Friday, December 19, 2014

Top 50 Tracks Of 2014, 25-1

2014 saw our fair share of stunning singles. Songs so concisely put together, either sonically or told with a coherently powerful message, littered the year from far-reaching sources. Looking back, while the year may have not been as pivotal as past years, 2014 could be seen as the starting of true alternative musical inspirations. No song here sounds remotely similar. Each artist, each song, brings its own unique tinge, untethered to the songs surrounding it. No longer do we have trite lyrical conversations that fashion themselves to what's the latest trend, and no longer do we have sound structures composed off last years success stories. Sure, those tracks still exist, but their influence, notoriety, and impressiveness have dwindled this year. 'Bangers' in the typical sense can now reach from a Run The Jewels track to a Death Grips paranoid-infused manic refrain. No longer do songs need certain tendencies, be it autotune, trap-inspired sounds, drops, or reckoning bass to survive. Artists can bring their own flair, own style, own confidence and be accepted almost anywhere. 2014 will be known for its diversity, through and through. Below is list two of two of my top 50 songs of the year. Each picture links to the track itself.


25. The Roots
'The Dark (Trinity)'
...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

Off the masterfully created ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, 'The Dark' rises atop the totem pole as easily the best example of Black Thought and his rapping companion's mastery of lyrical ferocity over three stunning verses. To be satirical to some can prove difficult, however for all three of these it comes off as effortless, as each in their own respective ways critique the ways of Hip-Hop of the culture of black youth, by being black youth themselves, showcasing the childish and immature ways many choose to live in the ghetto. Black Thought's opening verse backs the 'shit-talking' rap archetype, using ultimatum's as his final approach to lying down inferior rappers, all whilst failing at the materializations himself. Greg Porn continues this, but focuses on the drug aspect, from hard-dealings to simple weed rap. And Dice Raw concludes it all with a brutal verse acting as the thug-rapper seeking undeserved refuge.

These verses, and the wordplay found within, catapult this song to top-tier category in terms of creation and determination with regards to opening some eyes to the troubles of modern day street culture. Not only does their lyrics harken to these inherent messages, the way their spoken and showcased do as well. The beat is rustic, sinful, and grim, and emphasizing the lyrics at any given moment. Take the beginning of Raw's verse, which, after a chaotic string section, erupts with a bass-heavy low-end that wreaks of the character he's portraying's music. Later on, his use of doublet rapping style temporarily places him in the shoes of materialistically-infused artists whilst critiquing the same thing. Overall 'The Dark,' along with the entirety of ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, is a work that needs to be heard in order to attempt a change for the better. Once the message becomes clear, those engulfed in it can make adjustments to separate themselves from said lifestyle.

24. Flying Lotus
'Coronus, The Terminator'
You're Dead!

An atmospherical masterpiece, 'Coronus, The Terminator' may not be the centerpiece of You're Dead! (that belongs to 'Never Catch Me') but it certainly has the title of most masterfully-produced. What begins as a lush, sparse eventful hum of chords from various instruments, all played in the looming distance, erupts into a dense, bass-ridden sentient being capable of singing the pains of death away as you rise up to the heavens. The smooth, transparent hi-hats that slither inwards as the bass dominates is eerily reminiscent of Outkast's seminally revered 'Elevators' and its minimally-addictive beat. Trademarked Flying Lotus sounds ease their way in at various moments, before relapsing themselves to make way for more. Fast-paced percussion sections make way for expansive string melodies that mellow out to Ellison's lauded dizzying extensions of galactic offerings.

All this plays out behind Lotus himself and frequent collaborator Niki Randa as they chant the hymns praised by the Gods themselves, words sent down through two long-deceased souls. The message is clear. The days of men's end is coming, and "there's no where left to go so I'd like to save you," presumably to a place of higher being. The song itself implies a termination of all things, but, before you soul remains lost forever in an infinitely looping existence of nothingness, there remains a place one can fly away too, joining the other souls eager enough to endure another existence of somethingness. Flying Lotus' latest may have been dominated by big-name talents and quick interchanges of sonic cues, but 'Coronus, The Terminator' is where everything came together in a cloudy collage of life; the one thing the album lacks.

