Pazz & Jop: The Top 50 Singles of 2018

America’s critical establishment has spoken, naming Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” the top single of the yearAll told, this year’s Pazz & Jop Music Critics Poll featured nearly 400  voters and over 1,400 songs. Listen to the Top 50 Singles on Spotify, and check out the year’s top albums HERE.

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Have the Grammys Finally Fixed Their Voting Problem? We’ll Find Out Sunday

For the first time in the 59-year history of the Grammys, there’s not a single white man nominated for the biggest award of the year. Instead, the Album of the Year category is stacked with diverse names: Childish Gambino, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, and Bruno Mars. And that diversity extends across the board. Jay-Z leads with eight nominations overall, followed by Kendrick with seven, and Bruno with six, while Childish Gambino, No I.D., Khalid, and SZA are all tied with five. It’s a slate that’s been hailed by artists, critics, and the industry alike. But at the end of the night — the 60th Grammy Awards kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 28 — none of this overt display of wokeness means that any diverse creators will actually win.

For the past two decades, while the Grammys have had a fairly diverse pool of nominees,. Last year, Beyoncé led the nominations with nine, followed by Drake, Rihanna, and Kanye West with eight nominations each. Yet by night’s end, it was Adele standing in front of the press balancing five trophies — a choice so seemingly ill-informed that even Adele tried to hand off her Grammy for Album of the Year to Beyoncé. Making things especially egregious was the fact that Beyoncé was similarly snubbed two years before, when Beck won Album of the Year in 2015, a win so unpopular, Kanye West popped up onstage in protest. But this year, if, say, Lorde ends up going home the evening’s big winner, it may not be another case of #grammyssowhite, but rather a different institutional bug: vote-splitting.

Voting blocks — where one group of voters (r&b fans, for instance) divides its votes between two artists, allowing another artist to win — have long plagued the Grammys. Most notably, this phenomenon favors a single genre: rock. When votes get split between other genres, a rock album nominated for Album of the Year almost always wins: Beck in 2015; Arcade Fire in 2011; Santana in 2000; U2, Paul Simon, and Phil Collins in 1988, ’87, and ’86.

Why? The obvious reason is a voting demographic that skews older, whiter, and more male than the artists actually making the music. To help combat that fact, this year the Academy sought out members of the music community who are eligible to vote but maybe weren’t registered to, sending out staffers to its twelve chapter cities to talk about the process and get people engaged. What the Academy is trying to avoid is a repeat of 2014, when Macklemore won the Grammy for Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar, and they’re pulling out all kinds of stops to try and fix this. All voting was done online this year, a move intended to attract a more diverse group of voters. The Academy included samples of the actual music on the site in hopes of reducing the number of votes based straight on name recognition.

Whether all these changes will translate into more equitable results remains to be seen, and the Grammys are doing their best to hide this voting problem under a slew of solutions. One is genre division, which separates music deemed “urban contemporary” from “pop.” As might have been expected, the former is always filled entirely of black artists, the latter with white ones, a reality so absurd even Sufjan Stevens spoke out against it last yearBut in the big four categories — Album, Song, Record, and Best New Artist of the Year — everyone votes for the four biggest awards, and every year it is clear exactly who “everyone” is. 

This year, there’s only one white artist nominated for Album of the Year: Lorde. She is also the only pop artist in the category. With a huge lane to herself, it’s very likely that Lorde will take home that award. Now, Melodrama is a great album, but it deserves to win based on quality, not bias.


Pazz & Jop Comments: Protests and Escapes

Jesse Mayshark
I discovered my number one single totally by accident late at night listening to a New Orleans radio station over the internet. Shazamed it to no avail, but the DJ said it was “Floods of Fire” by the Gary Wrong Group. It’s six minutes of muted apocalypse over a motorik beat, with repeating doomsday imagery — “gnashing, ripping,” “volcanic ooze,” “trample-crushed bodies” — from Gary Wrong and an unnamed female co-conspirator. Then the beat stops and the final two minutes are pulses of bass and rippling guitar, fading to nothing. Exhausted and doomed and a little removed from caring, it was a perfect echo of 2017.

Gabe Vodicka
In need of comfort in 2017, we turned to the past. The shoegaze revival brought us reunion albums from Ride, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and — the steadiest and most seductive of the bunch — Slowdive, each offering escape into a realm of warm if artificial light.

Jason Gross
Maybe it’s bizarre to get so excited about something so mellow, but it was a great year for ambient, including old faves (Robert Rich, Gas, the Caretaker) and all shades of moods, including floaty (Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society), dreamy (Chuck Johnson), meditative/minimal (Oliver Alary), unadorned beauty (Bing & Ruth, Poppy Ackroyd), cinematic (Alessandro Cortini), ethereal (Christopher Willits), light but sad (Bibio), dark ambient (Alphaxone, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement), and new age-y (Suso Sáiz, Justin Walter). Maybe in the age of Trump, we need to chill more than ever.

Laurence Station
Convenient timing that Laura Marling’s all-things-feminine album Semper Femina just happens to land in the Year of Retribution Against Men Behaving Badly. Regardless of topical intersection, a timeless work by a master of her craft. Semper Marlinga!

Carol Cooper
Such a strange, odd year. Topical pop and protest music proliferated around the world, with all kinds of singers staying alert if not completely woke. Rock, house, hip-hop, reggaeton, and tropical hip-pop all impressed me with levels of social awareness beyond the usual moody sass and slackness. Migos and Cardi B may be guilty pleasures, but their cynical observations are too full of American realness to ignore.

