Yup, don’t think I forgot. I’m not even done with my 2017 recap stuff yet. I’m just trying to get all this stuff out without falling behind in anything else, so this list comes to you about a week and a half later than usual. To be fair, there wasn’t a ton of music that really blew me away this month. There was more than enough fodder for a list, to be certain, and 2018 is already shaping up to be an even more interesting year for music than 2017 was, but we’re just getting started here, and things are still kinda just starting to pick up speed. Frankly, I probably could’ve shortened this top a top 15 or even a top 10 without losing much, but I feel like the top 20 is a tradition now, and I did have twenty songs to go off, so let’s kick it.
20) FAVORITE – Leon Thomas feat. Buddy
For those of you who don’t know, Leon Thomas is the young singer and actor who played Andre on the Nickelodeon show Victorious. He also appeared briefly in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, and while he’s been making music for a while, I’m pretty sure this is the first I’ve heard from him. And I have to say, I’m pretty impressed. It’s a really refreshing, catchy R&B/pop track with a unique aesthetic and a cool beat. I’m not exactly the world’s biggest Buddy fan, but his nasally sing-song style fits the jaunty piano riff pretty well. I could see myself getting hooked on this song.
19) NO WAVE – IDK feat. Denzel Curry
That’s right, IDK, who made my album of the year list last week with his August album IWasVeryBad, is already back with new music, this time in the form of an absolute banger of a single with Denzel Curry. I’ve always been into Curry, and I’m kind of surprised he hasn’t really shown up on one of these lists before, but he certainly delivers on this track. A menacing horror movie instrumental lays the foundation for killer verses by both MCs, a pair of artists who have quickly become some of the most exciting rappers on the come-up these past few years. I might never have thought to put these two together, but the results are undeniable.
18) GIRLFRIEND – Anderson East
Raspy-voiced Southern soul singer Anderson East has only been on my radar for a little more than a month at this point, but I’ve liked what I’ve heard so far. His new album’s pretty good, but I’m pretty sure my favorite track is “Girlfriend,” a barn-burner of a pop song with bombastic production by Avicii accompanying East’s over-the-top vocals. It’s across between East’s rootsy sound and the kind of music John Legend made in La La Land, and I kind of love it.
17) CHLORASEPTIC (REMIX) – Eminem feat. PHresher and 2 Chainz
As someone who’s liked several Eminem albums, including MMLP2, let me just say that his new album, Revival, fucking blows. It’s full of half-baked, uninspired versions of songs he already did five years ago, complete with barely-existent flows, witless lyrics, and bizarre sampling. 90% of the album stands in stark contrast to this remix, released a few weeks after the album proper, which is absolute heat. It opens with an outstanding verse from 2 Chainz, who just can’t seem to lose these days. Next up, there’s PHresher, whose explosive personality makes the song entirely his own. His verse is probably the least impressive on the song, but his personality is so fun to watch that you can easily overlook it. Finally, we get an insanely good verse from Eminem, who hasn’t come this correct in the better part of a decade. Em wraps the song up by promising that he’ll be back, and hopefully when he comes back, he’ll sound a little more like this and a little less like “Remind Me.”
16) ROCKET – En Vogue
So, it looks like En Vogue is back. The ’90s girl group behind classics like “My Lovin'” and “Whatta Man” returned in full force this month with “Rocket,” a soaring ballad written by the ever-underappreciated Ne-Yo. The 40-to-50-something R&B singers sound as excellent as ever, and the production by Curtis “Sauce” Wilson is refreshingly weird. These ’90s R&B revivals don’t always work out so well (lest we forget TLC’s comeback album last year), but I have a really good feeling about this.
15) ERA – PRhyme feat. Dave East
After years of silence, the hip-hop tour de force of Royce da 5’9″ and DJ Premier is gearing up for their second album, PRhyme 2. The first single off the record is “Era,” which showcases the elder statesman Royce looking at the state of his genre. Royce and Preemo are great as always, but the real show-stealer here is Dave East, the young rapper who’s become a perennial favorite for Joe Budden types the world over. His verse on this song is some of the most impressive stuff I’ve seen from him to date, and if this is the kind of stuff PRhyme is bringing out of their guests, I can’t wait to see what else the album has to offer (if the rumored tracklist is real, be on the lookout for CeeLo Green’s verse).
14) SYMPHONY – Towkio feat. Teddy Jackson
I never quite know what to make of Towkio. He looks like a CVS brand Post Malone, but his lyrical stylings are straight off the Savemoney lot and his recent leaning towards a dance pop sound has lead to some really interesting singles. What I can say for sure is that “Symphony” roped me in in a way few of his songs not featuring Chance the Rapper have before. The maximalist instrumentation fits the song’s title well, creating a dizzying feeling of rising action leading up to the orgasmic soulful pipes of Teddy Jackson on the chorus. It’s funny, catchy, and boundlessly enjoyable.
