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Year's Best: Okayplayer's 13 Best Songs Of 2013

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

The album has always been the definitive unit of weighty artistic expression when it comes to music. But what it comes down to what people love are songs. You have to like an artist's songs, after all, before you can respect and maybe one day learn to fall in love with an album. In the flash-trading pace of this internet world we live in, music is often reduced to all first dates all the time but even when the oversaturation of songs (and terrible sounding mp3s) becomes oppressive, the song is still the primary moment of musical enjoyment. And that is liberating side because, a moment like that can come from a pop superstar or an blog love sensation--or even the band down the street--with increasing ease and frequency. In fact we maybe fell in love with more first date songs this year than any in the history of man, because there were so many more sexy songs to check out. But only a few can make that feeling last every time you listen. And that's how we arrived at Okayplayer's 13 Best Songs of 2013. Play on:

1. Schoolboy Q x Kendrick Lamar - "Collard Greens"

This weeded buddy movie of a collabo track from Black Hippies Schoolboy Q & Kendrick Lamar is easily a song of the year contender on several levels. We already knew Kendrick was the brightest star in hip-hop, lyrically and otherwise. But "Collard Greens" wins for other reasons: a) it's not just a song but a jam, infinitely bump-able as you do dishes, slow-ride down the street on hydraulics or stand in the middle of a dancefloor pumping your elbows manically up and down while making a meanface.The leftfield dub-inspired beat and easy spontaneity of the frick-and-frack rhyme exchange feels like a true throwback to the creativity of the Native Tongues era, qualities too often missed on more studious recreations of the 90s hiphop aesthetic.

2. Janelle Monáe x Miguel - "PrimeTime"

Combination tunes are the best. In this case, two of Okayplayer's unisexual crushes combine like a cold funk version of Romeo & Juliet to produce the babymaker of the year, narrowly edging out Alicia Keys and Maxwell's "Fire We Make." Coming on like the best Prince song that Prince never made, once you give in to the slow grind of the groove, it may never leave your most-played list.

3. Sampha - "Too Much"

There's something to be said for Top Songs that include great songs. You know as in it would still be an amazing song if it was sung by your cousin or some aspiring teen star on The Voice or American Idol--as opposed to singles that succeed as tracks, jams or performances. Sampha's "Too Much" is one of those. You can feel your own saddest parts expressed in the moody piano-capella version, you can feel the deceptive hookiness of the central refrain in the Drake-rapping-on-it version, you can just feel it period. Karaoke bar owners and music programmers on The Voice, take not--chune!

4. Earl Sweatshirt – "Burgundy"

This declaratory follow-up single from Earl Sweatshirt maybe best encapsulates the mood of the year, at least as far as our reaction to most new hiphop: not this, We Want Raps. The real genius of "Burgundy" is that Earl eloquently tells us what he's going through while simultaneously excoriating us and himself for the constant oversharing which has become the hallmark of our music and our media; a hilarious common sense commentary on the post-digital condition that comes across kind of like Louis C.K. in Odd Future form. What ties it all together is that Earl's goals for emotional fulfillment really do seem to revolve around conquering the rap game in 2013. By that measure, he had a pretty good year.

5. Thundercat - "Oh Sheit Its X"

There's not many songs out this year which invite equally dissection of the improvisational bass-synth noodles from your music nerd friends and drunk 4am sing-alongs from your alcoholic friends. Thundercat's "Oh Sheit It's X" is all that and a bag of skittles; a "I Can't Feel My Face" for the musically educated--or depending on how you look at it, an initiation into the deeper mysteries of funk for fans of "Get Lifted" and other sunny disco party throwbacks to the me-generation. Nobody is saying of course, that the nerds, alcoholics, funkateers and fangirls can't all be the same people or at least fill the same dancefloor. On the contrary "Oh Sheit It's X" demands the question--can't we all just get it on?

6. Q-Tip x Busta Rhymes - "Thank You"

Legendary, off the tracklisting (and the sample credit) alone! Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip lead off their collaborative mixtape The Abstract & The Dragon with a song that certain people have been waiting for since "Scenario" (and that shit came out quite a long time ago). See all the stuff about creativity and buddy-movie chemistry that we said about Kendrick & Schoolboy--except from the originators of that vibe. Truly, though the off-the-dome virtuosity of Busta and Tip's piggedy poof rhyme styles, the open melody of the endlessly looped intro to Alicia Myers' disco gospel classic "Thank You (Heavenly Father)" and the high-powered ad libs from Yeezy & Weezy recall not so much the Low End Theory moment as the quality drive-time radio bump of "Vivrant Thing"--and nobody's mad about that.