Jaime Paul-Falcon
Hurray for the Riff Raff. The fury behind The Navigator’s epic standout track “Pa’lante” is entirely justified. As a sample of Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary” is heard, the striking piano that buffeted the laments of the song’s first half fade away, and Alynda Segarra’s angered, forceful voice is backed by a frenzied guitar as she lays bare exactly what it is Hispanic and Latinx people cling to in a country that’s determined to vilify them.

Ted Leibowitz
In the face of the unprecedented attacks on the pillars of democracy, there were some great protest songs in 2017 worth noting including: Last Quokka, “Nazi Scum”; Shane Michael Vidaurri, “Alt-Right Fuck Off”; Juliana Hatfield, “When You’re a Star”; American Anymen, “Flag Burner”; Downtown Boys, “Promissory Note”; Prefab Messiahs, “The Man Who Killed Reality.”

Jeremy Shatan
There were a couple of choices this year: to run into the fire — to protest the horror of Trump’s insurgent “presidency” — or to seek escape from the havoc he was causing. Alternating the two seemed to be the best way to survive, and when it comes to the latter, the gorgeous album by the Clientele was the perfect soundtrack. So unexpected after a six-year hiatus, Music for the Age of Miracles featured all of the band’s virtues: literate, poetic lyrics; indelible melodies; sparkling music.

Saul Austerlitz
The song I listened to most this year, from the Women’s March in January to the passage of the tax-scam bill in December, was Run the Jewels’ “2100.” I’ve come to think of one particular line of El-P’s — “They could barely even see the dog/They don’t see the size of the fight” — as the motto of the burgeoning resistance to Trump. I pray every day that he’s right.

Dev Sherlock
From Eno’s Reflection, to Kendrick’s DAMN, to SZA’s CTRL, music this year was addressing a world very much in flux.

Sasha Geffen
Love exists and is real, hope is not the conviction that everything will be OK but the allowing of space for everything to be OK, everything is possible, music was good in 2017.


Personal, Political, and Otherwise: King Kendrick Rules Pazz & Jop

Remember self-brander Amanda Palmer in the last days of 2016, blitzing journos in her safe Australian home? “Donald Trump is going to make punk rock great again,” the pull quote went. “We’re all going to crawl down staircases into basements and speakeasies and make amazing satirically political art.”

Er, well…

Scanning the top forty albums of the 44th (or 45th) Pazz & Jop Critics Poll — which remains America’s most comprehensive survey of “rock critic” taste — I have trouble descrying any political satire whatsoever. Granted, there’s a big exception I’m saving for later, and although he’s so fucking ironic who can tell, many would nominate snark king Father John Misty, whose 12th place 2015 I Love You, Honeybear almost convinced me he loves his wife and whose 13th place 2017 Pure Comedy almost convinced me he hates humanity. Thus Misty gained considerable traction in early spring, when there was still comfort in believing our walking slab of brain damage beneath a bad toupee was no worse than the voters who believed he would serve them rather than his vile class and viler self. He is worse, by miles, which I say as someone with near-zero sympathy for his “base.” And in any case, what little political consciousness I discern among the rest of our poll-toppers is fervently sincere.

Here’s to Jason Isbell’s earnest The Nashville Sound, sharpened decisively by the self-critical “White Man’s World”; to Algiers’ militant The Underside of Power, soul-rock noise-metal that calls out racist massacres, dying sex workers, and democracy’s broken promises as the horrors they are; to Margo Price’s country-folk All American Made, which names “rich white men” as the enemy and remembers Iran-Contra in a world where most people are proud to remember their passwords. Here’s to Rhiannon Giddens’s slave songs and Hurray for the Riff Raff’s immigrant songs too. And while it’s less straightforward, maybe even in some not-actually-funny sense satirical, Priests’ Gang of Four–ish punk-funk Nothing Feels Natural situates itself in the more abstruse territory of structural oppression, leftist turf they were already staking out when Trump was one more birther jerkola.

Maybe it’s significant that the poll’s most trenchantly anti-Trump finisher surfaced the same week as Palmer’s prophecy; certainly Run the Jewels 3’s political-not-satirical rap-not-punk would have finished above 34 riding a 2017 release date. But definitely it’s significant that absent from our anti-Trump list are four other hip-hop albums: Kendrick Lamar’s foreordained runaway winner DAMN, Jay-Z‘s 9th place “comeback” 4:44, Vince Staples’s spare 18th place Big Fish Theory, and Migos’s irrepressible 20th place Culture. Almost any hip-hop album signifies politically because almost any hip-hop album invokes the textures and details of black life, which always — always — involve racist oppression. Moreover, DAMN does at least utter Donald Trump’s name, and Jay-Z not only celebrates his newly out mom’s lesbian identity but weighs in with “The Story of O.J.,” where the “still nigga” repetitions put the race question in our collective face even if its dumb Dumbo joke wears almost as poorly as its explanation of why Jews own everything. (Credit, in case you forgot.)

