Crafting an album without a single skippable song is a rare, special feat. Sequencing matters. Just throwing a collection of songs together can be the careless approach that ruins an entire listening experience for an otherwise great album. The placement of songs has a profound effect on how they are heard, a quality that playlists simply cannot replicate. Classics like good kid, m.A.A.d city and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy could have collapsed if not for impeccable sequencing. Artists must consider this fact; every song from the intro to outro must be specifically chosen to exude a feeling, enhance an emotion, or push a narrative forward.
2017 has been full of incredible albums and will assuredly be full of rankings of those albums as complete projects. Not mentioned enough, though, are the incredible instances of sequencing, those rare moments when artists piece together a run of consecutive songs that would stand out alone but are truly amplified when heard as a cohesive unit. It's an art form to seamlessly transition from song to song and keep the quality and cohesion at the highest level.
These are the 10 best three-song stretches of 2017.
10. Drake — More Life
“Get It Together” / “Madiba Riddim” / “Blem”
The unsung tragedy of More Life is the poor placement of “Jorja Interlude,” the sequence killer dividing the tropical “Passionfruit” from its fellow island-influenced brethren. Even without the underachieving commercial successor to “One Dance,” the most vibrant moment of Drake’s project playlist is the vibe-inducing curated sequence of “Get It Together,” “Madiba Riddim,” and “Blem.” Each one rattles with gyrating drums, bright with the beams of a steamy sun and cotton candy-coated melodies that assist with the enchanting scenery. The Afrobeats medium doesn’t bring out the best of Drake’s pen, but it does provide a moment of languorous bliss that sweeps listeners away to a beach where the sand is marshmallow soft, the water is Van Gogh blue, and the palm trees sway in the gentle breeze blessed by Anemoi.
9. Kelela — Take Me Apart
“Waitin” / “Take Me Apart” / “Enough”
Kelela’s brand of music is considered alternative, electronic-R&B. I'd like to think of it more as surreal R&B. She takes the traditional methods of the genre's legends and warps them with magical vocals and unpredictable production elements. A perfect example of this is the title track from her debut album, Take Me Apart. The heavy percussion builds and distorts, while her vocals sound submerged as if she’s underneath the weight of love itself. So much occurs inside the four-minute runtime you are left in awe at all that has occurred. Bookending “Take Me Apart” is the far more fun, lush, electronic-R&B fusion “Waitin” and the absolutely magical “Enough.” For newer listeners like myself, these three songs showcase the artistic range, creative inventiveness, and curiosity of what else Kelela has to offer for me to dive deeper. A great song stretches creates a sense of wonderment that grabs your full attention, and Take Me Apart accomplishes this early with style and grace.
8. Wiki — NoMountains In Manhattan
“Mayor” / “Pretty Bull” / “Made For This”
There’s an electricity to Wiki’s “Mayor,” an undeniable surge that flows through the “We Have Love” sample and Wiki’s overzealous admiration for his beloved hometown. “Islander,” the intro for No Mountains In Manhattan, is the arrival, the welcome sign, but “Mayor” is when you depart the train and take that first step into Wiki’s world. That energy is carried over into “Pretty Bull,” a Tony Seltzer-produced flood of imagery that solidifies you are seeing New York City through the eyes of a native who wasn't given the tourist tour. The Ghostface-assisted “Made For This” slows things down and turns the outward world inward and intimate. These three tracks together are mood-setters, world-builders, and the most New York combination since Timbs, Yankee fitteds, and chopped cheeses.
7. Rick Ross — Rather You Than Me
“Apple of My Eye” / “Santorini Greece” / “Idols Become Rivals”
Rick Ross' “Apple of My Eye” and “Santorini Greece” are both peppered with soul and jazz. Both sound as if they were made to be played in smoky bars while whiskey is sipped and life is contemplated to Def Poetry Jam spoken word. Ross on both tracks is far more poet than mobster, displaying some of his sharpest lyricism to date. This two-punch start to the LP is like choosing organic fruit over a deep-fried meal, both sonically and lyrically. The sincerity displayed is rare compared to the usual mafioso raps that hide feelings and self-examination behind thunderous trap beats and expensive eyewear.
Yet, the cherry on top is Rozay’s tirade against Birdman, less of a diss track and more of an intense scolding from one boss to another. Ross carries an intimidating air, and “Idols Become Rivals” is thick with stone-faced hostility. Rather You Than Me isn’t the Rick Ross of old until “Trap Trap Trap” brings listeners into a familiar realm, but Ross starts things off to prove a point―over a decade in, he still has plenty left to say and you won’t want him to stop.
6. Sampha — Process
“(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano” / “Take Me Inside” / “Reverse Faults”
“(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano” is beautiful. Sampha's singing and songwriting could bring tears to desert eyes and fill the heartless with newfound empathy. Sadness and all its sullen glory is summoned, and surprisingly this ballad for a fallen mother isn’t Sampha's grand finale but the centerpiece of his debut album’s second half. Process transitions seamlessly, taking the listener from a moment of grievance to a state of wonder concerning the status of two lovers. “Take Me Inside” doesn’t depart from the piano foundation that drives its predecessor, it’s minimal and poetic―the two songs feel like separate stories existing in the same world of heartbreaking cognizance.
