What happens when the best songs don't make the album? It's a great question, one that's already been asked and answered by Yoh in this excellent piece from just a couple months ago. If you haven't already, I strongly encourage you to read his feature immediately. The piece delves into the idea that since time is progressing no matter what, as the years go by, music is slowly relegated to the back of our consciousness. Thankfully, we have albums, so that artists can compile their best records and piece them together as cohesive collections. Without even taking a look at your music library, I'm sure you can rattle off every album that all of your favorite artists have ever made.
Unfortunately, not everything that is worthy of a placement on an album actually makes it onto an album. Maybe there was a sample clearance issue, maybe the artist felt as if that particular piece didn't fit the theme or narrative of the project they were working on at the time, but oftentimes records never find a true home. Years later, these songs become lost in the mix, hard to find, maybe even forgotten, despite the fact that they were examples of some of that artist's best work. Yoh touched on many of these records from some of his favorite artists, and while I wholeheartedly agreed with all of his selections (special thanks to him for introducing me to Childish Gambino's "Centipede"), I thought it would be a great time to revisit the work he's done and touch on a few more classic examples worthy of the shine. Think of this as a companion piece to Yoh's original, where I'll reference his selections and expand upon additional dopeness you'll want in your collection.
Indeed, Drake's non-album excellence is almost untouchable. You can make a classic album just by compiling his seemingly prophetic cosign features. "Dreams Money Can Buy," which Yoh touched on, is one of his greatest records and it never made it onto Take Care. Neither did two other great releases from that summer-- "Club Paradise" and "Free Spirit" ("tat my f**kin' name on you so you know it's real!"). The verbal sparring he and Wayne unleashed in 2008, on "Ransom," was the reason many fans got hip to the Drizzy hype in the first place, myself included, yet the record was long gone by the time his debut dropped. A more recent example is "We Made It." With a Soulja Boy feature, a Kenny Powers sample and artwork featuring a random photo of people winning the lottery, it's hard to picture where this record would fit on a Drake album. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most crowd-pleasing songs in his catalogue; its horns are epic, its chorus unforgettable, and its legacy relegated to a lonely spot the OVO Soundcloud.
There isn't much to say that hasn't already been said about Wayne's mixtape mastery. His run before and right after the release of Tha Carter III is almost something of legend now, especially with the disappointing product we've been served in recent years. Even if you move past Wayne's studio albums, his official (Dedication 2, Da Drought 3, No Ceilings) and even unofficial (The Drought Is Over series) mixtapes approach "classic" status. Lil Weezy Ana Vol. 1 is stacked with classics ("I Like Dat," "N*gga Wit Money," "Amen") from top to bottom. Having not been placed on any of his notable projects, "Pussy Money Weed" is easily overlooked more than even those rarities. This is Wayne at the peak of his double-cupped genius, an ode to the three things he loves the most, delivered with the uniqueness for which he could once be relied upon. The airy vocal hums are haunting, the hook beautiful in its simplicity.
"Cole Summer" is J. Cole's greatest non-album record, shouts to Yoh for the spotlight. In fact, his Truly Yours releases remain some of Jermaine's finest work, though these days you're not likely to hear them pop up in conversation often. He recognized this himself, saying that there "are great songs and important stories that just won’t make the album (either they don’t fit Sonically, don’t fit Theme, or there’s just not enough space)." It's a shame, especially considering my personal favorite Cole record resides on the the first installment. "Rise Above" is the Roc Nation emcee at his peak, an emotionally stirring record that covers relatable and personal themes and strives to uplift the listener. Above all, the sample is incredible, a flawless flip of a Dirty Projector's song of the same name that my fellow sped-up vocal sample fanatics will surely appreciate.
For the most part, Big K.R.I.T. has managed to find a place for all his greatest records on his various projects. One glaring omission, however, is "Now Or Neva." Released in 2010, just after his classic debut, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, "Now Or Neva" is everything you want from Krizza. Appropriately trunk-rattling, soul-sampling beat? Check. Charismatic and enlightened lyricism? Check. Well placed film dialogue? Check, in this case a motivating segment from Rocky IV. This is what Southern hip-hop is supposed to sound like, and the reason why I'm bumping it on a regular basis even in 2015.
Kanye's G.O.O.D. Fridays series could have been one of my favorite albums of all-time. Yoh covered it's consistency and quality nearly in entirety, with nary an objection from yours truly. Wait, I have one objection-- he forgot to mention the best release of all. Subjective, yes, but for years I've been championing the greatness that is "G.O.O.D. Friday," the record from which the set of releases took its moniker. Kanye, Common, Pusha, CuDi, Sean and Charlie Wilson produced nothing short of magic for 5 minutes and 13 seconds; a feel-good record to end all feel-good records. Seemingly a simple boom bap loop, the beat is peppered with just the right amount of piano and 2010-era Ye samples. Each participant brings their own style on what is maybe the happiest posse cut ever created. Hell, I even liked CuDi's contribution and by that time I had grown weary of his melancholy whining crooning.
Kendrick's non-album releases could warrant it's own post; his "6'7" Freestyle" with ScHoolboy is perhaps the greatest murdering of a popular instrumental the world has ever seen. However, another TDE collab, "Rapper Shit" with Ab-Soul, is one of my favorite songs and a tremendous display of lyricism from both emcees, with so many metaphors and double-meanings that multiple listens are imperative. The crown jewel, though, is "I Hate You." Ever hear a song so powerful that when the audio fades out you're left to sit and contemplate what you just heard? Go ahead, press play. K-Dot confronts death in the literal sense, before putting himself in the shoes of that which he hates and cannot understand. It's the rare crossroads of emotion, lyricism and creative structuring that leaves the listener in awe. For an artist so admired for the effort and passion he puts into his music, I'm surprised it's not more highly-regarded amongst loyal fans. Such is the struggle when the best songs don't make the album.
Hopefully, like Yoh, I've presented you with a host of incredible songs from some of your favorite artists. They may have been overlooked as a result of a lack of album placement, but the songs live on through SoundCloud and YouTube streams, and nostalgic posts such as this. Let me know if I missed any of your favorites, if I've blessed you with some gems you had never heard or if you hate all of my suggestions and regret spending ten minutes reading my work. The choice is yours!
[By Brendan Varan. He filters through your favorite artists' extensive catalogues to bring you what you need to hear. Follow him on Twitter.]