Not one of 2017’s hip-hop big four, however, takes Trump on. Staples rides his precise, hard-bitten realism; Migos scatter their playful, unpredictable hooks. 4:44 is as intimate as anything Jay-Z has recorded, apologizing credibly for how richly he deserved Beyoncé’s dog-dogging Lemonade while waxing all too enthusiastic about black capitalism. But from Lamar we had reason to expect more. He became America’s most respected pop star in record time not just because his evolved slur and expansive beats were so musically winning but because his persona was so unprecedented as a social fact. A good kid in a mad city, a conscious rapper who exercised his right to brag without acting superior, he left you wondering why no previous next big thing had managed a balance that felt so natural once he made it so. But just as he had a right to brag, he had a right to take a break. Sure, he knows that Trump poses a special threat to Afro-America. But his success protects him from the worst of it, and also leaves him with personal perplexities few of us can truly grasp. So long before DAMN appeared in April he knew he needed a “personal” album, and why not? Why shouldn’t we want to know what this complex, talented person makes of songs entitled “FEEL,” “LUST,” “PRIDE,” and “GOD”? Autocrats even crueler than Donald Trump have failed to extirpate such spiritual fundamentals from human life.

The odd thing was, however, that Kendrick Lamar was hardly alone. Rather than amazing satirical political art, many alt types who knew very well that they detested this president and wished they could do something about it decided that their best recourse was to pursue their muse as if he didn’t exist, and so withdrew into the “personal,” too. These efforts came in all shades of significance: Lorde and Waxahatchee testing their autonomies, Julien Baker and Big Thief toning their delicacies, St. Vincent and Jens Lekman perfecting their artistries, LCD Soundsystem and the National continuing their trajectories, SZA painfully pondering her sex life, Stephin Merritt painstakingly writing his autobiography, the War on Drugs perfectionistically plumbing their vapidity, Spoon and the xx repeating themselves. My personal favorite in the category were the New Pornographers, whose 51st place Whiteout Conditions offered up eleven rapturous pop anthems with lyrics about the grimy business of purveying rapturous pop anthems.

All of the just-named explore and exploit song form, manipulating note sequences to provide the melodic frissons that were an essential yet increasingly insufficient selling point of twentieth-century pop. But for another sizable bunch of 2017 finishers, such niceties are even more peripheral than they are for the hip-hop beatmakers who do on occasion fashion what are candidly designated “hooks.” Although most of them were singers performing what they would rightly insist were songs, for almost all of them the personal equaled the atmospheric if not the downright immersive. I’m talking Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead of reunited shoegaze legends Slowdive, post-soul emoters Kelela and Sampha and Moses Sumney, Thundercat’s inebriated lounge-jazz-plus, longtime songscaper Björk, up-and-coming soundscaper Jlin, maybe the album Perfume Genius chose to call No Shape, definitely 40–50’s Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith (soundscaper), Kelly Lee Owens (another soundscaper, jeez), and Daniel Caesar (craft-cocktail singer).

Although much history and many microgenres have come down since, figure this tendency goes back to 1995 or so, when an evolving profusion of unpeppy, hook-averse, “environmental” musics, tendencies, and attempted epiphanies began to be gathered under the rubric “post-rock” as the free-ranging vocal excursions of post-soul singers epitomized by Maxwell began to displace conventional songwriting in that world. It’s also when post-rock prophet Simon Reynolds and his wife, Joy Press, published The Sex Revolts, where the critical keyword “oceanic” was retrofitted to describe both Can and Patti Smith.

From Terry Riley to Hassell & Eno to Oruj Guvenc to Oneohtrix Point Never and more (last year I added Marcel Khalife’s Andalusia of Love to the list, also a L’Orange storyboard, if that counts), I have my own oceanic-etc. favorites to pick from in the rare moments when I need to micromanage a chillout, and I’m hardly suggesting they’re all the same. Those in our top fifty certainly aren’t. But though Sampha got a thumbs up from me in April, having listened enough to generalize briefly (and to fall for Jlin’s Black Origami while giving Slowdive a bye), I doubt I’ll ever play the others again. What’s more, this doesn’t appear to be some slowly evolving trend — no similar post-rock tendency was discernible in 2016, when Frank Ocean and Blood Orange remained rooted in articulated songcraft as they gestured toward soul vocalese, when in “rock” only Bon Iver and arguably Radiohead made comparable gestures, leaving us with Anohni’s Hopelessness, an album that milked her delivery for every affectation it had in it to deliver not vague angst or dislocation but the most unabashed and explicit left propaganda ever to impress our electorate. So I find it somewhat disheartening that in Trumpjahr Ein, so many artists pursued their muse into a withdrawal some might unkindly label “escapist.”

Others equally unkind, of course, might suggest that an old man’s taste for peppy tunes from Chuck Berry and Fats Domino to Wussy and Whiteout Conditions might also be classified as escapist. I’d reply that all of them cheer me up in a tonic way that only enhances my appetite for tougher stuff (and also that the best usually come up with tough stuff themselves). Then I’d add that my own 2017 was rendered more bearable by three pieces of moderately amazing political art — in two cases satirical, in one case kind of punk, and in zero cases recognized by my fellow critics. Ladies, gentlemen, and others, I give you piano-playing singer-songwriter Dawn Oberg’s one-mention three-song lounge EP Nothing Rhymes With Orange, whence I borrowed the “walking slab of brain damage beneath a bad toupee” crack above; Hamell on Trial’s 290th place folk-punk Tackle Box, in which our president’s “I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell ya” opens a record that insults cops, analyzes oppression, embraces fatherhood, savors lust, looks death in the eye, and makes room for four kiddie songs about a frog; and — most dismaying given P&J’s ever-burgeoning hip-hop consciousness — Joey Bada$$’s 203th place All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, a straight-up anti-racist message album that starts sweet to soften up the hoi polloi and gets tougher as it goes.

