25 rad songs from 2016, maybe not my FAVORITE; still, hear them.
25. “Damn” – Joyride (feat. Freddie Gibbs
Freddie Gibbs is the last rapper I’d expect to hop on this incredibly fun and really pretty goofy beat. This is the guy that was spitting classy bars on the lo-fi hip-hop odyssey that was Madlib and Freddie Gibbs’ Piñata. I don’t know who this “Joyride” cat is but mad respect for making a beat that clearly inspired Gibbs to give it his all. Wacky horn hits and the rhythmic bleeps and bloops all pump you up and make you wanna move your head side to side like “dammnnnnn”. It will probably never happen 😦 but to see Freddie rap over an album consisting entirely of this kind of hard-hitting but incredibly goofy beats would be really different and cool.
24. “Can’t Get Enough of Myself” – Santigold
In a year of death and depressing events, I couldn’t recommend a more important and beautiful song to get one through it than Santigold’s 3/4 anthem that shamelessly and gloriously promotes self-love. The lack of cynicism on this track is just as refreshing as its charm and catchiness.
23. “Phone” – Lizzo
This track was criminally under-looked in this year’s banger hip/hop landscape. Where’s Lizzo’s phone? I want to search. This song makes me want to get on workout clothes, start jogging, scan for it along the way, and use this song as accompanying motivational running music.
22. “Higher” – Rihanna
I can’t imagine the notes in this song are easy to sing and in the hands of the wrong vocalist, it could have gone to shit. However, Rihanna takes this 50’s ballad and combines it with some very awkward lyrics that I couldn’t imagine ever having been written in the 50’s. Rihanna’s tear-crashing vocals on top of this old-school instrumental makes “Higher” bizarre, heart wrenching, and awfully memorable.
21. “Body” – Baauer
Baauer has a knack for making the drops on his songs blend incredibly well with the rest of the song while also creating a new moment that one can pick out from any of his tracks and be like, ” That’s the song that’s like…boom….boom boom boom….boom boom boom” I guess what I’m trying to say is that “Body” is a boomtacular banger.
20. “Vapid Feels Are Vapid” – Clarence Clarity
The time signature in the verses is different from the chorus. It’s shocking and brilliant and captivating. This is the future of pop. It’s what we will all be listening to when we realize that the key to contemporary pop music is to make everything sound like it’s been melted in a microwave oven, poured into a crayon mold, and drawing a frownie face, with the newly formed crayon, that is now a strange rainbow color. It’s depressed but colorful and exciting nonetheless.
19. “Ready” – Joey Bada$$
This song makes me want to fight and Joey sounds as hungry as ever on it. His flow is incredibly demanding and it could easily be a modern day Rocky anthem. Makes me want to break down that dumb Rocky statue in Philly and put up Joey in its place. Maybe he could have a microphone or something. Maybe he could be posed in a rap position, rapping and what not, forever preserved in stone.
18. “Gemini Feed” – BANKS
Hips will be shaking at “Gemini Feed’s” chorus. Banks comes through with a confident, alluring voice that vibrates and explodes in this tracks fireworks display of a hook.
17. “Durag vs Headband” – Action Bronson (feat. Big Body Bes)
Action Bronson is sounding as filthy and hilarious as ever on this trunk-knocking beat. The beautifully subtle line, “I been high since I was this big” is spat by Bronson on this track. The height to which he was high since is a wonderfully complex blank whose audience can fill it in, any way they please.
16. “Fill in the Blank” – Car Seat Headrest
The hook to this song is brilliant in that it captivates the audience by dropping out all the music, so we can hear, independently of instruments, the great and moody lyrics, then when we’re captured by the isolated vocals, the instrumental comes back in, along with the vocals and our ears are glued to our earphones or speakers. Mosh song of the year. #msoty
15. “Seventeen” – Rich Chigga
Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it. DAMNNNNNNNNN thatttttttt flowwwwww! That beat! Where’s the full length album? How does he has such good breath control? Wh wh wh so damn fast, hard hitting and important.
14. “You’re the One” – Kaytranada (feat. SYD)
SYD and Kaytranada came through with one of the years best, most soft spoken dance tracks that can function as both background music or sensual/regular dancing. Very fun collaboration. SYD kills it on the vocals. Very cool to hear her hop on another persons project and make the hook to the song sound different from the verses and be very entertaining: a trait I find lacking in her work with The Internet but my god it sure comes through amazingly here.
13. “COME 4 ME” – ABRA
How Abra packs so much soul, mood, layering, and texture into a song that’s only a little over a minute, I do not know. Stunning work. This is also the future of pop. Fantastically dark and sinister music video, too. Eyes/ears will be airplane glued, and then you’ll wanna glue yourself to a wide-body jet airliner, bring a nice speaker system, and let it take you into the sky.
