The 100 Best Songs of 2018 – VICE

Below are the 100 best songs of 2018 as chosen by the Noisey staff. Listen to them on Spotify. Also, check out our 100 best albums of 2018.
Outré guitarist and Twitter prankster Ryley Walker covering an unreleased Dave Matthews Band album in full is one of the funniest music stories of 2018. But the best part about it is that the music is excellent, in some twisted way. “Diggin’ a Ditch”—which was first released in gentle, sincere form on DMB’s 2002 album, Busted Stuff—gets a joy-buzzer shock from Walker, drawing it into his freak-rock universe while still staying true to the original’s spirit. Now, the real fans call him Ryley. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN
The Baltimore-based quartet Creek Boyz has dubbed themselves a trap chorus, but what this January single supposes is that even choir boys need to let a little steam off. “Trap Digits” is a celebratory money-stacking anthem built around a glittery, but bass-heavy beat that sounds explicitly designed for clubs. It also highlights a funny thing about their gang vocal approach—the lilting close harmonies and stacked melodies—which is that even songs about sipping illicit substances from styrofoam cups sound absolutely heavenly. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Instagram genius and recovering dick John Mayer didn’t do anything shocking here. Like a hastily drawn bath at a four-star Vegas hotel, “New Light” is warm, almost luxurious, and artificially lit. Its muted guitars, 4/4 drums, and almost imperceptible synths lap up around the lips. It is music meant to soundtrack $10 bottles of red wine, but “New Light” is endlessly replayable. And, because it’s John Mayer, there’s enough soapy-soft vulnerability in his voice and lyrics to make that worthwhile. —Alex Robert Ross | LISTEN
Brisbane MC Mallrat—20-year-old Grace Shaw—got real popular real quick off the back of a set of songs that focused on the minutiae of post-high school life: weird friendship dynamics, wanting to be out of the cool crowd and “off the list.” But there was no way suburban boredom could be in the cards again once Shaw began travelling the world and placing songs in Google commercials. On “UFO,” Shaw looks to get back to where everything doesn’t feel so alien. While “UFO” is glassier and more expensive-sounding than anything on her first record, Mallrat excels when she’s writing about complicated feelings like homesickness or anxiety. Popstars in waiting often write about the newness of it all, the dazzle and the sparkle; Shaw, on the other hand, just wants to feel normal again. —Shaad D’Souza | LISTEN
Eventually, computers will replace the world’s artists, rendering creative expression a solely technological pursuit. In fact, not eventually, soon. In fact, not soon, right now. A company called Botnik Studios created a predictive text program capable of combining Morrissey’s lyrics with Amazon users’ reviews of the home workout system, P90X. The results should be alarming to anyone concerned about the pending robotic takeover of the world. Yet, deep down in our hearts, we humans must recognize that this is art’s logical endpoint, and the machines have bested us, because goddamn does this slap. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN
In Richard Linklater’s 2003 classic School of Rock, Jack Black’s aspiring rock and roll legend character posits that all you need to write a great rock song is something to be mad about. Cue Byron Bay three-piece Skegss, whose “Transaction Fee” takes that idea to its logical extreme: a garage song about ATM fees. The trio sells it with an earnest grin, the chorus chant playing out like a broke skater mantra. “Transaction Fee” is one of the most simple, elemental rock songs the band has ever made, but that’s ok. They’re pissed off, and that’s all that matters. —Shaad D’Souza | LISTEN
Influential (and perennially mysterious) hardcore punk gods Tragedy’s surprise six-song EP, Fury, was a 2018 highlight without even trying, and opening salvo “Leviathan” is its strongest warning shot. Every element is pitch-perfect, from the breakneck d-beats and riotous guitar leads to the hoarse gang invocations and screaming solos. Stadium crust lives! —Kim Kelly | LISTEN
Loski is UK drill’s breakout star and “Hot Steppa” is his best (or at least most commercial) track, and it’s not even his (nor is it drill). It’s rising UK producer Steel Banglez, whose fusion of afrobeat and garage has been stamped across the UK this year. Together, they’re a cold and hard team, and this song is one of the defining snapshots of England in that strange and scorching summer of 2018 when the grass dried up because it hadn’t rained in so long. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN
Drake owes a lot to an Instagrammer named Shiggy. His viral dance caused “In My Feelings” to dominate the airwaves and put the question “Kiki, do you love me?” on the lips of fans that might have previously been wondering so, uh, what was that about hiding a child? Like “Nice for What,” this one’s sunny and summery, but it has the added benefit of an unlisted feature: City Girls. The Miami rap duo schemed their way onto Drake’s world-beating single, then outshined him. He should probably thank them too. —Kristin Corry | LISTEN
Here, Annie Clark confirms that her biggest strength is her slipperiness, sliding across genres and aesthetics to fit her voice. “Fast Slow Disco” remixes Masseduction’s Jack Antonoff-produced “Slow Disco,” scrapping the string-accompanied original for parts and recontextualizing them over a lizard-brain beat. “Am I thinking what everybody’s thinkin’? / I’m so glad I came, but I can’t wait to leave?” she wonders, the speedier beat further seducing us into her uneasy surreality. —Andrea Domanick | LISTEN
Rising UK rap star Nines’ “I See You Shining” is a lot like Loski’s steamy “Hot Steppa.” It’s produced by Steel Banglez, it came out in the hot summer of 2018 when the British pavement melted. It’s kinda commercial-sounding, and it bangs. This one is about weed, though. Lots and lots of different strains of very smokeable weed. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN
Pop songs are designed to be busy. Every crevice has to be filled with some kind of moving part that will make the song as noticeable and as unshakeable as possible. “The Middle,” surprisingly, begins with silence. It takes you by surprise. When the chorus hits, and singer Maren Morris’ voice is accompanied only by a vocoder and a quiet click, it’s a shock. The song explodes into a whirl of clatters and thwacks and knocks—Zedd is known for often very loud EDM—but the moments that really sell “The Middle” are the quietest ones; at times, the song is stripped back to just Morris and that constant click. The effect is almost hallucinatory, like being trapped in a vacuum with only her. —Shaad D’Souza | LISTEN
This was something of an outlier on an immersive and often breathtaking collaborative record from Shuta Hasunuma, a freewheeling avant-garde composer, and U-zhaan, a restless tabla player. It is a piano ballad deployed so gently that it barely makes a ripple. Devendra Banhart almost whispers his lyrics, close enough to the microphone to express the shape and form of every consonant. Translated from Japanese, there are a few words worth picking out: “choices,” “surrender,” “paradox.” Beyond that, it’s all a matter of conveying unrest and solitude with precise care. —Alex Robert Ross | LISTEN
A key stateside figure in the Latin trap movement, the man otherwise known as El Artista had a big moment last year when he appeared alongside his fellow NYC Dominican Cardi B on her official “Bodak Yellow” remix. Like so many popular urbano acts this year, this son of Hamilton Heights used his elevated platform to explore fresh creative avenues. Here, in collaboration with Atlanta’s Kap G and Dallas production duo Play-N-Skillz, he leads a moderately lewd Pan-Latin foray that nudges reggaeton without slipping fully into dembow worship. —Gary Suarez | LISTEN
