Song of The Year- Cuz I Love You by Lizzo
This is my favorite first song of the year (it’s from the self-titled album). Sure, Lizzo has a show stopping voice of the kind I would stab an alien for. That is not the most exciting thing about Lizzo. I can’t get enough of how totally reckless and bonkers she is. Her uncontrolled energy bursts in all directions on the title track produced by Ithaca NY rock band X Ambassadors.
I’m sure a lot of people are writing how great this album is from a body positivity standpoint; that it is great to have more vibrant black female voices. Problem with those takes is they come out of a jar ready to be spread out to fit anybody from Janelle Monae to Cardi B etc etc. Artists are specific not general so criticism should be specific.
While listening to the song you can find yourself asking questions: who would hit the high part of their register this much?! Who would open their album laughingly calling themselves a former ho?! When Pitchfork reviewed Cuz I Love You they pointed to ham fisted lines and awkward images as tough to swallow. Lizzo just doesn’t have the time or energy to go Fiona Apple with the lyrics. Her strength is that she doesn’t carry the fear a lot of us do. She’s not afraid to belt so hard she has to catch her breath, and let you hear, not afraid to say something we all know is corny like “I would do it for you all my friend, ready baby?! Will you be my man?” The desperation in the delivery and pulverizing honesty in the lyrics take center stage even as X Ambassadors fill the track with high energy pro-wrestling rock entrance music. Musically she’s so wild she’s free to be honest and in a world this deceptive and artificial it feels so good to hear.
Song of The Year-Boys Will Be Boys by Stella Donnelly
The debut album by tiny lady Stella Donnelly from Perth Australia has dominated my listening for the last week plus. Album cover is definitely off putting and the subject matter is so tense in its exploration of patriarchal savagery (in both personal and political spheres) I feel her eyes as I listen. What I didn’t expect was the emotional durability and craft in the album.
Beware Of The Dogs could easily have been a precious thoughtful album with high review scores but too tough to listen to, instead, it mood matches marvelously. It jokes and laughs at the problems it presents grooving while taking them to task. The melodies are composed to be sweet and soft as your heart gets broken. Her voice is really special and has layers to it that she uses extraordinarily well for someone on their debut album.
Can I tell you what I love the most about Stella? The writing is the toughest most spellbinding in the world to me. In this song she sings in heartbroken tones “Your father told you you were innocent. Told you women rape themselves.” You cannot misunderstand her songs. Her lyrics are dedicated to clarity while remaining deeply important and thoughtful.
Boys Will Be Boys is a vital spotlight change in the consensual sex conversation. The spotlight always seems to be on the poor young man whose life and reputation are in jeopardy because he was accused of rape and this song helps push our vision to the women who were betrayed and dismissed. None of this album is preachy, none of it sits from a comfortable place expounding upon the right ways to live.
Beware Of The Dogs is dedicated to the real damage patriarchy causes. The damage we always seem to ignore. It is my favorite album of this year because the narrator walked me through it all with kindness and humor while NEVER pulling punches. Stella believed in my ears enough to give me the truth as brutal and complicated as it is. So few have the temerity.
Please check out all the songs available to listen to on bandcamp:
Song of The Year-Westbrook by J.I.D. featuring A$AP FERG produced by Christo
It’s exciting when a new voice comes into full bloom for the public. In March of 2017 when J.I.D. put out his album The Never Story the underground publications sang about it and didn’t stop until the end of the year. It was that dope indy film that didn’t have the budget to be as deeply entrenched in the culture as it was. What I love most about J.I.D. is that he got that bubble up and decided his next project needed to ratchet up the effort/efficiency/entertainment value. He’s a clutch player. Dicaprio 2 is so good that at times it feels like being trapped. Despacito Too and Mounted Up have smash mouth minimal production feels so as to leave you face to face with the man mountain of syllables (feel free to spread this description of his ability). When he has help he’s superb. Whether it is Bj The Chicago Kid, 6lack or Method Man he finds enough space to sacrifice for his guest and they shine.
