Much like a certain Canadian rapper, let’s split this into a hip-hop side and an R&B side.
“Cocaine” by Royce Da 5’9”
Hip-hop is so often about bragging and status, that we can forget that some of the best tracks are about the real life pain and failures a rapper may have dealt with.
In “Cocaine”, Royce discusses his father’s drug addiction and how it affected him over one of the possibly best DJ Khalil beats ever produced. In the “era of the user”, this track reflects on how drug use may one day affect those around you if it gets out of hand, or even better, what it will mean to your family when you get clean.
“Seasons” by Mozzy, Sjava & Reason
Seasons’ sample, flow, and mix of African diaspora storytelling make this possibly the strongest track on the Black Panther soundtrack. The first time I heard the track, I could see 3 rappers sitting around a table sharing their different experiences, though all were similar. Point being, no matter where you are, we all face similar struggles. Encompassing the point Killmonger was trying to make the entire movie…in 4 minutes.
Anything from Stream of Thought Vol. 1 by Black Thought
When The Roots became the house band for Jimmy Fallon, I remember a lot of folks saying that it was the end, that they would get complacent, and that Black Thought wouldn’t be a sharp as he once was. Sitting on a stool every day, playing off Jimmy, what could he have to say anymore…Well here, this, this EP, yes this one, is everything you thought Black Thought was sleeping on. We were all wrong and after killer freestyles, he still had this inside of him. Take note, this is what longevity looks like, late night straight man by day and lyrical mastermind by night.
“Pull Up” by Powers Pleasant, Joey Bada$$ & A$ap Ferg
I just like this track. I get that some could argue this is not a Top 5 2018 track, but play this track LOUD, surround yourself with your people, and watch the space just get hype. Power Pleasant made a deceptively chill beat that has heat and that I respect. Joey Bada$$ and A$Ap Ferg never hold back, from the beginning, the track takes off, they take off with it, and no one looked back.
“You Should Know” by Rapsody
I didn’t credit Busta ‘cause I mean only Rapsody rap part of the track. Don’t take it the wrong way, Busta is Busta, no one can take away from him… but he takes away from the track. Rapsody is the Arya Stark of hip-hop, she doesn’t want the crown, but could take it literally ANY TIME SHE WANTS. I don’t mean literally like folks use it, I mean that pound for pound she is easily one of the strongest lyricist and does not get the shine she deserves. Listen back to her catalog, all the way back to the Kooley High days, and tell me that she couldn’t take everyone on. “You Should Know” isn’t just the title, she is letting you know…
“Your Believer (Say Goodbye)” by The Slakadeliqs
Blending psychedelic sounds with dreamy R&B vocals makes “Your Believer (Say Goodbye)” a unique track that holds your attention. Think Brian Wilson vocals with the fun of a ‘60 Ringo drum beat, all produced by someone who grew up listening to Motown.
“Overload” by Georgia Anne Muldrow
There are artists who can always produce quality music. Georgia Anne Muldrow has the type of voice that can’t be replicated and a technique that is only hers. Having a signature sounds is something a lot of artist say they have, but not many actually have it… She actually has it though. “Overload” is just the latest in a line of tracks you may not have heard yet, but you should never overlook.
“Come Over” by The Internet
I feel like I should be able to say, “it has Syd on vocals,” and we all just nod at each other. Syd transitioned from producer to one of the best voices in R&B in the blink of an eye. Like an Odd Future magic trick, misdirect us with Frank Ocean, while they have Syd over on the other side slaying tracks about love and emotion, blending guitars riffs with a voice that makes other R&B vocalist jealous. As they should be...
“Summer in November” by SiR
A girlfriend once played a song for me in Mandarin, and although I couldn’t understand the lyrics, I remember getting pretty choked up. She told me afterwards that the song was about loss and wanted to show me that sometimes tone transcends language. I felt the same goosebumps listening to this track the first time as I did when hearing that song in Mandarin. Even while understanding every lyric, SiR’s emotion on “Summer in November” comes across more from how he sings it than what he is singing.
“Switch” by 6lack
This one you have to listen to yourself. It’s kind of hard to explain why Switch is so damn good. ‘Cause I could say the production is great, Ty Dolla $ign’s contribution is subtle but present, and 6lack’s delivery is passionately pained. But those are just my thoughts, you kind of need to feel it for yourself. I will suggest, if you can, that you listen to it on a huge sound system and really get immersed in the song, it adds to the experience. Not saying you need it, but when he drops “Now Switch”, you’ll thank me.