The Lady peered over my shoulder yesterday as I was surveying an early draft of this list. She inquired why I looked puzzled, disappointed even.
“Did I really not listen to any white people music this year?”
She gave me a sympathetic smile and put her hand on my cheek, “No,baby.”
“Should I call it ‘Music for Race Traitors?'”
She sighed.”Yes, that is an absolutely fantastic idea. Idiot.”
Okay, the last part didn’t happen, but it may as well have. While a few rock acts
did end up making their way on my list of loves this year, theywere very few and farther between, suggesting just how far away from the bearded plaid set my tastes have moved, a fact further confirmed over the holidays by hanging with friends who still find excitement in the rock and roll. The Black Keys? The Heavy? Sleigh Bells? Yeah, they’re cool, and I don’t hate the music. But I don’t care if I hear it or not. I don’t want to hear it.
Not the way I want to hear these 20 songs. The epic list, in no specific order, is behind the cut.
Note: Originally, this post had videos embedded, but since the labels won’t allow the videos to play on outside sites, it’s proven easier to just use links. Eff me for trying to promote their products, I suppose.
Big Boi: Shutterbugg
It had to suck being Big Boi for a while. As his partner Andre 3000 had girls worldwide singing Hey Ya, people seemed to miss that Antwon was every bit the
MC and funk-freaked musical explorer as Three Stacks. Outkast was never a one-sided partnership and anyone who thought otherwise got put in check with the release of Big Boi’s first proper solo album, ‘Sir Lucious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty.’ The lead single and video put the world on notice: Andre will have you
shaking it like a Polaroid, but Sir Lucious will make you put your left foot forward.
Katy Perry: Teenage Dream
You know what’s gross, friends? When I first started thinking of this list, this
song is what first came to mind. Look, I’m no fan of Mrs. Brand. I think there’s far too much tart in her pop and I’ll never forgive her for dragging Snoop down to her level, but not even I, in all my crotchetyness, can resist the pop melodic perfection that is this song. The godless trinity of Max Martin, Benny Blanco and the devil himself Dr. Luke made a rock solid summer anthem-slash-earworm that will not be denied, even if I refuse to sing the awful lyrics and substitute them with observations on whatever I’m looking at the time, because grown-ass men don’t sing about skintight jeans.
J. Cole: Who Dat?
J. Cole’s been waiting for a while, now. One of, if not the first draftee to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation stable, Cole’s been releasing a strong string of singles and mixtapes whetting the appetite for his proper debut. This might not be my favourite song he ended up releasing this year, but it’s notable as his coming out party. A slick flow and a banger of a beat suggest you won’t be asking who dat this time next year.
Roc Marciano: Snow
Marc, a onetime affiliate of Busta Rhymes’s Flipmode Squad, released one of 1994’s best albums. He just did it in 2010.
The elements are familiar: braggadocio, hustler talk, drug slang, gangster movie dialogue snippets, it’s all here. Not reinventing the wheel, but a certified, welcome throwback to the NY boom-bap by a hip-hop artist every been an auteur as another guy on this list. ‘Snow’s tinkling xylophone over a sinister bass and swaggering drums kept my head knocking to this all winter. Special shouts to the remix, with Sean Price’s show-stealing performance.
Lil Wayne: 6’7′
It happens at the 2:22 mark. As if that twerked Harry Belafante sample wasn’t already crushing your skull in like ‘A Milli’ on steroids, Weezy drops the following out of nowhere: “Real G’s move in silence like lasagna.”
Line of the year, hands down. The day after this song leaked, kids onTwitter were debating grammar with each other. Whether or not the ‘g’ in ‘lasagna’ is silent or not, Wayne packs about three layers of metaphor in under two bars. His brain short circuited from too much cough syrup, and this is the genius that comes out. Look, he’ll never be my favourite, but I’ll never dismiss him as untalented. Anyone who does is just lazy.
Kanye West f/Pete Rock, Jay-Z, Curtis Mayfield, Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson: The Joy
The sleeper of the G.O.O.D. Friday leaks, it would seem, coming at the tail end of the experiment as furor for Kanye’s album was almost at fever pitch, it may have even
leaked by then. Part of what makes this song so good, besides the beat by one of the all time greats, is the way Ye and Hov’s flows ride and accentuate the melody. When a rhymer is really in pocket, the tone of his or her voice can add something musically to the track. Check the, ‘You know the demo, your boy act wild / You ain’t get the memo? Yeezy’s back in style!’ on the second verse or ‘give all glory to Gloria, they say you raised that boy too fast/ but you was raising a warrior.’ on the third. A heartfelt return to the soul sample that feels like watching the snow fall outside your window.
Freddie Joachim: Meditation
I don’t know if this is the best Freddie song I heard this year, but he has to be represented somehow. There’s a very specific style of hip-hop, usually based in Japan or around the Bay Area of California that I’ve seen called ‘Elevator Hip-Hop’. I usually describe it as, ‘that music you hear in a trendy restaurant.’ The beats smack a little too hard for the jazzy melodies, music for smoky dark rooms and highball glasses and no dress code. And Freddie does it better than most. True, prolonged listening can blur the songs together after awhile but when he’s on, like he is in this short burst of awesome, he’s incomparable.
Wiz Khalifa: Black and Yellow
I shouldn’t like this song. My Lady is more than a little ashamed that I do. It was
kicking around for months, and I’d dismissed it as another dumb disposable track for the kids before I really got a chance to hear it. Look, the rhymes are still bullshit, he’s not talking about a fucking thing. But he’s charismatic enough and that beat! There’s an urgency in those chimes, a drama in the bass, that’s what elevates it over the junk of the 106 & Park crowd, that’s what gets me amped and bouncing in my seat like a fool.
