2015: Best Words (Books)

An alternate title for this post could be Books I Read This Year since I buy about 40 a year, start 30 and finish even less. If I finish it, I loved it.

Of course I don’t limit myself to books released in the calendar year but rather books that I get around to reading, whenever their release.

 

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A Brief History of Seven Killings / Marlon James

Dizzying fictional epic on the real-life plot to assassinate Bob Marley. Pulls no punches.

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Modern Romance / Aziz Ansari

Curious comedian expounds on the paradox of choice and how technology has aided and crippled some aspects of decision making in dating.

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Dataclysm / Christian Rudder

Founder of dating website OK Cupid explores the gap between what we say we want and what we actually want.

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Several Short Sentences About Writing / Verlyn Klinkenborg

For anyone who wants to learn how to get the most impact from writing concise sentences and therefore become a better writer.

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Daring Greatly / Brene Brown

Verging on self-help, this is a great look at the psychology behind shame and vulnerability and how they work to hold us back or push us forward.

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The Beautiful Struggle / Ta-Nehisi Coates

The eloquently written first book from this year’s most celebrated writer.

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The Mathematician’s Shiva / Stuart Rojstaczer

Funny and poignant look at what makes a family with all of its flaws.

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The Obamas / Jodi Kantor

More than just another D.C. insider book or a story about politics. It’s really a fascinating read on the work that goes into maintaining the highly visible and scrutinized marriage of America’s most ambitious power couple.

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On Writing / Stephen King

The best advice on writing and the sacrifice and courage needed to pursue the life you want.

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Slaughterhouse Five / Kurt Vonnegut

Classic that I never got around to in high school.

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How to Get Away with Murder in America / Evan Wright

Short story on the CIA, Cuban refugees and drug murders in Miami.

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Gilead / Marilynne Robinson

I decided to read this book after figuring anyone being interviewed by the president must be worth reading. Robinson writes beautifully without being distracting, tackling religion, mortality and familial bonds with wonderful clarity and insight.

2015: Best Words (#Longform)

People are writing and creating more text than at any other moment in human history. We also have myriad devices that allow us to read that text — tablets, laptops and phones which are causing us to walk to our deaths and ruin our posture — but catching up on all that reading can be daunting. (I recommend an app called Pocket.)

This year was no different. There was lots of great #content to be read, through blogs, newspapers, even Twitter.

There were lots of great pieces on sports, modern relationships, celebrities, politics and music.

Of course you can’t talk about the year in longform journalism without mentioning the demise of one of the great pop culture websites: RIP Grantland. I’ll miss it but on the bright side my daily productivity has increased 57 percent.

 

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“Swipe Right on Monogamy”

Charlotte Shane / Matter

 The problem with “only fucking” isn’t that sex is dangerous or wrong outside the confines of certain social containers like the boyfriend label or an engagement ring. It’s that in 2015 and before, casual sex, as practiced by straight Americans, was routinely bereft of physical pleasure, mutual respect, and interpersonal maturity. Hook ups were supposed to be fun but they… well, weren’t.

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“Inside Jeremy Lin’s life after Linsanity and the New York Knicks”

Pablo Torre / ESPN Magazine

Hard to believe Linsanity was over three years ago.

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“Augusta National is a Fake Southern Wonderland Inspired by Trench Warfare”

Spencer Hall / SB Nation

Hilarious take on a tradition unlike any other.

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“The Third Revelation of Father John Misty”

Sean Fennessey / Grantland

Everyone grows up eventually.

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“Ask Polly: Am I Too Smart for My Own Good?”

Heather Havrilesky / New York Magazine

All of Havrilesky’s “advice” columns are worth reading but this is the best of the bunch.

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“Has Europe Reached the Breaking Point?”

Jim Yardley / New York Times Magazine

Is the European Union experiment doomed?

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“The Late, Great Stephen Colbert”

Joel Lovell / GQ Magazine

Stephen Colbert on the eve of his Late Show takeover.

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“Ann Coulter is a Human Being”

Mitchell Sunderland / Vice Magazine

I AM VAST I CONTAIN MULTITUDES

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“How to Fix a Racist Frat”

Kate Dries / Jezebel

The kids are not alright.

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“What Kind of Person Would Vote for Donald Trump? These People”

Drew Magary / GQ Magazine

An in-depth look at the political base of our next president.

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“The Broad Strokes”

Rachel Syme / Grantland

Who says stoners are lazy?

