#5E Top 20: Songs of 2018
LADIES & GENTLEMEN! It's now time for the first list out of the three annual 5th Element End of Year Lists. I thought I would switch it up a little and put the Songs list first when I usually unveil them last.
Since I have dramatically raised my efforts this year in listening to projects and discovering more artists with amazing music, I thought that I would add another five songs to the overall number for this particular list.
For context as to why I picked what I picked, some were songs that have stuck with me all year, that were constantly in my Regular Rotation. But there are also those songs that made a statement on the culture/music landscape. I think you'll know which is which as we look through the list.
Two more things before we begin. Even though I've upped the number from 15 to 20, there were still so many songs that didn't make it. Some by an artist that has a song on the list. With that said, I didn't want to give an artist more than one spot. It's 20 songs, 20 artists, plain & simple. If the artist had more than one song that were in contention for a spot, I'll put the songs that were in contention and you can bark at me if I've messed up. Lastly, this list is in no particular order!
So... Without further ado! The final list and article for the Year of 2018. Top 20 Songs of 2018. We begin with a song I've had in rotation since January!
"D'Evils" by SiR
Man... Whenever I need to chill, you know that this song is getting played. It's a smooth track but it's got good drum work & hi-hats to keep you balanced. D.K. The Punisher produced and in my mind, gave SiR his best song so far in his career. With tasty bass licks throughout the track and the aforementioned drums & hi-hats alone, the song is decent. But the element that takes this song to a higher level?
The sample. Taking Reggae artist's Billy Boyd's "One Spliff A Day" and making it the defacto chorus as SiR says "slow motion" makes this song what it truly is. A boss song to smoke up to. (if you're about that life of course) Even if you don't smoke, you can still vibe to this.
"44 More" by Logic
(Other Songs Considered: 100 Miles And Running)
When it comes to Logic. You either love him or you hate him. In the broadest of scopes, he's a marmite artist. But I'm that small minority that enjoys Logic but doesn't find him irritating as some people do. I'm not die hard, because I've seen his episode of "RAPture", I'm definitely not those fans, but I like Logic. When this song dropped earlier in the year as a single for his Mixtape "Bobby Tarantino 2", I knew it would be in contention for one of the songs of the year.
Man. When Logic is in his lyrical bag, there's not many better. The bars on here are SO CLEAN! There are two highlights in this fast paced song. When he switches up him saving his money so his kids go to College and then flip it to the worst case scenario where he does waste the money and it's his kids saying the same bars he said just before. And the other highlight, when that beat drops and he says "Who you know drop an album back to back to back to back to back to back again". My ears melted at that point.
"Hangman" by Dave
Some songs on their own, can be judged in two ways. Songs that are for the moment and songs that are forever. This song is both. Dave recorded this track partly off the death (and everything that happened in the aftermath) of Harry Uzoka who died from a stabbing at the beginning of this year.
If you don't live in the UK, there has been a significant rise in young black men dying in London specifically this year, the reason for most of them being recipients of stab wounds. (The numbers have risen in all corners of the country, not just London.) With Uzoka's death making National news, Dave was clearly affected by it. He even tried to give a solution to it all. Tweeting that the Police should bring back "Stop & Search". He was quickly checked on that and reversed his opinion. A few weeks after, this song drops.
He covers it all. The tweet, how Uzoka's death made him emotional and then proceed to think about the collective mindset of young black men. "First to the motives (Parties) and last to the meetings". "When we were young we had dreams of being bosses, Ballers, doctors, lawyers in an office". He ends the song by saying simply "Too many yutes are dying and I'm sick of it."
This song is an emotional diary entry by Dave over a simple beat, lead by a cold piano that exudes the reflective nature of the lyrics. There are a lot of quotable lines here that individually pack a ton of weight. And I have a feeling that weight will be felt for a while.
"Optimistic" (Featuring Brandy) by August Greene
From a heavy song to a light one! Brandy is a certified R&B legend. She has one of my favourite singing voices I've ever heard, give her some lyrics and she'll make it 10 times better.
Covering The Sound of Blackness' song of the same name, August Greene (formed of Common, Robert Glasper & Karriem Riggins) have given the song their fresh twist, keeping the sonics more calmer than it's predecessor. This gives Brandy a platform to make this song her's and she takes it with both hands. Common also comes through to give a great verse anchored by the phrase "Eyes on the prize".
This is what you call a great cover. Paying homage to the original while switching it up just a little to make it your own. And the messages are just as relevant as they were in 1991.
"HELL-O" by Flatbush Zombies
So apparently, according to my "Spotify Wrapped" round-up, this song was my most listened to track! While I wouldn't say this is my most favourite track of the 20, the numbers don't lie! This is definitely a banger I absolutely love. Every element of this song makes gives me that primal energy. You know what I'm talking about. That energy when you're listening to an absolute banger and you imagine yourself punching through walls or moshing for 3 minutes straight.
The beat is one thing. It's thick & it's constantly testing your listening device. But the lyrics are worth paying attention to. This trio is so underrated because they genuinely got bars. How has nobody done a line where they reference former NBA player Chauncey Billups' nickname "Mr. Big Shot"?! Well, somebody has done it now. I'd rather not dissect this song too much, because its just a pure banger. The bass drop tells you everything you need to know.
"Django Jane" by Janelle Monae
I hate to admit this, but I started clocking Janelle Monae once I saw her in not just the film "Hidden Figures" but also one of my favourite films of All-Time in "Moonlight". I heard of her before that, I knew of her previous work from a music standpoint, but this song, "Django Jane" was the first time I heard Janelle on wax.
And boy what a track to listen to first! Monae historically isn't the rapping type, but damn I can't say she was soft on this! She came for everybody's throat on this track. A true black feminist track in every sense. Starting off simply with "This is my palace, Champagne in my chalice". That imagery alone says "I am Royalty. Period." And she doesn't stop. Talking about her participation in Oscars' history and having an EGOT in her sights. She laces the track in lines harking to her "Afro-futurist" roots and then caps it all off with "Let the vagina have a monologue."
If you don't know who Janelle Monae is, this track is a good start. You'll know exactly what she's about. This is another highly quotable track that really got the attention of people when it dropped. And now that her album "Dirty Computer" is Grammy nominated, it seems that that part is really holding true, as is the remainder.
"WIN" by Jay Rock
This is a pick that might upset some people that have heard this song. When this single for Jay Rock's album "Redemption" dropped, it was met with mixed views. Some people got it straight away and loved it as soon as they heard the Kendrick ad-libs. Some just couldn't enjoy it for whatever reason.
On first listen, I will admit, it threw me off a little, because I wasn't expecting it. Jay Rock has taken his time between albums, he also had a accident that hospitalised him, I just thought his first single would be some hard stuff. But here comes this celebratory song, with Kendrick ad-libs,(!!!) it's called "WIN" for crying out loud.
Even though it did throw me, once I listened to it a couple more times and especially when I listened to it in the context of the album, I fell in love with it. It's not even about the lyrics for me honestly. (With that said, I do love the chorus.) I know it's a little basic in terms of lyrics and you could go as far as it is "LCD" (Lowest Common Denominator) Hip-Hop music. But the entire message just just infectious! It's just a great Hip-Pop track that can easily be played whenever you succeed in something, no matter how small. I've done it a few times, and I'm happy to say, it feels bloody great.
"This Is America" by Childish Gambino
(Other Songs Considered: Feels Like Summer & Summertime Magic)
You know I was putting this on the list. If anybody doesn't put this song on their End of Year list, their list is irrelevant. If there's a song that should be a lock for every song award, every music video award, every song list, it is this.
Who HASN'T heard this song?! Who HASN'T watched the video?! There's nothing new I can say about this song that has already been said. Every music writer did an autopsy of this song and the music video. It's just a force of nature. The video is in the echelon of the greatest music videos ever made. The messaging in the lyrics, the dancing distracting you from the chaos going on around them, THE SYMBOLISM. I know I'm not ranking this list and you could say the music video is the bigger factor as to why this song is iconic, but this is Song of the Year and I don't think it's close.
"Bad Bad News" by Leon Bridges
(Other Songs Considered: Bad Bad News "Ricky's Vibe Tape" Featuring Terrace Martin)
If you know Leon Bridges, you know that he's bringing the slickest songs and the best crooner vibes, all wrapped up in this 60's Deep South persona.
Bridges is an acquired taste, but his throwback vibes while also seeming modern at the same time is fascinating to me. This song is no different. The lyrics are like glue, the melody is infectious and the instrumentation is high quality. Everything about this is fun and gives makes me want to dance. But even with that, there's a rebellious streak in this as well. He may say "Let me slip through, why you trying to hold me back?" but the way Bridges says it is more like an order than a question.
I love this song, as soon as I heard it I knew it would be on the list. It's got a timeless feel and exudes confidence every time I press play.
