Last week, MTV News kicked off our countdown of the Top 25 Songs of 2010 , a list that’s already featured the likes of Rick Ross and Robyn, Lady Gaga and Kanye West , to name just a few. On Monday, we began rolling out our Top 10 — starting with Gaga’s “Telephone” and rolling on to Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie.”
Now, we’re set to unveil our pick for #8 … Jay-Z’s “On to the Next One,” a diabolical track that floored pretty much everybody, thanks in no small part to its snarl, its swagger and, yes, its sorta-Satanic video too.
First things first: Yes, this song is from an album that came out in 2009. And, yes, it was technically released to radio in December of that same year. No, it didn’t match the chart-topping success of its predecessor, the world-uniting “Empire State of Mind.” In fact, it didn’t even come close. And, frankly, with its leering, inky backbeat and macabre music video, it confounded many of Jay-Z’s most ardent supporters. So why are we still talking about it at the end of 2010? Well, why not?
Because despite everything we just mentioned, and no matter what the detractors had to say, no one can deny the fact that “On to the Next One” is a jaw-dropping piece of work. From Swizz Beatz’s serpentine track — all fits and starts, rewinds and fast forwards (and Justice samples) — to Jay’s deft, defiant wordplay (“N—as want my old sh–/ Buy my old album”) to Sam Brown’s video, which had the world convinced that Jigga was either A) a Satanist, B) a member of the Illuminati, or C) both, there wasn’t a more purposefully diabolical song released by a major-label artist this year. Not even Kanye could match its power, no matter how many King Crimson samples he threw into the mix.
Because, like the title implies, “On to the Next One” is Jay-Z distancing himself from the pack, kissing the past (and his critics) goodbye and moving boldly — probably blindly — into the future. He’s over throwbacks and Auto-Tune and Cristal, and you should be, too, mostly because hip-hop needs you to be. He’s not just a rapper, he’s a cultural ambassador … and this song is proof. There’s nothing about it that’s easy to digest, but more often than not, the important songs — the necessary ones — aren’t meant to be swallowed in one sitting. They’re designed to be gnawed on, to agitate and anger and, ultimately, inspire. This is how revolutions begin and pearls are made, after all.
Of course, leading a movement can be a messy affair, and Jay caught it from all sides thanks to the video for “On to the Next One,” an arty, black-and-white thing that combined cocksure swagger with images of crucifixes and bullets, Damien Hirst homages and even, perhaps, a baphomet or two. It is not, shall we say, your traditional hip-hop clip, and because of that (months after its release), Jigga was branded all sorts of nasty things, to the point that he felt compelled to address his supposed secret-society leanings on “Free Mason,” a devilish track he cut with Rick Ross . But even then, as he was (in theory) acknowledging the naysayers, he was telling them to f— off too. Take note: He said he was amazing, not a Mason.
So hate if you want to. Whisper as loud as you’d like. Jay doesn’t care. With “On to the Next One,” he’s moved beyond your earthly concerns. You can drag your feet if you’d like, but eventually, you’ll be where he’s at. Only, by that time, he’ll be somewhere else entirely. That’s what the greats do, after all: They destroy, they rebuild and then they move on to something completely new. So, in a way, it makes sense that it took nearly a year for everyone to catch on to a song like this. In fact, we’re willing to bet that’s exactly how Jay-Z planned it. Kind of makes you want to invest in some white Louis boat shoes, doesn’t it?
Where would you place Jay’s “On to the Next One” among the top songs of 2010? Let us know in the comments!
MTV News’ Top 25 Songs of 2010 countdown continues. Make sure to keep checking back to see what song we’ve named #1, and don’t forget to share your picks with us in the comments below!