The Top 50 Singles of 2017

Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 10.38.42 PMScreen Shot 2018-01-13 at 1.34.36 PMMagnolia has become a sort of theme song for Playboi Carti. A flow inextricably linked to the Atlanta rapper. A beat that bounces on the intangible barrage of potent quotables and that iconic DJ tag. You don’t even need to hear the song to understand that this song is the anthem for every geographic sub-genre. Nods to New Orleans. References to New York. The whipping back and forth of “what!” ad-libs. These elements serve as connection to the SoundCloud rap era (an that is almost without identity) that has compressed itself into a roadmap of rap’s landmarks. One flow. One DJ tag. One beat that was made on a trip to Zaxby’s. That’s all you need to not only blow up, but to be the benchmark artist of 2017’s XXL Freshman cyphers where the “Magnolia” flow was absorbed by fellow freshmen. SoundCloud rap can be a one-hit K.O. We can thank “Magnolia” for perfecting the formula.Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 1.37.01 PMIn the middle of Dirty Projector’s self-titled album, “Little Bubble” sits as a tranquil and secluded look at the death of a band and a relationship. Too often on the album does Dave Longstreth, the sole-member of Dirty Projectors at this point, fumble awkwardly through the memories and locales that marked his time with Amber Coffman, to the point where his bitterness is undeniable. But on “Little Bubble”, the plinking keys and soft strumming of guitars pulse in and out as Longstreth recounts how a lack of intimacy harshened the real world around him. But the slight static and tremor all cushion the chaos of his new environment. It’s a sweet song that forces Longstreth to explore a new territory of peace, both in his heart and his home, and it quiets the tragedy of loss in an elegant way.Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 1.40.21 PMLil Peep was predestined for death. Every song, verse, feature, video, and performance all revolved around his eventual demise and a lifestyle that was out of his control. So it was no surprise to wake up November 15, and see that he had overdosed following a concert in Tucson, Arizona. “Save That Shit” was chosen by his mother to be the eulogy to his career, and at the beginning of its music video there is a dedication from mother to son. Like many Lil Peep songs, he muses on the way that love persists in his life despite his impending death. His actual death doesn’t change how this song functions. It’s a gloomy appeal to the moment rather than the future that he knew would never come. It’s an apt way to summarize his entire career, and I understand why his mother chose it as her dedication. It’s not just a microcosm of Lil Peep’s unique take on emo-infused rap; it shows the raw emotional nature of his music that magnetized so many fans and collaborators to his artistry.Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 1.42.38 PMStructurally, “Green Light” is an abnormal composite of different ideas, moments, movements, and emotions. Driven by soft keys in the intro, it’s pivot into a vocal staccato referring to memories of betrayal ends by rousing itself into a combustible dance. Lorde’s even and measured debut album was a record full of songs assured of their place in the world. It wasn’t naivety that led them there, it was humility. But humility always felt like flimsy excuse for Lorde, a songwriter whose precociousness magnetized listeners. “Green Light” is the release of any sort of resignation the singer had before, igniting a song that morphs from a ballad into a chant with a roaring drum fill. It’s a song unafraid of showing how maturation works, while showing how easily Lorde has grown as a songwriter on her sophomore album.
Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 1.45.39 PMIn a classically dualist way, “New York” is the perfect match to “Los Ageless”. The energetic and tactile thrust of “Los Ageless” is opposed by sweeping cellos and violins with a lonely performance on the piano from Annie Clark. It’s structurally shorter and simpler, but the message is ubiquitous in its delivery and moment of peaceful introspection on the loud and hectic MASSEDUCTION. Clark recounts the person she’s lost, returning to the spatial gaps in New York City where those memories are buried. First Avenue is where her partner could handle her personality, 8th Avenue is where Clark gave her an ultimatum, and Astor Place is where Clark hopes to be granted forgiveness for leaving. It’s heartbreaking to return to the neighborhoods that house our loss, but Clark subtly nods that even the pain is worth it for the positive memories that we carry on when we leave and makes the more boisterous songs on MASSEDUCTION more vivid in comparison.
Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 1.49.25 PMRarely does an artist provide a fluid story in such a succinct song. YoungBoy Never Broke Again doesn’t just provide snapshots into his process but lets his journey flow naturally through his syrupy delivery. This is the last song recorded before he went to jail, and the first verse is where the weight of his situation presses on him with every word. It’s a motivational song out of necessity, not for others but for YoungBoy Never Broke Again who had decided to leave Baton Rouge after his prison sentence. The second verse is a meditation on what fame can bring, replacing one struggle for another. But it’s also a thank you letter to his family and a justification of the dedication to one’s craft. It blends struggle rap ideals with the tenacity of Lil Wayne’s classic run in the late 2000’s, all while blending success and the grapple for control over an artist’s meteoric achievements into a bold single that was unmatched in 2017.
Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 1.51.59 PMWe’ve reached an over-saturation of drug obsession in pop; it’s overdosed on bombast and named Kirin J. Callinan. “S.A.D.” is a song about drugs, in name and delivery. A ballad that at first emits bravado, punctuated with smooth piano and frenzied 80’s drums. Callinan’s vocal delivery is overcompensating and erratic as he fuels his wild fantasies. It’s a song that barrels through the night, rallying momentum wherever it finds it, either in lungs full of smoke or tabs of acid. The joy of “S.A.D.” is it feels invincible without the remote hint that it actually is; its hook thrusts forward whenever Callinan can seemingly find the energy. At other moments, he collapses into a hush. It’s a grandiose exercise in pop crescendo and a psychedelic experiment that can only work for an artist who cannot take himself or his songs seriously. And with the final “I love you Mum”, it’s obvious “S.A.D.” is earnestly unserious.
Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 1.54.15 PMThe Shape of Jazz to Come is a jazz album without roots in the types of jazz that preceded it. The Shape of Punk to Come is a punk album without roots in the types of punk that preceded it. These albums sculpted their respective genres into visions where the shapes were unclear in the present, yet solidified in the future. It’s impossible to say if Lorenzo Senni’s “The Shape of Trance to Come” will have the legacy of these albums, or if it’s even the purpose. Senni’s artistic process seems to build on increasingly labyrinthian references and hidden messages that reveal more about the artist than the art. His website requires you to fill in the blank with titles of his songs, and his Twitter page is filled with inside jokes. It’s an aesthetic done with a smirk, and “The Shape of Trance to Come” is his maxim, seemingly mocking trance as a genre with wildly progressive synth jabs and a kinetic rejection of the tenets of trance. Where hidden meanings and identities can become stale, “The Shape of Trance to Come” forces the mystery into the music where it thrashes with playful subversions. Swapping out the introspective spiritual layers for a staccato build-up and physical break-down, Senni continues to create an incendiary personality through the sheer energy of his music.Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 1.58.48 PMThe apocalypse arrived in the span of fewer than three months. It took three months to undo any sense of unity, trust, and security. Kendrick Lamar couldn’t release a song like “Alright” in this time frame. A chanting song of hope is a slap in the face of Americans who deal with racists’ bolstered sense of pride in their bigotry. The first song off of DAMN. arrives after an interlude where snippets of Fox News broadcasters discuss the dangers of hip-hop on America’s youth. Kendrick’s response is not only a response to Fox News’ coded racism but the overt racist as well. “DNA.” is a survival guide, taking stock of one’s personal tenacity and triumphs. Kendrick is a sum of his experiences and flaws, as a wealthy black man and a rap activist, and he is ultimately superior because of it. Mike Will Made It’s foreboding and fiery production is forced to fit Kendrick’s explosive and unstoppable flow, one that morphs into a preacher spewing wrath from his pulpit at the inferior critics who ignorantly lecture him. It’s a response molded by the times, instantly a classic in his discography and a song scorched into the cultural and political zeitgeist of the year.
Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 2.00.54 PMNo artist can compare to the impossible reach and rise of Cardi B. From stripper to reality television star to rap’s resident queen, Cardi B has established herself as a destroyer of narratives. Reconstructing the style, flow, and beat of Kodak Black’s “No Flockin”, she proved that originality is obsolete when you can just perfect an idea. She proved that the rags-to-riches mantra doesn’t belong to a boys club. She provided the world with a reboot of “Juicy” that upped the aggression for those who doubted her. When it comes to soundtracking 2017, “Bodak Yellow” was the song that fit the bill for every occasion. It has an undeniable quality that’s hidden in the cutthroat snarl of Cardi’s voice; it was a quality that helped it sneak into every party, sporting event, and social function imaginable before emerging as the first solo number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 since Lauryn Hill. “Bodak Yellow” is a song that blitzes in every direction, one that’s goals were disproportionately ambitious and yet still surpassed its expectations. When Cardi subtitled her single with the oft-repeated line “money moves”, it’s clear that she had expectations to dictate the year’s discussion and earn her wealth off it; it only becomes apparent when the pure adrenaline rush of each verse kicks in that she had the talent to back it up.

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