13) AFTER THE STORM – Kali Uchis feat. Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins
When Kali Uchis and Tyler, the Creator come together, it’s always a recipe for success. This mellow cut is just that, a silky smooth track accentuated by a short and sweet verse from Tyler and the funky ways of music legend Bootsy Collins. There’s really not much to say about this song, but that’s kind of the beauty of it: you don’t have to think about it much, just press play and let the chillness wash over you.
12) BEDROOM CALLING – Chromeo feat. The-Dream
Now, when it comes to Chromeo, “chill” is not exactly the word I’d use. The electro-funk duo made their name known making goofy, polished, ’70s-inspired pop jams, and “Bedroom Calling” is no exception. I haven’t liked much of the stuff I’ve heard from The-Dream in the past few years, but he’s actually excellent on this song. His voice seems to morph like a liquid to Chromeo’s sonic container, and the result is a blast of pure joy that’s perfect for letting loose.
11) HOT PINK – Let’s Eat Grandma
I’ll admit that the British art-pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma hasn’t really been on my radar until now. What drew me to this track wasn’t the group at all, but the song’s producer: SOPHIE, who made last month’s list with her stellar single “Ponyboy.” This song starts off differently, with an ethereal murkiness that, from what I can tell, is more standard fare for Let’s Eat Grandma. But then the chorus kicks in, and it’s the SOPHIE we know and love. Just an absolutely devastating beat, that type of noise-pop sound that you’ll see a bit in some of Charli XCX’s work where it shouldn’t work, but it absolutely does. Also, the hook is pretty catchy.
10) FILTHY – Justin Timberlake
In these first few weeks of 2018, Justin Timberlake made his third big comeback of the decade with a performance at the Super Bowl and his new album, Man of the Woods. Both have not gotten the warm reception we’re used to from JT. I think anti-Timberlake attitudes have been brewing for over a decade, and as his image shifted towards “Jimmy Fallon of music,” it hit too much of a fever pitch for him to come back with something that’s not amazing. That being said, I like “Filthy.” In fact, I think I like Man of the Woods, but we can deal with that later. “Filthy” is obviously intended to capture the mesmerizing strangeness of “SexyBack,” and to some that cynical cash-in quality may be enough to write it off, but it’s grown on me as a song so much over the past month it’s been out that I decided to throw it on the list. Like “SexyBack” before it, it brazenly defies pop conventions of verse-chorus structure, hooks, etc. But this is “SexyBack” for the uncool era of Justin Timberlake. It’s littered with outdated references, corny attempts at innuendo, and self-aware goofiness that only a dad-era Justin Timberlake could grant us. This is a phase in the graceful aging of Timberlake’s sound, just an awkward one at that.
9) GET OUT – CHVRCHES
After two years of relative quiet, the synth-pop band my brain insists on calling “chavurches” is back with “Get Out,” the first single off their forthcoming record Love Is Dead. The album, which appears to feature contributions from Greg Kurstin, The National, and Eurythmics, already caught my attention, but this single has me interested. Kurstin’s production (which in the past few years has graced the works of artists like Sia, Beck, Zayn, P!nk, Niall Horan, Foo Fighters, Halsey, Liam Gallagher, Kendrick Lamar, Carly Rae Jepsen, Adele, Ellie Goulding, Tegan and Sara, and about every other major artist you could name) is pitch-perfect, both complementing and expanding upon CHVRCHES’ established sound. It’s also one of the band’s catchiest song to date, and shows well for something off this album being CHVRCHES’ big pop crossover single.
8) CORPORATION – Jack White
Speaking on his forthcoming album Boarding House Reach, Jack White recently commented on a lack of spontaneity in modern rock music. I’m not usually one for “_____ ain’t what it used to be” arguments, but “Corporation” and the other singles off said album definitely feel like a breath of fresh air in the modern rock landscape. It’s completely off-the-wall, purposeful and enjoyable yet thoroughly unpredictable. If you needed any further proof that White is one of the finest musicians working today, this record’s got it in spades. It’s practically bursting at the seams with instrumentation, vocals, sounds, and creativity in general.
7) MUSIC IS WORTH LIVING FOR – Andrew W.K.
