Song of the Week: November – December 2018

Featuring Noname, Jeff Tweedy and Vince Staples

One new song a week, every week. Peep below for the full playlist, as well as a quick breakdown of each track:

December 31, 2018: “Song 31” by Noname (feat. Phoelix)

Noname’s latest feels like a throwaway track—at least that’s what she’d like you to believe. “Song 31” comes just months after the Chicago rapper’s fantastic Room 25 album, and its phoned-in name gives the impression of a demo track.

The only problem? This song is really incredible. Full of Noname’s signature hyper-speed poetry and cheekily clever lines like: “The only b**** actually rapping, it look like me now / Or meow / Kitty just reimagined a freestyle,” the surprise-drop track is somehow one of the best things she’s released this year.

December 24, 2018: “Monster” by 21 Savage (feat. Childish Gambino)

You know what’s a bad idea? Releasing your album at the very end of the year, weeks after every “Best Of” list is finished and most critics have taken their holiday vacations.

21 Savage definitely could’ve timed his follow-up to 2017’s Issa Album better, but he did do one thing right: he asked for help. “Monster,” the record’s best track by far, succeeds thanks to a behind-the-back, no-look assist from Childish Gambino—his first musical collaboration in more than two years.

December 17, 2018: “Where It’s At” by Saba

There’s nothing like a well-deserved victory lap. Saba’s 2018 was a nonstop, runaway train ride of hype: he teamed up with Noname for one of the year’s best tracks, he put out an album that nearly made critics’ heads explode and then he announced a month-long slate of new music to cap it all off.

“Where It’s At,” this week’s entry in the Chicago rapper’s five-week song dump, is a deserving celebratory flex. Saba flashes the dexterous flows and smooth hook work that made his 2018 so successful, all while exciting listeners about what he might have in store for next year.

December 10, 2018: “Break My Heart” by Benny Blanco (feat. Ryan Beatty)

Benny Blanco’s a busy dude. The singer-producer has laid his hands on literally dozens of pop mega-hits over the past decade, from Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold” to Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t” to everything in between.

With so much industry clout, and an equal amount of buzz surrounding his decision to finally produce under his own name, Blanco probably could’ve made the pop album of the year if he wanted. But his debut, FRIENDS KEEP SECRETS, is a total shrug to the sort of mainstream stardom he’s created so many times in the last ten years.

That fact is never more clearer than on “Break My Heart,” the album’s final track. The song is a gorgeous, lovesick mess of super-compressed drums, screeching auto-tuned vocals and spaced-out guitar chords. It’s weird, it’s experimental and it’s a tantalizing preview of just how exciting Blanco’s solo career could be.

December 3, 2018: “Don’t Forget” by Jeff Tweedy

Will Jeff Tweedy ever run out of song ideas? From his early days in Uncle Tupelo to Wilco’s still-dominant indie presence to his various side projects and collaborations, the 51-year-old alt-rocker has put out approximately 32 albums over the past three decades.

But, surprisingly, WARM, the 11-song album Tweedy released last Friday, is his first ever as a solo artist. Unsurprisingly, the record delivers on every level, giving fans all of the grizzly earnestness and soothing alt-country riffs they’ve come to expect from his gargantuan career. The album is strong from top to bottom, but it’s never better than on “Don’t Forget,” where Tweedy croons, jams out and contemplates existence the way only a true veteran can.

November 26, 2018: “The Mint” by Earl Sweatshirt (feat. Navy Blue)

Remember “Free Earl?” It seems like decades ago that Odd Future fans were campaigning for the teenage rap savant to run away from his Samoan boarding school and return to hip-hop. Since then, Earl Sweatshirt has created his own exile, remaining almost completely silent since releasing his sophomore record nearly four years ago.

But then there were murmurs. And a new single. And Vince Staples tweets. And finally, with a stronger, second song and the announcement of a full album this Friday. If “The Mint” is any indication, them the Earl comeback might be nigh: the track’s hypnotic, lo-fi beat feels like the perfect home for Sweatshirt’s nostalgic ramblings, which, as always, he delivers with the sort of mind-blowing proficiency that had so many fans trying to extradite him back in 2011.

November 19, 2018: “6 Summers” by Anderson .Paak

As I’ve written about before, Anderson .Paak thrives on a very wacky, very distinct since of self-assurance. Paak has a Midas touch for braggadocio, and “6 Summers,” the fifth song of his new album, Oxnard, is as swagger-drenched as anything he’s every made.

It’s weirdly political, but only in the same, confusing way that everything feels in 2018 (“Trump’s got a love child, and I hope that b**** is buckwild”). It also features a completely mind-numbing beat change, during which the instrumental transforms into a gorgeous, up-tempo jazz build and Paak, as always, shoots his shot—constantly repeating his confidence that “this s*** gon’ bang at least six summers.”

November 12, 2018: “KOVERT” by Smino

There’s a link to the audio for “KOVERT” on the website for Zero Fatigue, the Midwestern musical collective Smino co-founded in 2014. Just below the embed, on a banner across the bottom of the group’s homepage, sits a two word reminder: “DON’T SLEEP.”

For the 27-year-old rapper, whose sophomore album, Noir, came out last Friday, it feels like more of a description than a mantra. Smino’s songs are endlessly energetic, filled with the sort of clanking, off-beat drums and sporadic flow changes that could only be the creations of some sort of tireless, over-caffeinated mastermind.

“KOVERT” opens the record like shot of espresso: as the beat builds, Smino welcomes listeners to his new project with rapid-fire bars about nostalgia and love, jumping in and out of gorgeous harmonies and wild instrumental breaks that are as beautifully as unwearied as everything he does.

November 5, 2018: “Outside!” by Vince Staples

Vince Staples is nothing if not conciseAt a runtime of just over 22 minutes, the Los Angeles rapper’s latest record is shorter than most episodes of The Big Bang Theory. Simply called FM! the part-EP, part “special project” is crisp, compact and to-the-point (not so different from a certain music blogger’s monthly column, if you happen to like that kind of stuff).

The album’s best moments come when Staples is at his most expedient: “Outside,” a two-minute-drill of a rap song full that slaps the reader in the face with popping bass drums and grimy gang-life imagery, then promptly scurries off on its way, is about as efficient as a hip-hop track can get.

Photo: Neal Wellons/Flickr

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