It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about music purely for the love of it. As a writing exercise, and a way of sharing what I’ve been listening to, I decided to write about my 10 favorite songs of 2021 so far. If you want to listen along while you read, there are playlists for Spotify & Apple Music at the bottom with honourable mentions that didn’t make the top 10. Enjoy!
Traphouse — Bbymutha feat. Anakin Fly
Bbymutha is the best rapper that you are currently not listening to–unacceptable. She bends words to her will, using her syrupy Tennessee accent to stretch and condense them, while simultaneously stacking rhymes like a thrilling auditory Jenga. Sex–one of her favourite topics to rap about is treated like sacred practice, as she deploys her wide arsenal of rapping brilliance to graphically let off bar after bar with lyrics such as “Let him bust on all my face he Chuckie Cheesin’, throw them tokens, wine & dine me cuz I’m wifey, choke and poke me cuz I’m hoein.” With all the oft-repeated bars about sex, it’s rare to hear a rapper sound like they genuinely enjoy fucking but Bbymutha continues to buck that trend by turning her sex life into raw (no pun intended) poetry. Even though her music is only available on Bandcamp at the moment, every second of her music is surely worth your time as you’re guaranteed something new each listen. She is genuinely one of the most exciting rappers making music at the moment and will be for the foreseeable future.
Geeked Up — ytboutthataction
As part of the new wave of young women trying to grab Nigerian rap by its androcentric throat, yt’s Sage Mode EP was a bright spot in the first half of 2021. Over 4 tracks, she croons some of the most audacious, X-rated (see: Fantastic) bars you’re bound to hear all year. The influence of artists like Sahbabii on her work is undeniable, and she is able to channel his unbothered cool through the project. Standout track Geeked Up is the shortest track on the project but yt doesn’t waste a moment, as she floats through the futuristic beat with ease. She carries an undeniable confidence as she raps “and I’m not playing it’s more love for my ladies, and when I walk that’s when everybody go crazy, and I got 6 kids and I ain’t even had no babies” in her singsong flow, designed to remain ingrained deep in your brain. As she raps about her desire to see her friends succeed, her worries about the effects of wild nights on her body, and even a sneaky tribute to Waka Flocka Flame, it’s easy to forget that she’s a rookie in the game. With more music in the works, I’m looking forward to seeing how her sound further develops.
Never Been In Love — Blaqbonez
Blaqbonez is one of the most innovative, creative, provocative artists operating in Nigeria. His rollouts are already the stuff of legend and his social media antics are inescapable to anyone with an internet subscription. Behind all his humour lies really great music, which is the reason we enjoy all the extras he brings with it. His debut album, Sex Over Love is one of the top albums this year, displaying a wide range of artistic talent as he mixes rap and afro-pop with his own sharp lyrical and comedic sensibilities to push his anti-love agenda. The strongest contributor to that agenda is Never Been In Love, which feels like Blaq’s attempt at showing the world he can be a superstar. The former battle rapper crafts an afro-pop song that feels like the finale of a late night show in Vegas. He pushes his voice to the limit as he sings “never been in love in my life, I don’t trust that shit. Swear all my life I don’t trust that shit, you say i’m the only one but fuck that shit, I know that you got some backup dick”. It’s a bold decrying of love and Blaqbonez pulls it off so convincingly that you’d wonder about the breadth of his musical potential. He’s been basking in well-deserved accolades since the album was released and I know this will remain in rotation for the remainder of the year and beyond.
Poor Chrissy — SV
Being an SV fan is almost like being a fan of a really great tv show with a cult following that hasn’t hit the mainstream just yet. He’s a cigar-smoking lothario leaving a string of broken hearts and empty whiskey bottles in his wake. He only wears Gucci on Tuesdays, his girl lives next to Lebron, and he’s never flown coach. Despite the lush nature of his boasts and beats, there’s an underlying moroseness to his music and Poor Chrissy acts as a perfect microcosm for SV’s sound and world. The song begins with a deep saxophone riff and the sound of dogs barking, the perfect setting for SV to emerge into the underworld of London’s murky night. Over booming drums he starts with “I’m still in my prime, the fire ablaze, can’t put it down, I’m stuck in my ways” which says it all. No matter how much he tries to change, he can’t help but find himself even deeper into this life he’s chosen. SV finds a kindred spirit in Christopher Moltisanti, the hotheaded, drug-addicted, nephew of Tony Soprano who was never quite able to get out of his own way despite his best intentions. Little touches like this serve to deepen the narrative around SV’s music and with a debut album on the way, one only imagines how he’s going to further flesh out the world he’s creating for himself and his following.
p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l — J. Cole & Lil Baby
J. Cole’s no-feature schtick never really impressed me the way it seemed to impress his legion of fans. Features serve to enhance tracks when used correctly and further the competition aspect of rap. However, on The Off-Season, Cole finally sheds the lone wolf trope and invites 21 Savage, Lil Baby, 6LACK, and Bas onboard and the project is all the better for it. On p r i d e . i s . t h e . d e v i l, Cole is in prime form dropping an incisive, reflective verse on the nature of pride and its impact on us and him. His flows are sharp, the lyricism is concise, and in-line with the beat, reminding us why he’s one of the top rappers from his generation when he’s focused. However, Lil Baby still manages to steal the show with an absolute whirlwind of a verse that further proves why he’s deservedly one of the hottest rappers out right now. Baby doesn’t leave you with a second to catch your breath and manages to declare his immortality, take you through his expansive real estate portfolio, and a promethazine addiction in under 45 seconds. It’s one of the strongest features this year and makes this track a true gem from the first half.