This is a trippy, psychedelic voyage of a song. Translated, its name is “When Tears Of An Angel Make Dancing Snow,” which is as evocative as anything hanging in the Louvre. It’s as grand, too. Melody Prochet and co. conjure a kind of hallucinogenic symphony about the Vatican and death and love and crying. All the good stuff. — Ryan Bassil | LISTEN
Back in the day, this Atlanta transplant was someone you might see featured in a rap video, mugging behind Lil Jon, T.I., or Yung Joc for laughs. Yet this surprise hit finds the stand-up comic starring front-and-center, conjuring his best Charlie Wilson impression for maximum joy. The perfect single for a generation addicted to motivational Instagram posts, it benefits from gratifying verses by Ball Greezy and Snoop Dogg, though Lil Duval reclaims the spotlight each and every time his meme-ready hook comes back around. —Gary Suarez | LISTEN
No one can build an epic crescendo the way Japanese legends envy can. The post-hardcore band has mastered this art over the last three decades, creating intricate sonic worlds from thick walls of distortion and the heaviest of build-ups and crashes. This year, the band teased a forthcoming release (one that sees them reunited with singer Tetsuya Fukagawa) with a pair of new tracks. One of them, “Dawn and Gaze,” is vintage envy—a nearly seven-minute sprawl that stretches over numerous rises and falls, ultimately landing in a place of serenity. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN
“Aaah. Aa-aa-aa-aaah. AAAAh ah. Aaaah aaah ah ah AAAAAAHHH.” You might know it better as “1:46,” which is how Twitter users lovingly christened the moment in the trailer for Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born remake which teased Lady Gaga’s star-reinventing vocal turn, taking the film from an interesting prospect to a must-see. Upon its full release, “1:46” became “Shallow,” and in turn, “Shallow” became one of the 2018’s most ubiquitous songs: high stakes, dramatic (positively theatrical, in fact), and, most importantly, phenomenally sung, showcasing Gaga as the formidable, world-beating voice she’s always been. —Lauren O’Neill | LISTEN
Columbus, Ohio’s hardcore punks Minority Threat are the damn truth, and their self-titled EP is a whirlwind of beatdown riffs and two-stepping swing with shreds of powerviolence and empire-toppling lyrics. If you needed a dose of ferocious political hardcore to help fuel your rage and soundtrack the daily struggle against racism, capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, this is it. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN
Sophie Allison’s Clean was one of the finest indie rock projects of the year, and “Your Dog” is the record’s standout. On it, Allison demonstrates her killer songwriting skills, effectively walking a line that’s both deeply confident, painfully earnest, and weirdly violent (a telling lyric: “A collar on my neck tied to a pole / Leave me in the freezing cold”). The song’s video lines up. It depicts a farcical and dramatic end to a relationship that features a whole lotta blood. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN
Absolutely fair play to Mahalia for writing a song that essentially distills the screenshots you put in the group chat, captioned with “can he pls stop texting, I’m tired.” This song name might at first confuse you. Like, why would someone want to miss their ex? Well, good person, that’s because sometimes you break up with people when there’s just not enough there. And when you’re out of the relationship, you feel reborn. Sounds harsh, but when placed over this sunny R&B cut, teeming with Mahalia’s slightly husky vocal, it’s easier to handle. —Tshepo Mokoena | LISTEN
Relationships may be different from how they were 20, ten, and even five years ago. We have fewer of them, there are more grey areas, our ways of life are increasingly fluid. But the feelings—the pure, kinetic, sugar-rush of feelings—will surely remain the same, because that’s just chemistry. In this SOPHIE-produced album cut, “It’s Not Just Me,” UK duo Let’s Eat Grandma takes that chemistry and bottles it, resulting in this sweet, glossy slice of weirdo pop that sounds exactly like the universal, dizzying taste of new romance. —Daisy Jones | LISTEN
Miami serves as a stateside hub for urbano music as well as one of the central locales behind the SoundCloud rap movement. Raised in that city, this up-and-coming teenage boriqua skews closest to Latin trap’s poppier wave with her strong major label single debut. An ode to the bad boys, “Malo” finds young Mariah (not to be confused with Mimi) extolling their naughty virtues in both English and Spanish. —Gary Suarez | LISTEN
At 20, Frankie Cosmos’ Greta Kline was afraid of becoming a sellout, or being washed up. At 22, her concerns are different but no less frightening: “Apathy,” a stormy highlight from Kline’s latest album, Vessel, asks what becomes of someone in the aftermath of a breakup. Kline craves function and meaning, wishing to feel “neatly designed” like a telephone pole and wanting to go out but barely knowing how. The answers to her problems aren’t clear, but at least now—inventive and acerbic as ever—Kline can safely say that she’s still miles away from selling out. —Shaad D’Souza | LISTEN
Knife crime and the deaths of young men on England’s streets has been a horrifying trope in 2018’s news. Most of the time, those stories have been written by people from outside the communities affected by the violence. So Ray BLK—the R&B Londoner who won 2017’s “BBC Sound of…” poll while unsigned—made her major label debut with this brutal take on street life from an insider perspective. “Run Run” leans on her velvety, deep vocals, over lyrics that tap into the constricting panic of always having to look over your shoulder to make it through the day. —Tshepo Mokoena | LISTEN
Kokoroko, a London-based octet, had been around for two years before breaking out with this hypnotic seven-minute-long instrumental. Guitarist Oscar Jerome, who wrote the song on a rooftop in Gambia, takes control of the first half with a few lilting hooks that give way to a more pronounced, staccato solo, though nothing that might nudge the listener out of a trance. Trumpeter and bandleader Sheila Maurice-Grey comes to life in the second half, but she doesn’t overrun things either—her deft solo flutters like a firefly. It’s hard to think of another act who could conjure such beautiful calm. —Alex Robert Ross | LISTEN
Last year, Daniel Caesar drenched Freudian in so much romance and spirituality it felt like it was expressly designed to soundtrack weddings. “Who Hurt You?” is not that. The song is dedicated to Priscilla, a dancer Caesar met at an Atlanta stripclub. After tipping her $3,400 and losing his phone after getting her number, he put an ad on Craigslist to find her and used “Who Hurt You?” as a bat signal. On the song, Caesar balances crassness (“So mesmerized by that ass”) and sincerity (a hook that explains how touring changed his approach to love). The song feels like a reinvention of “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper)” and that’s not just because T-Pain sings the background vocals. On a serious note: has anyone found Priscilla yet? —Kristin Corry | LISTEN
There is a pervasive optimism that permeates through Kacey Musgraves’ “Butterflies” that should feel over the top. Maybe it is, but it still goes down smoothly. Here, Musgraves serenades her husband, singing, “Now you’re lifting me up ‘stead of holding me down / Stealing my heart ‘stead of stealing my crown.“ Evidenced in those lines are reminders of the sting and bullshit of the past. Even in her happiest moments, Musgraves never forgets the somber times. And it’s her natural ability to write so acutely about the sweet and, hell, sometimes salty slices of life that make this song, and her music in general, so special. —Jabbari Weekes | LISTEN
Sally Burtnick is our office receptionist and a human who embodies the chaotic/good spirit. She is the first face people see when they walk into our office, which is funny because she is genuinely unhinged in the best possible way. Anyway, what’s she doing on this list? Well, Sally made an Instagram video of herself singing a song she made up, to which the “chorus” goes: “I have had sex with all my dolls.” She then followed it up with a meta video—let’s call this the remix—of her singing the original video’s song. This is confusing and we’re sorry, but we have been singing it around the office for weeks, and now you must join us. Look at the face of art. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN
This song’s swag is absurd. It doesn’t have a chorus. It went to number one on the UK charts to baby boomer cries of “rap? That isn’t even music!” around the country. Presumably, they much preferred the Real Music of Who?-Hall-of-Famers Rita Ora and Jess Glynne. Anyway, Dave’s one of England’s sharpest and most clever rappers. And, passing the mic back and forth with Fredo, he rides this sparse beat with the lilt of someone who’s just caught a glance of themselves in the mirror when looking particularly fresh. —Tshepo Mokoena | LISTEN
This just sounds like summer. London rapper Hardy Caprio quite literally includes the lyrics “this year it’s a holiday ting,” no doubt inspiring about 12,000 near-identical Insta captions under post-high-school-graduation beach pics. Predictable lyrics about blowjobs aside (when will people stop finding fellatio novel?), “Best Life” is an upbeat slice of afropop so balmy that it practically smells like sunscreen. Apply liberally in the winter months. —Tshepo Mokoena | LISTEN
Like the Harlem Shake, the Ice Bucket Challenge, and The Dress, Weezer’s cover of Toto’s “Africa” is distinctly a product of the internet. It began with a teenager with a Twitter account and a dream—namely, that the band Weezer should cover Toto’s 1982 single “Africa”—and it ultimately became a reality, a radio hit, and a music video starring Weird Al. Over the course of 2018, the song cycled through the various stages of online popularity, from hey, this is kinda funny to alright, this is getting played out to oh God, my mom is posting about this on Facebook. Let the song’s viral success serve as a cautionary tale to anyone about to hit that “post” button: Be careful what you wish for. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN
On their split with NYC doom heads Unearthly Trance, Denver sludge trio Primitive Man ramps up the suffering with almost 11 minutes of audio pain that feel scientifically engineered to fuck your day up. Drenched in shuddering noise and fleshed out with disembodied roars and crushing downstrokes, “Naked” is a lesson in harnessing tension for evil. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN
The long delayed Tha Carter V might not have hit the world in the way Wayne had hoped, but the record’s outro—which features a lovely sample from Sampha’s breathtaking 2013 track “Indecision”—is a meditation on not beating yourself up too much, and how to navigate the pressures of life. Coming at the end of one of the most anticipated records of the last decade, the song acts as a release, as Wayne lets out a breath, ending: “With that tongue, I just keep spitting, so it all worked out.” —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN
If you haven’t lived in Philadelphia, you might not get it. If you haven’t seen a four-wheeler flying north on Broad Street, you might not get it. But “Millidelphia” is here to shine some light on what you’re missing—that Meek is, and forever will be, Philly’s golden boy. This past year, #FreeMeekMill became a national movement following the rapper’s unjust arrest. And when Meek was released on bail, Philadelphia—and the world—was rewarded with this, a triumphant anthem for a city that never forgot him. The vocals slap you in the face with a cold intensity that matches the city’s grit. “Millidelphia” is the battle-cry of a long war won. “Millidelphia” is for the underdogs. It’s what the city deserves. Go birds, etc. —Dessie Jackson | LISTEN
SOPHIE’s “Immaterial” embraces euphoric spaciousness in every possible way. This is a pearlescent nugget of anti-pop which pushes and pulls against itself, coalescing in a beat drop which feels like the climax of “Everytime We Touch” by Cascada if it took even more uppers. Look upon the face of transcendence: it smells like spilt alcopops and glows in the dark. —Lauren O’Neill | LISTEN
Beyoncé can rap. Over the course of her 20-year career, she’d tease us with a few bars here and there, but her skills seemed like a hidden talent, one only top-tier members of the Beyhive were attuned to. The secret is out on her joint album with husband Jay Z, Everything Is Love. On “APESHIT,” The Carters are proving they are not only adept at making timeless music, but can ride the trends as well as rap’s rookies. Co-written by Migos, Bey and Jay adopt triplet flows and shout random ad-libs like “Vitamin D!,” If Everything Is Love is a successor Watch the Throne, “APESHIT” is the new “Niggas in Paris.” —Kristin Corry | LISTEN
“Alt-Wrong”—drawn from Portland, Oregon, punks Cliterati’s split with Violation Wound—is a snotty, rollicking punk rock excoriation of alt-right boneheads and Nazi pissbabies. You can feel the rage emanating from vocalist Amy Lawless as they spit, “I’ll wipe my ass / With your Confederate flag / Won’t be no cross burning / Here tonight / We’ll fuck you up / Stand and fight!” —Kim Kelly | LISTEN
The era of the hit remix may be long gone, but Kelela makes her own rules. She reworked her debut album Take Me Apart with help from rising stars like Kaytranada, serpentwithfeet, and Gaika, but she also tried something a little stranger. On “RARE ESSENCE_TMA_83,” she looked back to her past, enlisting a percussive funk reimagining from one of the greats from her hometown of Washington, D.C. Rare Essence’s touch wakes up Kelela’s “Take Me Apart,” adding some comfort to her anxious hook: “So you can take me apart / Waited up all night.” It’s the go-go remix the song—and the world—needed. —Kristin Corry | LISTEN
On “Leave It In My Dreams,” the opening track from Julian Casablancas’ dodgily regarded Voidz project’s second record, Virtue, the former Strokes frontman begs us to please, dear God, “don’t overthink it.” That seems like a strange ask from someone who said the first Voidz record, Tyranny, was about healthcare, nightmares, and the moon, but brave “Dreams” and you’ll understand: Casablancas is pretty much done with writing impenetrable dirges, and wants you to know it. “Dreams” is the closest Casablancas has gotten to writing pure, sing-along pop since the Strokes’ Room On Fire. Dipping into his winsome falsetto for the song’s chorus, Casablancas sounds like he’s actually having fun here, trying out new cadences and inflections. If “Dreams” is the result of Casablancas not overthinking things, then hopefully Voidz 3 is the product of sheer mindlessness. —Shaad D’Souza | LISTEN
It’s difficult to pick a standout from Empath’s Liberating Guilt and Fear EP, which lurched out into the world this summer on a wave of blown-out drums, ecstatic melodies, and skittish guitars. But “The Eye,” a three-minute burst that opens with windchimes and then gleefully pummels the listener, beats the rest by a knife’s edge. “You don’t have to spend all that money on me, baby,” lead singer Catherine Elicson sings mysteriously across two notes, backed by the sharp exorcisms of the band and the joyous resonance of an Indian Shruti Box. It’s vivid, unrestrained, and completely endearing. —Alex Robert Ross | LISTEN
Octavian loves Bon Iver. It’s a bit of a strange reference for a revenge-obsessed polymath, but he’s said as much in interviews, calling the bearded Wisconsinite his favorite musician. And you can hear the influence in a sparse track like “Hands.” It’s cold yet melodic, kinda somber. It’s also lightly danceable, ideal for moving around in big oversized coats in the frigid winter. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN
While Anuel AA and Bad Bunny subtly compete for Latin trap dominance with crossover after crossover, the genre at large thrives thanks in no small part to Carbon Fiber Music, pumping out quality controlled tracks every few weeks from well-regarded label boss Farruko and talented practitioners like Lary Over and Menor Menor. An Afro-Latinx rising star from Honduras, the latter proved himself deserving of some of the bigger names’ shine with “Falsas Promesas,” an incredibly catchy sung/rapped single that sounded like Post Malone covering “Te Boté.” —Gary Suarez | LISTEN
