The 2010 Remix Report Card, Vol. 11

Tuesday, November 30, 2010
"The Fire (Remix)" by The Roots featuring B.o.B. and John Legend
This match is somewhat surprisingly only because it seems like if B.o.B. was gonna be on a Roots song, it would've happened a year or two back when he was kind of a well regarded rapper on the come up, not now that he's a known commodity but kind of reviled by most rap fans for his awful sellout singles. Still, he doesn't sound half bad on the verse he tacked onto the beginning of this.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B-

"I'm Beamin' (All City Chess Club Remix)" by Lupe Fiasco featuring Asher Roth, Charles Hamilton, the Cool Kids, Blu, Diggy Simmons, Dosage and B.o.B.
My mild interest in Lupe had pretty much evaporated by the time his 2nd album dropped, so it's funny to think that not only does he have loyal stans protesting the label to release his 3rd, but he's kind of become an elder statesman of a whole little generation of clever-but-not-actually-that-smart blog rappers, and it's hilarious to hear him trot them all out as part of his little supergroup on the remix to one of his shitty non-hit singles.
Best Verse: Blu
Overall Grade: C

"Like A G6 (Like Three 6 Official Remix)" by Far East Movement featuring Three 6 Mafia
There's something kind of surreal about Three 6 Mafia being enough part of the pop culture firmament that they're referenced in the chorus of a #1 hit by an Asian hipster dance act, and even moreso that they gladly jumped on a remix of the song. But really the most entertaining thing about this track is that Juicy J says "looking for a chick with ass and titties" and a YouTube commenter thought he said "chink."
Best Verse: DJ Paul
Overall Grade: B

"Michael Knight (Remix)" by Curren$y featuring Raekwon
I'm still kinda on the fence about Curren$y, he's clearly talented and I like him more than his buddy Wiz Khalifa, but his music and persona tend toward the kind of dull and monochromatic, even this single with the goofy title/hook. Having an interesting and somewhat unexpected guest like Rae perked my ears up, but he doesn't really sound too comfortable on this beat.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: C-

"Pretty Girl Rock (Remix)" by Keri Hilson featuring Kanye West
I just raved about this song a little while ago, and I'm glad that it seems to be taking off, but less than thrilled that its remix features Kanye, whose recent guest verses have been mostly pretty dire, and who did one of his worst guest appearances ever on Keri's "Knock You Down." I didn't mind him on this as much as I thought I would, though, his verse has its moments.
Best Verse: n/a
Overall Grade: B

Monday, November 29, 2010

This month on the Baltimore City Paper's Noise blog I wrote live reviews of The Streets of Baltimore: Songs of Our City @ Creative Alliance, Say Anything @ Sonar, and Devin Ocampo @ the Writer's Center.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Every year there’s at least one or two Nels Cline records worth getting excited about, but I’m really feeling spoiled by the guy in 2010 -- so far there’s been a Nels Cline Singers double album, the debut of Floored By Four, his new supergroup with Mike Watt, some East coast shows, and yet another double album, this one called Dirty Baby -- and that’s not even counting the Singers album with ROVA and some other collaborative projects I haven’t heard yet.

Dirty Baby is apparently some kind of multi-media collaboration with poet David Breskin's and painter Ed Ruscha, but I grabbed the album as soon as I saw it on eMusic, so I don’t know what I’m missing with the rest of the package, I may have to buy the physical thing at some point. The music component is pretty great, though, particularly the first disc of seven longer pieces -- at the moment the gorgeous "Dirty Baby: Part II" and the relaxed groove of "Dirty Baby: Part V" are my favorites. The 2nd disc of 30-something shorter pieces is a bit less enjoyable, because while there's a wealth of different sounds and moods, the constant blurting of one idea and skipping to the next doesn't really suit Nels's music that much. That said, disc 2 is worth it just for amazing song titles like “You Dirty Rotten Bitch” and “I Thought I Told You That We Wont Stop,” and Cline’s supporting cast of musicians on the album is pretty huge and impressive, and includes Jon Brion, Alex Cline, members of the Nels Cline Singers, Jeremy Drake, and Vinny Golia, among many others.

Singles of the '00s, Part 5: Non-Southern Rap

Monday, November 22, 2010
A few weeks ago, when I posted the southern rap portion of this series, I mentioned that I was choosing to divide the rap lists into 50 southern rap hits and 50 non-southern rap hits because it made a certain sense, given that roughly half the most popular hip hop of the last decade was from the south. Of course, that doesn't take into account the 50 rap/R&B crossover singles I counted down over the summer, of which there was way more east coast rap than southern rap (because, well, east coast cats needed R&B singers to make hits more than southerners, let's face it). But I should say, this is not a strictly east coast or NYC list; only about half the songs are by New York rappers (the same way about half of the other list's songs came from Atlanta), you've also got Philly, Chicago, L.A., Detroit, and a whole lot of other towns and cities from the east coast, west coast and midwest represented. As with the other lists in this series, I'll be posting each of the 50 songs one at a time throughout this week, 10 a day, and you can follow me on Twitter as I unveil each choice:

50. Joe Budden - “Pump It Up” (2003)
#38 Hot 100, #16 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #10 Hot Rap Tracks

Just Blaze was the decade's best East coast producer, largely for his bombastic updates of classic boom bap and his shepherding of the oft-copied Roc-A-Fella helium soul sound, but occasionally demonstrated an ear for more overtly radio-friendly club bangers. And this was his most perfect pop jam, with the rising star Budden proving to be a great foil for the funky horn-driven beat, even if the single ultimately failed to delivery him to post-GRODT superstardom, which set him up for a long downward slide into internet stan pandering and an increasingly miserable discography of "serious" music that isn't a fraction as enjoyable as "Pump It Up."

49. The Clipse - "When The Last Time" (2002)
#19 Hot 100, #8 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #7 Hot Rap Tracks

Like Budden, the Clipse rode great production and solid rhymes to a gold plaque, and then spent the next few years acting all pissy and entitled that they didn't quite hit platinum and actually had to work to keep people's attention and couldn't quite hack it making radio jams anymore after their producers fell off and/or stopped giving them heat. Perhaps the greatest PR coup of the decade was the Clipse convincing Pitchfork readers that making mixtapes and jacking industry beats when the label wouldn’t give them a release date was the slightest bit bold or innovative. But also like Budden, their brief flirtation with stardom produced a deathless club rocker. And as I made clear in the previous rap list, I don’t really consider the Neptunes/Timbaland VA Beach scene part of the south, at least as far as southern rap is concerned.

48. Lupe Fiasco - “Kick, Push” (2006)
#78 Hot 100, #56 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, # Hot Rap Tracks

Lupe isn’t quite there yet, but with his fans petitioning his label to release his almost certainly terrible 3rd album, he’s clearly on the Budden/Clipse path right now. This is the secret history of mainstream rap over the past decade: the south keeps winning, while everyone develops a persecution complex to cope with their inability to make more than a couple hits. But again, Lupe at least came out the gate strong with a good record before he got all insufferable and Kid Lupi with his new shit.

47. Da Brat - "That's What I'm Looking For" (2000)
#56 Hot 100, #18 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #11 Hot Rap Tracks

Where Lupe at least at first fit the Common/Kanye mold of Chicago hip hop’s most well known tradition of conscious boom bap, Da Brat is part of the other tradition of midwest hip hop of Twista and Bone Thugs, doubletime flows and deep bass that ended up defining the sound of the south more than any other region, and of course she blew up on Atlanta’s So So Def Records. She’s also part of the lineage of super animated raging id female rappers like Missy and Left Eye that had been pretty much dormant until the recent rise of Nicki Minaj. But oh yeah: how fucking sick is this beat?

46. Coo Coo Cal - "My Projects" (2001)
#81 Hot 100, #22 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

And it just underlines my point about midwestern rap not being too different from southern rap that one of the rawest regional rap anthems of the earlier part of the decade came out of motherfuckin’ Wisconsin.

45. Nelly f/ the St. Lunatics - "Air Force Ones" (2002)
#3 Hot 100, #4 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

Of course, Nelly and his crew out of St. Louis were the guys that really made people start thinking about the midwest as a fertile rap region in and of itself with its own sound, although that was kind of short-lived and mainly has a legacy today in the form of an endless parade of one hit wonders that could’ve come from anywhere like Jibbs and Huey. This song, however, is a Nelly classic produced by the TrackBoyz, who helped kind of fashion their own distinctive twist on the St. Louis sound with a bunch of other productions including their own one hit wonder, J-Kwon. The Lunatics may have never been stars in their own right, but they were pretty entertaining guys when they got their hands on a goofy concept like this.

44. Jay-Z f/ Memphis Bleek and Amil - "Hey Papi" (2000)
#73 Hot 100, #16 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

In the pantheon of Jay/Timbaland collaborations, this is a pretty minor one, nowhere near as popular oe revered as megahits “Big Pimpin’” and “Jigga What, Jigga Who,” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” or even the deep cuts from Volume 3. But yo, this song is the shit. Listen to the way Jay’s flow hits all those offbeat rhythmic accents, and all those gnarly textures Tim hides in there. 2000 Jay is probably my favorite era just for back to back classic radio jams, shit like “Change The Game” and “Do My” and the “Best Of Me” and “Fiesta” remixes.

43. The Diplomats f/ Juelz Santana and Cam’ron – “Dipset Anthem” (2003)
#64 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

In the summer of ‘03, the platinum afterglow of Come Home With Me gave Cam’ron an opportunity to give his crew some shine, and while the Diplomats didn’t possess any particularly obvious star power or talent that other rap star vanity crew projects of the era like D12 or the St. Lunatics didn’t, there was immediately something winning and entertaining about Dipset and the way they brought a new type of swagger to the Roc-A-Fella stable and the Heatmakerz put their own twist on the Roc soul beat sound. Within the next couple of years, though, those qualities made the Diplomats the rap crew of choice for all sorts of semi-ironic douchebaggy casual rap fans, Juelz and Jim Jones ended up being pretty miserable mid-level solo stars, and it all got old quick. But still, back in ‘03 they were the shit. At the time, I preferred the more aggressively goofy and over the top Juelz solo single that came out the same summer, “Dipset (Santana’s Town),” but clearly “Dipset Anthem” has aged into more of a classic over the years.