23. Mac DeMarco
'Salad Days'
Salad Days

Salad Days, Mac DeMarco's second album, may have been a bit overrated in my book, but the album's opening notes, and opening song, was not. 'Salad Days' perfectly executed, replicated, and examined the life and musical message DeMarco aims at telling, that of his lost age of innocence despite still living at a relatively young, but reckless age. People around him, mainly his mother, tell him that his good days are behind him and to focus on living the typical life of an adult, something many say following one's schooling years. There's not much to 'Salad Days,' and for the most part that's exactly what makes the intro so lovable. It's short, spends no extra time to ponder or pander, and reeks of nostalgic overtones, both in the positive and negative sense.

DeMarco's sentiments on the song rely the overarching message to the album of the same name rather clearly. In fact, I'd argue to say too clearly, as DeMarco, for some, could suffer from the wrath of 'sameness,' as his acoustic guitar, simple melodies, and sing-a-long verses are featured in nearly every song, making 'Salad Days' the most easily acceptable, and best. That doesn't take away from the song itself, as the washed-out guitar plucks resemble the most heartfelt instrumentation on the album, and the scatting that represents the chorus accurately uses emotion over lyrics to assume a direct message. Overall 'Salad Days' posits the album in a mixed light, with light, unassuming sounds and production qualities, despite being filled with concerned topics and feelings.

22. J.Cole
2014 Forest Hills Drive

It's pretty clear from a bevy of things found on 2014 Forest Hills Drive that the album is more in tune with Jermaine Cole the aspiring child, rather than J.Cole the famed rapper. Stories told are all reflective of his time growing up, from losing his virginity, to experiencing his first stick up, to '03' Adolescence.' Even a handful of song titles include a 'z' at the end, rather than an 's,' much like Hip-Hop in the early 2000's did with extreme corniness. However, besides the closer which opens up all his inner-dilemmas, there's no tracks on here that intersect both his new-found fame with his old ways. That is except for 'Hello,' a marvelous track telling the tale of his first love who's now confronted with a kid, all whilst Cole still has long-lasting feelings for her. It's a remarkable story to tell in a Hip-Hop song, one with numerous conflicting emotions, thoughts, and pivotal discussions.

He's met with a morale dilemma. In love with a girl who's now a mother, fully aware of his inability to cope with being a father at this time, knowing he wouldn't be around and might not be as faithful as he could be. The connection and repercussions of old habits and flirts come fully circle here, as 'Hello' does an excellent job at showing how one's life can be affected by past events. But none of this would matter if the production wasn't up to snuff, and thankfully, it's one of the best on the album, taking a unique approach in its foundation. The entire song is a pacing masterpiece, constantly evolving, never remaining stagnant, a roller coaster that only goes up. Hand claps are joined with blaring horns and soaring strings as Cole retells his story using no structure but story-telling to hold it together. His lines, "shit seems so sad when you look back" and "it ain't no looking back" show his progression in the song itself, conflicting emotions play a huge role in one's decisions to make a life-changing choice. He's still trying to move on, but lacks the initiative to do so.

21. Sisyphus
'Flying Ace'

Serengeti's verbose, illuminated dreamscape story isn't all bright and shiny as Son Lux's production makes it out to be. In fact, unlike almost any Hip-Hop dream-like story, this one has true, real life consequences. Where in our daily lives one's dream represents a facet of their life that they're going through, whether it be problematic or grandiose, the messages are laid out in elaborate, often times delirious events. Serengeti's night is no different, as a battle between a small medieval town against a dragon compares to subtle references to his current abusive relationship, one that's going downhill because in both cases the couple and town weren't prepared. His thoughts are scatter-brained, much like a man attempting to recollect his dream, picking up the pieces and pushing them together.

But none of this would come together quite as astoundingly if it weren't for Son Lux's tremendous production, which, just like Serengeti's thoughts are distorted and conflicted, his beats are too, flowing from one to another. What starts as a simple, elongated low-end bass loop evolves into rapid, spacey synths and twinkling string sections. The moments never last long enough to become commonplace, and a more movements to follow along with Serengeti's dream. As the strings, in one example, began building, Serengeti lashes out that "we bout to black out" which is followed by an enormous bass rattle, and in another 'Geti echoes obvious sentiments that we're "entirely in a dream" as everything collectively alters to another dimension, as haunting choir's hum quietly in the background. The track's a mastery of craft and creativity, both lyrically and sonically.
20. Shabazz Palaces
'They Come In Gold'
Lese Majesty

Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire's intergalactic project Shabazz Palaces sounds like nothing around it, mainly because it attempts to encompass it all. Lese Majesty, infinitely more expansive than their previous masterpiece Black Up, speaks on behalf of the black youth in today's society while symbolically remembering the pharaohs of Egyptians past, all while sounding like a projection of the distant future. 'They Come In Gold,' the first single off their latest album, expertly uses all these influences and metaphors to characterize a human so engulfed and enamored with himself that he succumbs to the pressures surrounding him. The song continues the album's play with Egyptian history, focusing on their adoration with gold and the skies, physical entities that are valuable beyond their descriptions. One's obsessed with vanity, egosim, and "yolo" kinds of thinking have no rightful place amongst the legends. 

