In No Ranking Order: The 16 Best Songs of 2016
In No Ranking Order: The 16 Best Songs of 2016

In No Ranking Order: The 16 Best Songs of 2016

In No Ranking Order: The 16 Best Songs of 2016

Yesterday we brought you our favorite overlooked projects of 2016. Today, however, we're switching gears, honing in on the cuts that were simply inescapable in 2016. There's been no shortage of playlist fodder, something for every head, really. NxWorries, GoldLink and Kaytranada gave us two-step anthems that'll sho nuff guide us to the dance floor for decades to come. Rae Sremmurd and D.R.A.M. offered seemingly ubiquitous additions to the trap cannon that, while not as timeless as some of these selections, deserve their share of 2016's bountiful glow.  Solange helped us heal, Kanye and Chance showed us just how deep Chicago's gospel lineage goes and a pair of TDE's finest gave us vibes galore.

Safe to say the year's been one of the most potently prolific to date. So we went ahead duked it out over which might be considered the year's best. Skim through to hear the tracks individually or peep them all in one place in the first playlist from our freshly-launched Spotify channel below. — Zo

In No Ranking Order: The 16 Best Songs of 2016

Kanye West feat. Chance The Rapper - "Ultralight Beam" 

Some of the best songs in Kanye West's catalog are not at all about him. Yes, I know, surprise surprise, but "Touch The Sky" help skyrocket Lupe Fiasco to the world. "Mercy" made white women in middle America say "2 Chainz" in a southern drawl. "Monster" gave Nicki Minaj a chance to kill the best rappers in the game all in one fell swoop. Thank you, Yeezy. On "Ultralight Beam," the otherworldly cut from The Life of Pablo, Kanye Tudda concedes the rays to Chance The Rapper who puts on a clinic, extremely crushing the cut and cementing his place amongst the budding greats. Throw out that this was supposed to be used for Coloring Book (another fantastic album!) — "Ultralight Beam" perfectly summed up what this new crop of lyrical MCs were meant to be to us audiophile parishioners, of course with Kirk Franklin + Kelly Price's blessings. - Kevito

In No Ranking Order: The 16 Best Songs of 2016

NxWorries - "Link Up" 

For the track “Link Up” Knxwledge exquisitely sampled Brazilian singer Cassiano’s “Onda.” An expertly smooth and groovy jam from the 1970s that has the sounds of a warm summer day on a beautiful beach with seagulls singing in the background. “Link Up” oozes vintage sounds that’ll have you two-stepping and snapping your fingers. The song is the perfect embodiment of Anderson .Paak’s uniquely infectious voice and Knxwledge’s dusty and sunny production at peak levels, perfecting complimenting one another. - Abel

In No Ranking Order: The 16 Best Songs of 2016

Rae Sremmurd - "Black Beatles"

"Black Beatles" was a hit well before "The Mannequin Challenge" swept our meme-per-minute minds. Sure it helped, but the latest chart-topper from Swae, Slim and Mike Will Made It was basically destined for glory from the get. Much like Sremmlife and its 2016 sequel in whole, "Black Beatles" is a versatile trap anthem, equally fitting of late nights in mosh-pits and early mornings in strip clubs. It may have been their first number one record, but if anything, "Black Beatles" proves there's magic in Mike Will's minimalism and Sremmurd's taste for simple, penetrating hooks.  -  Zo

GoldLink Celebrates His Birthday w/ A Fiery Freestyle [prod. Kaytranada]

GoldLink feat. Cicero - "Fall In Love"

Had "Fall In Love" dropped at the top of summer it would have been the score to every rooftop hang and poolside party in the world. It didn't, but the Kaytranada- produced two-step special did have us yearning for those warmer days with mounting intensity upon each and every listen. It's a seductive and timeless space disco cut that transports you to the illest throwdown in the cosmos; perhaps on one of Saturn's dusty rings or whichever planet can handle the sheer gravitational force of so many damn feet moving in accord. GoldLink also displays his elasticity as a vocalist, hopping in and out romance raps as he leads an affectionate hook, enough to convince beyond a reasonable doubt that this DMV x Montreal mix is one we can expect to be fruitful for years to come.  -  Zo

In No Ranking Order: The 16 Best Songs of 2016

Chance The Rapper feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz - "No Problem"

