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10 Drake – “Knife Talk (with 21 Savage ft. Project Pat)”
How does Drake just always throw me enough of a curveball? He’s like the Greg Maddux of rap… he’ll never be the hardest or whip that delivery in with the most intensity, but he does understand the art form and the industry and know something of what it needs at a certain time. “Knife Talk” is cock-eyed, weapon-toting rap for fall, heralding its own supremacy and laughing in the face of mediocrity. It also might be the best thing Project Pat ever did.
9 Lantlos – “Dream Machine”
Even though I rely so heavily on Bandcamp and get so much of my pool of content from them, I have this weird thing about them where they don’t do “pop”… maybe they’re as sick of Hozier as I am, He**. Anyway, with this being the case, I’m glad to see a band like Germany’s Lantlos doesn’t get thrown under the bus, whose guitar sound isn’t really any more “metal” than Hum and whose charismatic lead singer Markus Siegenhort just can’t help but deliver the kind of clear, palatable vocals that are bound for the spotlight, not sweaty basements (though they probably still are playing sweaty basements).
8 More Ghost than Man – “We Have All the Time in the World”
More Ghost than Man is listed on Bandcamp as “the alter ego of Terry Grant,” which you’ve gotta admit is more information than most DJ’s are typically willing to let on about themselves. True to form, he withholds country of origin, with his Facebook page offering this hilarious message of “I write… I fight… I drink a lot of wine and occasionally I put out a record.” Well don’t worry because his latest offering The World We Made There is far from braggery… actually the trippy opener “We Have All the Time in the World” gave me the sense of falling through the clouds, or that dream where you’re just falling, with a tense, slightly atonal Andy Stott approach to song rudiments.
7 Solemn Brigham – “The Lore”
Yeah, I guess, to an extent, I am obsessed with artists’ locales of origin. Part of what I do as a blogger is that I profile. But in rap, I would say, birth city is especially important, as with the art form of rap, the artist is behooved by working up a module of verbal communication over time, in the neighborhoods, in the stuffy houses, at the parties, etc. Carolina’s Solemn Brigham seems like the epitome of this phenomenon where the rapper started his craft before he ever started rapping, maybe over simple shoving matches as a first grader or games of rock-paper-scissors during recess. Also, the production team all over this album splashes fresh beats on the extravaganza with trippy, simple basslines and scrappy, organic drums.
6 Drake – “Love All (with JAY-Z)”
I’ll admit, this is kind of just that new Drake track that has Jay-Z on it, with vaguely the sense of a Kanye circa-Yeezus track with all ethereal samples and noodley synth riffs. In general, the vibe is made otherworldly on this track by the title and Drake’s relatively benign verse juxtaposed against some noxious street abuse from Jay-Z, hashing out his wannabe killers and Internet sh** talkers with zingers like “You know the price of everything and the value of nothing”, sounding almost meaner and more focused than he ever has in his career.
5 Yosuke Watanabe – “(Spree)”
Tokyo’s Yosuka Watanabe has bequeathed to us a true electronic, instrumental masterpiece this year in (My Invisible Tree) , one generally grounded in tribal beat but that alludes to an almost bizarrely eclectic musical genus from American bluegrass to English techno to something approximating Keltic on “(Spree),” with the distorted electric guitar taking on a sound and flow eerily akin to bagpipes. And yes, I feel like I’m tripping comparing guitar to bagpipes, and feel like I’m tripping listening to the rest of this sucker, too.
4 Common – “When We Move” feat. Black Thought & Seun Kuti
This year we got the second A Beautiful Revolution installment from Common and it’s unmistakable that he sounds more focused and mature on these projects, firm with the mission statement of reuniting the nation in the wake of all this recent violence and political unrest and not really doing too much preaching or ideologically coercing. “When We Move” unleashes the hypnotic chorus of “When we move / The world followin’ our back” over lo-fi, garage-y snares and toms, with The Roots’ Black Thought weaving up a verbose tapestry of cerebral discourse that sounds as vital and effortless as ever.
3 Jason Griff & Alaska – “Extremely Online”
I think part of what tripped me out about “Extremely Online” was the midpoint shift to a faster tempo — by the time the main theme coagulates toward the end of “It’s not that you’re broke / You’re broken”, your mind feels like it’s been through a kaleidoscope of worlds and rhythm zones, procuring a genuine feel of original, underground hip-hop courtesy of Philly rapper Alaska and Windy City producer Jason Griff.
2 Solemn Brigham – “Sometimes You Lose”
“Sometimes You Lose” finds Southern rapper Solemn Brigham actually singing in melody on the mic for a catchy chorus and then some ghetto poignancy sort of like a rougher, less literate T-Pain just on his Ohio Players grind against all odds. On the whole, the track plays as a kind of big-picture snapshot of his situation and plea for help, with the vocals gratifyingly transitioning to revved, rapid-fire rapping in the second verse.
1 WAYNE SNOW – “Seventy”
WAYNE SNOW is a burgeoning R&B artist out of Berlin, categorized under “soul” in some online sectors, but owning to what I found to be just an infectious voice and knack for tying a song together around a memorable chorus. In “Seventy,” in particular, we get “If you need it / You will find what / You’ve been waiting / For a long time”, that missive delivered in those four segments of equal space, giving the song the natural quality of a mantra, as in, something that doesn’t really need genre in the first place, quite refreshing.
 The parentheticals are included to atone for the fact that the actual title is Japanese.