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“A House Divided”

Ryan Lizza / The New Yorker

Inside the plot against John Beohner and the battle for the conservative soul of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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“The Katrina Disaster That Hasn’t Ended”

Michael Grunwald / Politico

This was the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and for the occasion lots of people wrote retrospectives. I didn’t read many of them because I suspected they were overly sentimental or about jazz and New Orlean’s resiliency or George W. Bush, which is fine of course. But this article tackles a problem that played perhaps the largest role in the death and destruction resulting from that terrible storm: the self-serving relationship between Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers.

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“Out of Bethlehem”

Louis Menand / The New Yorker

How the greatest writer of her generation became a radical.

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“The Public Life and Private Doubts of Al Sharpton”

Eli Saslow / The Washington Post

Sharpton in Winter.

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“Against Chill”

Alana Massey / Matter

For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder

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“Praise Kaitlyn Bristowe

Jada Yuan / New York Magazine

Let’s talk about sex, baby.

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“How to be a Friend Indeed”

Bruce Feiler / The New York Times

Practical advice on how to be a friend to those in crises.

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“The True Story Behind ‘Zola,’ the Epic Twitter Story Too Crazy to be Real”

Caitlin Dewey / The Washington Post

Background on the greatest story every written 140 characters at a time.

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“Sea of Crises”

Bryan Phillips / Grantland

Sometimes it’s all about the journey, ya know.

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“Da Art of Storytellin’ (A Prequel)”

Kiese Laymon / The Oxford American

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2015: Top Albums

The Internet has been threatening to kill the album for over a decade now. First digital downloads and now streaming services have shifted the industry’s center to its original nucleus: the single.

But some musicians still cling to the post-Beatles belief that the album is still the ultimate artistic expression and holds the most value. I am here to praise those people.

There were many good albums this year. So many that I almost expanded this list to a top 20.

Everything outside of the top 3 is in no particular order. I tried so hard to be contrarian with a number 1 pick but I kept coming back to the same one throughout every iteration of this list.

*Honorable mention.

Depression Cherry (Beach House), What a Time to Be Alive (Drake and Future), Every Open Eye (CHVRCHES), Mr. Wonderful (Action Bronson), Late Nights (Jeremih), I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (Earl Sweatshirt), Currents (Tame Impala), GO:OD AM (Mac Miller). Free TC (Ty Dolla $ign), Ratchet (Shamir), Beauty Behind the Madness (The Weeknd), The Documentary 2 (The Game), Compton (Dr. Dre)

10.  Emotion / Carly Rae Jepsen

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9. Art Angels / Grimes

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8. Wildheart / Miguel

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7. Sremmlife / Rae Sremmurd

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6.  Summertime ‘06 / Vince Staples

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5. 25 / Adele

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4. Dirty Sprite 2 / Future

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3. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late / Drake

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2. Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit / Courtney Barnett

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1. To Pimp a Butterfly / Kendrick Lamar

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2015: Top T.V. Shows

Television is by far my favorite medium and in this era of “peak TV,” — in which you simply “can’t watch everything” — putting together a best of list can be challenging. The glut of quality T.V. leads to triage watching and forcing myself to give up on shows if I’m not hooked by the fourth episode. (Incidentally, it took five episodes to get me over my Wire hump and I’m thankful everyday that I did.) There’s only so much time we get on this planet which makes it our most precious commodity. Live your lives, people!

Anyway, there are far too many buzzed-about shows I just didn’t get around to (Fargo, Better Call Saul, Halt and Catch Fire, The Knick)

Or ones that my friends recommended but I couldn’t fit into my schedule (Bloodlines, The Leftovers).

There are shows that I gave up on that magically improve afterwards (The Walking Dead). And then there are shows I quit and then patted myself on the back as the Internet validated my decision. Looking at you season 2 of True Detective.

I got to the Season 3 finale of a lackluster Orange is the New Black, saw that it was 90 minutes and said Fuck. That. I mean, I do occasionally read and exercise.

I have my biases: half hour sitcoms with 10-13 episodes are my sweetspot.

Also, House of Cards is garbage and I will never get those hours of my life back. Thanks Netflix!

*Honorable Mentions.

You’re the Worst (FX), Scandal (ABC), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix), Justified (FX), Louie (FX), Brooklyn 99 (Fox), Empire (Fox), Inside Amy Schumer (Comdey Central), Odd Mom Out (Bravo), Girls (HBO), Game of Thrones (HBO), Parks and Recreation (NBC), Ballers (HBO), Scandal (ABC)

10. Show Me a Hero (HBO)

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“The job will not save you.” Sometimes doing the right thing is the only reward you get in life. And only Wire-creator David Simon could take something as dry as a public housing policy implementation and make it gripping.

9. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

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An animated series about a depressed anthropomorphic horse shouldn’t be this good.

8. Master of None (Netflix)

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Aziz Ansari, former Parks and Recreation star, comedian and author, delivers Louie for the Texting Generation. He lays bare the twin existential crises of being confused about how to create substantive relationships and stumbling while trying to build a meaningful adult life. Some of the stories (and worldview) are ripped directly from his is excellent book, Modern Romance.

7. Silicon Valley (HBO)

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Clever tech bro satire packed between even more clever dick jokes.

6. UnREAL (Lifetime)

UnReal exposes the sick, twisted heart of shows like The Bachelor.

They say you never wanna see how sausage gets made. This over the top send up of The Bachelor/reality TV is worse than sausage. It’s scrapple.

5. Broad City (Comedy Central)

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These two “take it there” and then when you think it’s gone as far is it can they take it another direction you didn’t see coming (see: the “pegging” episode)

4. Mad Men (AMC)

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Watching the series finale of this show was like saying good bye to your old friends. Your racist, sexist, alcoholic friends.

3. Veep (HBO)

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The dog finally catches the car she’s been chasing. Now what?

2. The Americans (FX)

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The central mystery of this show (since we already know how the Cold War ends) is whether this family of deep cover KGB spies will remain intact through the conflict. Work life balance is a problem for more than just office drones.

1. Mr. Robot (USA)

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It was hard to watch this show pull off this insane high-wire act without reminding yourself that it was on the same network that brought you Monk and Burn Notice. It’s like show creator Sam Esmail politely accepted any network executive shownotes and then promptly wiped his ass with them.

2015: Songs of the Year (25-1)

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Phillips Arena on June 20, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Here’s the conclusion to the year’s top songs along with a Spotify link to the playlist.

Pt. 1 can be found here.

25. “Jumpman” / Future and Drake

24. Major Lazer and DJ Snake (feat. MØ)

23. “Let it Happen” / Tame Impala

22. “Do It” / Tuxedo

21. “Hotline Bling” / Drake

Goofy, unconscious dancing and instant memability aside, “Hotline” holds its own as more than just another song about Drake holding women to standards the he would never abide himself. It’s a chameleon once again proving he can slip on any style and find gold. Drake is so plugged into the zeitgeist he can take a throw away track from a batch of internet leaks and top the charts. Praise be to the 6 God.

Continue reading 2015: Songs of the Year (25-1)

2015: Songs of the Year (50-26)

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2015 was a strong year for music that saw the return of Missy Elliott and Adele, yet Drake refused to leave. A one-eyed pirate from New Jersey high-jacked the airwaves with a love song about cooking crack. Young Thug’s “unorthodox” flow found crossover success and an Australian introvert wrote some of the year’s catchiest tunes. Without further adieu these are the undisputed top songs of the year. Please email antoine.vanderbilt@gmail.com If you disagree or have any BBQ recipes you’d like to pass along.

50. “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)” / Rich Homie Quan

Noted warbler proves he’s not a fluke.

49. “My Way” / Fetty Wap (feat. Monty)

Surprisingly tender for a man who refuses to chase these hoes.

48. “Upside” / Allen Stone

47. “Emotion” / Carly Rae Jepsen

46. “Blase” / Ty Dolla $ign (feat. Rae Srummerd and Future)

Continue reading 2015: Songs of the Year (50-26)

Rap Game Monica Lewinsky

Lewinsky during a TED talk on shame and cyberbullying.
Lewinsky during a TED talk on shame and cyberbullying.

During her recent TED talk, Monica Lewinsky, aka the Most Famous Intern in the World (after Joe Biden), said that she’d been referenced in almost 40 rap songs. “Hi, I’m Monica Lewinsky,” said the former handbag designer. “Some of you younger people might only know me from some rap lyrics.”

Turns out, she’s actually referenced in three times that amount. According to the annotation website, Genius, Lewinsky’s name has appeared in at least 128 (!) rap songs, mostly as a synonym for fellatio.

Some songs use the scandal as a historical touchstone, as when Celph Titled raps, “Shit was good when Billy Clinton was gettin Lewinsky pussy.” But mostly, references to Lewinsky in hip-hop have one of two meanings. The first is global shorthand for all things fellatio and can be found in English, Polish, German, Spanish, and French rap songs. “The cigar” makes only a single appearance, but at least 70 songs use her name as a verb related to oral sex: i.e., to Lewinsky, to give Lewinsky, to get Lewinsky. Sometimes her name is synonymous with coming, both as a verb and — when paired with face, dress, or gown — a noun. See: Beyoncé, in “Partition,” whose sex partner “Monica Lewinsky–ed all on her gown.”

The other use of Lewinsky is as a derogatory term for an inferior person — either an insult against lesser emcees (referred to as “Lewinskys” or accused of sucking like Monica) or a stand-in for a prostitute or willing sexual partner. Songs casually use Lewinsky to refer to the women who throw themselves at prominent men in clubs, to insult women who kiss and tell, or to label the “obvious sluts,” who are power-hungry. One song, “It Has Been Said,” by Aaron Omar, even uses Lewinsky as a virgin/whore moral lesson, warning listeners to avoid becoming a Lewinsky: “You should be a Michelle Obama.” And of course, there’s the now-infamous Chris Rock mock interview, in which he used Lil Kim samples as Lewinsky’s answers to demonstrate just how crass Lil Kim was (its own kind of inverse slut-shaming).

What a terrible fate. You make a mistake at 22 years old and BOOM, your name becomes a stand-in for rappers searching for “clever” ways to discuss oral sex. I will spare you the 3,000 word think piece on fame and sexual power I have loaded in the chamber. Besides, as usual, Chappelle said it best:

New York Magazine has the entire list.

via The Cut

Best of 2014: Top 10 T.V. Shows

The best/worst thing about being alive in the year 2014 is the plethora of entertainment here to distract you from existential dread enrich your life. No where is this more true than in the world of television. Here is the best from the past year.

Scandal (ABC), Blackish (ABC), Girls (HBO), True Detective (HBO), Brooklyn 99 (Fox), Parks and Recreation (NBC), The Mindy Project (Fox), New Girl (Fox), Nathan For You (Comedy Central), Nurse Jackie (Showtime), Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central), Louie (FX) Silicon Valley (HBO), Bo Jack Horseman (Netflix)

10. Homeland (Showtime)

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Can’t stay mad at you forever, baby!

9. Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

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Loses the novelty of season one ( because you can’t catch everyone off guard twice). But the writing is just as sharp.

8. You’re the Worst (FX)

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Two assholes on a romantic quest for true love.

7. Mad Men (AMC)

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After years of swirling around the drain, Don Draper finally hits rock bottom and starts to pick himself up.

6. The Honorable Woman (BBC/Sundance)

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Secrets, secrets are no fun. Secrets, secrets hurt someone.

5. Broad City (Comedy Central)

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Friendship is rare.

4. Transparent (Amazon)

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You don’t choose your family.

3. Game of Thrones (HBO)

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Hard to top the masterpiece that was season three, but somehow it does.

2. Veep (HBO)

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The West Wing was idealistic. House of Cards is a cynical nightmare. But nothing nails the absurdity of politics and ambition as (hilariously) well as Veep.

1. The Americans (FX)

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This spy drama is the best show on TV about family and responsibility since The Sopranos and Friday Night Lights went off the air. But not as sentimental as FNL because Eric Taylor never left someone’s bullet-ridden body in a West Texas ditch.

Best of 2014: Top 10 Albums

These are the top 10 albums of 2014. Collect them all, while the recording industry still makes them! Also click on the album art for a link to the Spotify Stream.

*Honorable Mentions: Seeds (TV on the Radio), Nikki Nack (tUnE-yArDs), Broke with Expensive Taste (Azealia Banks), Run the Jewels 2 (Run the Jewels), Oxymoron (Schoolboy Q), Honest (Future), No Labels 2 (Migos), Tough Love (Jessie Ware), Hell Can Wait EP (Vince Staples) White Women (Chromeo)

10. They Want My Soul / Spoon / Loma Vista

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I have run out of interesting ways to say “minimalist.”

9. My Krazy Life / YG / Def Jam

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This album functions almost as a companion piece to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012). But where Kendrick’s protagonist plays the observer and reluctant participant in the carnage around him, YG plays the charming asshole, gleefully telling you step-by-step how to properly execute a home invasion.

8. 1989 / Taylor Swift / Big Machine

Nostalgia

I think I’ve said all I have to say.

7. Paperwork / T.I. / Grand Hustle

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T.I. skirts the pratfalls typical of rappers, who have an annoying habit of making terrible “sequels” to their most successful albums.

6. St. Vincent / St. Vincent / Loma Vista

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Artsy progger who actually remembers to write actual songs.

5. My Everything / Ariana Grande / Republic

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Disney princess whispering over slick and catchy production.

4. Aquarius / Tinashe / RCA

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No one is driving in her lane right now.