42. Audio Push - “Teach Me How To Jerk” (2009)
There have been a lot of bubbling regional scenes and trends in rap outside of the south the last few years, and for the most part it's not clear which ones may or may not turn out huge or start cranking out major hits at some point. The jerk music scene of L.A. has already yielded a couple big singles, but I kind of hate "You're A Jerk" and "Teach Me How To Dougie" -- instead it's the latter's original reference point, which didn't even chart last year but got a lot of play on MTV Jams, that's kind of become my token favorite jerk song. Is there any more stuff out of that scene that sounds like this? Everything else I've heard sounds so lethargic by comparison.

41. Snoop Dogg f/ Too $hort and Mistah F.A.B. - "Life Of Da Party" (2008)
#105 Hot 100, #48 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #14 Hot Rap Tracks

Even though Snoop came up in the ‘90s and made most of his best music then, he’s still pretty much west coast rap’s biggest and most consistent hitmaker of the ‘00s, by virtue of his ceaseless ability to coast and make music just good enough to keep him in the spotlight. But I had a hard time figuring out how to represent him on this list, since he was already on the rap/R&B list with some of his crossover rap & bullshit(I mean, uh, rhythm & gangsta) hits, and I have to admit I’ve just never been into his biggest latter day straight up rap hit, “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” So yeah, this random minor hit from Ego Trippin’, which features a slightly older west coast vet and a much younger Cali rapper who looks like he’s 55, I like this more than “Drop It LIke It’s Hot,” so sue me, I think this is a fuckin’ jam.

40. Kanye West – “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” (2005)
#43 Hot 100, #21 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #11 Hot Rap Tracks

It feels weird to have only one single by one of the biggest rap stars of the decade so low on the list, but really Kanye features R&B singers on so many of his best singles that I already listed a lot of my favorites on the other list (“Slow Jamz,” “All Falls Down,” “Flashing LIghts,” “The Good Life,” several more not on that list like “Gold Digger,” etc.). And this song still has a big old Shirley Bassey hook, although I’m not counting samples as guest singers. But really this whole track is just ill, I know not everyone loves it or holds Late Registration in as high esteem as I do, but that album and this single really to me represent one of his peaks as a producer and probably the best rapping he’s ever done (although Jay still slaughtered him on the remix).

39. B. Rich - “Whoa Now” (2002)
#98 Hot 100, #53 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

I've spent hundreds and hundreds of hours listening to Baltimore hip hop over the past decade, and I can assure you, "Whoa Now" is not remotely the best song I've heard from that scene. But it's pretty much the only one that got within shouting distance of the Billboard charts, and it is pretty fun, B. Rich's rubbery delivery doing a hop skotch over a "Movin' On Up" theme sample by Baltimore club producer Dukeyman. I've already started having some mild arguments about this list having Virginia artists like the Clipse, and Baltimore is further north but still below the Mason-Dixon line, but I think there should be less argument here, nobody who's aware of Baltimore hip hop thinks of it as a southern hip hop scene.

38. Ghostface Killah f/ Jadakiss - "Run" (2004)
When “Run” first dropped, I thought it would be the next little step into the mainstream for my beloved poor downtrodden Baltimore rap scene, because the original 12” and video version featured a new Def Jam signee named Comp who I was really excited about at the time and was the first local rapper I ever interviewed. But then, DJs started cutting the record off after the Kiss verse to make it more of a straight up duo of two New York powerhouses, and by the time the album dropped Comp’s verse, which is pretty great by the way, had been entirely erased from history. Still, pretty awesome song either way.

37. Ma$e - “Welcome Back” (2004)
#32 Hot 100, #17 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #8 Hot Rap Tracks

I remember when I first heard "Welcome Back" on the radio, it was so nice to have Ma$e back, I welcomed him.

36. Hotstylz f/ Yung Joc - “Lookin’ Boy” (2008)
#47 Hot 100, #11 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #9 Hot Rap Tracks

Once again blurring the lines between southern rap and other regions is this Chicago group, who blew up on YouTube with a track that basically sounds like “Laffy Taffy” but has way better jokes in the verses, and then got signed and threw a mid-level Atlanta star on it to help it get big. Thing is, Joc’s jokes on this are pretty good too, so I’ll give him props.

35. Ray Cash f/ Scarface - "Bumpin' My Music" (2006)
#56 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Another midwest act whose only hit featured a more popular southern rapper, in this case a barely known Cleveland cat who somehow got a Houston legend on the track. A lot of rap songs celebrate rap and pay homage to other artists, but few capture the actually joy of listening to it as well and as cleverly as this song. Fun fact: Ray Cash’s real last name is Cheeks. Ray Cheeks! I copped his album, it was pretty decent.

34. N.O.R.E. - “Grimey” (2001)
#62 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

The Neptunes foreshadowed their 2000’s dominance with 1998’s “Superthug,” and N.O.R.E.’s luck at having gotten with them on the way up resulted in a number of later collaborations of varying quality, from the somewhat generic banger “Oh No” to the absolutely flaccid accordian loop dud “I’m A G.” Even after N.O.R.E.’s infamous “straight flagrino” interview, circa 2000 but circulated on the internet as if new several years later, wherein he speculated on Pharrell’s sexual orientation and cited it as the reason he’d never work with the Neptunes again, N.O.R.E. realized how much he needed their beats and went back for his biggest hit, “Nothin’.” I never got to into that one, though, the beat and the hook just sound a little clunky to me, whereas the street single that preceded by a few months, “Grimey,” was the Neps at their ugliest and meanest, with an unnerving tambourine rattle, halting snares and searing lazer beam synths.

33. Jay-Z - "99 Problems" (2004)
#30 Hot 100, #26 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #10 Hot Rap Tracks

The Black Album and this song in particular, kind of mark the beginning of the everything to everyone Jay, the guy constantly expanding his cultural portfolio to be the rapper everyone can agree on, as opposed to the guy who was just happy being the king of New York and the idol of every mainstream rap fan up until that point. On some level I do admire what he’s become since then, but let’s face it: his musical choices have been mostly shitty, and he plain can’t rap that well anymore. But this Rick Rubin collab is one of those kind of shrewdly ‘bold’ choices he made back when he still could rap, and it resulted in a classic song. I remember braving the Black Friday traffic to cop the album, and all the rap stations were banging this one over and over, and it just felt like a special moment, even if non-singles like “P.S.A.” and “Encore” have kinda become more iconic songs from that album for Jay fans over the ensuing years.

32. Freeway f/ Peedi Crakk - “Flipsides” (2003)
#95 Hot 100, #40 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Another Roc classic from the last era where the label really had their whole movement in full swing, and another one that I remember just being blown away by the day the album dropped, and was overjoyed when I found out it was gonna be a single. State Prop generally was not a crew that turned out a lot of club bangers, but they hit on something with “Rock The Mic,” and then Free and Just Blaze just kind of amped it up tenfold on this song.

31. Missy Elliott f/ Ludacris - “Gossip Folks” (2003)
#8 Hot 100, #5 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

Speaking of Luda, I almost thought about cutting this from the top 50 because I didn’t want to load the list up too much with tracks featuring southern rappers, but then I saw the video on Fuse the other day and remembered that this song is pretty much undeniable. I’m not the biggest fan of “Work It” or the Under Construction album in general, but I fuckin’ love this song. More rappers who want to complain about the rumor mill should take a cue from Missy and just make the song as weird and warped and fun as possible so that it doesn’t just sound whiny.

30. E-40 f/ Keak Da Sneak - "Tell Me When To Go" (2006)
#35 Hot 100, #37 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #8 Hot Rap Tracks

There was something admirable, but also kind of contrived and forced, about the way Lil Jon, having made crunk a household word, turned his eye towards the Bay area and decided to do the same for hyphy. So it was kind of appropriate that this song totally failed to do what it aimed to commercially, and the terrible follow-up single featuring T-Pain ended up being a much bigger hit and a more accurate prediction of the future of mainstream rap. Still, this song was pretty great and should have been bigger.

29. Busta Rhymes - “Break Ya Neck” (2001)
#26 Hot 100, #10 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #9 Hot Rap Tracks

Similar to what I was saying about Snoop earlier, Busta is another guy who left most of his indisputable classic songs back in the ‘90s, and has kind of coasted along for the past decade doing guest verses on everything, chasing trends and landing the occasional fluke hit. For a while I hemmed and hawed about whether this or the later minor Neptunes collaboration “Light Your Ass On Fire” was my favorite, but really this was a pretty great combination of Busta’s doubletime and the Dre/Storch sound before it got too stale and predictable. This is what Busta on Aftermath should’ve sounded like, not that Big Bang bullshit.

28. Prodigy - “Keep It Thoro” (2000)
#97 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #17 Hot Rap Tracks

One of Ballerina P’s last popularly acknowledged moments of greatness before Jay put him on the Summer Jam screen, Mobb’s output completely fell off, and he started turning out good but increasingly uncommercial solo albums. Also one of the Alchemist’s first popularly acknowledged moments of greatness.

