Antisocial” or “Antisocial 2” on our list of the best songs this year — so we made our choice easier by not making one! BabySantana and Slump6s have more than established themselves as two of the most popular artists coming out of the underground, and for good reason. As the pair of up-and-comers uplift each other — regularly comparing their bond to XXXTENTACION and Ski Mask The Slump God — they continually make music that rivals their contemporaries. Santana and Slump are 14 and 16 respectively, with many more years to hone in their sound. The first “Antisocial” was a prime showcase of their potential, with the duo flexing their artistic chemistry over a heavy synth instrumental.
“Antisocial 2” serves as a cypher for the new school, garnering contributions from Yung Fazo, Xhulooo and SSGKobe. The 7-minute track shows all five rappers giving it their all as they each drop fast-paced verses. These are the kids taking over SoundCloud nowadays, and as we come into the new year, they are all looking to take the next spot in the mainstream. — Nimai Kumar
Kanye West, Playboi Carti, Fivio Foreign — “Off The Grid”
It’s still hard to decide which of “Off The Grid’s” artists had the best performance. While the song served as a realization for Ye fans that he can still make intrepid, awe-inspiring music, it also displays Ye rekindling the peak of his prime. Donda’s fourth song essentially contains two parts, as the menacing first half feels like the first major drop on a rollercoaster. Playboi Carti’s unmatched ability to insert energy into a track is on full display here, as his “I’m off the grid, got tats on my ribs” has become the quasi-mantra for the young Vamps (Carti stans) in 2021. Matched with Kanye’s repetitively infectious hook that reminds fans of his Yeezus era, the first half is perfect tone-setter.
Fivio Foreign introduces the second half of “Off The Grid,” after an elite inclusion of Brooklyn drill synths that cater to his flow exceptionally well. He rattles off a two-minute long verse that contains some of his most emotionally intensive bars, detailing his headspace when he was in prison and how careful he navigates the music industry. After Fivio’s expert wordplay, Ye figures he cannot let anyone body him on his own song, so it was his turn to unleash a lyrically creative and powerfully unorthodox flow that epitomizes his role in hip-hop.
“Off The Grid” practically tops the list as of rap’s best songs over the past few years, not just 2021 — as it’s a diverse and potent cut that caters to each of its three artists strengths. — Thomas Galindo
Trippie Redd & Lil Uzi Vert — “Holy Smokes”
Just like Trippie Redd‘s hit song “Miss the Rage” featuring Playboi Carti, Redd’s fifth studio album Trip At Knight came with the strength of its second single “Holy Smokes” with Lil Uzi Vert. While both “MTR” and “Holy Smokes” follow a similar new wave, rage-styled production, “Holy Smokes'” melodic instrumental is heavy on 808s and touts a perfect guitar loop that pairs tremendously with the vocals of Trippie Redd and Lil Uzi Vert.
The release of the song came with cartoon-like visuals of Trippie and Uzi as animated characters. Just days after the release of the track and animated visuals, Trippie released an extremely colorful and vibrant music video that fit the song’s vibe perfectly. Considering that “Holy Smokes” contains two of our generation’s biggest stars, it’s no surprise that Trippie Redd and Lil Uzi Vert created such a masterpiece. The duo blends their sound together flawlessly, as each artist brings their own unique sound to combine for something truly special. — Mason Kirby
Mach-Hommy — “The 26th Letter”
For rap enthusiasts who’ve never listened to Newark rapper Mach-Hommy, the lead track of his critically-acclaimed 2021 album Pray for Haiti is a perfect place to start. Produced by Denny LaFlare, Mach slowly comes in with heavy-witted bars as the track’s hazy, menacing horns grow louder in the mix. They repeat throughout the track, however the Griselda member cuts through them with ease, rapping about how he’s always been the best. His words loop around the hypnotizing beat while the executive producer for the album in Westside Gunn sprinkles ad-libs and monologues like P. Diddy on a classic Biggie track.