Peaking — Tay Iwar
I don’t believe it’s hyperbole to say that Tay Iwar’s voice is a gift bestowed by God to mankind. His vocals are warm and buttery with a dazzling falsetto that can send chills down your spine. Combine that with his master songwriting ability and it’s no wonder that his fans include Asa and Joe Kay among others. Peaking is the outro track on his Love & Isolation EP which might be the closest thing you can find to the musical equivalent of a summer Sunday afternoon. Peaking is Tay at his absolute vocal best and with help from his engineers, he manages to layer his crystalline vocals in such a way that it actually feels like the peak of a trip. He pines for a lover while on a trip of his own singing “think I’m dreaming, my mind is peaking” and repeating “I just wanna see her”. It’s a hypnotic, dreamlike effect that strengthens the feeling of reaching your peak on your drug of choice. Even though it would be great to see a full-length project later this year, if Peaking was the only thing Tay dropped this year, I would still be satisfied.
MURDRR TALK — Lancey Foux
Lancey Foux is fed the fuck up and I don’t blame him. Even though he’s one of the most exciting artists in the UK, the constant (lazy & unwarranted) comparisons to Playboi Carti and Young Thug must be irritating when his sound is completely different to both of them. He’s shown an ability to tackle a wide range of genres with high-octane energy and emotionally honest lyrics. Thankfully, he decides to address these comments immediately on his EP, First Degree. He’s on smoke from the jump and lets everyone know when he says “it’s death to them, and I mean all disrespect” before he even begins rapping. He launches his first salvo by saying “and I love my brothers but I hate these niggas, if I was God I would take these niggas.” It’s a brash start and the aggression only ramps up from there. You can feel his rage when he asks the trolls “Who I sound like now you dickhead?!” He can’t be Stormzy, he can’t be AJ Tracey, he can only be Lancey and that’s more than good enough.
Peace of Mind — Preyé
This might be the latest release to feature on this list but Preyé’s new single grips you from its opening moments. Peace of Mind is aptly titled with it’s soothing instrumentals lazily drifting across the track’s run time like a river under the moonlight in the background. Her husky vocals float in and embrace you, beckoning you to leave your stress behind and focus on her for the next couple of minutes. After the chaos of this past year, hearing her sing about the need to find peace of mind certainly hits home. She condenses our collective stress and anxiety into a couple of lines as she sings “we try not to get worried, we try to feel fine. We don’t want to get worried, just want to feel fine.” This is music to meditate to, while incense burns and you ground your mind in the present. The message is poignant but simple and it resonates deep within. The replay value here is immense and we can only wait to see what else she has to share with us this year.
Lemon Pepper Freestyle — Drake feat. Rick Ross
Ever since Pusha T unceremoniously announced Drake’s child to the world, I have been anticipating the next stage of his artistic career: Dad raps. While the fatherhood mentions on Scorpion felt tacked on at the last minute, Lemon Pepper Freestyle finds him more settled in his new role. No longer hiding his son from the world or the world from his son, we’re treated to bars like “Yeah, teacher-parent meetings, wives get googly-eyed, regardless of what their husbands do to provide. Askin’ if I know Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj.” Here, Drake wears the new role of fatherhood with the comfort of a Nike sweatsuit, giving us a glimpse at true change in his personal life for the first time in a long time. The flexing here reaches new levels of luxury as he declares himself an honorary member of the Dubai Royal Family and details his plans for a funeral at the Air Canada Centre. For the first time in years, the personal nature of Drake’s music feels new and exciting. His pen remains sharp as ever and with Rick Ross providing the chemistry that he has built with The Boy over the years, Lemon Pepper Freestyle is a contender for rap song of the year.
Police N’ Teef — Prettyboy D-O
D-O’s first single of the year opens with a recording of an emergency phone operator: ‘911, what’s your emergency?’ In this case, the emergency at hand is the fact that D-O’s rising star status and undeniable attraction has ultimately landed him in soup with his male audience. Young hitmaker Higo creates an infectious rhythm with a bounce that beckons you to the dance floor, an environment that D-O is more than comfortable in. We are treated to a humorous track in which DO alternates between pleading his innocence: “she never tell me nothing, was it my fault? I ask she got a man, but still she no talk?” and provoking his opposition: “she give me signal, she give me signal, your girl a freak, she send me texts, she send me pictures”. Coupled with a comprehensive rollout that even came with a legendary cameo from Jerry Springer, D-O continues to show why he’s one of the most forward-thinking, entertaining talents making music in Nigeria today.
I’ve made a playlist with the songs above, minus Traphouse (available on Bandcamp), and 6 honourable mentions for 15 tracks that I’ve had in heavy rotation through the year. Let me know what songs you guys have been bumping through 2021 so far. Till next time.