The Third Annual WSH (Not Very) Highly Scientific Ranking of the Year's Best Songs, Day One
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.
5. "Dance Willie" • Willie Mac Jr.
Wooooo I’m old.
I’ve been trying to find the perfect frame for this essay in particular, and I think my slog toward senior citizenry just might be the one. For a litany of reasons — chief among them an inability to realistically imagine what my life would be like at age 25 — 13-year-old me would never imagine that one of my closest friends would make a song this good. We were all supposed to be playing professional basketball somewhere! And I used to be the singer of the group! If any of us were hoping to pursue music as a career, forgive me for never anticipating it’d be the one who I for sure knew would be someone’s starting shooting guard by now.
But maybe I should’ve known?
About 15 years ago, Jalen Crawford and I began as new fifth-grade students at the Alonzo W. Bates Academy for the Gifted & Talented in Detroit. We became sort-of fast friends, rooted in our love of hoop and, frankly, because we didn’t know anyone else, but our similarities generally ended there: I, a milquetoast nerd who spent 4 days a week at church, based my hip-hop knowledge around which music videos BET most frequently put in rotation; Jalen, the youngest scion of a bourgeoning Detroit basketball dynasty, could quote rap records I’d never even heard before. My parents wanted me at Bates for the academics, but I probably needed that school more for cultural reasons than anything related to classroom learning. My first year at Bates, Jalen was one of my very few consistent friends, and he also just-so happened to be hip to a ton of the things that intrigued me but I knew zero about. For a kid trying to break free from semi-strict parents, his friendship was invaluable.
(This is the nicest I’ve ever been to Jalen, for the record. We’re never this kind to each other in-person.)
A couple years ago, when Jalen adopted the moniker Willie Mac Jr. (in honor of his grandfather) and began dabbling in music, I’ll say I was optimistically concerned. Homie’s always had a good ear for music — tangentially, he claims to be the reason I’m a JAY-Z stan today; I remember differently, but I digress — but if every musician with a good ear and a decent pen got a record deal, I think the music market would be just a little oversaturated. Not once did I doubt the talent, but as a friend, I wondered if the investment would ever be worth the potential rewards.
My brother’s for sure on his way. I know I’ve spent the bulk of this piece writing about our friendship, but I only need about 75 words to express how dope this song continues to be. Everything’s a vibe nowadays, but “Dance Willie” is ridiculously infectious. Listen to his first few records — which I personally like — and you can hear the growth in his flow and his lyrics. “Why should I listen? / We moved downtown before the Pistons” is such a glorious stunt, my Lord. That line has been stuck in my head for months. Forgive the convenient comparison, but it’s analogous to GoldLink's “Crew” in so many ways: “Dance Willie” is the manifesto of a mid-20s black man loyal to his city and his friends, and he’s determined to make something of himself while remaining true to his roots. And he’s doing it legally. And the music’s good!
Should you find my perspective too biased, Westside Willie’s already been featured by Karen Civil, BET Jams, and WorldStarHipHop. For the release of his latest project Stop & Smell the Roses, he hosted a Christmas Eve listening party in the midst of a blizzard. Yet, after he'd already performed “Dance Willie” back-to-back, I kind-of found myself wanting another encore, and so did everyone else in the room. The song’s a hit. My brother’s about to be a player in this music business. Might as well get hip to the movement now.
I’m extremely proud of my brother’s drive and vision, and I’m especially excited to give him a “coveted” spot on my year-end list. Can’t say I saw this coming all those years ago, but hey. Rap game crazy.