Back for a second year, it’s my mixtape of my favorite songs of the year. I know you’ve all been waiting.
Another year has gone by and I’ve gotten another year older. My desire to keep up with what’s hot continues to wane and I’d rather spend my time digging in to old vinyl than I would keeping up with the kids. People at work have been playing a lot of pop radio lately and I find a lot of it nauseating. I know. Old guy. OK, boomer. Whatever.
I spent much of my music listening time in 2019 doing one of three things:
1. Listening to Anderson .Paak.
2. Listening to Prince. I spent way too much money in 2019 trying to keep up with all of the vinyl that the Prince estate is putting out. Between the 1999 Super Deluxe Edition, Originals, the surprise acoustic version of “I Feel For You” and the reissues of Emancipation, Chaos and Disorder, The Versace Experience, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, and Rave In2 the Joy Fantastic (I feel like I’m missing something) at this point I should just direct deposit some of my paycheck to the Prince Estate every other week. Oh yeah, there was the whole Minnesota Timberwolves’ Prince Night at the Target Center when I almost drove 8 hours to get my hands on a copy of “Rock and Roll Is Alive (and it Lives in Minneapolis)” on 7″ vinyl. I got it on eBay instead. What a year to be a Prince fan. More on that in a second…
3. Listening to old jazz. Blue Note Records was busy last year reissuing a ton of their classic stuff on vinyl for their 80th anniversary and I’m still busy digging in to that. Have you ever heard “Succotash” by Herbie Hancock? Holy shit. Have you heard Alive! by Grant Green? If not, you’re missing out on a funk masterpiece and a treasure chest full of classic hip hop samples. Glad to hear they’re going to keep it up in 2020.
As was the case last year, there was plenty of new stuff that was actually released in 2019 that I enjoyed, and that’s where I’ll focus this list. Here’s my mixtape of my favorite new music of 2019. If you didn’t read my 2018 mixtape, here are the rules:
- The song had to be released in 2019. After all this is the best songs of 2019, not the best of 2019 but also some stuff from 2018 that I snuck in. I’ll never forget when Pitchfork released their best songs of the 2000’s and their number one song was “B.O.B.” by Outkast, a song from an album released in 1999.
- Only one song per artist. This does not include features, because some people appear on this list twice. I could easily take five songs from Anderson .Paak’s Ventura and three or four from Rapsody’s Eve, but I wanted to dig deeper than that.
Those are my only rules. I’m going to list them in the order that I would if I was making a mixtape. Here goes:
Purple Music – Prince
I know. This song was recorded 27 years ago. I don’t care. It’s new to me. A lot of Prince’s vault was introduced to us in 2019 and I feel like this song represents all of it. An eleven minute funk scorcher crammed with crazy guitar fills and excessive keyboard-generated hand claps. You could pick any of dozens of songs that emerged from the vault this year as the Prince song on the 2019 mixtape. The acoustic demo of “I Feel For You” is mind-blowing. The alternate version of “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” is beautiful and heart-wrenching. The alternate version of “Irresistible Bitch” is wildly entertaining and funky. How about finally getting to hear Prince’s take on hits like “Jungle Love” and “Manic Monday” among others? I could go on. “Purple Music” feels like a good choice just based on name alone.
Gidget – Free Nationals feat. Anderson .Paak
When I heard the Free Nationals were releasing an album without Anderson .Paak I was skeptical. I’ve seen Jose, T. Nava, and Kelstro perform with .Paak numerous times on TV and hundreds of times on YouTube. Their Tiny Desk performance is still the high bar. Then I saw them perform “Gidget” on the Tonight Show and I couldn’t stop watching it. It was so funky. Their self-titled album dropped in mid-December and made a late push for best album of 2019. The entire album is a yacht rock/funk hybrid ripped straight from the 70’s. I read reviews saying that it lacks cohesiveness and direction because they don’t have a lead man without .Paak. I’ll argue the opposite. Their album is a fantastic funk trip from start to finish regardless of who is performing the vocals. I could easily add multiple songs from this album, but since “Gidget” was the song that I played on repeat for about two weeks straight – much to the chagrin of my wife and kids – that makes the mixtape.
