Good songs are like those BMG inserts in magazines that you just can't ignore. You're drawn to them, no matter what page in the pub you intended to flip to. But unlike those intrusive ads, which most folks curse, then tear out and toss, you can't disregard -- much less discard -- great melodies. They cling to you like dryer lint.
A program-director friend of mine, someone I worked with years ago, once said, "People don't know what they like. They like what they know." For the most part, he implied, people are sheeple, incapable of picking out noteworthy material. Well, my friend was full of crap. I'm obviously no program director, but like most discriminating music fans, I know what I like. And I liked a lot of local music in 2004.
Playalitical's latest unamed cut, slated for an upcoming comp put together by DJ Chonz, got glued into my subconscious the moment I heard it. Playa, one of the town's most talented MCs and producers (he's worked with Don Blas and Rie Rie, among others), made a track that exhibits the fiery yet sensitive spirit of 2Pac, the bark of DMX and the raspy cadence of Everlast over a beat jacked from Kanye West's playbook; Luther Vandross's version of Marvin Gaye's "If This World Were Mine" is given the chipmunk-soul treatment, to rousing effect. This is the hottest hip-hop track of the year.
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Nipping at its heels, though, is "Nice Guys," from Yo, Flaco!'s The Skinny. Silky smooth with a velvet groove, the song's Nate Dogg-esque hook flows seamlessly as the centerpiece of an otherwise jazz-inflected hip-hop joint.
On the decidedly rockier side of things, other favorites from the past year include Drug Under's "Never Again," from the act's forthcoming full-length. This song has a chorus that's so adhesive, you'll want to kick Chris Romero and company's ass for foisting the audio leech into your earhole. "Promise," from Love.45's debut, is just as virulent. (You'll have to buy the album to hear it, though, because there are at least four other tracks on the disc that radio will need to sort through before it finds this gem.) When you listen to "Growing in Your Garden," by Rubber Planet, just try not to sing along with Silver when the "I don't see us swimming in your sea-eee-eee" hook kicks in. "Firecracker," from Hot IQs, offers another head-bobbing refrain: "Out of my gun, into your burning heart/I'm a firecracker."
While there were countless other recordings that I really I dug this year, these are the ones that stick out -- and stick -- the most. For a more detailed rundown of my favorites, as well as those of my Backbeat colleagues, turn the page.