Thursday, January 7, 2010

Best Songs of '09

There's no reason you should hold my personal year-end opinion over anyone else's since it's strictly subjective when trimming literally thousands upon thousands of songs from 2009 into a single 10 joint list. So you can either ignore me altogether and scoff at my attempt, or you can enjoy my personal guide to what my ears consistently were bumping in the 365 days that made up last year. Oh, and by the way, Coldplay sucks. I don't care how many awards they win or how many songs they do with my favorite rappers.

11. Bonus: "Hurricane" - 30 Seconds to Mars feat. Kanye West

This was the surprise track of the year for me. I, like most rap fans, can admit to never having heard a song by 30 Seconds to Mars before. And the song motivation itself could easily be chalked up to a midlife crisis collaboration by Kanye in-between his 808s and Taylor Swift heartbreak. But it’s actually an amazingly epic composition. I can deal with the slightly whiny hook by the lead singer because the lyrics are so heavy and the production is so prolifically explosive. I can only assume that Ye at least did the drums, but regardless, this “Hurricane” is fit to play in the climactic scene of the next crazy huge billion-dollar-budget action movie. Mark it.

10. "I Figured It Out!" - brandUn DeShay

This song is everything you don’t hear in any rap songs. Nowadays or ever. It’s a track stripped of all posturing. It’s raw and emotional and just tells a story. It intros with gorgeous strings immediately as the story unfolds and the production continues to crescendo until the climactic and glorious presentation of the sampled hook. It’s put together brilliantly and is a standout track for me from brandUn’s second full-length project. You should already know that all his music is dope, but this one finds its niche in a section of hip hop that doesn’t exist: genuineness.

9. "In Case I Actually Get Her" - Charles Hamilton

Your immediate greeting in this song is the gentle acoustics of Rihanna's "PS (I'm Still Not Over You)". CH then jumps straight into the closing of his conceptual opus, Well isn't This Awkward. If you don't enjoy all the things that make Charles Charles, then you may not enjoy this too much. But the "lo fi" mastering with rough sample dubbing, the dead pan delivery of lyrics driven by heartache, and the over-harmonized hook singing are exactly what make this the epitome of Hamilton music. His lyrics are always witty and he shows a masterful focus in bringing an alternative close to this full project over a song from his love obsession. You'll know right away if the track's going to strike you in a strong way. It captures a completely different emotion throughout as he deepens the pitch of the selective portion of the original RiRi joint and makes it a classic CH composition.

8. "Nothing On You" - Bobby Ray feat. Bruno Mars

B.o.B is one of those artists that I (and many others) really hope is smiled upon by the industry. It very rarely happens to someone who actually deserves it, but here's hoping that Bobby breaks the mold. The ATLien who can rap, legitimately sing, and actually play guitar comes correct on this lead single from his future debut album. He infuses his full-scale musicality and understanding of catchy, substantive songwriting effortlessly. I don't think anybody knows who Bruno Mars is, but he can sing any chorus he wants to from here on out. This lively ode to (*gasp*) monogamy is a genuine hit created in a similar vein to "I'll Be in the Sky" (an entrant in '08s top song list). If this song is any indication, Bobby Ray's proper debut should be huge and make its mark in progressive rap music forever.

7. "Otherside" - Macklemore

I strictly have 2dopeboyz to thank for this one. Otherwise I probably never would have been introduced to the Seattle emcee Macklemore. Once the Red Hot Chili Peppers riff sample comes on with this song, I'm swept away. This was one of the very few rap songs in recent memory that absolutely demanded me to spin it back over and over again immediately. It has an insane energy of importance to it that's punctuated with Macklemore's clear diction of an untackled subject matter in rap. And while you would think that any song discussing the ramifications of the cough syrup-abusing epidemic would come off boring and preachy ... it's anything but that, damn it. With his very opening bar, Macklemore joined Shad in becoming the only rappers to convince me of their respective greatness immediately. I've never heard a rapper rap like him, and with that, this song instantly catapulted itself to a premier representative of the entire year in music altogether.

6. "Heart of a Lion (KiD CuDi Theme Music)" - KiD CuDi

Even more than "Soundtrack 2 My Life", this song was the soundtrack to my life. CuDi's three-year-old single "Day N Nite" ruled all of 2008 and he made sure to ride that momentum into something spectacular this year. I have to prevent myself from just dishing on the entire album so I can save that for the top LP list. This song specifically is the second track in Act II: Rise of the Night Terrors and represents CuDi mentally preparing himself for everything that's about to come in his life. It's all about deading the effects of what's haunted you all your life previously to accept the potential good out of a situation that may not seem to be positive at all. If you can somehow create confidence from a place in your life that gives rise to pretty much every feeling besides confidence, then you can go somewhere. And I really don't care if you feel like the song's that deep. Cuz it is to me. Plus, if you're not in the mood for psychoanalyzing, then just scream the hook as loud as you can to your heart's content and forget about everything else. No, no, no, no, no, no, nooo, YEAH, nooo, YEAH ...

