Yep, it’s 20 songs this month. Basically, I narrowed it down to exactly 20 songs and was like “Eh, whatever.” If I’m gonna talk about all of them, I might as well rank them all. For those of you who are new here, how these lists work is I rank my top [insert number] favorite songs to come out in the past month. When I say “come out,” I mean they were released as a single, a music video, or otherwise put out separate from an album in the month of August. That means that a song from an album that was released over a year ago could still be eligible if it was just now released as a single, but a song from an album released this month may not be eligible if it was only released as part of the album. It’s a needlessly complicated set of boundaries I put up to make the lists easier to make. Here we go.
20. COSMIC PERSPECTIVE – Mndsgn
Up first, we’ve got this space-age funk track from Filipino producer Mndsgn (pronounced “mind design”). Admittedly, it’s a bit one-note, but what can I say? I’m a sucker for some solid psychedelic funk. And as we’ve come to expect from Mndsgn, the production is immaculate. I don’t have a ton to say about it, but I definitely appreciate it.
19. LIFTED – CL
Okay, so CL is a South Korean rapper, and this is her debut American single. Obviously, in addition to making a good song, she definitely had something to prove. Korean rap is often viewed as a farce, built on only a half-understood impression of late-2000s mainstream rap. So, how did CL circumvent this image? By paying respect to a hip hop classic. Specifically, this song is interwoven throughout with references/quotes from “Method Man,” off the Wu-Tang Clan’s classic album 36 Chambers. It’s also a really fun song on its own, but if I had to make a complaint, I’d say it feels pretty lazy at times. About half the song is lifted (no pun intended) from Method Man, and while she did get Meth’s blessing on the track, even the parts that aren’t taken directly from the song feel a little less impressive when you learn that they were written with help from a certain Asher Roth. Yeah, I think it’s cool how she imitates Method Man’s lyrical style and flow, but the things she’s saying are a lot less endearing knowing they’re coming from Asher Roth. It ultimately feels like the poor man’s “Sausage,” but it’s a fun time.
18. LOSING YOUR MIND – Raury and Jaden Smith
Raury and Jaden Smith have been friends and mutual fans for a couple years now, so a collaboration was bound to happen at some point. And what better point than the Netflix series about the rise of hip-hop, featuring Jaden Smith? “Losing Your Mind” is actually the theme music for Jaden’s character, a queer graffiti artist and member of the show’s focal rap group, the Fantastic Four Plus One. It’s a hectic, introspective, urgent song that fits perfectly with Jaden’s young-philosopher persona/character. And, of course, the other thing about Raury and Jaden Smith is that they’re pretty good rappers.
17. DROWNING – Mick Jenkins feat. BADBADNOTGOOD
Mick Jenkins is an up-and-coming rapper out of Chicago who actually put out two songs this month in anticipation of his new album The Healing Component. I ultimately chose this one over “Spread Love” for its atmosphere and its clever flipping of a “Bound 2” quote. A common motif in Mick’s music is water as a metaphor for truth. In this song, he takes it a step further by relating the perceived “drowning” of the black man to actual suffocation. There’s a lot of cool metaphorical stuff going on throughout the song. For instance, Mick quotes, “When the real hold you down, you’re supposed to drown, right?” Basically, the idea is he was drowning in drugs (drugs) and thought he was choking on water (truth) until he choked on drugs (drugs) and realized he was choking on air (oppression). Make sense? BADBADNOTGOOD’s instrumental work adds a really nice creepy atmosphere.
16. SMILE – Vince Staples
“Smile” is a militant and somewhat depressive single off Vince Staples’ recent EP, Prima Donna. It follows his experiences with fame, institutionalized racism and abandoning the place he called home. Perhaps fruitlessly, he seeks solace from his paranoia and self-loathing in the positivity of others, asking those around him to maintain an upbeat facade. It took me a couple listens to get into it, but it’s a really interesting and surprisingly catchy track.
15. BROKEN – Tritonal and Jenaux feat. Adam Lambert
In addition to great production, unique subject matter, cool rhyme schemes, and a solid vocal performance from Adam Lambert, the real reason I put this song on this list is that it’s catchy as fuck. I wanted to let it go, but every time I listened I was like “Okay, that needs to be here somewhere.” But once again, it’s a good song either way.