They’re not enough, those three. But much more than our poll, they prove that politically engaged popular music of quality is an option under a catastrophic reign certain to become more so. Only one is at all rock, and none are post-rock. And now let me close by praising my 2017 one-two, neither peppy, neither conducive to casual listening, and neither rock or post-rock: Mount Eerie’s stark 16th place A Crow Looked at Me and Randy Newman’s elaborate 30th place Dark Matter.

Mount Eerie is the brand name of Phil Elverum, by his own description on this very record a pensive loner from the Puget Sound woods who in 2003 fell instantly in love with a woman he soon married. They had a daughter in 2015, and a year and a half later Elverum’s wife died of cancer. That loss is all A Crow Looked at Me is about. Its first words are “Death is real/Someone’s there and then they’re not/And it’s not for singing about/It’s not for making into art.” But then that’s what he does, while simultaneously achieving the elusive chimera of not-art, for eleven unrelentingly desolate songs lasting 41:34. Like Mount Eerie’s many earlier albums (except they featured occasional extra voices and ultimately some soundscaping), it’s altogether occupied by Elverum’s frail, lucid murmur and solitary guitar (augmented so subtly and rarely that you have to concentrate to even register this thrum or that rattle). Although Elverum is such a winning singer one might consider exploring his catalog, this entry will remain unduplicable. My favorite lines are “I now wield the power to transform a grocery store aisle into a canyon of pity and confusion/And mutual aching to leave” and “I don’t want to learn anything from this.” Listen three times and find your own.

Which brings us to our big exception — an old master of song form proffering his first album of new material since 2008’s Harps and Angels. Dark Matter is a long way aesthetically from A Crow Looked at Me, even though both artists craft literal lyrics as if Bob Dylan had never existed, still a rare goal in this era. But the absoluteness of Elverum’s literalism, one reason A Crow Looked at Me is some kind of classic, sets the album apart from songcraft as properly understood. And then there are Newman’s unmatched chops as an orchestrator and profitable sideline in Hollywood theme songs, two of which he dragooned into enriching Dark Matter: the paranoid Monk theme “It’s a Jungle Out There,” which sounds a dystopian alarm the album is otherwise too subtle for, and “She Chose Me,” written for a forgotten cop show circa 1990 and easily the sweetest love song in Newman’s book. The four other conventional songs — about a wayward son; a dying wife and her hapless beloved; a fiftysomething surf bum; and Sonny Boy Williamson the 1st — are all gems. But on an album that ends acutely and fondly humane, it’s the three opening songs, the first two playlets with Newman playing multiple parts and the third close enough, that are amazing satirical political art, complete with jokes that will make you chuckle long after you first heard them.

Written to the nth and arranged in exquisite colloquial detail, these are not songs to sing along to — well, maybe except for “Putin,” written long before we knew Trump’s hondling with the oligarchs would help put a tin-pot oligarch of our own in the White House. They find Newman pursuing his muse into turf not principally demarcated by the harmonies and tone colors it’s rich in. In the first, “The Great Debate,” an evangelical huckster deploys gospel music to rake in the shekels debunking evolution and climate change in the newly insane state of North Carolina. In the second, “Brothers,” JFK triggers the Bay of Pigs out of his pure love for Celia Cruz. There are talking points by the dozen, but you have to sit and listen repeatedly to get them, and pat your feet in the process you will not.

Neither playlet addresses Trumpism per se, although Newman reports that he’s written a Trump song he finds too simplistic, so maybe someday he’ll let us hear it. But this is evolved popular music that casts a light on a confederacy of dunces who’ve yet to surrender at Appomattox and a government given to disastrous malfeasance even when it’s run by the relatively good guys. It will not rid us of our walking slab of brain damage. That can only happen in a crass political arena. The hope is, however, that art as humane and achieved as these two albums, one wrenching and the other some deep and complex relative of hilarious, will give us another reason to try.


Pazz & Jop: It’s Kendrick’s and Cardi’s World. We’re All Just Living in It.

The Top 100 Albums of 2017

1. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN, Top Dawg/Interscope, 1756 points

2. SZA, CTRL, Top Dawg/RCA, 942

3. St. Vincent, Masseduction, Loma Vista, 899

4. Lorde, Melodrama, Lava/Republic, 724

5. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound, Southeastern, 548

6. War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding, Atlantic, 513

7. Slowdive, Slowdive, Dead Oceans, 500

8. Jay-Z, 4:44, Roc Nation/UMG, 495

9. LCD Soundsystem, American Dream, DFA/Columbia, 486

10. Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm, Merge, 349

11. Jlin, Black Origami, Planet Mu, 345

12. Father John Misty, Pure Comedy, Sub Pop, 340

13. Thundercat, Drunk, Brainfeeder, 327

14. The National, Sleep Well Beast, 4AD, 322

15. Mount Eerie, A Crow Looked at Me, P.W. Elverum & Son, 319

16. Kelela, Take Me Apart, Warp, 315

17. Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory, ARTium/Blacksmith/Def Jam, 313

18. Perfume Genius, No Shape, Matador, 288

19 (tie). Jens Lekman, Life Will See You Now, Secretly Canadian, 260

              Migos, Culture, Quality Control/300 Entertainment, 260

21. Spoon, Hot Thoughts, Matador, 257

22. Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator, ATO, 256

23. King Krule, The OOZ, True Panther/XL, 250

24. Sampha, Process, Young Turks, 241

25. Priests, Nothing Feels Natural, Sister Polygon, 239

26. Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway, Nonesuch, 233

27. Moses Sumney, Aromanticism, Jagjaguwar, 232

28. Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir, Nonesuch, 226

29 (tie). Algiers, The Underside of Power, Matador, 225

              Randy Newman, Dark Matter, Nonesuch, 225

31. Alvvays, Antisocialites, Polyvinyl, 224

32. Kesha, Rainbow, Kemosabe/RCA, 223

33. Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 3, Run the Jewels Ltd., 222

