The most energetic debates are often those that have no answers. Well meaning questions on the best running back ever and basketball player ever quickly turn into hour long debates that go unanswered. The most contentious arguments tend to involve music, usually best artist and album of all time. As a music savant no matter what your answer is you will be reminded of who you leave out rather than select. Selecting a single album is especially challenging as it restricts our answer to one sound. While this is challenging the only thing more difficult is creating a single playlist of ones favorite songs, which is the purpose of this piece.
Each song on this list brings out a certain reaction that only good music can. Regardless of time or place each song will result in me aggressively repeating the words, even if it draws questionable eyes.
Grouping 1: R&B
- Track #1: Zhane – Changes
- While Changes is my favorite song on there 1994 debut album Pronounced Jah-Nay, it isn’t the most popular. The platinum tape featured multiple hits such as Sending My Love, Groove Thang & Hey Mr. D.J which reached number six on the charts. Sadly, there second Saturday Night was there last and marked the end of what could have been one of the decades greatest groups.
- Track #2: D’angelo – The Root
- Best song – in my opinion – on D’angelo’s 2000 project Voodoo which also serves as my favorite R&B album . At the time, one one would have realized that it would take nearly 14 years for his next album Black Messiah to reach the shelves. The Richmond native soulfully sings of how a woman’s departure robs him of all happiness. From leaving his mojo in his favorite suit and losing his shield and sword opening him to loneliness, simply a beautiful song.
- Track #3: Erykah Badu – Back in the Day
- By the time this song was featured on her third album Worldwide Underground in 2003 Badu was already a household name. Badu’s first two albums Baduizm (1997) and Mama’s Gun (2000) were smash hits features songs like Other Side of the Game & Didn’t Cha Know. Back in the Day displays Badu’s talented to tell a story of her younger years sneaking out, smoking weed and tiptoeing back into the house.
- Track #4: Jodeci – Lately
- Initially sung by Stevie Wonder and featured on his 1980 album Hotter Than July; Jodeci takes it to another level. First performed on MTV Unplugged in 1993 was a collective effort with K-Ci and Jo-Jo on vocals, Devante on piano and Dalvin on percussion. It sounds great in the studio studio or on the Arsenio Hall Show, and gave us one of the funniest in Living Color skits ever.
Grouping 2: Hip-Hop
- Track #5: A Tribe Called Quest – Butter
- This is not the first time I have written about my love for the New York Group (see Phife & ATCQ). There 1993 album Midnight Marauders holds the crown for my favorite album, but does not contain the song mentioned above. Listed on their 1991 Low End Theory, Butter features only Phife Dawg rapping about the various ways his game with women is as smooth as the title, yes butter. In typical tribe fashion the song’s saxophone hook was sampled from Gary Bartz Gentle Smiles (1975) while the base instrumental was taken from Weather Reports’s Young and Fine (1978)
- Track #6: 2pac feat. Shock G and Money-B – I Get Around
- I Get Around is one of 2pac’s smoothest songs effectively detailing his status as a mac. His first verse is amazing using clever rhyme and wordplay to amplify is point even more. It also reunites 2pac with his Digital Underground counterparts where he initially began his entertainment career as a dancer. I asked my girlfriend who knows more about 2pac then I can ever what her favorite song was. She give a fascinating answer in that while she has a favorite album All Eyez on Me, she has no favorite song.
- Track #7: Mos Def – Umi Says
- Following his first album as a member of Black Star with Talib Kweli in 1998, Mos Def began his solo career the following year with Black on Both Sides. I wrote a final paper in a poetry class about Mos Def’s skillful use of flow and lyrics on the album, and Umi Says is a prime example. Though it contains few rhymes, Mos Def uses his melodic voice to entice the listener along with lyrics that tell a story of a broader concept. Umi – his mothers nickname – Says is a beautiful song about cherishing all of life’s moments and seeking freedom as black people. Fun fact, it was also used in a start studded Jordan commercial.
