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  • Charlie Taylor

#5EUK Top 15 Songs of 2021

*Blows dust off*

Nearly the end of 2021 already?! Man, what a year it has been for music. But even when saying that, it was kind of hard for 2021 not to feel momentous in some capacity. 2020 was... Well, we don't talk about 2020 anymore. But we were all looking forward to '21 and in my personal opinion, it didn't disappoint.

The music that has come through this year has been wonderful as always and for this list, I am going to give you my Top 15 Songs.

In recent years (I've only been doing this for five years but allow my thought...) I have wanted to keep it as honest as possible and pick the tracks that I actually have been listening to via my "Regular Rotation" which is a 10-Hour playlist that I update now and again. There's only one track on this list that I haven't put on the Regular Rotation but when thinking about this list, that song kept coming to mind so clearly I felt the need to talk about it. Feel free to guess which track that is.

As always, my Songs list is not ranked but I have put in thought about the order. Why? Because, for the first time ever, this list will drop at the same time as an audio version! If you're on Spotify, you can go spin "Chilling W/ Charlie" on "5EPN Radio". And, if you want the songs but not my voice, I will have the playlist embedded at the end of this. Don't worry, I won't be offended.

So without further ado, here are my Top 15 Songs of 2021! Beginning with a song that blew my mind as soon as it began:


Little Simz - Introvert

Other Songs Considered: Woman (Feat. Cleo Sol)

There has never been a song in Little Simz' catalogue that is as ambitious as this. I should know as someone that has not just been spinning Simz since seeing her support Kano in Southampton Engine Rooms but has spun her pre-album mixtapes & EPs.

This song is a triumph. The drums kick things off. Then the horns, the gorgeous horns. Then a small choir. It just keeps rising and then smooths out, ready for Simz to go in. A kind of lyrical "State of The Union" address, Simz delivers thoughts on the outside and the inside, giving you zero warning on when she switches scope. The 1st verse comes and goes but the song doesn't stop there. Verse two ups the ante in everything. More bars, diving deeper into her mind. Still, even at this stage in her life and career, asking if the dedication to art was even worth it.

It's a sobering passage, made even more so with the Inflo production that moves with Simz' energy. Eventually, Simz and the production pick themselves up off the floor and stands up tall. The song then goes on further, with beautiful refrains from Cleo Sol, a glorious bridge from the strings and all culminating with actress Emma Corrin delivering a bold outro.

The song is a six-minute dance with raw power and crippling vulnerability in equal measure. One of Simz' greatest songs in so many ways.


NAO - Woman (Feat. Lianne La Havas)

Get your calculators out, ladies & gentlemen. One of the best voices ever + one of the best singer/songwriters the UK has ever produced.

You also got "A straight bop"? If not, try again because that was the only possible outcome when I saw that NAO & Lianne La Havas was going to collab. And damn did they not disappoint. "Woman" is a funky jam that will get you swaying from left to right. A minor departure from NAO's style in previous album cycles but this smooth duet fits like a glove.

The subject matter is a near-religious dedication to the woman and refusing to dim their light. They let the lyrics speak for themselves and instead focus on absurdly clean vocal stacking. You go listen to the hook and those vocals on the back end of it and tell me you don't start levitating. Slap on a little bit of organ for the come-downs and then pick the whole thing back up with them funky strings.

I love the energy of this track, it's lush, bouncy and is one of those songs you hear and know for a fact that everyone involved had a hell of a time creating it.


Lava La Rue - Magpie

The weird and wonderful Lava La Rue is up with a track that, when I first heard it, could have sworn I have heard it before. But it was just one of those things. When you hear a track and it feels like you've been spinning it for years. This is that for me.

The wonderful use of Ace Spectrum's "I Don't Want To Play Around" is a major highlight, starting off under wraps but then having the covers whooshed off with a flair, giving way to a wavy tune via La Rue with a solid Hip-Hop beat throughout. Her roots in UK Hip-Hop are prevalent as she bars up the track, switching flows throughout.

The track is smooth with clean bass and a bridge that delves the track into psychedelia mixed with classical strings. It's unsettling at first but as it continues and elements from the first half of the track are brought back in, it becomes a bold blend that really could've killed the track but instead does the complete opposite.


Tkay Maidza - Eden

When "Last Year Was Weird Vol. 3" came across my feed in early July, I knew that Tkay Maidza would have another banger on deck somewhere in her latest EP. Trust her to do it on the first freaking track.

This song gives me a lot of imagery. The beginning with the keys and Maidza saying "Breathe" in a whispering tone both gave me a sense of being already high up. Maybe on the top of a tree, the tallest tree smack bang in the middle of a lush forest.

It takes a while for the track to ramp up but when it does - preceded by three bass thumps and then diving into this heavenly trap beat - it makes me mentally jump off the tree and just before I reach the ground, I begin to glide. Tkay has a knack for instilling imagery for me whenever I listen to her and this track does that. It just makes me feel good whenever I spin.


Laura Mvula - Sing To The Moon - 1/f Version

This is a song I never expected when this year began but with the year coming to a close I can't imagine living this year without it.