27. Lloyd Banks f/ 50 Cent - "On Fire" (2004)
#8 Hot 100, #4 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

Generally speaking, in terms of quality if not popular success, 50 had a much better batting average making singles for the other members of G-Unit than for himself for a while there, and this is a prime example. Banks is just a great effortless punchline artist and this was a great foot for him to put forward, that one quick moment where he seemed like maybe a real star and not just a cog in 50’s at the time very effective assembly line of readymade G-Unit minions. And don’t let anyone tell you this is Eminem’s beat, Kwame produced it and Em probably just added some horns and shit.

26. Fabolous - "Breathe" (2004)
#10 Hot 100, #4 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

Fab, like Banks, is a specialist at perfect monotone punchlines and little else who’s shown a pretty remarkable tenacity over the years as far as staying on the radio and staying in the game even though he’ll simply never be looked at as one of the greats or even a serious A-lister. This song, virtually the only hardheaded straight up rap song in his R&B-heavy catalog of hits, has a lot to do with why he still gets just enough respect to keep making goofy sellout jams with almost disconcertingly clever lyrics.

25. Da Band - “Bad Boy This, Bad Boy That” (2003)
#50 Hot 100, #15 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #13 Hot Rap Tracks

The motley crew of rappers plus a singer and a faux dancehall guy that Diddy assembled for his hip hop version of television’s “Making The Band” was such a hysterical trainwreck that it’s totally appropriate that most people remember them via a “Chappelle’s Show” sketch. That said, they did manage to score a #1 album, and their lead single improbably turned out kind of great, with a relentless beat, great posse cut energy, and a clever trick of having the hook kind of overlap the verses.

24. Shyne f/ Barrington Levy - “Bonnie & Shyne” (2001)
#57 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

One of Puff’s other infamously abortive attempts at starmaking in the 21st century was the skinny guy who kinda sounded like Biggie and ended up being such a loyal Bad Boy soldier that he did a few years for his boss. Before the “just put Lil Wayne on everything” A&R approach of recent years, it was kind of bizarre and unheard of for a new artist to randomly have dancehall star Barrington Levy on both the first and third singles from his debut album, but hey, it worked out pretty well. I thought about putting this on the rap/R&B crossover list, but dancehall isn’t really R&B and even though it’s kind of a loverman track it’s also just a great rap song.

23. Swizz Beatz - "It's Me, Bitches" (2007)
#83 Hot 100, #30 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #17 Hot Rap Tracks

Few rap super-producers have ever seemed less adaptable or more indebted to their personal ties to an already successful artist or label than Swizz Beatz, who got in on the ground floor of the Ruff Ryders movement through straight up nepotism and seemed like he won the lottery when some of his DMX productions hit and every other star in rap wanted some of his brittle bangers. And then, improbably he ended up being kind of a chameleonic journeyman whose career’s second wind has lasted far longer than the first. Sure, he’s kind of a caricature and he brings a similar energy to almost every track even when the sounds get more varied and weird pretty much every year, but I really have come to respect the guy as kind of a genius, even if he’s the kind of genius who makes a dumbass song like “It’s Me, Bitches,” which has the great idea to repeat its one verse twice, and get in and out in just 2 minutes, an editorial savvy and appreciation for brevity that almost every other contemporary 4 1/2-minute drag of a rap hit lacks.

22. Memphis Bleek f/ Jay-Z and Missy Elliott - "Is That Your Chick?" (2000)
#68 Hot 100, #19 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #7 Hot Rap Tracks

Jay-Z singlehandedly willed Roc-A-Fella into brand name status long before anyone really gave much of a shit about anyone else on the roster, and during that period he’d often keep the other artists on the label afloat in some pretty transparent ways. When he had hits to spare on 1999’s Vol. 3, he set aside songs for the other guys – this one for Memphis Bleek’s album, “Anything” for Beanie Sigel’s album even though Beanie wasn’t on it at all. The Vol. 3 ‘lost verses’ version of “Is That Your Bitch?” is inherently better because of the Twista verse that was excised from the Bleek single mix, but this is still a massive song from the Jay/Missy/Timbo triumvirate. Bleek’s follow-up, “Do My,” which of course also featured Jay, was pretty great too.

21. Eminem - "Without Me" (2002)
#2 Hot 100, #13 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #5 Hot Rap Tracks

I’ve always been kind of the odd man out in relation to Eminem. He’s obviously good at his style of rapping, but his subject matter and the kind of showoffy internal rhyme style have never appealed to me that much, and he’s always been most likeable to me when he’s basically admitted that he loves Redman and Pharcyde and that he’d probably sell no more than them if he wasn’t white. So it’s kind of funny that one of my favorite songs of his is this kind of obvious “The Real Slim Shady” knockoff that leans even harder on his ability to spark lame media controversies and goes a little nuts with overly clever rhymes. But it’s just so playful and loose about it all that it really works for me, and I’ll take the total not-giving-a-fuck silliness of “My Band” or “Ass Like That” any day over the bland pap he’s got on the charts these days.

20. Nelly - "E.I." (2000)
#15 Hot 100, #10 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Nelly had a gang of hits back when he first came out, and a lot of them were pretty huge anthems. But since I never totally warmed up to “Country Grammar” and “Hot In Herre” hasn’t aged especially for me, I unexpectly ended up picking this as his highest ranking song on the list. Part of it’s just that it’s a great beat, part of it’s my amusement at nobody at any point during the making of this record pointing out to Nelly that the Speedy Gonzales catchphrase he was quoting was in fact the Spanish word “arriba” and not the nonsensical acronym “E.I.”

19. J-Kwon - "Hood Hop" (2004)
#101 Hot 100, #52 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

But you know what I like more than any Nelly hit? This middling later St. Louis rapper’s follow up to his one hit, “Tipsy,” which made me briefly obsessed with the production of the TrackBoyz. I mean listen to this beat, it is just one of the nastiest most awesome things I’ve ever heard on the radio, and J-Kwon’s bizarre crumpled up voice just makes it sound all the more subtly alien.

18. Cam'ron f/ Juelz Santana - "Hey Ma" (2002)
#3 Hot 100, #7 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #4 Hot Rap Tracks

A goofy, relaxed summer jam that samples the Commodores’ “Easy,” improbably one of the songs that helped launch maybe the biggest street rap movement of the decade and produced by the guy that did “Ante Up” (although really, if you listen to both songs, D.R. Period used pretty much the same drums on both, which would never occur to you if you didn’t know it was the same guy).

17. Twista - "Overnight Celebrity" (2004)
#6 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

In the wake of "Slow Jamz" and all the College Dropout hits, I feel like it sometimes gets forgotten or lost in the shuffle just how awesome this song is, and it remains one of my favorite Kanye beats, as well as a great performance from Twista, complete with the sleazy "let me be your manager" ad lib. The way the violin creeps in and adds a little counter melody to the beat during that short verse is such a perfect detail that helps elevate this song just a little more.

16. Cassidy - "I'm A Hustla" (2005)
#34 Hot 100, #8 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #5 Hot Rap Tracks

Cassidy got his buzz up initially as the Philly battle rapper than embarrassed Freeway, then sold out big time with the debut single "Hotel" and didn't end up with much in the way of sales to show for it all. So this song was a pretty calculated attempt to win back the fans he'd started alienating before his career even got off the ground, and it only worked at all because "I'm A Hustla" is pretty fucking great. The Jay sample made a nice hook, but the novelty value had already worn off a few months after "Bring Em Out," and Swizz just went in and filled the thing out with drums that were hard as fuck and a ton of great little synth and piano lines.

15. 50 Cent - "I Get Money" (2007)
#20 Hot 100, #10 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #4 Hot Rap Tracks

A couple years after 50 and Cassidy briefly sneered at each other without quite getting into an all-out beef, 50 grabbed a track by some random producer off the internet that happened to wholesale bite the "I'm A Hustla" drums, and made an eleventh hour bid for the street anthem that his faltering advance singles campaign for Curtis so desperately needed. I'll go ahead and say that this is kind of weirdly 50's only solo single on this list, but really all my favorite Get Rich Or Die Tryin' tracks were just non-singles.

14. Freeway f/ Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel - "What We Do" (2002)
#97 Hot 100, #47 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, # Hot Rap Tracks

his song is just a fucking masterpiece, one of Just Blaze's most urgent bangers with Free doing the relentless histrionics that became his trademark while Jay leans over his shoulder and mutter "keep flowing" between bars, before stepping into to do a verse himself (that's honestly a little subpar for Jay in that era but still pretty good) and Beanie batting cleanup.

13. Eminem - "Lose Yourself" (2002)
#1 Hot 100, #4 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #2 Hot Rap Tracks

After "Without Me" started to win me over to goofy Eminem in a big way, even the earnest Eminem I hated so much on "The Way I Am" started to grow on me with this song, which is more than a little bit corny but still really rousing and effective, and to date still his biggest urban radio hit. The seriousness with which Em says "mom's spaghetti" and "there's no Mekhi Phifer" makes me laugh than most of the actual jokes in his discography.

12. Nas - "Made You Look" (2002)
#32 Hot 100, #12 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #9 Hot Rap Tracks

It’s funny but mostly sad that people still use Salaam Remi’s name as shorthand for weak production on later Nas albums when he made this fucking song. I remember when I first heard it on the radio, I hadn’t heard most of his ‘90s stuff yet (since I was a loyal Jay-Z stan when that beef first fired up), and I thought this had to be some raw old shit and was kind of shocked when I realized it was new. Probably the only thing keeping this out of the top 10 was that the a cappella finish feels kind of awkward to me, doesn’t have nearly as much energy as it would’ve needed to work well.

11. The Clipse f/ Pharrell - "Grindin'" (2002)
#30 Hot 100, #10 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #8 Hot Rap Tracks

I remember spring break ‘02, watching “Rap City” and kind of rolling my eyes at Pharrell’s whole “THE WORLD IS ABOUT TO FEEL SOMETHING IT’S NEVER FELT BEFORE” speech preceding this weird, stilted song with too loud drums and a kind of goofy hook while these two interchangeable, kind of anonymous guys rapped in these small voices. At the time it just felt like Pharrell’s hubris catching up with him. And then, by the time the summer rolled around, that shit was blasting out of every car and it just felt perfect, and it seemed like the Neptunes hit parade would never slow down. And then it did, but not because of anything that sounded like “Grindin’.”

