More music comes out now than any other point in history, so being able to keep up with what’s going on can be a real challenge. Luckily, for readers, The Banner’s arts and culture team has been tracking some of the Baltimore and wider DMV region’s best rap and R&B all year. In no particular order, here are our staff’s 20 best songs from the local scene. Get your playlists in order.

Shordie Shordie, “One Wish”

The most attention Shordie Shordie got this year was for his “More Than Music, Pt. 2″ album, and for good reason. It’s another notch on the Northeast Baltimore rapper’s belt of consistently releasing projects that, at the very least, have a handful of songs that will attract national acclaim and further frame him as a dude whose bread and butter is talking about the different ways he experiences love and intimate relationships. But the song of his that felt the most fun this year was the YouTube-only loosie “One Wish,” which interpolates Ray J’s 2005 single of the same name. On the track, Shordie uses his gravelly melodies to run through all the ways that he’ll wait around for the girl of the moment. — Lawrence Burney

Ymc Ant, “Never Ending”

Ymc Ant released his “Sincerely From Ant” album earlier this year, which is filled with plenty of enjoyable tracks. “Never Ending,” may be the most radio-ready track on the album. Autotune? Check. Fast-paced flow? Check. Memorable verses and a catchy hook? Check. Ant’s lyrics are backed by WhiteboyCameWitDaBag’s upbeat instrumentation, which he uses to deliver a captivating song. Ant uses multiple flow switches during both of his fast-paced, freefall-style verses, smoothly weaving in and out of different subjects. Lyrics mentioning thoughts of mistrust and skepticism are nothing new in music, but Ant’s ability to deliver these lyrics are noteworthy. With the skill to retread common topics in music, but convey them in unique fashion as he did on “Never Ending,” Ant shows that his music is here to stay. — Taji Burris

YTK, “Woe”

The gospel of YTK has been rapidly spreading since the success of his Mariah Carey interpolating hit, “Let It Off.” New eyes and opportunities have been more present than ever, and with them comes new goals and revamped perception. On the church piano-guided single “Woe,” from his latest EP “As Polite As Possible,” YTK briefly speaks to these goals. A choir of one, YTK softly harmonizes the traditional Baltimore greeting the song is named after as he raps about his musical aspirations (I’m saying/ I’m coming for billions of streams/ I’m coming for you and ya team”) and the need for focus, as the only one that can hold him down in his journey for greatness is himself. The song ends with playful jabs from friends about disappearing acts — potentially reflective of his time spent in California in the aftermath of “Let It Off.” Growth can feel like abandonment to those around you, but it’s necessary to elevate ever higher. And for YTK, the climb has only just begun. — Larry Little

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Ullnevano & God Sense Beats, “Ghost of Reggie Lewis”

Ullnevano moved to Baltimore from California 15 years ago, making a name in his adopted hometown with a series of albums in which he rapped over instrumentals by favorite producers like 9th Wonder and Evidence. Then Ullnevano moved towards duo projects with local beatmakers, including his latest, a collaboration with God Sense Beats (who also raps under the name Tislam The Great). Their November album “The Ghost of Reggie Lewis” is named in homage to Reginald C. Lewis, a Baltimore-born NBA player who died tragically at the age of 27 of a congenital heart problem in 1993, just as he was coming into his own as a Boston Celtic. The album’s title track opens with an audio collage of highlights from Lewis’ games, before Ullnevano delivers a hook about his indefatigable passion for hip-hop: “They wonder why I still do this? Because I actually care about the music/ One of the fewest to do it the truest.” Ullnevano starts in on a third verse before he’s rudely interrupted by a ringing phone, an amusingly playful end to an otherwise somberly sincere song. — Al Shipley