Above all else what 'They Come In Gold' achieves in spades is the distinction only Shabazz Palaces can make between overtly socially-conscious lyrical spewings and mind-numbing head bobbers for the Hip-Hop heads who just want to rattle along with a banger. Prior to the abrupt beat-switch midway through that halts everything, including Butler's own flow and style, the production that helms the curb looms over everything with an enticing structure that uses brooding bass, malformed vocal loops, and bouncing hi-hats to allow the listener to form his opinion off each listen. Do you listen intently to the dense verbiage at hand, or succumb to the stupefied production? The second half, altering between patterns and styles, forces you to listen intently for Butler's command over the language he emphasizes.

19. Thom Yorke
'Nose Grows Some'
Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, another surprise release from Radiohead's lead man, may not have been critically adored like my thoughts on it, but few disagreed on the album's high points, one of them being the album's closer, 'Nose Grows Some.' Following the two instrumental pieces, one an elongated IDM-trip, the other a classical refrain unusual and distorted, 'Nose Grows Some' borrows the best of both, creating a hollow assortment of Yorkism's, both verbally and sonically. The lyrics, dense and underlying, are as complex as they come, with the title remaining the only definite in the entire song. It seems as if Yorke's words fall upon someone he knows close who has lived through a lie, with their nose growing like Ponochio. In fact, the message, like most of Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, seems dreadful and despairing, with Yorke attacking this person for insistent lies, even when "I'm blowing myself away." 

Many have referred to the closing track as a positive conclusion to Yorke's most depressing album, having a sort of free-flowing freedom that is absent on the previous 7 tracks, when in reality 'Nose Grows Some' remains consistent with the works that precede it, an elaborate ploy into thinking there's hope with uplifting tunes, only to be drowned out by the ever-looming devoid that is life. The album's closer has an ethereal ability to conjure up mixed feelings so distanced from themselves that one can't fail to leave confused following its conclusion. The subtle grooves manifesting beneath the surface from 'There Is No Ice' and the spacious emptiness that leaks from 'Pink Refrain' build themselves into the finale, as a culmination to the previous two tracks beliefs, if they had the ability to speak.

18. Death Grips
'Billy Not Really'
The Powers That B

Off Death Grips' most perplexing album, which is saying something, 'Billy Not Really' may be the most cryptic. There's always been rumblings that MC Ride is really just yelling without saying much. While there's some truth to that, not in the sense that his lyrics aren't detailed, what he's actually saying, for the most part, is entirely lost amongst the listener unless the examples are obvious. Here, Ride combines his easily identifiable lyrics with nonsensical meanings. Based on the evidence at hand it seems as if Ride's hands show a past so wrought with disdain that even medium's don't work on them to decipher his life. Being that even the psychic is terrified of knowing Ride's life, he becomes scared too, with the subtle "Amnesia" thrown unto the back of the chorus, as if he's forgotten something in his past, possibly related to a Billy.

'Billy Not Really' is also the group's best effort at portraying their sampling of Bjork. Whatever their intent was with her inclusion, it worked. Because while her words may be indecipherable and scratched beyond belief, the addictiveness of the remaining sounds proves worthwhile, and here it's the most obvious. The song fluctuates with her, it goes through movements, the most striking of which is the finale at which point the sound drops off for Ride to spout off some of his magical abilities, before Bjork returns for some more wailing and then an IDM-inspired beat entirely formulated through her, highly reminiscent of some of Governmental Plates most hypnotic parts. 'Billy Not Really' captured the balance between confusion and understanding, a place few Death Grips songs accomplish, leaving the listener's imagination to run wild while also constricting it to the formulaic madness.

