I didn’t listen to a ton of music this year. I know it hurt 2011, unemployed me, but it helped 2016, I have some obligations me. But what did get played, and enjoyed, stuck around for a while. And the longer something sticks around in your life, the more feelings you’ll have for it. Cats, humans, or provocative one-liners in autotune. What follows are the songs that made me feel things, immediately and after a listen or three.
Songs That Made Me Feel Religious
As someone that long ago gave up gluten, and long before that, gave up eating communion wafers, I didn’t expect 2016 to bring any element of religion back into my life. But in February, when ‘The Life of Pablo’ iteration 1 was released, it came to have some words with me. “Ultralight Beam,” a phrase the could lead you to imagine the technological opposite of the Death Star’s world-killing laser, brought me to a point where I could interact with something like The Bible again without being forced to by my mother. It just so happened that this element of religion re-entered my life as I sought out conspiracy theory content to entertain myself (here’s one about Kanye’s SNL performance).
This religiosity flame was stoked in May when Chance The Rapper released 'Coloring Book’ and gave us songs like “How Great” with its “am I listening to gospel, or a rap song?” chorus. Ultimately, the “I can talk about bleached assholes and the being that curved Cain, minutes apart” appealed to me, a person with layers, just like most of the rest of you. All of these things led me to actually ordering a new copy of 'The New American Bible’ on Amazon, 2.5 years after I threw my last one in the trash (and not because Bible scholars frown upon that particular translation). 2016 was a good reminder that faith can be complicated, and that you can still have it, even after throwing a fuck or two into your sentences.
Songs That Made Me Feel Triumphant
'Purple Reign’ rang out in my apartment, every Saturday, for months. The songs were like mantras I would focus my attention on to achieve an elevated weekend state. And “Drippin (How U Luv That)” was key to these states. Its ebb and flow made me want to belt out the same notes Future was hitting. It’s flipping your light switch on and off furiously in the form of a song. It intensifies and then calms. The only thing that could’ve made it more special was a remix featuring the Sauce Twinz.
“No Problem” on the other hand, was enjoyed, but didn’t fully resonate until Memorial Day. When after getting my money’s worth of bottomless mimosas, I came home and echoed the most joyful threats put on a beat all year. All in all, both songs likely elevated my testosterone in ways that discredited “power poses” never could.
Songs That Made Me Feel Disgusted
The Game’s “True Colors / It’s On.” If you’ve heard it, you should already know.
Songs That Made Me Feel Conflicted
I was a proponent of 'Savage Mode’ when it dropped. It was one of my favorite producers of the moment and a guy that correctly chose to deliver his words in a very relaxed matter that fit the music well, regardless of what he was actually saying. “No Heart” was heads and shoulders, and knife tattoos above the rest on the album, and the whole affair got respectable burn from me. But then one day I see 21 Savage on stage with Bankroll Fresh’s murderer (a rapper I still haven’t gotten around to giving enough time) seemingly telling him to announce to the crowd that he killed Bankroll Fresh.
I’m many years away from my most ignorant, and as I’m nearing 30, I’m just not excited about people boasting about murder. Music with cartoonish threats of gun violence will still be played by me, but they don’t hit the same spot they did as a teenager. And it’s all much easier to stomach when it’s fictional instead of real life giggling in a club over a life that’s lost. It all makes me think of something I said on twitter, that often runs through my mind. I’m sure I’ll listen to 21 Savage in the future, just like watching Jay-Z mush a woman’s face never made me stop playing his music. But its just a reminder that you don’t always want to be friends with the people that entertain you.
Also included under the conflicted list: Every Kanye and Future song.
Songs That Made Me Feel Celebratory
On New Year’s Eve 2015, I drank a much too expensive bottle of champagne that put money in Beyonce’s husband’s pocket, watched fireworks from the roof of my building, and listened to the newly released Future and Weeknd song, “Low Life.” And I did it enough times that you’d think my father caught me playing it and prescribed me the outdated “smoke this whole carton if you want to be a man and smoke cigarettes” punishment. I wish I could tell you how many times I heard “military” rhymed with “military,” but I don’t really want to visit last.fm and face that kind of knowledge.
