July is a weird month for music. In May and June, folks are putting out their often failed attempts at summer jams, but by the time July rolls around, things are a bit all over the place. That’s why this month’s list includes prog-rock outfits, hip-hop legends, EDM super producers, neo soul starlets, and Broadway megastars. Even Smash Mouth had a new song out this month, although it wasn’t very good. Anyway, here’s some songs that are very good. First, the honorable mentions.
The Spark – GZA
This is a song by rap legend GZA about the formation of the universe. I think that’s all you need to know.
LABOR V2 – Jaden Smith
Jaden Smith released this new track in celebration of his eighteenth birthday. It’s not exactly his best work, but it’s got a great beat and a pretty solid verse. I’m always excited to hear from Jaden, and this song seems to imply that he’s got an album on the way. Nice.
Love Make the World Go Round – Jennifer Lopez and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Broadway wunderkind (Can you be a wunderkind at 36? You can do anything on Broadway.) Lin-Manuel Miranda teams up with lifetime relevance award-winner Jennifer Lopez for a song to benefit the Latino LGBTQ+ community in Orlando after the devastating massacre at Pulse nightclub last month. It’s catchy, if generic, and actually really well-written, not to mention its great message.
Higher – The Naked and Famous
Indie electronic band The Naked and Famous are apparently pretty huge in New Zealand, but they never really made an impact in the US, aside from their 2010 sorta-hit “Young Blood”. Turns out, they’re pretty good, or at least this song is. It’s got a banging beat, great vocals, and pretty cool lyrics.
Dear Officer – V. Bozeman feat. Young Life
In one of the most powerful protest songs of 2016, V. Bozeman (Veronica on Empire) croons about police brutality over a sparse guitar beat. Young Life isn’t a particularly good rapper, but he makes an admirable attempt at speaking from the heart. It’s really a gut-wrenching, thought-provoking track if I’ve ever heard one.
Sexy (Where’d You Get Yours) – Kool & the Gang
That’s right, Kool & the Gang is back, baby! “Sexy” is the legendary funk group’s first single since their 2007 album Still Kool, and it’s an admirable one at that. It feels like K & the G in their prime, but it packs just a dash of modern flair and when you put it all together, it really feels like it wouldn’t be out of place on the radio today. And I love how goofy the premise is: Where did you get your sexy? The age-old question. Amazing.
Tiimmy Turner – Desiigner
Desiigner remains one of the more enigmatic figures in hip hop right now. We can all agree that at this point, he hasn’t really escaped the shadow of figures like Travis Scott and Future, but the question on everyone’s mind remains, is there anything else to Desiigner? I mean, after being signed by Kanye, getting features from the likes of Pusha T and possibly Eminem, and delivering a handful of surprisingly different freestyles and mixtape cuts, he’s gotta have something new going for him, right? Well, this song didn’t provide any answers, but it did show that he had more in him than just “Panda”. I’d venture to say that “Tiimmy Turner” is actually better than “Panda,” with an even catchier chorus, an amazing Mike Dean beat, and a brief dive into actually interesting lyrics.
Purple Lamborghini – Skrillex and Rick Ross
Skrillex finds himself back in his old habits on “Purple Lamborghini,” a song with all the screams and wub-wubs we’d expect from 2011-era Skrillex more so than his recent output. Still, when you put the beat together with Rick Ross’ unbelievable energy, the song is a certified banger. So far, this soundtrack has actually shaped up to be better than the movie it’s made for (Suicide Squad, which currently boasts a 37% on Rotten Tomatoes).
Dang! – Mac Miller feat. Anderson .Paak
Mac Miller is sort of a hit-or-miss rapper, but this funk-infused bop featuring 2016 hip hop MVP Anderson .Paak definitely leans more towards “hit”. And that’s pretty much all I have to say.
Chemtrails and Muslim Wars – Isa Muhammad
Isa Muhammad is a recently-homeless man and the newest signee to Rick Ross’ increasingly impressive Maybach Music Group label. After listening to the song two or three times, I think the title refers to his desire to eschew material things and talk about that real shit, which means A) he won’t exactly be a perfect fit at MMG, and B) he’s about to make a damned fool of himself. For now, he’s a really good rapper, and I’m excited to see where he goes next.
Anyway, here’s the top ten.
10) PICK UP THE PHONE – Lupe Fiasco feat. Sebastian Lundberg
Last month, I sort of missed the boat on another song called “Pick Up the Phone,” but I hope this one serves as consolation. After releasing his best album and then his best mixtape, Lupe decided to take some time off, become the world’s greatest Street Fighter player, and just straight-up lie for a bit. Periodically throughout the end of last year and beginning of this year, we’ve been promised three albums this year, a sequel to The Cool next year, a final album, no final album, and God knows what else. This song is apparently from an album called DROGAS Light, which might be the same thing as Drogas, the first of the three albums he talked about, even though he said that DROGAS Light wouldn’t have any singles. Some have critiqued this song for being too reminiscent of Lasers, his worst album, and while I understand those complaints, I think it’s a really catchy, inspiring song, and it has some ingenious lyrics (“I left my ego at the altar”).
