I love singles. Singles are exciting — it’s an artist putting everything on red, hoping that this one song they believe in the most will carry them and their album into the arms of financial, social, and critical success. If not, they and their project will likely fail, and the public will look away, condemning them to the shadow realm shared by artists like Wale. Remember Wale? Yup, me neither.
Anyway, you know everyone on this list because they made great singles. Decent year for music, let’s see a better 2018.
Freddie Gibbs – “Andrea”
Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow”
Lil Peep & Lil Tracy – “WitchBlades”
10. 21 Savage – “Bank Account”
I placed Savage Mode (2016) as one of the worst albums of last year. I’m also more than willing to admit that this year, 21 Savage captured my attention, and continues to hold it. Not that I particularly enjoyed Issa Album, but “Bank Account” is undeniably a high point from 21. He’s malicious, dreary, and darkly comedic all at once, hitting the listener with a myriad of flows and a brutally effective hook. I still can’t say I’m a firm believer in 21 Savage, but I won’t ignore the massive success that is “Bank Account,” with all of its blunted, leaned-out bounce.
“Got ’em tennis chains on and they real blingy
Draco make you do the chicken head like Chingy
Walk in Neiman Marcus and I spend a light fifty
Please proceed with caution, shooters, they be right with me”
I can’t think of a rap group in the last decade that’s maintained a streak of longevity like Migos have. Since last year’s chart-topper “Bad and Boujee,” the ATL trio has managed to stay relevant through consistent drops, solo endeavours, and an endless slew of features. “Slippery,” off of their debut project CULTURE, serves as a quality example of the group’s unmistakable style: lotion-smooth triplet flows on top of off-kilter 808s and hi-hats, with an abundance of ad-libs punctuating every bar.
And man, it’s great to hear Guwop in top form.
“I’m so slimy, grimy, shiesty but still shinin’
Rude and unkindly, cruel with no conscience
Drop the top on College, nigga, I aim with no-nonsense
And I’m a murderer, nigga, but I don’t promote violence”
I didn’t love all of this year’s Vince Staples project, Big Fish Theory, but I really liked some of it. One track I’ll return to is title track “Big Fish,” a club-rap anthem with a laid-back Staples verse featuring a ridiculously addicting Juicy J hook. Glossy production by N.E.R.D proteges Christian Rich gives the track a futuristic, long-lasting vibrancy, giving the Long Beach rapper a new sound to develop into.
“It’s funny I was going crazy not too long ago
Women problems every morning like the Maury show
Swimming upstream while I’m tryna keep my bread
From the sharks make me wanna put the hammer to my head”
7. Run the Jewels – Call Ticketron
Run the Jewels hasn’t made a bad project yet. That’s a difficult feat to accomplish, but it’s probably a little easier when you’re El-P and Killer Mike. “Call Ticketron” is an amazing RTJ song, pure and simple. El-P’s robotic production style is relentless and abrasive, but he and Mike ride over it with a constant stream of incredible bars and a heavyweight back-and-forth flow. The amount of shit El-P is able to stuff into a track’s beat is honestly mind-boggling, because the final product is a cohesive masterpiece *every single time*. It’s only a welcome bonus that he’s an amazing rapper and that Killer Mike is the only other guy allowed on the track.
“Live from the stage of the garden
We be the realest of the killers of the fuck shit squadron
Movin’ through the streets and we lootin, ‘ robbin’
Mobbin, ‘ marchin’, carrying a carbon”
6. Future – Mask Off
Future does what Future does here: loom over the track with a catchy hook like the incorrigible trap behemoth he is. He doesn’t have to do a whole lot to make it work because he is him. Otherwise, everyone knows the flute. You, your friends, and your mom all know the flute. Metro Boomin’s production here solidified his status as Atlanta’s most valuable export of 2017 — few other producers in recent years can claim to be behind such an instantly recognizable beat. From the memes to the remixes, “Mask Off” may be Future and Metro Boomin’s most well-crafted collaboration to date.
“Two cups/Toast up with the gang
From food stamps/To a whole nother domain
Out the bottom/I’m a living proof
They compromising/Half a million on the coupe”
5. Lil Uzi Vert – XO Tour Llif3
This is the college track of the year. Whether you like it or not, kids think it’s cool to be sad (or at least pretend to) these days, and Uzi’s anguished chant of “all my friends are dead” happens to neatly fit single-line Instagram and Snapchat captions. Not since Kendrick’s “Swimming Pools” have students been able to abuse a song’s meaning with such vigor, though “XO Tour Llif3” leaves more space for drinking and drug use to be appropriate alongside it. In any case, the track’s syrupy bounce is hard to avoid vibing to, and Uzi’s melodic bridge/hook combo is a ruthless earworm. It’s the kind of single that defines 2017’s temperament, and even if you’re sick of it, it’s the kind of single whose impact you can’t deny.