14. BANG BANG – Green Day
“Bang Bang” can be considered a sort of return to form for Green Day. It’s their first release since their 2012 ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tre! trilogy, which was widely criticized for being super vanilla. Not so with “Bang Bang,” which isn’t exactly Bon Iver, but still shows elements of experimentation that Green Day’s been missing this past decade. The lyrics are out there at times, they play around with different vocal styles, all that. It’s the kind of song that stands pretty well on its own but also feels like the precursor to something much better.
13. CLUMSY – Britney Spears
Britney Spears’ new album is phenomenal. Truth be told, any of the album’s three G-Eazy-free singles could have made this list. But ultimately, I went with “Clumsy.” The lyrics are endearingly cheesy (“Clumsy, keep on bumping into you, banging all over this bedroom, again and again”), I love Britney’s vocal shifts, I love the little “Oops,” and holy shit, guys. That drop. You just don’t see a lot of earth-shattering bass drops like that anymore.
12. CADILLAC – Miguel
Here we have yet another single from The Get Down, this one by fish-faced R&B dreamboat Miguel. It features horns, guitar, and bass giving it a great ’70s vibe while maintaining Miguel’s inimitable mix of incredible and slightly irritating. Nah, but it’s a great song. Catchy, well-written, works well with the show, great vocals, pretty solid production, etc.
11. MISSIN U – Usher
I’ll be real with you: this song is fucking weird. But that’s just it! Part of the problem with Usher’s early-’10s slump is that he wasn’t doing anything weird. Now, in addition to his bonkers Young Thug collaboration, which I think is a song about having sex with Master P, he’s got “Missin U,” a song where a sizable chunk of the beat is a repeated soundbite of him saying “little lip.” Sure, the song itself is mostly familiar territory, but Usher plays with vocal modification and shows just the right amount of confidence to make clear he’s fully embraced how weird this song is. Aside from that, we all know that Usher’s a great lyricist and that he has a beautiful voice, so it should come as no surprise that this song succeeds in those areas, too.
10. WE WILL NOT – TIP
The artist formerly known as T.I. has, let’s say, lost steam in the past few years. In the late ’00s, he was one of the most popular and capable rappers around, but at some point this decade he just stopped finding that mojo. That being said, the man can still rap his ass off. “We Will Not” is a call to action for a community that is, admittedly, already in action. Still, TIP’s rapid and factual approach to issues facing black communities across the country is as powerful as it gets.
9. NOT YOUR WAY – MisterWives
Remember how I said a song from an album released over a year ago could still be eligible? Well, here’s “Not Your Way.” I decided to put it on the list because in addition to being an immensely enjoyable song, I also love how both the song and the video (the only thing that technically qualifies it for this list) skewer gender roles in the music industry. Plus, I always love it when an instrument is playing in sync with the singer. But yeah, great instrumental, great ideas, great vocals. I also liked their cover of “Same Drugs,” but for some reason I feel a year-and-a-half-old song with a new video makes more sense to put on this list than a brand new cover song.
8. KANYE WEST – Young Thug feat. Wyclef Jean
I was always hesitant about outright saying I loved Young Thug since he’d never really put out a record I could 100% get behind. I say “was” because JEFFERY is a great mixtape. And I couldn’t let the month slip away without honoring the tape’s only single thus far, a slick Caribbean love tune called “Kanye West.” The song went through a number of name changes before landing on Kanye, leading many to suspect that it was meant to be Kanye all along and the name changes were just a clever Life of Pablo reference. It could be, but who cares because the song is great. Thug even managed to snag a feature from the legendary Wyclef Jean, who hasn’t appeared on another song since his 2011 collab with Jim Jones. But on this song, while he does deliver a really solid guest verse, he spends most of the song letting Thugga work his magic, crooning “Jeffery” over the strange-yet-familiar “wamp wamp” chorus.
7. SEND THEM OFF! – Bastille
For those of you who may have been uninformed, Bastille is hella weird. After they made it big with a song about a conversation between two corpses frozen in place by lava during the destruction of Pompeii, Dan Smith ‘n’ friends decided to tone it down a bit for this one, making a song interspersed with spooky old-timey news anchor clips that appears to be about Othello, and also The Exorcist, and also about being paranoid that your girlfriend is gonna cheat on you. Yeah, it’s amazing.
