2016, we're ready to say goodbye. In almost every way, you were a shit year, for reasons we're not going to get into. But you know what they are. Even some of our favorite musicians fell victim to your evil ways, either in death or what feels like inexplicable betrayal. Luckily, there were plenty of bright spots during these 365 pieces of shit.
This year, we decided to stick to one song per album, with the exception of "Pick Up The Phone," which appeared on multiple projects. We did this simply to spread the love and highlight the variety of talented artists and the diversity of good music in 2016, but it definitely caused some heated internal arguments.
We started this list halfway through the year, and almost everything has changed since then. And when we look back on this list in six more months, we'll probably want to revise it again. These days, that's just the way things go. Everything is in a constant state of change and discord, and you can either roll with it, pointlessly try to fight it, or get on Twitter and yell about how pissed off you are about it.
Here are the best songs of 2016. See you on Twitter.
50. Drake ft. Wizkid & Kyla - "One Dance"
Some songs take time to become a hit single, while others need but a few seconds to make listeners fall in love. Drake’s single “One Dance” took off almost immediately. On Views, Drake took inspiration from several genres and various countries to create an album that reflects the cultural melting pot that is his home of Toronto.
In the past we’ve heard Drake take turns with songs inspired by dancehall, R&B, Southern rap, West Coast rap, and even New York boom-bap. But “One Dance” was the first time we’d heard Drake take a step towards embracing African sounds and Afrobeat rhythms. The way the song rocketed to the top of the Billboard chart reflected the mainstream music world’s changing taste and willingness to accept new sounds.
The addition of Nigerian artist Wizkid’s vocals, and a newly sung version of London singer Kyla's 2008 track "Do You Mind" on the chorus, helped to complete this cultural blend. As a result, Drake created a record that would be not only globally accepted, but loved.—Adrienne Black
49. Starrah - "Rush"
Starrah is one of the most talented and exciting artists we discovered in 2016. The L.A.-based singer and songwriter already has hits to her name, even if it isn't her song—Starrah helped write Rihanna's "Needed Me," Travis Scott and Young Thug's "Pick Up The Phone," Kevin Gates' "2 Phones," and Jeremih's "Pass Dat."
Still, we can't get enough of her solo work on "Rush." Her voice floats over a brilliantly bubbly beat from Retro Future, delivering a sticky sweet hook and coming with a carefree energy and genuine sense of fun that so much contemporary music is lacking.
"My music is an ode to youth, and I wanted to make a song that captured that," Starrah told us. Whatever your situation, whatever your mood, put "Rush" on and enjoy three minutes of summer escapism.—Alex Gardner
48. NxWorries - "Scared Money"
When Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge teamed up as NxWorries last year to release "Suede," it was immediately obvious that the duo had too much chemistry to be contained in one single. Thankfully, they returned this fall with their full Yes Lawd! album, packed with a string of addicting tracks. One of the standouts, "Scared Money," features .Paak and Knxwledge doing what they do best—blending their complementary styles together for a soulful, timeless record.—Adrienne Black
47. Yung Lean - "Miami Ultras"
Yung Lean recently shared that he had been going through personal troubles while creating his second studio album, Warlord. Nowhere are his troubles more apparent than on the dramatic closer, "Miami Ultras," the most transformative and revealing track of Leandoer's career thus far.
It goes without saying that the production on the track, handled by Yung Sherman and Yung Gud, is impeccable, but what "Miami Ultras" does best is prove that Lean is far more of an all-around artist than initially thought. There's a vision here, and it's far darker than anything he's released before, summarizing all that's changed about him since the release of Unknown Memory.
When we spoke to Lean earlier this year, he said the release was about growth, and "Miami Ultras" is perhaps the best example of that growth. "I take what I got, I live till it stops," he shouts on the hook, reiterating that he'll continue to make music until he's in the ground.—Joe Price
46. Liss - "Sorry"
This Danish quartet is the definition of raw talent. Liss make songs packed with polished, emotive pop hooks delivered with a wisdom that stretches well beyond their teenage years. Musicality bursts from the seams of their music, songs replete with riffy instrumentation that recalls the glam-pop '80s and soulful vocalists like Frank Ocean in equal measure. Lead singer Søren Holm has the kind of voice you can spot immediately.
They're still young, but these XL signees have a hit on their hands with "Sorry." It's heartfelt and romantic, but comes with an undeniably exasperated message: "'Sorry is about different ways to save a relationship and make it work," the band told us. "But it doesn’t work—because what really needs to be done is to speak about the problems face to face."—Graham Corrigan
45. Ro Ransom - "Doppelgänger"
Ro Ransom described "Doppelgänger" best when he told us, "Love is complicated. Loss of love is equally as complicated, and quite nuanced. Not everybody has the ability to look directly into the broken mirror.”
