2016 was fun, wasn’t it? Nothing big, major or even that upsetting actually happened when you think about it, and to top it all off, pretty much everybody in music released something. From Young Thug’s dedication to release music all the way to returns to form from over 25 years ago, the last 12 months were, for the most part, an example of quantity over quality.
A lot of artists seemed to release music for the sake of releasing music, not holding a candle to their previous work. For a year that in truth seemed so volatile every which way you looked, it was surprising to see so many musicians playing it safe.
But what was good? And how good was it? Let’s find out…
50: Chance The Rapper -No Problem (2 Chainz, Lil Wayne)
What a year for Lil Chano from 79th. Has anybody even come close to having the breakthrough year Mr Chancelor Johnathan Bennett has had in 2016? Following his beautiful verse on Kanye’s Ultralight Beam, he released his third mixtape, Coloring Book, at the perfect time to capitalise on all his new attention. A few performances on shows such as Saturday Night Live & Ellen Degeneres, a couple of Grammy nominations, and even calls for him to be mayor of Chicago would all follow.
This is easily the best song on what for me was a slightly over-rated and over-featured rap album. A real soundtrack song for the summer, it mainly loses points for having 2 Chainz on it and some awful, terrible mixing.
Too Long; Didn’t Read: Summer.
49: Raleigh Ritchie – Motions
Personally, I j’adore Raleigh Ritchie’s (otherwise known as Grey Worm from Game of Thrones, that guy from Adulthood or just his real name Jacob Anderson) music, but his songs do sometimes fall into a very similar category in terms of sound. So it’s good to see him produce a real humdinger of an effort with Motions, the first song off his recently release Mind The Gap EP. It commands a better frosty and wintry sound than even Drake could muster up in 2016. More of this kind of production and the next 12 months could be when Raleigh really makes his big breakthrough musically.
48: Young Thug – RiRi
Personally, I do not j’adore Young Thug. He is one of the new wave of rap artists (admittedly, one of the better ones) that believe sheer quantity of music is a better approach than taking care in your production. However, some of the shit finally stuck to the wall on his most mainstream release to date, No, My Name is Jeffrey. The best flavour of poo being his song RiRi, which is, put simply, catchy as fuck. Even when he’s barfing away like a sea lion in the middle of the chorus.
Less Slime Season 48 or whatever you call it, more of this please from now on Thugger. Cheers.
47: Ab-Soul – Huey Knew Then (Da$H)
Why make one song when you can make four or five? And why not just ram them together to create one of the bounciest, beat-slapping songs of the year? Ab-Soul, fairly slept on throughout his career, turns conductor in a four-and-a-half-minute exploration through nearly every mood possible. At times growling, at time dancehall bouncing, but at top quality throughout, it’s impossible to find something you don’t like from this song
46: Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
We lost a lot of icons in 2016. Unfortunately, apart from a dead gorilla and a living gorilla winning the US election, it’s pretty much all this year will be remembered for. Leonard Cohen was one of those icons, famous mainly for his original recording of the much-covered Hallelujah.
You Want It Darker, the title track from his final album, sounds haunting at first, but you realise it is a self-celebration of the Canadian’s life. Even with the context put aside, it holds its own as a very strong release
45: Sampha – Timmy’s Prayer
Ah, Sampha. One of those few musicians who holds that underrated talent of being totally unable to make a bad song. It’s fair to say that Sampha doesn’t make that much music, but tends to sprinkle gold dust whenever he does. This year alone he helped improve the quality of both a Frank Ocean and Solange album.
This release, hopefully a prelude to an album release, is an example of what Sampha does best. His voice is like musical caramel in terms of its smoothness. I honestly think this song could put an antichrist to sleep.
44: PJ Harvey – The Wheel
Polly Jean Harvey’s musical career has been going on since about the beginning of time, and yet still she is only 47, and able to produce songs with this amount of pure, unadulterated energy. The Wheel is a throwback of a pop rock song, that sounds like a chorus in it’s entirety. PJ is undoubtedly one of the more underrated musicians Britain has.
43: Carly Rae Jepsen – Store
Can anybody, anybody on this green green Earth, make as catchy a song as Carly Rae Jepsen? This is vocal candy at it’s finest, and serves a solid follow-up to what was a very underrated album from Jepsen in 2015. I find it astounding her songs don’t get more radio play, especially with a guilty pleasure such as Store.