So Ready – Raphael Saadiq
2019 was the year Raphael Saadiq finally came back. Saadiq is one of the great criminally underrated and/or under appreciated artists of our time. Tony Toni Tone was a great group and his solo stuff is all classic. This year’s Jimmy Lee album was no different. There are so many great tracks on this album I could’ve gone a lot of different directions with this choice, but I chose “So Ready” simply based on the fact that there’s a lot of slower stuff coming up on this mixtape and I wanted something uptempo and funky. This song fits that description perfectly and was definitely one of my favorites in 2019. I hope Saadiq doesn’t wait more than 8-9 years to bless us with a new album next time.
Ibtihaj – Rapsody feat. GZA and D’Angelo
Forget what you read anywhere else. This was the best song of 2019. Rapsody has catapulted herself into any conversation about the best MC alive with multiple amazing albums full of flow and wordplay few can match. “Ibtihaj” is just so unique. The only word I can use to describe D’Angelo’s contribution is freaky. GZA contributes a strong verse. Even with all the world-class talent featured on this track, Rapsody outshines them all.
Sou Sou – Jidenna
There was a stretch in August last summer when it seemed like a hot album was dropping every week. Rapsody’s Eve. Common’s Let Love. Raphael Saadiq’s Jimmy Lee. The surprise for me was that the album that stole the summer for me was Jidenna’s 85 to Africa. As much as I loved his work on Janelle Monae’s “Yoga” and his single “Classic Man” with Kendrick Lamar, I was underwhelmed by his 2017 debut The Chief. The potential was obviously there, though. 85 to Africa is that potential realized. As the title implies, the album has an African feel to it but still feels like hip hop. I can’t recommend it enough. My favorite surprise of 2019 in music.
Senorita – Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello
It’s time for the Phoebe portion of the playlist. I have a 12-year-old daughter. She loves music and she’s obsessed with Shawn Mendes. When she’s not in school or participating in one of her 500 or so extra-curricular activities she’s professing her love for Mendes on Instagram or Snapchat. My point is, hearing the same song repeatedly can wear you down. After about 500 listens all of a sudden I found myself saying, “I think Phoebe is on to something. This song is the shit.” Great pop song. Mendes and Cabello hold their own vocally and they harmonize beautifully together. It’s got a catchy Latin vibe. I dig this song…enough to put it on my mixtape. I’ve heard it so much it will certainly be the song I think of when I think music in 2019.
Boyfriend – Social House & Ariana Grande
July 5 my wife and I took Phoebe to her first concert. Ariana Grande at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. I was excited for Phoebe, but my admiration for Ariana Grande’s vocal skills is well documented. I like her music and I was looking forward to seeing her perform live. When we arrived we found out that the opening acts were Normani and someone called Social House. I was quietly dreading having to suffer through some God awful hip hop duo. I love hip hop. I loathe bad hip hop. Then Mikey and Scootie took the stage in backpacks and slippers. I think Phoebe and I enjoyed their 15 minutes more than any of the other 500 people who were in the arena at that time. It wasn’t Nas or anything, but they weren’t trying to be. It was more like two stoners goofing off. The music was fun. They performed like the arena was packed. At one point they made a remark like, “Thanks for all the love and energy, Milwaukee.” They had to be talking about Phoebe and I. The rest of the turds in the arena were sitting on their hands. Shortly after we saw the concert “Boyfriend” dropped and it’s fantastic. Grande kills it, as usual. The boys from Social House more than hold their own. I’m sorry I haven’t taken the time to figure out who is who even though I was definitely screaming “SCOOTIEEEEEEE” throughout their performance. Just a damned catchy and enjoyable song.
Make it Better – Anderson .Paak feat. Smokey Robinson
I love .Paak for a lot of reasons. One of them is his ability to sing ridiculous lyrics with sincerity. The NxWorries album is loaded with it. Every time he belts out, “God damn, bitch, they playin’ our song,” it puts a smile on my face. “Make it Better” is a pleasant change of pace. I don’t have the stats in front of me so I’m going to make this up: At least half of .Paak’s songs are about cheating on his significant other, or having multiple significant others at the same time. “Make it Better” is the opposite. A truly beautiful soul song about the struggles of maintaining a long-term relationship. Smokey Robinson contributes some background vocals and a general old school vibe on the track, but .Paak’s raspy, soulful vocals make this stunning track what it is. I could’ve picked pretty much any one of the tracks from Ventura for this mixtape. It’s easily my favorite album of 2019. However, when I had to pick one, this was the obvious choice for me.