17. Busdriver
'King Cookie Faced'
Perfect Hair

Perfect Hair, Busdriver's surprisingly excellent 2014 release, featured a litany of songs that focused on himself concretely for the first time in his rapping history. Not the caricature he created to support his alternative rap schtick, but Regan Farquar, the man behind that goofy exterior. On 'King Cookie Faced' we see Farquar tackling his relationship with a woman he was so eagerly seeking out, entirely succumbing to her wishes of a better man, relinquishing his own personality, becoming a man he himself hates. He goes H.A.M., swinging from ceiling fans, insulting people, and instigating ice-breakers, all while hiding his latest purchases of baby clothes. Driver constantly questions this choice of alteration, asking his Hellfyre Club affiliates if they can tell it's him under his fake alter ego, unsure of whether what he's doing will pay off in the end.

Unlike many Busdriver songs, the catchy chorus catches listeners off-guard, one's who are used to his oft-brand style of intervention, a typical far cry from something you'd enjoy listening too. The beat sports succulent rattles, voice-modified backers and high-pitched chimes that all mesh into a production style that sounds as if our lead is falling in love. The female voice that squeaks in at the conclusion of the chorus is every bit endearing as it is pleasurable, despite the lack of literacy the voice sports. Prior to Perfect Hair, the man behind Busdriver was nothing more than an extension of the character himself. But now, with an obvious distinction between Busdriver and Regan Farquar fully evident, songs like 'King Cookie Faced' fully expose the artist, making him entirely real for the first time in his career. The seams are coming apart, what's hidden underneath will prove indefinitely more interesting for Driver's future career.

16. The Roots
...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

While not as captivating as undun, ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin decided to forgo the single character-driven story for an expansive, yet contained, story of the streets and the troubles condemned peoples inside the ghettos suffer from. The album focuses on the lives of ill-lead black men, telling of their wrongs, failing to see the inevitable end to their risky lifestyle, all in search of things everyone else desires, accomplishing it in ways many would call despicable. 'Tomorrow,' the closer, plays anti-thesis to this following the death of the leads, who only now realize their freedom. They've muddled in the mess their entire lives, and fell victim to it as well, completely unknown to the outside world. 

'Tomorrow,' upbeat and uplifting, sets the scene of a different perspective, one who lives a normal 9-5 life and is grateful of his current situation and life. There's many theories as to the meaning of this drastic shift in tone, it's best to leave it open for interpretation. DeVaughn's crooning could be seen as one being appreciative for what they have after hearing of the news of the others' death. Or, he could be condemning the men on the album for their wrongful ways, shaking his head that they weren't like him. But who's to say a remedial 9-5 life is good? 'Tomorrow' brilliantly sets itself up for these various interpretations, and fails to answer them as it billows into a climatic orchestral ending, complete with The Roots' backing band, before the song itself collapses into a harmful, dark hum. Because it's true that "can't nobody last forever," the good-natured lead here could have also met his demise.

15. clipping.
'Taking Off'

CLPPNG is a one-of-a-kind album. Not for its unorthodox sounds fusing Hip-Hop with Industrial, but for Daveed Diggs' take on life in the ghetto. Hip-Hop this year may have been disappointing in many respects, but one thing that it excelled in was viewing life in the streets in various ways. The Roots' album targeted the lives of those engulfed in the streets with the goal that death was soon upon them, as no other option would have made them out alive. Mick Jenkins saw his petty counterparts as influences and perpetuators of the violence themselves, unable to escape because the lifestyle is too deep and peer pressure-ridden. CLPPNG was a mix of both. Like many Hip-Hop albums it glorified the gangster life. But only on the surface, for beneath was a critique of the culture and its inability to escape from its own pitfalls.

'Taking Off' saw our lead performing these various acts that allowed him to be lauded within his close-knit friends. He systematically killed those who he rivaled, because "he isn't notorious yet." And yet, the thing tying it all together, was the beautifully ambiguous blend of Digg's rhyme styles with the beat trailing off in the background. A bass is stretched out, sirens alarm in the background, as quivering hi-hats frantically tip toe across the beat. This is clipping.'s most addictive song, a bountiful listen that ascertains the most of its listener, from the insanely detailed and flow-oriented verses, to the catastrophic beat forming and menacing behind them.

