Words by Brian James
Every month Off Shelf contributor Brian James brings you the best singles of the month and puts together a playlist for your enjoyment. Below you’ll find six highlighted songs that stood above the rest, which is followed by the entire playlist.
If smooth, jazzy hip hop with intricate rhymes and interesting flows are your thing, then this may be your new favorite song. Little Simz is one of the most exciting rappers these days and Woman showcases all of her best qualities as a vocalist and artist. Woman also stands as a great female empowerment anthem with the refrain “Woman to woman I just wanna see you glow.” Little Simz is joined by the incredible singer Cleo Sol who brings the track to another level as does the music video, which was directed by Little Simz herself.
Water From Your Eyes makes really enjoyable and often dancey music but new song Quotations opens up their sonic world up in some interesting ways. The song is built around a hypnotic loop of pitched vocals, somewhat reminiscent of Sung Tongs era Animal Collective to great effect. This version of Quotations is the final track on their new album and is an inverted version of an earlier track also called Quotations. What will that version sound like? We’ll just have to anxiously wait to see.
MIKE keeps getting better and better with each passing year and Crystal Ball is evidence of this fact. This is probably my favorite song MIKE has ever done. He’s always occupied the lo-fi, murky hip hop territory, yet his new album sees him embracing a bit more brightness. Also, his rapping is clearer and more confident to very strong effect. This is still a dense sonic landscape just with the edges smoothed out a bit more, which makes me even more excited to hear what’s next from this amazing artist.
Erika de Casier is one of the most underrated artists in music right now. Her debut album, aptly titled Essentials, is a smash hit of a debut with a fully realized and unique sound right out of the gate. Again, the aptly named Sensational, Erika’s sophomore album, is out in the world now and it needs to get all the buzz that an album can get. It’s an even more distilled, confident and mature sound than Essentials and can’t be missed. Her music is sort of like early 2000s Timbaland production meets Sade? It’s a little hard to describe but really amazing to listen to.
TORRES fully embraces heartland rock with this awesome anthem. I enjoyed her last album but didn’t really love it and I honestly think this song tweaks her sound in just the right way to have me really intrigued. Yes, it’s a bit similar to her last outing but I think this soars higher and reaches further outward than the more insular sound of Silver Tongue.
I’ve been following Mach-Hommy for the last few years, just waiting for him to finally break through. Finally, it seems his album Pray for Haiti is just that and is getting him the recognition he deserves and hopefully that python trench coat he’s been wanting. The Stellar Ray Theory was released just a few days before the album and also acted as a surprise announcement of the forthcoming album. It showcases his dense flow really well and shows some shades of a murkier version of Mos Def. Check this song out and then check out the best hip hop album of 2021 so far.
If you don’t have time for the whole playlist but want a handful more awesome songs, check these out!
But, really, just listen to the whole playlist here: