Image via Jayson Cash/Instagram
Shazam is one of the few non-addictive, useful apps left. The technology has been around since ancient times, and continues to improve. If you hear a song in the wild, you can pull out your phone and identify it within like three seconds.
It goes without saying that it’s gotta also be up to something nefarious. Apple wouldn’t have spent $400 billion to acquire the company in 2018 if it were just a helpful tool essential to modern functioning like the calculator app. Cataloging all recorded music seems like a bad idea if you think about it for too long. But I swear Tim Cook is not holding a little green Apple gun emoji to my Bitmoji-ed head when I tell you Shazam, for better or worse, has always been a reliable source for chance music discovery.
Except I don’t usually ever listen to the songs I Shazam. My phone just automatically saves a big list of artist names and track titles (and more! Thanks to the app’s seamless integration with Apple Music). Finding out that info is gratifying in the moment, but it’s rare that it goes beyond that.
Looking over my current list of Songs I’ve Shazammed This Year, nothing has sparked my interest so much that I’ve become a huge fan of a new artist or put any previously unheard tracks by artists I like into regular rotation. I have vague memories attached to the songs, because of where I was when I Shazammed them. None of these moments have interesting stories associated with them. I heard the songs on the radio or at a coffee shop or bar. But just seeing the song titles and the accompanying dates gets my memory gears turning. The details are unimportant, except to emphasize that everyone who uses Shazam probably experiences a similar phenomenon. The less memorable the song, the less memorable the memory attached to the song.
Listening back to my current Shazams, not all of the songs are bad. So I strung them together in a DJ megamix and put them on a YouTube video because I kept getting copyright strikes on other platforms.
Below is a list of most of the songs included in the mix. In homage to BEAT SHAZAM, a TV show I can’t believe exists and have never watched, I invite you to play along and try to identify the songs as they appear in the mix. ARE YOU SMARTER THAN AN ALGORITHM? None of us are.
Quavo – “Honey Bun”
This song came on the radio and threw me off. I’d had Drake’s voice stuck in my head, like I so often do, for the preceding few days. Walking around repeating “21, can you do something for me?” like an unwanted, trademarked TM mantra. I never listen to Drake on purpose, but when his music finds its way to me, it never leaves. So when this song came on, I had to question my reality.
Was “21, can you do something for me?” from a real Drake song or just some A.I. clip I saw on Twitter? The rapper on this song playing through the radio was not Drake, and they were not saying “21.” They were saying “Honey Bun.”
Thanks to Shazam, I learned it was Quavo, which should have been obvious. But my brain couldn’t latch onto that recognizable voice without computerized assistance. Reality is shifting too fast. I can’t identify whether an actual human or a computer imitating a human is behind the latest hit songs. I don’t want to hate too hard on the A.I. stuff either, because that kinda feels equivalent to hating on T-Pain in 2005. But authenticity is getting harder and harder to define and distinguish.
Takeoff’s death also feels like an abstract nightmare. Like it maybe didn’t happen. Couldn’t have. I know it is unavoidably real to all those who knew him, but I’ve even had this feeling about family members who have passed in the last few years. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like certain individuals are really gone until you’re hit with an unwelcome reminder that they are.
The few articles about “Honey Bun” describe it as a tribute song to Takeoff, and reference Quavo’s lyric about how he doesn’t want to hear people saying sorry for his loss. The song itself, outside of that context, doesn’t present much evidence that it’s a full-on dedication. But it is a middle-of-the-road, of-a-fleeting-moment Migos-style hit-attempt that is also another unwanted reminder that the Migos were broken up and not coming back well before the bigger, realer tragedy happened.
Now “I got a reason to slide, I got a, I got a reason to slide” is stuck in my head, which is better than whatever the human and android Drakes have said lately.
NIKO IS & Juni Ali – “Live from The Blue Note”
Whenever I think I have a grasp of the most prominent names in underground hip-hop, I discover an artist like NIKO IS. Before Shazamming, I had no idea who NIKO IS WAS.
According to my basic research, he was born in Brazil and lives in the Rio De Janeiro of the USA (Orlando). He has big hair and wears fuzzy hats. He’s on Talib Kweli’s label. The history books should be kinder to Talib than they are in the current moment. It is hard to remember that bygone era when Shazam was still on flip phones and Kanye was name-dropping Kweli on “Get ‘Em High” to pick up women. Talib is a podcaster now, to the point that both new Black Star “albums” have come out on exclusive Luminary feeds. Based on his verse on this song, he also maintains his ability to rap as good as ever over any beat, whether or not it has drums, which this one doesn’t, but another one I snuck into the mix does.
In addition to Talib, this track also features A.L., Midaz The Beast, Punchline, and Wordsmith. People you could convince me are just random results on the Wu-Tang Name Generator. This proves that niche scenes are flourishing in both physical locations and various pockets of the internet, away from the Drake riffs getting shoved into our brains. Everyone rapping is talented enough to warrant their own blog posts. When I heard this song, I think on the radio, the consistent quality of each ensuing MC was enough to Shazam it. But not enough for me to look into who any of these artists ARE. That goes to show that just being able to rap really well isn’t necessarily all it takes to be a compelling artist. The names that stick in your brain without technological assistance have much more to them than that.