There were few, if any, cuts this year that invoked the type of overtly empowering energy that "No Problems" gave us. With the Collegrove duo, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, in tow, Chance lays out rules #1 through #4080 for dealing with shady industry execs; a perfect anchor to an album campaign hinged to the free-for-all-who-seek-it ethos Chance has embodied since day one. "No Problems," aside from being the cornerstone of the Chicago rapper's stand for independent artists, provides ample bump no matter the venue; a song so unflinchingly confident it readies listeners for any and all challenge(r)s.  -  Zo

D.R.A.M. Puts The Work On Bryson Tiller's "Don't"

D.R.A.M. feat. Lil Yachty - "Broccoli"

Sure, "Cute" and "Cash Machine" might've been the easier choices. But rather it is the highly charting single from Virginia's own, Big Baby D.R.A.M. album, that is not only invigorating, but also puts a smile on one's face. As one of our ambassadors of #BlackBoyJoy, D.R.A.M. is otherworldly vibrant and jubilant in the middle of the club, which is where we all want to be at some point in time. With Lil' Boat on as a feature, "Broccoli" finds him reaching out to the next generation of rap stars. E-40 issues aside, "Broccoli" is also impactful in serving as D.R.A.M.'s hit post-Drake-thievery, which should make the upcoming Grammys very interesting. There hasn't been any place where D.R.A.M. couldn't spread the wealth this year while riding his on his successes. With D.R.A.M.'s stock on the rise, living it up is only expected and seeing him do so in such a colorful manner means his positive attitude will continue to captivate millions in 2017. - Kevito

Day 1: Kendrick Lamar, Kelala, Vince Staples Tear Down The FYF Fest

Kendrick Lamar - "untitled 07 | levitate"

Kendrick Lamar’s music is revered for its deliberate assembly and construction, so his latest album untitled unmastered. stands out for its lack of cohesion. “Untitled 07” - also known as “Levitate” illustrates that as well as any song on the project. The three-part, eight-minute track captures the improvisational tone of jazz as well as anything on To Pimp A Butterfly: abstract rhymes, experimentation with vocal cadences, and talking shit with his band. But even when Kendrick is just fooling around, he comes up with a pair of catchy hooks and his characteristically sharp rhymes. The final product is brilliant, but the process is just as important. - William E. Ketchum III

Hear Drake Connect w/ The Late Pimp C On Spirited New Leak "Faithful"

Drake - "Controlla"

Depending on who you ask, of the two dancehall singles that were a part of Drake's Views — "Controlla" or "One Dance" — you may find some that are more in favor of the former than the latter (and vice-versa). But let's be real — "Controlla" is the better of the two. There's a certain sensuality and intimacy that comes with "Controlla" that isn't as present on "One Dance." If the latter is Drake beckoning a potential dance partner with Hennessy in hand, the former is the successful aftermath in which chemistry has been made, and more than one plastic cup of Hennessy has been consumed by both. Elijah C. Watson

Solange Unveils Enchanting Videos For "Cranes In The Sky" + "Don't Touch My Hair"

Solange - "Cranes In The Sky"

The “cranes” in Solange’s hauntingly powerful song operates, for me, on two levels. One is the crane of the sky - oppressive metal blocking the rays of the sun. Construction is finished, the crane disappears, the sun pokes through, and progress is proclaimed only for a different block to be outfitted with the same oppressive metal, again, in a never ending cycle. It is a song that embodies our society’s supposed progress but also the sameness, the pain and hate it still espouses. The other crane the song evokes is that of the bird that walks with neck outstretched, head up, despite the struggles of life, a bird that migrates long distances, “70 states.” Cranes are at times solitary and at others social. “Cranes in the Sky” is a song about depression, about coping and attempting to overcome. It is a gorgeous and stunning track that soars and ascends past the oppressive metal in the sky in introspective search for solace and peace in a loud and insensitive world. - Abel

Isaiah Rashad Keeps The Streak Going w/ Another Heater

Isaiah Rashad - "Free Lunch"

