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NPR's Bobby Carter on why a 2020 song should be included on 2021's best music lists

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

* All month, our friends at NPR Music have been rounding up the best songs of the year, but close listeners might have noticed one crucial omission.

(SOUNDBITE OF WIZKID AND TEMS SONG, "ESSENCE")

SHAPIRO: The song Essence by the Nigerian megastar Wizkid and the up-and-coming singer Tems.

BOBBY CARTER, BYLINE: If I had my way, it would have been at least in the top three.

SHAPIRO: That's Bobby Carter from NPR Music. "Essence" was a massive hit this year and a strong candidate for song of the summer, but it was technically released in the fall of 2020. Rules are rules - it can't be on any best of 2021 lists. That didn't stop Bobby from trying to make the case.

CARTER: Yes I did huff and puff with my colleagues. Like, (vocalizing). It just didn't feel right. Years down the line, we're going to remember this mistake we made (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESSENCE")

TEMS: (Singing) I feel it coming.

CARTER: My argument was, this song - it defined the year. It helped to define and shape the year. It was the first club banger as people began to go back into the clubs over the summer. It sort of signified, like, oh, things are getting back to normal. We're able to celebrate a song together again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESSENCE")

TEMS: (Singing) I tried to leave, but I can't.

CARTER: There's a back and forth between Tems and Wizkid. She had - Tems has the first verse, then Wizkid comes in. And I think that's where the magic is. And also in the hook - it's one of those hooks where it just begs for a call and response, you know? It begs for people to sing along.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESSENCE")

TEMS: (Singing) You don't need no other body. You don't need no other body. Only you fi hold my body. Only you fi hold my body.

CARTER: Wizkid - he's one of the top African stars right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESSENCE")

WIZKID: (Singing) And na me dey make you free up your mind.

CARTER: He's just one of the reigning kings in African music, which has crossed over into mainstream. So he's one of the biggest artists on the globe and really has helped to sustain the reign that African music has in pop culture.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESSENCE")

TEMS: (Singing) Baby, baby, everybody used to say - no one loves you like this. No one wants you the same way.

WIZKID: (Singing) Love 'til the morning. My head want to turn from your loving. I just want to get you beside me.

CARTER: So I think that it felt criminal not to have it on our list this year. It didn't feel right because when we look down the line, when we look down five, 10 years down the line, I think this song is going to be one of the songs that we remember that has really, really shaped and defined the year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESSENCE")

WIZKID: (Singing) Give you all you need, baby. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

TEMS: (Singing) You don't need no other body.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Bobby Carter talking about the song "Essence" by Wizkid. And tomorrow, we'll hear from more of our friends at NPR Music on the sleeper hits we missed in 2021.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ESSENCE")

TEMS: (Singing) Only you fi hold my body. You don't need no other body.

WIZKID: (Singing) Baby girl, I want you there. Girl, I want you there. Promise to treat your love fair. Whoa, whoa. Whoa, whoa. When we touch, how we connect. Whoa, whoa. Whoa, whoa. Said this love, have no regret. Whoa, whoa. Yeah, yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.