"Doppelgänger" is able to capture all of the angst and confusion that comes with lost love, yet the mystery boy somehow turns it into one of the most fun songs of the year. Ro provides an incredible melody over light production, and the drop at 3:30 will get you dancing with strangers on the subway.—John Walaszek
44. Bon Iver - "33 'GOD'"
Five years removed from the previous Bon Iver record, 22, A Million is reinvigorating. Full of patchwork structures and the most colorful production of Justin Vernon’s career, the album sees Vernon crafting his own beautiful little worlds with a completely different set of tools.
Perhaps the most stark moment on the album is “33 ‘GOD’,” which opts for the outright bombast of drums, samples, and a whole lot of vocal effects. Despite being his shortest Bon Iver album thus far, 22, A Million is full of moments like these, speeding through his most bustling creation yet.—Joe Price
43. Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert - "Bad and Boujee"
With an intro that inspired glorious memes, Migos came through and set September alight with "Bad and Boujee." Finished off by a typically bouncy Lil Uzi Vert verse and produced by Metro Boomin, this track is really all about Offset. He holds down the hook and the first verse, and helped power the slow-burning online hit into the Billboard top 30.
Rain drops, drop tops...—Alex Gardner
42. Nao - "Girlfriend"
When Nao spoke to Annie Mac about her single "Girlfriend," she told the radio host, "We've gone for it this time." And when you listen to that hook, it's be hard to disagree. The track pairs sultry production with Nao's unique, soulful voice in a way that is bigger and bolder than anything we've heard from her before. The verses are tighter, the chorus is more impactful, and her songwriting is even more confident. It's the type of song that not only makes you want to listen to the rest of her album, but suggests Nao will be a ahead of the curve in the pop pack for years to come.—Katie K.
41. ScHoolboy Q ft. Kanye West - "THat Part"
2016 saw an influx of Kanye West features, but few of them came close to his appearance on “THat Part.” It’s not that he steals the show, as ScHoolboy Q definitely sets the tone of the track and leads the way for ‘Ye, but the energy he brings is just a step above. Kanye sounds legitimately excited to get on a track with Q, and the two rappers make for an incredibly compelling duo, bringing out the best of each other for one of the most fun cuts on Blank Face.—Joe Price
40. Mabel - "Thinking Of You"
For those of us that miss pop music with courage, Mabel breezed into 2016 like a guardian angel. "Thinking Of You" is pure synth-pop perfection, a heartsick love ballad with the big budget production to land a serious emotional wallop. Those strings! That falsetto! When Mabel sings, "And it isn't like me to be insecure / What have you done to my mind?," you can feel her hurt bleeding through the speakers. It's a fittingly massive sequel to last year's "Know Me Better," and serves as further proof that when Mabel releases a song, you can be sure it's a polished, carefully arranged product.—Graham Corrigan
39. Isaiah Rashad ft. Kendrick Lamar - "Wat's Wrong"
No matter how good Isaiah Rashad's music is or how famous his guests are, his music always feels criminally underrated. One of TDE's youngest signees draws his power from understatement, subtlety, and timing rather than bluster, and it resulted this year in the incredible The Sun's Tirade.
It's an album with plenty of standout features from the likes of Syd, Jay Rock, and SZA, but the best moment comes on "Wat's Wrong." Rashad goes head-to-head with team captain Kendrick Lamar, and results are staggering—both rappers drop scorching verses over Al B. Smoov and D. Sanders' smoky, twisting production. Kendrick imagines a destructive stay at the Trump Tower and shares some wisdom with Rashad, a stirring moment of leadership from the world's best rapper.
When you hear it alongside Rashad's own verses—a continually confused love affair with pills and drugs—the weight of the song comes crashing down. Sometimes I get so ahead of myself...—Graham Corrigan
38. Denzel Curry - "ULT"
Denzel Curry isn’t one to waste time, and he makes that clear on the opening track of Imperial. It's full lyrical speed ahead on "ULT," and it sets the tone for the rest of the album beautifully. Proving his worth as a lyricist and as one of the most technically impressive rappers of the year, “ULT” sees Curry laying all his cards down before flipping the table over and slapping you in the face. There’s a lot to process on “ULT,” but above all else, it’s just an incredible exhibition of his showmanship and technical skills.—Joe Price
37. Kaytranada ft. Craig David - "Got It Good"
Kaytranada has come a long way from transforming mid-tempo R&B records with his party ready remixes. Longtime fans and recent supporters can all agree that Kaytranada’s growth within the past year has been clear, and it was all building up to one moment. In June, the Montreal native finally released his debut album 99.9%.