There’s a number of quotable lines scattered throughout the track such as ““It’s crazy what y’all can do with some old Polo and ebonics; Mix with a little of that Mach-phonics” and “Lotta these rappers Big 12 like March Madness.” Lines like this seem so easy for him and they come at such a frequent pace that they tend to fly over listeners heads the first time around. However, one sticks out as not only one of the most memorable of the entire song but one that could sum up the entire album. “Mach-Hommy is an icon, end quote; This gon be the year I get my python trench coat.” After the year he’s had, it’s clear he deserves that coat and everything else it came with. — Tyler Zucker
Polo G — “RAPSTAR”
Polo G‘s experienced one of the most prolific years a modern day “Rapstar” can have. Sharing his third full-length project Hall of Fame and subsequent deluxe Hall Of Fame 2.0, his Billboard chart-topping hit “Rapstar” serves as an assertion to Polo’s forever-type stardom — along with his affinity for catchy melodies and vulnerability in his lyrics.
When the snippet for “Rapstar” initially surfaced, it was instantly recognized as a hit. Einer Banks, who played the ukulele in the preview, produced the song and provided a perfectly simple loop for Polo to sing on. The track goes in-depth on Polo’s struggles with anxiety and heartbreak, while simultaneously celebrating the victories he has attained. After dropping this single, Hall of Fame was announced and proceeded to be a well-received project. Polo fine tunes his sound more and more on each passing project and will surely continue to do so. — Nimai Kumar
DVSN, Ty Dolla $ign, Mac Miller — “I Believed It”
Anytime a posthumous verse from a late-artist appears, anticipation instantly swarms timelines and social feeds. However, this didn’t feel like the ordinary posthumous feature fans have gotten used to, as R&B duo dvsn and Ty Dolla $ign tapped the late-Mac Miller dropped one of the most versatile singles of the year in “I Believed It.”
For the two of these R&B heavyweights to collide, it only made sense Ty and dvsn dropped their joint album Cheers To The Best Memories this year, as the trio’s chemistry is undeniably impeccable. The late-Mac Miller’s genius lies within his affection for the uncanny nuances found in funk, R&B and hip-hop. Miller’s 2020 posthumous release in Circles was a curtain call on his career, as the Pittsburgh native’s final words were evidently written in circles. Audibly fighting to better himself, Miller’s ragged yet hopeful tone perceives this as a complete picture for his life — leaning more into his singing ability than ever before.
Miller’s first posthumous feature verse of the year felt familiar yet otherwordly, as dvsn released the visuals to “I Believed It” the next day — sharing never before seen footage of Ty, dvsn and Miller all in the studio together. With this in mind, “I Believed It” is more than deserving to be a song of the year finalist. Bringing forth an emotionally uplifting performance, dvsn, Ty and Miller turn in a chemistry-filled cut packed with vibrant voices and incredible production throughout. — Jon Barlas
Tyler, The Creator — “WUSYANAME”
Tyler, The Creator has become well known for his ability to encapsulate music in one swift stroke — and with his 2021 Gangsta Grillz effort Call Me If You Get Lost — the album made it more than difficult to choose one cut that demonstrates The Creator’s full range of talents. However, the sultry, soul-samples “WUSYANAME” emerged to be a mainstay all throughout the year, even cracking a No. 1 debut on the Billboard Hot 100 upon its release. With a scintillating feature from the then-incarcerated NBA YoungBoy, “WUSYANAME” sees Tyler pining for his female love interest — muddying his sexual narrative he told on both his 2017 and 2019 full-length efforts.
While Tyler is a man of many stories, “WUSYANAME” focuses on the woman that he can’t have, yet strives for endlessly. In its accompanying visual, Tyler chases after his love interest, spitting game and opening with probably the most memorable bar of 2021: “Awwww, you look malnourished.” Instantly garnering rapid attention toward Tyler’s rap-centric project, YoungBoy’s vocals only added more fuel to the track’s lust-filled fire, crooning about his own love interest and adding to Tyler’s bravado and poise over the course of the short track. Admittedly, 2021 would be remiss without “WUSYANAME” — further defining Tyler’s presence as a generational hitmaker and legend in the making. — Jon Barlas
Brent Faiyaz & DJ Dahi — “Gravity”
As one of 2021’s first big-name collaborations — dropping in early January — R&B superstar Brent Faiyaz seemingly fits the definition of an “enigma” perfectly. Since dropping his last album Fuck The World in February 2020, Faiyaz has aged into one of music’s most sought-after and versatile artists. Off the back of projects in Lost EP and his beloved 2017 debut album Sonder Son, Faiyaz not only has transcended genre with his angelic voice, but curates an immersively unique experience in his music. Simply put, no track sounds the same, as Faiyaz, coveted texture king DJ Dahi and Tyler, The Creator collided to create one of the most immersive and innovative tracks of the year.
