20. Miguel- Sure Thing
I’ll start off the countdown with a smash R&B #1 that didn’t ever connect with pop audiences. LA raised Miguel helped J. Cole gain his first top 40 appearance on the pop charts in 2010 with “All I Want Is You”, but the follow up single, “Sure Thing”, proved what the hype was about. Though the lyrics are somewhat generic with that PG-13 edge that delicately pushes the envelope, (“If you the blunt/ I’ll be the lighter baby/burn it up”) the mid-tempo production and clever incorporation of a “chopped and screwed” line as part of the chorus allowed it to become one of the standout R&B smashes of 2011. After almost a year on the charts, it still sits comfortably in the R&B/Hip Hop charts’ top 20, which is a testament to the song’s replay value.
19. Toro y Moi- Still Sound
The electronic and hip-hop genres have fascinated me like no other these past two years. I’m not sure if it’s because percussion is my ultimate fetish with pop music, or that they are the two genres that seem to be continually evolving. 2010 saw the emergence of the electronic subgenre “chillwave”- a laptop induced, sampling and loop based new genre that allowed the introduction of new bands like Washed Out, Twin Sister, and… Toro y Moi. As a genre that would have never existed (or been possible) before this current era of technology, “Still Sound” s retro vibe, swanky lounge elements and abstract lyrical content make it a particular standout. For me, Toro y Moi works like Air’s music does- perfect to fall into the background at a swanky cocktail party or to be carefully dissected listening on headphones.
18. Holy Ghost- Hold Your Breath
2011 was Holy Ghost’s breakout year , and tended to be my consensus pick when needing something upbeat, poppy, and melodic. Particularly, “Hold Your Breath” is the standout track that exposes their strengths and turns them up to 11. Holy Ghost certainly aren’t the most original band around- there’s a whole generation of Depeche Mode/Cure synth-pop bands out there currently. They just seem to do it more effectively than anyone else. I’m sure that we’ll be getting lots of bands with similar sounds over the next 10 years, but there’s something special about these guys.
17. Drake- Marvin’s Room
I really don’t believe there is a mainstream artist I’ve ever personally identified more with than Drake. If I were suddenly rich and famous, my thoughts and feelings would directly reflect what Drake introspectively achieves on his sophomore effort, “Take Care”. One of the clearest examples is “Marvin’s Room”- a rude yet completely sincere drunk dial to a former flame. There’s a sense of space and atmosphere in the beats that frequent Drake collaborator Noah “40” Shebib composes, and it’s comforting to know that one of the most forward thinking R&B releases of 2011 had some legitimate airplay on the radio this year.
16. Kreayshawn- Gucci Gucci
And now for my guilty pleasure release of 2011. I know this isn’t the most artistic of tracks, but like 20 other people this year, I couldn’t stop watching the damn video on YouTube. The sheer divisiveness of the white female rapper from Oakland lit up the blogosphere this summer, and the lucrative record deal to Columbia records positioned the song to become a huge hit. It didn’t catch on like I’m sure they hoped it would, peaking outside of the top 50 on the Billboard Hot 100. Still, I can’t think of a lyric I’ve enjoyed more this year than “Bitch you ain’t a Barbie/I see you work at Arby’s/#2 super size/Hurry up I’m starving”. Kreayshawn creates a debate for the authenticity of the genre as most white rappers do. Given that our generation has been fully immersed in hip hop since we were in diapers, this was bound to happen. Plus, future gay icon.