by David Mickelsen
Here’s another of my lists: the Song of the Year with some runners-up. This Song of the Year is not necessarily my favorite song released this year, nor is it supposed to be the “best” song (whatever that means). Instead, this is the song that best represents the year for me, the song that defines 2008 in my mind. It is a combination of what was most ubiquitous and celebrated in the mass consciousness, and what was most important and captivating to my consciousness.
It was a tough choice this time around, as there was no clear-cut number one for me this year, unlike the past couple of years: last year it was Rihanna’s summer anthem “Umbrella,” and Gnarls Barkley ran away with it in 2006 with “Crazy” (although T.I.’s “What You Know” was a strong runner-up). But there are a lot of tough choices in life, so here’s what I ended up with for Song of the Year:
Runner-Up #3: “No Matter What” – T.I. (Listen at imeem)
When a person is going to jail for awhile, one of two things often happens: he becomes hardened, bitter, and cynical (like 2Pac), or it causes him to become more introspective, and to reflect on his life and what’s really important (like 2Pac?). The latter is the case for T.I., who early in 2008 was sentenced to a year in prison for federal weapons charges, which he will begin serving in March of 2009. Much of his 2008 album Paper Trail reads like a confession, and on “No Matter What,” he draws strength from his faith, apologizes to his fans, is at peace with his fate (“Facin’ all kinda time, but smile like I’m fine”), and affirms that no matter what, still he stands.
Runner-Up #2: “Love Lockdown” – Kanye West (Listen at imeem)
Even given how polarizing it was, and how late it was released, this song was still a pretty big deal in 2008. Kanye West is, after all, one of the Big Two in the current rap world as I see it, along with Lil Wayne. That, and the fact that this is one of my favorite Kanye tracks ever, make it my #2 runner-up for 2008. “Love Lockdown” opens, appropriately, with just an 808 bass line. The world is then introduced to West’s infamous auto-tune-aided singing, under which piano chords enter before the track explodes into the chorus with thunderous drums: “You keep your love locked down, you lose.” The hottest moment for me, however, is the final instrumental break, where Kanye brings in synths, polyrhythmic percussion elements, and some distant, echo-laden noises that sound like they belong in the jungle, before everything drops out and it’s just 808s and piano again. Then the piano drops out, and the song ends, appropriately, with just an 808 bass line.
Runner-Up #1: “Paper Planes” – M.I.A. (Listen at imeem)
I’ve recently fallen in love with M.I.A. I don’t know why it took so long; I’ve certainly known about her, back to the release of Arular in 2005. Nevertheless, while I wasn’t paying as much attention to her music over the summer as I am now, it was hard not to notice this track: it was everywhere (including a noteworthy spot in the trailer for Seth Rogen’s movie Pineapple Express, one of the first places that I really noticed it). Lately, “Paper Planes” has been in heavy rotation for me, and its album, Kala, is one of my favorites of 2007 (the single was released in February ’08). The Clash’s “Straight to Hell” is sampled to great effect, and the shotgun and cash register sound effects are appropriately jarring. Perhaps this could have been my Song of the Year if things had been different; either way, it’s a great song.
Song of the Year: “A Milli” – Lil Wayne (Listen at imeem)
Walk down any given street in Chicago during this past summer, and you wouldn’t get very far before hearing those ultra-heavy 808s blasting out the open window of a passing car. “A Milli” was the closest thing 2008 had to a truly ubiquitous this-song-is-everywhere summer jam like the “Umbrella”s, “Crazy”s, and “Hey Ya”s of years past, and it stands on a level with any of those songs. Lil Wayne names every pop culture reference he can think of in three minutes and 41 seconds, and the ground-shaking production from Bangladesh is some of my favorite in 2008 hip-hop. I’ll always remember it as the song blasting through Chicago during my first summer here, and as such it’s the song that for me best represents 2008.