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December 2017

The Third Annual WSH (Not Very) Highly Scientific Ranking of the Year's Best Songs, Day Three

And we’re back.

Happy Holidays, good people. I guess this is an actual gimmick now? Themed lists are fairly easy to do as one-offs, and I’d assume there’s always some excitement to try doing it again. “Third annual” sounds really official, I think. Besides, we all know the internets are clamoring for another year’s edition … maybe.

No guests this year — just me. (Here’s your chance to tiptoe out the back door.) Per the title, this year’s piece will be far less “scientific” than the first two. I’m way too behind on music to pretend like I’m some sort of expert this year, so consider this a list of my personal favorites. I mean, I think I know a little bit about song construction and stuff, so I’d hope nobody sees this and finds me completely insane for some of these choices. As always, I take this project as seriously as I (think I) should, and I’d love to get your feedback on my picks and even see your “best songs” lists, as well.

Let’s get it going. Top-five songs this week. Top-five albums next week. Hope y’all enjoy.

3. "LUST."  Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick’s stories are the absolute best.

I’ve always loved rap as a storytelling device, and my all-time favorites have always been able to make me feel like I was standing right beside them at the exact moment they’re currently describing. “Kick, Push” is nowhere near my favorite Lupe Fiasco song, but it’s where I realized nobody his age could rap like him; The Cool as a concept album is still an idea I wish he’d leaned into more. At age 48, JAY-Z’s still painting very vivid pictures — on “Marcy Me,” he’s describing a Bulls-Pistons playoff series from 3 years before I existed; yet, I conjure this image of Isiah Thomas guarding Michael Jordan that I’m sure happened in real-time. Writing is hard enough (trust me, I know.) As a fellow aspiring storyteller, it’s always fun to read or hear something I wished I’d thought of first.

Any and all of DAMN. could’ve made this list’s cut (“ELEMENT”., “LOYALTY.”, and “HUMBLE.” nearly did), but “LUST.” exists as the most fun story on the album, and that’s clearly for a reason. Not to step on next week’s DAMN. essay — spoiler alert: DAMN. is one of my top-5 albums this year, never could’ve guessed that one — but “LUST.” is the axis upon which this album rotates. Listening to DAMN. front-to-back? Lust has been Kendrick’s issue the entire time — coveting material things in the pursuit of happiness, only to recognize none of it ultimately matters. Listening in reverse order? “LUST.” is where things begin falling apart for Kendrick, his bragging about losing expensive jewelry and bouncing city-to-city for more millions taking on a much more sinister tone. It’s a neat trick, one Lupe used to pull with ease: there’s a clear moral to this song, but it’s up to you to figure out what it is. And it might not be the same for everyone. At no point does Kendrick make “LUST.” sound boring; on the contrary, I’d love to experience both vignettes in the first verse and Kendrick’s personal testimony in the second. But is it good for you? Now that’s an entirely different conversation.

My favorite part of the song? The second part of that final verse:

We all woke up, tryna tune to the daily news
Looking for confirmation, hoping election wasn’t true
All of us worried, all of us buried in our feelings deep
None of us married to his proposal, make us feel cheap
Still and sad, distraught and mad, tell the neighbors ‘bout it
Bet they agree, parade the streets with their voice proudly
Time pass, and things change
Revert back to our daily program; stuck in our ways

I love the reverse psychology. Every time I hear this song, it’s a reminder to not accept these current conditions as they are. But it’s also a universal call to not behave so lustfully — to consider the collective good over our individual impulses. Will Kendrick’s pleas actually make a discernible change? The cynic in me wants to say no. 

But everybody loves a good groove. And damn, “LUST.” is groovy.