34. Björk, Utopia, One Little Indian, 211

35. Margo Price, All American Made, Third Man, 205

36. Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights, Matador, 204

37. Lana Del Rey, Lust for Life, Polydor/Interscope, 203

38. The xx, I See You, Young Turks, 202

39. Big Thief, Capacity, Saddle Creek, 201

40. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, The Kid, Western Vinyl, 194

41. Jay Som, Everybody Works, Polyvinyl, 184

42. Charly Bliss, Guppy, Barsuk, 178

43. Lee Ann Womack, The Lonely, The Lonesome & the Gone, ATO, 176

44. Paramore, After Laughter, Fueled by Ramen/Atlantic, 171

45. Kelly Lee Owens, Kelly Lee Owens, Smalltown Supersound, 168

46 (tie). Daniel Caesar, Freudian, Golden Child, 155

              Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rest, Because, 155

48. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Soul of a Woman, Daptone, 152

49. Syd, Fin, Columbia, 150

50. New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions, Concord, 149

51. Miguel, War & Leisure, ByStorm/RCA, 146

52 (tie). Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice, Matador, 141

               Harry Styles, Harry Styles, Columbia, 141

54. Drake, More Life, Cash Money/Young Money, 138

55. Julie Byrne, Not Even Happiness, Ba Da Bing!, 135

56 (tie). Japanese Breakfast, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Dead Oceans, 134

               Alex Lahey, I Love You Like a Brother, Dead Oceans, 134

58. Khalid, American Teen, Right Hand/RCA, 125

59. Sheer Mag, Need to Feel Your Love, Wilsuns Recording Co., 124

60 (tie). Aimee Mann, Mental Illness, SuperEgo, 120

               Open Mike Eagle, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, Mello Music Group, 120

62 (tie). Ted Leo, The Hanged Man, SuperEgo, 119

               Kamasi Washington, Harmony of Difference, Young Turks, 119

64. The Clientele, Music for the Age of Miracles, Merge, 116

65 (tie). Fever Ray, Plunge, Rabid/Mute, 113

               Power Trip, Nightmare Logic, Southern Lord, 113

               Protomartyr, Relatives in Descent, Domino, 113

68 (tie). Roscoe Mitchell, Bells for the South Side, ECM, 112

                Tyler, the Creator, Flower Boy, Columbia, 112

70. Ryan Adams, Prisoner, Pax AM/Blue Note, 110

71. Taylor Swift, Reputation, Big Machine, 108

72. Phoebe Bridgers, Stranger in the Alps, Dead Oceans, 106

73 (tie). Alice Coltrane, World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda, Luaka Bop, 105

               Kehlani, SweetSexySavage, Atlantic, 105

75. Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die, International Anthem, 104

76. Replacements, For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986, Rhino, 103

77 (tie). Fleet Foxes, Crack Up, Nonesuch, 100

               Future, HNDRXX, A1/Freebandz/Epic, 100

79 (tie). The Regrettes, Feel Your Feelings Fool!, Warner Bros., 98

                Sparks, Hippopotamus, BMG, 98

                Sylvan Esso, What Now, Loma Vista, 98

82. Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock, Yep Roc, 95

83. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World, Stickman, 90

84. Feelies, In Between, Bar/None, 87

85 (tie). The Courtneys, II, Flying Nun, 86

                Queens of the Stone Age, Villains, Matador, 86

87 (tie). Ibeyi, Ash, XL, 85

               Ty Dolla $ign, Beach House 3, Atlantic, 85

89 (tie). Valerie June, The Order of Time, Concord, 84

                Laura Marling, Semper Femina, More Alarming, 84

91 (tie). Charli XCX, Number 1 Angel, Asylum, 83

               Converge, The Dusk in Us, Epitaph, 83

               Zola Jesus, Okovi, Sacred Bones, 83

94. Ariel Pink, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, Mexican Summer, 82

95 (tie). Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life, Anti-, 81

               Orchestra Baobab, Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng, Nonesuch/World Circuit, 81

97. Juana Molina, Halo, Crammed Discs, 78

98 (tie). Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society, Simultonality, Eremite Records, 75

               EMA, Exile in the Outer Ring, City Slang, 75

               Chris Stapleton, From a Room: Volume 1, Mercury Nashville, 75

               U2, Songs of Experience, Interscope Records, 75

The Top 50 Singles of 2017

1. Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow,” Atlantic, 62 points

2. Kendrick Lamar, “HUMBLE,” Top Dawg/Interscope, 50

3. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Cut to the Feeling,” School Boy/Interscope, 45

4. Lorde, “Green Light,” Republic/Lava, 44

5. Kendrick Lamar, “DNA,” Top Dawg/Interscope, 40

6. Lil Uzi Vert , “XO TOUR Llif3,” Generation Now/Atlantic, 38

7. St. Vincent, “New York,” Loma Vista, 34

8. Charli XCX, “Boys,” Asylum/Atlantic, 31

9 (tie). Future, “Mask Off,” A1/Epic, 30

             Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar,” Interscope, 30

11. Paramore, “Hard Times,” Fueled by Ramen, 26

12. Lana Del Rey, “Love,” Polydor/Interscope, 22

13. Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times,” Erskine/Columbia, 21