5. "Exhibit A" - Jay Electronica

Everyone was hanging off "Exhibit C" (including me), but it just so happens that its prequel hit a little closer to home for me. The production on this joint is bonkers. It's a perfectly crafted beat if there ever was one. And I've never been a big Just Blaze believer, either, so I don't exactly know where this came from. Mr. ElecHanukkah made sure he took full advantage of it, too. The elusive emcee remains as the intellectual name-dropping alternative to Game and has the enlightened bars to back it up. Every run of falling keys is a powerful moment and this is one of those obscure tracks that people will point to years down the road and still hold in insanely high regard. Trust me. I spit that wonder rhymer sh/me and my conglomerates/shall remain anonymous/caught up in the finest sh/get that type of media coverage Obama get/spit that Kurt Vonnegut/that blow your brain, Kurt Cobain, that Nirvana sh ...

4. "Fear" - Drake

"Best I Ever Had" didn't convince me. "Every Girl" sure as hell didn't convince me. And I still haven't gotten through a full listening of "Money to Blow" without falling asleep. But "Fear" was the track to finally break through to me. Up until this So Far Gone addition was released, I would have sworn that Weezy had drained all the realness out of Drake that he'd worked crazy hard to establish with Room For Improvement and Comeback Season. But no, it just turned out that Aubrey was waiting for one of those once-in-a-lifetime DJ Khalil beats to come bouncing his way to force him to rap about something again. In what's pretty much his own anti-"Forever", subject matter-wise, Drake details what his newfound fame hasn't done for him. And the song just feels good to listen to. Even with the obligatory autotuned hook. I'll take all of it. He claimed this is the transition record between his latest mixtape offering and the content that's gonna make up his debut album. And that statement better hold up, cuz this song is on classic status. [... *looks at Drake* ...] And don't let me down, man, cuz my roommate has hung out with you twice already and he's got me believing in you as a person. So ... yeah.

3. "Unthinkable (I'm Ready)" - Alicia Keys feat. Drake

I should've been convinced earlier by "Houstatlantavegas", "Little Bit", and "Brand New" that Drizzy was straight when dealing with R&B songwriting. But no, it took a collaboration with the love of my life for me to see how legit he was in crafting a classic. He smartly only provides just the slightest hint of background vocals for this song, though, and let's Alicia take care of everything else. The beat was dually produced by Miss Keys and Drake's in-house producer 40, and I will swear by the tandem in all future ventures. The deep drum pulses and vibrancy of the piano baselines sprinkled with 40's signature atmospheric mastering make this a surefire hit. The only thing that would keep me from crowning it a Billboard charter is the fact that Alicia had a similarly powerful track, "Lesson Learned", on her previous album that was never released as a single at all. Regardless, though, Drake's edgy songwriting pushes Alicia in a slightly deviated musical direction from normal that only brings back perfect results. I think this new album is the best in her catalogue, and this specific song is the beacon that I find myself winding up at the most. Every line has an urgency to it and the emotive effects linger long after the song's finished playing.

2. "Fo Yo Sorrows" - Big Boi feat. George Clinton, Shorty, & Too $hort

How? Can a rapper really have a premier song of all of 2008, follow it up with a premier song of all of 2009, and still have those songs' album nowhere in sight? Yes. Frickin' Sir Lucious Left Foot is still a figment of our imagination. But somehow I can't seem to get too mad at that fact when this song is better than most entire albums dropped in '09. This is funk at its finest as obviously influenced by Mr. P-Funk himself, reprising his "Synthesizer" collaborative role. Too $hort even manages not to ruin it with his expectedly welcomed novel misogyny and drug talk. The fluent double-time as well as slow-flowing Big Boi personas are in full effect here commanding his shared stage, but the driving force behind this unbelievable composition is the retardedly perfect Shorty hook. For those who think life is unfair/cuz I blow my smoke in the air/as if no one is standing there/then I'll roll one tonight, fo yo sorrows/in my chair, as I sit back smiling from ear to ear/with a fistful of your girlfriend's hair/yes, she'll blow one tonight, fo yo sorrows. Don't judge it until you're singing every word of it in some imitative voice that you'll never have down right. And since Andre is nowhere to be seen, this is Big's murder blow to anyone who ever held the notion that OutKast wasn't a two-genius crew. This song gives me the stank face every single time. It's beyond ridiculous.

1. "Pretty Wings" - Maxwell

My song of the year comes as the return-to-form track from an artist fresh off an eight-year hiatus. The only funny thing is that I never knew who he was in the first place. Upon first listen, I knew that "Pretty Wings" was something really special. Upon fiftieth listen, it still had the same perfect luster with each note and was well on its way to being the most played song in my entire iTunes collection. It stumbled into my life in the exact same fashion as Alicia Keys' "No One" had years prior. The music video managed to be leaked to my attention before the mp3 ever even did. All I saw was the beautiful woman in the still image and that was enough for me to check it out. That video and its gorgeous accompaniment were profoundly impacting and I'm still in love with every facet of instrumentation in its composition. Literally every song on the new album is a classic to me, but even in all their collective glory, "Pretty Wings" alone will forever define 2009 with every chime. Sometimes what's meant to be is for it not to be. But this song will still be there regardless, so life's all good.

... but do take my word for it.

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