Though his production remains the crucial core, each song continues to showcase Kaytranada’s special ability to bring out the best in a featured vocalist. For “GOT IT GOOD,” Kay linked up with UK garage legend Craig David and the results are as great as we all dreamed they would be. Kaytranada offers up production that is equal parts bouncy and silky-smooth. When combined with David’s voice, it feels like the two were destined to make music together.—Adrienne Black
36. Sampha - "Blood On Me"
Sampha's debut album Process will come out in February 2017, ending a multi-year wait for those fans of the British singer and producer who are eager to see how his undeniable songwriting talents are used across a full-length project. "Blood On Me" was the second single after "Timmy's Prayer," and it's an urgent, vivid song that grabs hold as soon as Sampha's voice first comes in.
"My heart’s thumping," Sampha sings. "I swear they smell the blood on me / I hear them coming for me." It's raw and emotional, and his album can't come soon enough—Alex Gardner
35. 2 Chainz ft. Gucci Mane & Quavo - "Good Drank"
2 Chainz was everywhere in 2016—but it's one thing to churn out slew of projects and guest features. What's really impressive about Chainz's year is that most of his output was really, really good. One of the highlights from his busy year is "Good Drank," a track that features fellow Atlanta rappers Quavo and Gucci Mane. Together, the trifecta trade extravagant verses over smooth, laid back production, which comes courtesy of Mike Dean. It's not the typical, booming, bass-heavy banger you might expect from the three of them, and honestly, that's what makes it great.—Katie Kelly
34. Danny Brown ft. Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul, and Kendrick Lamar - "Really Doe"
Danny Brown is at his best when he's wilding out over a gritty, menacing beat, and "Really Doe" proves that's as true in 2016 as it was on XXX. Joined by Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt, Brown and crew bring sharp lyricism and a tenacious flow to Black Milk's dark, slapping production. It's as fun as it is intense, the perfect dynamics for a Danny Brown track.—Katie Kelly
33. James Vincent McMorrow - "Rising Water"
Following 2014’s Post Tropical, an album full of delicate indie-folk arrangements, James Vincent McMorrow took us by surprise with We Move’s lead single, “Rising Water.” Co-produced by Frank Dukes, Two Inch Punch, and Nineteen85 (a trio of producers with a background in hip-hop and ties to OVO), “Rising Water” finds McMorrow breaking free of any preconceptions he’d built around himself with a little help of deceptively meaty basslines—without sacrificing any of the beauty found on his first two records.—Eric Skelton
32. Smino - "blkjuptr"
Smino blacked out on “blkjptr,” a single-verse burst of dense rhymes and melodic bounce that ends on a high note. The soul-searching spitter hails an Uber to Jupiter as he slam dunks an assist from producer-in-crime Monte Booker. Together, the two friends marry syllables and drums, halting each animated line before unraveling into what follows. Lyrical gymnastics rarely sound this good.—Alex Siber
31. Francis and the Lights ft. Bon Iver - "Friends"
When Francis Starlite entered the public consciousness on Chance The Rapper’s buttery Coloring Book track “Summer Friends” in May, some uneducated listeners asked why Chance got “Bon Iver lite” for his mixtape. Two months later, Starlite got the last laugh with the release of one of 2016’s prettiest songs, “Friends,” featuring Mr. Justin Vernon himself (who revealed he was inspired by Francis, not the other way around).
“Friends” also served as the basis for one of Kanye West’s most coherent tweets in recent memory when he called it his favorite song of the year. We can’t find much to argue with there.—Eric Skelton
30. 6LACK - "Prblms"
Torn by the fame-chasing greed of a significant other, 6LACK turns to the bottle. The runaway hit from the Atlanta artist's FREE 6LACK album is an interpersonal crossroads disguised as a victory lap, and it crowned him a voice of the future. He flicks dirt off his shoulder, firing vindictive, spiteful shots at the woman who expected him to gift her the sky, yet he never quite shakes the temptation of looking back. Sometimes knowing it wasn’t meant to be isn’t enough to forgive and forget.—Alex Siber
29. Skepta - "Man (Gang)"
On Konnichiwa, an album that has caused too many mosh pits to count, "Man (Gang)" has emerged as one of the wildest moments. Whether it's at a Skepta show or even in a club, that Queens of the Stone Age guitar sample should tell you that things are about to get crazy, but quite apart from its effect on a room full of ravers, "Man" is another affirming track which hammers home the importance of loyalty, friendship, and self-belief.
