With such a daunting and constant stream of new music to, well, stream, you might fall back on the suggestions of a distant, unfeeling, and all-knowing Algorithm. That’s fine. You’re fine. It’s all fine. Just last week, Spotify noticed that I’d been listening to a lot of Phony Ppl—a progressive soul collective from Brooklyn—and offered up “Eve’s Titties,” a Deem Spencer song from a 2017 project that I’d only ever passively listened to. “Eve’s Titties” is foggy and ruminative and gorgeous, and now I’ve developed a strong attachment to it. Don’t you dare try to take it from me. For this song, and specifically the couplet “I swear I get scared / I swear I’m sincere,” I would like to give a shout-out to Big Algo.
How do you find the stuff that Spotify and Apple Music don’t lob to you? You sort of rely on the kindness of strangers, right? That was the idea behind the recommendations segment on On Shuffle, The Ringer’s music podcast, which I host. I can say now that the recommendations haven’t been quite as focused as they could be. Largely because recommending an artist or an entire album—as opposed to a single live performance or song or even just a single moment that sells the rest of it—is as ungainly, critically speaking, as foisting importance onto a song that just happens to slap.
So here are a few moments from some songs that just happen to slap. It’s a new music column called “So Necessary,” and, pending nuclear winter or a wayward asteroid, we’ll meet back here every Friday.
Freddie Gibbs Sniping Spike Lee on “Flat Tummy Tea”
The 91st Academy Awards are this weekend, you might have heard, and there’s a greater-than-zero chance that Spike Lee will avenge his infamous 1990 snub. Gary, Indiana, rapper Freddie Gibbs, who is not a fan of the Pacers and will probably still blow ya mama house up over it, does not care. Because fuck Spike Lee. Who cares whether he’s up for his first Oscar for directing? Spits Gibbs: “He mostly show Malcolm on coke and white whores / Did the shit so he can get funding up from them white boys.”
Madlib’s production on “Flat Tummy Tea” is split into two distinct parts; the first is blown-out, shrill heavy-bag music, and the second is more reposed, although Gibbs has just the one speed. It’s excitingly, spiritedly spiteful throughout. He has bars for Spike, yes, but also Barack Obama, lean sippers, slave movies, and White Jesus. Bandana, the follow-up to the pair’s 2014 collaboration, Piñata—originally it was Cocaine Piñata, which is way cooler, but less marketable—is out soon, but not soon enough.
Tierra Whack’s Creation of a New Acronym on “Only Child”
Last year, when I wrote about Whack World, I said that just a minute of Philadelphia rapper Tierra Whack is wonderful, although each of the self-contained, one-minute sketches on her debut project left you hankering for the complete song. Consider this week’s “Only Child” as a fully realized “Fuck Off.” Both tracks stew in the aftermath of a pretty bad breakup, but “Only Child” runs the emotional gamut; Whack prays for her ex, wishes syphilis on his newer boo thing, and generally says a bunch of stuff she can’t take back. It’s great.
But what’s best is when she carries on the tradition of “Cable Guy” (whereupon she turned “Black Entertainment Television” into “Bitches Eat Tacos”) while reminding herself, her ex, and you that she’s booked and busy. “M.O.D.,” she warbles. “Money over dick.”
When Lucki Says “Treat Her Like a Dog or a Sports Car” on “More Than Ever”
I’m going to say something corny: Lucki is unlucky in love. I’m sorry. But it’s true: The Chicago rapper’s newest album, Freewave 3, is a biopsy of sorts. He takes stock of his addictions, broken relationships, and stunted growth, but taking stock is all he can manage. Freewave 3 is morbid and bitter and cold to the touch, and captivating for it. I like the way Pitchfork critic Paul Thompson described it as “things you might think while you’re shivering.”
Although I might turn that description on its head for this one line from “More Than Ever,” the second and more dispassionate break-up record featured in this column, and a song that has been out since late December: “Treat her like a dog or a sports car.” It was me who was shivering. “Grimacing” might be more accurate, honestly.
Catherine Elicson’s Pitchy Sigh on Empath’s “Soft Shape”
It’s tough to describe what “Soft Shape” sounds like from one minute to the next, which I guess is a feature of noise rock and not a bug. I don’t know much about Empath, except that there are four members and they’re from Philadelphia, and that seems OK, since their debut album, Active Listening: Night on Earth, isn’t due out until April.
It takes active listening to pick out her voice atop the warm, fuzzy, whirring bed of sounds, but lead singer Catherine Elicson, whose vocals are purposefully and artfully airy and off-key, does give you a lot to think about. “We’re not as similar / As I first thought we were,” she sings, “and who knew that would be so satisfying?” Opposites attract, but opposites, she later considers, are still, you know, opposites. “And who knew that would be so terrifying?” she sings.
Fetty Wap Begging, Pleading on “History”
I’m sure you’d like to know what Fetty Wap has been up to since writing the greatest love song of our time (not much; his 2018 sophomore album, Bruce Wayne, came and then went). And I’m sure you’re worried about his releasing a song called “History” during Black History Month.
Fear not, it’s just another great Fetty ballad about romantic history, between two people. Fetty Wap wants that old thing back. We—I assume you’re with me on this—are happy to have Fetty Wap back.