It’s time again for my favourite songs of the year. I’ve been plowing through every song that might have been distantly related to Papa Quality for the last few days, and I think I’ve sufficiently plumbed the depths of the year to rubber stamp these 12. So sweetness. Onward we go!
12. Kendrick Lamar – Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst
Good Kid, m.A.A.d City was tank, and many considered it an instant classic. But I only feel comfortable saying I love two, or maybe three, of the songs on it. Maybe I just find a lot of it easier to respect than love. But this (with The Art of Peer Pressure a close second) is my favourite on the album. The smoothness and lyrical depth show the immense talent of a kid who’s on route to become one of the lyricists of our generation.
11. Supreme Cuts – Whispers in the Dark
Damn. I couldn’t find this song on Youtube, so the link is for Belly, one of my other favourites from the album. But Whispers in the Dark, the title track of the album, is different altogether. Belly’s dark and moody with a sharp hook, but Whispers is a slow-burner. It’s over 8-minutes long and has a lot of stages to it: in large, from chill to euphoric. The discovery of the production duo of Supreme Cuts was one of my musical high-points of this year, and this song was a large part of why that discovery was so exciting.
10. Action Bronson – 9-24-11
Bronsolini had a huge year. Blue Chips, the album this was off, dropped at the start of the year. Then Rare Chandeliers dropped last month. Party Supplies did the production on the former and The Alchemist did the production on the latter. Both were solid, largely consistent albums, and both were free. But this song was my favourite overall. And I know. Bronson makes at least 4 mistakes in the song, and doesn’t seem to care in the slightest, which is sort of less than ideal. But the beat. Probably the best beat I’ve heard this year. And when Bronson isn’t redoing his past four lines, he’s pretty on point too.
9. Joey Bada$$ – Hardknock
Mid-year I put Survival Tactics in my favourites, but it’s worn off since. This song grew on me a lot, however. Especially the last verse. To think that a 17-year-old kid wrote “relish fetishes, menaces want the senator’s percentages, if you ain’t prejudice you still a nemesis. Smoking on the Clematis, get open like a present is, now your presence is on the premises for them presidents” is ridiculous. The beat’s old school; oddly like one from the “Pro Era.” But Joey’s writing lyrics that could easily become timeless. He’s blown up since 1999 dropped: he’s been signed to a label, appeared on Jimmy Fallon and gone on tour. So here’s really, really hoping that his major-label debut is as sharp as this.
8. Keaton Henson – You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are
It was a bit of a toss-up for this, cause Dear is more of a powerful whole than a one-song standout. But I think this is my favourite. This album is maybe the most affecting album I’ve ever heard. Henson wrote it in his bedroom after he broke up with his girlfriend, and everything, from the lyrics to the guitar to his voice, are as sad as anything I’ve ever heard. And it’s really hit me personally. I tried to write about my mother’s death a couple of months ago, and this album was the only thing I could think of which had a piercing enough emotion to suit. So over a week or two, every writing session I listened to this album on repeat. And on the final writing session, when I was writing about the last few things I could remember of Mum’s life, I sat in a coffee shop, weeping uncontrollably as I was writing, with sunglasses (luckily) covering some of the tears streaming down my face. I’m not sure any other album could have put me in that place of cathartis.
7. Jessie Ware – Taking In Water
Devotion was a good album, and a refreshingly fresh sound of female R&B amidst a wave of dudes innovating the genre. But most thought of three songs as standouts: Wildest Moments, 110% and Sweet Talk. Wildest Moments is easily my second favourite on the album, but Taking in Water hit me immediately as something else, and has stuck with me since. It’s one of the few songs on the album where she lets her voice loose, and the heart in it is huge.
6. Physical Therapy – Drone On (Supreme Cuts remix)
They’re in it again. I stumbled across this in a Gorilla Vs Bear monthly mix, and a few days later I described it to a friend as “everything I love in a song, in a song.” Huge percussion, sparkling lyrics, layers of sound that work well together, huge high-points. I still haven’t heard the original song. I don’t really want to (sorry, Physical Therapy, whoever you are). Because it might ruin my enjoyment of this song some. It’s one of the most euphoric things I’ve ever heard, and for once I want to go on that giddying ride with the artist.
