Of the many different past-times I have, discovering new music may be my favorite. Back before smart phones and the google there was nothing more thrilling than hearing a song on the radio, not knowing what the hell it was, using all of the resources you could possibly think of to figure out what this glorious tune was. Once the sleuthing was completed it was all about learning everything you could about that artist then proceeding to play your new favorite song out till your heart was content. There is no other feeling like hearing a song and immediately falling in love with it. Be it the content of the lyrics that just speaks to you or just a catchy beat that makes you want to find the nearest nightclub and fist pump until your arm falls off, a new song can really change your life.
Now on to my list of game-changers. Here are some of my favorite finds over the course of my own music discovery. These are not necessarily the first songs by all of my favorite artist, because most of my favorite artist debuted before I was musically conscience. You will only find songs that came out post 1998 or so, when I was 10, got a walkman, and was finally able to buy my own CD’s and make my own musical choices. Oh yea, my list is 11 songs long by the way, with a few honorable mentions. My opinion, my ranking system. 11 is the new 10, remember that. So here you go, the official list of Ed “Rosebud” Roseboro’s Divine Debuts.
Honorable Mentions: Ludacris-“What’s Your Fantasy”
I was back and forth about putting this or the #11 song on the list, but I think this was not even the best song from “Back For The First Time”, Luda’s debut album. “Southern Hospitality” was a beast on that CD, and the #11 song may be that particular artist’s best song of their career. But Ludacris came out with an anthem that is still quoted by random drunks and still a karaoke favorite, but just didn’t crack the top 11.
Childish Gambino “Freaks And Geeks”
The only reason this isn’t on the list is it isn’t technically a debut track. Its Troy Barnes’ aka Donald Glover’s foray into the mainstream rap world though, so it deserves a mention. Is it just me or does it seem like some dudes get all the talent? I mean Don can act, write, perform stand-up and rap. Save some talent for the little guys like me, damn. Anyway, this song came out the box with ridiculous swag, if you haven’t heard it yet and would like a rapper with the punch line ability of Lil’ Wayne combined with the storytelling skills of Drizzy Dranke, do yourself a favor and look it up. While you’re at it find all of Gambino’s free mixtapes and his first major label album “Camp”, because Childish is the ish man…
11. Drake- “Best I Ever Had”
The summer of 2009 was a pretty good one for me. I turned 21, was heading into my final year of college, and Drizzy came out with this track that was only the tip of his emotional iceberg. Drake is now known now for being sort of emo rapper, which kind of sounds like an oxymoron when you think of most hip-hop artist. For example, he party pooped his last album, “Take Care”, with weird, trippy ballads that would make crooners like Michale Buble say “Dude, man the eff up”. Its a good thing his debut single was a monster. “Best I Ever Had” catapulted him into the mainstream and made people recognize a new generation of rappers was on the horizon. No longer was he that dude from the nickelodeon show who couldn’t walk, he was now a rapper with the skills to be co-signed by the likes of Lil Wayne, Jay-Z and others. As I said before this song was glimmer into the heartfelt rapper that is Drake. He doesn’t hide behind a tough exterior and pretend that he has no emotions when it comes to the lady-folk like most rappers. When you deliver lines like “You ain’t even have to ask twice, you can have my heart or we can share it like the last slice”, you can tell that he was a bit more respectful of the ladies than most rappers in the game. Even though he did have a sensitive side, there was still a bad boy rapper mentality that you expect from hip-hop artists now a days. Specifically the lyrics “She call me the referee ‘cause I be so official, my shirt ain’t got no stripes but I can make your p**** whistle”. Yea, ts another one of those referee and whistle lines that everyone single rapper has used once, but it was delivered in such a way that only Drake with his unique charisma could pull off. The back and forth of him rapping about the beauty and charm of the woman he is talking about and also the gritty, more obscene thoughts in his mind make this a perfect song to usher in a new wave of rap.
