As Super Bass takes over every dancefloor worth partying on this summer, we shake our stuff to other sunshine sounds
Though now undeniably one of the world's leading rappers ? no need for the patronising "female" qualifier ? it's easy to forget how tortuous the process of establishing Nicki Minaj as a viable superstar in her own right was. Should she go hard, or should she go pop? And why, amid her own aborted singles and accidental successes, did she keep outshining herself with her guest spots on other people's records? Super Bass seemed an unpromising solution. It began life as a mere bonus track on its parent album, and was the seventh single promoted in a campaign that often seemed like Minaj's label was frantically throwing any and every song at the radio to see what would stick. And yet in June it scored Minaj her first solo Billboard top 10 hit; and in August it became her solo debut in the UK top 10 as Billboard declared it the biggest-selling single by a female artist in a decade.
It's also this year's best summer jam, and its steady, stealthy climb up the charts backs that up: this is a song whose popularity is organic, not due to timing or hype. And no wonder: it is an impossibly addictive confection, simultaneously sweet and raw, that perfectly encapsulates each of Minaj's many facets. She coos and swoons in the chorus, and raps her ass off in the verses; a chintzy backing track ? how great is it that a song entitled Super Bass barely acknowledges the need for a bassline? ? recalls both the slightly homemade feel of dancehall's digital riddims and the super-glossy treble of J-pop. And lyrically, it's a perfect summer crush song. Minaj manages to capture the sheer thrill of giving into your feelings, letting your knees weaken and heart race: that unbidden exclamation of "he got that super bass!" is pure high-school dream, so no wonder that both Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez have both enthused about it to the point of performing their own versions. (Bet you never thought you'd see Swift drop a Scarface reference.) Minaj, of course, uses the confidence these emotions imbue in her to lever herself into a position of power, wresting control of a situation by allowing herself to lose control: "Somebody please tell him who the eff I is ? I am Nicki Minaj, I mack them dudes up, back coupes up and chuck the deuce up." And if that's not enough, she chucks into this sugary-sounding pop song several expletives, a reference to selling coke and a few lines that turn brilliantly on an explicit sexual metaphor.
As someone who's frequented garage, dancehall, grime and, uh, UK bass nights throughout my clubbing life, my dirty little secret is this: I can't stand rewinds. I don't care how hyped the opening bars get the crowd, they're always jarring and wreck my groove. It's heartening to see that someone else feels the same. Konshens finds that bad DJs are ruing not just his groove but his seduction game on Nuh Pull It Up, which alternates between setting the swaying, lilting mood just right for a paramour and chiding the man behind the decks. "When you're mixing, you're mixing out the tune too fast," Konshens crossly berates the DJ, before throwing his hands up in disgust: "Somebody please teach him how to play ? and stop chasing the girls away!" What this song is basically saying: If music be the food of love, then play on.
A song I initially underrated, partly because Emeli Sand�'s lineage is so easy to trace: she's part of a (much welcome) post-Katy B wave of British singers whose sound draws more on the urban underground than chart pop, and the anthemic Heaven crossbreeds Katy B's Perfect Stranger with Massive Attack's Unfinished Sympathy: the urgency of the rave break, the yearning of the strings. It's the kind of song that ubiquity enhances, and hearing it so often in the wild has entrenched it as a key part of this summer ? and, if the fact that Sand� hails from Aberdeenshire makes my association of her song with London a trick of location, it's a song that seems to fit the restlessness of Britain in 2011 peculiarly well. It's a song about crisis of identity, Sand� posing existential questions (to a lover? a friend? herself?) with a combination of uncertainty and bravado. Her unsureness of self is even more affecting for being belted out in a voice whose natural habitat is pealing out across the city: out of windows, cars, across tower blocks and parks.
There's a specific lineage of summer jam that in my opinion is basically the best music ever: KP & Envyi's Swing My Way, Ghost Town DJs' My Boo, Lumidee's Never Leave You, Vistoso Bosses' Delirious. What they share is a lightness of touch, an insouciance that makes no demands of you but ends up all the more captivating for that. Desloc Piccalo has crafted just such a song, and his dancefloor exhortations ? rambunctious, but only as much as you want ? are set off perfectly by Bahamian singer Adiah's blissed-out contentment.
Does exactly what it promises: the nu-disco revival shorn of all its concepts, experiments, prog penchants and free-jazz influences. Instead, the focus is solely on the dancefloor, usually the deck of a boat or a beach party. A Moroder-esque bass line rolls out endlessly and purposefully ? the track takes you by surprise every time by being a bit more martial than you expect ? while wonderfully natural-sounding melodies bubble and slide their way around it. Apparently something of an anthem at European dance festivals this summer; even if you weren't actually present, it'll take you there in spirit.
From the moment Beyonc� wobbles into earshot, her voice teetering as though on impossibly high heels, Countdown is a rollercoaster rush from one joyous moment to the next. There's the titular countdown itself, sampled from Boyz II Men and functioning as a repeated mid-song breakdown that, if you're dancing to it, provides some minor respite from the track's frantic pace. (It's not the first time Beyonc� has set the bar high for her listeners: back in 2004, the Destiny's Child single Lose My Breath seemed deliberately constructed to be impossible to dance to unless you were really good at dancing.) There's the ebullient silliness of the chorus ("BOOF BOOF") and the way it momentarily enables you to do the dutty wine for just one line. There's the way that Beyonc� always inevitably ends up using a financial metaphor to convey the depth of her love. There's the host of ridiculous jack-in-the-box details that keep popping up in Beyonc�'s path through the song: her indulgence in a couple of hashtag raps; the backing vocals that suddenly flutter above her after the line "all up in the stall, shawty, fly as we want to"; the sotto voce aside that she'd "do anything for that boy", delivered with a staged wink. Columbia, you have approximately three weeks left to let this song become the summer jam it's obviously destined to be. We can imagine the video choreography already, so get a move on.
Some more honourable mentions ...
Popcaan ? Ravin'
You can't go far wrong with an instrumental called Summertime Riddim, and Popcaan's exultatory take on it gets it right.
Swindle ft. Roses Gabor ? Spend Is Dough
What Basement Jaxx would sound like if they were still any good.
Ariana Harris ft. Roach Gigz ? City Slicka
The sound of strutting cockily down the pavement under blazing sun, a swing and a spring in your step, knowing this gorgeous world is all yours.
Pitbull ft. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer ? Give Me Everything
Memento mori club pop that captures the desperate sense of mortality at the core of the VIP area.
Lee Foss ? Keep My Cool
Brandy drifts over a desert island, beats and bass echoing in the heat.