The Playlist: Black Thought Freestyles for 10 Minutes and 11 More New Songs

Posted December 17, 2017 7:57 p.m. EST

Black Thought, Funkmaster Flex


Funkmaster Flex’s recurring freestyle series has been particularly well tailored to rappers from New York, or in the New York tradition. Lloyd Banks did very well; Don Q had a breakout performance. In an era in which rapping qua rapping matters less than it has in decades, it’s the rare reliable safe space for relentlessness. Black Thought of the Roots got the memo. His installment lasts about 10 uninterrupted minutes. It’s dense, versatile, calculated, comic, sneering — a master class in the way things were once done:

“We back againFor a couple things we lost in the fireThe drive, the desire to perform on a higher plateauI’m at that show lost in the mireWondering how we got so far from inspired”


The Decemberists

‘Ben Franklin’s Song’

Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t done with American history yet. The first in a promised monthly series called Hamildrops is “Benjamin Franklin’s Song” — not hip-hop, but a jolly folk-rock collaboration with the Decemberists that sets out Franklin’s accomplishments, hedonism and contentiousness and drops a four-letter word in the chorus.


Thelonious Monk Trio

‘Bemsha Swing’

Thelonious Monk’s centennial year has seen its share of archival releases. Today a notable one arrives: “The Complete Prestige 10-Inch LP Collection,” a reissue of the five albums Monk made between 1952 and 1954. The visionary pianist and composer was still waiting on his break, and in those years he was banned from playing at New York clubs after a brief stint at Rikers Island. (He had taken the fall on a possession charge for his friend Bud Powell.) On “Bemsha Swing” — recorded almost exactly 65 years ago, on Dec. 18, 1952 — Monk is clearly hungry to be playing, and maybe feeling a bit unleashed. In the middle of this short rendition, he and the drummer Max Roach chase each other into a deliriously experimental exchange. Mid-piano solo, the bassist Gary Mapp cuts out, perhaps on cue, and Monk starts to revisit the melody, remapping each individual phrase, adding to the singsong appeal. Then Roach effectively takes the solo from him, rolling across his drums with a head of steam and adding a shot of emphasis every few beats.


Lucy Dacus

‘Night Shift’

A meet-up after a breakup, polite and brief and infuriating, is at the center of “Night Shift.” “What was the plan, absolve your guilt and shake hands?,” Lucy Dacus wonders in the moment, singing sweetly over a deceptively calm solo guitar. After it’s over, she seethes; while her band moves in and gradually cranks up to a full distorted stomp as Dacus decides, “I’ll never see you again if I can help it.”


Fall Out Boy featuring RM

‘Champion (Remix)’

BTS featuring Desiigner

‘MIC Drop (Steve Aoki Remix)’

K-pop is as popular as ever in this country, but its infusion into the mainstream of American pop has been erratic and imperfect. Witness the remix of Fall Out Boy’s “Champion,” which features a pair of verses from RM (recently shortened from Rap Monster), from the wildly popular group BTS, which last month performed on the American Music Awards, a first for a K-pop act. RM is a good, sometimes great rapper, and his performance here is muscular. But the union with Fall Out Boy, while effective, feels contrived. It’s a less organic pairing than on the Steve Aoki remix of BTS’s “MIC Drop,” which was released a few weeks ago, and features Desiigner. The ferocious chaos of the song is well suited to BTS’s dynamism, and also to Desiigner’s unhinged garbles.


Camila Cabello and Grey


Grey, the electronic duo that recently backed Hailee Steinfeld on “Starving,” switches into Bollywood-goes-trap mode with Camila Cabello on “Crown” from the soundtrack to “Bright.” A tabla rhythm track, a distant countermelody and men singing rhythmic syllables all raise the tension behind Cabello’s breathless voice carrying a modal melody and fragmentary lyrics:

“A kingdom that is mineOh me oh my, the way you always serpentineThink it’s timeI’m running for the crown.”

Are royals elected? No matter.


Joey Dosik

‘Game Winner’

Joey Dosik has a feather-light voice, and “Game Winner” moves with the restrained sensuality of early 1960s soul. But this isn’t an ornate or gaudy kind of revivalism. Dosik sings with gentle nudge, and has found the style to match: “Give me the ball/I’ll hit the game winner/Oh, take a chance on me.”



‘We Choose’

Her was the duo of Victor Soif and Simon Carpentier until Carpentier died of cancer in August. “We Choose” was an elegy they wrote together and had been performing since last year, vowing that Her would continue: “Our wings are broke but we’ll keep on gliding/We refuse to be the one dying.” Its opening uses a lone voice above sustained keyboard chords; by the end, horns and a choir have joined in without disturbing the dignified farewell.


Post Malone featuring Nicky Jam and Ozuna

‘Rockstar (Latin Remix)’

Inevitable, really, but no worse off for it. 21 Savage, who landed on the original the way a boulder drops on a car in a cartoon — painful, attention-grabbing, mood-shifting — is replaced here with two Latin pop stars more simpatico with Post Malone’s moans.


Deva Mahal


“Cruel predictions have all come to pass,” Deva Mahal warns in “Snakes.” “The earth is shaking and the sky is tumbling down.” She is the daughter of the bluesman Taj Mahal, and “Snakes” is a hand-clapping, piano-pounding, call-and-response buildup with a melody that harks back to field hollers.



‘Search. Reveal.’

There’s an underlying, disquieting rhythm like respiration in “Search. Reveal.” by M.E.S.H., the Berlin-based electronic musician Jamie Whipple. Atop it a beat gathers, in a welter of clattering, thumping, natural-sounding percussion along with assorted blips and slides and, eventually, a calm voice repeating the title. A video that shows a long downward journey through tunnels both geographic and fleshy only compounds the momentum and unease.