Every week the Stereogum staff chooses the five best new songs of the week (the eligibility period begins and ends Thursdays right before midnight). This week’s countdown is below, and you can listen to a playlist of all our 5 Best Songs on Spotify.
This week, half of the Stereogum staff is consumed with anticipation for a movie about an electric mouse with investigative skills and Ryan Reynolds’ voice. We still listened to some music though. Here are the five best songs of the week.
True to its title, Jamila Woods’ new album celebrates her LEGACY! LEGACY! Each track is named after and inspired by a black artist. The namesake of “Baldwin” is the inimitable James Baldwin — more specifically, a piece found in his essential The Fire Next Time, in which he writes a letter to his nephew and urges clear-headedness when confronted with racism and dehumanization.
In an effort to know what you most fear, Woods channels her own poetic fire into her struggle with that sort of empathy. “I was reflecting on how good he was at talking to white people about race and thinking about what’s the savviest but also most honest way to tell white people about themselves,” she said in a recent interview with The New Yorker. “All my friends think I should love you anyway,” she sings on the track. “My friend James says I should love you anyway, and that’s OK/ But you’re making it hard for me.” –James
When Kelly Lee Owens’ debut album arrived in 2017, no small part of its acclaim was rooted in its emotional stakes. Owens had a unique skill: She could blend dreamlike and communicative melodies with throbbing, nocturnal electronic music with ease. She can make cerebral and chilly tracks speak with a human voice. But she’s also able to go ahead and craft a heady banger.
“Let It Go” mostly belongs in the latter category. Anyone who’s seen Owens thrashing onstage can imagine how this song would fit into her live set, perhaps the infectious and pulsing answer to a more spaced-out passage beforehand. And for it, she makes use of a simple phrase, one representative of the sort of lose yourself evocations common on the dancefloor. In her hands, the trope goes askew, almost out of focus — the command to “let it go” delivered as a ghostly whisper. Though a standalone single, “Let It Go” is a summation of what was exciting about Owens’ debut and what is exciting about whatever she does next. Relative to much of her work, this song counts as release. But as gentle as that voice is, it lingers with you, still lodged in your head long after the beat has switched. –Ryan
Flying Lotus crafts a kaleidoscopic world, right down to his album art. 2014’s You’re Dead glitched behind a cloud of haze. With his forthcoming Flamagra, FlyLo is adding new depth and pattern to the sparkling filter.
Anderson .Paak is the guiding light on the latest single “More,” grounding the song’s initial flurry of soul and sound and penetrating the groove that follows. His signature catchy-as-hell flow and FlyLo’s meandering magic find the artists in their shared element. Appropriately titled, “More” ends on a cliffhanger. Thundercat’s masterful bass punctuates the midsection, airy synths lead the epilogue, and we’re left wanting what’s next. –Julia
Skepta was around for the initial early-’00s big bang of London grime, and he reignited the genre with his 2014 rager “That’s Not Me.” He should’ve run out of gas twice by now, but he still radiates the chaotic but authoritative energy that has always defined grime’s best MCs.
Skepta released two back-to-back singles this week, and they’re both great. The first, “Bullet From A Gun,” found him in the sort of sentimental, reflective mode that’s always quietly been there in grime. But it’s the second track, “Greaze Mode,” where he really shines.
“Greaze Mode” doesn’t sound like first-wave grime, or even like “That’s Not Me.” It’s slower, more focused. The young UK rapper Nafe Smallz comes through, proving that grime can accommodate the Auto-Tuned singsong delivery that’s taken over American rap. Meanwhile, the track calls back to a couple of trans-Atlantic classics. Skepta quotes Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 single “Jus A Rascal,” while the outro snatches a quick piece of Dead Prez’s 2000 firebrand anthem “Hip Hop.” They’re subtle signals, placing “Greaze Mode” within a lineage of apocalyptic gut-churners. And the “Greaze Mode” beat, produced by Skepta himself, does that legacy proud, finding room for eerie sci-fi melodies within its nose-shattering drum hits and seismic bass waves. Over that monstrous track, Skepta calmly flexes. This is, after all, nothing new to him. –Tom
“First they mockin’, now they hoppin’/ All on the wave, ’cause they see me poppin’.” Denzel Curry is seeing for himself how success begets success. His grassroots rise has translated into massive influence, industry adulation, and an opening slot on what’s sure to be a blockbuster Billie Eilish arena tour. When you’re riding as high as Curry is right now — when your music just keeps getting better and your fan base just keeps getting bigger — you’re bound to convert some of your haters. Ironically, the song that might flip more Curry agnostics than ever is the one where he doubles down on his Day Ones.
With “RICKY” — named for the guy who “used to take me to my first shows ever” — Curry combines two timeless rap-song archetypes: the enthusiastic victory lap and the suspicious lament about all the new friends who suddenly emerge when you hit it big. He does so with a bright, stylish banger that, with its pitched-down hook and burbling momentum, evokes A$AP Rocky’s “Goldie.” For such a deeply personal song, it’s contagiously fun. Funny, too: “My daddy said treat young girls like your mother/ My mama said trust no ho, use a rubber.” –Chris