30. Rihanna “Rude Boy”
The third single from Rihanna’s Rated R album, “Rude Boy” saw the singer go back to her island roots. The tracks steel drums and dancehall beats made for an exotic feel but it is Norwegian producer, Stargate’s trance synths that give the track its signature club feel. Meanwhile Rihanna’s lyrical content drips with sexual tension and energy while never dropping the Jamaican slang.
29. Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg “California Gurls”
Although Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” came out in May, I managed to avoid the song until the fourth of July when I was bombard with it. I found that I was better off not having heard it because for the rest of year the track would get endlessly stuck in my head. It’s not that it is a great song, because it is not; it is that it is the type of well-written pop that has been a staple of the California music scene for decades. With its funky guitars and summery lyrics, the track really does feel like the “Empire State of Mind” for California.
28. NiYi “Jungle Fever”
British DJ and MC, NiYi has been a realitively big deal in Europe for half-a-decade or so. His popularity has never quite translated in America. I was almost sure that the tides would change with his 2010 single, “Jungle Fever.” The track is a little tongue-in-cheek with rapid fire spoken word lyrics with veiled sexual references but it is the song’s circular bass line and driving dance beat that I thought was destined to make the track a club hit in the states. It never quite came to fruition for the track here in the states but I still argue it is one of the best dance records of the year.
27. Nas & Damian Marley “As We Enter”
Nas & Damian Marley came together to record a collaborative album. The album’s lead single “As We Enter” was a unique pop moment this year. The track was produced by Marley and it relies heavily on a sample from African jazz legend, Mulatu Astatke. Rather than containing traditional verses, the song is instead based around a call-and-response type vocals between Marley and Nas similar to jazz improvisation. A truly ambition track from the duo.
26. Kanye West featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, and Bon Iver “Monster”
People talk about what a genius Kanye is and it is probably all justified but no one talked about “Monster” for Kanye West. Sure, Kanye’s production and teaming up with Bon Iver might have been an inspired choice but it is Nicki Minaj’s dynamic verse is the talk of the town. While Nicki Minaj has long been hailed as the new queen of hip hop, her solo album did not seem to prove it. The biggest glimpse of her promise we see is her verse on “Monster.” It makes her line “yeah I’m in that Tonka, colour of Willy Wonka/you could be the King but watch the Queen conquer” seem so true.
25. Best Coast “When I’m With You”
Best Coast’s “When I’m With You” is maybe the best song of it’s type since Travolta and Newton-John sang “Summer Nights.” The track is an unabashed summer romance track that is bristling with the energy and excitement of a new love just as the weather is turning from gloomy winter to a vibrant summer. While the lyrics obviously express this sentiment, the well crafted lo-fi pop backs it up with the surf-meets-California pop style that has become the signature of Best Coast.
24. The Knocks “Something I Can Dance To”
I distinctly recall getting the email that contained The Knocks’s “Something I Can Dance To.” The email said “we did this track the other day for fun and decided to leak it” and I remember think “fuck you, this is what you do for fun.” For fun, I play video games; for fun, the Knocks made a near perfect dance track. The duo steals the formula for 90s dance hits by using sung female vocals mixed with rapped male vocals over a thumping house beat. The formula worked for many an artist in the 90s and yet has largely died out over the past decade; the Knocks revived it just in time.
23. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings “I Learned the Hard Way”
I grew up with my mom primarily listening to country and Motown. My affinity for one genre, country, has severely dwindled over the years. My affinity for Motown has seemingly only grown since my childhood. One of the few new groups that my mother and I can both enjoy is Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. On the first single, “I Learn the Hard Way” from the album of the same name, Sharon Jones produces a song that sounds straight out of the 1960s. Utilizing the same analog record techniques and period instruments, Jones creates a song that transports you to a very specific time in music history.
22. Big Boi featuring Andre 3000 & Sleepy Brown “Lookin’ For Ya (Jedi Remix)”
Universally, Critics appear to agree that Big Boi’s debut solo album, Sir Lucious Left Foot…The Son Of Chico Dusty, is a masterpiece. Unfortunately the album is an unfinished masterpiece because Outkast’s label refused to let Big Boi use any track that featured his partner in crime, Andre 3000. One such track that got cut was “Lookin’ For Ya.” The track has the same fun, funk beat as the rest of Sir Lucious Left Foot but instead of just featuring Big Boi’s mindbending flow, it also features Andre 3000’s spaceman flow. To top off the track, the Outkast boys team up with their old friend, Sleepy Brown to add his smooth chorus vocals.
21. Rick Ross “B.M.F. (Blowin, Money Fast)”
It is hard to imagine all the people Rick Ross pissed off with his single “B.M.F.” Rick Ross booms “I think I’m Big Meech/Larry Hoover.” This irked Young Jeezy who knows Big Meech and insists that former correctional officer Rick Ross is nothing like Big Meech or Larry Hoover. But the point of the song is not that Rick Ross thinks he is Big Meech, the point is that Rick Ross represents what much of hip hop is today…a fantasy. While Kanye expressed this fantasy by pushing the boundaries of what can be considered hip hop, Rick Ross expresses the fantasy by pushing the boundaries of what people will believe; he creates a proposterous story of himself as a black mafia don and expects us to believe it…and we do because it is so damn catchy.