Bitch I’m Lugubrious
Artist: Lil Ugly Mane
Album: Mista Ugly Isolation
Released: February 11, 2012
A simple grand piano chord pattern overlapped by a booming synthesized drum pattern delivers the heat in this track, while Lil Ugly Mane’s down-pitched, alien voice delivers the introspection. The hook, “Bitch I’m morose and lugubrious/ I’ma let the Uzi spit/ Turn his face into gooey shit,” is creepy on paper, yet it blends so distinctly with the other components of the song that the resulting rhythm is surprisingly visceral. It is unconventional, but nonetheless a surefire banger equally apt for a poignant headphone listen or for a club’s booming subwoofers.
Hold You Down
Artist: DJ Khaled ft. Chris Brown, Jeremih, Future, and August Alsina
Album: Hold You Down—Single
Released: August 11, 2014
In a recent interview with Larry King, DJ Khaled revealed that his contribution to the songs he releases is to “do the Khaled,” or more technically speaking, to arrange them. In “Hold You Down,” like on many of his songs, Khaled yells his name and chants slogans promoting his merchandise, while his featured artists create the actual music. But he figured out how to “do the Khaled” on this track in an unexpected way. Emotionally raw performances by featured rappers legitimize Khaled’s name and somehow make yelling his name in the club along with him feel genuine as opposed to caricatural.
Make Me Better
Artist: Fabolous ft. Ne-Yo
Album: From Nothin’ to Somethin’
Released: June 12, 2007
In 2014, vulnerability is ubiquitous in hip hop, but back in 2007 it was not quite as stylish for rappers to sing. Therefore, collaborations with R&B singers were their means to make passionate club bangers—which were often targeted at the female demographic. Ne-Yo is the collaborator in question on “Make Me Better,” and his charismatic delivery of the catchy hook “I’m a movement by myself/ But I’m a force when we’re together,” fuels the song’s romance. Fabolous delivers decent verses alongside him, yet anything the rapper lacks, beautiful synthesized violin patterns that formulate his cadences make up for, providing dance floor-ready energy that’s still perfect for the club today.
Artist: Kanye West ft. Mr. Hudson
Album: 808s & Heartbreak
Released: May 22, 2007
While Drake is undeniably the poster boy for cool sensitivity, one must not forget that before him, Kanye West pioneered the idea of vulnerable hip hop through his College Dropout track “Slow Jamz,” and then returned four years later with his often overlooked record 808s & Heartbreak. In 2008 it was still a bit too forward thinking and turned many people off, yet the album contains gems like “Paranoid,” through which Kanye confidently and stylishly relays his insecurities over a relentless 808s pattern—the exact type of feeling that so many hip-hop artists are trying to emulate today.