My name is Steven Duong and I am an acclaimed music writer with many valid credentials. Here are seven indisputable truths about 2020’s musical highlights for you to read, absorb, and make a part of your personality so that you might further alienate your friends and family. Just a note: if you are a white reader and you disagree with my opinions, you are a bigot and should absolutely be ashamed — please rethink the choices that led you here. If you are an individual of ethnic/spicy background and you disagree with me , you are incorrect, but maybe not racist. Maybe! Let’s begin!
1. OHFR? — Rico Nasty
My brain lost each and every one of its folds this year due to increased exposure to Washington Post op-eds, but branded on the smooth surface of my occipital lobe are these words:
OH FOR REAL???? THEY SAY RICO JUST PUT A TEN PIECE IN HER GRILL!!!! I BEEN MOVING HOW I WANT, FUCK HOW YOU FEEL!!!!
Produced with love and care by Dylan Brady of 100 gecs infamy, “OHFR?” features the Rico we know and adore, armed with a perfect callback (“please don’t make me have to smack a bitch / I been itchin’”) and the vocal equivalent of brass knuckles. If a song could knock your teeth out and make you thank it for its teeth-removal services, this would be that song. I hope heaven is just a visitor’s booth at a celestial recording studio where I get to listen to Rico’s raspy-ass voice forever and ever and ever. Whew.
2. Sum Bout U — 645AR & FKA twigs
Not this… It’s your classic, sparkly R&B duet, but it’s composed by two ethereal mosquitoes whose voices have been filtered through a supercomputer with an AI that learned everything it knows by poring over a decade of Omegle chat records. Imagine the pitch of twigs’s voice. High, right? They pitched AR’s voice even higher. Jesus. The chemistry here is weird, yes, but undeniable — the lyrics are sultry(?) and tender(??!), somehow both in spite of and because of the bizarro delivery. And the video is just as mind-blowing, featuring twigs as a camgirl and 645AR as her Simp in Chief. Watch it, stream it, give it love. This song scratches every itch in my psyche.
3. King Vamp — Playboi Carti
We’re not going to dive into the album release theatrics of Whole Lotta Red, which was first announced back in August of 2018 — let’s just focus on the music. The music is ridiculous. On “King Vamp,” Carti not only backstrokes his way across a 2008 Taio Cruz type beat, but does so while COSPLAYING AS A KATE-BECKINSALE-STYLE SEXY VAMPIRE (my parents are loyal Underworld fans and they are the reason I am the way I am).
“I’m a dark knight, bitch, yeah I can’t sleep! / When the sun goes down, yeah it’s time to creep!”
Sure, weirdo. Whatever you say. Somewhere amidst the spit-spray adlibs and video game synths, Carti finds the audacity to do the cheerleader letter-recitation thing, and the letters he chooses are “K-I-N-G…V-A-M-P!” followed by an indignant “that’s me!” I always thought we needed more vampire representation in rap, and if this is what it takes, fine. If you like this track, try “Vamp Anthem” off the same album. It’s ooky, kooky, spooky, and creepy.
4. So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings — Squirrel Flower
I already wrote an indulgent piece about Squirrel Flower’s (aka Ella Wiliams) Caroline Polachek cover here, but I have to note it again. This song just made my heart stop again yesterday morning while I was playing Zelda on my roommate’s Nintendo Switch, roaming the stunningly rendered vistas of Hyrule backed by roaring guitars and Ella’s burning kite of a voice. It felt right to me. Ella has a gift. She takes Polachek’s heartache-induced dancefloor banger and molds it into something deep and rich and so full of yearning you can barely hold it. But you do. You hold it close. It’s incisive, it’s heart-rending, and it fucking rocks. Buy her debut album I Was Born Swimming here. It’s a new year. Bring something beautiful into your life.
5. The Box — Roddy Ricch
I don’t care if you heard this song so many times your brain became a puddle of goop and Tik Tok audios! I don’t care that the video is extremely stupid and features Roddy Ricch in a literal box. The day I heard this for the first time, I think I was in Shanghai visiting a semi-famous koi pond. I started acting different. I pet a few of the fishes like they were dogs, which was against the rules. I’m different now beacuse this beat sounds like a sentient tea kettle with generalized anxiety disorder. Roddy Ricch sounds like a robot programmed to mimic Young Thug and Future and funnel their weirdest sounds into what is somehow like the highest-charting pop music of the year.
or whatever that man said.
6. scawy monstews and nice spwites — Fraxiom
We needed another token white artist for this list, so here you go! I’m kidding. I have white friends. I wish Fraxiom was my friend! I think they live here in Boston. As for the song, the song is an act of god. For reasons unbeknownst to us mortals, Frax cribs the melody of the Skrillex track with the adjacent name to this one and injects it with exactly the right amount of autotune and uwu-laced ramen-packets. This song is a solid argument for why the Internet should be deleted. It’s in bad taste. It’s infectious. If someone tells you 100 gecs is unlistenable, tie them to a chair and stream this. I streamed it entirely too much this year. Here’s a sample of the lyrical content:
Get back to Chicago, yeah, with my thembo, summer team will be a movie. Hmm, yeah, flights out to Chicago, yeah, rights for bottoms will be revoked.
Powerful. Stream Fraxiom.
7. body count — Odunsi (The Engine), feat. Amaarae, DETO Black, Gigi Atlantis
As soon as it’s feasible, I would like to put “body count” on repeat and dance myself to an untimely death in a sweaty basement venue with all 1500 of my closest friends. I think this was also a popular TikTok audio. My brain is rotten.
That said, sometime last year, twenty-four-year-old Nigerian artist Odunsi (The Engine) pulled together a dream team of young alt kids and put out EVERYTHING YOU HEARD IS TRUE, a fourteen-minute cocktail of afrobeat production, R&B crooning, pop-rap energy, and dreamland synths. “body count” is the standout because it contains what I need most right now — a solid set of drums and a few earworm raps. I wanna hear more things like this. Please let me know if you know of any things like this.
*Edit* Honorable mentions go to… hmm…“Physical” by Dua Lipa and “Can’t Do Much” by Waxahatchee. “Kyoto” by Phoebe Bridgers and “Kyoto” cover by Glitch Gum. Wow, white women did good this year. Also “Dora” by Tierra Whack. That song where JT goes “pull up G-wag six three eoooooowwww.” “Girls in the Hood” by Meg. “Drama” by Bladee.
Okay! That’s it. Thanks for reading. Happy new year. No fade outs.