YA HEARD???: Good jams of rap radio 2012

with these rings, i thee unwed

It is well-established that I ❤ rap radio, but often times both 92.3 & 107.5 are bloated with a lot of useless shit. On the continuum of good rap and r&b, passable rap and r&b, guilty pleasures, and pure shit, both stations play mostly the latter two categories. But there are a few things genuinely worth listening to on the radio right now. They are:

USHER climax

Produced by Diplo and sang by URSHER, this song is one of the finest examples in the tradition of dance djs teaming up with R&B legends. Honestly, the only person to gain from this collab is Diplo, who, though not a household name, is at least a dancy-party-in-the-basssssment-name. When Usher feels like it, he can put out an amazing jam with a stellar producer (“Love In This Club”, other jams with Polow), but in recent years he is most likely churn out some anonymous house with a musically-bankrupt Swedish producer. The soaring, emotive vocal line is underpinned by an initially glitchy, then inevitably paced beat, combining the decisiveness and yet instant regret of a break-up. Unlike so many slow-burning jams to be heard on the radio these days, the music of this song is actually crafted and thematic. Usher is only growing as a singer in his later years. THIS IS THE BEST SONG.

FRANK OCEAN thinkin bout you

Frank Ocean’s songs are as emo as Drake’s and as sexually explicit as Chris Brown’s, but, unlike Drizzy and Breezy, Ocean doesn’t trifle. I was into Nostalgia.Ultra, but at times his voice reminded me too much of early 2000’s indie singing (all nasal), which is a major turn-off. This song features a fine falsetto and serpentine phrasing, evidence of Ocean’s skill as the most respectable R&Ber out there. There isn’t much to “Thinkin bout you”, and that’s what makes it lovely. Just a gauzy guitar fading in and out, and an 808 lapping like a wave. Ocean has feelings, but he doesn’t rub your face in them. He wants to sex you, girl, but in a really classy way. If the radio featured more understated, subtle songs like this, the world would indubitably be a better place.


“Amen’s” music track sans vocals could stand alone as a bouncy intro-to-gospel. Then just as you think you’re listening to 107.5 on Sunday mornings (when they play church music) Meek Mill jumps on asking “bad bitches” to represent themselves. The light-hearted irreverance of this song covers drinking too much, smoking too much, and babes: a new religion built on the altar of bacchanalian excess. It is at times discouraging that the younger generation of dextrous rappers seem to be solely focused on party-times, but “Amen” has a playful irony that lesser rappers cannot fathom from behind the opaque self-seriousness of their rosé-tinted glasses.


Y’all know I love Pusha-T and Big Sean, and that I will probably die as Kanye’s last defender from the hoards who just don’t understand the glorious populism of his music. So for me, this is an easy hit. But this Chief Keef song makes a startling addition to the genre I like to think of as “ghetto ominous.” (In my estimation, the “ghetto ominous” genre features lots of minor scales and organs. See: Ace Hood, some Wacka Flocka, etc.) “I don’t like” has a churning, unpleasant synth line, and a skittish drum track that sounds like someone’s packin a gat. The rappers are straight hatin, as the song is simply a litany of things they don’t like–snitches, fakes, women who deign to call after giving a BJ. The unrelenting anger and pessimism of “I don’t like” makes it an unusual hit, but I’ll always make room for aggro rappers. There’s a lot to be mad about.