A single line from a single verse really messed me up. That is on my favorite song from Dicaprio 2, Westbrook. The beat chimes like Christmas then stomps your speakers as Ferg brings perfect sneering energy on the hook but at a little over halfway through the song J.I.D. says
Live life like a baby that was dead at birth
But came alive and f—ed the nurses
Throughout the verse he is chuckling to himself just plunging into the depths of his sick mind and dumping it out. I can’t lie I was very excited by how deeply inappropriate this is. This is a hip hop thing connected to the feeling NY had when Nas claimed he went to hell for snuffing Jesus. We weren’t excited to see smug old Jesus finally get his it was the discovery of a new voice, a new mind we can connect to who might be weirder than anyone we know. Similarly, no unringing this bell; this kid got Joey Bad@$$ and Meth together and wrecked it next to both of them. You can read other reviews to hear where he’s from what his social media footprint is like. I’m old and not going to waste space. I just want to pull up a chair and watch the young man spin this cadence till the whole world rings with it. Dicaprio 2 feels like being trapped in a place your body won’t let you leave.
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Tagged 6lack, A$AP Ferg, Atlanta hip hop, Bj The Chicago Kid, Christo, Dicaprio 2, Dreamville, J Cole, J.I.D., Method Man, Nas, song of the year, The Never Story
Song of The Year-Roll Call by Leikeli47
I play Leikeli47 a lot and my family does not mind. She produces all her own stuff and last year’s album Wash & Set stays solidly in the rotation. The excitement in her flow and in the dynamic dirty bounce she concocts makes it so you don’t lose enjoyment as the song becomes known to you. No matter how often you re-listen the beat still dominates the stereo, the hook becomes more and more infectious as you give yourself permission to sing-a-long. This aspect of her music is what reminds me of Missy Elliott; the conscious effort to push the pace while not sacrificing lyrical space.
The fascinating and very well done HBO show Insecure has used multiple Leikeli47 songs to soundtrack black female perspective. It makes sense if you listen to Roll Call. Leikeli47 knows drums like few in the world do while carrying the versatility to switch flows into a few different speeds. The guitar at two minutes thirty six seconds into it, the weird grunt, all of it is so much fun. On top of that, Leikeli47 is not asking permission to be taken seriously as a female MC in 2018. She just keeps burning down tracks with her trademark ski mask on. I loved Wash & Set, didn’t have a bad song so I bought her first album. Loved all of it and at that point I had a name on the tip of my tongue whenever anyone asked me who was new weird and hot. Here is to hoping people watching HBO are doing some googling.
Song of the year-Ace by Noname featuring Smino & Saba
I really do regret not listening to Smino-Blkswn earlier. I missed out on the countless relistens and an orator who seems to have neo-soul finger snap rhythm resonating from the depths of his soul. Every second of a song with Smino on it is a hypnotic groove. I was very thankful to have these three together to lay out a posse cut so chill, so intelligent and them.
This song comes from Noname’s album Room 25. It has gotten a lot of press; her writing is very slam poetry (some people see that under a negative connotation I do not) her delivery is bashful and hushed. Lyrically she can get personal, talking alcohol addiction or moving away from home. What I don’t think gets enough shine is how funny she is. She is so hushed and raw that when you catch a truly funny line it is even funnier. It releases the tension she’s built. My favorite line on the album is on the song Montego Bae when she says “Classy B_ only use a coaster.” Now keep in mind this line comes immediately after “He gon’ f$&% me like I’m Oprah.” The great part about a Noname verse is it gives the three dimensions of an actual conversation. She transitions from flirty to drowning in fear about the world to hilarious and you feel like you are really in a conversation. A lot of post-Nicki female rap is superhero rap full of heroines who are flawless rich sexual dynamo’s projecting an image they hope to attain(keeping it real: dudes are doing the same ish). Noname is brave enough to be herself without all the condiments.
On twitter someone was very excited about Room 25, very excited to be in a conversation like Noname can create. This person tweeted at her that she was the best MC in the world and no one else could compare. She replied with one word….Saba. While Room 25 and Saba’s Care For Me are comparably great albums, lyrically Saba is the god. His verse on this song is dizzying and down to earth and feels easy for him to do. These three represent a talent pool we will be talking about for years.