WhiteboyCameWitDaBag, “Bus Fare” f. Yg Teck, Roddy Rackzz & YBS Skola

No producer over the past two years has done the work that WhiteboyCameWitDaBag has to leave his stamp on Baltimore’s ever-evolving rap sound. Often a bit chaotic, with barrages of hi-hats and bass, WhiteBoy’s sound has become synonymous with swerving through the city’s streets after the sun is down. On Christmas Day of 2021, he released the 12-track “Christmas List,” which showcased some of the city’s heaviest hitters over his production. The most star-studded of the 12 is “Bus Fare,” which features Yg Teck, Roddy Rackzz and YBS Skola — all of whom have experienced moments of national recognition. Teck takes the hook while Roddy Rackzz spits arguably his best verse to date, impressively nimble and fluid in his delivery. Deeper than just the quality of the song, it’s a good example of how artists who draw considerable numbers on their own can amplify each other’s reach when they come together. — LB

WifiGawd, “Slugs”

2022 has been another high-output year for D.C. rapper/producer WifiGawd. For his last outing of the year, Wifi teamed up with French producer Soudiere for the drunk-rattling “36 Chambers of Pressure.” Soudiere and Wifi have incredible chemistry across the album’s 9 tracks but “Slugs” feels like man-made nirvana. When it comes to carving out the smoothest pockets you’ve ever heard, Wifi is still one of one; his cadence able to fit into even the tightest of spaces on any beat as he raps about trapping and stacking money to the clouds. Meanwhile, Soudiere complements and surrounds his natural cool with scenic production — deep kicks boom and linger like you’re riding through an active thunderstorm while slicing guitar riffs part the sky; you can almost feel the distinct vibration of the passenger seat window, glass liable to meet wet pavement at any given moment. What 2023 has in store for the underground general is anyone’s guess, but here’s hoping this dynamic duo make time to find each other in the studio once more. — LL

KéJa, “Cuttin Loose”

The Tew World Order collective has become a major force in Baltimore’s hip-hop underground in recent years. And in 2022, TWO made a confident move towards R&B with debut projects from singer KéJa and producer Tamira Slade. KéJa Telp is a classically trained dancer who started performing as a singer in 2019. And within days of her “Things Fall Apart” EP being released in October, the opening track, a relatable breakup song called “Cuttin Loose,” landed on NPR’s Heat Check playlist. “Tryin’ to figure out why I can’t get him off my mind/ Said you love me but now you ain’t got the time,” KéJa sings in low sultry tones, somewhere between Brandy and Toni Braxton, over a jazzy guitar loop from producer D’Artizt. — AS

Deetranada, “Dark Tango”

“DARK TANGO” is a more intimate track than you may expect from Deetranada. Off her recently released “NADAWORLD 2″ album, “DARK TANGO” highlights the artist’s storytelling ability. Having always been known as a clever wordsmith, the song focuses more on Deetranada’s vulnerable side. Narrating the story of her relationship, Deetranada gives an honest list of all her faults and those of her boyfriend, detailing the actions that led to a near breakup. Whether they are belittling each other or including outsiders in the business of their relationship, Deetranada uses the song’s hook to let her boyfriend know that she just wants them to enjoy the current time together. What also makes “DARK TANGO” so great is that Deetranada produced the track herself, continuing to show her growth as an artist. — TB

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Rico Nasty, “Gotsta Get Paid”

Rico Nasty will forever occupy multiple lanes of music at once. Her ability to blend mosh pit-inducing screams and vicious threats with glitched-out pop punk princess vocals is what has helped cement her as one of music’s most diverse and exciting acts. You never know what the next song will sound like. The 100 gecs co-produced “Gotsta Get Paid” finds Rico back in her rapper bag over a beat that sounds like it could have easily found a home on Cypress Hill’s 1993 “Black Sunday” album. Twilight Zone synths twist over spaced-out bass and raucous ad libs as Rico dives into some of her favorite topics: stacking paper, fake attitudes and how nobody really wants to fight. She also reminds listeners she is a mom; the grind is all to provide for her only son. When she’s not packing school lunches and showing her baby boy Cam different parts of the world, Rico Nasty is flipping hip-hop on its head and making some of the genre’s most weird, fun and entertaining music.— LL

Kelela, “Washed Away”

