Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 Year In Review: Top 5 Songs

Welcome to 2012!!! I'll be doing a few years in review pieces like I always do but I'm taking it different this year. I'm starting off explaining my Top 5 songs of the year, then doing my annual music year in review then finishing it off with my regular year in review. If I can pull it off, I'll leave some final reflections in a 4th blog. 

I believe the journey is just as important as anything. In looking ahead, you have to look at where you came. So without further adieu, these are my 5 Favorite songs of 2011 picked for various reasons as explained below. You'll see the rest of my list when I do my music blog (favorite albums, singles, stories).

I didn’t listen to Kendrick Lamar until I heard his verse of Game’s “The City” and I didn’t want him to stop rapping even after the track cut off.  But over the year, I realized he became the most talked about MC out of LA since Game or Blu. Word came out that Snoop and Dre passed the torch to him at a show. So I finally listened to Section.80 in November after the West Coast edition of this hip hop podcast I was on.

I’ll have more on the album in my top albums post. But this song stuck out to me in so many ways. A song about one of the two main characters on his album, it reminded me of “Brenda’s Got a Baby” with a twist. How many times have I wished for a song that rapped about the struggles women face instead of tell them to dance.

This song moved me to tears one night. A vivid tale about Keisha being doomed as a prostitute with a sad ending. A haunting beat that sets an ominous mood. Kendrick raps each word with so much passion and then the final verse he unloads with energy almost similar to what Nas did on “One Mic”.

Kendrick made this song as a warning to his little sister. It’s a song young women need to hear just as a reminder that life isn’t about shaking your booty, but making wise choices.

What makes Big K.R.I.T. such a dope MC? He captures the best of the South – beats that knock, beats that have soul, songs repping his home, the club and uplifting tracks. When I think of the South, that’s what I imagine the best of the region to sound like.

“The Vent” showed K.R.I.T. at his most soulful where his balance of rapping and crooning meshed perfectly with a mesmerizing, self-produced beat. Similar to Keisha’s Song, the atmosphere is set for K.R.I.T. to preach but instead, he bares witness to his pain and his own thoughts on life, the radio, Kurt Cobain’s suicide and more as he struggles to deal with the death of a friend.

I felt every word of this song and being able to listen to this in Mississippi when I was on my road trip made me feel even more connected to it. K.R.I.T. has passion in his voice and when he said “The radio don’t play the ish I used to love…or maybe I’m just growing up. “ I felt that completely.

This song set the mood for many nights of writing/reflecting. One man’s vent that let into his pain and reminded you of what you’ve overcome too.

Let’s forget that all of you maybe heard this song to death along with some great remixes of it as well as covers (John Legend's is amazing). Let’s forget that this is the Billboard No. 1 song of the Year or that Karaoke TV (Idol, X Factor, The Voice) will no doubt see this performed often. Just remember how great this was when you first heard it and why you liked it.

Adele’s gift is her old soul voice and the way she makes you feel her words despite her coming across as stiff live. So enter some 60’s soul for her background, some backup harmonies and a soaring hook that overpowers you like you were in church.

The first verse is a great crescendo. Simple guitar lick in the first 4 bars as the verse starts “There’s a fire starting in my heart…” then add some drums for the 4 bars, then more instruments and then let it go. Each word adds to the energy and her voice rises to the music so when that hook comes, it’s like the voice of an angel scorned.

Pain didn’t sound anymore beautiful and soulful on the pop charts than it did here. I love how old school this song feels. I could imagine Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, or any soul legend in the 60’s take this song and elevate it.  Adele made it her own and when it ends, you feel like you were taken on a trip you want to relive.

I’m shocked this song was such a huge pop hit. It doesn’t sound like anything on radio and it’s wonderful. The lyrics are sad just like most of the album yet that music uplifts you.

The minute I heard this song in January, I knew it was one of the best songs I had heard in a while. It had me amped for Lasers and while the album disappointed me, this song was an incredible piece of work that said Lupe hadn’t gone soft with his political content.

(I couldn't choose between this or All Black Everything, which I feel is one of the finest songs Lupe has written. But since I wrote about both of them already, I'll go with the single which is this)

Soon as Skylar Grey sings the first words and that beat drops and Lupe jumps in saying “I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bull ish”, you know this song means business. The music is as powerful as Lupe’s words and it reminds you of “American Terrorist”.

It’s the most politically charged rap single I’ve heard in years. Maybe since Killer Mike and Ice Cube released “Pressure” but that didn’t make the radio. At a time when rap has gotten safe, Lupe said that we need to question what we see and what we’ve been sold and test a few conspiracy theories that hip hop used to discuss all the time.

I love the 2nd verse but it’s that 3rd verse where Lupe shines by pretty much saying “I’m tired of people holding back, I’m tired of being afraid of my thoughts scaring people, I know it’s not easy but if I get my thoughts out, maybe you’ll do the same.”  

Sometimes a song comes out of nowhere and kills you softly. A song that just makes you feel good because it sounds so fun and simple. No song did that for me like Pumped Up Kicks from the new princes of L.A. rock.

It was a toss up between this and Black Keys’ ”Lonely Boy” for my favorite rock song. Heck, it was a toss up between this and “Helena Beat” for my favorite on Torches. When I made my decision, I chose the song that stuck with me longer and reminded me of the summer and SoCal cool.

The lyrics are deceptively shocking as they discuss a robbery spree but they mask it behind a smooth drum beat and great synths. Mark Foster’s airy voice reminds you of a backup singer for MGMT but you can’t help but dig every minute of it.

This song was joy in simplicity. A great sound from my city.

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