Almost to the home stretch, folks. Twelve through 7 after the jump.
12. Inspectah Deck, Termanology, & Planet Asia – "Serious Rappin"
This is my favorite song from Deck's Manifesto album. Y'all should know by now that I love me a good posse cut. And "Serious Rappin" is the best kind. It's just great emcees rhymin over a great track. Pure hip-hop. And while all three emcees do great work here, what I really love is the grim, deadly serious guitar-driven production. This is easily one of the best tracks of the year. Just great music. Who doesn't love scratchin?
11. El DeBarge – "How Can You Love Me"
"How Can You Love Me" is one of the songs that most explicitly references El's struggles so he has plenty to give here. And he gives it. There's a sense of awe to his performance here that really makes the whole thing work. I love how this song never goes overboard, relying instead on an increasingly urgent lead performance by El to really sell the emotion. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis proteges, the Avila Brothers, have learned well. The arrangement never gets in El's way or rushes the song to its end.
10. Reflection Eternal ft. Jay Electronica, J. Cole & Mos Def – "Just Begun"
By far, the best posse cut of the year. All four emcees are just on fire. The economy of phrasing here is astonishing. There are no extra words, breaths, breaks (Kweli, in particular, teaches a master class in how to use a pause). For my money, Jay Electronica's verse is just…everything. Best part?
"I dedicate this to my niggas in New Orleans
Rockin’ black and gold stocking caps and fleur-de-lis Shockey hats
I’m in the coatroom, screamin’ “Who Dat” on the double
Servin’ gumbo wit’ a shovel, dawg, I’m on another level"
Indeed, sir. Indeed.
9. Jazmine Sullivan – "10 Seconds"
"10 Seconds" is a perfect showcase of just how indebted to the great blues singers Jazmine Sullivan is. Cause make no mistake this song is all blues just laid on top of a great Salaam Remi track. Jazmine Sullivan starts at 10 and, quite literally, goes to an 11 by song's end, which is really really hard to do. She's remarkably adept at finding nuance in bombast. No other singer like her right now and this powerful kiss-off is genius.
8. Lyfe Jennings & Anthony Hamilton – "Mama"
There's so much love in this song that it is almost overwhelming. I mean, you got two of the finest soul men to emerge in the 21st century together singing a ode to a mother's wisdom. Everything is right, from Lyfe's gravelly soul to Anthony's flawless gospel phrasing to the marvelous background singers (when Kimberly Nicole hits that "I was wrong"? Masterful!). Lyfe's best songs always sound equal parts gospel and street corner griot. In this way, he's really a next generation Bobby Womack or Curtis Mayfield. I already miss him terribly.
7. Yahzarah featuring Phonte – "Cry Over You"
It was hard to pick a favorite song from Yahzarah's breakthrough album, The Ballad of Purple St. James. But as I was compiling this list, I kept coming back to "Cry Over You," the summery jam with Phonte. What makes it really really work is that there is a real undercurrent of sadness, particularly when she sings the bridge – "I can't say I'm not disappointed. We really coulda had a good time." As the song comes to an end, you can hear the "put on a brave face" aspect of the song waning. In this way, the song is more respite than a true kiss-off. She's gon' party for one night, but probably be sad the next day. That nuance is what I think makes the song more than just a great party song. It lingers long after it is over ("ooh ooh ooh..ain't gonna cry over you…ooh ooh ooh ooh")