"Lost & Found" by Jorja Smith
Fans of Jorja Smith may see this as an odd pick. I could've gone with "Blue Lights" or "February 3rd" to name a couple. But there's something about this song that just warms me.
This may be a very subjective statement and you'll either have the same feeling or not, (Most likely not.) But in my opinion, this is the quintessential Jorja Smith song. Yes, I know she's only two projects into her career, but I just have this inexplicable feeling that when I played her album "Lost & Found" and heard the title track, I loved everything about it.
The song has this nice & slow melody that soothes me and allows Jorja to introduce herself to the masses. Her lyrics are solid but it's that high note. Oh my days that high note. When I first heard that, I just shouted "YEEES". I know I haven't explained myself as well as I could, but I don't really care. It was just one of those song where I'll remember my first listen forever, it was the song I've always wanted Jorja to do when I didn't even know that I wanted it.
"Shiro's Story" by Rapman
(Other Songs Considered: Shiro's Story Part 2 & 3)
It took me a while to make time to listen to this and watch the videos accompanying it. But boy once I peeped the videos, you know that I was going to put this on the list.
I have said it before and I'll say it again, there is nothing better than a well told story. So when you tell me there's a well told & rapped story?! Sign me up! Shiro's Story really is a stroke of genius. It's got good build up, the characters are relatable and the twist. BOY, that twist genuinely got me. Easy pick for this list.
"A$AP Forever REMIX" (Featuring Kid Cudi, Moby & T.I.) by A$AP Rocky
I'll be real. A$AP Rocky is an incredibly hit & miss artist for me from a music standpoint. He likes to be creative, push the boundaries if you will, which is good! But in my opinion they rarely hit the mark for me. His latest album "TESTING" being a great example.
But this song, especially the Remix with T.I teeing the song up and Kid Cudi providing a verse, is a hit for me. The pacing of the whole song is great but that works mainly because Rocky somehow got Moby's blessing to use his '99 song "Porcelain" as a direct sample. That is the highlight for me, drop a Hip-Hop beat over it and it's all gravy from there.
But I don't want to say it was just the sample. Rocky's verse is so fun to keep up with. The Frank Ocean "Blond" convincing his girl to go "Blonde" line is one of my favourite lines this year. Cudi delivers a great verse with the personal notes as he likes to implement. Everybody pulls their weight on this one. Except T.I, but then again he had a track of his sampled for this as well so I'll give him a pass.
"Distorted Skylines" by Clyde Guevara
Man. From the first time I listened to this track I have been enamoured with it. The story is really heartbreaking. But it's not the story itself that pushes me over the edge. It's Guevara's performance as he tells it.
The deeper the song goes, the more inconsolable he sounds and by the final verse you just have to drop everything and really listen. Every single word in the last verse hits me in the chest. Guevara's anger and sadness comes through in the highest of definitions. Mix that with the beat that sounds very dreamy in places and you have yourself one of the most powerfully spoken songs you have heard in a while.
"Run Run" by Ray BLK
(Other Songs Considered: Empress)
Another well told story, this time it's two told by London-based songstress Ray BLK, clearly created out of what we have been seeing in the news this past year. But where Dave's "Hangman" more like a diary entry, BLK's is more poetic and calculated. She tells two stories of her youth where young black men try to show that they're men in some way.
One going to a party with a gun and another robbing a home. Both verses give a moral of "Is it worth it?" Kill somebody to feel big? Or to have this invisible rite of passage that we have all had as I speak on behalf of men who have been through their teenage years.
It's another song for the time's we're currently in but "Run Run" has an extra message more specific to teenage black boys. "We don't want to lose another one." I say again. Those messages will last a while.
"FLEX" by Knox Brown
Ah yes, the smoothest song about flexing you will ever hear. Knox Brown is one of the most talented people in music today. He's an elite producer and a very nice on the lyrical and vocal side. He can do it all.
"FLEX" is a great example of his skills. Using a clean, steady beat as the umbrella, he goes into a reflective state, talking about the days where he was unable to flex. But now that he is able to flex, everybody is turning their nose up at him, claiming that he's acting brand new.
As I wrote that last paragraph, I realise that this song is about literally about the social politics of flexing. That's how good Knox Brown is, he made a song about the social politics of flexing sound so good. It's catchy, the chorus is sublime. Flex away Mr Brown.
"Offence" by Little Simz
(Other Songs Considered: 101FM)
It's been a year of touring & recording for LIttle Simz and once the year started to hit it's final months, Simbi has been rolling out some singles for her upcoming third studio album. My favourite out of the three, is "Offence".