14 (tie). Kesha, “Praying,” Kemosabe/RCA , 20

              Migos featuring Lil Uzi Vert, “Bad and Boujee,” Quality Control/300/Atlantic, 20

16. Frank Ocean, “Chanel,” Blonded, 18

17. Dua Lipa, “New Rules,” Warner Bros., 17

18 (tie). Calvin Harris featuring Frank Ocean & Migos, “Slide,” Columbia, 16

              Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “If We Were Vampires,” Southeastern, 16

              Portugal. The Man, “Feel It Still,” Atlantic, 16

21 (tie). Jay-Z, “The Story of O.J.,” Roc Nation, 15

              SZA, “Drew Barrymore,” Top Dawg/RCA, 15

23 (tie). Drake, “Passionfruit,” Cash Money/Young Money, 14

               GoldLink featuring Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy, “Crew (Remix),” RCA, 14

               The xx, “On Hold,” Young Turks, 14

26. St. Vincent, “Los Ageless,” Loma Vista, 13

27 (tie). Black Thought, #Freestyle087, 12

               Migos, “T-Shirt,” Quality Control/300/Atlantic, 12

               Kamasi Washington, “Truth,” Young Turks, 12

30 (tie). Arcade Fire, “Everything Now,” Sonovox/Columbia, 11

               Craig Finn, “God in Chicago,” Partisan, 11

               Haim, “Want You Back,” Columbia, 11

               Perfume Genius, “Slip Away,” Matador, 11

               Vince Staples, “BagBak,” Def Jam, 11

               SZA featuring Travis Scott, “Love Galore,” Top Dawg/RCA, 11

36 (tie). Kesha featuring the Dap-Kings Horns, “Woman,” Kemosabe/RCA, 10

               Khalid, “Young Dumb & Broke,” Right Hand/RCA, 10

               The National, “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” 4AD, 10

               Playboi Carti, “Magnolia,” Interscope, 10

               Sampha, “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” Young Turks, 10

               Slowdive, “Sugar for the Pill,” Dead Oceans, 10

               Spoon, “Hot Thoughts,” Matador, 10

               SZA, “The Weekend,” Top Dawg/RCA, 10

44 (tie). Algiers, “The Underside of Power,” Matador, 9

               Cam, “Diane,” Arista Nashville, 9

               Childish Gambino, “Redbone,” Glassnote, 9

               Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber, “Despacito,” Universal Latin, 9

               LCD Soundsystem, “Call the Police,” DFA/Columbia, 9

               King Krule, “Dum Surfer,” True Panther, 9

               Thundercat featuring Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, “Show You the Way,” Brainfeeder, 9


Smoke DZA and Harry Fraud ‘Battle the Sound’ on ‘He Has Risen’

It’s well after dark in an industrial recording studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn, but rapper Smoke DZA and producer Harry Fraud are still buzzing. Earlier, they wrapped a music video shoot for a track off their new album He Has Risen (out now) and got a surprise visit on set from a childhood hero. Fraud pulls up a photo of him and DZA next to an older guy wearing a plunging spandex tuxedo with a pink lapel. It’s Michael Jones, a/k/a Virgil, a pro wrestling icon who rose to popularity in the late 1980s. His manager is a friend of DZA’s and had arranged the visit. “I didn’t even know [Virgil was there] until on the way to the second location of the video,” says Fraud, who remembers seeing WWF Live at Madison Square Garden. “I was like, ‘naaaah.’ When I walked in and saw him in the flesh, I was like, ‘This is crazy.’”

As ‘90s kids who grew up in New York City — DZA in Harlem, Fraud in Brooklyn — there’s a kind of shared boyishness that comes out when they’re together. They discuss video edits over pizza marinara and weed, later sinking into the couch for a heated game of NBA 2K15 on PlayStation. Collaboration follows naturally for these two. “With Smoke, I know he’s not limited to one tempo or one bounce,” says Fraud. “I know he’s not gonna take a hit to his ego. I find it hard to work with people [with fragile egos]. I’m someone who likes to tear shit down at the drop of a hat and build it up a different way.”

Fraud, Virgil, and DZA
Fraud, Virgil, and DZA

Being receptive to criticism is an intentional decision for DZA. “My spiel for 2016 is, I like being produced. In order to be produced, you have to listen. I’m rapping. Fraudy’s building my theme music. In order for that theme music to be effective, I need to listen to this guy.”

He Has Risen is their first collaborative album since 2012’s Rugby Thompson, and DZA says it’s a new chapter. “It’s sonically straight-to-the-point. It’s good vibe.” The album shares its title with an episode from season three of The Sopranos, and the intro track is called “Badabing’s Theme,” but DZA clarifies that this isn’t an album of rapper-turned—Mafioso tales. What he and Fraud love about Tony Soprano is his humanity. “He has somebody whacked and he goes home and his wife is yelling at him,” says Fraud. “You love him. Everybody’s regular.”

That’s something DZA can relate to. After over a decade in the indie rap game, which includes working with high-profile artists like Wiz Khalifa and early Kendrick Lamar, he’s still regarded as part of the underground. He says that he’s comfortable where he fits—and where he doesn’t. “When they have conversations about New York rappers, they don’t talk about me,” he says. “I perform all over the world, [so] I’m at peace with them not mentioning me with the other guys. Maybe I’m not a person you can put into any kind of genre.”

For DZA, his focus is progressing musically—not being mired in nomenclature or rankings. “I’m not looking at anyone else’s success like it’s my spot. It’s alright. At the end of the day, my battle is not with any artist. It’s with the sound.”