5. A$AP Rocky – Goldie
This is as close as something gets on this list to a guilty pleasure. Yeah, I know, Rocky isn’t exactly a lyrical genius. “Yes, I’m the sh*t. But tell me, do it stink?” But Rocky’s got something going on that I can’t quite put my finger on. The closest I can get to it is cool. He’s got style. He’s got confidence. He’d probably call it swag. But he’s a master at picking impeccable beats which suit him perfectly. If he ever rapped over an average beat, his mediocrity would be overwhelming. But somehow he always seems to grab the best off the best. And he’s the only guy I’ve heard who can improve on a naked Clams Casino beat. Goldie is, somehow, one of my favourite songs of the year, which only grew on me with many repeated listens.
4. Frank Ocean – Pyramids
Channel Orange was one of my most anticipated albums of the year, and it definitely lived up to my expectations. This song was its mammoth. There are a lot of fragments to Pyramids, and they somehow amass as coherent. I love the club-banger Pyramids. I love the moody electronic Pyramids. I love the guitar outro of Pyramids. It does more than anything else on Channel Orange to establish the style and character of Frank’s art, and hence stretches the boundaries of the genre than anything else. Coming from an Odd Future fanboy, it’s one of the 3 best songs anyone from Odd Future has ever made.
3. Captain Murphy feat. Earl Sweatshirt – Between Friends
The mystery was fun, but FlyLo is the man. This song emerged out of nowhere for an Adult Swim Singles thing, and immediately everyone wanted to know who this Captain Murphy dude was, why he was rapping with Earl, and why he was so good. But Flying Lotus owned up to it a couple of weeks ago. He produced Between Friends and rapped its second verse (and all the other Captain Murphy songs on Duality), but as he’s want to do, Earl steals the show. It’s the best beat Earl’s ever rapped over, so it’s nice to hear his potential. This was, as far as I know, the first straight hip-hop beat Flying Lotus ever produced, except maybe Mighty Morphin Foreskin. And it’s so flippin’ cool. I can’t wait to hear where he goes from here. It’s easily one of my most-played songs of the year, and I’m not sure any of my love for it has diminished.
2. Clams Casino – I’m God
Drool. I’m out of words for this song. Technically, it’s a beat. To be rapped over. But I’m not sure even the combined powers of 2Pac, Biggie, Jay-Z and the entire Wu Tang Clan could do this beat justice. It’s got an Imogen Heap sample sparkling with heaven, and a beat that kicks for the stratosphere. No one makes ’em like Clams, and this is the best thing Clams has ever done.
1. Odd Future – Oldie
This was my mid-year favourite, and here is it still. I’m not sure that it’s even close (aka I’m sure that it’s not close) to the best song of the year. But this is the song that I got the most enjoyment out of. And a large part of it was Earl. This and Chum are the best things he’s done since he got back from Samoa, and they make me really, really want to hear his damn album, which now has a name. Doris. WHERE ARE YOU, DORIS? Some of the other dudes hold their own in Oldie and some don’t. But this is a posse cut (aka a rap family reunion), so everyone has to be here. The beat is amazing and Earl is amazinger. I’ve never heard anyone rap like him, and there’s no reason to think that he isn’t going to get better. “And me? I just spent a year Ferrisin’ and lost a little sanity to show you what hysterics is. Spit til’ the lips meet the bottom of a barrel, so that sterile piss flow remind these niggas where embarrassed is.” Daaaaaaaaaaamn.
If I’m allowed (and I am), there are three honorable mentions I want to throw out:
Ab Soul (feat. Black Hippy) – Black Lip Bastard. When I was originally composing this list, this song was sitting at 13 for a long time, then I decided to make it a top 12, and I tried to find a way to fit it in. But in the end it was the first reserve. It’s a braggadocio-fest, but I love it.
Big Boi (feat. A$AP Rocky & Phantogram) – Lines. I was waiting for Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours to emerge before I sealed the list. And I’ve given it appropriate time, and Lines is the only song I love off it. But I couldn’t bring myself to put it above Sing About Me, and there was a lingering doubt in my mind about my longevity of enjoyment of it.
Earl Sweatshirt – Chum. I thought two entries in the list was enough, but this probably has the best writing Earl’s ever done. Which is saying a heck of a lot.