Updated: Jan 4, 2018
Part 2 for songs 25-1.
See Part 1 here
25. Belly: Lullaby
Producer: Kruger. Katalyst. Boi-1da
Album: Mumble Rap
Label: XO. Roc Nation
There is nothing worst and easier to spot then a contrived “deep” record. You can see it immediately: the artist parrots clichés, there is nothing convincing behind the words, and the “struggle” is generic. If you want to get a manual on how such a record should be performed, look no further than Belly’s Lullaby. Belly grabs you immediately with the opening lines, “Wonder if God heard me pray when I was trying to repent, If He didn’t, I know he heard my mother cry over rent…..”. What follows is close to 4 minutes of honest introspection. Belly comes off like a tortured soul. Lullaby comes around like someone who can’t get past the traumas of their past and what had to be done to get to the success that was obtained. The production resembles Boi-1das work on Pound Cake with a melancholic twist and Belly splits open his veins throughout the entire song. The lyrics are dexterous, layered, and more often than not will slow you in your tracks (“I brought my dream house, but I’ve been having nightmares in it). Truly a masterpiece and a high standard for introspection.
24. Rae Sremmurd: Swang
Producer: P Natzy
Album: SremmLife 2
Label: EarDrummers. Interscope.
Hey, do you remember that time when most of us thought that Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmy collectively known as Rae Sremmurd were one hit wonders? Boy does that feel sooooo long ago. Swang is the new entry into the talent of these two brothers. P-Natzy delivers with the sci-phi 808 heavy beat and Swae Lee picks up and takes it all the way home. Swae Lee is truly a star and honestly Im not comfortable with you if you won’t attempt Swae Lee’s falsetto on Swang when it comes on. You cannot and will not be trusted. Slim Jxmmy delivers a very aggressive and energetic verse seeming like he wanted you to know, that he is by no means just a sidekick. These boys are here to stay, but we already knew that.
23. G Eazy: No Limit feat. Cardi B and Asap Rocky
Producer: Boi-1da. Allen Ritter
Album: The Beautiful and Damned
No Limit burned so fast and so quickly that its spot should be solidified in any list for best songs of 2017. Boi-1da sped up the sample of 3.6 Mafias-Slob On My Knob (hood classic) and ASAP Rocky delivers one of the best hooks of the year. (“If I Hit it 1 Time ima pipe her , If I Hit it 2 times, then I like her….” Such a fun chorus to repeat). G Eazy sticks to his classic nonchalant delivery and shouts out Kaamiyah with a solid verse. Let’s not get it twisted though, Cardi B is the main event on this song. She delivers easily the best verse of her young career. Her cadence, delivery, and flow sounds like that of a veteran. She has several quotables and her charisma shines through and steals the show. There is not a party that you are at that you will not see women rap her verse bar for bar. Juicy J gave his blessings on the remix. Only thing that could have made this song better would have been an Asap Rocky 16, but we can’t all get what we want. French Montanna, Juicy J and Belly lends their services to the remix as seen below.
22. Jhenè Aiko: You are Here.
Producer: The Fisticuffs. Amaire Johnson
Label: ARtium. Def Jam
Jhenè Aiko is a strangely polarizing artist. She doesn’t elicit hate because she is such a pleasant soul, but those that dislike her music really dislike her music, but her fan base swears by her. The same thing that makes her loved is what she gets criticized for, her consistency. You will always know what you are getting with her and she will not veer too far from it. For Jhenè Aiko fans (like us) You Are Here is the quintessential Jhenè Aiko song with the defined pocket that Jhenè Aiko flourishes in. Soft mellow crooning, atmospheric production, strong writing. What you can miss however is the vulnerability in what can be the best song on her 2017 release, Trip. Jhenè sings from the perspective of someone who is in love but is waiting for the other shoe to drop. She’s lamenting to her lover ( can there be a clearer message for Big Sean???) that she prays that he is who he portrays himself to be and that she could not deal with the thought of being proven otherwise. It’s a simple concept, but it’s beautifully executed. You can hear the hope yet the timidity and vulnerability in her vocals. No matter where you fall on Jhenè Aiko, You are Here is beautiful music.
21. Kendrick Lamar: Loyalty feat. Rihanna
Producer: DJ Dahi. Sounwave. Top Dawg. Kuk Harell
Label: Top Dawg. Interscope.
Loyalty is the only song with a feature on Damn and there could not have been a bigger and more anticipated collaboration then Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna. The two superstars are at the peak of commercial and critical success and when the track list for Damn was announced, everyone was curious to see how the pair would sound. No one thought however that Kendrick and Rihanna would be trading melodic verses back and forth. Our minds were blown. See what can happen with these big name collaborations is that it can turn out to be the most generic, formulaic song produced. The rapper raps, the singer does the hook, but one can never doubt the innovative spirit of one Kendrick Lamar. The two were simpatico to each other; weaving in and out of verses 4 bars at a time, weaving out of bridges, combining their voices on the chorus. It was perfect and better than what any of us imagined. Then the video was released and the chemistry was further cemented. Let’s hope this collaboration does not end with loyalty.
20. Tank: When We
When Tank visited the Breakfast Club earlier in 2017, he spoke about being a veteran r&b singer and how to best balance making music that the fans of his era will appreciate and the younger fans can get into. Let me say, that Tank gets it and When We is proof (Sidebar: Can someone please slide that Tank breakfast club to Eminem and can we pray that Eminem learns to understand this concept??? Thank You in advance). The Cardiak produced single is current and sexy as hell. The beat can easily fit into contemporary R&B but the lyrics are def grown folk bidness! Tank floats throughout with playful and aggressive lyrics. One piece of advice fellas, use this song to your advantage.
19. H.E.R.: Say It Again
Producer: H.E.R. DJ Camper
Album: H.E.R. Vol. 2.
H.E.R. is mysterious and that is great. The singer/songwriter from Vallejo, California took a similar approach to the Weeknd in 2011 and held off her identity for as long as possible. But mystery does not work if you’re talent isn’t worth a damn and boy is H.E.R. incredibly talented. H.E.R. has released two self-titled albums (H.E.R. vol 1 and vol 2.) within the past two years and one of our personal favorites is Say It Again from Vol 2. The sexual charged lyrics waste no time and instantly puts you in that place. H.E.R’s lyrics are direct (“You had a lot to say, no more talking you can use that mouth in other ways, cuz I want it now”). Her vocals are airy but confident and composed and the beat lays the foundation for the descriptive, carnal lyrics. H.E.R. is 20 years old, but writes like a seasoned veteran. R&B is in good hands.
18. Jay-Z: 4:44
Producer: No ID
Label: Roc Nation. UMG.
There was always those episodes or those couple of movies where the superheroes look completely human and completely lost. Jay Z’s 4:44 is what Superman looks like being hit by kryptonite and what Batman looks like when the Joker has outsmarted him. Jay-Z is defeated, vulnerable, shamed, and completely lost when he confesses to his dirt. You listen to the lyrics and say, “God damn Jay-Z You really fucked up”. I’m one of the few who, gives a little less credit to Jay-Z’s grown man album only because Nas and Scarface did it just as well in my mind (Nas on Life is Good and Scarface on Deeply Rooted bared their soul in similar fashion) but 4:44 is different in the sense that it’s a Soap Opera played out in public. Its Jay-Z, the biggest figure in Hip Hop history, the always calculated, unshaken mogul completely defeated, completely stripped, begging for repentance. The sharpest portion of the song is when Jay-Z describes how his daughters would see him in a different light when they discover his infidelity. It is so powerful and it continues to remind you, behind all the power and influence these are people who at the core are flawed human beings like all of us.