42: James Blake – Choose Me
James Blake doing what James Blake does best here. As the UK’s equivalent of Bon Iver (he’d probably hate that description), there’d have to be something really, really good to top their collaboration on Blake’s album, The Colour In Anything. Choose Me is that song. It rolls around for over five minutes like a tonic in an echo chamber, showing just how far James’ talent spectrum spreads over the genre of electronic music.
41: Anna Meredith – Nautilus
Not gonna lie, I fucking love horns. So if you’re gonna make a song that is 90% horns, it’s near enough guaranteed to strike a chord with me. This throbs away like a pleasurable stubbed toe of a song, showing exactly why Meredith used to be the composer in residence with the BBC’s Scottish Symphony Orchestra. I’m saying that the reason she left is she didn’t get to play enough horns, but these are only unconfirmed rumours.
40: Drake – Redemption
The biggest musician in the entire world up next. Drake had a solid, yet unspectacular 2016, despite ight what everybody in the world might seem to think about One Dance, and to a lesser extent, both Good To You & Work
Redemption is Drake doing what Drake does best, which is ignoring fake Canadian patois, and making expertly produced break up songs for millennials. It’s just a pity the final third of this song doesn’t quite stack up to the start. Nevertheless, Redemption would have been one of the best songs on Take Care, never mind Views.
39: BadBadNotGood – Time Moves Slow (Samuel T. Herring)
As sultry jazz bands go, BadBadNotGood’s record can be described as rather spotty. For every expert single they release, there seems to be a lifeless and forgetful song to go with it. Their latest album IV was no different. The quality in Time Moves Slow is obvious, however. This is premium toilet roll levels of smooth.
38: The Avalanches – Because I’m Me
Sixteen years is about five generations in music. So for The Avalanches to resurface, unexpectedly but not unnecessarily, and make one of the best albums of 2016 is an astonishing achievement. Because I’m Me is a tubthumper of a record the embodies all of the energy, soul and pure fun that The Avalanches tried to convey with their comeback record. We may never hear from them again, so enjoy Wildflower’s Because I’m Me as the potential farewell song the Australian group deserve.
37: Lady Gaga – Million Reasons
A much-heralded change of sound from Lady Gaga. No longer using tinny, lazy production, whilst relying on wearing a bacon sandwich to create publicity, she’s becoming one of the biggest names in music on pure talent alone. Which is nice to see.
Millions Reasons is a powerful ballad from the Gaga that shows off precisely all of those aforementioned talents.
36: infinite bisous – Teen Sex
To be fair to Mr Rory McCarthy, the name Rory McCarthy isn’t really all that glamourous, so I can understand why he went with the more interesting stage name of infinite bisous. Some proper grammar wouldn’t have gone amiss though, yeah mate?
A low-key and yet subtly aggressive ambient song, Teen(age) Sex is one of those songs that you wish more established artists had the balls to go out and release themselves. As this is almost infuriatingly good.
35: Domo Genesis – Dapper (Anderson .Paak)
The headline single from Domo’s solid, if unspectacular, debut solo album is, simply put, anything but. A three minute segment of pure funk, propped up by a leading nominee for Mr 2016, Anderson .Paak, results in one of the better songs from an original Odd Future member since their breakup. Which is more surprising than you might think
34: Angel Olsen – Shut Up Kiss Me
Woman was one of the most critically celebrated albums of 2016, and rightly so. The lead single, the punchy & direct Shut Up Kiss Me, contains most if not all of the talent’s from Olsen’s arsenal. It bangs and thumps like a stereotypical hairbrush song, yet carries with it the mantle of one of the best breakup songs of the last decade.
33: Whitney – No Woman
A piece of music is going to have to do pretty damn well to give you chills. But how can you ignore the simple piece of magic that is No Woman? From the introduction of the horns to the slow release of energy that explodes in the final third, this a song that renders it’s own vocals almost irrelevant, the production work on it is so good.
32: Frank Ocean – Pink + White
Well, we all finally got what we wanted. The wait, almost agonising at times, for a Frank Ocean release is now over. Not only did Ocean come back, he came back with an entire new sleeve to hide tricks in. There’s so much talent involved in Pink + White, even ignoring the cheeky yet genius move to have Beyonce as your backing vocals. It’s a pop song with both gravitas and personality.
31: KAYTRANADA – LITE SPOTS
Not only one of the best producer albums of the year, but up there with the best since the turn of the decade. Haitian-born KAYTRANADA (who insists on spelling his name like he’s shouting) produced a showreel of hits in his album 99.9% back in early 2016.