9. FANTASY – Kari Faux
Kari Faux has been called the “rap game Daria” for her monotonous, self-deprecating snark. On this track, she takes on society’s notion of an ideal woman, droning “I’m no man’s fantasy, I never plan to be”. I love the sparse, slowly-escalating beat, which begins with a simple baseline and ultimately incorporates multiple drums, jazzy piano, a synth, and a saxophone. It’s a really interesting and well-executed track, combining Kendrick Lamar-esque instrumentals with her own unique voice and style.
8. CLOSER – The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey
I sometimes find the Chainsmokers’ production to be a little grating, but this song has enough going for it that I can excuse their chirpy sound. It’s catchy as hell, the lyrics have a ton of plot, which I think is really cool, and Halsey delivers a pretty great vocal performance. It has potential to be a huge hit, and it has a certain quirky charm that we’ve been missing a bit on the radio this year.
7. FRIENDS – Francis and the Lights feat. Bon Iver and Kanye West
Hey, I’ll bet you didn’t know Kanye had a new song this month! Unless you follow Kanye on social media. Or Bon Iver. Or Chance the Rapper. Anyway, Kanye has a new song, and it’s super weird and fun and catchy and sweet. Also, the video features synchronized hipster dancing, an out-of-place stepladder, and Kanye wearing a really cool jacket. It’s pretty much perfect.
6. MR. INVISIBLE – Thank You Scientist
If anyone ever tries to tell you prog rock is dead, you look them square in the eye and you tell them, “Yeah, it kinda is. But while we’re talking about prog rock, check out this new song by Thank You Scientist. It’s really good.” It’s hard to talk about this song because it squeezes as much shit into seven-and-a-half minutes as it possibly can. From killer instrumentals to irresistible hooks, it’s just got everything going for it.
5. PERFECT. – Bibi Bourelly and Earl St. Clair
Church organs, trumpets, saxophones, drums, and bass work in perfect harmony to create this neo-soul ballad. It’s superbly romantic, but not in a cheesy way, and Earl and Bibi both deliver phenomenal vocal work. To paraphrase the song itself, it’s a little too perfect.
4. KISS THE SKY – Jason Derulo
In anticipation of Warner Animation Group’s non-Lego-Movie debut Storks, Jason Derulo brings us this infectious Michael Jackson-esque pop monster, with an eclectic beat that feels like some beautiful amalgamation of Pharrell and Quincy Jones, along with an infectious hook that’s bound to be blowing up the airwaves pretty soon. Does it have too much going on? Maybe. Is it trying too hard to make Derulo out to be our generation’s Michael Jackson? Maybe. Is he? Maybe.
3. HOLY KEY – DJ Khaled feat. Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, and Betty Wright
Kendrick Lamar actually dropped more than one show-stopping, unbelievably great verse this month, the other being on the “THat Part” remix. While that verse had over 100 rhymes in the span of 24 bars, this one ever-so-slightly edges it out by having slightly more impressive lyrics and at one point managing a 14-syllable rhyme scheme. Holy Key? Holy Shit. Also, the beat by Cool & Dre is absolutely phenomenal. Betty Wright delivers a powerful hook, and Big Sean’s verse isn’t half-bad either.
2. VRY BLK – Jamila Woods feat. Noname
From its oddball synth beat to its infectious chorus to Noname’s absolute flames to Jamila’s ingenious spin on the classic “Miss Lucy had a baby” rhyme, this song is just wonderful all over. It’s another celebration of unapologetic blackness and condemnation of police brutality, but rather than devastated and soulful, this song takes on an almost mocking tone, choosing to dismiss hateful people and celebrate black women with a pitch perfect pop tune. Still, the two maintain a fiery rhetoric through their lyrics, with thought-provoking lines like:
“Everything is casualty, a song I heard, the bullets sing
I know a couple babies gonna see ’em fly tonight
He wish he wasn’t magic, all he wanna do is be a passage
In a book titled ‘America the Savage'”
The point is, it’s an excellent song.
1. THIS BITTER LAND – Nas & Erykah Badu
This is the most beautiful song I’ve heard in years. The beat is beautiful, the lyrics are beautiful, and goddamn, Erykah’s voice is beautiful. It gives me goosebumps every time I listen. Nas is generally a pretty reliable rapper, but I think this is his best verse in at least a couple years. I have actually cried just from listening to this song. I’m serious. I feel like I could be overhyping it but it is genuinely phenomenal.