In addition to ranking music, I am a professional data journalist. I analyze numbers and do math every day for money. So you’d think I could count. But apparently we skipped Feb. 24 for some reason and ran 1974’s column on March 2, which means everything got pushed back a week and the last weekend of the year would have been 2017 rather than 2018.
What I’m trying to say is welcome to a special midweek edition of RIFF Rewind!
Given the… er… accelerated schedule, and this stubborn cough that I can’t seem to shake, I recruited friend of the column Dr. Robin St. Clare to help with the selection process. I also attempted to recruit frienemy of the column Ash McGonigal, but he wouldn’t shut up about a rapper named Stik Figa and I don’t trust anyone who moved to Topeka. I don’t even understand why anyone would remain in or near Topeka if they’re from there.
Jidenna — “Long Live the Chief”
I wish I could say I was on the cutting edge of hip-hop, but I first heard Jidenna playing at Harlem’s Paradise on Luke Cage.
Credit to music journalist-turned-filmmaker Cheo Hodari Coker, who booked some brilliant musicians for the fictional Harlem nightclub, including Raphael Saadiq and The Delfonics in Season 1 and Kingfish and Gary Clark, Jr. in Season 2. I would absolutely go there even though it’s run by a series of comic book villains for most of the series. And I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive Netflix for canceling it before its time over a petty spat with Disney.
Back to Jidenna! The Stanford-educated teacher was signed by Janelle Monáe’s label and collaborated with her on the briefly inescapable “Classic Man” in 2015. So even in a week in which one of Monáe’s songs doesn’t appear, she manages to find her way onto the list.
Thundercat — “Show You the Way”
This is a straight-up yacht rock song from 2017. Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins even provide vocals. It’s downright magical.
To bump the surreal value up a little more, Thundercat is Stephen Bruner, who played bass for Suicidal Tendencies from 2002 to 2011. Yes, those Suicidal Tendencies; the band so hardcore they’ve changed lineups and even genres pretty much constantly since 1980. He did most of the bass on the extremely thrash metal 13.
I also strongly recommend you don’t try to understand the music video. In fact just don’t try to understand any of it—just enjoy it.
Residente — “Guerra”
At the risk of further tarnishing my already minimal music cred, I wasn’t previously familiar with this one. Residente’s debut album, and “Guerra” and “Apocalíptico” specifically, were entered into consideration by the much cooler Dr. St. Clare. And as usual, she was absolutely right.
For those of you—and I—who need a refresher, Residente is one third of Calle 13, a Puerto Rican band also including his step- and half-siblings Visitante and PG-13. You may remember them from their song “Querido FBI” in 2005, or at least you should, since it’s a legendary protest song about the killing of Puerto Rican independence activist Filiberto Ojeda Ríos.
Now he has a solo album and it’s really good! Inspired by a DNA test, he recorded songs in places his ancestors came from, and the first track includes Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s hip-hop and it’s in Spanish and, thanks to Robin, now you know about it.
Kendrick Lamar — “HUMBLE.”
I don’t really have a choice in including a song from DAMN. since it won a Pulitzer. I mean, I’ve never won a Pulitzer.
I’m not sure anyone expected the first person to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music for something other than opera, classical or jazz to be a rapper from Compton. Bob Dylan and Hank Williams won special citations, so that seemed like a natural direction for the first award for music who the average person has heard of. But here we are. The Pulitzer Prize is officially more responsive to shifts in the musical zeitgeist than the Grammys.
Arcade Fire — “Everything Now”
This one was tough. Dr. St. Clare’s pitch was for “Apocalypse” by Cigarettes After Sex, and I strongly considered Aimee Mann’s “Patient Zero,” St. Vincent’s “New York” and Lorde’s “Green Light.”
The problem is all those songs are incredibly dour. Really, 2017 was incredibly dour. It was just all a big melancholy downer, in music and in general. And maybe it’s the coughing-induced sleep deprivation talking but I wanted to go with something as upbeat as possible.
Aimee Mann — “Patient Zero”
Bleachers — “Don’t Take the Money”
SZA — “The Weekend”
Cigarettes After Sex — “Apocalypse”
Portugal. The Man — “Live in the Moment”
Lorde — “Green Light”
St. Vincent — “New York”
Taylor Swift — “Look What You Made Me Do”
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.