My 50 Favorite Songs of 2016

A star broke out this year. After toiling through years of underground notoriety, a famous rap mogul gave him a shot, putting him all over his most recent album. And after his sophomore album exploded, people started to recognize, giving him features on singles, a spot in XXL’s Freshman Class, and a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

It’s a familiar story. Anderson .Paak’s 2016 mirrors Chance the Rapper’s 2014: a soulful rise to pop consciousness with an ear to live performance and a dedication to past works of previous geniuses. Coincedentally, both Anderson .Paak and Chance the Rapper are nominated for Best New Artist this year, though I sincerely hope that .Paak wins. How could you turn down that smile?

Of course, Chance is a favorite of mine as well, and he gets no shortage of love, showing up four times on this year’s list. Hip-hop artists take 22 out of the 50 spots, the most that I can remember in any of the seven year-end lists that I have done. Philadelphia broke out, representing four spots on the list, a surprising feat for the largest American city I know nothing about. And the first artist to break double-digit appearances: Drake, making his tenth and eleventh contribution to the countdown.

2016 kinda sucked, right? But at least the music was fun.

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50. “Guau!” – Beck, Mexican Institute of Sound (Mp)

Beck’s brand of weird lost it’s luster right around the time “Wow” found itself in an ad campaign. But have no fear: Mexican Institute of Sound is here to inject some south-of-the-border strange. And Mr. Hansen, more often than not the palest guy in the panaderia, most likely gives his Angelino approval.

49. “Feed The Streets (Watch The Stove)” – Helper

Stouffers gets credit not only for the best April Fools prank of the year, but also an instant classic of corporate branding. Seriously, this EP entirely about preparing, serving, and eating Hamburger Helper is molten-lava microwave hot.

48. “All The Way Up” – Fat Joe, French Montana (2), Remy Ma

This song is “Lean Back.” There is nothing about this song that makes it any different from “Lean Back.” If I were to compare it to any song, with every song in history at my disposal, “Lean Back” would be the one I would consider and eventually settle upon. It’s the same damn song, man. Still good, though.

47. “On The Lips” – Frankie Cosmos (2) (m)

Indie rock’s poet laureate is back at it, this time trying to figure out where to kiss ‘ya. And it’s so adorable that it deserves one of those “aw shucks” answers.

46. “Come And See Me” – PARTYNEXTDOOR (2), Drake (9) (p)

Midway through “Come and See Me,” PND takes a step back and allows Drake to take over the crooning. Unless you’re listening closely, it’s hard to tell that any change has taken place at all, which begs the question: does PND do anything that Drake hasn’t already done? But as long as Drake has stepped away from the minimalist ballads, someone is going to have to Drake it up for him. This’ll do.

 

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45. “Welcome To Your Life” – Grouplove (3) (mp)

Another summer, another summer jam from Grouplove. Ho, hum.

44. “Good House” – Deakin

As Animal Collective’s least notable member, one who decided to take a poorly-timed break from the band when their masterpiece Merriweather Post Pavilion was recorded, Deakin doesn’t get much press. But his natural aesthetics ripped straight from AnCo are hardly lesser-than, and his album Sleep Cycle was the best of the band’s 2016 output. They didn’t really put anything out to begin with, but baby steps.

43. “XYZ” – Tennyson

That illin’ cover art, gag me with a spoon, right? But don’t fret, the instrumental is anything but 90s. Maybe 2090s, if we still have rain forests in seventy years.

42. “Wedding Singer” – Modern Baseball (2)

“Emo but with a lot more perspective” would be a better classification of Modern Baseball’s sound without giving it an early-aughts stigma. But emo is far smarter than it ever has been, party because MB’s effortless wisdom forces everyone else to put down the tissues and bring their own nuance. Their own is still the best, however.

41. “No Limit” – Usher, Young Thug (3)

Young Thug has this habit of making every song he appears on his own. And if you even had to guess whether Usher Raymond had some help with “No Limit,” his best song in over a decade, Thugger is there in the background to provide some clarity.

 

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40. “Lite Spots” – Kaytranada (pm)

A bossa nova sample and friendly house make this the public radio song of the year.

39. “Black Beatles” – Rae Sremmurd (3), Gucci Mane

Songs settled upon as memes get bad reputations. “Harlem Shake” was a perfectly fine song ruined by an irritating trend. Same with “Know Yourself” and “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” though Quad City DJs may have a different opinion. Point is, you need a pretty good sense of humor to get through the trolling that comes with internet ubiquity, and the boys at Rae Sremmurd have it down.

 

38. “For Free” – DJ Khaled (3), Drake (10)

In the sense that Drake name-checks “that boy from Compton,” “For Free,” is most certainly a response to Kendrick Lamar’s jazzy “For Free?” interlude. But he also bites the beat and opening bars from “Blow the Whistle,” so maybe “For Free” is really Drizzy’s chart-topping tribute to Too $hort. Maybe it’s both. For Khaled, it’s just another anthem, but it’s an anthem nonetheless.

 

 

37. “You Was Right” – Lil Uzi Vert

Philadelphia’s Lil Uzi Vert imagines himself as a young Scott Pilgrim, which is an apt comparison since much like Scott, he isn’t a particularly impressive musician. But his charm and unique aesthetic were enough to get him a spot amongst XXL’s freshman class, and his 2016 mixtapes, though thoroughly mediocre, had a few bright spots, the Cudi-lite “You Was Right” being the best. And I find Uzi likeable because I, too, am a Scott Pilgrim fan.