14. Milo
'You Are Go(o)d To Me'
A Toothpaste Suburb

The first single off A Toothpaste Suburb, Milo's debut, set the tone for the album as a whole, woozy synths melded with absurdist lyrics and overarching messages. Here he recollects a relationship with a now ex-girlfriend, one who he had a deep personal connection with. On 'You Are Go(o) To Me' Milo posits many thoughts on looking inside himself to see how such a relationship thrived, and also failed. On the chorus, brilliantly sung, so heartfelt and touching, Milo conveys thoughts on the old adage that to succeed as a comedian you must experience depression, for tragedy equals comedian. On the surface, it's clear Milo sees himself as some form of a jokester, many of his rhymes exude this, so to insinuate that they must always be melancholy implies that Milo is too. This, along with the somber tone and lumbering bass, puts a negative connotation over the track. 

The refrain following his chorus continues this exercise of self-depreciation, and also opens the listener up to the idea that this lack of self-confidence may have had something to do with the girlfriend's departure from the relationship. He states, "so I kicked the air like I'm Bruce Lee and I mumbled like I'm Tunechi" suggests Milo's apprehension towards accomplishing goals. Kicking the air accomplishes nothing, as does, in Milo's beliefs at least, mumbling like famed rapper Lil Wayne. He still loves this woman, potentially idolizes her, as the title makes note of, but he withholds any disdain and simply remembers the memories they've made together. The song accomplishes two things, it's a positive memory of a failed relationship, and a look at a man unsure of his own concerns for himself with a sinking self-esteem.

13. Schoolboy Q
'Man Of The Year'

Ever since it's hidden feature following Kendrick Lamar's music video for 'Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe,' 'Man Of The Year' has captivated listeners with its addictive chorus and alluring beat. Now, with that release a distant echo and Oxymoron a fading memory, those first few notes, sampled from the Chromatics, remain as a constant reminder of Schoolboy Q's insane ability at creating catchy songs. While the production and chorus carry the song, the verses, details of his life growing up in LA, add another layer to the track, with constant flowing fluctuations Q throws into the mix, complemented with his trademarked ad-libs, "Bounce!" 

While many received the deluxe edition of Oxymoron, to those who didn't 'Man Of The Year' stood as the closer. And while the more intriguing closer 'Fuck LA' remained, Q's most addictive song encapsulated more about himself than he ever could, summarizing Oxymoron as a whole; his calling card to Hip-Hop's top-tier, ultimately calling himself the man of the year. And with a bevy of hit singles that can be appreciated by senseless radio listeners and die-hard Hip-Hop heads alike, he wouldn't be that far off. Schoolboy Q has nearly mastered the memorable cross-over Hip-Hop smash hit, 'Man Of The Year' standing as his best example of his efforts.

12. St.Vincent
'I Prefer Your Love'

St.Vincent's self-titled rattles, shakes, and slams through its quick 11 songs, but there's one noticeably altered, fragmentary heartbroken track standing atop the totem pole of the album as its centerpiece. Clark's ode to her sick mother, 'I Prefer Your Love,' is a grand statement on the state of affairs her aging mother is going through, and the warmth, protection, and help she gave Clark in her adolescent years. Her startling chorus, barren, heartfelt, and tender, sends shivers as she one-ups Jesus with her mother. The deteriorating woman, creaking ever so closely to death, has caused Clark to look within for the emotional torment her mother's death would give to her, begging for her to stay with her calming tone and resonating voice.

Where the track truly transform from its counterparts is in St.Vincent's production. Her announcement that her self-titled is "a party record you could play at a funeral" is never the more apparent. The surrounding tracks are cluttered, brass, and loud, while 'I Prefer Your Love' emphasizes space, minimalism, and ambient textures. A protruding bass, defiant and resounding, sets the tone as mellow guitars strum in the background with soaring strings accompanying them. St.Vincent's ability to branch out and make enjoyable music with a disparaging tonality is commended in every right. It's not too often a party record can be played at a funeral, but Clark's inclusion of uppity sounds and personal content make for an easy target.

11. Shabazz Palaces
'Dawn In Luxor'
Lese Majesty

Lese Majesty may have been one of my favorite albums of the year, but to others it was disappointing in its attempt at progressing beyond Hip-Hop, losing many listeners in the process. While 'They Come In Gold' was the first sound any and all heard from the record, 'Dawn In Luxor' was the stunning opener to Lese Majesty's otherworldly vision. From the simple, sparse opening notes, that have ping pong synth bouncing through a wall-less space, Butler's voice abruptly startles an un-attentive listener with a all-encompassing "Focus." He then proceeds to explain his being, both in the physical sense and the spiritual. Reincarnated as a pharaoh, gliding towards the heavens, from his original resting place in Egypt, Butler proceeds to elegantly spit across the unorthodox track, one that fails to build upon itself, resting at its hollowed beginnings.