It’s a shame much of legendary Ikwere-born artist Duncan Mighty’s spot on “Fake Love” has been largely burdened with having to defend his relevancy, specifically in comparison to track companion and global superstar Wizkid. Still, let the miserable sit in misery, a theme of which “Fake Love” fittingly echoes as it casts a light on those who love love and status with hungry eyes. Sure, the sentiment isn’t new but the spirit of the song feels fresh as Wizkid’s light vocals step in time with Mighty’s husky but rich tone. The duo brings out the best in each other in equal measure and the song achieves greatness because of it. —Jabbari Weekes | LISTEN
“Comme si” is a song that shows exactly what Christine and the Queens is capable of, which is… a lot. It’s a complex and seductive pop-funk masterpiece, full of power and color and textural synthetics that bind together to create something tight and elastic. If anyone ever releases a queer remake of Dirty Dancing, this is the track they should play during the scene in which Johnny teaches Baby how to dance. —Daisy Jones | LISTEN
If Aubrey cops your flow, you’ve officially arrived in hip-hop. But if he does it as a guest on your track, you’d best look alive because your music career is about to go supernova. And that’s precisely what happened with this Memphis rapper, who went from bubbling under to top-five-no-debating with this Tay Keith slapper. While Drake gets the flashy lead verse, BlocBoy’s subsequent one leaves more of an impression with its brash gun talk and referential sports metaphors. —Gary Suarez | LISTEN
“1950” is a pop song of cataclysmic proportions. It’s effortlessly cool and tender and all about unrequited love, which ticks the three boxes of what elevates a pop song from good to great. It’s also slightly raw too, as King Princess expertly details the heady lows inside the highs of crushin’. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN
Michigan atmospheric blackened crust quartet Dakhma have lain quiet this year save for a split with Pilori, which saw them pull out all the stops on “Frenzy Witchcraft.” The song’s six minutes conjure a hollow, lo-fi void of icy, serrated tremolo, and punchy percussion while vocalist Claire summons demons with a raw throat and crooked finger. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN
Someone please check on Joba—he might have popped a blood vessel after his verse on this Iridescence opener. Look, Brockhampton are already known for bangers and leaping around on stage. But “New Orleans” also distills a frenetic sense of rebirth. They weave religious themes through it, leaving you with the sense that they’re feeling stronger. Seriously though, Joba: don’t hurt yourself. —Tshepo Mokoena | LISTEN
A concept album positioned as a “Western space opera” might sound like a daunting undertaking for first-time listeners, but Murder by Death toss out an inviting entry point with “Stone,” the catchiest, most digestible track off of The Other Shore. Other songs on the record take more risks and wind up in stranger, more celestial territories as the narrative unfolds, but the strength of “Stone” is that the band plays it straight, hanging its entirety on its simple, infectious chorus. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN
When we look back on 2018, there will be countless discussions about how every major rap artist released a mediocre album. But the real story that should be talked about is that 2018 was the year the underground moved into the mainstream. This song is a lengthy posse cut that acts as a lighthearted thesis statement for the movement. “Bankteller” was also apparently recorded the night that 03 Greedo went to jail. Everything about this is poetic. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN
In 2007, Nicki Minaj lent a woman’s perspective to Biggie’s “Dreams” for her Playtime Is Over mixtape. A decade later, she’s no longer poking fun at local rappers, and instead is taking aim at some of rap’s biggest names. “Meek still be in my DMs I be having to duck ‘em / ‘I used to pray for times like this’ / Faceass when I fuck him,” she raps. This year, Minaj was faced with how she’ll age in this industry and “Barbie Dreams” is proof she can still spar with the best. —Kristin Corry | LISTEN
Flohio doesn’t slot comfortably into any UK music scenes right now. The south London MC has an urgent and seemingly effortless flow that has foundations in the grime she grew up on, while the instrumentals cast a wide net across the electronic music landscape more broadly. “Watchout” is the zenith of this fusion, seeing the MC deliver rapid-fire bars as deftly as heavyweights like Kano over a euphoric and blown-out instrumental reminiscent of experimental artists like Gaika. Using a combination of forward-thinking genres as building blocks for something fresh, Flohio’s sound isn’t easily categorized, but you might summarize it in short, clipped onomatopoeia, like “OOOPH!” — Emma Garland | LISTEN
There comes a moment, during any kind of heartbreak, when you break through a sort of wall. It’s as if your body has physically, mentally, and spiritually had enough of wallowing in the depths of darkness, and so it propels you forward, towards the light. This song by Snail Mail captures that relief, which can be powerful and euphoric. “In in full control, I’m not lost / Even when it’s love, even when it’s not,” sings Lindsey Jordan, her strong, syrupy voice gliding over melodic, open riffs. On first listen, “Full Control” might seem like a sad song, but lean in closer, and you can hear the wisdom and aliveness glittering over every word and chord change. —Daisy Jones | LISTEN
“Colors” is a song by three of the best rappers working right now, who also happen to be three of the most underappreciated rappers working right now. The syrupy track—produced by LA team League of Starz—hits all the marks for a Great Rap Song. Can y’all please start listening? —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN
This longtime DJ of mystic dance music made her debut as a producer on a split single on the Portuguese imprint Naive earlier this year, offering up a smattering of tracks driven by the spiritual energy she senses in the history of electronic music. “Hold Me” is the obvious hands-up anthem, but even more full of life is “Trans Love Vibration.” It pulls a sneaky psychedelic trick, slowly melting across tempos as an organ—a church instrument, naturally—wails ecstatically through its changes. Consider it a new rave hymn. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
The second single from the Boston duo’s Smell Smoke is, in frontman Brandon Hagen’s words, “a document of grief.” Over ping-ponged verses and a guitar that sounds like its biding its time, Hagen catalogs the passivity and helplessness of watching a loved one sink away from life, and wonders if he’s destined for the same. It’s a hell of slow burner, in the vein of Weezer’s “Undone,” or Elliott Smith’s “Can’t Make a Sound.” The pieces fall away, revealing a heaving kind of melancholy—the release of finally coming up for air. —Andrea Domanick | LISTEN
Coming from any other rapper, 21 Savage’s contemptuous bars about the clownish rappers and the sorts of herbs who are comfortable leaving the house in Levis (uh, guilty) wouldn’t sound so upsetting. 21 has long had a knack for crafting unsettling atmospheres, but here he does so in a new way by delivering around half his lines in a sort of chilling whisper. It’s the sort of voice that usually belongs to lead villains in animated adaptations of dark German fairy tales—quiet threats, delivered with a creepy smile. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
You know the feverish don’t-text-them pang that reverberates through our body after a few drinks on a lonely night? Well, Kim Petras is ignoring that alarm and she doesn’t give a shit. “I tried to fight, but I can’t help it / Even if I’ll end up in shatters, baby it doesn’t matter / Gonna give you my heart to break,” she sings, a reminder that this shit is always a losing game. The glittery pop production provides Petras a way of revving up her listeners anyway, getting everyone amped for the post-breakup tub of Ben & Jerry’s. Who cares, deny your instincts. Love is bloodsport. —Dessie Jackson | LISTEN