10. Jadakiss f/ Styles P. - "We Gonna Make It" (2001)
#103 Hot 100, #62 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #5 Hot Rap Tracks

After the LOX escaped Bad Boy and the shiny suit ‘90s, Kiss started to emerge as the group’s default breakout star, but he never really lived up to his own “top 5 dead or alive” hype and given that most of his best moments came on guest verses, or on records like this, trading lines back and forth with Styles, over an Alchemist beat originally given to Ras Kass so thunderous that it’s one of the rare instances of rappers fighting over a beat where the fuss was maybe kind of warranted.

9. Method Man & Redman - "Da Rockwilder" (2000)
# Hot 100, #51 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #14 Hot Rap Tracks

Another iconic east coast duo’s arguable best track together, over a beat so sick they had to name the song after the producer. A lot of these songs are from very early in the decade, but this is the one song where I kind of stretched the chronology, since it was on a 1999 album, and was probably released as a single very late that year, but peaked on the R&B chart on January 15th, 2000 and kind of slowly became a classic club rocker over the course of the decade.

8. Cam'ron f/ Juelz Santana - "Oh Boy" (2002)
#4 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

Even though Cam’s first music on Roc-A-Fella was clearly working from the same blueprint that Just Blaze and the label’s other producers set in place on The Blueprint the year before, I feel like in some ways this was the song that really set off the helium soul trend, and in particular the style of having one vocal loop go through the whole song and get used as part of the verses, which hadn’t really been done on any of the big Jay singles at the time.

7. Talib Kweli - “Get By” (2003)
#77 Hot 100, #29 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #16 Hot Rap Tracks

I was one of the few weird people who liked Kweli more than Mos in Black Star, and I'd just started getting really obsessed with Kanye productions around 2002, so I was kind of ridiculously hyped about the idea of them working together before I even heard this song, and somehow it absolutely surpassed my expectations. The remix with Jay and Busta cemented the vague auspicious "backpack going mainstream in the best possible way" vibe this song carried with it, although the remix itself was a total letdown and Pitchfork was ridiculous for listing it instead of the original in their end-of-decade list. Can you believe Kanye wanted to give this track to Mariah instead? I wish he still used drums that knocked this hard.

6. Nas - "One Mic" (2002)
#43 Hot 100, #14 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #7 Hot Rap Tracks

Hip hop production, by and large, is about static repetition, giving the vocals a solid bedrock so you can focus on the words, and I know that’s the name of the game. But as production and songwriting techniques have progressed and diversified over the years, I’ve always been kind of bummed that more people don’t put the work into making the verses and the hook more musically distinct. And that’s the main reason why this song has always been so arresting to me, the way it’s so immaculately structured to rise and fall in intensity, almost more of the soft/loud contrast more common in modern rock songwriting than anything else. But beyond all that, it’s just a great rap song.

5. Terror Squad f/ Fat Joe and Remy Ma - "Lean Back" (2004)
#1 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

It's kind of crazy to think that a song this hard by a group, where the biggest star is an eternal B-lister, climbed to #1 just by being awesome and vaguely spawning a dance trend (or anti-dance trend). I mean, Fat Joe calls Lil Bow Wow and B2K faggots on this! Remy Ma hearing this song, deleting Fat Joe's 2nd verse while he was out of the studio and tracking her own before he got back, and basically muscling her way onto a #1 hit with an absolutely flawless verse is probably the single greatest female rap moment of the past 10 years, fuck Minaj.

4. The Game f/ 50 Cent- "Hate It Or Love It" (2005)
#2 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #1 Hot Rap Tracks

Sometimes I think of all the great joints 50 gave away to other G-Unit artists in this period, and imagine how The Massacre coulda been a classic if he'd just saved those for himself instead of making "Candy Shop." But really, as much as I can't stand Game, this song does really work well for him and his verses fit it perfectly, even if 50 is totally the guy that makes this song as great as it is.

3. Jay-Z - “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” (2000)
#11 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #4 Hot Rap Tracks

Just one of the all-time great club bangers, every second of this song is killer and has something memorable about it. It always kind of drove me nuts that there are 3 voices on the chorus, 2 of which are clearly Jay and Pharrell, and the whole last decade I'd wonder the other guy is saying the "gimme that sweet, that nasty, that gushy stuff" part. Then I finally just looked at the Dynasty liner notes, and they say “additional vocals by Sparks,” presumably Omillio Sparks from State Property.

2. M.O.P. - "Ante Up (Robbing-Hoodz Theory)" (2000)
#74 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

As bangers go, good old fashioned mean aggressive New York hip hop bangers, there's probably nothing in the world more perfect that this song, not even in DJ Premier's discography. I'm not even sure what else to say about this, it's just that beloved and undeniable. East coast rappers on the whole probably would've had a better decade if they just screamed more.

1. Missy Elliott - "Get Ur Freak On" (2001)
#7 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs, #7 Hot Rap Tracks

While New York has dominated a lot of the upper reaches of this list, including the whole rest of the top 10, I thought it seemed right to put some of that Virginia Beach alien funk at the top. This is one of those songs that sounded kind of minor and unexciting the first few weeks that it started bubbling up radio playlists, but by the time the video dropped it just felt like an event, far more than the bigger "Work It," which felt a little more forced with its weirdness and not remotely as musically rewarding.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The announcement a few months ago that the Posies would be touring in support of their new album, Blood/Candy, by opening for Brendan Benson and performing as his backing band was exciting for me, since I like both acts a lot, but also a little surprising. They're all pretty much the same age and make power pop and have a lot of the same fans, but I'd never heard of their paths crossing before and I kind of think of them as being from different generations; Benson's debut One Mississippi came out in 1996, the same year the Posies released their fourth album and their major label career was winding down and they started to unravel and temporarily break up. And the guys in the Posies have a good amount of experience working as backing musicians, but usually for older, more established acts: Ken Stringfellow with R.E.M., Jon Auer with, um, William Shatner, both of them with Big Star. Still, this was clearly great news and their show at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday night totally lived up to my expectations.

It's so rare that I go to a show at the 9:30 that isn't sold out well in advance that it was actually kind of refreshing to be able to just get there right before the act I wanted to see, find easy parking, and buy a ticket on the spot without any extra online surcharges. I think the Posies were just starting as I came through the main entrance, I could hear Jon and Ken talking onstage for a minute before they started "Dream All Day" but I'm not entirely sure if that was their first song. I'm a huge fan of the Posies and love dozens of their songs, so it was somewhat frustrating that the first time I got to see them live in 5 years, they were playing a shorter opening set heavy on songs from a new album that I'm not totally crazy about. But even when they managed to avoid all my favorite Blood/Candy songs, they convinced me that the ones I hadn't been into, like "Plastic Paperbacks" and "Licenses To Hide," are worth way more than I'd realized with great live performances.

The older selections in the Posies' had a somewhat predictable but satisfying sampling of their back catalog: the first three songs from Frosting On The Beater, "Everybody Is A Fucking Liar," "Throwaway," and "Apology," which they apparently hadn't played live in a long time, so that was kind of a treat. And the one tune from their last album, 2005's Every Kind Of Light, "Conversations," has held up really well, love that both Jon and Ken take guitar solos on that one. I've always been a little rough on the Posies' current drummer, Darius Minwalla, whose playing I just don't like quite as much as their '90s drummers Mike Musberger and Brian Young, but he definitely does the songs justice. And the band's two frontmen just have great stage presence, particularly Ken, who still has rock star cheekbones and does flying leaps and animated strums through even the midtempo songs and constantly makes odd non-sequitur jokes between songs.

Jon and Ken returned a short time after their set to back Brendan Benson, who brought his own drummer to flesh out the band. Benson is not one of the most charismatic performers I've ever seen; he barely moved or said a word between songs the one other time I saw him live in 2002. So it wasn't surprising that the Posies guys sometimes stole the spotlight from him with their playing or their joking around between songs, which at one point cracked Benson up so much that he had to take a 2nd try at starting a song. His stuff sounded absolutely great with this backing band, though, and the setlist was damn near perfect. I don't think of Benson as a very consistent songwriter, but he managed to pick the 3 or 4 best songs from pretty much all of his albums, and it was fun to hear some stuff from One Mississippi like "Sittin' Pretty" and "Cherries," since he barely played anything from that album last time I saw him. I especially liked Jon's twangy lead guitar on "Alternative To Love."

When Benson started the last song of his encore, I wasn't sure what he'd play, since he'd already run through most of his best known songs, like "Metarie" and "Tiny Spark" and "Crosseyed" and "Cold Hands (Warm Heart" and "What I'm Looking For" and so on (did I mention it was a great setlist?). And then 2 seconds after he started singing, I realized oh hey, I know this, this is Big Star's "September Gurls." And 2 seconds after that, I realized oh yeah, Jon and Ken played in Big Star the last 15 years. And 2 seconds after that, I remembered oh shit, and Alex Chilton just died earlier this year, and it all became suddenly more powerful and poignant, especially since they just played this wonderful joyful classic song without acknowledging any of that context, and just smiled and said goodnight.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My review of the Eureka! EP by Eureka Birds is up over at

Monthly Report: October Albums

Monday, November 15, 2010

1. Waka Flocka Flame - Flockaveli
A lot of my rap critic friends have been really excited about this album, and for a while I was pretty resistant simply because they also loved Waka’s singles, and I was kind of indifferent to the first two and absolutely hate “No Hands.” But I have to admit, there is kind of a cool cumulative effect of hearing these kinds of crunk fight music anthems nonstop for 70 minutes, even if this album’s accomplishments are really only rare on a major label album level. I’m still not impressed by Lex Luger’s beats on the whole, especially the best known ones like “BMF,” but he does have a little bit of dope variety on here that makes me respect him more, and the other beats, like the great one on “Fuck The Club Up” by Boss-N’ Beatz kinda stand out more in this context. Also really enjoy hearing Pastor Troy on this album, crunk rappers need to pay homage to their elders more.

