And here we go…
30. Bei Maejor – "Barbershop Talk (The Explanation)"
Bei Maejor is the young wunderkind who frequently produces and writes the best songs for artists like Ginuwine, Monica, and especially Trey Songz. This year, Maejor released two free mixtapes and this song is easily the best song on both of them. It's a throwback track that would be right at home in the late 80s or early 90s. It is fun, silly, mindless, and wildly inventive. And it is a perfect showcase of Maejor's increasing skills behind the boards.
29. Truth Hurts – "Smoke"
After far too many years away from the game, Truth Hurts is back. And she's hit us with this slow burn of a soul song, which finds at least 3 different metaphors for the word "smoke." But you never get lost because, in a way, since the song itself is about losing yourself in a love you make the leaps with Truth as she's keeps trying to find the right way to explain what that feels like. It's a fine return for an artist that has been deeply missed.
28. Nottz & Black Milk – "Blast That"
Nottz has been producing great songs for artists like Busta Rhymes for over a decade and this year he made his debut as an emcee with his album, You Need This Music. This song is just another great hip-hop song about how great a hip-hop song it is. The beat is both playful and insistent, punctuated with electric guitar riffs, so you nod your head and actually get the urge to get up and dance as well. Nottz and Black Milk, another great emcee/producer, flow lovely and hard, always right in the pocket. It's the kind of hip-hop song that used to move crowds when that kind of thing mattered.
27. Tank – "No Way"
Tank seems hellbent on becoming the go-to guy for treacly love ballads. This despite the fact that his best work has frequently been in midtempo (peep "So Many Times" and "Coldest," you'll see what I mean). So it is no surprise that all of the great midtempos that leaked over the past year did not appear on the just-released Now or Never including this song, which is probably the best song that didn't make the final cut. And it really is unfortunate, because "No Way" is more than just a great album track, it is single-worthy. It is danceabe with a great hook, but it's that lil section before the hook comes – "my broken heart shattered in a million pieces…. "- that totally sells the song on an emotional level. Also – nobody right now begs like Tank.
26. Usher – "You So Fire"
With the release of Raymond vs. Raymond – the most desperate, nakedly commercial and soulless album by a major Black artist since Janet's Discipline – I didn't think an Usher song would make my list this year. This of course hurt my heart because Usher remains my favorite pop artist who, for a time, defined what it meant to obliterate the line between commercial and creative ambition. But like Tank, Usher left a ton of amazing material (check out "She Seen Me," and "To The Moon", the latter of which is the best MJ ripofff in years and ended up on its writer Miguel's debut album) off of the album and its pointless follow-up EP, Versus, that I ended up loving an Usher song enough that it made the list. "You So Fire" is just sublime. Usher's phrasing here is flawless and the song itself is a butter-smooth slice of pop-soul that used to be exactly the kind of song that Usher both recorded and released. There still isn't anyone who does what Usher does when he's doing exactly what he should be doing. "You So Fire" is proof positive of that.
25. Miguel ft. J. Cole – "All I Want Is You"
This song gives me flashbacks to the kind of soul that Mary J. Blige used to make. This is hip-hop soul for the 21st century and confirms Salaam Remi as the next great soul music producer. But don't sleep on Miguel's lyrics and melody, which are superb. The man sounds positively tortured and, in combination with the track, the song achieves a haunting quality that made it one of the few great commercial songs of the year.