10. Kid Cudi “Day N Nite”
Did someone say Emo rappers? Because Kid Cudi may well be the quintessential heartfelt hip-hopper. He has some songs on his albums that make you think he may off himself once he gets out the studio, thats how deep and emotional his lyrics are. I’m legitimately afraid one day I may wake up to the news that Cudder has jumped off a building or something. Not really…but kinda. Cudi is now one of my favorite artist and as an actor he has performed well on “How To Make It In America” (Sidenote: From what i’ve heard this show won’t be coming back to HBO and that no bueno with me. That show was the younger, more street version of ‘Entourage’ and could have taken over for Vinny Chase and the crew, and if it doesn’t come back, what will I do with my post-football Sundays? But I digress…) Cudi’s debut was a fantastic track with all the necessary pieces of a hit song: an infectious beat, a catchy chorus, and a brand new artist with a different flow than anyone else out there. The songs beat may be the most catchy thing to flow by my ears, and i’m convinced it was produced with crack-cocaine in the soundboard, because once you will be begging to hear it over and over again, and there was the problem with it. Much like with any popular song the radio gets a hold of, it was played over and over until it came dangerously close to dying a miserable, over-saturated death. Luckily for me though this song still holds its value. The beat, the delivery and uniqueness that Cudi brings to the table is just too good to ignore. Sure, the lyrics are pretty sappy. I mean listen to this: “The pain is deep. A silent sleeper, you won’t hear a peep, peep. The girl he wants don’t seem to want him too. It seems the feelings that she had are through.” Not something you would expect to hear from a rap song. Maybe a Fall Out Boy or My Chemical Romance cut, but not a hip-hopper. These first two artists on the list broke a few barriers in a musical world. Most rappers were most likely to wear a $50,000 Jacob watch on their sleeve, not their hearts like Cudder and Drake. To spill your guts out on a track as an unknown looking to make an impact was a bold move, and these two artist made it work.
9. Gorillaz “Clint Eastwood”
Don’t worry, even though Clint Eastwood is a well known country-western actor there’s absolutely no country music on my list. The only country music I like is made by guys who are no longer with us (Johnny Cash) or pretty much no longer with us mentally due to lighting up the green for decades (Willie Nelson), so no country music artist debut was released in my lifetime that i’d be willing to write about. “Clint Eastwood” was the debut for the rock/rap/alternative group “ The Gorillaz”, and the name of the song really has nothing to do with the content. The song is another one with an absolutely mind-intoxicating beat that gets stuck in your brain hole and won’t leave. The group is pretty much faceless, because the artist chose to remain anonymous and be replaced by cartoon characters that are the face of the group. This song has a really eerie feel to it, with squeaks and growls and other various sounds strewn about the track. It makes it feel like it could be the theme song to a haunted house in that really hip and with it neighborhood in the ‘burbs. Its a track that really has no home. Its all over the place as far as they style goes, but I guess if I had to place a genre on it i’d say its “Rap-ternative”. It’s an alternative hip-hop kind of track because most of the lyrics are spoken word in the hip-hop style, but there’s also sung lyrics for the chorus and like I said, the production makes it feel like something other-worldly. The Gorillaz are certainly in a category all on their own, and this song opened them up to the masses in a gigantic way.
8. Franz Ferdinand “Take Me Out”
“Madden NFL Football” is my favorite franchise in video game history. As revolutionary and joyful it was to pull a drive by on some fools or punch a random person on the street in a “Grand Theft Auto” game or how satisfying it is to stick some Alien-being with a sticky grenade or snipe some noobs from across the map in “Halo”, there is nothing like Madden. No other product, let alone video game, would have me at a store at midnight and drafting my fantasy squad deep into the night like the king of the obvious , John Madden’s brain-child. This probably seems like a meaningless rant, but it will make sense soon enough. Madden 2005 was a big game. It introduced to me one of my favorite innovations in gaming, the “Hit Stick”, and also introduced to me one of my favorite groups, Franz Ferdinand. Madden soundtracks are known for being wide-ranging in genre and the ‘05 version was no exception. “Take Me Out” was a standout track on that musical line up. I can vividly remember going through the menus with the intro to the song blaring, the bass line setting up the scene and bringing you into the moment until the guitar drops in and really gets into a great experience of a song. There are barely any lyrics in the song and it is extremely repetitive, but thats part of the magic of it all. The guitar lick alone is worth a listen in my opinion, but be careful, because it will get stuck in your cranium for quite some time. Franz is one of those bands that has a very similar sound to most of their songs, but being that this was their coming out party and that it had such a good pedestal to launch their career with in Madden, “Take Me Out” far up and above the rest.