2. Mike Watt - Hyphenated-Man
A few days after I posted my reissued 2000 interview with Mike Watt, I learned that he had just released a solo album, his first in 6 years. And the reason I and barely anyone else has heard about it is that it’s only been released in Japan. I don’t know if there’s a plan to release it in America or whether it was Watt’s fault or simply his choice that a domestic release hasn't happened yet, but it kind of appalls me that no prominent U.S. indie labels seem to be in a rush to release a new album by one of the great living legends of underground rock. And his third “punk rock opera” really is a good record, too -- not as great as the first one, the 1997 classic Contemplating The Engine Room, of course, but quite a bit better than the second, 2004’s The Secondman’s MIddle Stand. I never expected Watt to return to Minutemen-style minute-long songs, but he did it here, 30 songs in 47 minutes, and it all kinda breezes by, in a good way, some really great thunder broom on "hammering-castle-bird-man." Also cool to finally hear a Watt album with Tom Watson on guitar, since I saw him play with Watt on so many Pair of Pliers tours over the years.

3. The Superions - Destination... Christmas!
Speaking of heroes of my adolescence that I’ve gotten to interview, I did a phoner with Fred Schneider of the B-52’s and wrote about the debut EP by his new side project, the Superions, earlier this year. And at the time he didn’t mention whether the group was working on a full-length, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear a few months later that they were, and that it’s actually a Christmas album. And yes, Fred Schneider doing a Christmas album is exactly as ridiculous as you could expect or hope for. Song titles like “Santa’s Disco” and “Crummy Christmas Tree” give you a good idea of the level they’re operating on here, but “Jingle Those Bells” might be the most ridiculous and wonderful song on here. The production by the other 2 Superions isn’t particularly impressive or imaginative, but it makes for a good solid foil for Fred. I’m hoping I have company over at some point this Christmas just so I can put this album on for company.

4. Pimp C - The Naked Soul of Sweet Jones
It’s bad enough that Bun B, in his super boring post-UGK lyrical decline has all too enthusiastically co-signed Drake, but he had to put the kid, who Pimp C surely never met or heard of when he was alive, on Pimp’s posthumous last album? Granted, Drake’s UGK super fandom is easily his most redeeming quality, but he still doesn’t really deserve to be here, and the song he’s on would actually be dope without him. That early stumbling block out of the way, though, this is a pretty enjoyable album, although it definitely feels like Pimp’s best unreleased stuff was already used on UGK 4 Life. It’s amazing that it took this long for someone to do a rap interpolation of “You Sure Love To Ball” with the modern definition of balling, and I’m so glad it was Pimp C that had the idea.

5. Max Bemis And The Painful Splits - Max Bemis And The Painful Splits
On Friday I saw Say Anything live for the first time, and I didn’t check out the merch table at the show, but then when I got home and started writing my review, I saw online that frontman Max Bemis was selling this little side project only at shows on the current tour. Fortunately, it wasn’t hard find online and download, and it is pretty good. The last Say Anything album had demos circulating around that sounded fairly slick and fleshed out compared to the finished product, but these are much more raw and lo-fi, with a kind of annoying vocal reverb on most songs. And really I like the bombastic, ambitious, funny Say Anything more than the sincere acoustic side showcased on here, so I’m not crazy about this, but Bemis is a great songwriter and it’s always good to hear something new from him, even a kind of deliberately minor 28-minute album like this.

Monthly Report: October Singles

Friday, November 12, 2010

1. Linkin Park - “Waiting For The End”
At first, I was just grateful they finally made a midtempo power ballad song that departed from the “In The End”/”Numb”/”What I’ve Done” formula, then I realized how cleverly structured it is, and that the beat is quietly, unassumingly the most convincing attempt at hip hop production the band has ever managed.

2. Keri Hilson - “Pretty Girl Rock”
I heard this on the radio a few days ago and it just grabbed me instantly and felt like the best thing I’ve heard in a minute. Keri’s first album was alright but given that its 2 biggest hits were driven by famous guests, it feels like she still has some work to do about establishing her own personality and her own swag, and all these recent singles like this and “Breaking Point” and “The Way You Love Me” and the really slept on international hit “I Like” are encouraging me to anticipate her second album and see her come into her own.

3. Ciara - “Gimmie Dat”
As much I hated “Ride” and was skeptical of this whole project and a lot of my friends’ enthusiasm for it, with “Speechless” and now “Gimmie Dat” I’ve now loved two consecutive singles off this Ciara album, if it ever comes out. And this one’s a total polar opposite from the last one, Tricky Stewart giving Ciara one of the most amped up, hyper beats she’s ever gotten, which in her hands feels like “1, 2 Step” or “Lose Control” on steroid, and no The-Dream in sight to fill it with some inane attempt at a hook.

4. Soundgarden - “Black Rain”
It makes a kind of sense that a year after Pearl Jam had a rock radio hit with an outtake from their 1991 breakthrough album, their bros in Soundgarden have done the same. I’m way more into the Superunknown era than the Badmotorfinger era this song is from, but I still dig that sound, they were a great band that whole time anyway. Also fun to see them perform it on Conan’s new show the other night, I’m getting really impatient for the Soundgarden to actually tour and do some east coast shows, they got way too much attention for this reunion to do only 2 shows.

5. Ludacris f/ Lil Scrappy - “Everybody Drunk”
This was always a standout on Battle Of The Sexes, nice to finally see it be a single, although obviously it’s not getting nearly as much attention as those songs with Minaj and Trey Songz did. 8Ball’s voice should really be sampled for hooks more often.

TV Diary

Tuesday, November 09, 2010
a) "Conan"
It's funny, after all the waiting and anticipation, Conan's new show is finally here, and then it's like oh yeah, this is the same show he's always done. But that's not a problem, really, I spent my entire teenage years loving his "Late Night," and even though I haven't felt very compelled to stay up for it often for a very long time, the fact that he's now on at 11 will maybe allow me to do so more often. Love Andy back on the couch, miss Max already, wasn't crazy about the opening sketch and Seth Rogen's kind of a crappy interview, but a lot of the comedy bits have been spot on.

b) "The Benson Interruption"
I've always found Doug Benson kind of unctuous and annoying, but I'm glad that Comedy Central gave him a new show that actually has a clever concept and isn't just another attempt at a "Chappelle's Show"-style sketch show built around a standup. In this, he basically hang out onstage with another comic and interrupts as they do their act, asking questions and getting them off topic until they start riffing and improvising together. I really like it so far, kind of a fun way to freshen up the standup format, and kind of the opposite of all those shows where comics sit around pretending to improvise and interact but really just quoting their own acts.

c) "The Walking Dead"
The whole appeal of a show like this, for me, is that it can take the usual zombie movie plot and extend it over the course of one or several seasons of TV, so you don't get the usual brief peak at the situation and then it's over, you can really watch the whole thing unfold and see how people survive. So that by token, I don't even feel like judging the couple episodes that have aired so far, I wanna see how things go over time. But if that pilot was a standalone zombie movie, it'd be a pretty decent one, some pretty good execution even if it's a bit cliched at times.

d) "Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear"
As good as "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" have been lately, and as entertaining as the lead-up to this event was for both shows, the actual event, at least as it was broadcast on TV, seemed kinda lame. A couple fun stunts and comedy bits that made use of the moment, but for the most part it seemed like a waste of energy, for the viewer and everyone else involved.

e) "Night of Too Many Stars"
And one of the reasons the rally about nothing was annoying was that a few weeks earlier, Jon Stewart hosted another live all-star event on Comedy Central that a) actually had a point and used the attention and energy it stirred up for a good cause like autism research, and b) was a way funnier and more entertaining show overall. Even Lewis Black, whose last standup special was a dud, did a funny set, and the bit with a donor getting to have Chris Rock call up and chew out their ex was classic.

f) "The Talk"
Maybe I've been home with the baby so long that I'm slowly turning into a housewife, but I'm kind of enjoying this show, which is as far as I know surprisingly the first attempt to create a "The View" knockoff/competitor in the same daytime syndicated TV wasteland. It's stocked with an even more random assemblage of female celebrities than "The View," but thankfully they're generally a lot less obnoxious -- even the biggest personality on the hosting panel, Sharon Osbourne, is pretty capable of just seeming like a normal relatable person more often than not.

g) "Lay It Down with Cee-Lo Green"
I like Fuse's other recent music-oriented talk show hosted by Mark Hoppus, but I was still really kind of surprised at how good this is. Instead of a hourlong variety show format like the Hoppus show, "A Different Spin," this is just a half-hour interview show with one guest a week, who does a live performance at the beginning and end of the show. It's been great to watch Cee-Lo sit down with people he's known for a long time or influenced, like Ludacris or T-Pain or Lil Jon, and just talk shop, it's really a mellow show, could almost be the hip hop equivalent of Charlie Rose. The thing where the editors take something an interview subject says and flash it on the screen as fancy text is kind of annoying, though, it's like they were afraid of how straightforward the show is and had to spruce it up.

h) The Promise: The Making of Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Darkness is my favorite Springsteen album, and it was really the last of the early ones I heard and I was like finally, this is what I've been looking for! So I'm excited about this big reissue thing going on and hoping to get that at some point and really enjoyed this HBO documentary about the making of the album. I'm impressed by how much studio footage they had and it was fun to learn about the context of it and how much stuff was cut from the album, I only really vaguely knew the story.

