In No Ranking Order: The 16 Best Videos of 2016
Good as it's been to our ears, the year's been just as easy on our eyes. You've seen the most slept-on records of the year and the most unshakeable cuts. But today we pan our lens to the sweetest and most savory pieces of eye candy to have come across our computer screens in 2016.
The psychedelics and surrealism were heavy on this lap around the sun. Frank Ocean, Danny Brown and Kaytranada can all vouch. Other artists (Kendrick Lamar, Solange and Isaiah Rashad) opted for deeply intimate visual extensions of songs already vivid and pointed in mp3. Then there were the ones that just wanted show us just how many place and spaces could house a late night/early morning of fuckery, whether it be murky purple-crushed forest or your local liquor store.
Here are some of the most compelling videos of this fine year in music, in no ranking order. Next up, the big one: best albums. Stay tuned. — Zo
Danny Brown - "When It Rain"
Filled with stuttering images of static and visuals that mimic the look of old VHS tapes, the music video for Danny Brown’s “When It Rains” bounces up and down. Produced by Paul White and directed by Mimi Cave the video for “When It Rains” cuts between Danny rapping and dancers dancing to the tune of jit in the city of Detroit, Michigan. Colors are played with as footage cuts back and forth. The visuals go well with the raw lyrics and cadences of Danny Brown as he raps "”When it rain, when it pour, get your ass on the floor.” - Abel
Francis & The Lights feat. Bon Iver & Kanye West - "Friends"
In 2016, Francis & The Lights went from being your favorite musicians' favorite behind-the-scenes eccentric to being all the way out front. The "Friends" visual had no small part in facilitating that transition. Directed by long-time collaborator, Jake Schreier, it's minimalism of the highest, most touching order. A clean, cool and sentimental aesthetic, cementing a bond between Francis and his new friends/fans via tight-knit choreography and dwarfing white-walled backdrops. Even Kanye gets in on the fun. - Zo
Solange feat. Sampha - "Don't Touch My Hair"
There is a certain intimacy we as black people share with our hair. Our hair is an extension of our identity — a form of expression that's figuratively and literally touched by the masses. Solange's declaration comes as a warning: "Don't touch what's mine." The celebration then begins, as a sequence of shots show black men and women with an array of different hairstyles. Our crowns come in many forms, and each one is just as important as the other — just ask Solange. - Elijah C. Watson
ScHoolboy Q - "THat Part"
The video for Schoolboy Q’s “THat Part” has clocked in over 111 million views, and it’s earned every one of them. Trippy special effects, strippers and unpredictable color palettes during Schoolboy’s verses are great, but Kanye West steals the show. During his verse he prances around a mansion with his swagger on a hundred, thousand, trillion, before turning up in party mode. He then ends the video by making a schoolbus screech to a halt - just so he can get hype in the middle of the street. It’s one of Kanye’s most memorable moments of the year, and one of the best songs of 2016. - William E. Ketchum III
Frank Ocean - "Nikes"
Every bit as spacious and kaleidoscopic as Blonde itself, the Boys Don't Cry zine came to life in this stunning visualization of the album's lead-off cut. The first wave in Frank's mixed media masterpiece, director Tyron Lebon creates a visceral experience, presenting the channel Orange artist as both ally and barrier to his new self, as if to suggest our only chance of embracing the resurgent r&b star was to put "Sweet Life" out of mind and take in all the glitter, rain and pink-gold lemonade. A surreal meditation on sexual ambiguity and identity from an artist that lives in and cherishes all of our cultural grays. - Zo
Kaytranada - "LITE SPOTS"
The wonderful, crazy mind of Kaytranada provided smiles and strong grooves this year with his award-winning effort, 99.9%. On "Lite Spots," a stand-out song if there was any this year, Kaytra gets his Wall-E on by building an automaton buddy in the Martin C. Pariseau-directed clip. The two learn and trade dance moves throughout the city, while giving us audiophiles some serious tunes to shake our own two-step to. From the Kaytra-Bot 3000 dancing with a cute little girl at the bus stop to being outclassed by dancer Bones — "Lite Spots" might just win on the moves alone. Better performed than Jai Courtney in any of the Terminator flicks, Kaytranada's "Lite Spots" video does well to make the forthcoming robot rebellion at least entertaining. - Kevito
Kanye West - "FADE"
When Kanye West was alotted four minutes to do whatever the fuck he wanted at this year's MTV Video Music Awards, chaos was expected to ensue. Instead, West was tame and premiered the video for "Fade." Part Flashdance homage, part reminder of why Teyana Taylor is one of the most underrated members of G.O.O.D. Music, the video features her going through multiple dance routines with a fierceness that is simultaneously alluring and intimidating. By the end she's transformed into a lion, her arms wrapped around husband Iman Shumpert, as their newborn baby lays with them. Taylor is the star of "Fade." Here, she's in control of her body, celebrating its movements and its ability to create. If there's any one word that is associated with West it's divisiveness, and "Fade" is surely a testament to that, treading a line on sexuality that's so compelling you can't look away. - Elijah C. Watson
NxWorries - "Link Up"