Konnichiwa took Skepta to another level and the huge Alexandra Palace show was a beautiful way to cap off the year, but all the success seems to come back to this almost zen-like state that he's achieved. Don't focus on trying to compete with others, he explained on Instagram when celebrating his album going gold in the UK, just be the best version of yourself that you can be.—Alex Gardner
28. Jon Waltz - "Riot"
"Riot" is the first offering from Jon Waltz's debut album, which is almost two years in the making. The patience and dedication Waltz has demonstrated for his music has paid off. "I had a moment last week where I said to myself, 'This really sounds like the song I needed to hear when I was younger,'" Waltz told Fader about how "Riot" came together. But this isn't only a song for a young Jon Waltz. "Riot" is a timeless track that can be enjoyed be anyone, and it's a promising sign of things to come from a young artist who's hitting his stride.—John Walaszek
27. Kamaiyah - "How Does It Feel"
Every year there are a few songs that completely take over my life. I hear them in my head all day, set them as my morning alarm, and run them back obsessively on the way into work. The fever usually lasts for a few days before I have to detox, but "How Does It Feel" lasted a full two weeks.
Kamaiyah's breakout song led us to her equally strong A Good Night in the Ghetto tape, and this is the undeniable highlight. She's so hungry here, so focused—"if fame is the goal, we can't get along"—and absolutely decimates the hook, with more a little help from wild, euphoric production from CT Beats.
"How Does It Feel" packs the feeling of being a young struggling artist into a neat 2:38, catapulted Kamaiyah out of obscurity, and (hopefully) got her rich. How does it feel?—Graham Corrigan
26. Maggie Rogers - "Alaska"
It took an NYU senior from rural Maryland to remind the music world that our natural world is worth singing about. On Alaska, Maggie Rogers sang of icy streams and mountains, of parting ways with a past self in search of something more. Dance and folk collided to soundtrack an uplifting three minutes, during which a young woman embraced her new voice. “Alaska” is reaching a summit after an arduous climb, and Maggie Rogers is much more than a Pharrell co-sign.—Alex Siber
25. 21 Savage - "No Heart"
One of 2016's most surprising anthems came from one of its true breakout stars. Atlanta rapper 21 Savage, who delivers his verses with soft-spoken, sneering menace found a perfect partner in Metro Boomin. The young super-producer worked on the entire Savage Mode project and delivered ominous beats that never try to do too much—Savage is the star here, and his hypnotic flows are given the space they need to shine.
"X" might have had the big name feature from Future, but "No Heart" is an online favorite, and includes some of Savage's best bars. He breaks down some of his childhood, throws in Cat In The Hat and Stuart Little references, and talks to a hater on the phone. If you're sleeping on 21 Savage's bars because of that knife tattoo or because he's come up at the same time as Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert, listen to "No Heart" and reevaluate your life.—Alex Gardner
24. Twelve'Len - "Star Dust"
“I used to hate it, but I as I got older I got into rap music and started wanting to rap,” Florida’s Twelve’Len told us earlier this year. “Me and Denzel Curry, as well as Nell, Simmie, all of us from Carol City. Around 2012-13, rapping became a trend. It hit a point where I was like, ‘If I wanna stand out with this shit, I gotta do something different.’ I went back to my roots, I started playing around with melodies in my records and it began to evolve.”
We’re so glad he decided to try something different, because this year Twelve’Len carved out his own lane with genre-defying jams, a spiritual connection to music, and some gorgeous melodies. His debut album Fri(end)s is an uplifting trip, and “Stardust” is a timeless, feel-good record—and so much more impactful than an on-trend blip on the radar.—Jacob Moore
23. Future - "Perkys Calling"
When I think of Future, I think of hella potential that's sometimes wasted on projects featuring too many songs in between the obvious pieces of beauty. "Perky's Calling," which closed out his Purple Reign project, is one of the illest ways to end a tape...or a particularly insane evening out. Hell, you rarely hear Future on a piano this glorious, and I hope we get more like this.
Sure, dude's flow isn't that much more magnificent than the other 5,011 songs in his repertoire, but Future knows how to find that pocket and reside in it for the duration of the track. And don't front; you've been stuck in a situation where those bars you gobbled start creeping on you. Some song was playing and you isolated a particular loop while sipping on some Aquafina...or is that just me?—khal
22. Anderson .Paak - "The Season / Carry Me"
It was hard to pick a song off Anderson .Paak's Malibu. The whole album is so good, and every song does something different. "The Season/Carry Me" is one of the more ambitious cuts, a two-part odyssey produced by 9th Wonder and Callum Connor.