More than any of Sweetener’s other singles “God is a woman” encapsulates the theme of triumph and victory that Grande strives for throughout the album. When she sings “So, baby, take my hand, save your soul,“ she enshrines herself as a deity-like figure, a balm to the world around her. Her previous hits were focused on earthly concerns, but on “god” she caught the spirit. Bless Ari. — Jabbari Weekes | LISTEN
Petal, the recording project of Pennsylvania musician Kiley Lotz, released a second album, Magic Gone, in 2018, and its highlight is the ascendant “Better Than You.” Between wide-stanced riffs and Lotz’s accomplished vocals—arena-ready should she choose that routes—“Better Than You” is bonafide anthemic rock; the sort of thing that you can imagine soundtracking a pivotal moment in a coming-of-age movie, wherein the protagonist turns up her hi-fi, trashes her room, and dances triumphantly on her bed. Which, really, is what all songs should be aiming for. —Lauren O’Neill | LISTEN
Songs about watches are always good. That’s a scientific fact. And what do we have here? A song about three-million-dollar watches by Lil Uzi Vert, one of the best rappers of the new generation. To quote the top commenter on the song’s YouTube, “Chief called, he said this is most certainly it.” —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN
Most of the good house songs are about love or sex or a higher power, but the best ones—like Jayda G and Alexa Dash’s “Diva Bitch”—are about all three. Over Jayda’s cheery chords and euphoric, thudding drum programming, Dash offers a vocal that falls somewhere between a self-help tape and session with a loving domme. The title of this mix works as preparation for any of the ecstatic rituals they’re describing. They want you to get down on your knees, but whether that’s in order to pray, fuck, or lose yourself to dance, Dash doesn’t say exactly. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
It’s hard not to look at Drakeo the Ruler’s current situation and feel a sense of injustice. At the tail-end of 2017, he released Cold Devil, an explosive, inventive album that cemented him as one of the foremost experimenters in Los Angeles’s rap scene. 2018 should have been celebratory, but he’s spent most of it locked up, awaiting trial on a host of serious charges that his legal team alleges are based on scant evidence, according to an interview in Passion of the Weiss.
One of Drakeo’s few new releases in 2018, “Murder Was the Case,” captures the massive unfairness of the whole scenario. Drakeo’s verses were recorded over the crackly connection of an inmate telecom service, so it can be a bit hard to make out what he’s saying, but the bits that you can are gut-punches. “What’s gon’ be my fate?” he worries in his creaky yan. “Will the judge give me a break?” For now, the answers are still unclear, which makes the song so much sadder. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Leave it to Courtney Barnett, Our Lady of Observational Zingers, to create one of the year’s best song-length eviscerations of trolls and misogynists. She pities arrogant anons over jangly verses one minute (“I’m real sorry / ’Bout whatever happened to you”), and brutalizing them with a slacker grunge chorus borrowed from Margaret Atwood the next (“Men are scared that women will laugh at them / Women are scared that men will kill them”). The single chews on internalized cultural anxieties and spits them back out as a raw diatribe. —Andrea Domanick | LISTEN
Dijon Duenas used to drive a dark green Honda with tan seats, and he used to ride his bike to work at the daycare at his local YMCA. His friend Nico used to drive a red truck, and there’s a picture somewhere of Dijon leaning up against it, before Nico moved to Baltimore and then to Philly. They don’t talk much anymore; life’s busy these days. Dijon says all this in a plainspokenway on “Nico’s Red Truck,” the latest in a string of aching singles he’s released under the mononym dijon.
It’s a painful song to listen to—maybe because you drove a shitty Civic too once, or because you have people you loved who you’ve just drifted away from for no particular reason. In the song’s opening moments, Dijon worries that the years will rob him of these cherished times: ”What if the good memories start to fade out?” If he keeps writing songs as vivid as this one, he’ll be able to hold onto them forever. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
The pressure to curate the soundtrack for a Marvel film could’ve been stressful but TDE didn’t show it on their Black Panther tracks. There’s a lot going on between the three rappers here, each vying to show their individual styles on one track. But even with Kendrick Lamar’s impressive rapid-fire “red light, green light” breakdown at the close of the song, Future won. The Atlanta rapper was a man of few words: “LA-DI-DA-DI-DA / SLOB ON ME KNOB.” It’s a Three 6 Mafia interpolation but it never gets old—and Future’s all-caps delivery made it one of the best musical moments of the year, period. There’s also an obligatory James Blake feature. Where the hell does he always come from? —Kristin Corry | LISTEN
Zeal & Ardor’s status as a cross-genre phenomenon has shown no signs of slowing on the project’s second album, Stranger Fruit. “Row Row,” a maddeningly catchy Satanic spiritual with an abolitionist bite, is the perfect encapsulation of the Swiss project’s constantly evolving black metal blues. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN
On “The Face of God,” Camp Cope lead singer and guitarist Georgia Maq recounts a sexual assault that’s brushed off by the perpetrator as well as the people she tells, who insist “[He doesn’t] seem like that kind of guy.” The song is chilling and heartbreaking, but all too familiar: 85% of assaults go unreported in the band’s native Australia, and only 10% of the assaults reported result in convictions. Camp Cope are often lauded for their fearlessness in calling out bookers and festivals, but releasing “The Face of God” proved to be the most fearless and powerful thing the Melbourne trio could possibly do. —Shaad D’Souza | LISTEN
Set against a skeletal instrumental, “Firm and Strong” finds Popcaan the dancehall artist reminiscing and ruminating about the trials he’s endured to become one of the world’s best known dancehall artists. “Bad mind and jealousy just get defeat / Jah, you keep me firm and strong,” he sings. The song ends on a note of victory as he says “Unruly keep winning by any means.“ Popcaan’s decade-long career has survived because of the ease in which he inspires perseverance in listeners. And who among us doesn’t need some of that strength? —Jabbari Weekes | LISTEN
An interview in The FADER earlier this year unmasked the mysterious cyborgian duo as two reformed techno dudes in Berlin, but tracks like “AS A.W.O.L offer reasons to remain unconvinced of that backstory. Like much of their debut full-length, Another Life, this cut sounds like the product of a stranger narrative—like what might happen if some radioactive runoff caused one of those terrifying Boston Dynamics dogs to become sentient and start trying to make its own version of Caribbean club music. It’s way too delirious, unsettling, and surreal to have come from human hands. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
The anguished Chicago crooner’s first entry in the Billboard top ten builds on the heart-spilling work of a generation of likeminded operators in the SoundCloud underground. But Juice WRLD is innovative in his sheer directness. Over a shimmery acoustic guitar sample from a Sting song, he offers few details of how he ended up in this love/hate state—just the pain and the pills and the death wishes, delivered raw. In another life, these lyrics might make for a good Sunny Day Real Estate song—but he’s chosen to write his Diary in blood and Manic Panic. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
