Best Songs of 2009
Unfortunately, sometimes our favorite songs don’t become instant hits. They’re not thrown in heavy rotation on the radio and the DJ won’t play them in the club. Don’t fear. We feel your pain. Here are our picks for the best songs of 2009.
The remix of ‘When the Money Goes’ wins on its production alone. The song is all blocked-out synthesizer swirls, with stabs of tinny 1980s keyboard work and a shuffling club-ready powerhouse beat. Fabolous weaves a cinematic tale of being the brunt by the Feds and wondering if his woman will leave as a result. The super swagger version of Jay-Z backs Fab up on the hook. It’s irresistible — a great artifact of the late Aughts obsession with bigger and bolder.
9. Slaughterhouse, ‘The One‘
Supergroup Slaughterhouse could have failed to deliver on its promise, but ‘The One’ threw any doubts right in the trash. On the lead single off their eponymous debut, Joe Budden, Crooked I, Royce Da 5’9″ and Joell Ortiz take turns spitting fiery rhymes over a rusty electric guitar loop courtesy of producer DJ Khalil, making for one of the spiciest rock-rap hybrids of the year. Each member peppers the brolic beat with electric one-liners, and while the on-track chemistry didn’t translate to mainstream success, ‘The One’ knocks harder than most singles released this year.
k-os is one of Canada’s best kept secrets, and while his most recent album, ‘Yes!,’ didn’t make it across the border (it’s pending a US release), its single ‘I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman’ managed to rip across the continent. The track, which samples Phantom Planet’s ‘California’ by twisting it into a shape shifting slow-roller, has something for everyone, including a spaghetti Western chorus, indelible rhymes and a recurring vocal sample that burrows itself under your skin. Though k-os is still waiting for his big US break, ‘Portman’ is a hit by our standards.
It takes a sharp emcee to keep up with Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj proved she could go toe-to-toe with the best on ‘I Get Crazy.’ The head-spinning track, which serves as the tasty centerpiece of Nicki’s breakout mixtape, ‘Beam Me Up Scotty,’ conveys everything that the Queens-bred emcee has to offer: a militant, animated delivery; whip-smart rhymes about shacking up with the President and coming from another galaxy, and a fire in her belly that hasn’t been present in a femcee in years. By the time Weezy comes into the mix, Nicki has already shut it down.
6. Jay Electronica, ‘Exhibit C’
New Orleans MC Jay Electronica seemingly came out of nowhere, but was immediately all over the map, rhyming over Dilla instrumentals, a piano loop from the soundtrack to ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ producing for Nas and fathering a child with Erykah Badu. However, it wasn’t until he released his Just Blaze produced track, ‘Exhibit A (Transformations),’ that Jay truly shined. The song was to become the start of a series, running from A-Z. It was followed by ‘Exhibit B’ — a remix of the first joint, featuring Mos Def — and ‘Exhibit C,’ which leaked recently and is also produced by Just Blaze, and is equally as impressive. It’s impossible to front on Jays Queensbridge-esque flow and delivery, and his lyrics recall a young God’s Son from days long gone: “They call me Jay Electronica/ F— that, Jay Elec Hannukah/ Jay Elec yarmulke/ Jay Elec Ramadan Muhammad Asalam Alakum/ Rasoul Allah supana watallah through your monitor.”
Throughout 2009, the nihilistic gangster rappers lost stock in favor of younger, more experimental artists. Kid Cudi, Drake and Wale lead the charge with this new style of post-’808s and Heartbreak’ lyricism. ‘Soundtrack 2 My Life,’ off Kid Cudi’s debut album ‘Man on the Moon,’ showcases novel orchestration and a wispy electro beat by Emile as Cudi raps: “I got 99 problems, and they all bitches.” It’s a new kind of emotionally honest voice for a new era.
It’s hard to imagine now, but Rick Ross could have easily been destroyed by 50 Cent. Amazingly, instead of crumbling, he came back with the colossal ‘Deeper Than Rap’ — a lush, undeniably epic effort about the perks of a (fake) kingpin lifestyle. Our favorite track is ‘Maybach Music Pt. 2.’ The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League production reaches new levels of cinematic depth and works as a perfect palette for the track’s all-star cast to spin their magic. The best line is courtesy of Kanye: “I hit the strip club and girls get extra hype/ You hit the strip club and girls turn extra dyke.” Boom!
One of the more notable tracks off Raekwon’s ‘Only Built For Cuban Linx, Pt. 2,’ ’10 Bricks’ features production by the late J. Dilla and the wordplay of fellow Wu-Tang comrades Ghostface and Cappadonna. Raekwon sets the track off with proclamations of his unscathed kingpin status in the streets, as well as the rap game taking command over J. Dilla’s antiquarian snares and high pitched guitar riffs. With chemistry by the three emcees that made the first OB4CL a classic album, ’10 Bricks’ is exactly what Wu-Tang fans have patiently waited over a decade to bless their eardrums.
With just a few weeks until the Virginia-raised blood brothers, Pusha T and Clipse, release their most anticipated album to date — ‘Til The Casket Drops’ — the Internet was hit with an appetizer in the form of a piping hot order of ‘Popeyes.’ “Mami, you miss me, don’t you?/ Haters, wish you could hit me, don’t you?” taunts Pharrell on the song’s hook, who, along with the Neptunes, crafted the song’s gritty musical canvas where the duo effortlessly paint lyrical pictures of the street. Also in a fantasy-like collabo, Cam’ron lets his uptown influence take the track all the way up top to the Big Apple. Just as the Clipse set out to do, ‘Popular Demand (Popeyes)’ is a relic to hardcore New York City street hop.
What more can we say? Jay-Z pretty much owned this year, and ‘Empire State of Mind’ was his biggest moment by far. It’s not just the stadium-ready beat and inescapable Alicia Keys chorus that could peel paint off a wall. Jay-Z uses the track as a bigger platform to connect to New York City with his trademark rags-to-riches history that took place in its streets. After 11 No. 1 albums and a performance of the track at numerous award shows, Yankee Stadium during the World Series and New York City Hall, ‘Empire State of Mind’ was Hov’s first No. 1 single. It’s easy to see why.