The bittersweet, humid production soundtracks a heartbreaking story of childhood that includes, among other things, the arrest of .Paak's mother and the subsequent salvation provided by music. "Having an outlet in music is super important to me," he told Genius. "It was always my way of meditation, zoning out, dealing with problems. When I didn’t know how to talk about it, I just put it out in the music. When things were going haywire with my mom, my step pops being locked up, I always went back to that."—Graham Corrigan
21. Jorja Smith - "Blue Lights"
When a debut song makes a big impression, it's usually very accessible, a catchy, poppy tune that sticks between your ears. "Blue Lights" is not (just) that. Jorja Smith's first song is a razor-sharp lamentation of the wretched relationship between police and civilians. While the production is pretty enough, the overarching theme here is one of loss and warning—"Don't you run/When you hear the sirens coming," Smith sings to her fellow youths.
It comes from a personal place—Smith considered a career in law enforcement as a teenager. But the song "didn’t have to be based around the police,” Smith said. “[It’s about how] you shouldn’t have a guilty conscience if you’ve got nothing to be guilty for. That’s what I picked up, growing up. A lot of my friends are black boys. And every time they saw police, they’d be on edge. I was thinking, ‘Just act normal. You’ve done nothing wrong.’"—Graham Corrigan
20. Kodak Black - "Skrt"
The life cycle of "Skrt" says more about it than anything else. Released in 2014 as a part of Kodak Black's Heart Of The Projects mixtape, the song earned Kodak more than a few new fans. But it wasn't until the song received support from OVO Sound Radio last December, however, that it really spread.
An official release soon followed in February, and then the song got its biggest look when it was featured in an episode of Donald Glover's Atlanta. The months since have seen Black become the center of attention—often for the wrong reasons—but he'll hope to capitalize on the hype because of music in 2017. Ominous production and keen-eyed observations delivered with a youthful voice make this slow-builder a true standout of 2016.—Alex Siber
19. Meek Mill ft. Young Thug & 21 Savage - "Offended"
Meek Mill struck gold with "Offended." The track has everything we love from Young Thug: the melodies, the shifts between note groups, and of course the unpredictability. Thugger snapped on this one and spit one of his best verses of the year. But lest we forget: 21 Savage also blessed this record with a verse that included the iconic nugget, "VVS's on me bling / Badaboom, badabing!" Meek held his own as well, and together the three delivered one of the hardest rap songs of the year.—Eric Isom
18. Beyoncé - "Hold Up"
Sometimes, immediately after something really bad happens, feelings of despair and anger will give way to an odd moment of relief. As shit hits the fan and things spiral out of control, a fleeting thought of “well, fuck it” can lighten the mood and provide empowerment before reality sets in and you’re forced to pick up the pieces.
Lemonade standout “Hold Up” captures that slippery feeling beautifully. Co-written by Diplo and Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig, the track marries a clever flip of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” hook with a feel-good reggae groove and defiant lyrics for one of the album’s most colorful moments.
Of course, the song will always be associated with the unforgettable accompanying “visual album” imagery of a romantically betrayed Beyoncé waltzing down a street, gleefully smashing through car windows with a knowing how-dare-you-play-me-like-this grin locked on her face. In a career full of badass moments, this was one of her finest.—Eric Skelton
17. SAINt JHN - "Reflex"
"Picture me ballin'," Saint Jhn requests at the start of "Reflex." It's something he probably asked himself these last few years—the Brooklyn-based artist has made his name as a behind-the-scenes songwriter, but it wasn't until 2016, when he resurfaced with a new name and some incredible music, that the picture started to come into focus.
"Reflex" is one of those songs that sounds like a kaleidoscope looks—every verse, pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge is arranged in shimmering precision, the hills and valleys feel completely natural, and the vocals blossom at the final hook. It's an airtight piece of songwriting that, somehow, also feels completely at ease with itself. Saint Jhn has waited for this moment, and he's not missing his shot—check out "Roses" if "Reflex" is up your alley.—Graham Corrigan
16. A Tribe Called Quest ft. Kendrick Lamar - "Conrad Tokyo"
As one of the most exciting releases of 2016, we would be remiss to not include something from A Tribe Called Quest's We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service. The damn thing actually managed to exceed our wildest expectations—who knew that a comeback album could be this good?
Our chosen highlight from We Got It From Here is "Conrad Tokyo," the track where the sense of impending doom on the entire album comes to a climax. The rhymes are ruthless, unabashedly pointing out everything that's wrong with America, from the media normalizing someone like Trump to the broken economy and disparity of wealth. It's a powerful song that resonates even more in the Election Day aftermath, when such problems are magnified tenfold.
