Thursday, January 4, 2018

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - january 6, 2018

There are only three names that matter on today's Hot 100. Sure, you could talk about how a bunch of old 2017 hits got their final wind, or how Christmas music seemed to linger a week longer than I personally expected, but the real story to open this week - with the date slightly revised because Billboard is bringing things closer in sync with their tracking week - belong to three people: Travis Scott and Quavo under their duo name 'Huncho Jack', and Cardi B, who seems to be pushing hard to extend her success into 2018.


And where she comes most into focus is in our top 10 - well, not all of it, as once again Ed Sheeran and Beyonce sit at the very top with 'Perfect' for another week... and really, I'm still not entirely convinced this isn't vulnerable. Sure, it's nearly got the top spot on the radio and it's always been huge on sales, but it lost the top spot on streaming to 'rockstar' by Post Malone and 21 Savage, which is on the sales upswing even as it seemed to hit a hard peak on the radio. And that's not to discount 'Havana' by Camila Cabello and Young thug at #3, which has regained the top spot on YouTube, still clings to the top on the radio, and while streaming is down, its sales are up this week. But the real threat here comes from 'No Limit' by G-Eazy ft. A$AP Rocky and Cardi B, up to #4 on stronger sales and streaming, even if radio remains inconsistent. And hell, 'Thunder' by Imagine Dragons went up too to #5 thanks to its sales rebounding, but it's likely more because 'Gucci Gang' by Lil Pump had a bad week, falling to #6 as YouTube and streaming both slip, with not enough sales to save it. Then we have 'MotorSport' our second Cardi B song with Migos and Nicki Minaj at #7, which took big sales to compensate for softening streaming to hold its spot - hell, so did 'Too Good At Goodbyes' by Sam Smith at #8, with weaker streaming overall but more radio. Then since Mariah Carey dropped out of the top ten, we had two songs picking up places: 'Bad At Love' by Halsey - which has to be the only explanation given how its radio is all over the place - and 'Bodak Yellow' by Cardi B, making her only the third artist in Billboard history to have her first three singles all break the top 10, following only The Beatles and Ashanti. Granted, she's only lead artist on one of those songs, and 'Bodak Yellow' only rebounded thanks to year-end sales and consistently good streaming, but still, it's really her starpower that got those songs charting as highly as they did, so I'm not going to take this away from her.

So on a very different note, losers and dropouts... and we don't have much at all here. Seriously, in the latter category, the only song maybe worth mentioning is 'Wanted Me' by NAV and Lil Uzi Vert, and I'd even have a hard time justifying that! Beyond that... well, most of our losers don't surprise me much either: 'Dusk Till Dawn' by Zayn and Sia is dying off slowly to 99, 'Pick It Up' by Famous Dex and A$AP Rocky to 85 and 'My Dawg' by Lil Baby to 84 are evidence of the short lifespan of most modern trap tunes, 'River' by Eminem and Ed Sheeran fell to 43 off a debut they couldn't hope to sustain, and 'KOODA' by 6ix9ine went to 67 because it's goddamn terrible.

Now I'd like to say our gains and returning entries are more interesting... but I'm not sure I can say that, when the only return is for 'Krippy Kush' by Farruko, Nicki Minaj, Bad Bunny, 21 Savage and Rvssian to 88, presumably because of the video. As for the gains... well, like every year, we got a series of older hits getting one last wind thanks to year-end countdowns, which meant that 'Believer' by Imagine Dragons went to 25, 'That's what I Like' by Bruno Mars went to 37, 'What About Us' by P!nk went to 48, and yes, even 'Look What You Made Me Do' by Taylor Swift was up to 66. Now the last few gains actually do show some promise and also happen to be mostly decent: 'Young Dumb & Broke' by Khalid likely got most of its traction to 18 off that medley - we'll come back to this - but it's not a bad song, and I don't mind it along with 'LOVE.' by Kendrick Lamar and Zacari up to 11. No, the big story for me here is 'Marry Me' by Thomas Rhett surging to 45 - again, this is a great song, I'm really happy it looks like it's going to be big in 2018.

But now onto our list of new arrivals that look a lot less encouraging, starting with...