Please Me – Cardi B. & Bruno Mars
That’s right. I followed up a classy soul song with a Cardi B track with lyrics like, “Better fuck me like we listening to Jodeci.” Can I take this opportunity to beg these two to just record an entire album together? Last year “Finesse” was a nice opening act. “Please Me” is better. I don’t find Cardi particularly good at rapping, but whenever she gets on a track with Bruno Mars she just crushes it. Bruno Mars continues to be one of the best vocalists I’ve ever heard. Not sure anyone on Earth can pull off the escalating cries of, “Please, please, please,” in this song like he can. Mars is singlehandedly keeping the late-80’s/early-90’s new jack vibe alive and I can’t thank him enough. Something about him singing his ass off while Cardi raps about dumb shit like how great her titties are just works for me for some reason. Also, Bruno’s mustache in this video was the real MVP of 2019.
Needy – Ariana Grande
Back to Ms. Ariana Grande for a minute. In case you were wondering she did not disappoint in concert. I kept thinking, “How can this tiny person sing like such a powerhouse for 120 straight minutes.” Why should her size have anything to do with her voice? I have no idea. It’s what I kept thinking, though. She can sing like few I’ve ever heard and she was belting that shit out all night. Never missed a note. Another thing I kept thinking as I watched my daughter ecstatically singing along was how I associate Ariana Grande with her. Phoebe has been a fan of her since she was on Nickelodeon many years ago. I pull for Ariana because we’ve watched her grow up alongside Phoebe like they were friends. The other thing that struck me at the concert was the string of hits she’s had in her career already. You forget how long she’s been around, how young she was when she got her start, and how many hits she’s had until you see her on stage performing them one after the other. When she released thank u, next early in the year the entire album was a hit. Again, I don’t have actual stats in front of me so I’ll make up something that sounds outrageous but I’m pretty sure is actually true. Wasn’t every song on that album on the pop chart at the same time? The album is filled with silly, catchy pop music. I listen to it and don’t begrudge her because I know her target audience isn’t 43-year-old dudes, but I keep thinking, “She could be making music so much better than this with that voice of hers.” Then in the middle of all the pop stuff she drops a stripped down gem like “Needy” and blows me away. Some music box-sounding keyboard notes on a loop with occasional finger snaps and Ariana’s flawless voice sounding vulnerable as hell singing about how “way too damn needy” she is. Then strings come in at the end as she hums along. It’s a masterpiece and a thing of beauty.
Patience – Tame Impala
I’m kind of worried about the new Tame Impala album. Here’s why: Of the songs he’s released since Currents, “Patience” is easily my favorite. He showed up on SNL last April and performed “Patience” and another cool new track, “Borderline.” It felt like a new album was imminent. Then several months ago he finally announced the new album, The Slow Rush, coming out on Valentine’s Day, 2020. He made some remarks about not wanting to release anything but the best music he can, and then released the track listing that did not include “Patience.” To me that implies that he doesn’t think “Patience” is very good and he’s going in a different direction. He has since released three more tracks from the new album and they’re all good, but in my opinion, none as good as “Patience.” My theory is that “Patience” sounds too much like it belonged on the last album and he wants to move forward. If that’s the case I respect and admire it, but I love the old album. Like so many other Tame Impala songs, “Patience” has an indescribable combination of disco beats, 80’s keyboards, and trippy vocals. Actually, what am I saying? I just talked myself back in to it. I’m not worried about the new Tame Impala album at all. It’s going to be amazing just like the last few.
My mixtape was brief this year, clocking in at just over 49 minutes, but what can I say? When you spend most of your time listening to Prince music from the 80’s and jazz from the 50’s and 60’s, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for the current stuff. Step your game up in 2020 and I’ll make a longer list 12 months from now. If you’d like to re-live 2019 through this mixtape you can click here and listen to it on Apple Music.