What makes a song slap? ‘Tis the question A&Rs and artists alike have been trying to figure out for ages. What is the formula for a truly transcendent record? Certain factions will say production is the proponent, while people who throw up sideways peace signs in photos insist lyrical content is the common denominator of all great songs. The two dissenting sides are destined to wage war on Twitter until rising sea levels make it a moot point, but what if neither of those are the answer and the true formula lies somewhere in the middle?
Give me the haunting beat that has you tapping your foot until the person across from you at the shared workspace asks you to chill tf out, paired with not just inventive lyrics, but phrases that stick to you like Chick-Fil-A sauce. In my rundown of the best albums you missed this year, I explained how KEY! used simple yet unforgettable calls-to-action to buy up all the real estate in the dilapidated market that is my brain. While technical lyricism is great if you’re trying to dethrone Eminem’s “Rap God” for most words used in a song, who is really trying to listen to that while they chill? Nevermind, I know the answer to that.
The following playlist (listen along on Spotify here) is jam-packed with artists who found that happy medium, blending creative writing and unique production into a musical milkshake that brought my ears to the YARDT. Songs with like a billion plays and cuts from massively popular albums like The Carters, Kids See Ghosts, Cardi B, Drizzy, and Pusha T are excluded because you and everybody else have clearly streamed those enough. Let the kids shine one time.
Kevin George – “She Don’t Love Me” ft. Gunna
This stellar young songwriter is going to experience a meteoric rise in 2019—he’s on a collision course with planet Platinum. This song with fellow phenom Gunna is proof positive of his immense talent but you can also peep “LA DI DA” or “High Like This” if you need further convincing.
Jayy Grams – “Pigs Theory”
Quentin Miller – “Tour de France”
I’m honestly so sick of every QM interview centering on his involvement with you-know-who. It’s well past time we give Miller his due credit for being the flowmaster he is, able to turn the most casual humblebrags into earworm bars you just can’t kick. QM went off in 2018, dropping three really dope albums, including one the other day that features living legend musician and electronics manufacturer Soulja Boy. But it was his Nick Miles-produced “Tour de France” that stuck with me all year. You could argue it’s a top 3 bicycle-themed song ever, joining Frank Ocean’s “Biking” and “Handlebars” by Flobots. Stop sleeping on this man, like yesterday.
Lou The Human – “Sour”
03 Greedo – “100 Bands” ft. OMB Peezy
Chief Keef – “I Need More”
While the former prodigy has become a seasoned vet, he’s still catching the game off guard, as he dropped TEN projects this year and a symphony orchestra-backed masterpiece. Please give Sosa his roses.
Princess Nokia – “For the Night”
Freddie Gibbs – “Death Row” ft. 03 Greedo
Another instant classic from the desk of Kenny Beats, “Death Row” was a standout on Freddie’s standout self-titled album—that’s standout squared, really good stuff. Plus Greedo, duh.
Young Nudy – “Since When” ft. 21 Savage
SahBabii – “Outstanding” ft. 21 Savage
Polo G – “Finer Things”
Tedy Andreas – “Diamonds”
Flipp Dinero – “Leave Me Alone”
If you went somewhere where there was a DJ in the second half of 2018, you most likely heard Brooklyn artist Flipp Dinero’s viral hit “Leave Me Alone.” After catching the attention of Cinematic’s Jonny Shipes and life coach DJ Khaled, Flipp looks like he’ll be sticking around for the long haul. Exhibit B: his new single “Feelin Like” that dropped this week and also happens to be flames.
Brockhampton – “San Marcos”
There’s a bunch of great records on their new album Iridescence but this song is just so beautifully constructed—a microcosm of the group itself, really.
G Herbo – “Everything (Remix)” ft. Lil Uzi Vert & Chance The Rapper
GASHI – “Blame It On The Bag”
Smilelilcrybaby – “Add It Up” ft. Myke Green
Two of the artists leading the way for a Connecticut hip-hop scene that’s shining like never before, Smilelilcrybaby and Myke Green have melody and style for days. The pair frequently work together and just dropped “Add It Up,” leaving fans with a taste of great things to come in 2019. Pro tip: keep your ears peeled for Green’s Ian French-produced Deadboy project next year.