Elsewhere Butler recollects his black brothers and their attack on the powers that hold them down, "we throwin' cocktails at the Fuhrer, blackness is abstracted and protracted by the purest." From this he discusses the production of the song itself, so crisp and clean, while calling out lesser rappers for their glitter-laced production, quickly fading riches, rather than gold which is everlasting, cause "they'll always be a difference." 'Dawn In Luxor' not only introduces the listener to Butler's stance he'll take on the rest of the album, but sonically it's production style, spacious in spots, dense in others. At times it's vacant of the lows that round out the sound, in others complete with it, launching itself into the forefront. 'Luxor' is a sonic masterpiece, constructed in ways few Hip-Hop songs have attempted.

10. Ab-Soul
These Days...

While These Days... could be seen as a disappointment for many for its lack of cohesion and disconnect amongst itself, 'Closure,' a short reprisal nearing the conclusion of the album remains at the top of the totem pole for the discussions had here and its brilliant execution. While Ab-Soul's second LP seemed cluttered in almost every crevice, 'Closure' was open, bare and dry, which made its appeal all the more apparent. A breezy female voice haunts the background as a brooding bass sounds the resentment over Soul's lost loved ones, all while a ticking clock meanders through and through. The track stands separate from the rest of These Days..., relegating itself to being more comparable to his previous work 'The Book Of Soul,' another heart-wrenching tale over his previous girlfriend Alori Joh lost to suicide. 

His pain over his female companions still held within explode in the track, both in terms of vocal delivery and lyrical content. The angst in his voice is utterly apparent, aiming to hold back tears but not his emotions, belting the chorus despite his raspy voice. This realness was unfortunately missing from the majority of These Days..., even the following track 'Sapiosexual' takes a stark departure back to 'fucking your mind.' 'Closure' may well represent a shifting point in Soulo's career, a time when he concludes the book he began writing on Control System, setting his sights on a time past his lovers who caused him such heart-break.

9. tUnE-yArDs
'Look Around'
Nikki Nack

Nikki Nack may have been filled with like-minded, care-free, goofy ballads, but Look Around, the album's pinnacle in this creation, successfully mergers Merril Garbus' playful attitude with a serious topical approach. With the treasured hook kicking things off, so earnest and heartfelt, it's clear 'Look Around' ventures further than other tracks bear to risk. The pitfalls of Garbus' own self-realizations found elsewhere on the album, on songs like 'Wait For A Minute,' are forgone here, as she speaks with her current lover, turning things inwards on her own successes in the relationship, being able to commit, and having someone to rely on.

Where the song strives for greatness however lies within its structure. The production, masked by a simplistic orchestration, turns eery as Garbus' voice becomes warped, distorted, and robotic. During her verses she's childlike, crystal-clear in her statements and terms, yet, throughout the piece, her voice during the chorus becomes more and more wavering and unbalanced, before the finale at which point it becomes nearly inaudible as it's consumed by the swelling chords and strings overtaking it. The true intentions of her actions are most likely simply playful alterations to make the music more enjoyable, not an overt message on the condition of her relationship, and that's exactly how Garbus would keep it. 

8. Mick Jenkins
The Water[s]

Prior to The Water[s] all I had heard from Mick Jenkins was chatter about how skilled he was and how good this mixtape was. Two great come-up Chicago emcee's in the past year that aren't related to the Drill movement, could it be true? 'Shipwrecked,' the opener on The Water[s] destroyed any of my apprehensions, as Jenkins sets the stage for his mixtape with a crystal clear night out at sea following the sinking of his ship. Wading in the waters he remembers the cold nights in Chicago growing up, learning the ways of his world, choosing to abandon the violence that surrounded him, purifying himself in the waters. 

Upon first listen the track is calm, collected, and reserved. This ends upon impact, as a pitch-shifted Soul sample clashes with Mick, who roars onto the track, complete with a meandering bass and scattered hi-hats. It's a jolt of energy for the track, your consciousness, and the rapper. 'Shipwrecked' perfectly encapsulates Mick's message and mannerisms. He's a black man growing up in the meanest streets in the country, avoiding the brushes with conflict to become a higher person, washing up on shore, rather than wavering in the waves. And yet, lyrically-speaking, he can go as hard as anyone in the streets, he's not running away from them, he's conquering them.