It was a tough call giving the nod to any particular song on this album, with Got It Good and Leave Me Alone both worthy contenders, but I have to give it to, predictably enough, the best produced song on a producers album. Duh.
30: David Bowie – Dollar Days
Sit down now, controversial opinion incoming. David Bowie’s Blackstar, I’m sorry, is not that good. Apart from Dollar Days. It’s a rather underwhelming number of efforts that only begin to gain credence once you contextualise what you’re listening to. The music should outperform it’s occasion, even in the huge occasion of David Bowie’s death. I’m sorry, but I had to say something.
Dollar Days is very, very good though.
29: Fortunes. – Justin Bieber
Brave, and probably foolish move to call your song Justin Bieber to be honest. Fortunes don’t give a shit though, I’m sure he’s happy enough knowing he’s made one of the best Bieber related songs of all time, and I doubt Justin even knows it exists.
To quote the song itself, this one’s going straight on the playlist.
28: Point Point – All This
The musical equivalent of a rollercoaster when you’re hungover. This song absolutely batters you and I love it for it. It’s such an ingenious beat that comes in in what I can only describe as the chorus, that I’m amazed nobody thought of it before. As well as jealous that I didn’t think of it myself.
27: J. Cole – Change
Cole continued 2016’s theme of its biggest stars releasing rather underwhelming material right up until December with his new album 4 Your Eyes Only. Change harks back to the catchy days of Cole’s biggest hits off his most successful project to date, 2014 Forest Hills Drive.
Although, I’m pretty sure I hear people that aren’t J. Cole on this song, Mr Double-Platinum-I-Hate-Features?
Despite my pettiness, I do really love this song. Particularly it’s chorus, with it’s overlay of voices, as well as the sudden emotional sledgehammer that comes around when the funeral begins.
26: Beyonce – All Night
Now here’s a woman who didn’t underwhelm this year, when it would have been easy for her to do so. Never before have I listened to a Beyonce album and known I was listening to a cohesive, well-structured piece of music. How much of this is down to her intention to make Lemonade visual is a worthy discussion, but ultimately made redundant when you appreciate Lemonade for the great piece of music that it is.
All Night especially is quintessential pop music, something that sounds so pure you wonder why people bother comparing her and Rihanna in the first place.
25: Mitski – Thursday Girl
Indie rock rarely gets more haunting than this. Mitski conveys the enticement of loneliness with understated passion in what was easily the best release on her admittedly brilliant June album, Puberty 2.
It gets better when you twig the The Weeknd reference, too.
24: ANOHNI – 4 DEGREES
Although Drone Bomb Me, the previous song and opener to ANOHNI’s well-received and all-caps friendly HOPELESSNESS, is a fantastic music, this is one of those rare occasions where the sequel outshines its predecessor. It’s a song to me that is the musical equivalent of torching a shed to the ground.
I love it.
23: The 1975 – If I Believe You
The 1975 take a break from making the musical equivalent of jelly beans for 16 year olds (which, from time to time, I tend to enjoy myself) with a massive change of pace in If I Believe You. From the gospel choir in the background, to the enjoyable slow pace, why can’t more 1975 songs be like this?
I blame Snapchat.
22: A Tribe Called Quest – Solid Wall Of Sound
Not to be undone by The Avalanches 16-year hiatus, A Tribe Called Quest return after a monstrous 25 years away, albeit with rather sad circumstances. We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service was released following the death of leading member Phife Dawg in March.
An ensemble of leading rap and hip-hop stars contributed to what was an awesome record. It was very hard to even pick a standout song from the album, but Solid Wall Of Sound captures to overall feel of a feelgood farewell record best for me.
21: Sturgill Simpson – Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)
Album of the year nominated (!) Sturgill Simpson delivered one of the enjoyable and destructive album introductions of the year with his romantic banger, Welcome To Earth. As heartfelt as the first half of this song is, it doesn’t compare with the sheer detonation of noise that kicks off the second half.
20: Angel Olsen – Woman
To make a seven and a half minute record your centrepiece is not a stereotypical pop music move. Then again, Angel Olsen doesn’t strike me as a stereotypical pop star. She takes all the good aspects of Shut Up Kiss Me, completely reverses them and then improves on it to make what is an absolute epic of a song.
19: Kendrick Lamar – untitled 2
Outrageously cheeky move from Kendrick Lamar to release his offcuts and then end up releaseing one of the better rap albums of the year. If you can really call it an album, that is. Whilst he may have had a fairly patchy record when it comes to his commercial features, when the playing field is on anything resembling Kendrick’s terms, there’s nobody who can touch him.