Never has the prospect of spending any time in a liquor store past the point of purchase looked like this much damn fun. Naturally, .Paak and Knxw make it seem like the only possible venue for their particular brand of after-hours antics, basically embodying the joy of Kanye's holy trinity to a four-minute Calmatic-directed daydream co-starring Eric Andre (catches a righteous fade) and Earl Sweatshirt (maybe the only person on the planet we'd like to hear over Knxw's fantastically fucked up drum and soul loops as much as or more than .Paak.) - Zo
Kaytranada feat. Anderson .Paak - "GLOWED UP"
The visuals for Kaytranada’s “Glowed Up” are soaked in a purple blue tint. The video goes back and forth between Kay at a party and Anderson .Paak in nature via an old television set, the footage static filled and reminiscent of old VHS tapes. The visuals are surreal, they move and then pause, a slow zoom, a spider moves across the screen, smoke or fog rolls in, Kay holds a snake, and a vibe of weirdness permeates. The creepy visuals compliment the song, the sputtering glow, the many colorful hues the song, melodies, and lyrics evokes. - Abel
Divine Council - "Decemba" Remix
Divine Council have found a creative partner in Andre 3000, who not only hopped on the remix to the track but served as the director for its music video. Here, Council and 3 Stacks offer a provocative and poignant story that is so unflinching in its commentary of black death at the hands of police, that its final seconds are hard to stomach. Also, honorable mention to the black dude with the handlebar mustache in whiteface that pops up towards the end of the video. - Elijah C. Watson
Chance The Rapper feat. Saba - "Angels"
Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book is an exercise of joy and aspiration, and the music video for “Angels” is a snapshot of that happiness. A jumpsuit and goggles-wearing Chance skydives on top of a train, where a crew of young folks are dancing in the aisles. Chance, Saba and the train riders then take their dancing to the streets of Chicago, before a little boy who appears at the beginning of the video returns with a halo over his head. The skydiving, choreography and bits of animation depict Chance’s hometown as vibrant instead of focusing on its epidemic of violence, and keep the spirit of elation high. - William E. Ketchum III
Kanye West - "Famous"
The music video for “Famous” is peak Kanye West: artsy, ambitious, problematic, and thought-provoking. Inspired by Vincent Desiderio’s painting “Sleep” and premiered at The Forum arena in Inglewood, Calif., the video shows Kanye and a roster of other celebrities that are within a few degrees of separation naked and sleeping on a Thor-sized mattress. George Bush, Taylor Swift, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, Ray J, Kim Kardashian, and Caitlyn Jenner are all voyeuristically depicted as sleep, snoring, and farting. The video raises questions about the invasiveness of celebrity, humanizes people he and others have publicly rallied against, and causes much-deserved controversy all at once. It’s a ballsy move, but no one else in rap or pop music can even attempt to pull it off. - William E. Ketchum III
Kendrick Lamar - "God Is Gangsta"
The video, which was directed by PANAMÆRA, the little homies, and Jack Begert, features Kendrick going through it. The video captures the excesses and temptations of fame while also pondering loss and experiencing depression against a backdrop of deeply religious imagery. The juxtapositions within the visuals are striking and powerful and stunning and raw. The video, which begins with the track "U" and then transitions into "For Sale" is hit with quick jump cuts. White text with the words, ““INSTAGRAM 2016= DUSSY UNLIMITED,” and “IF I BLAME YOU FOR A LOSS. ILL BE GIVING YOU ALL THE CREDIT” quickly appears against a black background, reminiscent of French New Wave cinema. “God Is Gangsta” perfectly sums up the masterpiece that is To Pimp A Butterfly. - Abel
Isaiah Rashad - "4r Da Squaw"
That gang over at Top Dawg Entertainment are hella creative and smart, I must say. Their down South representative, Isaiah Rashad, has had a successful 2016 with the release of The Sun's Tirade. One of the standout cuts was "4r Da Squaw," which was directed by Christian Sutton and Dave Free (of The Lil' Homies) and finds the young, budding star on the Santa Monica Boardwalk with his son by his side. As the two go fishing, play games, kick sand on the beach, dance and flirt with girls — Zay opens up about his own relationship with his parental unit. An adorable kid with carefree behavior, mixed with some not-so-subtle commentary about money and what can be done with or without it — and you have a great formula for a great video. It is a smart contribution from the Isaiah and the TDE squaw, and if you haven't heard this project don't let another year go by without hearing it. - Kevito
Vic Mensa - "16 Shots"
In a year where over 217 black men were killed by cops, Vic Mensa "16 Shots" was a necessary protest song in the face of police brutality that plagued 2016. Resilience is the theme of the video: Mensa endures baton beatings, taser shocks and multiple gun shots, only to survive it all. He's the embodiment of the black American spirit — frustrated and tired but still somehow has the strength to persevere — to survive. - Elijah C. Watson
Blood Orange - "Augustine"
Dev Hynes' Freetown Sound is already one of our favorite albums of the year, so it would come as no surprise that one of the videos from the album would make our list. "Augustine," which was directed and edited by Dev Hynes, unravels as a love letter to the city that never sleeps. From powerfully pirouetting on a rooftop to voguing with others at Washington Square Park to eating delicious hot wings with The Strokes' Julian Casablancas — "Augustine" served as a beautiful reminder of just how magical New York City can be despite how insane it has become. - Kevito