Spring! Finally! It’s above 45 degrees here in New York, and though it’s a tad rainy, color is slowly creeping back into the world. The music realm seems to be doing the same, with irresistible, colorful dance tracks beginning to blossom and populate pre-summer playlists (the almighty Song Of The Summer approaches!). Of course, it’s always a good idea to balance out that pep with some towering self-doubt, or maybe massive declarations of boss status. This week’s 5 Best Songs list has all that, and it’s hella exciting to see what the rest of spring has in store.
If for a second we attempt to shrug off Earl Sweatshirt’s mythology, what exactly are we left with? A 21-year-old kid with two understated, unconventional full-length releases under his belt and a glacial chip on his shoulder. Earl needs a story. Without it, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is a depressed and constrained work of attempted self-reflection, as painful to listen to as it must have been to make. It’s a tormented, intricate record, and anyone else Earl’s age might take his disproportionate level of stardom as an opportunity to act like an asshole and brag about accolades, but instead, he’s getting stoned in his old bedroom, budgeting out the rent that he owes his mom, and wondering where to go from here. Sometimes, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is so honest that it’s uncomfortable, almost worrying, to witness. As Tom pointed out in The Week In Rap, there is rarely a boastful shit-talking moment on this album, which is what makes the concluding track such a welcome exhalation. On “Wool,” Earl is joined by Vince Staples, a rapper who owes much of his recent notoriety to his verses on 2013’s monstrous Doris and Earl’s self-titled debut mixtape. Staples also happens to relay one of the most hard-hitting thesis statements to be found on I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: “A lot of lotto picks lost inside this game called rap/ I be the underdog.” Earl isn’t the only voice worth paying attention to on this album. Yes, he’s prodigious, but his concern over who he owes the stage to is palpable, and it’s worth noting that he didn’t choose to include any members of Odd Future as guests on the album. Instead, he’s given slots to smaller names, carving out room to impress rather than incite. Together, Earl and Staples steamroll the hierarchy, their flow so evenly paced and sluggish that it leaves stains. “Fingertips to tapers, now, salute us when you face us/ Give a fuck about the moves all these loser niggas making now,” Earl commands in a final, un-rushed and even acknowledgment of all that he’s achieved. He doesn’t need to hurry; we’re all watching anyway. –Gabriela
After five years of scattered one-offs and a Gil-Scott Heron remix album, this week has been an embarrassment of riches for those of us who have been anxiously awaiting Jamie xx’s solo debut. And there’s some irony in the big lead single being called “Loud Places,” because no matter how understatedly thumping Jamie or his xx ilk may get, one of the last words you would use to describe them is loud. But it makes sense: Of course they’d be a fan of loud places, of finding a refuge among the hum that their own sparse, vulnerable music would never allow. It’s all there in the first two lines: Romy Madley Croft plays the part of the heartbroken ex-lover, sulking in the shadows watching her partner move on. “I go to loud places to search for someone to be quiet with who will take me home” versus “You go to loud places to find someone who will take you higher than I took you.” The murmured din of the crowd kicks in, a few whispering voice that build into a massive choir. It’s touches like that that make this feel like Jamie xx’s most densely layered track to date, keeping his trademark cool-headed minimalism while adding a sense of grandeur. At the end of the track, Madley Croft admits defeat: “You’re in ecstasy without me. When you come down, I won’t be around.” It’s the default xx mode: always more comfortable inside yourself than around other people, but perpetually on the hunt for something more. Their music is about the nature of being open, of closing yourself off, and it’s all too appropriate that Jamie xx’s solo debut would bear the same scars. –James
From the first jubilant ad-lib “moo-la-la” you can hear that Rihanna is no longer four-five seconds from wildin’ but gone off that French monarch turn-up. We’ve been parched, thirsty, waiting. Then we get this thunderclap of new Rihanna in our lives; a stone-cold self-worth anthem disguised as a party song. There’s always a backlash when women have the audacity to demand things, but especially when they demand money, credit, respect for their work. This isn’t a song about getting rich — Rihanna is already immensely wealthy — it’s about owning power. She’s flipping specific tropes here that usually establish male power: picking up the check, the “your wife in the backseat of my brand new foreign car” line, LeBron James — even the spit-profanity of a gender-specific insult like “bitch” — to mimic and expose existing structures. Hell, she jacked the whole title and chorus from a deeply misogynistic record from the early ’90s. Rihanna has never been polite or demurring, and that’s why we love her, need her so goddamn much. “Pay me what you owe me/ Don’t act like you forgot” isn’t about the paycheck, but the value of the work behind it, the respect afforded to the person receiving it. Her voice is a swaggering dagger, slicing confidence through the production dream team’s schizophrenic trap rhythms, ice-clinking samples and dice-rolled synths. The penultimate piece, though, is the rocket ship lift-off elation right before she snaps “Bitch better have my money!” That’s the boastful, bombastic bliss that comes from demanding what you know you deserve without a trace of fear. It feels better, even, than turning up to Rihanna when the whole club’s fucking wasted — but this chameleon of a song lets us do both. –Caitlin
Crying were already such a weird/great band, and they just got weirder/greater. On “Patriot,” the ballistic chiptune indie-pop they made their name on is amped up with all manner of wild prog-rock gestures, from the rapid-fire Rick Wakeman synth trills that introduce the song to the brain-busting drum figures that carry it home. Amidst the clatter is Elaiza Santos, still sounding sweet as can be. This thing is the casually gargantuan pixie-spawn of a Deerhoof/Fiery Furnaces/Rush three-way, a fireworks display that had me chanting “USA! USA!” once I picked up my jaw. Fuck outta here with your good taste and adult attention span and preference for music that sounds like it’s coming from only one browser tab. –Chris
Shamir Bailey doesn’t rap that often, but he does manage to flip a few decades of heteronormative rap playerisms on their ear with just one bar: “Just can’t make a thot a wife / No more basic ratchet guys.” The rest of the time on “Call It Off,” he’s reminding the world that breakup songs don’t have to be brokenhearted soul-dredging dirges. A breakup, after all, can be a great thing. It can be a moment where a person pulls herself out of a terrible situation. That’s what Shamir is doing here. “Call It Off” is a joyous, ebullient kiss-off, a full-on liberated disco wailer about figuring out that you’re better on your own. The funky guitar skitters and locked-in synth bloops and stutter-stepping cowbells add plenty, but the real show here is Shamir’s ecstatic wail, a wail that sounds even stronger in context. –Tom