Gaithersburg-raised singer Kelela spent the past four years mostly out of the public’s eyes and ears, presumably ruminating on the ways the world had been tossing the human race around with an ever-destructive political climate, viruses and forced isolation. Fans had been begging to hear from her during this time of uncertainty, mostly because her music tends to get into the weeds of how our emotional well-being is often dictated by our relationships with one another. Not only did she answer those pleas when she released her first single in years with “Washed Away,” but the song details what she’s been experiencing in the absence. The production is bare and ambient, accentuating the silence that she’s been enduring. And throughout the song she emphasizes feelings of distance, longing and growth. It’s exactly what a Kelela fan would want to hear if they ever got a chance to ask, “So, where have you been?” — LB

Roddy Rackzz, “Up Now”

Using this YouTube loosie to remind listeners that he is one of the best punchline artists in Baltimore, Roddy Rackzz went crazy on “Up Now.” Checking off all of the boxes required as a technical rapper, “Up Now” sees Rackzz going punchline crazy on the song’s lone verse. The usual topics of jewelry, clothing and loyalty are all mentioned, but the nonstop punches over the WhiteboyCameWitDaBag’s production makes the method of delivery memorable. The only downsides of “Up Now” are that the song is only about a minute-and-a-half and it currently isn’t available on streaming platforms — but Rackzz more than makes up for it with the actual content. — TB

Scudda, “A Lor Different”

It’s funny that West Baltimore rapper Scudda’s eight-track project from earlier this year is titled “Too in Control,” because the thing that makes him memorable is that his voice — nasal and unshakably earnest — often feels like it’s octave away from flying off the handle. “A Lor Different” is the best example of him wielding that whale of a delivery. Over a sweet guitar loop, the song is a declaration that all the times he risked his freedom for the pursuit of happiness are gonna soon be worth it, and it’d be wise not to get in his way while he’s on that journey. — LB

Brent Faiyaz, “Rolling Stone”

From The Temptations to Joni Mitchell, the metaphor of the rolling stone has been sung about for ages. Being able to do what you want, when and how you want, with no fears of being tethered to a place or person — a lifestyle many artists pursue for varying lengths of time. Columbia’s Brent Faiyaz contributes to an ongoing understanding of this life with the aptly titled “Rolling Stone.” Brent clearly states the song’s thesis at its onset; “I’m a rolling stone, I’m too wild for you to own.” He lets lovers and others in his life know this is the type of time he’s on; if you opt in for the ride you can’t pretend like you weren’t aware (“First I’m exciting/ then I’m gaslighting/ make up your mind”). The hard truth to this life, however, is that there’s no way to fully detach from others. You experience life alongside other people, and when your presence fades, notified beforehand or not, pain often fills the void. With that in mind, Brent softly croons: “I’m sorry in advance if I let you down.” — LL

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Rican Da Menace, “Ain’t Going Back”

Rican Da Menace spent the majority of 2022 churning out singles and freestyles to sharpen her skills as a newly emerging rapper on the scene. There still isn’t enough of a proper sample size to fully gauge what kind of artist she’ll end up being, but there were moments that hinted at her best qualities. “Ain’t Going Back” follows the tradition of hip-hop introduction stories, in that it gives an overview of what her life had been like up until the point of the song: stealing change out of her mother’s purse as a kid to now covering some of her financial load. Rican’s voice is commanding and assured here, and the decision to incorporate hints of club music is an added appeal for listeners who enjoy hearing local artists over their homegrown dance genre. — LB

Yg Teck, “90 Day Run”

YG Teck’s latest album is motivation music for hustlers and entrepreneurs of all types. However, the album’s title track is the most notable. Produced by No Signal, “90 Day Run” is filled with quotable but meaningful lyrics. It should inspire all of Teck’s listeners to dedicate their time to a passion and follow through with it despite how hard it may seem. Filled with devotion, the perspective that he uses to deliver his music helps relay the everyday relatability of the Park Heights native, which is one of the main reasons many hail him as the best rapper from Baltimore. —TB

JSOUL & B. Jamelle, “To Flower”