Despite recently dropping “MERCEDES” on Dec. 3, “Gravity” ultimately reigns as Faiyaz’s greatest offering of 2021. Sharing a total of five singles over the course of the year, Brent is also gearing up to drop his reported next album WASTELAND sometime in 2022. Amid waiting for his new project, fans were more than happy with what Faiyaz put forth this year, as “Gravity’s” woozy string samples and constant textural changes provide a progression not found in any other track this year. Dahi’s refined elegance and variety within his production has allowed him to become a staple for hip-hop’s ever-evolving sound, and Tyler’s verse is just icing on the cake. As Faiyaz trades flows between a lower-pitched version of his vocals, the pair pines for greater success — asserting to listeners and his lover to “don’t act like I’m average.” Tyler opens his verse with “See I’m a star, look at me from afar,” tying his verse together with Brent’s off-the-cuff hook. All in all, while “Gravity” may have been overlooked because of its release at the top of the year, it’s an unforgettable offering at its core. — Jon Barlas
SSGKobe — “MIA”
Reconnecting with Cole Bennet and Lyrical Lemonade for the visuals to his rage-inspired track “MIA,” Louisiana-based rapper SSGKobe’s ascension as one of the new wave’s top artists hasn’t gone unnoticed. Since the release of his breakout hit “thrax,” Kobe truly has been going “super saiyan.” “MIA” is not only his assertion to be taken seriously, but is defiant in his sound — rapping over razor sharp synths and bouncy production. Kobe croons effortlessly over the track’s two-minute run time, perfectly fitting within the pockets of the Ryder Johnson, Ayo Jug and jassu produced beat.
The track’s catchy nature is instantly recognizable, as Kobe takes a stab at being the villain locked within his own thoughts — unafraid of what’s next regardless of the consequences. Bennet’s direction and overall visuals are stunning — depicting Kobe as the resident of a type of haunted house or, conceptually, trapped in it. With eerie and horror-inspired cinematography, Kobe is seen performing alongside swarming bats and “sleeping with fishes” in a baththub filled with blood. Cameos from KA$HDAMI, Adin Ross and Cochise — whose “Tell Em” Lyrical Lemonade treatment with $NOT garnered him mainstream acclaim — continues to reassert the new wave’s arrival in hip-hop.
At just 17-years-old, Kobe’s current stake stems from his first big collaboration with Internet Money, dropping “Feelings” in late 2020. Since then, the Lyrical Lemonade veteran has linked with $NOT on “Calabasas,” dropped his debut EP, KO, and has linked with other new wave rising star KA$HDAMI on “Wake Up” — further proving his limitless potential to take over sooner rather than later. As Kobe continues to remain at the peak of his grind, “MIA” proves to be the start of his reign as one of hip-hop’s top-tier hitmakers. — Jon Barlas
YEAT — “Get Busy”
If you haven’t heard of Yeat yet, you will soon. The Portland rapper is one of the most distinct voices in the underground hip-hop scene, using heavy autotune and unique melodies.“Gët Busy” may be Yeat’s breakout hit, receiving the coveted Drake co-sign. With its ethereal sound and quotable bars, this single introduced a whole new audience to his music. Between the trippy visuals and iconic bell line, this single was a fitting introduction for new fans.
It’s no secret that rage beats have been gaining popularity, with established artists such as Trippie Redd and Lil Yachty now hopping on the trend. Yeat is a pioneer of this sound, and proves it in singles such as “Gët Busy” and “Sorry about That.” Up 2 Më — Yeat’s third project of 2021 — followed soon after the single, with 22 tracks for listeners to get acquainted with hip-hop’s next star. He doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon, so keep up with Yeat as he takes over the industry.
Young Thug, Unfoonk, YSL — “Real”
Young Thug introduced his fresh YSL signee and older brother Unfoonk to the world in the most fascinating way possible. Unfoonk was released from prison in 2019 after serving 11 years, and soon hit the ground running on his music career.
Without any prior announcement, Unfoonk was placed in the tracklist for YSL’s second compilation album Slime Language 2, released in April. The eighth song “Real” includes only Unfoonk and his younger brother and Atlanta trap icon Young Thug. After his playfully condescending hook about a woman, Unfoonk opens the song with an emotional anecdote about when his 2020 song “Mob Ties” reached 1 million streams.