Grouping 3: Rap
- Track #8: Jay-Z feat UGK – Big Pimpin’
- Following the release of 4:44 a June, Jigga Man now has eleven straight number one albums. However, Big Pimpin’ was on Jay-Z’s fourth album Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter which hit shelves in 1999. While Jay-Z has hits spanning nearly two decades, Big Pimpin’ stands out from the rest. The beat is sampled from Hossam Ramzy’s Khursara Khursara adding to the amazing songs produced by Timbaland. Pimp C gives us an amazing verse and the video takes us back to the lavish lifestyles of the era, headlined by none other than Damon Dash.
- Track #9: Juvenile – Ha
- In 1998 Juvenile released his second album 400 Degreez. The album was headlined by the smash hit and party starter Back That Azz Up. While this song will take any gathering to the next level, it does not rival the excitement I get from Ha. Juvenile raps about the ranging experiences that occur in New Orleans’ Magnolia projects from child support court cases to getting on a plane to avoid those out to kill you. In a broader context this places us in the beginning of Cash Money Records dominance with artists like Juvenile, Big Tymers and Lil Wayne who would release his debut album the next year.
- Track #10: Ghetto Mafia – In Decatur
- Featured on there fourth and final studio On da Grind in 1998, the Atlanta based group went out in style. Composed of Nino and Wicked In Decatur may be the smooth song about illegal activities. Interestingly enough I first became aware of this song in 2010 after listening to Curren$y’s Jordan 3’s which uses the head-nodding instrumental.
Group 4: Miscellaneous
- Track #11: Prince – If I Was Your Girlfriend
- First, only Prince can wear a one piece bathing suit with a pink fur coat and still get the girl. To see my other thoughts about Prince (see The King that is Prince). Prince dominated the eighties with three number one albums Purple Rain (1984), Around the World in a Day (1985) & Batman (1989); yet neither included If I Was Your Girlfriend which appeared on his 1987 album Sign o’ the Times. Prince displays his superb songwriting abilities including this beautiful line “would you run to me if somebody hurt you // even if that somebody was me”.
- Track #12: Pharrell feat. Jay-Z – Frontin‘
- Pharrell began his music career assisting with the production of hits like Rump-Shaker and even had a vocal role – saying “S-W-V” – in SWV’s hit Human Nature. Flashing forward nearly a decade later in 2003 Pharrell and Chad Hugo – who together form The Neptunes – created Frontin’. The quality falls within the norm of any work produced by the Virginia born duo and Jay-Z’s contribution only enhances it further. The video also features various cameo’s from a young Lauren London, Lenny Kravitz and Pusha-T.
- Track #13: Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers- A La Mode
- My interest in jazz grew in 2016 after watching Spike Lee’s 1990 film Mo Betta Blues staring Denzel Washington. In jazz the headliner of a band or quartet is often reserved for the horn player. Marquees often displayed the names of jazz greats such as John Coltrane (saxophone and clarinet) and Miles Davis (trumpet). Art Blakey is one of the few musicians I have seen to lead a group as a drummer. A La Mode released in 1961 features skillful improvisations from a host of instruments from saxophone, trumpet and even trombone.
- Track #14: Roy Ayers – Running Away
- One reason I am able to discover old music, especially jazz is through the website Who Sampled. This site allows users to track the origins of our favorite songs, through the artist they sample. One of the most sampled artists totaling over 800 is Roy Ayers the singer and vibraphonist. Running Away is my favorite song by the funk and disco musician, though he is best known for Everybody Loves the Sunshine.
As I mentioned earlier, responses are largely remember for who is not excluded. These were the few songs that just missed the cut;
- Puff Daddy & Mase – Been Around the World (Original or Remix).
- Mary J. Blige – Love No Limit
- NxWorries – Link Up
- Loose Ends – Hanging on a String
- Idris Muhammad – Piece of Mind