“The Joke” is Brandi Carlile’s reaffirming pat on the back for those who feel misrepresented, forgotten, or trampled by society. But since Carlile is too polite to offer an outright “fuck you” to the oppressors, she instead takes the high road and assures the downtrodden that it gets better: “I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends / And the joke’s on them.” And as her powerful voice hits a rare crack in the middle of the line, it feels clear that she’s singing about personal struggles she hopes a future generation won’t have to also face. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN
This devastating song weeps. The organs sob, the synths cry. Its emptiness is stark and intense, and its production freezing cold like you’re alone in a house with no heating. There’s a confidence towering above the trauma, though. It’s Benja SL’s voice, ringing out loud and defiant. “Before we get so far away / Can we wind up space?” he asks, with elegant poise few love letters have ever managed. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN
Within Lil Baby’s rapidly growing collection of moving tracks about his sudden come-up, “Yes Indeed” would ordinarily be a minor collection of sneaker-price flexes and twisted up Pokémon references, save for one totally transcendent moment. There’s this tiny temper tantrum around the halfway mark that’s become the line that his fans shout back at him the loudest at every show. In this nasally, clipped flow, he sings, “Wah, wah, wah / Bitch, I’m Lil Baby,” which doesn’t sound like much, but in context, it feels like the the kind of line that someone should put on a billboard. Oh wait, someone did. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Losing yourself in a relationship is a scary thing. So when Jorja Smith’s vocals glide into the open-ended question, “Where did I go,” you feel the ache of not being able to recognize yourself anymore. Opening with soft, sparse piano keys, and syrupy vocals, Smith gives us a decadent self-confrontation. When she sings, “you showed me love that wasn’t real,” Smith is talking to her partner (a “silly boy” and a “little man”), she’s singing to herself, and she’s getting out. Here’s to moving on and saying goodbye to 2018. —Dessie Jackson | LISTEN
After releasing two album-length projects in 2017, 2018 was expected to be a bit of a fallow year for Charli XCX. For any ordinary pop star, this might mean some time off, but the restlessly creative mind behind Pop 2 never sleeps, and has dedicated the last few months to the delivery of a rake of top quality loosies. “1999,” which features Troye Sivan, is the best of the bunch: a quickfire, knowing throwback with a chorus that any of Charli’s own many 90s influences would be proud of. —Lauren O’Neill | LISTEN
Earl’s rapping is as buoyant as it is blunt here, underpinned by two opposing forces: a dark cloud of depression and bright moments of hopeful solace. The repetitive beat insinuates how these moods often operate within a cycle, and the lo-fi production gives insight into how messed up that can all feel. If you’ve ever felt this way, you’ll know the experience can be murky, confusing,and jittery. Luckily Earl Sweatshirt captures those feelings with a distinct nuance unlike anyone rapping today. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN
Lil Peep was a happy person, but listening to Peep is committing to listening to music mired in a thick, overwhelming pain. His exploration of this sound made him famous. It was surprising, then, when one of the first posthumous tracks released from Peep’s vaults was a version of “Sunlight On Your Skin,” a sunny outlier in his catalogue of demos. “Sunlight On Your Skin” isn’t a love song about being fucked up together or dying together; it’s just a love song. Even if it’s not true to the rest of his work, “Sunlight On Your Skin” is an expression of the side of Peep we rarely got to see. A year on from his death, even the smallest sliver of that feels precious. —Shaad D’Souza | LISTEN
Hundreds of billions of pixels have been spent on carefully balancing art and artist over the past two years. Millions of them could’ve been saved if JPEGMAFIA had released this triumphantly dismissive track a lot earlier. Tom Araya, Varg Vikernes, and the titular, foppish Smith are all, Peggy says at the top, a “bunch of timid white [bleep] who can’t fuck with me.” (It’s really a bleep, too.) As proclamations go, this is near-perfect: “Fuck a Johnny Rotten / I want Lil B[…] Pull up on a cracker bumping Lil Peep.” As quick-hit punchlines go, this one’s an all-timer: “4chan on my dick cuz I’m edgy / Sit ya pale ass down, have a Pepsi.” —Alex Robert Ross | LISTEN
In the final moments of “Reborn,” off the self-titled album from KIDS SEE GHOSTS, Kid Cudi repeats solemnly, “Keep moving forward, Keep moving forward.” And for better and worse, it’s a model he and Kanye West have adhered to. Kanye movingly attests to the effects of that lifestyle: “I was off the chain, I was often draine d/ I was off the meds, I was called insane / What a awesome thing, engulfed in shame / I want all the rain, I want all the pain.” Whether the pair have actually evolved—especially Kanye—is beside the point. “Reborn” reflects the catharsis they feel when they make music together. —Jabbari Weekes | LISTEN
When French Montana nearly topped the Billboard charts with “Unforgettable” last year, haters were quick to credit Rae Sremmurd’s featured better half for the big win. And while the Coke Boy capo doesn’t deserve that level of snarky erasure, it’s nonetheless hard to deny the ubiquity of Swae Lee’s infectious hook. So it comes as no surprise that, amid the bloat and sprawl of the SR3MM triple album, he would revisit that same tropical trap aesthetic for this flirty Swaecation standout. —Gary Suarez | LISTEN
The Menzingers have perfected a certain sound that has been aped ad nauseum by their punk peers. Many try, but none can pull it off quite like the Philly four-piece. And while the band didn’t release an album to reaffirm their planted flag this year, all it took them was a loose single. “Toy Soldier” easily ranks among the best songs by a band that is now five albums deep into their career. And when singer Greg Barnett hits the line in the chorus where he says “there’s so much to be sad about these day-ay-ays,” it feels as catchy as it does depressingly relevant. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN
This past February, just ahead of El Conejo Malo’s triumphant mainstream takeover, the then already formidable Latin trap star took a left turn away from the typically crowded urbano posse cuts to stand alone for a change. An anti-Valentine’s vibe reigns over a muted instrumental by Mambo Kingz and DJ Luian, who eschew their typically glossy banger mode for minimal piano chords. A stark contrast from the Latina lovefest of Bad Bunny’s “I Like It” verse, “Amorfoda” is doleful, embittered, and, at times, nihilistic in its grim assessment of modern romance. —Gary Suarez | LISTEN
The word “supergroup” usually calls to mind a combination of rock musicians in their 40s, whose careers and hairlines have seen better days. Thankfully this year saw the term redefined by Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus, who joined together as boygenius. Their crowning achievement so far is “Me and My Dog,” an indie-pop song enveloped in ethereal harmonies, which blends the three songwriters’ sensibilities to crystalize feelings of romantic anxiety and the double bind of self-inflicted isolation. —Lauren O’Neill | LISTEN
It took a year for one of 2018’s biggest songs to blow up. “Boo’d Up” was initially the opener for Ready, Ella Mai’s 2017 EP, and remained under the radar until it was requested at a Bay Area club earlier this year. Can you blame us for our infatuation with it? People love nostalgia and “Boo’d Up” feels like yesteryear. From the 90s piano chords to the vernacular of the 2000s, “Boo’d Up” is the song that transports you to back to high school. Its “Biddy-ba-dum / boo’d up” is inescapable whether you’re singing it in your head or at the top of your lungs. With her first breakthrough single, Ella Mai has the lovesick lane on lock. —Kristin Corry | LISTEN