"Conrad Tokyo" also bridges the old with the new, connecting the revered Phife Dawg with one of the best rappers in the game right now, Kendrick Lamar. Phife's verse seamlessly melts right into that of Kendrick's over an iconic Tribe beat, all in all making for one of those rare but perfect cross-generational collaborations.—Joyce Ng
15. Khalid - "Location"
18-year-old singer Khalid wrote a wide-eyed love letter to the subtweet generation with “Location,” reframing lustful emotion within the scope of an internet native’s lexicon. It’s a sweet-talking rally cry for the smooth operator in all of us, and a gender-neutral one at that. Guys and girls across the country needed a fresh take on nighttime hook-ups rooted in something beyond benefits, and Khalid delivered.—Alex Siber
14. Childish Gambino - "Redbone"
Bootsy Collins comparisons aside, Childish Gambino validated his entire album experiment with this one track. "Redbone" is a screw-face classic, the sort of sexy, soulful cut that will undoubtedly energize social gatherings for years to come. "Awaken, My Love!" is a trip through funk and psychedelia, and it starts here—but the rallying cry to "stay woke" is intensely pertinent today. Gambino was able to bridge a massive gap between a decades-old genre and contemporary relevancy, and reasserted himself as one of our most creative artists along the way.—Graham Corrigan
13. Rihanna - "Needed Me"
If Rihanna's "Needed Me" wasn't stuck in your head for all of 2016, you're a fucking zombie. It's ridiculously catchy, but unorthodox enough—thanks to DJ Mustard's creeping production and the timing of the chorus—to never feel stale or irritating. It even became Rihanna's longest-charting hit. But at the end of the day, the song wins not because of Mustard's production or Starrah's songwriting contributions, but because Rihanna's delivery exudes the confidence and attitude of the music world's most resilient superstar.—Jacob Moore
12. Travis Scott ft. Kendrick Lamar - "Goosebumps"
Travis Scott is not a "rappity rap ass n***a," and he readily admits that. He's more about creating vibes, building dramatic soundscapes, and delivering simple but effective melodies and hooks. The perfect balancing point to that: Kendrick Lamar, arguably the best rappity rap ass rapper alive right now. Both Travis and Kendrick showcase their specialties on "Goosebumps," a song that Travis started in his Beverly Hills home and finished on his bus during the Saint Pablo tour.
Over a woozy beat propped up by a sinister bass line, Travis delivers one of the best hooks of his career so far—which is saying a lot—and by the time Kendrick comes in, the song is already classic Travis. Kendrick's opening bars provide a spark and raise the intensity level, but the highlight of "Goosebumps" might just be the part you least expect: Kendrick testing the limits of his upper register in full-blown falsetto mode, singing about pussy. What more could you possibly ask for from a Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar collaboration? This is the first (hopefully not the last) time these two have worked together, and the bar has been set ridiculously high.—Jacob Moore
11. Aminé - "Caroline"
The world was ready for a song like “Caroline” in 2016. With the burden of a heavy news cycle hanging in the background, there was a need for a carefree, breezy hip-hop song about chasing “bad thangs” and staying in to watch Tarantino movies.
On the back of an irresistibly bouncy synth-driven beat, Portland rapper Aminé’s breakout single rode the wave of a few key Spotify playlist placements, important co-signs from influencers like Kylie Jenner, and an infectious music video to an impressive 250 million plays across streaming services by year’s end.
While the politically-charged alternate version he performed on The Tonight Show gave an exciting look at what Aminé is capable of moving forward, the playful energy of “Caroline” proved to be exactly what we needed to pull us through a bewildering back half of 2016.—Eric Skelton
10. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk - "I Feel It Coming"
"Starboy" might have been the lead single, "Party Monster" might be the song you turn up to, and "Reminder" might have the most talked about lyrics, but "I Feel It Coming" is the song from The Weeknd's Starboy album that will still get played next year, and the year after, and in ten years time.
Written and produced by The Weeknd, Daft Punk, Doc McKinney, and Cirkut, "I Feel It Coming" is a timeless pop song and, with its disco influence, lies more in line with Daft Punk and Pharrell's megahit "Get Lucky" than any of The Weeknd's past music. The spirit of Michael Jackson, an idol of The Weeknd's, is also present here, and, slowly but surely, the formerly faceless, drug-obsessed R&B lothario is turning into one of this generation's biggest pop stars.—Alex Gardner
9. Rae Sremmurd ft. Gucci Mane - "Black Beatles"
If "Black Beatles" proves anything, it's that you can't count a dope group out. Rae Sremmurd's second album, SremmLife 2, didn't have its "No Type" or "No Flex Zone" moment until "Black Beatles" truly set the world on fire, and the group who made it got their mojo back.
