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Aux Cord Chronicles

Aux Cord Chronicles XIX: The NBA Finals playlist

For the first time, we let the people decide

The first 18 installments of our Aux Cord Chronicles have all been inside jobs, meaning all the songs were chosen by me and other Undefeated staff members. But as the old saying goes, the 19th time is the charm. This time, we let the people play the role of executive producer.

For Game 3 of the NBA Finals, The Undefeated traveled to New York City to take part in the ESPN House atop Pier 17 in the Seaport District. The event served as both a watch party and a 2 Chainz concert. We also set up a voting booth where people could vote for their favorite songs of 2019. There were 23 songs on the ballot — a more select group than the number of Democrats running for president!

The top 10 vote-getters make up our playlist for the last game(s) of the NBA Finals. This is an Aux Cord for the people. By the people. It’s democracy at its finest.

DJ Khaled feat. John Legend & Nipsey Hussle — “Higher”

Lookin’ back at my life make my heart race/ Dance with the devil and test our faith/ I was thinkin’ chess moves, but it was God’s grace …

Of all the cuts on DJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd, this one stands out the most, and not just because of the tragedy around Hussle’s passing. “Higher” is a powerful ode to redemption, love, maturity and hope. Much like hearing Biggie Smalls on “Victory” and “Young G’s,” Hussle on “Higher” will remain a somber reminder that the South Central legend was only improving as an artist when he was taken from us.

Nipsey Hussle feat. Roddy Ricch & hit-boy — “Racks In The Middle

Damn, I wish my n—a Fatts was here/ How you die at 30-something after banging all them years?/ Grammy-nominated, in the sauna sheddin’ tears/ All this money, power, fame and I can’t make you reappear/ But I don’t wipe ’em though/ We just embrace the only life we know/ If it was me, I would tell you, ‘N—a, live your life and grow’ …

Released only weeks before his death, Hussle’s final single (as the lead artist) is hauntingly beautiful. From Roddy Ricch’s melodic chorus to Hussle’s narration, the song’s highest point is, without question, its second verse, where Hussle reflects on the murder of close friend/business partner Stephen “Fatts” Donelson. “Live your life and grow” was Hussle’s farewell to the community he gave his life protecting.

DaBaby — “Suge

Her boyfriend be hatin’ and callin’ her a groupie/ Just ’cause she like all of my music/ She’ll send me a text and then delete the message/ He tryna find out, it’s confusing …

Suge Knight’s name is buzzing in the streets like it’s 1996. OK, not exactly. But the breakout artist of 2019, DaBaby, has one of the biggest songs in America, titled after the once universally feared Death Row Records impresario. The upbeat, raucous lead single from the engrossing Baby on Baby — one of the year’s best projects, mind you — is currently at No. 9 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

J. Cole — “Middle Child”

I’m dead in the middle of generations/ I’m little bro and big bro all at once/ Just left the lab with young 21 Savage/ I’m ’bout to go and meet Jigga for lunch …

The unofficial anthem of NBA All-Star Weekend is still a fan favorite. For good reason, too. Now if we could get that Revenge of the Dreamers III album — the same one for which I never received an invite to the recording sessions. Not that I’m still salty or anything.

Beyoncé — “Before I Let Go”

I pull to Coachella (Pull up)/ In boots with the goose feathers (Pull up)/ I brought the squad with me (I got the squad)/ Black on black bandannas (I got the squad)/ D’usse and champagne …

From a musical perspective, there aren’t many more enjoyable moments of being black in America than hearing the opening chords of the 1981 classic “Before I Let Go” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. So Beyoncé had huge shoes to fill remaking the song. Yet, like always, she delivered in a mammoth way with her Homecoming live album from her impenetrable 2018 Coachella performance.

YG feat. Tyga & Jon Z — “Go Loko”

“We from the West Coast. It’s a majority Latinos and s— over there. You know what I’m sayin? So I think that’s what inspired Mustard to do it ’cause he know we could do a record like that and it wouldn’t be disrespectful or nothing.” — YG

YG and DJ Mustard teamed to deliver the former’s My Krazy Life, which will go down as one of the standout projects of the decade. Their newest collaboration, 4REAL 4REAL, may never find itself on the levels of adulation as its musical prophyte, but it is quietly YG’s best full-length project since then. “Go Loko” just feels like summer, and in hip-hop, that’s some of the highest praise one can receive.

Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus — “Old Town Road (Remix)”

I got the horses in the back …

Objectively, this is the biggest song of the year. One that arrives with both controversy and a co-sign from one of country music’s best-known names. But sooner or later, questions will surface around whether Lil Nas X can do it again and avoid the one-hit wonder curse. Until that time comes, though, don’t expect Nas X to slow down promoting it anytime soon. Nor should he.

Khalid — “Talk”

Can we just talk? Can we just talk/ Talk about where we’re going/ Before we get lost, lend me your thoughts/ Can’t get what we want without knowing …

The quality of Khalid’s Free Spirit was certainly debatable. But the project’s lead single has been a mainstay at day parties, brunches and kickbacks for weeks now.

Cardi B AND Bruno Mars — “Please Me”

If you can’t sweat the weave out you shouldn’t even be out …

Cardi B pulled out of touring with Bruno Mars last fall after giving birth to her and Offset’s daughter, Kulture, in July. The two superstars combined earlier this year with a hit that probably would’ve been even bigger had it been attached to an official project.

Tyler, the Creator — “Earfquake”

’Cause you make my earth quake/ Oh, you make my earth quake/ Riding around, your love is shaking me up/ And it’s making my heart break …

Tyler, the Creator’s IGOR album is No. 1, and DJ Khaled is so upset about it he’s reportedly planning a lawsuit against Billboard. The loquacious DJ says Billboard withheld sales figures that would’ve had him at the top spot. But the truth is the truth: Tyler, the Creator’s album is phenomenal and deserved the honor. “Earfquake” is Tyler’s smoothest ditty since 2017’s “Boredom.”

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.