3) Ballin’ (feat Roddy Ricch)- Mustard
“Ballin‘” might be the best song to be released in 2019. It’s the ultimate climax to Mustard’s criminally underrated PERFECT TEN. It’s nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rap/Sung Performance category (one of two Roddy’s nominations this year), as it should be, and though it probably won’t win, it had the chance to be the defining moment of Roddy Ricch’s absurdly young career (he was 20 when he rapped it, which makes me sick with envy), before “The Box” blew up (an incredible song) and made Roddy an overnight star.
Though the song is Mustard’s because it’s his album, this is a Roddy Ricch song through-and-through. Roddy recently released his debut album PLEASE EXCUSE ME FOR BEING ANTISOCIAL. It topped the charts, even though most critics liked it just alright. They spoke of Roddy as a young rapper who made his album with no clear idea who he was as an artist and no clear voice (the first song on his album blatantly rips off Meek Mill’s “Intro”, but at this point, dozens of artists have done that. Roddy also has many moments of sounding like all of his contemporaries); I don’t entirely disagree with them, but I also view Roddy Ricch as one of the emerging stars of the end of the decade. “Ballin’” solidified that idea.
From the moment the Mustard tag drops after the 702’s “Get It Together” sample, you know you’re in for a treat. Roddy leaps out onto a smooth and breezy Mustard beat with a triumphantly carefree charisma, spitting bars that will resonate with any young, poor person who has felt like they’ve had to grind their entire life for everything they’ve ever had and even more specifically with any person who has ever overcame their circumstances and made it out to the other side and found success. You can feel Roddy beaming as he raps “Cause I’ve been getting paid/Yellow diamonds on me look like lemonade”, taking careful measure to stretch the ends of each bar until he can’t manage to harvest another ounce of joy out of the words. There’s a legitimately delightful feeling the song gives you, and it’s mostly because Roddy raps like he doesn’t have a trouble in the world.
2) MIAMI TOO MUCH- KEY!
The reason “MIAMI TOO MUCH” works so effortlessly is because KEY! makes the stakes so absurdly dramatic. He raps like a petulant child, basically taunting his ex about the fact that he’ll find a new girl (in Miami) who he “probably will marry, even though he doesn’t like her anyway”. This is immediately before he goes back to sulking over the fact that his old boo “makes him out to be a fool” by “laying out by the pool’.
The song is really sparse. KEY!’s adlibs feel just as much a part of the beat as the bounce of producer Oogie Mane’s bass line, though KEY!’s ad-libs have always felt like a vital part of his melodies, ever since his underrated 777 from 2018 that he made with Kenny Beats. The hook of the song is essentially just a droning chant of “You go to Miami too much” four times, and even though it’s the sullenest bar any rapper spits all year, it can’t help but stick and even become funny.
KEY! rapping “She tried to tell me she got a meeting/Baby, who’s your model agency?” is so maddeningly accusatory and toxic that you can’t help but laugh. This isn’t Future or Weeknd-levels of toxicity that often sounds slightly damaging (especially when weirdos on Twitter seem to be obsessed with them); it’s far more innocent than that. What makes it so funny is that KEY! is 27 and moodily sulking about an IG model laying out in the sun. It’s incredible.
1) Spendin’ (feat. Gucci Mane)- IloveMakonnen
One of my earliest experiences with rap music was in 2008. It was the fall dance of my seventh grade year. About eight months earlier, “A Milli” dropped, but my first time hearing it was at thE dance. I hated it. I was 11 and stupid, but I HATED it. I thought Wayne sounded like an alien. Even to this day, though I obviously came to love and appreciate the greatness of that song, and Wayne himself, I can’t shake the idea that Wayne still sounds like an alien sent from another planet to rap on that one. It sounds like something out of the future.
ILoveMakonnen makes music that gives me similar feelings. On his EP from earlier in 2019, M3, most of the music sounds hazy and like it was made in another galaxy, save for perhaps my favorite song on the EP, “Spendin’(feat Gucci Mane)”. It’s my most listened to song this year (though I attribute that to one night I fell asleep with it on repeat). It’s probably the most mainstream and simple song of Makonnen’s career, too. It’s just a basic synth melody lingering throughout the song until the grinning chorus arrives and Makonnen is devilishly chanting that he’s “spending” in his high-pitched upper register. Gucci Mane provides a rather purposefully subdued feature (Gucci sounds like he wrote this in his sleep, but much of Gucci sounds like that in 2019, to be fair) with a fairly amusing bar where he likens himself to being “the Jay-Z of the south”. It all just works.
ILoveMakonnen makes a lot of really spectacularly creative and… weird… music and hearing him this vivacious and exuberant is refreshing. Though the single didn’t make much noise (outside of “Tuesday”, most Makonnen music doesn’t), it’s too buoyant to ignore.