Amapiano is still dominant, but this time around, South Africa’s local rap acts put up a good fight and there were a number of records that made a mark on the charts and in the hearts of music fans across the country. Part of the genre’s appeal this year has been the result of its top acts infusing elements of RnB, afrobeats and amapiano into their music. Here are 10 of the best hip hop songs of the year:
1. AKA: ‘Lemons (Lemonade)’ ft. Nasty C
Coming into 2022, AKA was in desperate need of a hit single. The 34-year-old was coming off the most tumultuous year of his career following the death of his fiancee, Anele Tembe, and his most recent project, Bhovamania, left a lot to be desired. ‘Lemons (Lemonade)’ could not have come at a better time. The single sees AKA return to the cosy, luxurious sound through which he’s found so much success over the years. However, it’s SA’s rap gem Nasty C whose contribution truly lights up the rooms as he steps out of his comfort zone to deliver the coolest and most ingenious verse of his career.
2. DJ Clen: ‘Rollin’ ft. A-Reece, Jay Jody and Marcus Harvey’
A-Reece and Marcus Harvey have formed a formidable partnership in 2022. Together, they’ve released the singles ‘Dreams’ and ‘Intentions’, while also teaming up with A-Reece’s older brother Jay Jody for ‘Purple Palm Trees’ and ‘Rollin’. The latter, which is hosted by Reece’s longtime DJ Clen, is the most impressive of their collaborative releases. It’s a breezy summer anthem that sees the trio take turns serenading their special somebody with sweet nothings. Their advances are tied together neatly with the catchy hook that implores, simply, “keep rolling with me”.
3. Nasty C: ‘Stalling’
Watching Nasty C experiment with different sounds and flows in 2022 has been a sight to behold. By most accounts, his latest album, the international Def Jam Records release ‘Zulu Man With Some Power’, was his most underwhelming to date. Manufactured with the aim of breaking him in the US, it lacked soul and felt forced. In the process, he not only lost sight of home, but he also failed to make a dent stateside. Following a rather quiet 2021, Nasty opened the year with the vulnerable ‘Stalling’, a mesmeric ballad that saw him lamenting an indecisive lover and exploring the innate insecurities of modern relationships. More of this in 2023, please.
4. Blxckie: ‘Sneaky ft. A-Reece’
Last year, Blxckie had the most dominant breakthrough year since Nasty C and Emtee famously burst onto the scene in 2016. His efforts saw him become a continental star and he was duly crowned as SA’s Hottest MC by MTV Base’s annual panel. He’s followed that up with arguably an even more impressive 2022. The guy’s been relentless throughout the year, releasing several singles, EPs and features throughout and dabbling in RnB, amapiano and afrobeats along the way. However, the standout of his hip-hop releases is Sneaky, his stellar (and provocative) hit single featuring A-Reece. The melodies, the narrative, the flow. It’s Blxckie and Reece at their supreme best.
5. K.O: ‘SETE ft. Young Stunna and Blxckie’
K.O has mastered the art of the comeback. Over the past two decades the veteran rapper has gone off the scene on several occasions only to return to the very top with a chart-topping hit. Nevertheless, what he’s done with Sete feels different. The single, which blends hip-hop and afrobeats, has broken several records since its release in August. This includes consecutive weeks atop Radio Monitor SA (which measures the biggest songs on local radio week by week), fastest single to go gold and platinum off streams alone as well as fastest music video to 5, 10 & 15 million views on YouTube. At this pace, it might become the biggest SA hip hop song ever.
6. Anatii: ‘Amadlozi ft. LOOKATUPS’
Anatii seems to be grappling with the trappings of fame and success. The reclusive South African rapper and producer won a Grammy in 2020 for his work on Beyonce’s ‘Brown Skin Girl’ before going off the radar completely. He came back from his hiatus earlier this year by removing his critically acclaimed sophomore album Iyeza from all streaming services and announcing his ambitions to take his music to the metaverse. That didn’t last long (thankfully), as he brought his music back to streaming services a few months ago then proceeded to release ‘Amadlozi’. It was well worth the wait. ‘Amadlozi’ is pulsing with all the high energy and spiritually awakened messaging the 29-year-old is known for.
7. A-Reece: ‘Godlike’
Following a strong 2021, A-Reece was again at his prolific best throughout the year. Godlike, off his most recent project, Deadlines: Free P2, which is a precursor to his eagerly anticipated official sophomore album, Paradise 2, sees Reece showcasing his rare talents over a Lunatik-produced joint that’s straight from the Nas playbook. The song opens with the 25-year-old claiming his throne and declaring that his form is godlike. Later, he expertly details the perspective he gained from a recent trip to Zambia that left him feeling conflicted. If this is just a teaser to Paradise 2, we’re in for something special.
8. Blaq Diamond: ‘Ilanga’
When hip hop duo Blaq Diamond left the infamous independent record label Ambitiouz Entertainment, they did so with a bang. First they joined MacG’s Podcast and Chill to explain their decision – “It was between sticking with the record label or choosing growth,” they said. “We wanted growth more than anything because we wanted to tap into the African market.” Then they released a new single, ‘Ilanga’, which was accompanied by a music video partially shot on the set of the podcast. A perfect PR move. What’s more, the song is a banger of note!
9. MashBeatz: ‘Never Ride ft. Thato Saul and Maglera Doe Boy’
Maglera Doe Boy’s verse on ‘Never Ride’ is widely regarded as the verse of the year. Since its release in May, hip hop fundis have regularly taken to Twitter in their numbers to fend off potential challengers by dissecting in detail why Maglera’s lyrical masterclass is the most superior. Despite a late entry by Nasty C’s Lemons verse, those arguments hold strong to this day. Don’t get it twisted, Thato Saul’s verse on ‘Never Ride’ was strong, too, but Maglera’s herculean effort alone makes this a shoe in to this list.
10. The Big Hash: ‘Dandelion ft. Blxckie’
At this year’s South African Hip-Hop Awards (SAHHAs), Blxckie is the most nominated artist by a landslide. In fact, his 13 entries make him the most nominated artist at one awards show ever. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that his name appears on this list several times – he’s just been that good, but this record isn’t all about Blxckie. The Big Hash, who at some point looked like he’d quickly become the hottest MC in the land after he exploded onto the scene at 18, has had a tricky few years due to a fall-out with his old label, innanetwav. However, ever since he broke free last year, he’s been showing his true promise for all to see. His latest single, ‘Dandelion’, which also taps into his RnB sensibilities, is a reminder that he’s one of the most talented artists around. 2023 is set up to be a huge year for the 22-year-old.
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