18: Bearcubs – Chroma
A quick Google of this song will tell you that those Google boffins have made the mistake of tagging Chroma’s release date as way back when in 1997. Which is almost ironic due to quite how fresh this song sounds.
Bearcubs is a young producer from the UK, very much breaking out of the James Blake & Jamie XX mould that has been set for UK electronic music. He may be rivalling them for years to come with tunes like this.
17: Ital Tek – Redeemer
Not often will you hear a song sound so important, yet so effortlessly digestable at the same time. Ital Tek’s Redeemer sounds like it could be bellowed out of the top of a snowy mountain like a beacon for home.
If a frozen lion could roar, it would probably sound a lot like this piece of totally majestic music.
16: Bon Iver – 33 “God”
It needs to be one hell of a song for it to be enjoyable despite the duo of some relatively poor mixing and bafflingly shit choice of song title. Alas, this is Bon Iver’s wont on what is a complete change of pace from the outfit that released classics such as Skinny Love and Woods.
This song is a Kanye/Justin Vernon lovechild, even if West may not appear as a contributor to this hotbed of a song, it is undeniable previous collaborations such as Lost In The World influence it. Add in a Paulo Nutini “Iron Sky” sample and you’ve got yourself one of the songs of the year.
15: Kanye West – Real Friends (Ty Dolla $ign)
Speaking of Kanye West, Real Friends shows us the best of what unfortunately a lot of the time was the very worst of Kanye in 2016. Released on Soundcloud early in the year, back to a simpler time when his album was called Swish and the absolute clusterfuck that was his album release began, Real Friends is, simply put, the best pop single Kanye has come out with since his Dark Fantasy days.
The to-and-fro with hip-hops background music mogul Ty Dolla $ign is superb, the production is tight, and it ends just as heavily as when it started. Yeezy is/was back.
14: BJ The Chicago Kid – Falling On My Face
Yes, he’s called BJ, stop giggling in the back. This song makes you embarrassed to even think of euphemisms, just down to how purely vintage and open it is. It’s rare to get a stripped back song these days that sounds fresh, one that steers completely away from generic radio noises in a bid for airtime. It’s a real shame that this song was near-enough ignored in the grand scheme of 2016.
13: DJ Khaled – Holy Key (Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, Betty Wright)
No, I haven’t a bloody clue how this has happened either. DJ Khaled, king of corny, prince of lazy, boring hip hop, enabler of shit songs about weed springs up with one of the absolute bangers of not only this year, but of any. Everyone brings their A-Game on this, Big Sean is vibrant, Kendrick shines through as Kendrick does, and Betty Wright comes through with a chorus so meaty it might just put hairs on your chest. Without doubt the surprise song of 2016.
12: Phantogram – Cruel World
From one Grammy-nominated artist to another, Phantogram pulls the rabbit out of the hat marked “Banger” to come up with the dirtfest that is Cruel World. Letting Sarah Barthel, the female half of Phantogram, take the reins for this turns out to be a masterstroke, carrying this brilliantly made song forward as one of the most memorable of the year.
11: LP – Muddy Waters
Having come to prominence on the series finale of the latest instalment of Orange is the New Black (don’t worry, no spoilers here), it’s been very tough for me not to dip my toes into Muddy Waters at least once a day. The hauntingly addictive beat serves as the perfect backdrop for the curiously named LP to deliver one of the vocal performances of 2016.
10: Frank Ocean – Rushes
Believe it or not, Frank Ocean actually released two albums this year. It’s hard to tell, seeing as the first of the duo, Endless, came out a couple of days before the main event of Blonde, and is essentially a DVD of Frank building a staircase. Not all that romantic sounding.
However, stick with Endless if you can ever find it in tracklist form. The longer cuts in particular are stunning at times, and no more so than with Rushes. The first three minutes alone are a fantastic standalone song, with a crescendo building to a minute or two of near perfection. It’s like Ocean popped a balloon called “Beautiful”, then scattered it’s remains all over Rushes.
9: Danny Brown – Really Doe (Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt)
Really Doe is a modern-day rarity in that it’s a rap posse track that doesn’t completely sound like arse. Far too often it’s a bunch of mediocre rappers falling over themselves to spit the most addictive bar they can think of. Not on this Danny Brown hit. Everybody involved knows their place, and everybody gives it as good as they can. Especially Earl, who provides what for me is verse of the year.
The only shame is it doesn’t show just how good Danny Brown can be, but if you’ve never given his material much notice before, it serves as one hell of an appetiser.