With Thug delivering a dynamic second verse on the song, full of satisfying crooning and a handful of flow switches, “Real” is one of this year’s complete tracks in hip-hop, with multiple portions of the song sure to leave an earworm in the listener’s head. Unfoonk’s unique raspy voice makes his singing over the mesmerizing guitar loop on the beat captivating, making the song an excellent jumpstart to Unfoonk’s 2021 campaign that included a 33-minute project.
Nardo Wick — “Who Want Smoke??”
Having debatably the biggest come-up of any new artists this year, Nardo Wick has been nothing short of spectacular. The 19-year-old prodigy kicked off 2021 with his breakout single “Who Want Smoke??” and from that point on, it’s been nothing but up for Nardo.
“Who Want Smoke??” would rapidly gain attention across all social media platforms – especially TikTok. A challenge was made out of the track, as fans are seen flashing their phones as guns while the catchy track plays in the background. The song’s popularity would only continue to grow, as it even caught the attention of rap legends like Lil Durk, 21 Savage, and G Herbo, who would later go on to remix the track. The “Who Want Smoke??” Remix elevated Nardo’s fame to an extreme level, as the next course of action would be a Lyrical Lemonade music video with the three rap legends.
By early October, the remix to the track was finished and the visuals were complete. As of Nov. 17, the track would go on to peak at 17 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the music video would sit at over 50 million views. Fast forward, not even two weeks later and Nardo’s “Who Want Smoke??” Is officially certified platinum — making it his first platinum track of many. He just released his debut album Who Is Nardo Wick? and has no plans on slowing down. His come-up, impact, and development over the course have been legendary. Pay close attention to the artist as he is sure to keep popping off in 2022.
Kanye West & Andre 3000 — “The Life Of The Party”
Regardless of how people feel about the actual album, the rollout and overall era for Kanye West’s Donda will be remembered as one of the most wild times in music in recent memory. From the stadium listening parties to the constant album changes, it’s another unforgettable time in Ye’s life. With the addition of four new songs in the deluxe edition, the polarizing artist gave listeners one of his most honest and vulnerable songs and gave them a proper collaboration with one of the best to ever pick up a mic. On the officially released version of “Life of the Party ”, Andre 3K softly details his relationship with his mother repeatedly using variations of the phrase “Ms. Donda, if you see my momma” to convey his feelings about her after she passed away years ago. Kanye then comes through on the hook sampling Biggie’s “Hypnotize ” and details his own family struggles with his verse.
The pair give a brutally honest depiction of their families and create one of the most heartfelt tracks to drop this year. The song ends with a fitting tribute to one of rap’s icons that we’ve lost in the past year. Kanye samples DMX’s viral clip of him riding a slingshot ride with his daughter, relating back to the family dynamics he and 3 stacks rapped about. It may not be the full-fledged collaboration fans had hoped for but hearing X’s voice again over this melancholy beat tied the already stellar song together beautifully. “Life of the Party” is another reminder that no matter what, Ye is capable of delivering yet another song that can crack into his extensive list of hits.
Little Simz — “I Hate You, I Love You”
Talking about one’s family issues is never easy but on “I Hate You, I Love You” Little Simz manages to lay out everything about her father and all the inner turmoil she caused her. She talks about the complicated emotions she has regarding her absentee father, mentioning just how difficult it is to properly convey everything she’s feelings towards him. Yet, during the over four minute runtime, she perfectly juggles the feeling of unconditional love she has for him as well as the hatred she has for simply not being there for her and her mother. The perfectly chopped “I Love You, I Hate You” goes along with these contradicting feelings. Not only that, it’s guaranteed to leave an impression on listeners and getting stuck in their head.
By the track’s conclusion, she’s forgiven her father’s misdeeds but it’s not for his sake. “What you choose to avoid’ll probably come in your dreams I’m not forgivin’ for you, man, I’m forgivin’ for me” she passionately raps on the last verse. She’s moved on from the past and is letting all this baggage go for her own sake. She’s mentioned before that she didn’t want to give her father a spotlight on the song and she successfully avoids making him the center point. Instead, Simz and the trauma she faced from it is . It’s an incredible song wrapped up in Inflo’s hard hitting but sleek and shining production and punctuated by Little Simz’ exceptional writing skills.