After a few months, 2017 is already shaping up to be a strong year for music. Bubbling under Future's latest, untouchable run, and some high profile beefs, are some songs that you haven't heard yet. This month's Bout To Blow column has some more obvious picks than usual, but that's just because they're undeniable. Mixed in with those, though, are the sleepers that could dominate in the months to come.
This column has two goals:
1. To use the many tools available to us today to get some idea of what songs were really bubbling with "the people"—in other words, to insert some science into the process.
2. To contextualize that information, because raw numbers in a vacuum would have you thinking an anonymous rapper dropped onto a stellar track was hip-hop's next big rap star when he was more like an empty, tattooed vehicle for a dope beat and a hook.
The post is obviously intended to be somewhat predictive. There's also an element, though, that is cheerleading. Many of these songs might be flourishing in certain markets but could use wider exposure. They're tracks where the metrics suggest some forward momentum, even if the clubs and radio play don't reflect that.
After a harsh decision-making process, we narrowed March 2017 down to the 10 best records you have to know. Chief Keef, Lil Uzi Vert, and Future all make a case that they have the next chart smash in their pockets—we'll let the listeners decide. It's this month's edition of Bout to Blow: 10 Dope New Songs You Should Be Hearing Everywhere Soon.
Chief Keef "Can You Be My Friend"
Perhaps the most obviously accessible Chief Keef record since 2015's "Ain't Missin You," Keef's "tropical" new single is the pop flipside to his grimier street record "Reload," the first songs he's dropped since January's solo tape Two Zero One Seven. It also feels like a surefire hit, a record with a soft/hard balance that calls to mind 50 Cent at his most charming. The song was originally recorded at least a year ago, and may have been more on trend had it been released then, but for Keef fans who've been waiting for his return to chart-ready radio records, here's your moment.
THEY. "Motley Crew"
THEY. call themselves a "grunge&b" duo, though they're about as "rock" as N.E.R.D., who they spiritually channel throughout this year's strong Nu Religion Hyena. There's definitely the aura of an industry plant around their carefully manicured presentation and odd moniker, and the "electronic pop R&B with hip-hop production and a sprinkling of rock" recipe likewise feels laboratory-concocted. But it works, in large part because of its label-like spare-no-expense attention to songwriting, and its light touch: the album is well-balanced, without individual ingredients taking too much space. "Motley Crew" is one of the more rock-oriented records on the tape, and it's already getting traction throughout the country; "U-RITE," when pushed as a single, may go even further. Call it N.E.Rae&B.
Lil Uzi Vert "XO TOUR Llif3"
Although Uzi Vert is beloved in some corners and heated up the SoundCloud circuit for much of last year, I've been fairly agnostic on any number of his songs. Despite his reputation for being some sort of hip-hop pop-punk wiz kid, it seemed like many of his records forgot about the "pop" part of the equation, approaching but not quite hitting that undeniable sing-song appeal they aimed for. "XO Tour Lif3" is not one of those—instead, it's one of the most memorable records in his catalog, and shows that although his popularity has dimmed slightly as Kodak and XXXTentacion steamroll forward, his music is becoming more musically sophisticated, and enjoyable, all at once.
Valee's an odd, understated rapper from Chicago who first made noise with the hook to "Cash Don't Bend" from Ty Money's local classic Cinco De Money mixtape. But it wasn't until the rise of "Shell" that people really started talking. Though the traffic on his videos is modest, any and everyone in Chicago's hip-hop industry—from DJs to bloggers to Weeknd producer Mano—was drawn to the unusual vocal style and quizzical delivery, its off-kilter production, and memorable lyrics. He's got a few records which seem like they could do something—I'm partial to "Seen Her Before". Strangely, though, every track of Valee's feels like it cuts off early, coming in under two minutes—including "Shell," his breakout.
Kojo Funds x Abra Cadabra "Dun Talkin"
Grime has had its champions Stateside for more than a decade now, yet it feels no closer to crossing over than it did the day Pitchfork first reviewed Dizzee Rascal's Boy In Da Corner and ushered in a new era of critical obsession oriented towards London. Yet one suspects that part of the reason it earned that attention in the first place was because grime sounded so out of step with American hip-hop that it would never mesh in a way that could take off—that people liked it exactly because it sounded nothing like popular American hip-hop, and any efforts to succeed here would contradict its very appeal. The current UK hip-hop scene has begun to take on a heavy influence from "Afrobeats," as it's become known there—particularly the styles of Ghana and Nigeria, where a highly developed music industry has influenced a new generation of immigrants and locals alike. Unlike grime, which relies upon sharp, jagged rhythms, this style aims for more bouyant grooves, softer textures, and melodies, without sacrificing hip-hop's more pugnacious attitudes. It might take a minute, but records like "Dun Talkin" feel like the precursor to a 2017 "Return of the Mack."
Future's two new albums were substantial entries into is massive catalog, and while everyone's jumped behind one record or another to champion—the flute-driven "Mask Off" is especially celebrated— the unusually jubilant sound of "Draco" is a sure shot, and feels like the kind of thing that could outlast others for simply riding an enjoyable loop into the sunset.
WizKid "Sweet Love"
WizKid is Africa's biggest pop star, and his crossover efforts in the United States are just beginning. Recently signed Stateside by Tunji Balogun, the A&R who signed Bryson Tiller, WizKid's first single out the gate should reassure Afropop fans worried that the artist might shift away from his musical origins in an effort to hit the North American pop charts.
Moneybagg Yo and Yo Gotti "Doin Too Much"
After an extended period of an unconventional, experimental Gucci-esque paradigm, workmanlike street rap in a Jeezy vein has retaken a space at the center of hip-hop in 2017. With the rise of YFN Lucci, Money Man, G Herbo/Lil Bibby, and, now, Moneybagg Yo, grown folks gangster rap is staging a comeback. And who better than a Yo Gotti disciple from Memphis named Moneybagg Yo, who's ridden several regional hits to stardom throughout the South, to lead it. "Doin Too Much," accompanied by his label boss, has become a club hit, and while it may not end up being the one that takes him over the top, it'll at least take up playlist space until he finds that hit.
SOB x RBE "Anti"
A Vallejo crew whose self-titled album earlier this year earned some buzz among critics and along the West Coast, SOB X RBE have landed on a subtle, low key hit with "Anti." Its West Coast production and soft-focus keyboards are a spare canvas for a crew of kids just starting to find their voices, but whose energy suggests some potential in the long term.
Calvin Harris f/ Frank Ocean and Migos "Slide"
Calvin Harris is not usually known for making records that feel as if they'd be as comfortable on R&B radio as Top 40 clubs, yet "Slide" is perhaps the most "duh" entry in Bout to Blow history. I can't think of a record that seemed more obviously destined for crossover success, with its gentle funk groove and melodic turns from Frank Ocean and Migos. Offset, in particular, seems to shine. If you're somehow new to the work of Calvin Harris, though, don't expect too many more like this in his back catalog.
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