8: Solange – Mad (Lil Wayne)
Why have one great Knowles album in 2016 when you can have two? Solange is a teriffic musician in her own right, and this talent seems to have reached public knowledge with her latest album A Seat at the Table.
Mad serves itself up as the most structured, and potentially most catchy record of the lot, and I was left especially impressed with Lil Wayne. For all his faults (and there are faults) you could never accuse him of not investing in a feature on a song. Mad is a supreme case in point.
7: Kano – 3-Wheel Ups (Wiley, Giggs)
By now we all know about grime’s resurgence/emergence, dependent on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you grew up on. For all that Skepta brought with Konnichiwa, and it is a very solid release, it doesn’t have the pure grime feel that Made In The Manor does. Whether that makes it a better record is up for debate, but what isn’t for me is that 3-Wheel Ups is one of the best grime songs I’ve heard in the last 10 years. It’s frighteningly good, and to involve Wiley, respected as a kingpin of grime, on one of the verses is a genius move.
6: Kanye West – No More Parties In LA (Kendrick Lamar)
While Real Friends was Kanye’s best single in terms of pop music, No More Parties In LA might as well be from a different stratosphere, in terms of its genre and sound. It’s a classic hip-hop vibe at its finest, with Kendrick’s serving as the opening act what becomes a marathon of a verse from Kanye. No hooks, no tricks, no reliance on beats, a pure session of unadulterated talent.
5: Michael Kiwanuka – Cold Little Heart
You really get your money’s worth with Cold Little Heart. I thought about placing Falling, from the same album on this list, but why take the abridged version of something when it can be as long and glorious as this from Michael Kiwanuka?
Five whole minutes of introduction, and yet not a second spared. It teases, turns and twists itself into shape, a musical equivalent to childbirth, with something not much less miraculous at the end of this respective journey.
4: ANOHNI – Crisis
As well as 4 Degrees being better than Drone Bomb Me, we have Crisis being better than pretty much anything else released this year from ANOHNI. Sung with a voice that could scorch the Earth, it drowns you in a pit of emotional discomfort.
A lot of artists tried to convey a political message in 2016, with current affairs perhaps never being more controversial and thought-provoking. I’m not sure anybody got the message right any better than ANOHNI did.
3: Anderson .Paak – Lite Weight
Funk had it’s time again in 2016. More and more artists, from across the musical spectrum, are beginning to come to the fore making music that not long ago was consigned to the history books, at least speaking in terms of popularity.
Anderson .Paak may not be a trailblazer of this craft, but he is one of it’s finest. For all the negativity that everyone found in the last 12 months, artists like .Paak (who previously was most known for collaborating a hell of a lot with Dr. Dre on his album Compton last year), who bring energy, life and most importantly fun into their records really need to be celebrated more often.
That’s what Lite Weight is. A rally of verses connected with one of the most addictive hooks his sub-genre has ever produced.
2: Childish Gambino – Me And Your Mama
Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, personally named The Man Who Will Try Anything, is back. Though if you’d have kept your eyes shut you’d never have noticed. I cannot remember such a drastic shift in terms of sound from an artist from one album to another before. He doesn’t rap once on new album “Awaken, My Love!”, not that once you’ve settled in you’ll have any problem with that whatsoever.
I had Gambino down as an inconsistent talent before this. And while that hit and miss record does come through again on this latest release, it most certainly doesn’t on his greastest song to date, Me And Your Mama.
A trickle becomes a tsunami of music in what is an absolute monster of a song, powerful enough to rip your ear drums into orgasm.
1: Frank Ocean – Nikes
Oh, Frankie, Frankie, Frankie. When people said you couldn’t top Channel Orange, they appeared to be underestimating the potential you’ve got.
Even from the initial slap into life that is the opening beat, whatever version of Nikes you are hearing is the right one. Three minutes of what initially sound like prelude play before one of the most heart-straining, and yet understated verses I’ve ever heard. Which finishes as majestically as it started.
Nikes doesn’t need to be try-hard. Nikes doesn’t need to be a giant spectacle. It performs as a champion song, in its own right, on its two feet, which is a fair analogy for Frank Ocean’s career to date. To be one of the only (semi)mainstream artists to hold so much secrecy over his work, even when it’s been released, is an underrated talent, and one that only makes his singles and albums better.
He’ll keep letting you guys prophesise, he’s off seeing the future first. As of right now, however, Frank Ocean – Nikes is 2016’s best song, and to be perfectly honest, it’s really not even a contest.