Andrew W.K. is one of the more unorthodox picks I’ve made for one of these lists to date. Certainly, his hardcore sound sets him apart from any other artist I’ve decided to include, let alone as high up as #7. But truth be told, I’ve always liked the guy. He’s been out of the limelight for pretty much the entire decade, but his incomparable spirit and energy has always endeared him to me, since I first discovered him on some Nickelodeon show he hosted at the turn of the decade. Also, this song’s just great as hell. “Inspirational ballad” is practically its own genre in popular music, but I think it’s been years since I’ve heard a song as great a motivator as this one. If you’ve been feeling down lately and you need something to simultaneously amp you up and make you feel good about the world, this song is for you.
6) BIG BAD WOLF – Lil Wayne
Last month, Lil Wayne dropped Dedication 6: Reloaded, and it’s already a strong contender for the best mixtape of 2018. He is leaking bars on this project, spilling out some of the cleverest shit he ever wrote on song after song after song. And “Big Bad Wolf” is a perfect example of the expert craftsmanship you’ll find on the tape. Over the beat to Blac Youngsta’s “Hip Hopper,” Wayne’s bars build up to a fever pitch over a dizzying four minutes, climaxing in an incredible string of about a hundred things that rhyme with “Antetokounmpo.” Mixtape Weezy’s back, and right when we need him most.
5) I’M GON MAKE U SICK O’ME – Parliament feat. Scarface
Perhaps the most welcome surprise of the month came in the form of “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me,” the delightful new single by legendary funk band Parliament and legendary rapper Scarface. Scarface is considered by many to be one of the greatest rappers of all time, and P-Funk is easily one of music’s greatest collectives, so obviously a collaboration between the two is bound to be brilliant. And sure enough, this song delivers. It’s brimming with sheer creativity, showing that neither George Clinton nor Scarface is close to running out of steam yet. I’m always a hoe for Parliament, but this song really does go above and beyond. Don’t miss out.
4) STREET LIVIN’ – Black Eyed Peas
The Black Eyed Peas are also a notorious group, but for much different reasons, I’d say. If you’re wondering what the group many consider to have ruined popular music did to deserve a slot so high on this list, just give this song a listen. First of all, they’ve gotten rid of Fergie, a move that seems to have been pretty beneficial for both acts (that new Fergie album is good, don’t @ me). They’ve also embraced their old school hip-hop roots, trading in shitty electro-pop-rap for jazzy samples and socially-conscious lyrics. Every rapper to put out music in the past year has done the social justice song, but the Peas offer one of the most scathing indictments of America’s systemic race issue to date. The long-maligned will.i.am drops jewels like this:
Listen, they derailed the soul train
And put a nightmare in every Martin Luther King
And privatized prisons are owned by the same
Slave masters that owned the slave trade game
And it’s basically just three minutes of that. Your favorite rapper could learn a thing or two from the Black Eyed Peas.
3) EVERYBODY’S COMING TO MY HOUSE – David Byrne
Of course I’m gonna make room for the incomparable David Byrne, who’s got his new album coming out pretty soon. “Everybody’s Coming to My House” has everything you could ask for in a Byrne track: jazzy, complex instrumentation, goofy, artful lyrics, and Byrne himself sing-yelping about his house. Like much of his work, it’s hard to do justice to it in words, but trust me when I say that the Talking Heads frontman is as sharp as ever, and if you like the song (which you will because it’s phenomenal), you should check out his book How Music Works, which dropped late last year.
2) MY MY MY! – Troye Sivan
Looking at the pop landscape in 2017, there’s no denying that its glitchy, pitched-up, stripped-down electro sound was somewhat influenced by Troye Sivan’s 2015 debut. “My My My!” is a whole different side of Troye, one that’s poised and ready for pop superstardom. He’s confident, focused, and has developed a keen sense of pacing and moderation to produce a euphoric ’80s-infused lead single. This song didn’t hit a terribly strong debut in the U.S., but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it blows up over the next couple months. It has that undeniable hit quality, combining the old with the new to create a magnetic force of personality and atmosphere. Hey, speaking of hits:
1) FINESSE (REMIX) – Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B
This is another unorthodox move on my part, as the most popular song to come out in a given month is rarely the best. Then again, the masses can’t always be wrong, and “Finesse” is a perfect goddamn song. I sung this song’s praises way back in 2016 when the 24K Magic album was still fresh, although the Recording Academy would argue it’s as fresh as ever. It’s a brilliant ’90s R&B mash-up made all the more phenomenal by a surprisingly perfect feature from Cardi B, who branches out from her typical trap flow to embody the ’90s with form-fitting dexterity. It’s a song that is, truly, dripping in finesse, and it actually does make sense because it’s one of the most flawlessly-crafted pop songs to come out in recent memory.