i) "Boardwalk Empire"
So this show has yet to shape up into anything I actually want to watch every week, no matter how much nudity, violence, and handsome cinematography and production values there are. I just keep tuning in, waiting to give a fuck.

j) "In the House with Peter Bart & Peter Guber"
I always enjoyed the first little Hollywood chat show these guys had on AMC, "Shootout," and was disappointed when it disappeared. But it turns out Starz basically picked them up and started doing an identical show with a new title, which is pretty much the same, very low key and amiable, these guys aren't great interviewers but when they have someone interesting on there's usually some interesting industry-oriented conversation, which is refreshing in and of itself, just that they talk like actual showbiz insiders and not like Entertainment Tonight robots.

k) "Sons Of Anarchy"
It might be partly that I binged on the 2nd season on DVD right before starting to watch the new episodes week by week, but so far the 3rd season feels kind of weird and slow paced. There've been some great moments, but I think structuring the whole season around the kidnapped baby plotline stretches that idea a bit thin. I'm interested to see where it's all headed, though.

l) "Castle"
This is such a light, inconsequential show that I'm kind of amazed it's now on its 3rd season, but it's nice to watch a bit of on Mondays when I feel like keeping the TV on after the CBS comedies. Stana Katic's new longer haircut is kind of a bummer, though, she's still a beautiful woman but she was 10 times hotter with the shorter hair.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Last year Government Names was nominated for the Mobbies, the Baltimore Sun's local blog awards. I didn't win then, but I'm nominated again this year, which I feel a little weird about since I've actually done some freelance work for the Sun in the last few months, but I checked and apparently it's OK that I'm in the running. So vote for me between now and November 12th, if you want.

Singles of the '00s, Part 4: R&B

Monday, November 01, 2010
In a way this is the yin to the yang of the rap/R&B crossover list that kicked off this series, presenting 50 great songs that R&B singers made without the help of guest rappers, even if it's not exactly all 'pure' R&B devoid of the increasingly ubiquitous influence of hip hop. I fell in love with R&B radio in the late '90s and was pretty much marinating it from the beginning of the '00s onward, although I didn't really get into buying R&B albums regularly until I started working as a critic and consuming more music about 5 years ago. In a way this list might be more consistently loaded with songs I love than any other list in this series, because as much as I love some R&B albums, to me it really is a singles genre where often an artists' best work and best qualities are shown on their hits. As with the other lists in this series, I'll be posting each of the 50 songs one at a time throughout this week, 10 a day, and you can follow me on Twitter as I unveil each choice:

50. 112 - "Peaches & Cream" (2001)
#4 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

In a way it’s nice to open this list with something kind of anachronistic from around the beginning of the decade, since vocal groups, particularly male vocal groups, have gone almost completely out of style in the last few years. For a while, though, 122 and Jagged Edge and Dru Hill were really running things, and I kinda miss having those kind of high quality four-part harmonies on radio all the time. I think I loved “Peaches & Cream” the most in the form of the video mix, which cut to the follow-up single “Dance With Me” as kind of a bridge and then cut back into “Peaches” -- I was actually kinda disappointed when I heard the album and realized they’re not all one song. Part III is a pretty dope album, though.

49. Aaliyah – “Come Over” (2003)
#32 Hot 100, #9 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

The run of 5 good or great Aaliyah singles that charted after her 2001 death make for a posthumous run of hits that’s almost as strong as the amazing run of singles released during her lifetime. And though “Rock The Boat” was a bigger hit and “I Care 4 U” and “I Miss You” tend to make you more sentimental about babygirl’s passing, the last significant Aaliyah hit, “Come Over,” is one of the ones that sticks with me the most, just such a sweet, simple song, with a beautiful little bit of backing vocals by Tank and one of Aaliyah’s most charming, alluring performances.

48. R. Kelly f/ Usher - "Same Girl" (2007)
#20 Hot 100, #4 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Here’s the big hyped up collab between pretty much the two biggest male stars in R&B throughout the entire decade, but it feels kind of minor in a lot of ways, as the 2nd single off a forgettable album by the lesser star, at a time when both of them were starting to lose some heat to the younger competition. But it’s still a completely brilliant, hilarious song, perhaps R.’s last great dialogue song as he began talking to himself more and more with the “Trapped In The Closet” saga.

47. Carl Thomas - "I Wish" (2000)
#20 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

I remember very vividly in 1998, one night my brother and I watched an episode of the short-lived Magic Johnson late night talk show “The Magic Hour,” and Puff Daddy was on doing a little showcase of the ill-fated roster of new Bad Boy artists that he was getting ready to start hyping post-Biggie. One of them was Carl Thomas, who, much to our amusement, sang a low key ballad underneath a giant neon sign of his name. For the next couple years that Thomas’s only claim to fame was that great “Been Around The World” remix, we had a running joke about Carl Thomas taking his giant sign everywhere, and then eventually, he got his own solo hit, and it’s really just a wonderful little song that I never get sick of. Honorable mention to R. Kelly’s unrelated “I Wish” that was also a hit the same year.

46. Tamia – “Officially Missing You” (2003)
#83 Hot 100, #31 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

This may have been a somewhat obscure minor hit, but in my mind it’s such a perfect, universal-sounding ballad that it feels like it could’ve been a standard, the kind of song that starts as an R&B hit but then could be covered over and over and turned into a country hit, a pop hit, and on and on. Part of it’s just that Tamia’s version isn’t especially R&B to begin with, just her voice over an acoustic guitar and some strings and little else, part of it’s that that opening couplet (“all I hear is raindrops/ falling on the rooftop”) and the aching longing of that melody just feel like the ingredients for a classic. Plus there’s some meta points for the fact that one of Tamia’s earlier hits was called “Missing You.” 7 Aurelius wrote some really insipid Ashanti songs, but I’d forgive them all for this one.

45. Chris Brown - "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)" (2005)
#7 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

I have to admit that well before he did something that revealed him as a loathsome person, I pretty much hated Chris Brown, thought his voice was piercingly shrill and unpleasant and that his dancing was awkward and overrated and that most of his songs were annoying. But he occasionally has had an undeniably good single, both pre- and post-pummelinghisfamousgirlfriend’sfaceingate, and this stands as probably his best.

44. Destiny's Child - "Bootylicious" (2001)
#1 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

As Beyonce’s solo career continues to thrive and slowly eclipse the group that launched her career, I think it’s fair to say that the Biggest Selling Female Group Of All Time maybe wasn’t all that great, to be honest, and since by far my favorite single of theirs, “Bills, Bills, Bills,” hit right at the end of the ‘90s and I’ve never been all that in love with “Say My Name” or most of their post-The Writing’s On The Wall stuff, I’ll leave their presence on the list with this goofy Stevie Nicks beatjack. The funny thing is that the summer of 2001 was really the only time during the whole decade that I didn’t really have regular access to an R&B radio station or cable TV, so I pretty much completely missed this song when it came out and didn’t hear it til a little after it was a hit, and was totally relieved that an actual good song came out of that whole nightmarish Survivor period.

43. 'N Sync - “Gone” (2001)
#11 Hot 100, #14 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Like Destiny’s Child, ‘N Sync is slowly become more and more simply the prelude to its breakout star’s solo career, especially as Justin Timberlake continues to lean more and more R&B while the most of the group’s catalog consists of a kind of antiquated white harmony group pop sound. The second and third singles from their last album, “Gone” and “Girlfriend,” however, established both Justin’s primacy as the group’s frontman and burgeoning songwriter and his intentions to cross over to R&B, with this being his first charting appearance on urban radio. I love that little bit where the beat stops for a bar and a stopwatch ticks.

42. Tweet f/ Missy Elliott - "Oops (Oh My)" (2002)
#7 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

I remember being in the car with my brother during Christmas break from my second year of college, and it was I think New Year’s Day 2002 and every station was just going berserk over this song. Timbaland and Missy had just had an amazing year and pretty much ran 2001, and this felt like almost a direct announcement that they were going right back at it and continuing their incredible run for a while, which they did.

41. Ne-Yo - "Closer" (2008)
#7 Hot 100, #21 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

In the second half of the decade, Ne-Yo quickly established himself as both a hitmaker that wrote songs for other artists, and a platinum star in his own right. A bit part of that success belongs to Stargate, the Norwegian dance producers that he helped cross over to American pop, first with some midtempo R&B ballads, and then later with some uptempo dance tracks that helped usher in the heavy European dance influence on U.S. urban radio the last couple years. A lot of the songs that have resulted from that trend have been absolute garbage, but this is one moment where the fusion made perfect sense and a great songwriter at the peak of his powers figured out how to fit all the pieces together.

40. Keyshia Cole - "Love" (2006)
#19 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Keyshia Cole gets knocked a lot for jacking her whole style from Mary J. Blige, but to be honest for the past few years she’s simply been putting out better songs than the real Mary most of the time. Some people hate the completely ridiculous vocal ululations she does on the chours, but I kind of love them, they really complete the whole weirdly dramatic, exalted feel of the song.

39. Faith Evans - "You Gets No Love" (2001)
#38 Hot 100, #8 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Faith has kind of been a budget Mary J. for about a decade longer than Keyshia, trudging along with a lot of sappy midtempo songs about adversity and occasionally a fun pop jam and using every possible play on words of her name as an album title until finally running out of ideas with this year’s Something About Faith. On this song for once she actually displayed some swag befitting someone who was married to possibly the greatest rapper of all time, barking out these dope little drapped refrains like “I got the shit to make you cop my shit” in between the sung parts.