6. SUPER NATURAL – Danny L Harle feat. Carly Rae Jepsen
Oh man. Oh man. I don’t even know how to properly describe this song. As dull as it may seem on the first listen, it’s really hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. J-pop retro-futurism? ’80s throwback pop through a David Guetta filter? Dubstep? Whatever it is, it’s incredible, due in no small part to the unrestrainable exuberance of Carly Rae Jepsen. It’s a song as supernatural as the love it discusses: it exists in an electropop negative space, so familiar and yet so mysterious.
5. 33 “GOD” – Bon Iver
I’m not even going to start getting into what this song means because, honestly, there’s a lot going on and I haven’t had time to process it yet. I chose “33 ‘God'” over Bon Iver’s other singles this month because, in addition to having a certain pop factor that the others don’t, I like this one’s allure. Something about the in-and-out samples and minimalistic beat work makes the enigmatic lyrics stand out even more. I’m way too tired right now to start decoding it, but it seems pretty interesting.
4. ATLANTIS – Bridgit Mendler feat. Kaiydo
Bridgit Mendler, for those of you who don’t know, was the teen star of the hit Disney Channel show Good Luck Charlie. After that show ended, people just kinda assumed she was off with the Cheetah Girls, living her life, staying in her lane. But nope, it turns out she’s still putting out music, and it’s….. not Disney. I don’t mean that in the hackneyed, “it’s just a little more edgy” sort of way. I mean, this shit’s practically avant garde relative to what I was expecting. It’s a mystical, sort of ethereal song about experiencing heartbreak and becoming numb to emotion in general. It sort of feels like the kind of music they’d listen to in Atlantis. This all sounds like pretty high praise for the new Bridgit Mendler track, but it’s all genuine.
3. HUM ALONG AND DANCE (GOTTA GET DOWN) – Janelle Monae
Okay, this should be easy. It’s a song by Janelle Monae, called “Hum Along and Dance,” from a show taking place in the ’70s. Throw together a little Jackson 5 track, we’ll all have a good time, easy as pie, right? But no, “Hum Along and Dance” catches you off guard. While it does ultimately encourage you to “come along and just hum along and now dance,” it’s not a particularly upbeat song. It starts off dark and synthetic, Janelle singing “There’s a fear in the air, and there’s blood on the floor.” It’s a dance song built for New York City in 1977. The whole world’s crumbling around you, so with all these new forms of creative and personal expression, why not just come and just hum along and just dance? By the way, I’m sorry I couldn’t find the song anywhere but Apple Music.
2. I’M SORRY – Joyner Lucas
Songs about suicide are always interesting to see. It’s a subject that you can’t really write about, especially in our society, without feeling some real connection to the subject. Even someone who’s not particularly good at songwriting can come out with something poignant to say about suicide, from one point of view or another. But if you’re looking for a really honest song on the subject, look no further than Joyner Lucas’ “I’m Sorry.” So far this past year, Joyner has proven himself a very technically proficient rapper, but he’s now proven he can put together a great, heartfelt song, too. The first verse of the track is meant to be a suicide note, with the last moments of the verse building up to a sudden and devastating gunshot. The second verse shows all the emotions his friend goes through at his funeral, from despair to sympathy to betrayal. What’s great about this song is that it doesn’t go through the motions with emotions. Joyner talks about feeling anger towards his dead friend, and the chorus itself shows the suicidal person being apologetic towards his family for putting them through his death. It’s an intense and powerful song that’s about as candid a suicide song as I’ve ever heard.
1. NIKES – Frank Ocean
How cliche, you’re probably thinking. Yes, with all this hype surrounding Frank Ocean’s new double album, many of us may lose sight of just how good everything is. “Nikes” is an excellent song, critiquing the hedonistic materialism of our culture and especially modern R&B through the use of vocal modifications to represent two/three sides of Frank. Truth be told, it’s hard for me to talk about all the layers of this song because there’s technically three versions of it (the digital album version, the video version which features a deeper “third voice,” and the physical album version which features a third verse by KOHH), but suffice it to say, it’s all amazing and enigmatic and I’m probably gonna get most of it wrong anyway so I’m just gonna sit on it for a while. These bitches want Niiiiiikeeeees.