This one’s super late. Starting college, all that. It didn’t help that it wasn’t a particularly easy list to narrow down. The initial shortlist was over five pages, including four songs apiece by Brockhampton, Leikeli47, and Migos, all but one of which were knocked off the list. It seemed like practically everyone released music this month, including notorious recluses like MF Doom and wild cards like Lil Wayne. As a result, even though all the people I’ve mentioned so far have been rappers, this is perhaps the most sonically diverse of these lists I’ve done to date. For those of you who don’t know, this list doesn’t necessarily include the best songs that were released this month, but the ones that were released separate from an album (typically as a single). This means that a song that’s been out for over a year could still be eligible while many songs released during the month would be ineligible. It’s complicated, but it works. Let’s get it underway.
20) RIGHT NOW – PHresher feat. Cardi B
Against all odds, stripper-turned-reality-star-turned-rapper Cardi B is on her way to becoming a megastar. Her single “Bodak Yellow” is the #3 song in the country right now, she’s all over the news, and she’s working with some of the biggest names in hip hop today. Of course, PHresher isn’t one of those people. He’s an off-the-wall, erratic underground MC who had a song with Desiigner in 2014 (it was called “Danny Devito”). But like Cardi B, PHresher is a force of personality, and the two of them coming together on a track creates a menacing romp reminiscent of B.o.B and Nicki Minaj’s “Out of My Mind.”
19) CAROLINE – Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers
If there’s anything that doesn’t need to be said, it’s that Steve Martin is a master wordsmith. We’ve seen him bring his one-of-a-kind wit to the screen, stage, and page, and also to folk music work with the Steep Canyon Rangers. “Caroline” is sort of the folk tune equivalent of a Judd Apatow movie (right down to the casting). It’s goofy, with an askew worldview and sharp sense of humor. It’s a tale of lower-upper-class white people falling in and out of love. And it’s pretty damn emotionally affecting if you let it be.
18) WATER ME – Lizzo
It’s become increasingly apparent that Lizzo is a star in the making. She’s already won over a devoted base of listeners with her empowering ’60s soul-infused hip-pop stylings, and now that she’s signed to Atlantic Records, it seems like she’s not going anywhere. “Water Me” is more of what we’ve come to expect from Lizzo, but it packs a hard EDM punch that makes it stand apart amongst the rest of her discography. You might not hear this one on the radio, but you’ll be hearing from her sooner rather than later.
17) COCAINA – Captain Cuts feat. Rich the Kid and Daniels
Rich the Kid is a trap artist of the new school who’s got a nice energy but doesn’t quite stand out among the crowd. Daniels is another rapper that, as far as my research seems to indicate, only existed for the three minutes it took to record this song. Captain Cuts is the production team behind “Shut Up and Dance.” What do you get when you put them all together? A potential pop hit, believe it or not. I don’t know how comfortable the radio companies will be with a song very explicitly named after cocaine being played on their stations, but the Weeknd made a song about coke that won a Kids’ Choice Award, so who knows? And this song fucking slaps. It’s sort of got that island flair that’s been all the rage this past year and a half, but it’s a bit less dancehall and a little more reggae. The rappers are fun, and the chorus is super catchy, but Captain Cuts are the stars of the show.
16) STROBELITE – Gorillaz feat. Peven Everett
The latest single off Gorillaz’s surprisingly bounteous latest album Humanz was criticized by some for really just being a Peven Everett song. And while that may be true, it’s still an absolute banger. The electro-disco groove is some of the finest, most danceable production work to come out this year. And Everett’s vocals are nothing to sneeze at. He carries a certain passion that drives the surprisingly-complex lyrics home.
15) MY STYLE – Poppy feat. Charlotte
If you’ve been reading this blog, then I don’t need to tell you who Poppy is. That being said, this song carries a whole different energy from most of her other work. Usually, the menace of her music is subdermal, obscured under layers of bubblegum. This one’s lowkey frightening from the get-go. A simplistic, droning beat accompanies equally repetitive lyrics and a creepy, hypnotic video aesthetic. The lyrics mostly seem like nonsense, until the chorus kicks in. “Poppy is an object / Poppy is your best friend / Poppy will break your neck / Poppy will be your pet.” The computerized voice (“Charlotte”) only makes the song more skin-crawling, and seems to point towards Poppy’s narrative going in some bizarre new directions.