12. “Vroom Vroom” – Charli XCX
Charli should work with PC music more because this song is trap-pop magic. A very intense and sonically challenging tune. But we’re just over here being like, “hey it’s the ‘I just wanna break the rules’ lady.”
11. “All this Money” – Injury Reserve
A very charming rap track that can be read as hard-hitting and cute, all at once (like me). When I first heard the track, I loved it, then I saw the music video, and it almost gave the track a whole new meaning, in a very special way. Would recommend the video and the track but both are cool.
10. “All Nite” – Clams Casino (feat. Vince Staples)
Vince Staples has a formula of rapping that continues to entertain and on this track, Casino’s lo-fi, bass-heavy beat goes awesomely with Staples’ razor-sharp flow. It sounds like it oughta be featured in Grand Theft Auto 5. Hey, maybe it is.
9. “Blood On Me” – Sampha
The drums on this track are so crispy and danceable. I would say it’s the best use of a drum loop on any song this year. Sampha has grown so much as an artist since SBTRKT’s 2011 debut, SBTRKT. The emotions that this song creates are very tangible and intense. Sampha’s silky smooth voice over the piano, drums and other textures work together to make my eyes get all drippy.
8. “Living Single” – Big Sean (feat. Chance the Rapper & Jeremih)
So, this and “Bounce Back” are incredible Big Sean songs. I’m thinking whatever project Sean chooses to put these songs on will be unusually good. Jeremih’s vocal contribution on the hook and Chance’s patent sing/raspy rap style don’t overshadow Sean’s awesome verses but work to elevate them. A very lovely track with three very lovely artists and like a line or two that are really pretty filthy, which is funny considering the sweet instrumental.
7. “Rushes to” – Frank Ocean (32:53 minute mark on visual album ENDLESS)
It’s unfortunate that this song had to be shoved into the visual throw-away album, ENDLESS, at the 32:53 minute mark. That only means less people will hear it. It is Frank singing over an entertaining and pretty guitar loop, and it’s just marvelous. This could have been a track consisting only of Frank’s isolated vocals and I would be just as amused. Another tear-jerker about maybe crushing on someone in the gym? Who knows. Pretty cryptic stuff but there is an amazing peak that the song hits which shows masterful vocal layering.
6. “True Colors” – The Weeknd
People keep calling this a throwback to 90s love songs and I don’t really see that. I do see that it sounds like it should be in 3/4 and it’s really just in 4/4. Doesn’t really matter. This song’s been on repeat in my earbuds and it’s because it’s sexy as hell. Abel Tesfaye’s lyrics and performance are super impassioned and the hook is quietly explosive. The idea of two people exposing their true selves to each other including all their past relationships and experiences is explored in an interesting way on this track too.
5. “When it Rain” – Danny Brown
“When it Rain” marks a return to form for Danny. A fucked up cocktail of twisted memories and brutal life experience is wrapped up in a pummeling rap track that completely departs from Danny’s output before Atrocity Exhibition, which has largely been built for club and radio play. This is our new “radio song” because Danny gives no shits about making music for us anymore, uh uh. He’s doing it for therapy. And I like listening in and being disturbed.
4. “Pick Up the Phone” – Young Thug, Travi$ Scott (feat. Quavo)
I like that this song is wholly entertaining even for it’s longer-than-usual-for-a-trap-song length. Both vocalists are incredibly dynamic over this steel-drum sampling beat. Good for summer. Good for now.
3. “Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West
The instrumental for this song is very risky, in how loud and upfront the chorus/group vocals are mixed in. It is a risk that lands perfectly. Every single vocal contributor hits their marks and beyond. Some of the most gorgeous notes sung all year. Chance comes through with a verse that sounds as though he worked on it since he was born, it’s so carved and perfected. This song exemplifies Kanye’s incredibly talent, not only as a rapper, but as a composer.
2. “Formation” – Beyoncé
One of the most melodic trap songs I’ve ever heard. It’s a celebratory track that maintains an angry disposition throughout. Beyoncé is clearly not making this for anybody but herself and we are all okay with that. She displays the most powerful vocal performance of the year and has found a way to make us dance and think. I feel like I should put on reading glasses and take notes when this comes on at a party.
1. “Solo” – Frank Ocean
Frank’s voice changes pitch over so goddamn many gorgeous chord changes that it makes me feel bad for the organ player. The chorus doesn’t have words, but instead, an impassioned stretch of tightly coordinated vocal gymnastics that Ocean delivers flawlessly! Song of the year for sure. Made me cry the 4th time I listened- cuz the speakers were turned up too loud, they busted and clipped- hurt my ears- but still!
Written by Luke Sherman