Listen to Saba-Care For Me, Noname-Room 25 and Smino-Blkswn to be in on the whole Chicago corduroy jacket rap scene.
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Tagged Ace, Blkswn, Care For Me, Chicago Hip Hop, Noname, Noname Gypsy, reviews, Room 25, Saba, Smino, song of the year
Song of The Year-Play by Big Freedia featuring Goldiie
When I heard the album Just Be Free in 2014 I must have listened to it the way the kids look at the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (early part of the movie). Living in Maine I’m sure I expressed wide -eyed tap- the-glass confusion before dismissing it. I put it in that mind bin of stuff I don’t understand and know I don’t know enough to comment about… until one episode of The Handsome Rambler podcast. Hannibal Burress and his co-host Tony Trim were asking the question: is it harder to maintain your musical hot streak being lyrically dense with a lot to say or straightforward and energy based repeating phrases. Hannibal brought Big Freedia into the conversation as someone who continually does the latter. Freedia grabs a few phrases and stirs them into the bounce so the song never feels stale but no one has to pull out lined paper and take notes.
When Freedia put out the five song ep 3rd Ward Bounce I completely got it. I had learned to stop figuring it out and enjoy it. Once I let go and did what Freedia asked me to do in 2014 (Just Be Free!) I could see the brilliance in it.
No question in my mind 3rd Ward Bounce is the best EP of 2018. It moves beyond mastering your sound, it’s a sound that can digest so many disparate talents into it. Lizzo fits perfectly in the background of Karaoke not in the shadows mumbling backup but full throated big personality killing the hook(the hook to a Big Freedia song should be called The Super Hook since every second feels like the hook). Freedia doesn’t need assistance, the lead single Rent has 80’s hip hop Run-DMC flourishes and still bounces like a shopping cart over cobblestone. Knowing who you are as an artist is such an important and difficult step but Freedia is beyond it, now she mixes her magic with the talent of others and concocts new recipes. Goldiie’s superhook on Play is so clean clear and downright pretty that I couldn’t be more excited for what she will do next. The song they create together is the flawless finale this short adrenaline rush of an ep needed letting you bounce but also appreciate the view from where you are. No one takes charge of your body like Big Freedia.
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Tagged 3rd Ward Bounce, Big Freedia, Bounce, Goldiie, Handsome Rambler Podcast, Hannibal Burress, Just Be Free, Lizzo, N.O. Bounce, New Orleans, Play, song of the year, Tony Trim
Song of The Year-Choosy by 03 Greedo & Nef The Pharaoh featuring Chris O Bannon & ALLBLACK
The story of the 03 Greedo X Nef The Pharaoh collaboration EP Porter 2 Grape always points back to the depressing reality that Greedo is going to prison for 20 years for riding extra dirty. Greedo is a fantastic talent with an outsized personality and a lot to say. Verses hooks songs projects all come easy to him(even easier with the motivation to get it all out before he gets put away). While most artists have to find their zone he lives there and losing him is a big hit for hip hop.
That being said Porter 2 Grape is obscenely fun. Greedo is masterfully flossy-hardcore-silly and Nef is a joy to listen to. As Choosy begins the beat drops right into O Bannon who chisels the chorus into your brain. Nef growls and Greedo jumps right in and growls back. The whole EP tastes of that flavor, no one kills anyone on songs, one dope verse gets the other MC excited to push as hard and they create collective profane sexist bay area fun. ALLBLACK is locked in and sews the song up with diligent bars. What he doesn’t have is the secret sauce in Porter 2 Grape. ALLBLACK is always in pocket right where you should be while the two stars ,by contrast, are ping ponging all over the song in spontaneous bursts of energy. When Nef says he climaxed in his lovers eye it doesn’t sound mean, just ecstatically childish. By the time you get to Greedo’s tutor/ruler metaphor you know what this is about. Life is too short for these guys not to clown and enjoy the length of every song. Tomorrow it can be all gone so today we put this song on and sing along loud.