7. Death Grips
'Say Hey Kid'
The Powers That Be

While it's incredibly hard to be original in today's age, something Death Grips succeeded at flawlessly, it's even harder for that artist to reinvent themselves once again, even if for one song. 'Say Hey Kid' did exactly that. Sure, the opening barrage of heavily distorted drums patterns, accompanied by cuts, ripples, and scratches in the fabric of the original piece, is per usual on The Powers That B, but what comes after is not. The room-filling sounds drop out, leaving just a padded cell with MC Ride and a metronome perfectly in harmony with one another, as Ride begins to rattle off half rap/half spoken word hyper-realistic phrases that come off as a lunatic conspiracy theorist who's later proven to be right.

In the song's short existence, Ride presumably discusses the state of "his people," or those of his race, in the world and the misconceptions they face in terms of violence and status. To him, they're seen as blood-sucking vampires by night, and remedial bus drives by day. And yet, there's another layer to be found, that of feigning ignorance in America's capitalistic vision. Rather than giving into the belief that to be happy one must buy cashmere, Ride rises up and says to come play dead, rather than to overdose on the financial structure that runs our country. 'Say Hey Kid' is an oft-putting track, not for its abrasiveness like the rest of Death Grips' discography, but for its subtitles.

6. Run The Jewels
'Oh My Darling Don't Cry'
Run The Jewels 2

"Oh my." Never have two words so clearly defined a response to a beat, yet alone that response occurring in the song alone. Killer Mike's instinctual reaction to the titanic bass endorsed by El-P is nothing short of a captivating experience. With speakers on full, bass up high, and windows rolled down nothing will get you to resist the urge of losing every stiff bone in your body once the Brooklyn producer's beat comes full circle. An improvement over last year's 'Banana Clipper,' as shocking as that is to say, 'Oh My Darling Don't Cry' takes the cake as El's best-produced banger. The nauseating waves of vocal chops, repeating "darling" in various measures, tip toe with that pronounced bass and the alarming alien-like synths that wreck havoc in the background. It stands tall as the staple of Run The Jewels 2.

That is before the beat switch later in the song, unexpected and in all ways awesome. Mid-way through one of El's beat down verses the beat implodes on itself, with few sounds quickly scrambled together before an explosion releases Killer Mike unto his final verses. The duo trading bars master the craft of one-liners, from "you can all run naked backwards through a field of dicks" to "We run this spot like a Chinese Sweatshop." 'Oh My' is the perfect description of Run The Jewels' message and sound, their vernacular consists of strict body blows, their message as straight-forward and direct as possible. There's no excess here, no fluff, just straight bars over top-notch beats.

5. Isaiah Rashad
'West Savannah'
Cilvia Demo

While Cilvia Demo was a prosperous beginning for the new TDE prospect, some calling it the best release from the group this year, nothing on it compared to 'West Savannah,' a short, interlude-esque track that touched upon all the heart strings, while it whistled itself away to Southernplayalisticadillacmusik. The hazy feel of the track, as slow synths and a hammering bass line travel in and out of conscious, force the listener into a daze, recollecting lost memories, whether good or bad is left up to one's imagination. The track is nothing more than a chorus, bridge, chorus, and really, that's all it needed to be, anything more and it would have lost the lust it so sought.

Rashad's incorporation of SZA playing the female role adds another layer to the romantic love story, as two souls become lost in one another contemplating life and the fragileness of it. Besides the obvious Outkast reference, their influence lies much deeper, the song being entirely reminiscent of Andre's lauded verse on 'Da Art Of Storytellin' Part 1' where he recollects a night with Sasha Thumper as they stare off to the stars. 'West Savannah' is more vague in its story, more like a passing memory, one that even Rashad is unsure if he's remembering correctly. 

4. Caribou
Our Love

Dan Snaith's production masterpiece was an early staple off Our Love, an 80's-soaked piece doused in woozy synths, ambient collages, and lost, fleeting love loss. While Caribou's lyrics have never been one to gaze at, his vocal effects, layered, and engrossing entice the listener into a state of romanticism unmatched by any of his peers. The swelling horns, lingering bass, and haunting female vocals set the tone for the song, before exploding it into a flawless 80's glam fervor. 'Silver' stands tall amongst Our Love's convoluted love montage, a seething time capsule of Caribou's work, his legacy, his sound. Snaith's lyrics, while tied down to his pre-created confines, ooze of the blood pumping from a broken heart, dreaming of his ex, time and time again, failing to see how she's so easily over his existence. 

