Slate music: December Spotify playlist for Slate Plus members.

Slate Staff Pick the Best Songs From December

Slate Staff Pick the Best Songs From December

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Jan. 5 2015 10:51 AM
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Listen to Our December Music Roundup

Warm up with our winter playlist, exclusively for Slate Plus members.

Nicki Minaj, Charli XCX, and J. Cole
Nicki Minaj, Charli XCX, and J. Cole.

Photo illustration by Ellie Skrzat. Photos by Jason Merritt/Getty Images, John Parra/Getty Images for iHeartMedia, and Larry Busacca/Getty Images.

Slate’s Brow Beat team covers the latest pop music daily, from Miguel to Madonna to St. Vincent. Slate’s critics dig into the state of music: Carl Wilson’s album reviews; Chris Molanphy’s in-depth Billboard chart analysis; Slate pop critic Jack Hamilton’s sharp Cultureboxes. And, in December, Slate rolled out its annual Music Club, featuring a murderers’ row of music journalists who each brought their unique take on the year 2014 in pop music.

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 this month on Slate, but staffers will share a few favorites we might not have covered—yet.

J. Cole – “Be Free” (Letterman version)
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J. Cole’s latest album earned him the best-selling first week for a rap album of 2014.  But when he appeared on Letterman on Dec. 10, he chose to perform a song he quietly released this past summer in memory of Michael Brown. Cole delivers a powerful brand-new verse that proves, yet again, why he’s one of the most important rappers of his generation. —Dee Lockett, editorial assistant

Charli XCX – “Famous”
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I’ve been a huge fan of Charli XCX since discovering her debut album last year. And although I may still prefer the ethereal Charli of True Romance, I’m overjoyed at the (well-earned) pop-stardom that has been bestowed upon her. On her long-awaited sophomore album Sucker, “Famous” jumps out at me as a playful, poppy romp that epitomizes the London queen’s new style. —Abby McIntyre, copy editor

D’Angelo – “The Charade”
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It’s hard to choose just one song from D’Angelo’s shocking, 15-years-in-the-making third album, but with each listen “The Charade” feels more and more like its mission statement. The warm, glowing guitars, the churning rhythm section, the perfect vocal performance; “perpetrators beware/ say a prayer if you dare/ for the believers” sounds like Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” transposed for a new generation. To my ears, this is the only music for the end of a year like 2014. —Jack Hamilton, pop critic

Mary J. Blige – “When You’re Gone”
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There’s a specific quality about today’s British R&B that’s both soulful and timeless. You hear it in Adele, Sam Smith, and Amy Winehouse, and Mary J. Blige—soulful and timeless herself—is now tapping into that London sound. “When You’re Gone,” a quiet measure of strength in the face of an absentee lover, is the perfect example of why Mary should’ve recorded in England years ago. —Lockett

Nicki Minaj ft. Beyoncé – “Feeling Myself”
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Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint might get docked for being uneven, but why should we punish Minaj when her standout songs are this good? An unofficial sequel to the “Flawless” remix, “Feeling Myself” has the reigning queens of hip-hop and R&B teaming up at the top of their games, with each getting their own literally show-stopping moments: Beyoncé reminds us that her self-titled release “stopped the world” (“ ... carry on” she permits after a brief pause), and Minaj brings the beat to a halt to point out that “just on this song alone, bitch is on her fourth flow.” If you were this good, wouldn’t you get off on your greatness, too? —Forrest Wickman, staff writer

Tink ft. Charlamagne Tha God – “Around the Clock”
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I first heard about Chicago teen rapper Tink when she teamed up with Sleigh Bells for the fresh and fun “That Did It” last month. I’ve been craving more from her ever sense. Her latest track delivers with crafty rhymes over a bouncy Timbaland beat. —McIntyre

Nicki Minaj – “Four Door Aventador”
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In my track-by-track breakdown of Nicki Minaj’s latest, I noted her Biggie-esque flow on standout “Four Door Aventador.” But she does more than just evoke the late Brooklyn rap icon; she’s inserting herself into that golden age New York state of mind, with references to Nas and Belly and outdated slang (“celly”). But if you think she’s paying homage, think again. This is Nicki’s way of declaring to the world that she’s the new Biggie and the ruler of New York, no matter what Kendrick thinks. —Lockett