What a month. I know I say something to that effect every month, since there’s more good music being put out than there’s ever been before, and in all honesty, my shortlist this month was actually shorter than usual, but still. We got great new music from the likes of Capital Cities, Kamaiyah, The All-American Rejects, Jennifer Lopez, Nine Inch Nails, Mystery Skulls, Shania Twain, Wyclef Jean, Demi Lovato, The Darkness, BØRNS, Mick Jagger, and those are just the ones that didn’t make the list. This month, we’ve got some triumphant comebacks, some steady mainstays, and a few impressive newcomers. Let’s get things underway. Remember: for the purposes of making these lists easier to make, I generally only include songs that were released in some form outside of an album. That can be in the form of a single, a video, or a few other things, but it generally can’t be something I put or almost put on a previous list. This means that a song could have come out on an album years ago and still make the list if it was just released as a single or video this month. I also try to avoid having more than one song to an artist on each list, but there’s one notable exception to that this time ’round.
20) RUN FOR COVER – The Killers
The Killers are a bit hard to get a read on, in terms of public opinion. Most, I think, became infatuated with them for a glimmering moment in the mid-2000’s and then came to be annoyed by them. Still, they have a rock-solid fanbase, and at least one of the best songs of all time (“Mr. Brightside,” naturally). Last month, they put out a single called “The Man,” the first off their forthcoming fifth album. That song is, uh, not good. It showcases everything that caused the general populace to quickly grow tired with the Killers, a song that’s equal parts generic and trying too hard. “Run for Cover,” I think, does a better job showcasing what many people (myself included) still admire about the band. Brandon Flowers’ Modest Mouse-lite crooning is a bit more subdued, leaving room for a song that’s goofy, but still enjoyable on a base level.
19) RAGE – Vic Mensa
“Rage” is arguably Vic Mensa’s most self-indulgent song to date. There’s nothing wrong with that; self-indulgence is a staple of hip-hop and music in general. But for some, this song could definitely be a bit overwhelming. It opens with Vic singing about planes crashing, at first alone with a bit of reverb, then with a passionate, almost theatrical piano accompaniment. The refrain of the song is “I want you to rage into the night,” and the beat consists of Mike Dean and Om’mas Keith doing their finest Alex da Kid imitation, with the usual rocky drums, important-sounding synths, a barely-noticeable choral backing, a much more noticeable “aaaaaayyy” backing, and ranch on the side. Still, it’s an effective and at times moving ballad with some solid wordplay and an interesting metaphorical conceit.
18) I AIN’T GOT TIME! – Tyler, the Creator
Sure, it’s one of the less resonant cuts on Tyler’s brilliant new album Flower Boy. It’s not nearly as introspective and syrupy as, say, “911” or “Glitter.” But it’s a damn good track. It’s hard to even describe the instrumental, but it’s a noisy Middle Eastern-sounding beat with obvious Pharrell influence that perfectly matches Tyler’s gravelly tones. And of course, nestled between cheesy boasts is the most buzzworthy revelation on an album full of them: the already-famous “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004” line. Way to go, Tyler.
17) LET’S MAKE A VIDEO – Poppy
I feel like I’ve already said more than enough about Poppy in recent articles, so I’ll keep it brief. Poppy’s great. This song is great. I love the bubbly synths. I love the corny pop lyrics. I adore the hook, especially the non sequitur “I love you when you’re happy, I love you when you’re down.” It’s just great.
16) P.O.P. – Belly
After presenting it at multiple stops on The Weeknd’s Starboy tour, Palestinian-Canadian rapper Belly bookended the month of July by releasing his latest single, “P.O.P.” The title, of course, stands for “power of pussy,” and the song follows various men, Belly himself included, being ensnared by greedy women. It’s sort of like an even more misogynistic version of “Gold Digger,” but like “Gold Digger,” it’s also really funny and well-written, so we’ll give it a tentative pass.
15) BIG B’S – Chance the Rapper and Young Thug
After apparently saving SoundCloud from the brink of collapse, Chance the Rapper celebrated with a new loosie, joined by Young Thug. Both rappers have sort of become recurring characters on these lists, and on this track, you can see why. Despite representing different cities and different factions of the rap game, both rappers have an unshakeable charisma and off-the-wall energy that makes them irresistible, and an absorbing way with words to sweeten the deal. “B’s” means “business,” by the way.