Drake is really good at making music women want to hear. “Nice for What” followed the anthemic appeal “Fancy” and “Make Me Proud” possessed, but gave it a twerk-friendly New Orleans bounce section led by Big Freedia. It took the somber sentiment of a woman fed up on Lauryn Hill’s original “Ex-Factor” and added new life to the 20-year-old song. “You ain’t stressing on no lover in the past tense / You already had them,” he raps. “Nice for What” is Drake’s attempt at women’s empowerment, even if it’s a message delivered by a man. —Kristin Corry | LISTEN
Janelle Monáe makes “Pynk” feel like a sun-kissed drive with the top down even if you’re listening in the dead of winter. She sings in a near whisper, as if she’s telling you one of life’s secrets—and in a way she is. The monochromatic jam is a laundry list (and part anatomy class) of all things pink: your lips, your brain, your heart. The song, as pink and as sweet as bubblegum, is a lesson in fleshly self-discovery coming from Monáe, who identified as an android at the start of her career. “Deep inside, we’re all just pink,” she acknowledges. She’s right. —Kristin Corry | LISTEN
Valee—a.k.a. Mr. Get Your Flow Stolen By Every Rapper In 2018—deserved this banger to be bigger. The huge, syrupy beats are the ideal backdrop for the tag team approach he takes with fellow Chicago hero Jeremih, with whom he spits the catchy hook. If you weren’t singing “womp womp womp womp” to yourself over the summertime, you really fucked up. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN
Oakland anarcha-feminist blackened doom duo Ragana possesses an almost alchemical understanding of how to blend the beautiful and the brutal, and “The Void” (which appears on their split with Thou) is a deft illustration thereof. In turns muted, enraged, and utterly engrossing, here, they wield that delicacy like a sharpened blade. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN
Six-piece indie bands from west London arrive as regularly as buses in England’s capital, but few are quite as good as Sports Team were from the starting whistle. Easily one of the most promising new acts of the year, the band caught ears and attention back in January with a five-track EP, Winter Nets, which was startling in particular for its sheer ego, far bigger and more swaggering than it had any right to be.
“Camel Crew,” the second track from that release, brings together this hand-on-hip assuredness with a rare watchfulness, showing that when Sports Team stray into the tradition of great British groups like The Beautiful South and Pulp, whose observations of ordinary life light it up, they’ve got a special thing going. It’s not difficult to think of frontman Alex Rice as a sort of suburban flâneur sat at a sticky, hometown pub table, flouting indoor smoking codes and toying with a paper coaster while he complains about the table service and the south London music scene all in the same sentence (“They’ve made it only / When they’ve signed the rights to Sony,” delivered with a scoff and an eye-roll, is a 2018 best as far as #bars go). Colored especially by the bright jaunt of Rob Knaggs’ lead guitar, the track clambers up and up without ever missing its footing, and marks Sports Team’s as a clever, astute type of indie rock that the UK—and everywhere, to be honest—has gone too long without. —Lauren O’Neill | LISTEN
There was a connection between Elton John and Young Thug long before they met two years ago at John’s Atlanta mansion to share compliments and pose for a couple of life-affirming photos. Both men have a dizzying flair that’s set them apart from their eras; both have a knack for melody that transcends genre; both have disregarded convention so completely, for so long, that they’ve created luxurious worlds for themselves. But none of that context could have prepared the world for “High,” Thugger’s long-rumored “Rocket Man” remix, an immersive glam-trap experiment that all but shut down the internet in late August.
It could so easily have relied on novelty alone, and, sure, there’s a thrill to be had in hearing Thugger interject with ad-libs (“super-geeked!”) while John’s falsetto swirls in the background. But “High” really succeeded because it kept plenty of the original’s heady loneliness. A lot of that’s down to producer Stelios Phili, who left the plaintive atmospherics of “Rocket Man” intact, reworking the chords without upending the balladry, keeping a muted beat for Thugger to hover over. So, while Bernie Taupin probably wouldn’t have written “I just picked up a bag in Rotterdam / I’ma whip out the MAC and pop ya brain,” he’ll no doubt understand the idea behind the line. —Alex Robert Ross | LISTEN
Though the producer and DJ AceMo has long been one of New York’s best techno architects, “Get It From the Sound” is an impressive feat of rave engineering. It’s built kinda like a Rube Goldberg machine, assembled from humble parts that loop and tumble into each other to create surprising results. The twinkle of an opening synth line lolls around like a spinning coin, which sets off a bigger chain reaction. An echoey bassline swings pendulum-like into the metallic pistons of the drum programming, which seem to provide enough energy to start the process over again. It’s the sort of thing you could sit still and watch for hours but shouldn’t, like one of those parabolic desk toys where dolphins swing back and forth. This is a song that demands motion, whether it be dancing in dirty warehouses or scuffing your soles along city streets. All that kinetic energy has to go somewhere. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Drake had nearly an EP’s worth of guest spots to his name this year, and most of those songs hit the Billboard Top 10, showing the ease with which he can still thrill listeners even in the briefest of moments. (Why he if he couldn’t spare that same energy on his own album, Scorpion, is another story.) Drake’s best work this year were his features, and the king of the lot was “SICKO MODE.”
“SICKO MODE” may be from Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD, but it is indisputably a Drake song. Scott is no more than a conduit between the song’s three acts, with Drake providing the prologue and epilogue. Scott’s mid-section alley-oops Drake’s final verse, but the entire song seems to exist purely for the sake of a Tay Keith-drop and for Drake and our entire Russian-bot-plagued websphere to say aloud, “I DID HALF A XAN, THIRTEEN HOURS TILL I LAND HAD ME OUT LIKE A LIGHT! AYYUH! LIKE A LIGHT!”
Though the song is supposedly about going BEAST mode, and being a tier above both peers and idols, it’s actually about nothing. It’s just chaos where Drake can vent about upgrading from TTC buses to airplanes and offer some petty brand propaganda about Nike being superior footwear, with some breath-y “Yeah boy” adlibs thrown in for good measure. It sounds incredible, and it inadvertently encapsulates what rap has felt like this entire year: empty yet satisfying. —Jabbari Weekes | LISTEN
“thank u, next” is the clapback of the year, and we have Ariana Grande to thank for that. After ending her five-month engagement to Pete Davidson (and his BDE), Grande crafted a reflective pop smash, taking inventory of the lessons she’s learned from the men she’s loved. In the confessional style of Drake or Taylor Swift, Grande is an open book as she names her exes one by one: Big Sean, her backup dancer Ricky, the late Mac Miller. “Even almost got married / And for Pete I’m so thankful,” she sings, flexing ever so slightly on an engagement that materialized after only 24 days. Contrary to what one might expect, “thank u, next” isn’t rooted in malicious intent; it’s an eloquent send off to the people in her life she needed to release in order to strengthen her relationship with herself. —Kristin Corry | LISTEN
At the time of DJ Rashad’s death in 2013, the footwork icon was making his most inventive music yet. He wasn’t comfortable being a nostalgist—he needed to put his distinctly Chicagoan tracks in conversation with similarly minded music from around the world, adopting new sounds to bend the strictures of the genre into something new.