Kanye West: Power
You can pick any song off the album, really. But on an album that’s filled with middle fingers, this was the opening shot. Remember how your jaw hung open last May when you first heard it, agape but upward turned? No one knew what he would come back with after the debacle and his subsequent public shaming. The answer would be: with his pants down, so you could kiss his ass. That headtwister of a beat
only further affirmed what Ali once said: It’s not bragging if you can back it up. Fitting theme music for hip-hop’s 2010 superhero.
Cee-Lo Green: Wildflower
You expected me to select ‘Fuck You?’ It was tempting, and that song is certainly a legitimate contender for this list. But this song, overheard as I was leaving a sneaker shop downtown, is what made me track down the album. There are a million flavours of soul music, and Cee-Lo attacks them all on his ‘Lady Killer’ album, but this restrained pledge of love to a woman he loves despite her imperfections is just beautiful, and shows what the forces behind 2010’s Pop Explosion [in this case Taio Cruz producer Fraser Smith] can do when teamed with a singular artistic vision.
Willow Smith: Whip My Hair
You want to roll your eyes. You want to sigh in condescension at the little rich girl who decided she wanted to be a pop singer. You probably could, if the song wasn’t so goddamn good. Ms. Smith, all of nine-years-old, isn’t trying to be provocative, she’s not trying to be an amazing vocalist or dancer. She just wants to have fun. And when most of pop music suggesting the best way to do that was when plastered to the floor in a naked, drunken mess, who am I to judge anything that argues all you need to rock the party is a banging beat and some hair to whip?
Jay Electronica: Exhibit C
Weezy might be rap’s mad genius, but no one’s weirder than former vagrant turned Badu babydaddy and Roc Nation signee Jay Electronica. You can only hear buzz for so long before you have to check it out, and hearing the hosts of the Hype Men podcast talk to producer Just Blaze about the impact this song had when it dropped, I figured it was worth a look. Oh Lord. Smarter men than me have already broken down just how much is going on in this song, so I won’t. I’ll just say it’s a marvel of
storyrapping over one of Just’s best beats, a future-forward retooling of the formula he started back on The Blueprint. If Mr. Free Spirit can get his shit together long enough to put out a proper album this year, he can own 2011. Like, it’s over.
Florence & The Machine: Dog Days are Over
This year’s winner of the Lily Allen Award for songs that broke overseas in 2009 but
caught fire in North America a year later. 2010’s Edition of ‘The Girl Who Sings Songs’ as my Lady put it [see: Poe, Jem, Imogen Heap, Adele, Kate Nash, et al] flipped it a bit by embracing her inner Robert Smith and giving the world the gothic version of the Ronettes. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Erykah Badu: Window Seat
TheRoots: Radio Daze
I put them together since they’re almost the same song anyway. Badu’s welcome return to ‘neo-soul’ [still an awful genre distinction] is an elegant depiction of the conflicting desires for solitude and connection. The Roots track, from the criminally neglected ‘How I Got Over,’ proves why Owen Biddle is becoming one of my favourite bassists, and why Black Thought is probably the most consistently good MC in the game.
Freddie Gibbs: The Ghetto
I still stand by what I said when I first heard the song:
This song is heartbreaking and beautiful and strong and everything that makes me love hip-hop in the first place. It doesn’t hurt that dude’s flow is calculated and meticulous and smooth as silk, perfectly inside the beat…While I do think you’d have to try pretty hard to make a bad song with that beat, I gotta respect Gibbs’s lyrical depiction of the struggle he faced in his community without glorifying the things he did. In three minutes Gibbs lays out everything that makes hip-hop important. No bling, no shine, completely at ease with its own lack of pop ambition.
I originally had ‘Fancy‘ in this slot, if for no other reason than I still use the hook in everyday conversation, but I like ‘Fireworks’ more as a song. Drizzy had people in a bit of a frenzy when the album dropped, people wanted to know what he was going to come with. While his lead single might have been afforded him the chance to show he could spit hot fire over a banging beat, this was the song he started his album with, this is the first thing people heard when they put the disc in, this is how he put the world on notice for what kind of artist he was. The piano chord progression is beautiful [that fourth chord just hits my soul], Alicia Keys blesses anything she sings on, and Aubrey’s no slouch in the melody department either.
Shad: Yaa I Get It
He might hate to catchphrase Canadian rap sensation, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one. Shadrach Kabango released another stellar entry to his catalogue with TSOL, and the lead single/video put the world on notice that he wasn’t done trying to impress you. Four minutes of straight fire with no hook and a beat harder than anything he’s spit over before, this song is an overt reach for greatness that succeeds on every level.
Hey look, an indie song! I’ve always had a soft spot for Stars, and while I don’t think this song is perfect [the bridge weighs it down too much] it’s a textbook example on why the formulas that make pop music work still work so well. Amy Millan’s vocal melody also deserves special credit for being light without going too girly girl.
Pogo – Toyz Noise
In 2009 indie electro collagist Pogo retooled sounds and music from Pixar’s Up to make the Upular, one of the most joyous things I’ve ever heard in my life, mostly because of my Lady’s adorable attempts at singing the chopped up vocals. Of course, Disney tried to shut him down for using copyrighted material. Thankfully, the folks at Pixar have sophisticated interpretations copyright law and fair use. They now host the video on their YouTube channel. Upular would be on this list had it been released this year. As it wasn’t, I have to recognize Pogo’s talents with Toyz Noise, a track he may have been commissioned to do for the theatrical release of Toy Story 3. It is equally as joyous as its predecessor and places Tom Hanks of all people in the running for my favourite vocalist of 2010.
So that’s my list, 2300 words later. Want to call bullshit? That’s what comments are for.
Welcome to 2011. This is Poetry for Gravediggers.