Slate’s Brow Beat team covers the latest pop music daily, from Stevie Nicks to Run the Jewels to Prince. And Slate’s critics dig into the state of music: Carl Wilson’s album reviews, Chris Molanphy’s in-depth Billboard chart analysis on Brow Beat, Slate pop critic Jack Hamilton’s sharp Cultureboxes. And last month, Slate contributor Douglas Wolk examined the portrayal of James Brown’s revolutionary music in his biopic, Get On Up.
But if you love music, you want more. To help, we’re creating a monthly Spotify playlist exclusively for Slate Plus members. Here, we’ll not only catch you up on the best songs you might’ve missed that month on Slate, but staffers will share a few favorites we might not have covered—yet.
Sure, Killer Mike's furious song about police brutality and dirty cops came out in 2012, but the issues at play, sadly, don't seem to have gone away in August 2014. And this was the month much of America discovered Michael Render, as in op-eds and on cable news he provided a welcome voice of reason—and anger. —Dan Kois, culture editor
Ariana Grande’s sophomore album, My Everything, is one of my favorite projects so far this year. As such, really any of its tracks could’ve landed on this playlist, but I chose to spotlight Grande’s collaboration with Cashmere Cat because it’s the kind of song that would work just as well in the bedroom as it would at a Labor Day weekend party. It’s an effortlessly seductive, polished, mature pop song that will hopefully make a Grande fan out of people who previously questioned whether her music is for them. Trust me, it is. —Dee Lockett, editorial assistant
I don’t know where this guy came from, but I do know that I was floored by this song. In fact, I imagine it’s the kind of song I would listen to while lying on the floor, on a really soft carpet, after one too many glasses of wine. Hakim’s voice is smooth and soulful, simultaneously retro and fresh, but perhaps the best thing about the song is how much space he leaves between the notes. —Eliza Berman, culture intern
If you’re not yet familiar with FKA Twigs (which you should be), then “Pendulum” is probably the best way to ease you into her genre-twisting sound that, on one track, might sound like an operatic aria and, on another, like the soundtrack to a horror film. And then on “Pendulum,” she demonstrates her unconventional take on what pop music is capable of sounding like in 2014. That’s the beauty in Twigs’ artistry: It’s unpredictable but always consistently damn good. — Lockett
If you are in the mood for marimbas, here is a neat song with marimbas: “Black Lemon,” by Generationals. Laid-back, a little wistful, perfect for the waning of the August sun. Blare it from a rooftop somewhere with citrusy cocktail in hand. —Katy Waldman, staff writer
I previously called this song one of the best pop tracks of 2014 so far, and I stand by that high praise two weeks after hearing it. Ware also appeared on last month’s music playlist, which should give you some idea of just how good she is. And, honestly, if this soaring emotional ballad (co-written by Ed Sheeran) can’t make Jessie Ware finally blow up in the U.S., I really don’t what will. —Lockett
Though “Quarterback” was released in the spring, it’s only this month that the song—the most gut-wrenching I’ve heard this year—has begun to get the attention it deserves. Inspired by the rape cases in Steubenville, Ohio, at Florida State, and at Vanderbilt, the lyrics use the power of suggestion to convey the horror and tragedy of these familiar stories without leering, preaching, or falling into melodrama. Crucially, the song puts the moral weight in the end on the listener: “Who you gonna blame,” Isabella asks, “the star of the game or the no name girl in the freshman class?” —Forrest Wickman, staff writer
This is the type of song that makes me hate to have to soon say goodbye to summer. It’s breezy and chock-full of synths that explode in its killer hook. The song’s from a young, mostly unknown artist who we don’t yet know all that much about aside from the impressive roster of collaborators she’s apparently got in her back pocket (Charli XCX, Cashmere Cat, Passion Pit, etc.) and her debut EP. But I’m certainly excited to know more. —Lockett
Now would be a great time to impress you with my thinking-girl-quirky musical taste, except that I think I misplaced it somewhere. I’m stuck on “Bang Bang” by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj. It’s the last sugary gulp of summer, even though Ariana alludes to schoolyard love. (Actually, she’ll “show you how to graduate”—which means she’ll, like, tutor you in math, I think.) The song is bold, snazzy, and a great showcase for three talented female artists working together—as with “Lady Marmalade,” part of the fun is listening along and figuring out who’s belting what. —Waldman
Beyoncé ft. Nicki Minaj, “Flawless (Remix)”
When Beyoncé performed “Flawless” at last Sunday’s MTV VMAs, everything about the moment—especially this—was epic. But, I confess, I felt slightly let down when Nicki Minaj didn’t storm the stage to join Queen Bey for their, well, flawless remix that punctuates just how dominate a force these two women are in today’s music culture. And it’s hands down, to quote Beyoncé, the grimiest song I’ve heard all year. That’s because it includes what is probably Beyoncé’s most zero-fucks-given line ever: “Of course sometimes shit go down when it’s a billion dollars on an elevator.” Somehow, I imagine that’s what it really feels like to wake up and look like Beyoncé. —Lockett