14) FLOOD WATCH – Juicy J feat. Offset
Even in his Three 6 Mafia days, I never really thought of Juicy J and friends as anything more than “okay.” That being said, I seem to find myself getting into just about every song he puts out. “Flood Watch” is decadent right from the start. Inspirational, almost cinematic pianos accompany J’s muffled chants of “Get up, bitch, get up.” It approached heavenly levels when the drums subtly kick in. Juicy J and Offset are both pretty average rappers, and their verses on this track are not their best by any means, but it all comes together in a really enjoyable way.
13) LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO – Taylor Swift
Yes, I know. I love joking about how bad this song is as much as the next person. Whose idea was it to turn “I’m Too Sexy” into a Disney villain song? What did we make her do? She doesn’t like my keys? But in the end, I gotta come clean: this song also slaps. Taylor Swift always comes through with great pop music, and when you pair her with Jack Antonoff and a newfound acceptance of her role as the villain, the results are a fun techno-pop track perfect for when you want to feel like that bitch.
12) ACROSS THE MULTIVERSE – Dent May feat. Frankie Cosmos
This one’s so out of my comfort zone that I’m not sure I’ll be able to describe it, but I liked it enough to put it on the list so I guess I’ll hope for the best. I’d describe it as a psychedelic indie pop track with airy sci-fi disco vibes, like “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” with an Angel Olsen twist. The mix of funk guitars, space-age synths, and big band disco horns really does it for me, y’know?
11) BABY SCALE – IDK feat. Yung Gleesh
When we last saw the artist formerly known as Jay IDK, he was treating us to The Empty Bank, one of the finest self-released hip-hop records of 2016. His star quality shines even harder on “Baby Scale,” a jazz-infused track that mixes equal parts introspection and braggadocio to create an intricate piece of work. IDK’s flow has progressed a ton in just the past year, and his lyrical prowess is as high as ever. Yung Gleesh’s part is fine.
10) FRIENDS – Justin Bieber and BLOODPOP®
At the end of the day, is “Friends” just a harder version of “Sorry”? Absolutely. But “Sorry” is great, and that ’80s driving synth is great, so what’s not to like? The Biebs’ transition from punching bag to heavy-hitter seemed to come in a flash, but looking back on it now, it seems like we just got tired of hating him. After a few years of near-constant radio play, some people have changed their tunes once again, but there’s still comfort in knowing you’ll no longer be mocked mercilessly for liking a Justin Bieber song, or forced to pick apart things you hate in something as purely and genuinely good as “Friends.” So that’s nice.
9) PEOPLE SAY – Wu-Tang Clan feat. Redman
Of course I had to make room for the Wu. In their first public outing since their 2014 album “A Better Tomorrow,” the Staten Island MC’s are as sharp as they’ve ever been. The beat by Mathematics is some classic New York shit, and all five rappers featured on the track are spitting, though I think my favorite verse is Inspectah Deck’s. Wu-Tang forever, indeed.
8) THE SEVEN – Primus
Bieber to Wu-Tang to Primus; how’s that for diversity? I’ve always appreciated Primus and their uncanny ability to just do the weirdest shit 24/7. “The Seven” is no exception. I honestly have no idea what this song is getting at, or if there are any layers of meaning to it, but on the surface it seems to be about seven malevolent creatures, representing the colors of the rainbow, that just go around ruining things for everyone. It’s hard to describe it any further, but if you’ve listened to Primus, you know what you’re in for, and if not, let this be your introduction.
7) LIKE A MAN – ONHEL feat. Lil Wayne
I was wary about considering this one for the list, because I first encountered it in an article saying it was a leak from one of the Carter albums. However, everything I can find about it now says that it’s just a brand new single from Lil Wayne (and longtime engineer ONHEL). That’s pretty exciting just on its own, but it also finds Tunechi in rare form, spazzing about sex, drugs, and skateboarding with a craftsman’s precision and an artist’s spirit. He’s got crazy rhyme schemes, bizarre imagery, killer puns, and everything else that once had legions of fans calling him the best rapper alive. It’s hard to call it the second coming of Wayne, especially since he drops a song of this caliber about every two years, but it’s still a rare treat.