After shade was thrown from Ebro regarding their placement on Complex's 2015 Best Albums list, the brothers were determined to get back at the haters who are "mad for whatever reason," hence the delay on the second album; "Black Beatles" was reportedly a late addition, and the Gucci Mane-featuring cut was worth it. So worth it that "Black Beatles," the third single from the album, became the first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 for both Rae and Gucci.
Sure, they can thank the mega-viral #MannequinChallenge for that, but "Black Beatles" is truly one of the definitive anthems of 2016. Smooth yet turnt, it highlights everything that's right about Mike Will Made It and Rae Sremmurd's bombastic union.—khal
8. Noname ft. Raury & Cam O'bi - "Diddy Bop"
A Bikini Bottom jingle leads off “Diddy Bop.” The time machine ditches bells and whistles to dig up a rosy-eyed upbringing in Childhood, USA. From Four Square showdowns to weed-scented run-ins with authority, Noname, Cam O’Bi, and Raury walk us through neighborhoods short on anything but adventure. The three artists paint pictures of Kids At Play yard signs and summer warmth. The block’s in good spirits—paradise for the time being.
If there’s a hint of danger, it only creeps through the parent-imposed curfew: report back before sundown. Raury remembers sneaking through the back door to sidestep a motherly encounter. Cam sings of dreams that materialize beyond the front stoop, dreams that tomorrow morning could bring. Noname commits to memories as sweet as a chocolate chip scent, only puncturing her fondness to set aside small clues of darker forces at play.
Neck-and-neck with some of her city’s greatest when it comes down to raw talent, she honors Chicago by lending it character. Juke jams and first times go down within its limits. It is the world. Appearing on a debut project with few missteps, “Diddy Bop” is emblematic of an innocence that oils Telefone’s gears, of the city that produced one of hip-hop’s brightest new hopes.—Alex Siber
7. Chance the Rapper ft. 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne - "No Problem"
"No Problem" is special, a romping anthem of a track as overtly anti-label as industry rule #4080. This is Chance The Rapper's radio bid, a yelping injection of audible confidence with enough interpretative wiggle room to apply to anything or anyone.
You don't need to be redefining what it means to be an independent artist to proudly let naysayers know they can't pull you down to their level. Gleeful and giddy, Chance is as sure of himself as he's ever sounded—if his raps don't get you, that whirlwind carousel of a gospel sample should do the trick. Hard as it was to select our favorite songs from Coloring Book, one of 2016's best albums, the most popular option also felt like the right one. It's an understated power of music that "No Problem" has no shortage of. Listen and don't let up.—Alex Siber
6. Kanye West ft. Chance The Rapper - "Ultralight Beam"
2016 has not been a god dream, not by a long stretch. Kanye West's February performance of "Ultralight Beam" on Saturday Night Live with The-Dream, Kelly Price, and Chance The Rapper was a masterstroke, a beautiful way to introduce the world to the most spiritual, uplifting song on The Life of Pablo. Things got more and more messy from that point onward.
It's been a strange year to be a fan of the always polarizing artist, but never stranger than when he appeared in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York and met with President-elect Donald Trump. Where that decision, and his claim that he would have voted for Trump (if he had bothered to vote), leaves you in terms of enjoying Kanye's music will differ person to person, but as an album opener, a stage-setter for a wild, stylistically diverse album, "Ultralight Beam" couldn't be better.
In many ways, it is a Chance The Rapper song, or a Kelly Price song, but in the way the different pieces are placed together, in the curation and direction of a talented cast of collaborators, it's prime Kanye West. Chance's verse, stunning from the very first time we heard it, now holds even more weight. "I hear you got to sellout to snatch the Grammy," the now Grammy nominated artist raps. Maybe even more important for all of us to remember as we navigate life's ups and downs is Kirk Franklin's final prayer:
"For everyone that feels they've said 'I'm sorry' too many times / You can never go too far when you can't come back home again."—Alex Gardner
5. Young Thug - "Drippin"
Straight up, we almost made this the No. 1 song of the year, because it’s fucking perfect. But the world isn’t ready. “Drippin’” isn’t the biggest hit of the year—it’s not even one of Young Thug’s biggest hits of the year—but it’s a unicorn of a song that harnesses Thug’s unconventional abilities and packages them in a way that is both satisfying and completely unpredictable. I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times in 2016, and I’m still surprised every time I hear it. And that's the magic of Young Thug. DRIP!—Jacob Moore
4. Frank Ocean - "Nights"
We take these end of year lists seriously. We talk and think about them for months, we argue and debate in meetings, we insult each other's families. This year was especially difficult—but the most difficult decision may have been which Frank Ocean song to include. The man made two entire albums of experimental, heartfelt pop and R&B, packed with songs that tap into the emotions and rhythms of life in the 21st century. The man made Blonde, an album with no bad songs, an album that reveals something new at each time, whether that's the slow-moving expansiveness of "Seigfreid" or the free-associative honesty of the first half of "Futura Free."