94. 'Stir Fry' by Migos - now before we get into Huncho Jack proper - I mean, I'm reviewing seven of the thirteen songs, over half the album charted - we've got the newest single for Culture II, a hustling jam which Migos decided to overstuff with food references against production from Pharrell of all people. And honestly, I really like the production here: a buzzy mix that still gives Migos all the space they need with all sorts of squawking birds to add texture to the denser trap percussion and a low-key melodic hook that I can see sticking really well. And for a chance I actually think Quavo might be the star of this track, holding down one of their best hooks and his verse flows really damn well. Offset, on the other hand... look, he's clearly trying to add more complexity here, but at the same time, trying to make boogers slang for jewels will never take off and it can't help but feel a shade clumsy here. And then there's Takeoff... honestly, his verse is fine, but you almost tell that he's not quite able to keep up with the others in the same way in flow or wordplay - and given that it's Migos, that's not saying much. But again, for this sort of tune, I'm actually digging this a lot - hope it gets big, it's a good tune.



92. 'Saint' by Huncho Jack - okay, time for this Huncho Jack business... and surprise, we get a hollowed out watery flexing track where the xylophones warble with the autotune drizzled over everything and the skitter of the trap beat sounds astoundingly flat. Beyond that... I guess the trade off of bars on the second verse was decent enough, but I can't be the only one who thinks sounds really cheap and flimsy, am I? At least when Offset teamed up with 21 Savage there was some edge to it, whereas this... yeah, not impressed.



90. 'Motorcycle Patches' by Huncho Jack - ... I'm starting to get the uneasy feeling this project is not going to be remotely interesting. And really, can you blame me when the melody is swamped in bass and is carried on a muted melodic loop midway to the back, all behind the overdose of autotune drizzled over everyone's voice that doesn't exactly provide much potency. Quavo might pile on his adlibs and Travis Scott might drone his way through a hook before squawking his way through repeated bars on his hook, but then he references getting stuck by 'love' in his out-of-control flexing and 'beatin' like it's Ike' - I didn't give Jay-Z a pass four years ago on 'Drunk In Love' and I sure as hell am not giving a pass to this. Boring, repetitive, and lacking any decent tune, I'd skip this too.



87. 'Huncho Jack' by Huncho Jack - I always find it weird when artists name their song after the band name itself... and yet go figure that it's got the production of the album yet, with the mix drowned in mist and the keening rumble of synths playing off the murky trap beat. And hell, Travis and Quavo trade off bars a little better on this tune... until we hear bars about how Quavo bought himself a Mercedes truck he painted yellow like a Tonka truck with all his guns 'updated' like they were apps or something, or Travis talking about the girl sucking his 'voltage' - what happened to stroking the cactus, dude? Okay look, this is arguably the best Huncho Jack track to date, but again, I can't say I'm all that impressed.



83. 'Dubai Shit' by Huncho Jack ft. Offset - if 2017 did anything for me with Migos, it was that marginal boost of excitement when you hear that Offset is hopping on the guest verse, especially on a record that thus far has been a lot of flexing and autotune abuse... of course, what I wasn't expecting was added vocal mixing from Yung Lean and an autotune chiptune squeal for a melody against the trap beat that only gives Offset half a verse! And yet even that doesn't excuse incredibly limp and underwhelming verses from both Quavo and Travis - Offset tries to bring a quicker flow, but even he can't do much with this utterly grating mess. It's shrill in a really ugly way, nobody sounds good on this, barely has anything to do with Dubai beyond a few token references, not remotely a good song!



71. 'Black & Chinese' by Huncho Jack - so if I feel remotely excited when Offset hops on a tune, it's counterbalanced by the sinking feeling I get whenever hip-hop is indulging in its Asian fetish yet again. And right from the wonky plucked melody punctuated with ugly flattened autotune and shrill airhorn squeals, you get the impression it's going to be just as cringey as you imagine... but the truth is that neither Quavo or Travis Scott can stay on topic enough to come close to this territory, outside of Quavo throwing in references to tae kwon do and karate in his final verse for absolutely no reason! Instead, the rest of it is flexing with diamonds and drugs and Quavo describing your girl running through the coins like Sonic, a golddigger he's screwing regardless. Coupled with a refusal to end properly... nope, can't endorse this either.



69. 'Thunder/Young Dumb & Broke' by Imagine Dragons & Khalid - I was hearing warning about how awful this was since it dropped, but here's the truth of the matter: while I'm no big fan of Khalid or Imagine Dragons these days, I don't think either of these songs are all that atrocious, just kind of dreary and forgettable. And thus bringing them together... okay, the folks who did the arrangements for Glee probably need work somewhere, why the hell were they not brought in for this, which tries to flip from the languid tones of Khalid to 'Thunder's slightly tighter groove... but it does there by sacrificing all the atmosphere of the former, cutting the single part of the second verse I liked of the latter, and yet keeping that caterwauling excuse for a solo in the latter! And when you realize that outside of some incidental similarities in composition, there's nothing in the actual writing that meshes the content whatsoever... yeah, this was a bad idea right from the start, taking two passable songs and making them worse in the mashup. I've definitely heard worse from both of them and this doesn't really push my anger or annoyance that hard, but still, it's not good.


(no video because... the sample, maybe?)

68. 'Modern Slavery' by Huncho Jack - okay, the idea that wealth and commercialism is often branded as a different form of modern slavery in black America is not a new one - Kendrick and Kanye have talked about it at length and treated it with the darkness and gravitas such a serious topic deserved on songs like 'For Free?' and 'New Slaves'... and then there's Travis Scott and Quavo, who are about the last rappers who you would expect to do this topic justice. So you get an Otis Redding sample that probably costs more than the rest of this album put together and certainly sounds better, and have these two brainlessly flexing over a single verse - charming. Seriously guys, it's just in really bad taste to compare that brand of slavery - which is still practiced in parts of this world - to multi-million dollar record contracts, especially when you're not going to say anything else with depth - ugh.



65. 'Eye 2 Eye' by Huncho Jack ft. Takeoff - okay, as I said earlier, I'm not convinced that Takeoff has really evolved in the same way that his peers in Migos had, but this was the highest song to chart from Huncho Jack and... man, I've stopped caring. Another desaturated trap banger with no significant melody that isn't drowned out, autotune drizzled over everything, and more brand name bragging. To be fair, Takeoff is easily the best part of his song, but I'd hesitate to call much of what he's doing there actual wordplay - it's clear he hasn't exactly found much complexity beyond flows that are a little tighter. Beyond that, I'm going to forget about nearly all of this project in a day or two, and I'm not complaining about that either.



52. 'La Modelo' by Ozuna & Cardi B - so here's something I'm a little concerned about with Cardi B - since it's been proven she can move units by her presence alone, there's the very real possibility her handlers will put her on everything before she even has the chance to release a record, which some are saying will drop in January but who knows these days. Anyway, given the increased viability of Latin singles, here she is opposite Ozuna - and really, I don't know if she's fluent in Spanish, but she's certainly capable of selling this sort of track and her deeper, huskier tones are by far more interesting than Ozuna's frail crooning, almost so much that I wish she didn't feel the need to drop an English verse, which kind of takes you out of the track. Granted, it helps that the content is basically placing Ozuna a few steps behind her and the mix opts for a hollow sense of restraint, using the more textured percussion to have a surprising amount of depth with only hints of brighter synth - certainly one of the better reggaeton instrumentals to have gotten bigger this year. Overall, though... not sure how memorable it'll be, but it's tolerable, for sure.



14. 'Bartier Cardi' by Cardi B ft. 21 Savage - so here's the big breakthrough follow-up to Bodak Yellow, with 21 Savage to add gangsta credibility that I'm not sure Cardi B needs - whether her claims to have rolled with Bloods as a teenager have any viability or not, she certainly has more personality than 21 Savage has ever shown. So with their team-up... honestly, I see the appeal, but I think this might be the first cut from Cardi B that I'm not as interested in. Yeah, she's flowing fast and her flows are more diverse - and for once it actually seems like 21 Savage is having fun and switching up his flow - but her repetition of rhymes, fewer punchlines, and production that doesn't emphasize much melody behind the lumbering trap beat don't exactly highlight the strengths in her personality, or even feeling all that shocking - hell, for as often as she repeats 'Cardi', it feels like an exercise in brand reinforcement more than anything else. Not precisely a bad track and it'll probably do well for her, but 'Bodak Yellow' was sharper, and just her fiance and the rest of Migos, I'd like to see the content get a little more complex or interesting.

So that was our week... man, a whole bunch of this will not stick around and thank god for it. Worst is actually pretty easy, with Huncho Jack getting both entries with 'Dubai Shit' snagging the bottom spot and 'Black & Chinese' taking Dishonourable Mention. And yet for the best... yeah, 'Stir Fry' easily gets that spot, and I'll give Honourable Mention to 'La Modelo' from Ozuna and Cardi B - what can I say, good production and good performances, it's a fine enough tune. We're now heading into the winter slowdown ahead, so unless we get another album bomb, we might be taking it easy for a bit. 

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