7. N*E*R*D “Lapdance”
Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo are the members of the uber-succesful production team “The Neptunes”. Name an artist from the past 20 years and they have probably produced a track for them and Pharrell, in his his high falsetto voice, probably sung the hook. From hip-hop acts like like Jay-Z, T.I. And Busta Rhymes to pop stars like Brittney Spears, N’Sync and No Doubt, your favorite artist has either worked with the Neptunes, or wishes they could. When you’re that successful and are behind the scenes of countless hit singles for all kinds of big name talent, you might want a piece of the lime light yourself. Enter the N*E*R*D experiment. Williams and Hugo brought along friend Shay Haley to form this indescribable group and hit the scene with “Lapdance”. Now the name of the track may sound a bit dirty, grungy and/or seedy, and thats probably because it is. The funny thing is, there is a distinct political message in the song amongst the ruckus and chaos. That message is simple: Politicians are hookers, selling their services to the highest bidder for positions of power. Its a subtle dig that maybe i’m over-analyzing, but its what I interpret from the song nonetheless. Like the Gorillaz, N*E*R*D is a genre defying group you can’t place a finger on, and this first single shows that. The main lyrics are delivered with the dulcet tones of Pharrell’s voice, but with an extremely gritty subject matter. Listen to this: “It’s a raw night. Who wants to bar fight? Well come on alright. And I dare a mother f***** to come in my face”. Thats not the words of a happy go lucky producer who sits in the background, those are the words of a thug, straight up. Pharrell may not be the most imposing man in the world, but with lyrics like this, who would mess with him? Not I, said this blogger…
6. John Legend “Used To Love U”
“MTV Jams” on digital cable used to be, for lack of a better term, my jam, back in my high school days. I’d watch that channel all day long, looking for videos from my favorite acts. Regular MTV only played 30 second clips with screaming pre-teens interspersed throughout on TRL, so “Jams” was my only chance to see good videos with artist I liked. I can remember watching this channel one morning before school, I believe I was in 9th or 10th grade at the time. A video by a new artist named John Legend came on my TV. It looked like a gospel song for a second, which is cool, don’t get me wrong, but just wasn’t what I would call an “MTV Jam” really. As the video went on there were some soulful and deep gospel feelings to the beat, but thats where the comparisons to gospel music ended. The lyrics formed a tale of a man, trying his best to keep his lady-friend happy, by any means necessary. This man was willing to rob someone to keep his significant other happy, but even that was not enough for his greedy jezebel (sorry for the old-person language, but thats all I could think to use to describe this insatiable, probably fictional woman). John was pouring out his soul to his lady, with lyrics like “Baby when I used to love you, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do. I went through the fire for you, but i’m not gonna play the fool”. He’s saying he wants to appease his significant other, but he’s not Superman. There’s only so much one man can do. I think all men, and probably some women who can relate to his pain. This song stuck with me and I like to think I was a fan before John’s grammy award winning days. Sometimes its good to be a hipster, especially when it comes to quality music like what Mr. Legend puts out.
5. Eminem “My Name Is”
The next two songs on the list may not be my favorite debuts, but are probably my favorite two opening lines of debut songs that I can remember. We start off the big time beginning lines with one of my top two favorite rappers of all time. Eminem has the ability to turn and rap into an all out blitz on someone he has beef with or create a love ballad to his daughter, and just about anything in-between. This song is in that middle area of his musical genius. Many of his singles are extremely poppy and i’m almost positive are made only because his record company said to him, “Look Marshall, you’re flipping crazy. Give us something we can promote you with and get you out there to the public without them feeling like you will murder them and everyone they love”. I think “My Name Is” is in that mold of radio friendly singles with an infectious beat and catchy hook, but is not as gimmicky as some of his other singles. Now back to this beginning line business. Here is that gem of an opener I was talking about: “Hi kids! Do you like violence? Wanna see me stick Nine Inch Nails through each one of my eyelids? Wanna copy me and do exactly like I did? Try ‘cid and get f***** up worse that my life is?”. Wah-wah-wee-wah! How do you begin your career with lyrics like that? In 4 lines he pissed off parents who don’t like violence, threatened to self-mutilate himself and talked about substance abuse and how jacked up his existence is. If thats not enough to get your attention then you must have no type of filter on your brain at all, and in that case you and Em are the same person. Slim Shady has pissed off more rappers, singers, actors, and politicians than Howard Stern could ever dream of. And he started it off from the jump with a song that gave white rappers street cred, helped many teens upset their parents and kind of rejuvenated Dr. Dre’s career after finding the diamond in Detroit. Em has never been shy with sharing his personal life in the public through his music or just public speaking, and that is why so many people feel so connected with him. He has no problem talking about the stuff you may be going through and helping you deal with it, and it all began with us figuring out his name.
4. Rick Ross “Hustlin’”
“Who the f*** you think you f*****’ with, i’m the f***** boss!”. Well now that I know you are in fact “The Boss” I will not be messing with you Mr. Ross. A good day to you sir. Really? You kick off a career with one of the most braggadocios, rugged and just plain bad-ass lines in the history of music? Good for you man. “The Teflon Don” gave us my all time favorite first words of a song ever. Period. I just love the cajones it takes to pull off a move like that. You either just don’t care what any one thinks about you so you can brag all you want or you’re too full of yourself and need a reality check. Ross is the former. If you were an ex-correction officer, possible drug dealer even to this day, and a hit maker on top of all of that, would you care what anyone thought about you? Being a big black guy in the mold of Ricky Rozay, I love the confidence this man exudes. Between him and Christopher “Big Black” Boykins I have all the role models I need to be the coolest, most boss-like big black guy there is. Now back to the actual song itself. It works because of the simplest hook in the history of the rap game. It is literally 3 words long: “Everyday i’m hustlin’”. This has become the motto for people all over, from athletes out on the courts or fields sporting it up to folks on their daily 9-5 grind who are looking for some motivation to get through the day. Its crazy how those 3 little words can have such an impact on the psyche of a person to get them through the task at hand. Besides the chorus there are some pretty clever lines in the song. My favorite part is this: “Don’t tote no twenty-twos, Magnum cost me twenty-two. Sat it on them twenty-twos, birds go for twenty-two. Lil’ mama super thick, she say she twenty-two. She seen them twenty-twos, we in room two twenty-two.” Those are the lyrics of a serious raper with some seriously intricate word play skill. Ross is one of the best in the game right now. You want a hit, you put him on your track and presto, instant fire. It all began with just a little bit of hustle…
3. Clipse “Grindin’”
Going back to the “Neptunes have worked with everyone” theory, Pharrell and Co. produced the hell out of this track here for fellow Virginians Malice and Pusha T. “Grindin’” came out like a bear with a beat that still to this day may be one of the most simple and amazing Pharell and chad have ever made. I still find myself banging my knuckles on a wall or a table and making that all too familiar knocking sound that the Clipse rapped over. Did I say rapped? I should have said “Created a Scarface like persona in the public eye”, because that is exactly what these cats did. All these guys do is talk about pushing weight all day, every day, even on Sunday. I mean Jay-Z has moved “On To The Next One” when it comes to talking about being a street pharmacist, will Clipse ever make that change? Nope. Wanna know why? Cause thats all they know about, thats why, and I doubt they will ever try to change. I can remember when this song came out it was right around the time when I got a stereo for my room, which was the coolest addition I could have had to my room. Now I could annoy my mom and dad with loud booming music and not just listen to my tunes quietly via headphones. The system came with a recording cassette tape deck (if you’re younger than me you man not know what that is, but trust me, it was cooler than an ipod), and I was all about dubbing radio tracks to tapes. For whatever reason I could not catch the Clipse from the beginning of the song, and who wants to hear the song a minute in? You already missed Pharrell introducing his VA boys and the “I’m yo Pusha” line, so whats the point? At the time Power 99 was the only station that mattered to me and I remember hearing that they were going to do a recap of all of the best songs of the year on New Years Eve. So I sat in my room and taped the entire show. Cool huh? I got plenty of repeat songs I already had, and songs I never wanted in the first place. Every time I had to switch a tape I feared in that few seconds i’d miss Grindin’ that quick. Finally it came on as the best song of the year and I could not agree more. I got the tape, and blasted that bad boy all throughout the new year, cause thats the way to grind.
2. Musiq Soulchild “Just Friends (Sunny)”
I was brought up listening to smooth R&B and artists like Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross and others. Being a Philly boy, I am of course a big fan of good old-fashioned R&B from the city of brotherly love. And that is exactly what you get when it comes to the music of Musiq. Musiq Soulchild, or just Musiq if your nasty (thats a bad Janet Jackson joke, if you don’t get it look up “Nasty” by JJ), fits that mold of being a throwback, classic type of artist. He actually writes his own songs (a serious rarity and something that is overlooked now a days) and he can legitimately sing without the use of studio magic. His first single “Just Friends (Sunny)” is a true love story, and when I say story I mean a full on journey of a song. It starts off with a little beat boxing by Musiq himself, and that sets the mood for a chilled out, relaxed track that sits you down on its lap like grandpa and tells you about how he and grandma fell in love. Each line unfolds the story of a guy who meets a girl, likes her style, and just wants to know more about her. He’s not trying to be overly aggressive, not looking to overwhelm her, just wants to hang out for a while. The title of the track itself says it all, he just wants to be friends, no pressure. The chorus tell the story: “I’m not trying to pressure you, just can’t stop thinkin’ ‘bout you. You ain’t even really gotta be my girlfriend. I just wanna know your name. And maybe some time, we can hook up, hang out, just chill” Its the kind of song that shows that real gentlemen are still around and that guys aren’t only about “That Thing” as Lauryn Hill calls it. It may be sappy, it may go back to being emo like Cudi and Drake, but its genuine, and you have to appreciate that.
1. Lupe Fiasco “Kick Push”
Rap music is something I get. The lyrics, the beats, the beefs, and everything else that comes along with it is not necessarily relatable to me, but i’ve been listening to it for a while now. Going from only owning Will Smith’s “Big Willie Style” when I was about 10 to now having an itunes library chocked full of thousands of un-edited songs by various artists, I have come to know and love the genre. There is a certain swagger that comes about with this music though. A majority of artists are cocky, from the streets and have seen some stuff in their lives that i’d rather not deal with. Lupe Fiasco somewhat fits into that mold, but at the same time, he is a rebel to the cause that is rap, in a good way. He doesn’t rap about jewelry, women or the streets…at least not in the traditional hip-hop sense. The only streets he talks about are the ones he skateboards around in his native Chi-town. Wait, what? You’re telling me he’s a skateboarding rapper? Or is he a rapping skateboarder? Either way, he is a different type of artist that blends two lifestyles, the hip hop crowd and the skateboarder scene. I remember the first time I heard this song. I was perusing MySpace (when it was relevant and if someone was in your top 8 they were your best friend) and I came across my friends page who had it as his profile music. I valued their judgement in music so I clicked play and it may have been one of the best decisions of my life. An orchestra plays you into the song which right away gives you the feeling that this is not just a song, its an experience. Lupe then hops on the track, by introducing himself to the world and dedicating this one to his ‘homies’ out there grinding “legally and illegally” (meaning those out on the streets figuratively grinding to make money and those who are literally grinding their skateboards up and down the rails). You can really tell that he lived the life of a boarder, fell in love with that way of life and wanted to share this with the hip-hop crowd. The story has a humble beginning with a boy who can’t even stand up on his board. As he learns the ropes he talks about the feeling of freedom he gets from riding: “He said it was somethin’ so appealing, couldn’t fight the feelin’, Somethin’ about it. He knew he couldn’t doubt it, couldn’t understand it. Branded, since his first kickflip he landed”. I have never, nor do I ever plan on stepping foot on a skateboard, long board, or any kind of board, but I get a sense of the passion those who do ride all day and night have from Lupe’s lyrics. The song goes on to tell about the friends and females this particular border meets on his travels as he kicks and pushes his way around his neighborhood. Fiasco managed to blend the two counter cultures of skating and rap to create a song that bridges the gap.