38. Isley Brothers f/ R. Kelly and Chante Moore - "Contagious" (2001)
#19 Hot 100, #6 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

On some level, it’s a shame that one of the greatest R&B bands of all time had to keep up with the times by kind of falling into the hit parade of someone younger like R. Kelly and just letting Ronald Isley becoming part of R.’s cast of characters in his weird dramatic song-plays, while Ernie Isley mimed playing guitar in the video to a thoroughly modern R. Kelly backing track. But at the same time, this song makes great use of Ronald’s voice.

37. Sisqo - "Thong Song" (2000)
#3 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Dru Hill’s best singles all happened in the ‘90s, and it makes me kind of feel weird to represent Baltimore’s biggest R&B group with just the novelty hit from one member’s solo career. Still, though, this song has so much entertainment value beyond just the goofy premise and chorus, so many crazy production tricks and little hooks that just keep hitting you, one after another.

36. Mario - "Just A Friend 2002" (2002)
#4 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Just as Sisqo and Dru Hill were starting to lose momentum, a new R&B star started to rise out of Baltimore. And even though he peaked with “Let Me Love You” a couple years later and has had an assortment of minor hits, I still kind of like this lightweight Biz Markie cover that was his first hit. His voice and his vocal skills are really surprisingly mature given the kid was only 15 at the time, and I love how he nails the slippery phrasing of lines like “I wanna know/ your number and/ if I can come over and.”

35. Musiq Soulchild - "Halfcrazy" (2002)
#16 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Musiq Soulchild is the kind of guy that makes people hate the entire genre of neo soul, with his calculated nice guy image and bland ballads and uninspired vocals. But this really is just killer, interesting production and compelling song, the one time when he was not just tolerable but enjoyable to listen to.

34. Rihanna - "Don't Stop The Music" (2007)
#3 Hot 100, #74 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Doing these genre-specific lists inevitably leads to some judgement calls about where to categorize certain songs and artists, particularly when the line between R&B and pop got blurrier and blurrier over the last few years. The charts can usually kind of make up my mind for me, but sometimes it’s more difficult. For instance, Rihanna started as kind of a dancehall crossover pop artist, then started working with more urban producers and being embraced by R&B radio, but some of her biggest hits, like this one, were pretty much all over pop radio and barely on urban radio. So does it make total sense that “Don’t Stop The Music” is on the R&B list but I’m putting some other kinda-R&B hits by pop artists like Fergie or the Pussycat Dolls on the pop list? I don’t know, but I’m sticking with that.

33. Michael Jackson - "Butterflies" (2001)
#14 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

And of course, decades before artists like Rihanna blurred the line between R&B and pop, the the King of Pop was making songs that were hits on R&B radio and was embraced by black audiences, including the song that was sampled on “Don’t Stop The Music.” The last album released during his lifetime, Invincible, may not have been much of a triumph, but he did score one last memorable R&B hit.

32. Prince - “Call My Name” (2004)
#75 Hot 100, #27 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Countless young R&B singers and producers spent the past decade pillaging Prince’s unfuckwithable ‘80s catalog, while the man himself was slowly coming out of his name-changing ‘90s coccoon and gradually making some moves toward being a star again. “Black Sweat” may have been the one time he came close to sounding like an interesting, modern version of himself and making a decent dent on the Hot 100, but “Call My Name” was his biggest R&B hit of the decade (although still a minor one at that), a luxurious slow jam that featured some of the fussy arranging and overplaying that’s saddled a lot of his recent live band recordings, but also boasted a tune and a lyric as strong as his best soul ballads from the Sign O The Times era.

31. Usher - "Confessions Part II" (2004)
#1 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

These days, Usher is going pop with “OMG” just to cling onto his slowly sliding career, but back in the era of Confessions, he was the biggest pop star in the world (even if not exactly an icon on the level of Michal or Prince) simply by being really good at R&B and having the perfect balance of club jams and ballads. But my favorite hit from him during that period is the song that isn’t quite either, the weird is-it-autobiographical-or-not tale of cheating and unwanted pregnancy that gave a nice tabloid edge to his blockbuster album. I don’t really care about all of that, though, I think this is just a great, unique, elegantly constructed song.

30. Maxwell - "Pretty Wings" (2009)
#33 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

I'd always been kind of indifferent to Maxwell's early hits, never seemed to hear them enough to form an opinion on them one way or another, and then he kinda disappeared for 8 years. But when he came back, he came back with a song that just knocked me on my ass and hooked me from the first listen, such a beautifully detailed production, almost otherworldly.

29. Amerie - "Why Don't We Fall In Love?" (2002)
#23 Hot 100, #9 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Although the flashier, more bombastic "Crazy In Love" and "1 Thing" are what made Rich Harrison into a serious hitmaker, "Why Don't We Fall In Love?" was such an arresting, dynamic production and Amerie's voice was such a perfect foil for it that it really feels wrong to give this song too much of a bridesmaid treatment, it and the album All I Have stand on their own as fantastic R&B.

28. Ginuwine - "There It Is" (2001)
#66 Hot 100, #18 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

The R&B star improbably born as Elgin Baylor Lumpkin has had an up and down career in the decade since Timbaland stopped providing him with genius track after genius track, and though he’s had some pretty big hits in that time, this minor hit has always been one of my favorites, just a great great song with a lot of charming lyrical detail and a killer vocal performance that climaxes with the most ridiculously dramatic reading of the phrase “my housenote” ever.

27. R. Kelly - "A Woman's Threat" (2000)
#115 Hot 100, #35 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

This is one of R.'s first singles from a decade that would see him fall from grace, come back, repeat the cycle a couple times, and lapse into slapstick tomfoolery and self-parody more than once. So it's nice to remember that the guy really can write some dark, stirring, serious songs with real emotion behind them. And that those songs can still include a phrase like "my hopes, my dreams, my panties."

26. Beyonce - "Irreplaceable" (2006)
#1 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

One of the things about contemporary R&B is that when something kind of fresh and different comes along and works really well, it quickly gets kind stripped for parts and every element that made it work gets recycled individually in a bunch of other songs. Stargate are especially guilty of that with a lot of their production sounds, and in the year after this song raced to #1, it seemed like there were a dozen other singles with that same strumming guitar backing track, and even a different-sounding song, Rihanna's "Take A Bow," that took an almost identical lyrical approach. But all the diminishing returns can't kill how great this song sounded when it first dropped.

25. Tank - "Maybe I Deserve" (2001)
#38 Hot 100, #7 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

This is probably the most underrated song on this list, in terms of it not getting talked about by critics or crossing over outside R&B radio, but real heads know the deal. Tank’s debut single was an immaculately composed character study, with the song slowly building in intensity to this amazing emotional climax.

24. Janet Jackson - "Doesn't Really Matter" (2000)
#1 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Janet started out the decade strong with All For You and this great single that preceded it on the Nutty Professor 2 soundtrack, but it was all downhill from there, as the Super Bowl incident and a series of frequent and increasingly dire albums full of flop singles signalled the downfall of a career that had been almost unstoppably consistent for a couple decades. It’s kind of insane how well Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis can still adapt to changing trends and beat a lot of younger producers at their own game.

23. Usher - "U Got It Bad" (2001)
#1 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

That bridge where the most of the music drops out and Usher sings that “I’m your man, you’re my girl, I’m gonna tell it to the whole wide world” part was so killer that he had to write carbon copies of this song with bridges that pull the same trick on two other singles that also topped the R&B charts (“Burn” and “Papers”).

22. Mary J. Blige - "Just Fine" (2007)
#22 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

To a certain stripe of R&B fan and/or dorky internet critic, Terius “The-Dream” Nash is the greatest thing to happen to urban music in the past 4 years. I don’t really share that opinion -- his palette as a songwriter is really limited, his producers’ tracks are usually the best thing about his songs, and although he’s occasionally scored a great solo single like “Rockin’ That Shit,” his voice is more often than not pretty unpleasant to me. But to me, this song, the one Mary had to settle for when she missed out on “Umbrella,” is for me the closest thing to a perfect, transcendant song he’s been a part of, the only one he or Mary made in the past decade that’s worthy of this list (since, honestly, I’m not a big fan of later Mary megahits like “Family Affair” and “Be Without You”).

21. Jamie Foxx f/ T-Pain - "Blame It" (2009)
#2 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

T-Pain is, like The-Dream, such an emblematic figure of the changing face of R&B the past few years that it feels odd to only have him on this list once. But unlike The-Dream, I’m only including one T-Pain song not to diminish his importance but because most of his best work was with rappers (and since this song is kind of an extended riff on “I Luv Your Girl,” The-Dream kinda is on this list twice after all). This beat is such a deceptively simple masterpiece, with a swinging groove that was so unlike anything else on urban radio at the time that it was bound to inspire some knockoffs (like the nearly as great Trey Songz hit “Say Aah”), and Jamie and T-Pain are both at their most charismatically douchy, truly a party song for the ages.

20. Justin Timberlake - “Rock Your Body” (2003)
#5 Hot 100, #45 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

This is one of the songs on the list, like Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop The Music,” that had a much higher peak on the Hot 100 and the pop charts than the R&B charts, so it’s arguable whether it belongs here or on the pop list (and I could’ve gone for a bigger R&B hit for Justin like “Cry Me A River,” but I just don’t like it as much). But since it was produced by the Neptunes and Justin is singing with an R&B vocal style (as opposed to, say, Madonna or Britney songs produced by the Neptunes), I feel it’s important to affirm that hey, it doesn’t matter than Justin is white and was in a boy band, at this point he’s pretty obviously an R&B artist and this would unanimously be considered an R&B song if, say, Usher sang it.

19. Robin Thicke - "Lost Without You" (2006)
#14 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

As kind of a counterpoint to Timberlake, here’s a song by a white singer that was huge on R&B radio but only a moderate pop hit. It’s also kind of remarkable for being the mainstream breakthrough of a guy who had his own somewhat embarrassing pop culture past to live down (being the son of Canadian TV star Alan Thicke) while being an acoustic bossa nova ballad that sounds nothing like almost any other R&B radio hit of the last 10 years.