14) THE PAIN – Rapsody
Having come around at the turn of the decade, Rapsody’s already built a reputation as one of the finest conscious MC’s working today, and one of the great female rappers of all time. Her latest single, “The Pain,” showcases the subdued wisdom and intricate wordsmithing that gave her that reputation. Over Nottz’s urgent production, Rap describes “the pain,” in order, “of watching us kill each other,” “of black men/women disrespected by the world,” “of a man who never knew the man that made him,” “of a daddy’s girl without a daddy,” “of a mother who went half on a baby and got a whole lot to deal with,” and “of a man that wanna raise his child, love his child / Baby mama crazy, she don’t ever let him see his child.” It’s the exact kind of deep, powerful bars we’ve come to expect from the brilliant mind of Rapsody.
13) WEDDING CRASHERS – Aminé feat. Offset
Aminé dropped his debut album Good For You this month, and on a preliminary listen, I thought it was really good. Still, a solid contender for best track is the single he released the week before the album, “Wedding Crashers.” It’s a cheeky ode to old flames centered around weddings that features a goofy Rugrats beat and a solid if forgettable Offset verse. Aminé’s verse is packed with dense wordplay and references, some of which appear to be inside jokes with himself. Still, the highlight of the song is the irresistible hook. It’s fun enough to be enjoyable while still delivering the bite its subject matter deserves.
12) MIDNIGHT – Jessie Ware
English singer/songwriter Jessie Ware’s throaty, soulful pop tunes have led to the respect of some of pop’s heavy-hitters, and a fair amount of being mistaken for Jess Glynne. “Midnight” is one of the best songs I’ve heard from her to date. I love how the beat builds itself around her devastated vocals, taking the tone from mournful to triumphant without skipping a beat. I love it for its bouncy R&B refrain, but the more tender parts of it are still captivating.
11) CATCH ME OUTSIDE – Ski Mask the Slump God
BIG shoutout to Ski Mask the Slump God, an artist I hadn’t even considered considering at the start of this month. After some solid work with XXXTentacion, “Catch Me Outside” is the song that made me realize just how brilliant this guy actually is. Over Timbaland’s classic Missy Elliott “She’s a Bitch” beat, Ski Mask fires off wild wordplay reminiscent of Missy herself. Before the song even begins, he’s bringing out killer wordplay. “Shoutout my mucus, ’cause you know that be my slime,” he announces just as the beat kicks in. From there, it’s a two-and-a-half-minute whirlwind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wordplay and references. Congrats, Ski Mask. You have my attention.
10) WOULD YOU MIND – PRETTYMUCH
PRETTYMUCH is Simon Cowell’s latest boy band find. Based off this one single, it’s hard to say if they have any staying power, but they certainly can crank out a great pop tune. “Would You Mind” pays homage to more than one of history’s great boy bands, borrowing the a cappella harmony intro from the Beach Boys, the new jack swing sound of Boyz II Men, the futuristic breakdowns of *NSYNC, and One Direction vocals to create a wholly enjoyable earworm with a little something for every pop listener.
9) MISS ME – Leikeli47
Leikeli47’s been a long time coming for this list. Ever since a surprise endorsement by Skrillex and Diplo back in 2015, the masked MC has been one of the most compelling new rappers on my radar. “Miss Me” is laced with unflappable confidence and a killer beat, again reminiscent of Timbaland’s seminal turn-of-the-century production. It simply oozes swagger.
8) DON’T GET CAPTURED – Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels is another act I’ve already covered extensively on this blog, but I’ll go into it again. El-P’s dystopian electronic production is as strong as ever on the latest single from Run the Jewels 3, “Don’t Get Captured,” which explores racial injustice from two different perspectives. Killer Mike takes a more typical angle, examining class struggle and corruption as someone who came from a poor neighborhood watching gentrification sweep through. El-P takes on the role of a ruthless, crooked cop delighting in his ability to oppress and murder with no repercussions. It’s a message that could’ve been delivered in a simple, straightforward manner and served just fine, but leave it to RTJ to go above and beyond.