Something I have noticed since dropping "Stillness In Wonderland" is that Simz' confidence with the pen is sky high. Her flex bars are elite. After the beat kicks the track off with drums and a guitar riff, Simz just walks in going "Me again, allow me to pick up where I left off." The casual nature she uses is of a confident artist that is feeling unbeatable right now. As she floats on the track, the instrument numbers increase, including a SWEET flute number that reminds me of the film "Snatch". Then as a crescendo of strings suddenly come in. Simbi says "I'm Jay-Z on a bad day, Shakespeare on my worst days."
If that ain't one of the lines of the bloody year! Just let that one sink in for a moment. She also refers to herself as "Picasso with a pen" at the start. This third album must be crazy if she's going to say all these Hip-Hop chest puffing.
"PROM/KING" by Saba
(Other Songs Considered: CALLIGRAPHY)
Saba put himself on the map with his album "CARE FOR ME". But it was "PROM/KING" that was the crown jewel of the album.
The "2 in 1" track was the emotional climax of the album and is incredibly vivid in it's storytelling. It tells two stories including Saba and his late cousin Walter who was murdered in February 2017. The main story is about Saba who was hooked up with a Prom date as he was desperate for one. The night ended in a violent altercation. The second half is ambiguous at first but if you really listen, you realise that Saba has been leaving breadcrumbs throughout the track.
Once the track ends, it's very fulfilling but also sad because of the story at its core. If it was just a track on it's own, you'd be left a bit down, but in the context of the album, it gets better in the end. But as a song on its own merits, it's a great example of anecdotal lyricism.
"Another Lifetime" by NAO
(Other Songs Considered: Saturn)
My Queen is back! You know I had to find a place for the most angelic voice in music. But it wasn't even a matter of "having" to find a place. Because I genuinely believe this is one of the best tracks of the year.
While her album "Saturn" is different in many ways to her debut "For All We Know", "Another Lifetime" is a track that takes the slow, soft bass that is evident in many tracks on her debut and makes it better! It's more natural, less electronic elements and brings more attention to her vocals.
Put simply. This song gives me chills. That's all I can say.
"Sojourner" by Rapsody & J.Cole
The collab that I have been waiting for since I started listening to Rapsody. How mad is it that both artists have been in the game for years, reside in the same state and it's only taken until this year for the two to link up?
Well, no time like the present!
Over a 9th Wonder beat, these are two North Carolina lyricists that are both in their prime and it shows. They produce a verse each that are lengthy and filled to the brim with great lines. I want to say this. I have heard a few J.Cole features this year and I know the artist that get him on don't care about "who had the best verse". But in my efforts to put as many people onto Rapsody, she won this track. Nobody else has topped Cole on a track this year, until he and Rap teamed up for "Sojourner". Her confidence oozes off her performance-wise and she just floats on this.
Don't get me wrong, Cole's verse is great on this as well, really loved the "Malcolm x" line, but I just found it interesting that, albeit subjectively, Rapsody took this track by the neck. I hope these two get on more tacks together, the culture needs it.
"Brother's Keeper" (Featuring Pusha T) by Anderson .Paak
(Other Songs Considered: Tints & Cheers)
It was so hard for me to pick between this track and the songs above. I think the only thing that pushed me towards "Brother's Keeper" is the performance of it. Q-Tip is great on "Cheers", Kendrick is great on "Tints". Pusha T is freaking perfect for "Brother's Keeper".
When you see the track-list in anticipation for the album like I did, you see Pusha T and if you've listened to Push, you'll know exactly what fits him.
When this beat came in... And you hear the guitar, then the drums that increasingly get louder. Oh my... And then a choir come in the background and it all explode s in a crescendo. It's just a perfect build-up, it gives me imagery of the Wild West, "Magnificent Seven" vibes. The lyrics by both artists gives me the image of the two in all black suits, standing in the middle of a church. I just love everything about this track, focus on any one thing and you'll be satisfied. Focus on the entire track... Boy...
That's it for the Top 20 Songs, to peep the 2018 End of Year Lists, please continue to the links below:
To hear all of the tracks, peep the playlist I made below.
#5thElementLists #SiR #Logic #Dave #AugustGreene #Common #FlatbushZombies #JanelleMonae #JayRock #ChildishGambino #LeonBridges #JorjaSmith #Rapman #AAPRocky #ClydeGuevara #RayBLK #KnoxBrown #LittleSimz #Saba #NAO #Rapsody #JCole #PushaT #AndersonPaak