36. “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus” – Sextina Aquafina

Nothing is original anymore. Everything has already been done.

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35. “Freedun” – MIA (3), Zayn (mp)

“The People’s Republic of Swaggastan” is pretty lame. I guess “I rape that button just to play that song” is funny for YouTube commenters from 2010. Other than those moments, however, “Freedun” is much better than critics gave it credit for, fitting into MIA’s catalogue with South Asian bounce and a soaring melody. And even though MIA and Zayn are international megastars, it still bears mentioning how important it is to have two artists of Pakistani and Tamil descent on a hit record. Or any record, really.

34. “Dollar Days” – David Bowie (Mp)

There was a whole mess of stuff on Blackstar that shocked me. But the most surprising track on Bowie’s final album was his most straightforward: a wistful memory laden with clues of his approaching death. A sax solo in the middle was is as weird as it gets on “Dollar Days,” a song that finds Ziggy “dying to”…what exactly? Certainly not just dying. That would be too easy.

 

 

33. “No Matter Where We Go” – Whitney (Pm)

I haven’t stepped in an Urban Outfitters for years and can still guess that this was their song of the summer.

32. “Never Win” – The Underachievers (2)

Diss tracks are at a twenty-year low, but considering Troy Ave’s tumultuous year, The Underachivers deserved to be listened to a bit more.

31. “Dat $tick” – Rich Chigga

Memes got a fascist elected the leader of the free world, so nowadays it’s pretty hard to tell when jokes stop becoming jokes. “Dat $tick” is obviously a joke; you can’t wear a tucked-in polo with a fanny pack without getting some laughs. But you also can’t get label attention and a Ghostface Killah collaboration without being dead serious. So sure, it can be both: Rich Chigga is a good comedian, and also a good rapper. 2016 was weird, man.

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30. “Show Me Love” – Hundred Waters, Skrillex (3), Moses Sumney, Robin Hannibal, Chance the Rapper (4)

Big ups to Howie Kendrick for a great walk-up song. Lets go Mets.

29. “I Broke Up In Amarante” – Los Campesinos! (2)

Gareth Campesinos! has a history of equating lost soccer matches to breakups, and breakups to death, so I can understand confusion from Americans (we only treat football losses like death, dammit). But getting blackout drunk after a painful tournament in Portugal sounds like a great way to get yourself sad, and a great way to find inspiration for your remarkably consistent emo band.

28. “Be Alright” – Ariana Grande (3) (P)

People need to stop turning Ariana Grande into Mariah Carey. Ariana has so much more charisma and personality, and not nearly the voice that Mimi has. But this lite-house sound works for the tiny diva.

27. “Cash Machine” – Big Baby D.R.A.M.

Rappers started singing a couple years back, and it was surprisingly not terrible! The obvious next step: singers deciding to rap. Frank Ocean does it. Anderson .Paak does it well. But the surprising entry was D.R.A.M., a gigantic man who’s never not smiling with hits “Cha Cha” and “Broccoli” that might as well have been written by a four-year-old. “Cash Machine” is the hidden gem, though, a hedonistic ode to the thing that counts the thing he likes a lot.

26. “Whatever” – The Beths (m)

The way she says “car!” The way she says “heaven!” The way she says “again!” New Zealand is crazy!

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25. “California” – Childish Gambino (3)

Everyone else seems to prefer the soulful “Redbone” or the maximalist “Me And Your Mama,” and those are good songs, for sure. It’s just that I didn’t grow up listening Funkadelic or Ohio Players. Being broke in Koreatown, however, is something I relate to.

24. “Yoshi’s Circuit” – Oloff

A not-good rapper from Bristol takes an okay instrumental and fills it with dick jokes…and somehow it’s refreshing. It helps if Reddit discovers it, but “Yoshi’s Circuit” stands by itself. It’s going to have to, too, since I doubt I’ll ever see this bloke again.

23. “Finish Line/Drown” – Chance the Rapper (4), Kirk Franklin, T-Pain, Noname (mp)

Coloring Book was kind of a mess, the type that’s best to file away as an early-career misstep. But on the mixtape were a few highlights that reminded why Chance was such a force in 2015, the best  “Finish Line/Drown,” a song featuring a hook from one of the greatest hook-makers of all time and a verse from this year’s most intriguing new rapper. It focuses on the live instrumentation and choral proceedings that made “Sunday Candy” last year’s song of the year, with the same heights of happiness that ode to his grandma brought us to. Chance is rightfully blowing up, and if his debut album keeps the focus of his third mixtape’s best cuts, he’ll be on to something great.

22. “Leather Shoes” – Buerak (m)

Ian Curtis is alive! Joy Division lives on! And in Russia, apparently.

21. “Fool Wit It Freestyle” – Supa Bwe, Chance the Rapper (5)

Without the specter of heightened examination, Chance was able to play around lyrically (“we is not the Huxtables/the tux is just to juxtapose”) on his Supa Bwe cosign, and sounds a lot freer as a result. Supa was forced to bring his best, and he matches Chance’s light cadence bar-for-bar. It’s stress-free rap, and easy listening sometimes is the most rewarding.