That drive for newness is a big part of what made his passing so heartbreaking, but over the last few years, protegé DJ Taye has established himself as a worthy successor. His debut LP, Still Trippin’, is an exhilarating case in point. It’s built on footwork DNA, while drawing in new rhythmic twists from R&B, East Coast club music, and the acidic arpeggios that Rashad started experimenting with on Double Cup. He also shows his chops as a rapper—most thrillingly on “Trippin’” a feat of fleet-footed drum programming and slippery bars about the joys of psychogenic drugs.
Because they’re so fast, footwork beats are tricky to rap over, but Taye’s life around the stuff means he has a keen understanding of some of its strange qualities. There are these weird rhythmic pockets that happen when everything is flying along at top speed—it almost feels like everything’s still, like when you’re going exactly the same speed as a bunch of semi-trucks on a busy interstate and it feels like you’re not moving at all. Taye takes advantage of these moments to rap in overdrive, packing in gleeful references to classic video games and decrying the strange highs of subpar weed. It’s everything psychedelic music should be—something that allows you to see familiar forms in brand new ways. —Colin Joyce | LISTEN
Lana Del Rey is, in many ways, a work of fiction—a slick, seductive popstar who, with each release, has appealed to a set of distinctly American sensibilities, or American dreams, or constructions of an America that exists only in memory. She’s a Joan Didion essay brought to life and plonked in a studio with Jack Antonoff.
Up until last year’s Lust For Life, conversations around Del Rey tended to foreground questions around her identity, her authenticity, her tendency to glamorize self-destruction. This mythology, self-made or not, always kept her at arm’s length—like an artifact in a glass case to be revered or scrutinized. Released at the tail-end of the summer, just around the time people start rotating their wardrobe and beginning their sentences with “remember,” “Venice Bitch” opened the door to something more intimate. On the surface, it’s the same old formula: lyrics about jeans and lips, nods to 70s pop culture, a title that evokes a poem written in a teenager’s diary with a gel pen. Nevertheless, it sees Del Rey peeling away some of the artifice that’s defined her work for so long.
“Venice Bitch” is a wandering reverie. Like the mind on a walk along the seafront, it’s in the moment rather than a reflection of it. It opens conventionally enough, with a picked guitar line and balmy Azure Ray melodies, then quickly disintegrates like worn tape. The last five minutes are basically one directionless synth solo, with Del Rey repeatedly crying “Oh yeah” behind a wall of distortion. Running at almost ten minutes, it functions as its own self-contained story—something beautiful unravelling into mess—but above all else, it also feels like a sigh of relief. Like an escape. —Emma Garland | LISTEN
Like all great viral stories, “Mo Bamba” was basically an accident. The song was freestyled in about 20 minutes, then uploaded—without Sheck’s knowledge—to SoundCloud a couple days later by co-producer 16yrold. Next thing they knew, the world was collectively responding like this—crowds of teenagers absolutely losing their fucking minds—and Sheck was signing a record deal with Kanye West and Travis Scott. MUDBOY, the debut record that would come a few months later, captures what makes “Mo Bamba” so addictive—a project fueled by a rowdy, punk energy that makes you feel like you’ve got your foot on the world’s neck. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN
After a banner 2017, Cardi B strutted into this year with plenty of critics poised to take shots. But the Bronx rapper had the last laugh, eventually landing a number-one debut, three number-one singles, and a lot of internet exaltation, with a baby on the way for much of that time. In a year when off-kilter favorites were being cancelled left, right, and center, Cardi B thrived. The cherry on top was “I Like It,” the brash, giddy heart of her debut record, Invasion of Privacy.
It would have been tempting for Cardi to try and temper her screwball image with something “serious,” but she’s savvy enough to know that her music exists beyond the fun/serious binary. For Cardi, having fun is not a mood but a mode—a Trojan horse full of barbed lyrics and giddy wordplay. “I Like It” taunts those who doubted her with tales of million-dollar deals and Rolls Royces, because one of the things she likes is proving people wrong. It also indulges in her love of mashing high- and low-brow. Her shout-out of Balenciagas “that look like socks” undoubtedly enraged thousands of hypebeasts.
“I Like It” samples Pete Rodriguez’s boogaloo hit “I Like It Like That,” a track widely seen by the white American public as a novelty hit. With its features by Bad Bunny and J Balvin, Cardi’s interpolation forces listeners to hear the song in an environment created by Latinx performers, turning a whitewashed hit into a celebration of Latinx identity. Ironically, Cardi recorded the vocals for “I Like It” five times in order to try and curb her accent. But it’s that very accent—along with Cardi’s attitude, her force of personality—that makes “I Like It” so distinctive. There’s nobody who could have made a track like this, settling scores and pulling together complex cultural histories with such outsized, freewheeling joy. —Shaad D’Souza | LISTEN
Pusha T’s “The Story of Adidon” barely functions as a song. It’s not supposed to. The incisive and destructive three-minute diss track is just that—a well-crafted diss track—but it’s clear with each line that Pusha T takes great pleasure in every moment. He spins a narrative that is clear, efficient, and memorable, questioning Drake’s ability to father a child he allegedly didn’t want, examining his fraught internal battle over being mixed race, and alluding to God’s foreclosure of his lifetime friend/producer 40. There are eternally damning lines everyone has quoted ad nauseum—including, of course, “You are hiding a child!,” and his vicious play on Drake’s “6” sample. “OVO 40, hunched over like he 80—tick, tick, tick,” Pusha raps. “How much time he got? That man is sick, sick, sick.”
But you already knew this. In fact, there’s been no chance to forget. Every month brings a new story, detail, or burst of verbal mud-slinging from both parties. And, in a twisted way, that’s what makes “Adidon” so special. The year has been marked with petty spats from badmind artists with fragile egos. We’ve been treated to Kanye and Drake’s annoying hate/love relationship; everything on Nicki Minaj’s Queen Radio; Jay-Z and Beyoncé quietly disrupting the release of Nas’ meh album with their own meh album, only for all parties to be defeated on the charts by an Australian boy band; 50 Cent spurring on his decade-plus beef with Ja Rule by allegedly buying out all the front-row tickets at his concert; this tweet about SZA’s voice; and Azealia Banks returning from the embers to accidentally get Tesla founder Elon Musk subpoenaed because, well, 420. And yet, “Adidon” is the particular piece of contention that stuck. Since it came out in May, there’s even been a conspiratorial argument to be made that it was a catalyst for all the aforementioned fuckery to follow.
Conversely, “Adidon” also embodies the point of exhaustion we’ve all felt as these beefs have stretched long past their expiration date. At the end of the song, Pusha raps, “If we all go to Hell, it’ll be worth it.” Recently, during a show in Toronto, Pusha T was forced to endure his own kind of hell after being doused with alcohol by alleged Drake fans. In one fan-recorded video, Pusha, for obvious reasons, looked irritated. Maybe, for an instant, he wondered whether this ongoing feud was really worth it. Perhaps he was tired—look, after 2018, we all are. Next year has to be better. But for now, “Adidon” captures the wicked and trivial spirit of the present. —Jabbari Weekes | LISTEN



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