Baltimore music made its excellence known in 2017 through captivating music videos, fully conceptualized albums, free mixtapes, earworm singles and the myriad other ways the internet has made music consumption feel like a never-ending pursuit.
And when the songs are this good — embedding their nuances and most obvious thrills into our heads long after they end — that’s a journey we’ll happily embrace, year after year.
Once again, we chose 30 tracks from Baltimore artists that stood out most this year, presented below in no particular order. (Warning: Some songs contain explicit language.)
Bandhunta Izzy, “Gummo Freestyle” (D1): While we await Izzy’s “Code Blue” mixtape, this freestyle over 6ix9ine’s rising street-rap hit is holding us over just fine. It’s a classic case of a more talented rapper taking a track and improving it with unrelenting bars of intimidation and swag.
Lafayette Gilchrist, “Blues for Freddie Gray” (Manta Ray Records): Mixing go-go rhythms with the jazz piano playing of Baltimore’s Lafayette Gilchrist, this lively, horns-filled track finds guest vocalist Brooks Long, another Baltimorean, singing “I want a justice and a peace that’s made to last and last.”
Tate Kobang, “North North (Still Hangin’)” (D1/300): Some wish he’d make “Bank Rolls 2.0,” a reprise of his breakout song, but Tate Kobang has shown he’s on his own path. This off-kilter single spawned many social media videos of locals dancing like Tate, once again proving the young rapper knows many ways to make his city move.
Us and Us Only, “Lawn” (Topshelf)
Future Islands, “North Star” (4AD): A standout from April’s album, “The Far Field,” “North Star” is the sound of the synth-pop trio in full command of their danceable pop sensibilities. The melancholy of lead singer Samuel Herring audibly aches, yet it’s impossible to not bop along to the beat.
Read more: 10 Baltimore musicians on the rise »
President Davo, “Born in the Trenches” (self-released): The rapper’s natural penchant for melodic, auto-tuned crooning reaches a new level of emoting on this new single, where Davo sings, “We spent so long in the trenches, we feel like we belong in the trenches.”
Colada, “Stupid (feat. TT the Artist)” (Zoo on Mars): This new R&B singer-songwriter sings sweetly about a crush over strings and 808 drums provided by veteran Baltimore Club producer Mighty Mark. The video, featuring Al Rogers Jr., only adds to the song’s charms.
Cardinal Shehan School Choir, “Rise Up” (self-released)
Creek Boyz, “With My Team” (300): The Baltimore County rap group made every line of their breakout track catchy like one long chorus, and months later, it still sounds fresh. We prefer the original version, and not the one released last month that sadly scrubbed “Baltimore” from the hook.
Natural Velvet, “Kristina” (Friends): Just listen to those dreamy, reverb-soaked guitars — they’re alluring enough to drawn a listener in. From there, bassist/singer Corynne Ostermann keeps ears hooked with vocals that haunt and entice in equal measure.
Letitia VanSant, “Gut It to the Studs” (self-released): There’s something reassuring about the title track from this local folk singer-songwriter’s new album, due in February. It’s VanSant’s conviction for tearing it all down if it leads to what she’s after, or as she sings in the chorus, “Is it wrong to want what I want? / To find what’s right gotta gut it to the studs.”