“I’m committed, not addicted but it keep controlling me
All that pain now I can’t feel it, I swear that it’s slowing me”
It’s an amazing time to be a Tyler, The Creator fan. As someone who had an Odd Future phase in high school, I know how it feels to quietly disengage from an artist who you feel you’ve outgrown. His lackluster 2015 effort, Cherry Bomb, was enough to solidly remove me from his following, and I was content with leaving Tyler and my Golf Wang merch behind.
When “Who Dat Boy” dropped, I relapsed, hard. It’s more than a return to form, because to be honest he’s never sounded quite so developed, so masterful before. The production truly sounds like peak Tyler: eccentric, dissonant, but robust and larger-than-life. He’s rapping his ass off, too — with an absurd hook and a flawless back-and-forth with A$AP Rocky, it’s hard to disregard it as one of the best songs he’s ever made. To be honest, this was the most difficult item on the list, because *I didn’t know which amazing song off of Flower Boy to pick*. Shit might have me looking for that Golf Wang tee.
“That cherry be the bomb like he ran in Boston
Won’t stop ’til the cops surround him
One nigga jiggy and the other awesome
With his fuckin’ face blown off, that’s how they found him”
3. Jay-Z – The Story of OJ
No other rapper has ever been rich like Jay-Z is rich. Jay-Z knows that, which is why he made this song. He doesn’t need to make music anymore, but he released a pretty good album anyway, and led with one of the best singles he’s had in years. The whole thing is effortless — everything from the luxurious No I.D production to Jay-Z’s in-and-out sermon sounds like transcended hip-hop, masters at work making it look and sound easy.
Plus, hearing Hov respond to “I’m not black, I’m OJ!” with an incredulous “…Okay…” is hilarious.
“Y’all think it’s bougie, I’m like, it’s fine
But I’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars worth of game for nine ninety-nine
I turned that two to a four, four to an eight
I turned my life into a nice first week release date”
2. Brockhampton – JUNKY
I’ve got a lot to say about Brockhampton, but so does everyone else. But it doesn’t take much to assert that the group is the single most effective hip-hop collective since Wu-Tang Clan, despite being worlds apart. With three sublime projects (the SATURATION trilogy) under their belt just this year, they’ve quickly become one of my favorite new artists, and — despite the stream of lies coming from ringleader Kevin Abstract’s mouth — seemingly have no intention of stopping.
The group is fervently DIY. The producers are in the collective, the rappers are in the collective, and even the video and photo guys are in the collective. As a result, a constant outpour of singles is expected with each album drop. This makes it excessively hard to pick a single, but I can stand by the suggestion that “JUNKY” is the best single they’ve released thus far. It’s one of their angrier songs, with twisted production and a chaotic Memphis Rap-esque interlude following an impassioned Abstract verse. But each rapper — and there’s a bunch of rappers — has an excellent performance, with the only downside being that some of them don’t rap long enough.
“I took like two of them pills, I can’t remember nothing
I ain’t under control, I’m losin’ motor function
I need an intervention, I need an exorcism
I need a therapist, paranoia and drug addiction”
1. Kendrick Lamar – DNA
DAMN isn’t my favorite Kendrick Lamar album. It’s actually my least favorite. It’s still great, don’t get me wrong — if anyone else dropped it, they’d be a huge deal. But I don’t like every single song off DAMN. It doesn’t have the mark of quality that I’ve come to expect with every Kendrick album, but then again, an artist needs to experiment with their sound to enforce their legitimacy. It didn’t work for every song off DAMN, but wow, it worked on “DNA.”
“DNA” goes so, so hard. Kendrick went so hard on “DNA” that he *outrapped the beat*, and Mike WiLL Made It had to play catch up with him, constructing the second half on top of Kendrick’s acapella. Kendrick isn’t a trap rapper, but he’s rapping over an (amazing) Mike WiLL instrumental with more finesse than anyone else ever has. He sounds unbelievably good on a kind of beat you aren’t used to hearing him on, which is an incredible phenomenon when considering how comfortable most rappers feel with a single sound. It’s songs like this that make it very difficult for anyone to deny Kendrick’s status as top dog, because he isn’t a one trick pony, and he goes out of his way to show you why.
“I know murder, conviction
Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption
Scholars, fathers dead with kids
And I wish I was fed forgiveness”
?. Playboi Carti – Magnolia
And then there’s this. What is this? I don’t know, but I keep playing it, and so do you, and so does every house party and club and whip. What the fuck is Playboi Carti doing? What does he do? Is this song a masterpiece, or is it garbage? Is Carti’s dreamy nihilism ~art~? How do you discuss it? Is it good, or evil? No, it just is.
“Oh, that not yo’ thottie
Yo’ bitch look like a aunty”
Written by Adil Siddiqee