Playboi Carti – “Lean 4 Real” ft. Skepta
Dreezy – “Where Them $ @”
Matt Ox – “Jetlag” ft. Chief Keef
I’m terrible at Fortnite but if there’s one thing I can relate with people under the age of 18 on, it’s my love of Matt Ox.
Azizi Gibson – “Slime”
Valee – “Womp Womp” ft. Jeremih
Chicago-native Valee has been around for a couple of years, blessing bass-heavy sub-two minute beats with an inventive flow you just can’t quite put your finger on. It was kind of if you know you know when it came to Valee for a while, but with his counterparts recycling tired lines about their watch or stealing your girl, it’s refreshing to hear the subtle hilarity of Valee flexing about things like microchipping his new dog that cost more than your car.
With any luck, the innovator’s Jeremih-assisted “Womp Womp” was a chart-topping smash hit we’ll hear on aux cords and movie soundtracks for years to come. Go back and do your homework with his 2017 album Vtm, entirely produced by ChaseTheMoney (ChaseTheMoney, it was going to bug me all day if I didn’t say it twice).
Maxo Kream – “Roaches”
Westside Gunn – “WESTSIDE”
Say Kuro – “6 a.M Regrets”
Lucki – “Fools Gold”
Last year, Lucki had the equivalent of KEY!’s 777 with his insanely underrated album, Watch My Back. It was his best body of work to date and truly impressive from front to back. He followed it up this year with a solid EP and a bunch of great one-off singles as he prepares to feed his patiently waiting fans with next year’s Freewave 3. Though songs like “Incoming,” “Sports Mode,” and “4everybody” were excellent in their own right, the phenom-turned-underdog’s 100BandXan-produced “Fools Gold” found itself getting run all year long from me and everyone I tried to put on to it as an act of public service.
Rico Nasty – “Guap (LaLaLa)”
Reese LaFlare – “No Cap” ft. Yung Bans
After years of grinding, the talented skater and rapper finally released his debut studio album, full of quintessential Atlanta heat you can play at the skate park or the strip pole. “Circulate” and “Drip Like That” are fire, too.
Yung Pinch – “Sail Away”
Bukkweat Bill – “666forever Pt. 2”
Sheck Wes – “Gmail”
GOOD Music and Cactus Jack joint-signee Sheck Wes experienced a slow burn, as the single he dedicated to friend and basketball star “Mo Bamba” was always a super slap, but reached fever pitch when the Vineyard Vines crew discovered it and started losing their collective shit at house parties and tailgates alike. The videos of Sheck performing the song for massive crowds on Travis’s ASTROWORLD tour are a sight to behold. But while everyone and their mother are now familiar with “Mo Bamba,” the most slept on song on Sheck’s debut album Mudboy was “Gmail.”
The Internet – “Come Over”
TheCoolisMac – “Paycut”
Mozzy – “Walk Up”
Alex Wiley & Hippie Sabotage – “Real Things”
Anytime I lost motivation this year, a few lines from Alex Wiley and frequent collaborator Hippie Sabotage’s “Real Things” stuck with me and became a mantra to move forward.
Tierra Whack – “Whack World”
Gunna – “Oh Okay” ft. Young Thug & Lil Baby
JPEGMAFIA – “Thug Tears”
An electric cross of Death Grips and Danny Brown, Peggy finally got his just due this year and will only continue to climb the weirdo ranks.
Roddy Ricch – “Every Season”
Buddy – “Shameless” ft. Guapdad 4000
Guapdad aka the Ferragamo Falcon is out here giving hope to scammers everywhere, proving you too can go from swiping Paypal accounts to stacking plaques.
(Read The Hundreds’ recent interview with him here.)
Listen to the whole list on Spotify: