September had a true bounty of excellent albums that arrived throughout the month (more on that here), but it also delivered a treasure trove of excellent songs. From stellar album cuts from the likes of M.I.A. and Danny Brown to standalone singles dropped by The Weeknd and Justice, this month proved to be a great one to make a mixtape.
Here are our picks for September's essential tracks:
Danny Brown - "Really Doe" (ft. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul & Earl Sweatshirt)
We could add a description detailing why this is the standout track in one of the year's standout hip-hop albums but...really doe?
Juicy J - "Ballin" (ft. Kanye West)
The Juice has had an amazingly prolific year, pushing out mixtapes and tracks like its his goddamn job (which tbf, it is). But it is clear from the first few seconds of "Ballin" that this is the artistic moment he has been building toward all year. The track rests in a limbo of muffled sounds for its opening, lulling the listener into a false sense of calm. Then Juicy arrives, followed shortly by Kanye's most whining, yelping vocal performance yet. And your definition of 'ballin' will never be the same again.
Justice - "Randy"
"Randy" was released at the same time as the announcement of Justice's new album Woman, only their third in a career that has lasted a decade. Taking cues from the recent successful reinvention of their peers Daft Punk, the band has lost none of the rough-edged techno that made them a sensation with hits like "D.A.N.C.E." but has added an element of intimate vocals. The end result is something funkier than they have ever attempted before, let alone a funky track that has an orchestral string breakdown.
M.I.A. - "Freedun" (ft. ZAYN)
Yes, a lot of this song is cringe-worthy. A lyric like being from "the People's Republic of Swagga-stan" is actually enough to make your eyes roll so far back into your head that you lose your sight. But not even reductive wordplay can take anything away from the pure bliss of this sonic match made in heaven.
M.I.A.'s glitched-out, stuttered chorus is met head-on with an enveloping backing vocal from Zayn Malik, both of which float over a swirling electronic instrumentation that is both otherworldly and familiar. It can't even sustain its own gorgeousness, dissolving slowly into oblivion by track's end.
NxWorries - "Lyk Dis"
What happens when you throw together rising star Anderson .Paak and his frequent producing compadre Knxwledge together and make them work? They rebrand themselves as NxWorries and drop a track like "Lyk Dis," a true distillation of what makes both artists so great individually and compatibly. Built around a J Dilla sample, the song marries Knxwledge's fuzzy, retro production with Anderson's uncanny ability to create a hook catchier than an autumn head-cold.
Sampha - "Blood on Me"
Sampha has one of those voices that you can hear in any context and enjoy. He could charge money to read entries from the dictionary in his husky baritone and we would all be on board. So the fact that his new single "Blood on Me" just happens to be a bold new musical direction for the singer is almost too much.
Never before has he delivered a track so urgent, its complex rhythms creating a groove unlike anything he has attempted before. If it is anything like the rest of his upcoming full-length, then we are in for quite a treat.
Sia - "The Greatest" (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
The latest offering from the ever-enigmatic Sia is a truly odd song; nothing about it should work. The singer's powerful, bravado voice is layered into a track alongside xylophones, steel drums, a dubstep-like drop in the chorus and a 20-second cameo from Kendrick Lamar.
Yet somehow the finished product is a delightfully pleasant ear worm. And it has already been given new life thanks to a mashup video starring Hillary Clinton incorporating the lyrics about having "stamina." It doesn't even matter that we don't know who or what is "the greatest" in this scenario.
Tinashe - "Company"
Yeah we all waited an ungodly amount of time for Frank Ocean's new album, but the time spent twiddling our thumbs for the upcoming full-length from Tinashe has now been nearly double. "Company" is one of the first tastes of this promised record, and it is a strong argument to support Tinashe's eventual assumption of the title of Pop Princess.
Featuring icy production work from The-Dream, the track is one of the slinkiest efforts from the singer yet. As in, it's the most legitimately good bedroom music in recent memory. Who doesn't need a little company there?
Ty Dolla $ign - "??? (Where)" (ft. Migos)
"??? (Where)" is not the most radio-ready of Ty Dolla $ign's songs from his new record (that would be the title track "Campaign"), nor is it the most culturally in-tune (that would be "Zaddy." But "??? (Where)" is far and away the most daring track on an album that otherwise plays to Ty Dolla's strengths.
The production is razor-sharp and brooding, with synthesizer lines that seem to exist in their own plane of time and space, bouncing and careening in every direction away from the trap beats beneath it. A night on the town has never sounded more lethal.
The Weeknd - "Starboy" (ft. Daft Punk)
Despite the general consensus being that this is far from The Weeknd's best, "Starboy" is undoubtedly the blockbuster track of the month. And it's all thanks to the magic touch of Daft Punk, whose fastidious drum-lines and mechanical precision turn an enjoyable R&B slow-burner into a singular piece of lean, mean pop-machinery. Just try not to bob your head in time to the rhythm. Spoiler: you won't be able to do it.
Be sure to check out list of September's Best Albums.