First of all, yes, I’m late again. Second of all, I got it down to twenty songs for once! This has been a pretty eventful month, sure, but I did kind of feel like the general quality of what was coming out was relatively lackluster compared to the last few months. For the sake of perspective, my initial shortlist for this article was over five pages long, but three edits later it was down to just over forty songs. And while this shortened list comes at the expense of some artists whose releases I would’ve liked to talk about, it feels like a fair summation of my favorite songs this month (that is, songs released outside of the context of an album in the month of July). So let’s just get into it.
20) MILLENNIUM FREESTYLE – JPEGMAFIA
Cult favorite Bandcamp rapper JPEGMAFIA came out swinging earlier this year with the release of Veteran, an album that remains one of 2018’s most acclaimed hip hop releases, but now he’s back with “Millennium Freestyle,” a compelling, enigmatic freestyle that combines a jittering electronic beat with proclamations of independence and interpolations of not one but two ’90s pop tracks (Ghost Town DJs’ “My Boo” and the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.” If you’re looking for answers, you’re not likely to find many here, but it’s certainly a marvel to listen to.
19) I FEEL ENERGY – Dirty Projectors feat. Amber Mark
Where the departure of one of a group’s leads may be devastating for some, it seems to have only energized Dirty Projectors, who returned from a few-years hiatus following co-lead Amber Coffman’s leaving the band in rare form. “I Feel Energy” is the final pre-release single off Lamp Lit Prose, their second album in as many years. There are plenty of great featured guests on this album, but it’s particularly great to hear R&B up-and-comer Amber Mark (whose “All the Work” appeared on the list not too long ago) make herself known. It’s a jubilant, funky song that surprisingly finds a strong groove within Dirty Projectors’ standard chaotic framework.
18) FIRED UP – YONAKA
Ferocious UK rock band YONAKA is not the type of act you’d typically see on this list. They’re not terribly well-known, particularly in the U.S., and they don’t fall into the sort of genre wherein I typically seek out unknown acts. But “Fired Up” is an undeniable hit. Its title perfectly encapsulates the electrifying experience of its barn-burner of a hook. I don’t have all that much to say about it because, again, I don’t know much about the group, but it’s definitely worth a listen.
17) BIG DICK ENERGY – Rico Nasty
One of this month’s trademarks is Big Dick Energy, a phrase popularized to refer to Pete Davidson in late June that sparked a short-lived, far-reaching meme phenomenon across the internet. In a flash, cult darling Maryland rapper Rico Nasty gave us “Big Dick Energy,” a whirlwind two minutes of bars that once again prove she’s not one to be trifled with. If you’re not paying attention to her, you should be, and this fiery lyrical assault is exactly the reason.
16) 1999 WILDFIRE – Brockhampton
Brockhampton’s trio of new singles this month prove, more than anything else, that they have the range and talent to move forward and continue upwards without Ameer Vann, who was kicked out of the hip hop boy band in late May. “1999 WILDFIRE,” in particular, is one of the group’s signature old-soul posse cuts with a certain pop dexterity that expands on the sound developed on their Saturation trilogy. We’ve got a great hook from Kevin, an endearingly corny swords-and-sorcery verse from Joba, and a powerfully-built breakdown towards the end, but the track’s real breakout star is Dom McLennon, who delivers perhaps one of his best verses for the group to date.
15) LEVEL UP – Ciara
Not enough credit has been given to Ciara, the 32-year-old R&B singer with a decade and a half of critically and commercially successful music in her repertoire, continuing to this day as her latest single, “Level Up,” continues to climb the charts. She also released this song’s remix this month, featuring appearances by Fatman Scoop (!!) and Missy Elliott (!!!!!!), but I ultimately decided to tip my proverbial hat towards the original. The inspirational dance track is built on Ciara’s own immutable force of personality, which adds to the song’s status as an undeniable banger.
14) GIRLS NIGHT OUT – Charli XCX
I believe someone on Twitter remarked that “Girls Night Out” sounds like the end-credits music from a direct-to-DVD Barbie movie, and frankly, that about sums it up. The upbeat synth pop track from critical darling Charli XCX has a distinctively nostalgic feeling about it. She sings about going out with her girls with a childlike naiveté, from the stuttering instrumental to the welcoming cheer of “Let’s have a girls’ night out TO-NIGHT!” (followed naturally by a chant of “no boys, no boys”), it hearkens to that childlike mentality that feels sorely missing in a grown, melancholic pop landscape.
