While the Plug One 50’s top 20 albums list is designed to be authoritative (or at least highly opinionated), the top 30 tracks list tends to be a mishmash of random favorites.
These are a few songs that caught my ear. Some were important singles; others were just “YouTube singles”; and still others were random MP3s. It was actually difficult to put together, not due to an abundance of choices, but because I usually pay attention to albums, not songs. I can’t promise that the situation will improve next year, and I’ll learn to remember the cuts that I liked, but shit, it would make this job a lot easier, wouldn’t it?
I decided to rank the top ten, if only to highlight the ones that truly stood out for me, and then alphabetized the rest.
1. Raekwon, “House of Flying Daggers”
Ice H20 Records/EMI
Raekwon caught everyone’s attention with this throwback to the glory days of Wu. Over a banging track from the late J Dilla — which, it should be noted, was reportedly commissioned before Dilla’s death — Rae, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface and Meth drop a bag of heat rocks, with GZA on the chorus. It let us know that the long-delayed Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II would actually be good.
2. Eminem, “Beautiful”
Relapse should have sounded like this bittersweet single, not the drug-addled attempts to reclaim Slim Shady glory that made it such a disappointment. It proves that Eminem, when not sheltered by Jimmy Iovine and a nation of suburban Stans, is still capable of producing great records. Bonus points earned for “Beautiful’s” accompanying video, which paid elegiac tribute to Em’s native, broken-down Detroit.
3. The Roots, “How I Got Over”
“Out on the streets, where I grew up/First thing they teach you is not to give a fuck/That type of thinking will get you nowhere/Someone has to care.” Brilliant.
4. Cage, “Nothing Left to Say”
Cage’s official single, the serial killer fantasy “Depart From Me,” got the Shia LaBouef video treatment, but this teaser single made a bigger impression on me. It honors his late friend and rhyme partner Tero “Camu Tao” Smith, an underappreciated vet who died from cancer last year. (A few major blogs who shall remain nameless, unaware of Camu Tao’s talents, struggled to mount tributes.) Cage gives him the musical tribute he deserves, promising to “live through Camu” over smash-mouth guitars and a raucous El-P beat.
5. Hudson Mohawke, Polyfolk Dance EP
This five-track instrumental 12-inch summarized Hudson Mohawke’s ideas, with the standout “Velvet Peel” at its whimsically digital center.
6. Buckshot & KRS-One, “Robot”
Duck Down Records
After Jay-Z’s “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)” blew up, the airwaves Buckshot tried to claim credit for starting the anti-vocoder trend since his track dropped first. I liked when KRS-One rapped”Go online, look up Kraftwerk/everything we doing is past work.” It was kinda corny: these days, any teeny bopper can not only download Kraftwerk’s complete catalog, but their influences and their followers, which is neatly documented by Allmusic.com. You have to read deeper into Kris’ line to get his overall point — these silly trends really are reverberations of what’s come before them. It’s simple wisdom.
7. Anti-Pop Consortium, “Volcano”
After reuniting last year following a six-year layoff, I wondered if Anti-Pop still had the potential to “disturb the equilibrium.” This vibrant battle rap let me know that my fears were unfounded.
8. Sa-Ra Creative Partners, “Love Czars”
Technically, this 10-minute locked-groove symphony isn’t a hip hop track; you’ll have to dig up the remix featuring Jay Electronica and Ta’Raach for that. However, it exemplified future soul, and all the cross-currents — from hip hop to house music and future jazz — that flow through it.
9. J Dilla feat. Black Thought, “Reality Check”
“Reality Check” was a diamond amidst the rough, unfinished beats and sloppy vocals of Jay Stay Paid. Black Thought’s rant about reality TV hell, with its allusions to Public Enemy’s “She Watches Channel Zero,” rolled over Dilla’s synth-y track like a third rail.
10. Mos Def, “Casa Bey”
Mos Def’s The Ecstatic was effortlessly innovative, and this laser-sharp example of his lyrical prowess, set to his own jazzy shapeshifting beat, was a sterling representation.
And here’s the rest of the list in alphabetical order:
Aceyalone & The Lonely Ones, “The Lonely Ones”
Asher Roth, “Lark in My Go-Kart”
Busdriver, “Least Favorite Rapper”
Cage, “Depart From Me”
Cam’ron, “I Hate My Job”
Clipse, “Kinda Like A Big Deal”
The Clonius, Adroit Adventures EP
Del and Tame One, “The Franchise”
Gold Dust Media
Dorian Concept, “Tropical Trilingual Tease” (online sample track from “Trilingual Dance Sexperience”)
Drake, “Best I Ever Had”
Finale, “Jungle Music”
Kero One, “Welcome to the Bay”
Mos Def, “Supermagic”
MF Doom, “Lightworks”
Pill, “Trap Goin’ Ham”
Grade A Muzik
Raekwon, “Surgical Gloves”
Ice H20 Records/EMI
Tanya Morgan, “Hardcore Gentlemen”
Themselves, “Roman Is As Roman Does”
Theophilus London, “Cold Pillow”