What’s unexpected is “Reverse Faults." What begins as slow building and meatless production lead to one of the most epic drops of the album. It’s a hidden bop, a masked marauder, but it brings blood back into the album before being lost in absolute melancholy. It’s easy for an album to be stuck in a groove, haunted by its dedication to a mood, but Sampha escapes the self-sabotage and moves Process into an excellent third act.
5. Migos — Culture
“T-Shirt” / “Call Casting” / “Bad and Boujee”
What I remember most about Jeezy's Thug Motivation 101 is how every song was on the radio. It wasn’t the favoritism of hometown love, Jeezy just had an album full of hits. Culture, the sophomore album by Migos, delivered a similar feeling―anthem after anthem dominating airwaves, club venues and Snapchat videos. Culture was the album you couldn’t escape. Quavo, Offset and Takeoff might not roam too far from their place of comfort, but the three Migos never repeat the same tricks. The best example of their diversity is “T-Shirt,” “Call Casting,” and “Bad and Boujee”― a consecutive triple threat. There are so many different ad-libs, melodies, flows, and bars between the three, it's impossible to listen without delivering a dab or two. The entire album is sequenced superbly, with hit after hit, but this trifecta of singles is a holy trinity that perfectly represents Migos' 2017 takeover.
Offset’s “Bad and Boujee” verse may be written in history books, but the way Takeoff punctures the pocket on “T-Shirt” can't be overlooked.
4. Rapsody — Laila’s Wisdom
“Nobody” / “Black & Ugly” / “You Should Know”
Laila’s Wisdomcontinues to sound better with each passing day. Not one record feels out of place, every track sewed together with a seamstress' precision to detail. The triple threat that is “Nobody,” “Black & Ugly,” and “You Should Know” is the best of the bunch, though. From the pairing of Anderson .Paak and Black Thought, to the soulful BJ The Chicago Kid, to a spoken-word performance from OG Busta Bust—it's a special stretch.
Even when surrounded by legends old and new, Rapsody never ceases to be the center of interest. She navigates concepts with thoughtful meticulousness, and her prowess as an MC is sharp enough to be confused for a hawk's talons. Laila’s Wisdom isn’t an album but an exhibition of excellence, the lyricism of a grand wizard meets musicality sweeter than the honey dripped from bumblebees in a Cheerios factory. I love how it begins, I love how it ends, but this midsection is where the album levitates.
3.JAY-Z — 4:44
“Kill Jay Z” / “The Story of O.J.” / “Smile”
Within the first few seconds of “Kill Jay Z” comes the realization of an opening unlike any in Hov’s discography. It's the whirlwind of a world unraveling, the awkward truth being given with transparent nakedness. With such a curveball introduction, the follow-up must be definitive to keep the audience captivated. “The Story of O.J.” is even more polarizing with its Nina Simone sample, Hov’s million dollars worth of game, and the essential message that no amount of wealth or status will erase what it means to be black in America.
After opening the album with that quick two-punch combo, “Smile” is an elegantly thrown haymaker. If chopped-up Stevie with reminiscent Jay makes the perfect sundae, then Gloria Carter’s beautiful poem is the sprinkles to top it all off. For an album that doubles as a reintroduction, 4:44 had to hit certain cues. It had to show the audience what a mature Hov sounds like instead of telling us how grown up the album was meant to be. 4:44 is sculpted like a Greek statue, an album trimmed of all unnecessary excess and fat; Jay knew exactly what he wanted to say and nothing more. The first three songs are a selection in perfection in getting re-acquainted with Shawn Carter.
2. Daniel Caesar — Freudian
“Loose” / “We Find Love” / “Blessed”
Daniel Caesar’s ”Loose,” "We Find Love," and “Blessed” melt into each other. They are separate parts of a whole piece, created to be heard together but able to live apart. The gospel-influenced overtones flow from all three―vocally and musically―grant a sense of serenity on the cusp of love being lost. “Loose” is the contemplation, “We Find Love” is the realization, and “Blessed” the inevitable reconciliation. It’s a three-song short story that can be separated from the Freudian album and still articulate a complete tale of two lovers going through a rough patch. Freudian elegantly glides from song to song, giving the entire project weightlessness. There are no sudden twists or abrupt turns, it's an album that soars with the gentle vibrancy of a butterfly flapping through a sea of dandelions, and it's midsection is the perfect stretch.
1. Big K.R.I.T. — 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time
“Price of Fame” / “Drinking Sessions” / “The Light”
If honesty has a way of slicing through the soul like a spiritual cleaver, Big K.R.I.T. finds his most forthright and transparent voice on “Price of Fame,” “Drinking Sessions,” and “The Light.” This sequence represents three different perspectives: adjusting to fame, the weight of internal turmoil, and the vision of America from a black man’s panorama―each one more moving than the last. In his absence, life has changed so much it’s as if Krizzle wanted to give his admiring audience the highest-quality selfie of his soul—the soul of Justin Scott. Pure emotion drives all three, the gravity of reality without sugarcoating. All the stress, pressure, and depression that has been hidden from sight is given a voice, and we are allowed to see what has gone unspoken since we last heard from K.R.I.T.
There isn't an album this year where three songs this powerful are strategically placed together. To be moved is the most natural reaction.
By Yoh, aka Yohquence, aka @Yoh31