Songs That Made Me Feel Regretful
The time I was wrong about a song, album, or artist that stands out most to me, was the first time I heard Bat For Lashes, and didn’t “get it” until giving “What’s A Girl To Do” another listen at a later date. This year, a couple songs stick in my mind, for different reasons. The first was Lil Uzi Vert’s “All My Chains” which after hearing caused me to think a guy from Philly that I thought was from Atlanta, was trying to make his own Chief Keef record. I mentioned something about the similarity on twitter, and the song’s producer took offense (the song is still reminiscent of Mr. Keef, btw). But I grew to really enjoy it, as well as all of the subsequent songs filled with exuberant “yeah!”’s.
The other song, which really reinforced how effective repeated exposure is in making you enjoy something, was Kanye’s “Facts.” I panned it when it first dropped. Still would have rather heard Future over the music. But the remix on 'TLOP’ made it grow on me, with how much I played that album. While it’s still funny to hear Kanye claim his sneakers usurped Michael Jordan’s, and while I still hate hearing him ask if anyone feels bad for Bill Cosby, we do have him asking which couch he should pick, which turned into an oft-repeated line my household. So, I guess it’s not all bad.
Songs That Got Me In My Feelings
When I first heard “Max & Chinx / Paid For” it hit me in a different way than it might for others. With a friend in prison serving 15 years, and a friend that was shot and killed, I understood the dynamic behind French Montana’s song a little more than your average person. And as I was writing a letter to my friend Jalil when the album leaked, it served as the background music. And since you’re here reading this now, if you’d like to talk music or life, here’s Jalil’s address, he’d love to hear from you:
Jalil Miles 11B0319
Coxsackie Correctional Facility
PO Box 999
Coxsackie, NY 12051-0999
Frank Ocean built stairs, and then he dropped “Nikes” and all I heard was about how it was tumblr in the form of a music video, which has some accuracy to it. That description (or criticism?) helped me understand why I loved it. The fact that I heard the song for the first time paired with the visuals, and not as some mp3 uploaded to your nearest illicit link repository made it mean a little more. I enjoyed the video version of the song so much, with its pitched down shoutouts, that I would sync up my mp3 with the video, to get the best of both of worlds (meaning, I was able to accurately record how many times I played it with last.fm (yes, I’m one of the eight people still using last.fm)).
What did I love about it? Well, the beat could’ve doubled as the soundtrack to a slow dance in the 1950s high school sock hop of an alternate dimension. And “demons trying to body jump” resonated with me for a reason or two. I also appreciated Carmelo’s search for an NBA championship being used as an analogy for a woman wanting marriage (or at least the trappings that come with that level of commitment). If you’re ever in need of a trance, just put “Nikes” on repeat, and see where it takes you, because it took me some places.
'Moonlight’. What else is there to say about the film. It affected me. And there’s no other moment that better encapsulates the whole of my two experiences with it than the 'learning how to swim’ scene that was backed by Nicholas Britell’s “The Middle of the World.” My childhood bubbled up when those strings started playing. So much so that I actually bought a movie soundtrack in 2016.
Songs That Made Me Feel It Was Real Scary Hours
When I was led to a dance studio with my girlfriend to support her coworker, who was performing, I didn’t know it was a pole dance studio. And I also didn’t know the first performer was going to be a gay guy dancing to Rihanna’s “Needed Me.” And once the routine started, I realized that I didn’t know DJ Mustard produced the song. So, there was a whole lot of not knowing, which led me to the realization that it was actually a great song. And listening to the lyrics made me afraid for Drake. The woman singer that used to have great tweets back when 50 Cent was taking out the garbage for his grandmother, was merely adopting the role men in rap songs have long played. But there was a level of sincerity in her voice, paired with her reputation that proceeded her like a gown that you need an assistant to carry as you walk the red carpet of an award show. And I believed every bar. Someone check on whoever she’s involved with know, has been involved with, or will be involved with. This is the answer to Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” about 35 years later, like Roxanne Shante responded to U.T.F.O.
Songs that Made Me Feel Inspired
I saw the tail end of Kevin Gates’ performance on my birthday, April 20th, and it made me a fan. Upon listening to 'Islah’, “Two Phones” infected my mind. Not enough to ever try to get a woman to interact with a dog the way Kevin once did, but enough that I continually replaced the word “phones” with whatever noun was on my mind at any given time. The greatest compliment I can give to an artist is to incorporate their lyrics into any nonsensical sentence I can use in my relationship. So, thank you, Kevin.
And I thank all the rest of these artists for making the soundtrack to my year.