He Has Risen was recorded over the past year-and-a-half. With so much material in the vault since their last album, finalizing the track list was an exercise in compromise. “A lot of times we don’t agree but we figure it out,” says DZA. Fraud adds, “I don’t want it to seem like I was pushing. Just because you have enough songs doesn’t mean you have the right songs that fit the right way.”

They whittled the options down to a lean, nine-track offering that was collaborative from start-to-finish. Fraud produces all songs, with Alchemist assisting on “It’s Real.” Snoop Dogg serves as the only guest, on “Morals.” Like the video cameo from Virgil, Snoop’s contribution was spontaneous. “I happened to be on the phone with him, just chatting it up,” DZA explains, “and I’m like, ‘Unc I got this record. He’s like, ‘Man send me this shit.’” A session arrived the next day, despite the fact that Snoop was on tour in Europe. “He did it in a hotel room,” DZA laughs.

At the end of the day, DZA hopes people pay serious attention to this record instead of just skimming. He Has Risen, says DZA, has a broader appeal than earlier work, and he hopes to cast a wide net. But whether or not that pans out, he can definitely expect support from his usual fanbase. “My fans like to smoke weed and listen to music,” he says. “I’m sure they’re gonna digest it.”


Interview: Meet Rap’s New Antihero, Fredo Santana

Who is Fredo Santana? The 23 year-old rapper doesn’t really do interviews. He’s earned a reputation for having a short fuse and gives zero fucks, especially when journalists ask him stupid questions. Still unsigned, he’s not enamored by the spoils of the music industry and is wary of any kind of fawning.

His distrust is warranted. Hardened by his upbringing in Chicago — dubbed “Chiraq” because of its similarity to wartime Iraq — his tender age belies a life of battle scars. His lengthy rap sheet includes drug dealing as an adolescent and several jail stints and harkens back to the age of 12, when he was arrested for kicking down a bus door on Halloween. Even today, his brown eyes, separated by a small cross tattoo, often register an opaque vacancy. He’s impossible to read.

After being name-checked in his cousin Chief Keef’s cold-blooded “I Don’t Like” in 2012, Fredo began taking rap seriously, releasing three mixtapes and one album just this year. The neophyte’s “Jealous” with Kendrick Lamar (off his Trappin’ Ain’t Dead) is remarkably good and Drake personally asked him to star in “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” The menacing, albeit brief, music video cameo ranks as one of pop’s most indelible images this year, no doubt spawning its share of nightmares.

Fredo hit another milestone by headlining his first New York City show at Santos Party House last week. Fans gathered on Lafayette Street for hours on a chilly night, many of them staying for the $100 meet-and-greet to get face time afterwards. As one journalist said to me during the show, the music was ancillary, the bigger deal was that the elusive rapper was actually here, in our city. The following day, Fredo invited Sound of the City to his Chelsea crash pad for a lengthy conversation.

You’re notorious for not doing any press. This is rare that we’re even speaking.
Yeah. I mean, I want to let my work talk for itself. I feel, I see everybody do interviews and they kill themselves. They don’t be talking about shit and say things like, “I’m gonna do this classic!” and they don’t deliver. I don’t wanna talk about what I’m gonna do. I want it to be like, “Damn. I keep seeing Fredo but I don’t really see him.” Unless I get like a real, print issue.

Really? Most people think print is dead.
It’s important for me with my background. I’m not no backpack rapper. I’m a street rapper. I been locked up. My homies that’s locked up. One of my homies just told me today, “Yo. They were saying your lyrics in Hip Hop Weekly for the ‘Jealous’ song.” That’s the biggest thing when you in jail is the music magazines. That’s what gets us by. For all my homies that’s locked up, facing like life and all that type of stuff, I want that for them.

There’s a mystique about you. Between your reticence and public image, people misconstrue that into you’re standoffish and creepy. You don’t seem like that to me, but I guess I’m pretty scary.
Yeah. You could bring that vibe. I mean, yeah, I can get scary if someone trying to hurt me or my family. Other than that, nah. It started on my first album. From my first songs, it came off like that. I don’t know. I can be just happy right now but soon as I go into the booth, I’m angry. You know? It’s probably when I put the mic on and hear the beats, I think about my childhood and think of all the bad stuff. I don’t know. I gotta be rapping about bad stuff.

Did you ever use art to escape the “bad stuff” as a kid?
I used to draw. I been drawing since like 5 years old. I stopped drawing and I guess, rapping came about. I’ve always been happy but I wasn’t happy with the surroundings. My surroundings. My aunties and my mama and my neighbors. The community. Just the black community. The culture. How it just keep going and keep going. The poverty. All that. I wasn’t happy with that.

At what age did you decide that you had to leave those surroundings?
Probably at like 10. I was like, “Mama, what the fuck is going on?” I mean, she ain’t got no money. So like 11 and 12, I started selling crack. I needed shoes and shit. I’m watching this on TV like, “I need this shit.” I can’t be wearing the same shoes, having holes in my shoes. So I started selling drugs to support myself.

What does selling drugs mean to an 11-year old?
It started as a look out. Then you grow into knowing what you doing. It’s up to you. You could work for other people or become a boss at a young age. You can buy your own work, wholesale, like anything else, and go sell it. I sold to family members and their friends and neighbors. I mean, somebody was gonna do it. Might as well keep it in the family. People grow up so fast. Real, real fast. By 12, I was buying my own socks, drawers, taking care of myself like a grown man.