You just don't see scenarios like this happen. An artist with great work behind here, coming through with a completely new style, redoing her most (if not one of) popular track with said new style and freaking nailing it.

Similar to "Eden", this track gives me vivid imagery of a girl in space, just floating there, lost but eyes transfixed on something. The aforementioned style is 80s lean, with synths as far as the eye can see. But style aside, it's the structure of this song. Starting with what I can only call "Beep boops", then the synths come in along with Mvula's beautiful voice.

But then, that pre-chorus... An explosion of colour. We don't know what that girl is looking at but it isn't until this moment that she is watching a supernova. That pre-chorus is an audio supernova. Just a burst of life, luminescent.

The first minute of this song alone would be on this list for me but there's so much more. One more highlight is the vocal stacking throughout that just uplifts the entire track. Especially when the bridge comes and an army of Mvula's just lull you. The colour, the imagery and the confidence to take an already great song and completely redo it is astounding to think about. But here we are.


Joel Culpepper - Tears of a Crown

Ever since I got to know Friend of 5E Joel Culpepper over four years ago I have seen the man go from strength to strength. Come to now and we have here a song that perfectly exemplifies Joel Culpepper if you have never heard him before.

The sound of "Tears of a Crown" is a great example: Produced by Guy Chambers & Swindle, the track is slick with the guitar licks but combined with backing vocals and other elements, it creates a contemporary yet throwback feel. Then we throw in Culpepper and that voice that can go as deep or as high as he feels is right for the moment. (The video above exemplifies that heavily.)

But the thing that makes this track is the lyrics. It gives this song the essence of a man that's been through hell and nobody that walks past him knows about it. It's got a sadness to it but like most things in life, you got to keep it moving. He's not worthy, but somebody has to do it. There's such maturity in the songwriting that is the cherry on top of a song that has a timeless feel to it.


Ian Kelly - Soul Of A Man

Jamla Records and another Friend of 5E Ian Kelly comes in next with a "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" track "Soul Of A Man that, whilst comes and goes in just over two minutes, is packed with bars. No hook necessary.

Throw on an Eric G beat that has this outstanding sample (I think it's James Brown?) along with a mean drum package. Ian Kelly going the "all killer, no filler" route fits this track so well. Lyrics immediately fit the theme as he references the alarm clock that introduces the beat. Then going on a flow that wouldn't surprise me if he freestyled the whole thing.

The name of the track "Soul Of A Man" really encapsulates everything he raps about. Serious about his money as well as his art. Police arresting people, buying back neighbourhoods. There are plenty of artists that have approached these topics but the way Kelly weaves from one topic to the next without breaking a sweat is impressive.

Did I mention how fire that sample is?


Dave - Verdansk

Dave is back on my Songs list with a song that you could make an argument that is kind of formulaic for him. You got quintessential Dave here: The cold piano, a hard beat and a flow that he has made pretty much his own.

I would be lying if I said that there's something about this song that separates this from something like "Titanium" for example. The truth is, I couldn't care less that it can come off formulaic because the song just knocks, plain and simple.

I have always enjoyed Dave keeping it simple because his wordplay is top tier to the point where it's not boring. Of course, I can appreciate the many tracks in his now two-album run (Can say this for "Game Over" as well) that try to tell a story or evoke emotions but sometimes you just need a track to bump in the whip and "Verdansk" is one of those. Lyrics that can be read and broken down but are also just sweet to recite along with him.

I remember Dave posting a snippet of this track on Twitter and hearing the lyrics "My girl gotta be far from social, I don't wanna see her at Carni / Four-double-eight in the party, LBC how I nicked the Ferrari" and like most Dave fans, I was ready to hear that track.

And what was happening in that video? Dave, with his squad, bumping it in the whip.


Digga D & AJ Tracey - Bringing It Back

Drill has been around for a decade more or less now and I have never really been high on it. Not because I disagree with the content or any of that bollocks. I just find it hard to get into a spin consistently.

But here comes Digga D, combining forces with one of the most versatile artists in the game AJ Tracey to make "Bringing It Back" and this is probably one of my most played songs this year. The Elements & AoD went off on this beat, but it's not just the beat, it's how Digga & AJ go on the said beat.

There's a couple of moments where they are just given bass hits in unison with their bars and it's in those moments that just invite you to fist pump along with it. The track is thick and bouncy, finally a Drill track that I can spin on the regular... It only took 10 years...


K.A.A.N. - Hard To Tell

There's a running joke I say to myself. There are three things in life that are guaranteed: Death, taxes and K.A.A.N. dropping something.

Since 2015, K.A.A.N. has been consistently putting out solid work. But when there's a ton to eat, there's going to be a time where you can't truly appreciate one dish.

This is why it has taken me until now to find a K.A.A.N. track that I love to death. "Hard To Tell" comes in with what I can only call "drag into the abyss bass". The bass just gets lower and lower and once it slithers into the background we get the song in its full bloom. This is classic K.A.A.N. for me. The way he switches speeds is absurdly smooth and top that with high-class lyrics as a call to arms for all the people that want to bring that true Hip-Hop back.

I would say this is peak K.A.A.N. but that would suggest that he won't continue dropping like two albums every year...