7) ONE NIGHT ONLY – The Struts
The Struts are a newer English glam rock band, and like many modern glam acts, it can be hard to tell to what extent they’re being serious and to what extent they’re joking. What I can say, for sure, is that this song is epic. It’s got an overpowering stadium hook, some really solid guitar work, and it’s packed to the gills with flair. My favorite moments include the guitar solo and when he rolls the R in “riding.”
6) BOYS – Charli XCX
One of the biggest surprises in music this month was the release of Charli XCX’s “Boys” video. After her excellent Number 1 Angel mixtape, Charli could’ve easily taken the rest of the year off, but she decided to grace us with a phenomenal pop track and one of the best music videos of 2017. The song and video flip the music industry’s objectification of women on its head, with the help of over 50 male celebrities in varying degrees of undress. It’s also a great pop tune, with a really cool electronic beat and potential to become another sleeper hit for Charli in the coming months.
5) NEW YORK – St. Vincent
This is another song that pop heavyweights like Lorde lost their shit over this month. And with good reason, quite frankly. St. Vincent’s been winning over critics and other listeners for a full decade, and her last album left a huge impression. While “New York” is generally much more straightforward than what we’re used to hearing from Annie Clark, her bitter lyricism is as sharp as ever. The sheer emotional buildup in this song is amazing. It’s St. Vincent’s answer to “Green Light” by Lorde, and that’s a good thing.
4) THE STORY OF O.J. – Jay-Z
One of music’s most major events this month was the release of Jay-Z’s acclaimed 13th album 4:44. The album’s first “single,” if it’s even worth calling it that (they can’t exactly play this one on the radio), is “The Story of O.J.,” one of the album’s crowning artistic achievements. Over a beat that feels refreshing and ancient all at once, Hova implores his community to use their money wisely, if they want to escape the cycle of poverty and failure that white people set them up for. There’s an exhausted quality to Jay’s vocals that gives the track’s devastating truth bombs a sizable punch. One bizarre antisemitic line aside, this could turn out to be one of Jay-Z’s defining tracks.
3) WOMAN – Kesha feat. The Dap-Kings Horns
Here’s this month’s leading music story: Kesha pulled off the most magnificent comeback in recent memory. After a years-long battle for artistic freedom from her abuser, the pop star rose like a phoenix to grace us with three phenomenal pop songs and counting. “Woman” is a goddamn masterpiece. I could make a whole different top ten list of all my favorite moments in this song alone. At one point, she’s laughing too hard to finish the verse, and then it just cuts to the chorus! That’s incredible! This is one of the greatest pop songs I’ve heard in a while, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it places highly on my end-of-the-year list. But for now, there are two songs I thought were better.
2) IT AIN’T FAIR – The Roots feat. Bilal
Bilal is one of the greatest singers alive. Black Thought is one of the best rappers of all time. The Roots is quite possibly the best band in the world. And when you put them all together, you get “It Ain’t Fair.” I’d say the song is this year’s answer to last year’s “This Bitter Land” (Nas & Erykah Badu). It was a relatively quiet release for a soundtrack single that’s political, powerful, and beautiful. It starts very slowly, with about a minute of Bilal singing unaccompanied, followed by some more crooning over a jazzy piano riff. But when it kicks in, by god does it kick in. By the end of the hook, it bursts with glorious color as guitar, drums, bass, brass, keyboards, everything but the kitchen sink comes together beautifully to punctuate Black Thought’s frenetic flows and mature, emotionally-vulnerable bars. This is what world-class talent sounds like.
1) PRAYING – Kesha
Now, this is highly unorthodox for me. I don’t think I’ve ever put two songs by the same lead artist on one of these lists, let alone at numbers 1 and 3. But Kesha isn’t your everyday musical talent, and I truly couldn’t see myself parting with either of the two songs. “Praying” is a thing of beauty. It’s an expertly-crafted pop masterstroke that turned Kesha’s narrative from victim to hero, suddenly becoming one of the most respected figures in music. The lyrics are simple, powerful, and even catchy. The production by Ryan Lewis is phenomenal (proving that Macklemore was actually second banana and Ryan Lewis was the star all along). Kesha’s vocals are jaw-dropping. The sheer freedom encapsulated in this scant four minutes of music is more moving than the fogies who derided Kesha in her heyday could ever hope to be. Dr. Luke may still have a contract, but the world is on Kesha’s side.