18. John Legend - "Ordinary People" (2005)
#24 Hot 100, #4 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

This might not seem like a very profound observation, but consider the fact that every other song on this list, and in fact almost every song on the R&B chart the past 10 years, has a rhythm track. It might be fast or slow, programmed or played live, but you don’t get on urban radio without drums. That alone, that “Ordinary People” is nothing but piano and voice, makes its success kind of remarkable, never mind the fact that it was the breakthrough hit for Kanye’s backup singer with the off-putting name. It’s just such a simple, straightforward arrangement with such a massive melody that it just hit me (and a lot of people) like a ton of bricks in the middle of the winter of 2005 and stood out from everything else on radio playlists. The video for the song, unfortunately, slathered on unnecessary strings and incredibly annoying dramatic dialogue (“WHAT GOOD IS A BABY GONNA BLAH BLAH BLAH”) and dulled its effect.

17. Alicia Keys - "If I Ain't Got You" (2004)
#4 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

The hits that made Alicia Keys a Grammy-winning household name in 2001 were neo-soul in theory, but featured some of the most brittle, unappealing synthesized drum and piano sounds on pop radio, backing up songs that beat you over the head with hollow emotional catharsis and mercenary hooks. So it was kind of a strange, surprising victory that with subsequent albums she made some actual warm, appealing R&B songs with more naturalistic production (not quite as minimal as “Ordinary People,” but getting there), a subtle makeover into something approaching the ‘authentic’ talent she was hyped up as way too early in her career.

16. Nivea f/ R. Kelly - “Laundromat” (2003)
#58 Hot 100, #20 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Much like painters might have a blue period, R. Kelly’s sprawling body of work can be broken down in terms of lyrical and production styles that he toyed with at some point or another. This is one of the highlights of his water-drip-sound period of 2003, featuring the lover’s quarrel duet format that he experimented with and slowly refined over the course of a decade (before he decided to make all-out radio plays with “Trapped In The Closet” and do all the voices himself, which is a whole other, less creatively fertile period).

15. Fantasia - "When I See U" (2007)
#32 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

I wasn’t watching “American Idol” regularly during the 3rd season so I never really saw Fantasia’s storied transformation from a Macy Gray soundalike (ugh, remember her?) to one of the greatest performers the show’s ever seen. But she’s had a pretty decent run as a singles artists, and this song towers above all her others, such a sweet sentimental tune with simple, addictive melody with lots of little moments that let Fantasia showboat just a little bit without overpowering the song.

14. Ne-Yo - "So Sick" (2006)
#1 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Like “Irreplaceable” about a year later, “So Sick” was Ne-Yo and Stargate’s way of introducing a somewhat new sound that they quickly ran into the ground with a dozen retreads. But like “Irreplaceable,” the original article still sounds good and stands on its own, and to be honest I never do get tired of that synth harp sound.

13. Beyonce - "Get Me Bodied" (2007)
#68 Hot 100, #10 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

For years, Swizz Beatz was one of the few super producers in hip hop who never made much of a splash in R&B, even when he was married to Mashonda and did some records for her. But Beyonce deserves some credit for being the first artist to really figure out how to sing over his harsh, aggressive beats in a way that sounded just perfect, with a series of B’Day era songs including the also great “Check On It” and “Ring The Alarm.” One of the last and least visible hits from the album’s long singles campaign, however, a 6-minute dancefloor killer with a call-and-response outro, ended up becoming for me maybe the pinnacle of Beyonce’s solo career, just an incredible vocal performance with utterly devastating harmonies. And then another producer totally copied the sound of this for “Single Ladies,” and everyone got on that song’s dick and forgot about “Get Me Bodied,” but fuck that, this is the best.

12. Sunshine Anderson - "Heard It All Before" (2001)
#18 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Success is often fleeting in the R&B world, but in the last decade labels have gotten pretty good about setting up pretty much any artist with a big single with some follow-ups and features and at least letting them ride out their fame a little bit. So there’s really not much in the way of one hit wonders on this list, but Sunshine Anderson is most definitely a one hit wonder, and this song was so awesome and so totally ruled when it was out, largely because of her voice, that I do kinda wish she’d had more hits.

11. Mariah Carey - “We Belong Together” (2005)
#1 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Mariah spent the first half of the decade tumbling from the pop superstar pedestal she’d been on for the entirety of the 1990s, and then decisively clawed her way back to the top with a ballad as monolithic and world-beating as any of her earlier #1s, but a little more tapped into contemporary R&B trends thanks to songwriters Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox (the latter of whom is a relatively unknown figure in R&B, compared to other songwriters like Ne-Yo and The-Dream and Sean Garrett who’ve had hits as performers, but has been quietly been a part of so many hits that he appears on this list 4 times, which is more than anybody except R. Kelly, Usher and Stargate).

10. Anthony Hamilton - "Charlene" (2004)
#19 Hot 100, #3 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Anthony Hamilton’s music, particular circa his breakthrough album Comin’ From Where I’m From, sometimes grates on me for the same reason as I was explaining my dislike for the first Alicia Keys album -- classic soul signifiers and vocal style over some of the most harshly rigid drum machine sounds around. But as horrible as the snare drum sound is on “Charlene,” I still just love that song and never ever got sick of it the hundreds of times I heard it on the radio.

9. Aaliyah - "More Than A Woman" (2002)
#25 Hot 100, #7 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

“More Than A Woman” is somewhat on the 2nd tier of Aaliyah’s hits, certainly below her ‘90s classics like “Are You That Somebody?” and “One In A Million,” but as far as her small but incredibly high quality output in what little time she was alive in the 21st century, I have to rate this song above “Try Again” or any of the other Aaliyah singles, just an incredible Timbaland beat and a bewitching tune.

8. Monica - “So Gone” (2003)
#10 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

This Missy-penned song is such a wonderfully dizzy mix of joy and pain, swagger and sadness, Monica kicking little cocky rap flows about kicking down your door and smacking your chick one minute, and then forlorn and wondering how you could not think to call the next minute, all over a cartoony patchwork of strings and flutes.

7. Mya - "Case of the Ex" (2000)
#2 Hot 100, #10 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

This is one of the only 8 songs on the list that peaked higher on the Hot 100 than on the R&B chart, denoting that its crossover pop success exceeded that of its urban radio popularity. I’m not totally sure why that is, whereas with the other 7 songs it’s a bit more obvious. But this is a great little tense narrative over a taut beat by Tricky Stewart, years before he became The-Dream’s right hand man.

6. Usher - "U Don't Have To Call" (2002)
#3 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

This is from that era where the Neptunes were rubber stamping their sound on everything and it just wasn't old yet, partly because Pharrell was hitting his peak as a songwriter. Usher never chased Michael comparisons as eagerly as most of his contemporaries, but that "gonna boogie" pre-chorus is really the most MJ moment in a pop hit the whole decade.

5. Alicia Keys - “You Don’t Know My Name” (2003)
#3 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

This song seemed audacious at first, but not necessarily in a good way: Alicia stepping up her over-the-top classic soul signifiers by using a sample-driven Kanye track, that spoken bridge teetering on the edge of campy or misguided. But it held up and kept sounding better and better, and for me she's yet to top it.

4. D'Angelo - "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" (2000)
#25 Hot 100, #2 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

As the big pop hit from a 'difficult masterpiece' kind of album and a song that's probably more well known for its video than the actual tune, I feel like in a way this doesn't quite gets its due, but it really is just perfect, easily the pinnacle of D'Angelo's career and maybe Raphael Saadiq's too. Love that abrupt ending.

3. Amerie - "1 Thing" (2005)
#8 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

As great as “Why Don’t We Fall In Love?” was, after two and a half years passed without much of a peep from her, she was starting to look like a one hit wonder toward the end of 2004 when she leaked this song, to keep her label from letting J.Lo have the song, and it leaped out of the speakers and immediately belonged to Amerie forever and catapulted her back into the spotlight and made Rich Harrison a brand name producer. You don’t hear Timbaland compliment other producers that often, so you know this is some bad shit when even he talks about how great this beat is.

2. R. Kelly - “Step In The Name of Love (Remix)" (2003)
#9 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

Recently, I wrote this about “When A Woman Loves,” R. Kelly’s horrifyingly bad new retro soul single: “R.’s gaudiest contemporary club bangers have enough classic soul buried in their DNA that laying out his oldest influences in such a baldfaced and unimaginative way is dull for him and pandering for the audience.” Specifically, I was thinking about how perfectly “Step In The Name Of Love” melds all of the past and present swimming around R.’s brilliant, misunderstood brain into a modern classic. The hit remix was a revamped version of a song originally recorded for the shelved Loveland album, but it was on the second try that he perfected the formula that he’d repeat with a dozen other steppers’ anthems without ever improving upon it. This is one of two songs on this list that I played at my wedding.

1. Ciara - "Promise" (2006)
#11 Hot 100, #1 Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs

I don’t particularly like Ciara. I thought “Goodies!” and “Oh” were lame back in the day and I think that recent singles like “Ride” and “Go Girl” are flailing and embarrassing. But for all her misplaced attempts at streetsmart swag, I do think she has a little bit of Janet/Aaliyah-style vulnerability that makes some of her ballads and midtempo tracks work, and that came out perfectly on this slow jam masterpiece, which I never would’ve expected after the one ballad single off Goodies. Polow Da Don was at the peak of his powers as a producer, weaving vocodered backing vocals, swaying underwater drums, Princely synths, while Ciara gave you two intros, great falsetto verses, a bighearted chorus, and an incredible climactic bridge. This was the other song that I put on the playlist for my wedding.