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The Best Songs of 2014

The Best Songs of 2014

10. Travi$ Scott – “Drugs You Should Try It”

On an album many labeled to be Yeezus lite, “Drugs You Should Try It” is an anti-thesis. A reverb and distortion-soaked anthem, the watery record finds the Kanye protégé shaking off all former predispositions as a maniac with his soft crooning and club banter. The album’s least menacing song by a mile, it’s also probably the closest he could come to gentleness. “Drugs” is the reminder that Travi$ Scott, for all his party and bullshit, is still a human. —Thomas Johnson

9. Drake – “0-100”

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better summation of Drake’s career than “0 to 100/The Catch Up.” Beginning with a non-stop verbal assault on the competition, the first-half features Drake’s voice reaching unprecedented levels of confidence — unseen even on “Headlines” and “Started from the Bottom.” The beat slows down as “The Catch Up” starts, and Drake moves from his vicious bravado to a more thoughtful and introspective take on his career trajectory. We hear both sides of the boy at the top. —Chris Gibbons

8. The Stand4rd – “Simple Needs”

We all look up every now and then. When the blanketing clouds part, and our eyes settle on the stars’ flickering lights millions of miles away, an ethereal connection rekindles. The here and now gives way to something wondrous, and our hearts are transported elsewhere — if only for an instant. The Stand4rd’s “Simple Needs” evokes a similar feel, and without entrapment or limitiation. The universe shimmers and pulsates along to Spooky Black’s angelic falsetto, Allan Kingdom’s syncopated croons, the celstial synths that at once whirl and pierce and illuminate the dark. The Stand4rd’s self-titled album is one of the year’s best, and “Simple Needs” is its zenith. —Alex Siber 

7. Vic Mensa – “Down On My Luck”

“Down On My Luck” succeeds because Vic Mensa ditches highwire-rap antics for a more melodic, ear-friendly approach. Rather than spitting one blistering bar after another, the Chicago rapper takes you on a journey that Alex Siber rightfully called “radio ready but deceptively complex.” I concur. Also, shouts out to Vic and co-producer Stefan Ponce for that beat. —Andrew Martin

6. Cozz – “Dreams”

Superhero vigilantes and instrumentals be damned, Cozz leads us through his world — and the mind it molded — over the keys and cackles of “Dreams.” The SoCal narrator eschews the typical and drab for danger, risk and reward. Within South Central, lease payments, familial stability and religion are up in the air. All that’s certain is this young man’s sense of rhyme, an ability to spin despair among the wolves and hope among the hopeless into a series of hooks and verses worth every second of nerve-wracking running time. More than any other track in 2014, Cody Macc’s debut effort signaled the arrival of a heavyweight in the making. –Alex Siber 

5. Majid Jordan – “A Place Like This”

Drake has done an impressive job of feeding his OVO Sound proteges with looks and features. No opportunity had more of the world listening in, however, than when he turned to Canadian duo Majid Jordan for “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” a song they co-wrote and co-produced. With a more dedicated group of listeners, they rather quietly released a new EP in July, A Place Like This, which showcased a dramatic improvement in producer Jordan Ullman’s beats and Al Maskati’s writing since their Afterhours EP. One of the high points is the title track, a seductive downtempo R&B track about a struggling relationship, littered with the undeniable ad-libs that Al Maskati is soon to be well-known for. It’s hard not to fall in love with a song like this. —Jeff Baird

4. FKA twigs – “Two Weeks”

Many artists have written songs about calling somebody away from their current lover, yet few can do it as powerfully as FKA twigs on “Two Weeks.” Backed by layers upon layers of dense synths and 808 drums, Barnett’s vocals soar as she seduces her target. She whispers to him, preying on his unhappiness with his current relationship and then gradually becoming more possessive of him as he falls under her spell. The lyrics’ lack of subtlety (FKA twigs flat-out says “I can f*** you better than her”), which plays well with the generally soft tone of the vocal delivery and the spaced-out production of the song. FKA twigs knows it hurts, but “Two Weeks” makes the listener want to chase her high and stop their doubting. –Chris Gibbons

3. Jay Electronica – “Better In Tune With The Infinite” F. LaTonya Givens

Opening with both the religious (quote from Elijah Muhammad) and the magical (quote from The Wizard of Oz), the first and only single from Jay Electronica in 2014 fittingly entered the realm of the infinite. Arriving during last March’s SXSW with critical acclaim, the wordsmith rhymed over modern classical instrumentation by Ryuichi Sakamoto originally found in the film Babel. Following the moving piece with vocalist LaTonya Givens, fans were eager to hear more as hope grew that a full-length release might surface in 2014. Unfortunately, other than a remix with Jay Z, we’ve heard nothing since this well-worded single. Maybe 2015 will bring more Jay Elect. Maybe not. —Ben Niespodziany

2. Flying Lotus – “Never Catch Me” F. Kendrick Lamar

It’s not often that a music video is required viewing to better grasp and feel the actual song, but that’s 100 percent true for “Never Catch Me.” Kendrick Lamar’s breathless (and effortless) raps rush right alongside Flying Lotus’ equally urgent production, and that clearly makes for a riveting listen. But watch the video, which depicts two young children dancing their way through their own funeral, and you will understand the message of “Never Catch Me”‘ Death may inevitably arrive, but that doesn’t mean it’ll ever have a full grasp on your soul. —Andrew Martin

1. Run The Jewels – “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” F. Zack De La Rocha

In 2014, the most therapeutic and prophetic moment in American racial relations was a 39-year-old white rapper/producer from Brooklyn, a 39-year-old black rapper/barbershop owner from Atlanta, and a 44-year-old Mexican/American/Jewish ’90s bandleader from Long Beach flipping everybody off. Killer Mike correctly predicted that the oppressed were going to rise up in anger against their corrupt slave-masters. El-P correctly predicted that the court systems meant to justify the unjustifiable would be apathetic in their cause. Zack De La Rocha proved that one of the best rappers in the industry might be the lead singer of a retired hard rock band. The state of the world is in shambles right now, and these three are too smart to try and sugarcoat it. But according to them, a wise man once said “we’re all dead” anyway. So fuck it. —Thomas Johnson

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