13) KUNG FU – YBN Cordae
I’d heard of YBN Cordae before this month, but never really thought to give him a listen. I hadn’t been especially impressed by his YBN clique-mates Nahmir and Almighty Jay, but on a lark, I gave a listen to his new single, “Kung Fu.” The song isn’t exactly a masterstroke, but there were very few (if any) songs this month that I fell in love with to the extent I did “Kung Fu.” It’s a trap earworm with serious hit potential, but it also showcases Cordae’s heaps of potential as a rapper. He’s got flows, he’s got lyrics, he’s got energy, and he’s got personality. I’d look into his other stuff, because again, this is very much some lead single shit, but it gives you a starting reference for all that he has to offer.
12) BLACK BALLOONS | 13LACK 13ALLOONZ – Denzel Curry feat. GoldLink and Twelve’len
Denzel Curry is a star and his new album TA13OO is a starmaker. Outpacing his own influences, the South Florida MC spreads his wings all over the map on his latest album, showcasing the vulnerability and dexterity that brought him to broad attention over a variety of sounds, including the surprisingly poppy groove of “Black Balloons,” which features GoldLink, a very solid rapper I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about despite my best efforts. It’s got a killer hook, it’s got a message, and it’s got bars. What more could you ask for?
11) 65TH & INGLESIDE – Chance the Rapper
In the midst of swirling talks of a new album and/or seven-track project with Kanye West, Chance the Rapper surprised us with four new singles this month, including the anthemic “65th & Ingleside.” Over angelic keys and a high-pitched Peter CottonTale hook, Chano croons reminiscently about troubled times with his now-fiancee and the thriving life they ultimately led to. Culminating in a barn-burner of a third verse, promising another bold, incomparable new era for Chance’s already-diverse career.
10) POTATO SALAD – A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator
A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator, two of the most long-lasting and influential rappers of their generation, have been teasing a collaborative album for years now, but “POTATO SALAD,” a freestyle over a sample of Monica’s “Knock Knock” from Rocky’s latest AWGE compilation, may be our first real taste of the duo’s record. Both artists are firing on all cylinders on this track, with Tyler dropping video game controller wordplay and touching on his affinity for white twinks while Rocky calls out the lack of talent he sees in up-and-coming rappers while insisting his Chanel bag is not a purse, but a satchel. Basically, this is exactly what I want to hear from a Rocky & Tyler record and I dearly hope it’s coming sooner (as Rocky indicates at the end of the video) rather than later (as Tyler seemed to insist on Twitter).
9) DOESN’T MATTER – Christine and the Queens
“Doesn’t matter” is another mesmerizing feminist electropop track from the veritable queen of that specific kind of song, Christine and the Queens. The gender-bending French pop icon follows up “Girlfriend” with a more subdued song, featuring a chorus that consists of “It doesn’t matter, does it? / If I know any exit / If I believe in God, and if God does exist.” It’s forlorn, heavy, depressive, but its unwavering rhythm (“as unalterable as white stone,” as Chris herself put it) creates a sense of what could almost be described as comfort.
8) SUNDRESS – DRAM
Anyway, here’s a song about seeing a sexy lady. Look, I’m always gonna give it up for DRAM, and you should know this by now. He actually released an EP featuring three new singles this month, and while they’re all great, I found myself leaning towards the cool funk of “Sundress,” a song that seems to carry the influence of Chromeo, with whom DRAM recently collaborated. It’s smooth, it’s catchy, but above all else, it’s fucking fun. DRAM’s a versatile guy, and not all his songs are winners, but if there’s one thing you can always say, it’s that he’s fun.
7) OYAHYTT – The Coup feat. Lakeith Stanfield
“OYAHYTT” is the de facto theme song for Sorry to Bother You, rapper-turned-filmmaker Boots Riley’s politically-charged satirical opus that also came out this month. Like the film it appears in, “OYAHYTT” is a gonzo whirlwind of boundless energy that showcases the immense talents of both Riley and Lakeith Stanfield. The song’s title stands for “Oh yeah, alright, hell yeah, that’s tight,” the repetition of which makes up the song’s unforgettable chorus, which featured to great effect in the film’s trailers. It’s great to hear The Coup back at it again, particularly aided by Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus, but the real standout star of this song is Stanfield, the beloved Get Out and Atlanta actor who also plays the lead role in the film. I’ve never heard Keith rap before, but his verse is one of the more impressive I’ve heard in recent memory, and it makes me eager to check out some of his stuff (don’t be surprised if he shows up again on August’s list).
6) GOD IS A WOMAN – Ariana Grande
It used to be easy to spark controversy as a pop star. The kind of moral panic an artist like Rihanna or Lady Gaga could create at the turn of the decade by, say, wearing a funny outfit seems nowhere to be found today, but look no further, because Ariana has found a new means of arousing bitter debate: just put a contentious ideological stance right in the title of your song. Of course, when you get past the title and certain parts of the video, “God is a woman” is less of a feminist rallying cry and more of a moderately-progressive R&B sex song. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially coming from Ariana Grande, who’s like the George Washington Carver of sex songs. My point is, the song kicks ass, and it displays Ariana’s sharp vocal ability with a tone that hearkens back to her early more R&B-centric records and is just generally sick as hell.
5) I’M A HAPPY CAMPER (WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN) – Johnny Rain
R&B singer and Roc Nation signee Johnny Rain channels Prince on the lo-fi “i’m a happy camper (when the sun goes down).” I went back and forth on this song for a while. It burns slow to a near fault, reaching a chorus that can feel disappointing if you haven’t already given into its charms. But if you let its funky ’80s grandeur wash over you, it’ll stick with you for a long time. Rain’s effortless swagger can be mistaken for cockiness, but his devastated vocals and lyrics ring true. He doesn’t think he’s that good, he just is that good.
4) I WAS IN A CULT – teddy 💔
For me personally, one of the most exciting and unexpected new releases came from Teddy Geiger, the former teen heartthrob and frequent Shawn Mendes collaborator who announced her transition in October of last year. If you remember Geiger’s fifteen minutes of success as a teen, chances are you weren’t impressed, but “I Was In a Cult” shows signs of a true force of nature in pop music. Her distorted bluesy pop-rock wears influences from the likes of Jack White and Flaming Lips, but her pen also bears the mark of the pop genius behind so many of Shawn Mendes’ hit singles. Look out for Teddy Geiger, y’all.
3) BEFORE THE SUN GOES DOWN – The New Respects
My transition from having not even heard of The New Respects to becoming a full-on stan occurred in the span of just two months. Where last month’s “We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” was a rollicking, Aerosmith-infused blues rock introduction, “Before the Sun Goes Down” is a sunshiney funk track that could easily be song of the summer material. Yes, the Nashville family band has infectious rhythms, but their songcraft and ear for strong hooks, along with their sheer personality, makes them a force to be reckoned with. Just try to get this one out of your head.
2) METAL – Poppy
I’m a well-known massive Poppy fan, but even those who don’t generally take her music seriously are showing love for “Metal,” a bold step forward for the conceptual pop act. The song is a cover of a 1979 track of the same name by new wave pioneer Gary Numan, and it’s about an android who dreams of being human. Now, why would Poppy come out of nowhere with a relatively straight cover of a new wave song from 1979? It’s hard to tell, but it’s definitely a captivating, creepy, surprisingly catchy song that fits perfectly with Poppy’s ever-deepening persona. I know I’ve given unnecessarily high praise to average Poppy singles before, but like, damn.
1) SOUR DIESEL – ZAYN
Now, one artist I can’t be accused of giving too much credit to is Zayn Malik. I’m not sure if I’ve ever placed one of his songs on one of these lists, but I can certainly say that none stick out as especially good in retrospect. Coming out as the first member of One Direction to pursue a solo effort, he fell into a hazy R&B sound that did him no favors and ultimately devolved into him doing whatever Justin Timberlake was doing a decade ago. I knew he had something, but he never held my interest, and I’ve been waiting for the song to get me aboard the Zayn Train. “Sour Diesel” is that song. The grungy funk track, which finds Malik comparing a woman to a particular strand of marijuana, bears the influence of Lenny Kravitz, and it’s the exact kind of slow-building pop-rock track to make potent use of Zayn’s voice and personality. We’ll see what kind of staying power it has, but in this moment, I think this song is incredible, and it’s accomplished the seemingly insurmountable task of getting me excited to hear whatever ZAYN’s coming out with.