At 23 years-old, you’ve already lived a lifetime.
Yeah. That’s why I be chilling now. I smoke weed and just be chill. My brothers be on the same block. My mama still be over there. Ain’t nothing really changed with the fame. I ain’t never sign no deal. I’m still independent. Same thing’s still same. Only thing, I don’t like people seeing my face because they’re like “Fredo this. Fredo that.” They wanna take pictures and draw attention. Everybody else act different. Just treat me regular.

You have a lot of fans; even rappers seem to just want to hang around you.
Yeah. It’s a role model thing. Like, I ran with their big brother or something. I’m a stand-up kind of guy. I’m a leader but I be laid back. I be in the studio working. I don’t really try to kick it with rappers or try to hang.

The music industry was abuzz when Chief Keef got signed last year and then very quickly, they wrote him off. How did you perceive it?
Yeah. Yeah. 100%, especially with what happened with the Chicago scene and the violence, everybody was like, “Aw.” At the end of the day, he just turned 17 when that [all happened]. He just a little boy, you know?

Does that make you wary of being a part of the industry?
Yeah. That too. That’s what made me not want to do interviews too, ’cause of how they was like acting towards him. They wouldn’t even let him be chill, like the way we chill right now. They were like trying to trick him or something. Don’t trick him. Ask him real questions. Have a genuine conversation with him. They were like, trying to trick him into saying dumb stuff.

Keef’s ascent brought a lot of talk of “cultural tourism” and the notion that people on the periphery were exploiting him. For instance, his Pitchfork interview (which was later retracted) distastefully took place at a gun range while he was on probation.
That’s why I don’t really like doing interviews unless they genuinely want to do it and they genuinely want to write a story about me and push my moment and what I got to bring to hip-hop. Like, I dropped three mixtapes and an album this year.

That’s a good transition, actually. What was the impetus for releasing so much music in 2013?
I wasn’t a rapper at first. I was just a street nigga that was just rapping on the block, not going into the studio. That’s what Keef would do. Then I saw that I got a little fanbase and I wanted to prove to myself and everybody else [that I was a rapper]. That’s why I put so much music out. I groomed myself into a rapper. I want to be the best to rap. The best entertainer, entrepreneur. That’s what I want to be.

What’s your writing process?
I don’t write. I ain’t wrote since like March. I put the headphones on and feel the beat come through my body. I did the “Jealous” song in like five minutes. Promise. Ask the engineer. I’m trying to force [my friends] not to write. Keef don’t write no more either. He ain’t wrote since like, Finally Rich. Jay, Wayne, Gucci, the best don’t write. That’s how I stopped. I was in the studio with Gucci [Mane] and [Young] Scooter and I was like, “Damn these boys going fast as hell.” I was like, “I’m not writing no more.”

If you set out to show that you’re a serious rapper this year, have you proven that?
No. I still don’t think I accomplished it. I don’t know. I did a song with Kendrick [Lamar]. He liked it and he’s one of the biggest in the game, but I still don’t feel I did it. I gotta do the numbers. Billboard, man. I gotta do numbers.

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Schoolboy Q

Schoolboy Q should not be written off as just a Kendrick Lamar affiliate, as he’s far more than merely a name in the Black Hippy crew. 2012’s Habits & Contradictions jittered and skittered through samples and beats cribbed from artists like Kid Cudi and Menomena and paired them with Q’s stop-and-go flow,—a fierce combination. Darkly funny, moody, and passionately explicit, Schoolboy Q is a welcome foil to Kendrick’s good kid role.

Wed., Oct. 16, 8 p.m., 2013


Kendrick Lamar

With Jay Z sacrificing his hyphen to the artistic world and Yeezy pursuing the train of his muse’s dark dress, it’s clear—only two years after “Ni**as in Paris”—that the Throne has been abdicated. After the unmitigated success of his debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, a fusion of Outkast skill, Devin the Dude vibe, Wu cinematics, and West Coast geography, it shouldn’t be a shock that Kendrick Lamar was the first to go for it. What is a shock is that he’d announce his claim on a Big Sean remix, and maybe this is why his “Control” verse doesn’t quite reach the bar that it aims to set. Regardless, all rappers have been warned that the true quest for the Hip-Hop Holy Grail is on, and if NYC is Hip-Hop’s Camelot, Kendrick is looking like the best bet to pull the (liquid?) sword from the stone.

Tue., Sept. 10, 5:30 p.m., 2013


A Bomb Just Went Off in Bushwick, Reports Rapper Kitty Pryde

Update: 2:40 p.m.:

Actually, it was multiple manhole fires, according to FDNY. The fires broke out this afternoon near 176 Maujer Street in Brooklyn. Four to five manholes were involved, but all of the fires were contained by 2:20 p.m.

The cause remains unknown. “There’s a number of things, of reasons it could be,” said FDNY spokesperson Michael Parrella.

Con-Ed, he added, would be investigating. “It’s their equipment, so they are better suited to do the investigation of the fire. If it was was a house, you know, we would do the investigation, but it’s not.”

Tuesday, August 13, 1pm:

Rapper Kitty Pryde reports a bomb just went off outside her apartment in Bushwick.

The explosion occurred around 12:20 p.m.

Rather, the series of explosions.

There was some speculation at the scene about who may be behind the explosions.

Area residents are remaining calm.

Police and firefighters are currently responding.

Luckily, there do not appear to be any fatalities.

Witnesses remained stoic throughout the ordeal.

If you would like to donate to victims of the Bushwick bombing, chips and salsa are the preferred method.