“Free Lunch” is one of 2016’s best marriages of beats and rhymes. Producer Cam O’bi’s bluesy banjos, stuttering drums and thumping bassline are the perfect backdrop for Isaiah Rashad’s countrified rhymes about his upbringing in Chatanooga, Tenn.: staying fresh, chasing women and puffing good, complete with shout outs to specific hometown homies and landmarks. It’s perfect riding music, and nearly impossible to listen to less than two times at once. - William E. Ketchum III

In No Ranking Order: The 16 Best Songs of 2016

Kanye West feat. Kid Cudi - "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1"

Chance, Vic Mensa Put On A Show At Common's AAHH! Fest In Chicago

Chance The Rapper - "Blessings" 

In an interview with DJ Semtex, Chance The Rapper said that he can feel the support of people praying for him. “There’s people around the world, that I don’t know, that I’ve never met before, that pray for me. I know it’s true, because I wake up every day and can see it, in terms of things that are bestowed upon me that I’m blessed with,” Chance said. “Blessings,” a highlight from his mixtape Coloring Book, returns the favor to anyone listening. Lil Chano doesn’t use the song to gloat about his own accomplishments, but as an opportunity to inspire everyone else to prepare for their own blessings. The chorus’ focus on communal joy over individual, along with rewind-worthy rhymes in both verses, is just an example of how Chance was 2016’s Most Valuable Player. - William E. Ketchum III

Day 2: Grace Jones, Denzel Curry + Rae Sremmurd Throw The Best Parties At FYF Fest

Blood Orange - "Best To You"

An obvious standout from Freetown Sound Blood Orange's collaborative track with Empress Of pulses with excitement and hope, the sonic atmosphere of it all juxtaposing Empress Of's lyrics of longing. "I can be the only one / I can be the best to you, be the best to you," repeats Empress Of as Blood Orange croons in the background "Do you really want to?" The song captures those final, fleeting moments of a relationship nearing its end, the end result a loss of both a union and the self — where you've offered so much of your identity to this relationship, that you now can't seem to remember what you looked like before it. But in that loss comes a melancholy celebration — a new opportunity to build yourself up again. "Best to You" isn't just an ode to what could've been, but what can be, dancing through the city streets and allowing the tears to descend from your eyes. Elijah C. Watson

NoName Announces First Headlining North American Tour

Noname feat. Phoelix, Smino and Saba - "Shadow Man"

Death and mortality are unfortunately common themes attached to the black experience in America, and Noname speaks to that on "Shadow Man." As the last track on Telefone "Shadow Man" finds three talented and young artists already pondering their legacy, when they've just begun their respective journeys. They're already imagining what their funerals will look like, with Noname requesting that Kanye West present the eulogy, and Smino requesting that Metro Boomin' booms throughout the procession. In a time in which we've seen black people fatally killed for everything from selling CDs and cigarettes to actually abiding by the law, "Shadow Man" resonates even more. In a way it provides its own calm and clarity: a melancholy closure that accepts that death is inevitable. But that doesn't necessarily mean that you should never stop fighting. - Elijah C. Watson

In No Ranking Order: The 16 Best Songs of 2016

Kaytranada - "LITE SPOTS"

If anyone knows me or works with me then it is no small secret how much I love this song. From the jump, Kaytranada mix-mosh of hypnotic groovy bounce had me like this with no shame whatsoever. Then by adding some sampled chants and some not-so-muted funk to it all, "LITE SPOTS" became great because it had been years (honestly!) since I heard something as melodious that flowed through my bones and excelled with merit. Placed almost the near-end on 99.9% — "LITE SPOTS" served as the climatic third-act song to an otherwise exceptionally well done and a truly appreciated sonic adventure. In a year where almost every other day you were reading about someone getting killed or racially assaulted, "LITE SPOTS" was my very own safe space that allowed me to unplug from the wars going on outside and get down. - Kevito

Childish Gambino Assaulted The Future With The "Pharos" Experience

Childish Gambino - "Redbone"

"Redbone" is a slow burning track that heavily draws from music from decades past. Childish Gambino’s smoldering warning to “stay woke, niggas creeping” simmers on contact. Glover’s raspy voice, which is reminiscent of Macy Gray, scratches against sharp drums and spacious melodies. “Redbone” deals with relationships, compatibility on the surface but deep riffs behind closed doors. It’s a song about love and fidelity that features Gambino flexing his vocal skill, in a new and different direction that looks backwards yet somehow moves everything forward. - Abel