7. Disclosure x Sam Smith x Nile Rodgers - "Together"

A departure for the champions of underground dance that Disclosure became this year, this funky pop stomper featuring vocals from First Looker Sam Smith and guitar from legend Nile Rodgers is not only a song of the year but a generational moment to be savored as past, present and future jam together over a sublime post-Dilla beat.

8. Drake x Majid Jordan - "Hold On"

Yep. A Drake song made Okayplayer's Top Songs of the Year list. We'll let you rearrange your brainframe for a sec before we point out that this is arguably a Majid Jordan song with the same Drake co-sign he's given incredible artists like Jai Paul, Little Dragon, SBTRKT, Sampha, The Weeknd and others in the past. It's also a sublime melancholy love song with an undeniable steppers beat and if Miguel or R. Kelly sang it, it'd be your instant favorite, you shameless Drake haters. So stop fighting it and if the vulnerability is too much for you, just wash it down with a chaser of "Burgundy" before you go on to the next song.

9. Chance The Rapper - "Smoke Again"

The most anthemic underground rap shit to come out this year, Chance The Rapper's "Smoke Again" was not only on repeat cue as the preferred soundtrack for our daily operations this year, it is maybe the best argument for the widespread contentions that Chance is the next Cudi and/or Kanye and/or [insert your definition of creative rap here]. Man, imagine what would have happened if James Blake sang on this shit?

10. Justin Timberlake - "Pusher Love Girl"

Yeah, yeah "Suit & Tie" is a great song (really, it is) and everything. But if you want to really examine Justin Timberlake's soulcat credentials, "Pusher Love Girl" is it. An irresistible lyrical conceit, a rising, wandering and then soaring melody and an insolently slow bump that recalls and rivals Elton John's funkiest-song-by-a-white-person "Benny & The Jets"; these are a few of our favorite things. Yes, it would fit into a set with "Together" and "PrimeTime" but that is not so much a knock as a growing body of evidence that what 2013 really needed was a slow beat and a real melody as much as a thumping EDM or disco beat.

11. Valerie June -  "Workin' Woman Blues"

To understand why Valerie June's "Workin Woman Blues" is on our top songs list, see all the comments about songs versus tracks on the Sampha entry--this is great songwriting that works as time machine blues throwback and a commentary on 2013 feminism equally--and then watch June's performance of the song on David Letterman and you'll understand--this is a song for the ages and Valerie June was born the person to sing it. And then there's the horns.

12. Kelela - "Enemy"

Another new-brand face (see Sampha, Sam Smith & Majid Jordan) that quickly became a musical best friend, Kelela launched several song of the year contenders with her Fade To Mind mixtape Cut 4 Me--including the title, uh, cut and "Bank Head" both produced by Kingdom. But it's this Nguzunguzu-produced banger "Enemy" that perhaps best encapsulates her huge potential. Combing the edge of Run The Roads-era UK grime with a crucial R&B vocal that could work just as well for Little Dragon, TLC or Ready For World, "Enemy" is quite simply everything.

13. Kanye West - "Blood On The Leaves"

Can we talk about Kanye West? Whatever you feel about Yeezus, the magical mystery tour that happened around it and the sideshow of Yeezy's constantly thought-provoking and FOH-provoking interview junket it is safe to say Kanye owned 2013 in the worst way. From our POV its worth remembering that the only reason anybody is paying attention to his theories about architecture, capitalism and the dopeness of pink crayons is because he makes songs like "Blood On The Leaves." It's also worth pointing out that although Yeezus was too flawed and ultimately too divisive (yeezus did not come to bring peace, but to set borther against brother!) to make our top albums list, it contained "Bound 2"; "New Slaves"; "Black Skinhead" and "Blood On The Leaves"--all song of the year contenders if taken separately. And we did consider all those for this list, but "Leaves" with its wrongfooted but so-right digital interpolation of Nina Simone singing the terrifying Billie Holiday torch song "Strange Fruit" (chopped + spliced by Hudson Mohawke) and the most pained and introspective vocal on the whole Yeezus project, sums up the best of Kanye's inherent--yes--genius. Maybe mostly because it seems to be about something much deeper than Kanye's personal situation.