I think pretty much every song on Blonde has been my favorite—right now I can't stop playing "Nikes," which seemed like a waste of an album opener and caught me off guard with the vocal effects when I first listened. But when I take a step back, when I think about a song that encapsulates everything that is so special about this album, I keep coming back to "Nights."
Ocean packs so much into this one song, including but not limited to that undeniable pop songwriting that catapulted him to stardom, the vivid lyricsim that brings moments from his youth in New Orleans to life in the song's slower second half, and the grand artistic vision to make a song that evolves through three sections but never buckles under the weight of its own ambition.
And don't you forget: Frank Ocean has bars, and this track has some iconic lines. "I don't trust 'em anyways/You can't break the law with them" and "Shut the fuck up I don’t want your conversation/Rolling marijuana that's a cheap vacation" are two standout moments but, much like the album itself, everyone probably has their own personal favorites. Come on, who was really testing Frank Ocean this year?—Alex Gardner
3. Travis Scott & Young Thug ft. Quavo - "Pick Up The Phone"
It's lit! First of all, shout out Travi$ Scott's ad libs on "Pick Up The Phone." Second, a huge shout out to producers Frank Dukes and Vinylz, who came through with one of 2016's best beats. Third, another big shout out to Starrah, the signer and songwriter who had one of our other favorite songs of the year with "Rush," and who also co-wrote this song and provides additional vocals.
Travis Scott and Young Thug have released four songs together so far (“Maria I’m Drunk,” “Nothing But Net,” “Skyfall,” and “Mamacita”), but never have we heard this bright and positive side of the duo. The usual punishing, menacing production is replaced by what sounds like steel drums and the two artists match that energy, Travis imploring a girl to pick up the phone when he calls and Thug pledging his loyalty.
Young Thug shines especially brightly throughout, from his "Never will I cheat on you!" opening, to boasts like "I did pay my sister's tuition," and the real talk towards the end of his verse: "Mama told me don't hate on the law / Because everybody got a job / Because everybody won't be a star." Providing the final piece of the puzzle, Quavo comes through with a strong finishing verse, keeping the positivity going when he sing-raps one of the most beautiful lines of the year: "And I'm loving all races, hell nah don't discriminize."
This was one of the year's most fun songs when it first dropped in June, and six months later, it's lost none of its shine.—Alex Gardner
2. Solange - "Cranes In The Sky"
File this under "songs that elicit joy in under three seconds." File this under "best vocal performances of the millennium." File this under "powerful social critiques that never feel heavy-handed."
No matter how you absorb "Cranes in the Sky," it is a song that leaves an impression. It's the fourth track off Solange Knowles' A Seat at the Table, and the first one to indicate that you're listening to a capital-A Album. From her climbing the vocal ladder ("away, away away...") to what sounds like a shamisen in the second half, the ambitious songwriting and flawless execution make "Cranes" an enduring testament to endurance.
"I wanted to showcase how we’re always moving in these spaces, and distracting ourselves with all of these worldly things," Solange said of the song and its video. "I wanted to... really center myself in God’s work."—Graham Corrigan
1. D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty - "Broccoli"
D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty's "Broccoli" is the feel-good song of the year, in a year when we desperately needed to feel good. Of course, many of the year's best and most important songs made us want to think, to fight, and to question ourselves, but D.R.A.M.'s soulful triumph allowed us to truly let loose and feel alright for a few minutes, despite all the fuck shit.
"Broccoli" is the perfect space for Lil Yachty to shine, with its irresistible bounce, carefree outlook, and youthful approach to jubilant rap music. And after a huge 2016 that proved he's much more than "Cha Cha," D.R.A.M.'s come-up story makes for one of the best verses of the year and possibly the best line ever about salmon on a bagel with the capers.
Look, we know that there were songs way deeper than this happy-go-lucky number about smoking weed and being successful. There are a lot of songs deeper than "Broccoli" on D.R.A.M.'s debut album alone. But 2016 was fucking exhausting, and this was the brightest musical escape courtesy of two up-and-comers trying to bring some positivity into a dark time. Thank you D.R.A.M. Thank you Lil Yachty. We needed that.—Jacob Moore
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