6) I DON’T WANT IT AT ALL – Kim Petras
People who know what they’re talking about have called Kim Petras the next Britney Spears. We’ll have to wait and see where her career goes from here, but “I Don’t Want It At All” showcases a star power that’s rare for an artist as new as she is. After first making headlines for transitioning at an unusually young age (Remember when that was enough to make headlines?), she started releasing music and this song, her major label debut, is already blowing up on Spotify. This is another one that might make big waves on the radio this fall, and it’s perhaps the most delightful of any of them. It’s schlocky pop perfection, reveling in vanity and hedonism over sunny synths. It’s an absolute joy from start to finish.
5) TRUE LIGHTYEARS – KMD feat. Jay Electronica
Hmm, how do you top entries from legendary rappers like Lil Wayne and the Wu-Tang Clan? I know, how about the new song from MF fucking DOOM. If you don’t mind the high-pitched flute sample, you’re treated to an otherworldly lyrical onslaught by two unparalleled MCs. Jay Electronica might have been a rarer treat a couple years ago, but he’s still much appreciated. And Doom’s as marvelous as ever, mixing layered intellectual poetics with unapologetically goofy punchlines to create something beautiful.
4) HOMEMADE DYNAMITE – Lorde
Not to give away any spoilers, but Lorde’s Melodrama is a strong contender for album of the year. It’s just so distinct, so raw, so layered, so enjoyable and thought-provoking and troubling all at once. “Homemade Dynamite” is, in some senses, the cornerstone of the album. It’s certainly the song that feels most radically different, from production to vocals to content. It brings home the album’s themes of, well, melodrama, taking the teen spirit that was idealized on Pure Heroine and showing the darker side of it. It’s a magical moment when a song as weird and sad as this one still works as a pop song, but here we are.
3) HAVANA – Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug
This song is so goddamn good. Camila Cabello’s output since leaving Fifth Harmony has ranged from interesting (“Crying in the Club”) to atrocious (“Bad Things”), but “Havana” is in a whole other boat. I want this to be all over the radio. I want it to shatter records. And here’s the thing: everyone knows I’m a Young Thug stan. I rave about Young Thug all the time. But my appreciation for this song has nothing to do with him. If he wasn’t on the song at all, it’d probably still be right here. What makes this song is some phenomenal production work by Pharrell, an insanely catchy hook, and Camila’s lovelorn vocals painting a picture of regret that’s so enjoyable and relatable and just great. But for what it’s worth, Young Thug’s verse is really good too.
2) THE NO PANTS DANCE – TWRP feat. Ninja Sex Party
“The No Pants Dance” just might be a masterpiece. It features the goofy, hypersexual lyrics of NSP, the killer electro grooves of TWRP, and it’s called “The No Pants Dance,” for god’s sake. If you can’t appreciate a song about dancing with your pants off, I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve always found Danny Sexbang’s vocals to be a bit jarring on some of the songs NSP chooses to make, but it fits so perfectly with the vibe of this one. It just works on so many levels. But it’s not song of the month.
1) TAKE ME – Aly & AJ
Aly and AJ Michalka were true rock stars of the Disney Channel age, winning over a generations of kids and teens with their 2007 classic hit “Potential Breakup Song.” But soon after, they split from Hollywood Records, did some solo acting projects, and took a strange turn towards indie rock under the name 78violet. Now, finally, they’re back as Aly & AJ, and so we enter “Take Me.” The song starts slow, but immediately attention-grabbing, with muffled drums and synths that seem to have been recorded via VHS. Aly materializes, wisping wistfully about the trappings of dating in the modern world. Suddenly, things start building up, and like “In the Air Tonight” for the girl power pop set, drums pummel us into another dimension as AJ cries “When you gonna take me out?” The song is pure bliss, a perfect union of Carly Rae Jepsen and The 1975 that stands out as one of the finest pieces of pop music to be released in 2017. I think we all needed a little more Aly & AJ in our lives.