NappyHigh - Charismatic (Feat. Memnoc, Dizzy Wright & Casey Veggies)

Other Songs Considered: "Discreet Money" & "YeYo"

Another Friend of 5E comes in with an absolute banger. A banger with a beat so clean I asked him if I could use the instrumental for my Podcast.

Ever since I got into Nappyhigh he has been one of my personal gems. One of those artists that you just know will go somewhere and you're so gassed that you are there before the true blow up. Take "Charismatic" for example. Very bright production with a ton of elements popping in and out. The keys during the floaty hook with echoes of "fly shit" & "Charismatic" are simply glorious.

And on top of one of my favourite beats of the year, we get three very distinct verses from frequent Nappyhigh collaborator Memnoc along with Dizzy Wright & Casey Veggies. One thing I love about Nappyhigh is that whenever he gets more than one rapper on his tracks, they always have their own way of tackling the beat and the variety here makes this song so damn replayable.

Forever fly shit. Forever Charismatic.


Nas - Nobody (Feat. Ms. Lauryn Hill)

I have been waiting a while to talk about this one. I knew I would like the track when I first saw the tracklist. Nas & Ms Hill have dropped heat before. But "If I Ruled The World" was a long time ago...

That's the first place I want to start: The time. Hip-Hop is nearly 50 years old, Nas is almost that too. Everyone grows and I personally feel their artistry should reflect that. Which makes this track in essence so refreshing. To have Nas talk about being too old to DM women on IG, to say his favourite part of the night is when gyal texts him to say she's home.

These are small things but you wouldn't hear this stuff on "It Was Written". Then we get the housing. Hit-Boy switching up a tad from his usual production, this time giving a smooth and soulful beat with "ooh's" in the back that always reminds me of Bobby Womack in "Across 110th Street". It's probably my favourite Hit-Boy beat to date but I haven't mentioned my main reason why. We'll get to that in a sec.

Ms Hill... If you're reading this, you had no right to spray the gun like that. One of the best verses of the year, maybe the verse of the year. Because there is nobody (no pun intended) that could say what she said on this track and for it to be profound. I would love to break the whole thing down but we got to keep moving to my favourite part of this track.

The beat switch...

This doesn't happen every time I listen, but when I'm in a certain mood and this song comes on in the Regular Rotation shuffle, that beat switch makes me melt. If you haven't gathered already. I adore this song in so many ways. From the production to the lyrics, to the long-stretching meaning for both artists involved. It's gold.


Speech - Funkin' Great (Feat. Arrested Development & Otis Mensah)

Arrested Development co-founder Speech get the gang back together for a song that, if I was a morning person, would love to wake up to.

We begin with Speech & Friend of 5E Otis Mensah bouncing off each other. Yes, the quip "you thought Drake invented melody" always gets a smirk out of me. But then the song really begins with this sound that always gives the image of the sun rising. And that essence carries me through this song. Speech & Mensah deliver solid verses in their own unique ways but the best thing about this song is the collective nature of the song.

And on top of all that. It's a song I would love to see live. The hook is beautiful and is begging to be sung by a sell-out crowd in o2 Kentish Town Forum. I will sit and wait for a Speech/Arrested Development UK Tour intently.


Jungle - Keep Moving

The penultimate track of this list is a dance number that Jungle just seems to knock out for fun. For a couple of years now they have kept me in their world of pure rhythms and tunes that make you feel good.

"Keep Moving" is my favourite of the bunch, with a wonderfully choreographed music video, the song has that rise "Funkin' Great" also had but "Keep Moving" obviously took it another direction, giving a track that is a wonderful motivator. It's annoying that most of the time I hear the track is during Peloton ads but hey, got to get that coin somehow.

Aside from that, the song is just a great tonic for all the ills of the world for me. The choir are a big highlight for me, especially when the bridge comes through and just sends you into a portal of colour as they shout "I can live with it all". A great gateway for those that haven't spun Jungle yet.


Blue Lab Beats - Blow You Away (Delilah) (Feat. Ghetto Boy)

One of my favourite producers right now finish off my Songs of '21 with an Afrobeat jam and similar to "Bringing It Back", I'm not actually into Afrobeat that much. But damn, I don't know how these guys do it but they always manage to take any element of a genre and upgrade it.

You have the Afrobeat as a foundation, but you also have these Jazz undertones that sing to me personally. The best example on this track is the horns. Whilst they're there in some way throughout, it's during the hooks that they begin to shine.

And it has to be mentioned that Ghetto Boy really ties this track together. This was my first time ever hearing him and it was a pleasant first spin. He floats on this track lyrically, his vocals are smooth and his backing vocals really add to his verses that already get the job done by themselves. This is a song guaranteed to get your hips moving.


And that, ladies & gentlemen, are my Top 15 Songs of 2021! To spin the tracks in the order I have chosen them, peep the embedded link below. And like I said in the beginning, there will be a "Chilling W/ Charlie" episode to accompany this list. So if you want to spin the songs with some added words by me, you can peep right here. Just to note, you will need a Spotify Premium account, since Spotify is how the songs are played.

Also, be sure to peep my EP & Album lists if you haven't already.


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