Nipsey Hussle – “Keys 2 the City”
Nipsey’s voice is undeniable. His catalog is also too deep for me to be able to store every great song in my brain. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t recognize this one when I heard it and Shazammed it.
I was a casual Nipsey fan for years. Not going to lie and say I’d know every song without some help from Shazam, because I don’t, but like Shazam, he was great from the start and only got better and better. Circa 2009, his music was such a vivid depiction of life in a specific location. Back then there was probably still Mapquest. Circa 2023, Nipsey’s music is better than any navigation app.
Nipsey’s death is another obvious tragedy. He was finally getting his flowers around Victory Lap, a career-defining statement album. If a marathon needs a finish line, it should sound like that. After his passing, Nipsey’s presence remains. His soul will linger for eternity on Slauson, but it has emanated out to far-reaching areas of Los Angeles County and the wider world. His mythology, like the marathon, continues.
“Keys 2 The City” came out on The Marathon in 2010. I’d like to claim I had that on my iPod, but I don’t remember hearing this song until I Shazammed it recently. It gets hard to remember stuff like that, considering “The Marathon” is a weed brand. The song, like a short term memory primed to be wiped out by a Nipsey-themed indica, is classic and timeless.
Jayson Cash – “Last Day”
I’d never heard of Jayson Cash before. Don’t remember hearing this song in the wild or Shazamming it.
He references Nipsey in his verse. He talks about running for mayor. To bring up A.I. again, his music sounds like someone put a list of the most popular LA rappers of the past decade into a generator and asked it to make something that sounds like all of it. So it’s pretty good.
Denzel Curry – “Walkin – Key Glock remix”
This is one of those songs I knew I recognized but it didn’t sound quite right, kind of like “Honey Bun.”
I could tell it was a Denzel Curry song. I really like Denzel Curry. By “really like,” I mean I listened to Imperial a lot when it came out in 2016, and greatly enjoyed the album he put out last year the one time I listened to it. He seems to have built a unique lane for himself and established a dedicated fanbase who appreciates what he’s capable of doing.
I did not expect to hear Key Glock on this remix version, which is why I had to Shazam it. It’s an unexpected pairing that also somehow makes sense. This beat is nuts. Fitting for Denzel, but fuller and more experimental than the type of production Key Glock tends to choose.
NLE Choppa & Lil Wayne – “AIN’T GONNA ANSWER”
When I heard this one, I was amazed that a rapper whose voice I didn’t recognize was able to fanboy out over the same beat as our mutual hero. From the “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy” hook flow in 1.5x speed to the onslaught of references and allusions in the verse, NLE Choppa shows how Memphis can bounce.
Lil Wayne might be a better rapper now that he’s not declaring himself the best all the time. In his peak he got dragged down by oversaturation, expectations, and the experimentation of Rebirth. Like Talib and so many others, he’s been so damn consistent. This song is good, but the new-ish one Swizz Beatz produced where he says “All I need is a beat with a DMX sample” (I need Shazam to identify the title for me) is an all-timer.
Roddy Ricch – “Get Swept”
Roddy Ricch had so much potential. “Die Young” was one of the best songs of the last five years. His feature on Nipsey’s “Racks in the Middle” elevated the triumphant nature of the Victory Lap run to glorious heights.
There hasn’t been a Roddy Ricch full-length project, or any single, that comes close to the power of those two hooks. It’s probable that I’m discrediting him, but to clarify, this is no knock on his talent. “Get Swept” is a good example of how his quality hasn’t dipped either. He’s just fallen off my radar. I think I Shazammed this one because I thought it sounded like someone who sounded like Roddy Ricch. So I’m grateful to Shazam for making me and hopefully you listen to him again.
Che Noir & Big Ghost Ltd – “Bad Apples”
Like NIKO IS, Che Noir is another MC I knew nothing about pre-Shazam. She’s from Buffalo, apparently. She has a new album called Noir or Never.
This song is not on it.
Latto – “FTCU”
That Big Dick Energy song was one of the first songs that made me appreciate music again after 2020 ruined my mentality.
In contrast to some of the other artists discussed in this piece, Latto seems to be appropriately appreciated. Listeners haven’t dismissed her as a one-hit wonder or abandoned her. She has proven to be one of those artists who doesn’t just rap well, but raps well with personality and character and interesting musical choices. The same could be said about GloRilla.
The same is also true for Gangsta Boo, who proved all of that decades ago. Hers is another name I wish wasn’t included on a list of real human individuals who departed this realm.
Like NLE Choppa paying respects to Lil Wayne, this song celebrates Gangsta Boo’s everlasting impact and legacy in a very Memphis way.
Bun B – “In My Hand”
Don’t forget about Bun B. And actually now that I say that, I did forget to put this Bun B song that I Shazammed into the mix. Sorry Bun B.