3. Cadillactica / Big K.R.I.T. / Def Jam

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K.R.I.T. has always worn his influences on his sleeves (OutKast, 8 Ball & MJG, UGK, Three 6 Mafia). But he’s finally synthesized the all into something distinctly his, declaring himself “King of the South” in the process.

2. LP1 / FKA twigs / Young Turks

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Lots of slow burning sensual beats on display here. It’s a wonder that they manage to keep up with the sexually vulnerable (“when I trust you we can do it with the lights on”) and aggressive (“I can fuck you better than her”) lyrics wrapped around them.

1. Beyonce / Beyonce / Columbia

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No one, not even Taylor Swift, owned the last year like Beyonce. She made $112M, became the most famous brand ambassador for feminism, and released the dopest album of her career. She even had the best response to her most embarrassing public moment: Sometimes shit goes down when it’s a billion dollars on an elevator.

Here, she runs the gamut of human emotion: love, lust, jealously, ***flawlessness. All while not forgetting that pop music is supposed to be fun. I can only pray that no one has filmed me listening to this album while I think I’m alone.

Best of 2014: Top 50 Singles (#25-1)

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Welcome to the 50 Best Songs of 2014. After listening to every single sound recording released this year, without bias, I have determined the 50 catchiest, provocative and just plain best songs of the year.

Catch up on part 1 here and check out the complete list on Spotify.

25. “Prince Johnny” / St. Vincent

What Instagram filter would you call this song?

24. “Heavy Metal and Reflective” / Azealia Banks

The Ice Princess closes her Twitter app long enough to make a hot song.

23. “Money Baby” / K Camp (feat. Kwony Ca$h)

So disrespectful SMDH.

22. “Lazerray” / TV on the Radio

This is as close to the majesty of Dear Science as you will get.

21. “West Coast” / Lana Del Rey

Not quite “gangsta Nancy Sinatra,” but more like “stoned Bette Midler.”

20. “Move That Dope” / Future (feat. Pharrell WIlliams & Pusha T)

This may finally be the rap song that convinces me to start selling drugs.

19. “Bet” / Tinashe

Slow builder that Tinashe wrecks.

18. “Shake it Off” / Taylor Swift

PUMPKIN SPICE PUMPKIN SPICE PUMPK

17. “Sanctified” / Rick Ross (feat. Kanye West & Big Sean)

(Prayer Hands emoji)

16. “Ain’t it Fun” / Paramore

#NoRegrets.

15. “About the Money” / T.I. (feat. Young Thug)

T.I. hasn’t sounded this interested in making hot music in years.

14. “Seen it All” / Young Jeezy (feat. JAY Z)

According to Jeezy, Jay Z cried while recording this song. I don’t believe it for one second but I want to.

13. “Do You” / Spoon

Dad Rock for dudes without kids.

12. “Drunk in Love” / Beyonce (feat. JAY Z)

Jay Z rhymes “foyer” with “foreplay.” Respek.

11. “Cadillactica” / Big K.R.I.T.

O-U-T-K-A-S-T.

10. “Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches” / Son Little

I got tha blooze.

9. “Turtles All the Way Down” / Sturgill Simpson

All ya need is love. And maybe some LSD.

8. “Seasons (Waiting on You)” / Future Islands

Let this hypnotize you.

7. “Telegraph Ave. (“Oakland by Lloyd”)” / Childish Gambino

Weirdo finally finds perfect combination to the rapper/singer formula.

6. “Water Fountain” / tUnE-yArDs

I wish this song came out when I was four. I would probably be a rock star by now.

5. “Flawless (Remix) [Live in Paris]” / Beyonce (feat. Nicki Minaj)

I still have no idea what happened at this concert after this performance.

4. “0 to 100 – The Catch Up” / Drake

Yep.

3. “Two Weeks” / FKA Twigs

Absolutely filthy.

2. “Who Do You Love” / YG (feat. Drake)

DJ Mustard, YG and Drake ride in on their noble steeds to set The West ablaze.

1. “2 On” / Tinashe (feat. Schoolboy Q)

I once made a list of the best songs from the 2000s. About 60 percent of them were produced by Lil Jon, Timbaland and the Neptunes (a full 100 would include Kanye and Just Blaze). I have no doubt that when I put together a list a decade from now DJ Mustard will be dominating it. No producer owns the pop music zeitgeist like him right now.  He is ruler of all that he surveys. (And somehow he still got snubbed for a Producer of the Year Grammy nod!)

This ode to getting drunk and hashtag turnt is his slickest work yet. Tinashe slinks all across the track. Schoolboy Q comes in with a nasty rap that doesn’t even dirty the track. The perfect party anthem.