Over the past decade, critically adored East Coast rappers like Roc Marciano and Westside Gunn have helped make “drumless” production fashionable, with tracks that capture the grit and cut-and-paste texture of sample-driven hip-hop despite little or no percussion. “To Flower,” the lead single from Baltimore producer JSOUL and Washington, D.C., singer B. Jamelle’s sublime collaborative project “Mellowdisiac,” is categorically an R&B song. Jamelle sings sweetly over a gentle bed of upright bass, keyboards, a flute-like melody, and, somewhere deep in the mix, a muffled clicking sound that might’ve once been a drumstick tapping against the rim of a snare drum. But the way JSOUL chops the samples, making them jump and stutter with the audible crackle of vinyl, gives the song an identifiable hip-hop pedigree. Even without loud, pounding drums, “To Flower” is hip-hop soul, the subgenre of R&B minted in the ’90s that borrows the sonic blueprint of contemporary rap, much in the same way Mary J. Blige’s breakbeat-heavy debut album “What’s The 411?” was. — AS

Al-Doms, “Glass Heart”

Emotional exhaustion is common. As we sort through personal feelings, on top of the feelings of friends, family and the world at large, every day is a gamble on whether you’ll have the capacity to get over the wall or crash into it. “Glass Heart” by Norfolk’s Al-Doms is the result of knowing the crash is coming and refusing to continue running. Muffled cries mixed with “I love you’s” are precursor to a weary exhale that opens the song’s emotional floodgates. Bass guitar plucks and fuzzy hi-hats help set the stage, as Doms speaks about inner turmoil and the isolation it breeds, but also the importance of looking inward and being upfront with himself. His emotional honesty means asking for help, letting tears flow until the well is empty, and setting boundaries. As a result, the chorus states, pleadingly: “Today I know/ I can’t be yo shoulder to lean on/ I hope that you can forgive me/ but I can’t today.” — LL

Mack Scott, “Choose a P” (featuring FinagoBaby)

“Choose a P” was the standout single from Mack Scott’s “95 Percent Project,” which released in June. Mack Scott and FinagoBaby are two of Baltimore’s emerging lyricists, both with similar subject matter, but different methods of delivery — so seeing them appear on the same song was a welcomed surprise. The Thriii-produced track sees the two of them exchanging verses and listing their daily methods of keeping it player in different ways. Paying homage to the era of Blaxploitation films with a skit from the late legend Max Julien, both artists use their laid-back flows to reiterate the theme of the song. — TB

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4kMicheal, “Mafia”

4kMicheal’s releases have been spaced out and limited since 2019′s “Forgive Me, I Am Alive,” but when songs do drop, they’re accompanied with videos that help make them feel like a big deal. “Mafia” fits a motif that 4k has been building since his 2020 single “Hell” — dark, haunting production that could easily score a 2022 indie remake of “The Godfather,” vocal layering that boosts his already commanding voice, and high-quality visuals that depict a well-run and tight-knit organization. This time around, things are more established, with 4k and his associates evading a nosey detective that’s starting to connect the dots. There’s a hunger and certainty in his voice when he screams, “I could die a thousand times/ I’m not new to this.” At his best, there’s no one more exhilarating in Baltimore or the greater DMV area. On the surface, things may seem like they’re moving slowly, but “Mafia” is further proof that every step in this young man’s budding career is taken with heavy consideration and attention to detail. — LL

Baby 9eno, “I Choose Violence”

Baby 9eno has done a solid job of distinguishing himself from his D.C.-area peers with an elevated taste in production and an under-appreciated lyrical depth. The Suitland, Maryland rapper’s catalog takes the triple-time, punch-in flow popular among his contemporaries and slightly deviates with frequent pauses and asides for emphasis. “I Choose Violence,” from January’s “Hood Legend” album, is his best effort of the year because, guided by first-person fantasy storyline video-game-like production from Lord Fubu, he lists off all of the things that make him special: He gives sound advice to the younger guys around him, spends $800 on shirts, and people only occupy space with him is because he allows it. When he says he choose violence, it’s because he’s unwilling to mince words on how he feels. —LB