Given the current hip-hop landscape, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that one of the most defining rap songs of 2012 was an untagged throwaway track released via Twitter. Still, it was a bit shocking to see a song THIS good drop without warning and not end up with any sort of commercial release what so ever. “Cartoon & Cereal” serves as both an explosive prologue to Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city and a coming out party for MMG-affiliated rapper Gunplay. Not to mention it’s got a memorable gunshot sounds chorus that’s reminiscent of the most hardcore trap mixed with Kendrick’s usual oddball lyricism and artful production (which in this case features several samples of 1980s television commercials and Looney Tunes clips, likely causing the copyright issues that kept this from a retail release).

For Kendrick, this is a rumination on his Compton upbringing and how it inspires him creatively. It’s a formal explanation as to why he felt good kid, m.A.A.d city was a story he needed to tell. Kendrick uses the imagery of cartoons and cereal both to incite common images of childhood and indirectly address his more adult vices (drugs, sex,  alcohol, violence)  that would bring him pain later in his life. It’s a strong and personal message, a perfect introduction to Kendrick Lamar for any and all newcomers.

However it’s Gunplay that steals the show with an understated hook and a heartbreaking verse that couldn’t be more different from his usual snort-your-coke-then-fuck-your-bitch schtick. This is Gunplay at his most raw and honest. You can hear the pain in his voice as he describes how he still feels oppressed by white America and the criminal justice system. You can sense his conflicted resentment towards his audience  when he rhetorically asks listeners if “y’all amused?” by him rapping about his troubles. As his verse comes to a close he lets out a raspy and tearful “Mama how much trauma can I sustain?”  and you truly hope he never finds out the answer. Gunplay has always been an underrated and entertaining rapper but no one could’ve expected a verse this heartfelt and emotional from him. There are, of course, rumors of Kendrick ghostwriting Gunplay’s verse. It’s entirely possible, the lyricism on display here doesn’t match up with any of Gunplay’s past work or really anything he has done since this song was released. Even if the rumors are true, there’s no denying that this is Gunplay’s career-defining verse and a shining moment for hip-hop in 2012.

– Nathan Kerce

Note: Below are 19 other songs I considered writing about for this piece. Enjoy!

20. “Climax” – Usher (Looking 4 Myself)

19. “Fineshrine” – Purity Ring (Shrines)

18. “I’ve Seen Footage” – Death Grips (The Money Store)

17. “Straight Up” – Future (Pluto)

16. “All Waters” – Perfume Genius (Put Your Back N 2 It)

15. “Phone Sex (feat. Grimes)” – Blood Diamonds (Phone Sex – Single)

14. “Motion Sickness” – Hot Chip (In Our Heads)

13. “Big Beast (feat. Bun B, T.I. & Trouble)” – Killer Mike (R.A.P. Music)

12. “Laura” – Bat for Lashes (The Haunted Man)

11. “Bird on a Wire (feat. Riff Raff)” – Action Bronson (Bird on a Wire – Single)

10. “Adorn” – Miguel (Kaleidoscope Dream)

9. “Only In My Dreams” – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti (Mature Themes)

8. “Angels” – The xx (Coexist)

7. “Set it Right” – How To Dress Well (Total Loss)

6. “Latch (feat. Sam Smith)” – Disclosure (Latch – Single)

5. “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” – Dinosaur Jr. (I Bet On Sky)

4. “Pyramids” – Frank Ocean (channel ORANGE)

3. “The House That Heaven Built” – Japandroids (Celebration Rock)

2. “Wasted Days” – Cloud Nothings (Attack On Memory)