Within the structure of Our Love, 'Silver' stands out amongst all the others for its pinnacle use of pacing and progression. The rolling loop of brain-bending synths, echo and squeak, come in and out upon Snaith's personal request. The 'chorus,' really just a break in verse, sneer with soaring sounds, as fading segments wash over the others surrounding them. That is before a momentous, highly-combustible closing section signals the exclamatory finale of his relationship with his lover. Fireworks beam off in all directions in the speakers, jutting synths pinch the eardrums, and a subtle, rounding conclusion wraps everything up in a perfectly ordained box filled with lush soundscapes of the best quality.

3. Flying Lotus
'Never Catch Me'
You're Dead!

To fully be engrossed in 'Never Catch Me' one must listen from You're Dead!'s initial intro to the song's beginning piano chords to capture its true impact. Much like Flying Lotus' previous efforts, the opening doesn't necessarily imply the beginning, because for You're Dead! Kendrick Lamar's opening bars accomplishes that task. The songs that precede it represent largely the intent of FlyLo's album sonically speaking, from Jazz-Fusion to Rock N' Roll, but 'Never Catch Me' encapsulates the inherent messages; that of the certainty of the death, and his realization that he may soon experience it. Without Lamar's verse the entirety of You're Dead! would be lost, without a foundation holding it together.

Never one to be out-shined however, Flying Lotus produces one of the most lush soundscapes to allow Lamar to shine on the first half, before giving himself full reign on the second. Much of his style shows through here, with deathly deep jazz influences and ethereal spacial synths that collide with one another upon entering the track. However, because of Lamar's appearance, the first half needs structure, something Flylo typically shies away from. He instead chooses to waver between organization and chaos, incorporating a bevy of sounds at varying times into his verse, before the middle bridge illicit one escaping from everything he hopes to leave behind, including the piano that fades away beneath him. 

2. Sisyphus

Just as Sisyphus' self-titled debut begins to wind down all three collective pieces throw their last combined effort into the stew and create a track so encapsulatingly dense that it's still wondered why the rest of the album didn't follow as such. Alcohol is brutal, unrelenting, and intrusive, while much of the remnants of Sisyphus remain light-hearted and playful. Serengeti reveals his inner-beast, drops his characteristically nonchalant act, and exudes the problems of his childhood, mainly his inability to escape his alcoholic parents. His verses, monotone and constructed, come off as a person tethered to the last string of his rope, patiently waiting for it to all collapse. 

Then, following what can only be presumed as a mental breakdown in the form of Son Lux's mercilessly sadistic beat that attacks the heart with a militaristic drum procession, Sufjan Stevens, in the form of Serengeti's inner-consciousness, erupts screaming "I am not my father" before the song breaks itself from the tremors. This all taking place on the same album where 'Booty Call,' a song that needs no description, lies on. The contradictory nature of Sisyphus only makes Alcohol more direct, as the album attempts at masking the problems before slowing unraveling them, much like the story of Sisyphus, endlessly rolling a rock up a hill. Alcohol is never-ending, and neither is Serengeti's attachment to it. 

1. clipping.

Like most works that follow a coherent story, CLPPNG had a climax. And, by almost all accounts, those are the songs most revered and best remembered. See 'Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst' off good kid, m.A.A.d. city or 'Sprawl II' off The Suburbs. However, clipping. took this a step further, saving their best work thus far not for the climax, but for the downward spiral concluding it. 'Dominoes,' as the name implies, sees our character slipping into madness following the destruction of his home and death of his loved ones. The production engulfs Diggs as the beat collapses upon itself following every line, before attempting to reconstruct itself, a testament to the characters failures in re-gaining control over his life.

Through three stunning verses Diggs recollects the life of our lead, from memories of his first schoolyard fight, to his adolescent years succumbing to the streets, incorporating stunted rhyming patterns that bounce off the beat, or what's left of it. Where the track fully shines however is in the chorus. If one goes in under the realization of the story at hand, the death of his daughter, his life in the streets, hearing a chopped and screwed dank voice utter "drop that game on them" only to be followed by a children's choir influenced by the verbiage the lead has learned over the years, "OG's getting money in the streets," it makes for one of the most impactful moments in music this year. 'Dominoes' is a massive edifice that stands tall amongst CLPPNG, the shining beacon to the troubles blacks face in the ghettos and the ease of impression it has on the youth growing through the troubles. 

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