Top 30 Songs of 2016
After a year wait, the big lists have finally arrived. I give you my top 30 hip hop/r&b tracks of 2016. Enjoy, and thank you for being here!
30) Larry June – ‘Sunshine’
Let’s begin the list with some good vibes. ‘Sunshine’ is a simple song, in which Larry June proclaims his feelings for an unknown woman. Rather than stereotypically pursuing this woman just for sex though, Larry is instead trying to win her love and affection. More than anything, he aims to light up her life, hence the song’s title. Overall, it’s a sweet message that a lot of us can relate to – dude has such a cool voice.
29) Kodak Black – ‘Can I’
2016 was a huge year for Florida rapper ‘Kodak Black.’ He was voted an XXL Freshmen, collabed with French Montana on one of the summer’s hottest singles and also dropped his biggest mixtape to date, titled Lil B.I.G. Pac. ‘Can I’ is my favorite cut from the tape, as it features some refreshingly personal bars and a powerful hook. Probably the most impressive track he’s dropped yet, stay clean Kodak!
28) Common – ‘Forever Black America (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid, Gucci Mane & Pusha T)’
Remix to the title track of Common’s eleventh studio album Black America Again. The Chicago MC swapped Stevie Wonder for Gucci, Blowbama and BJ the Chicago Kid, and it actually turned out to be better than the original in its own unique way. Each guest verse showcases aged wisdom and insight to the deeply embedded racial inequalities of this nation, and BJ brings the soul on the hook. A dynamite performance by three legends.
27) Vic Mensa – ‘Shades of Blue’
Thank you Vic. Throughout the year you used your platform as a public figure to spread awareness on some of the horrors occurring in this country, and I’m proud to be a fan of your work. The same activism Vic displayed in his actions was also evident on his There’s Alot Going On EP; just listen to this track. Mensa discusses topics such as the Flint water crisis and police brutality, before ending the verse with some genius cultural awareness:
“Now here I am talking ’bout a revolution, and I can’t even spare a dollar to the movement. But I’m in the strip club spending dollars on that movement. I guess we all got room for improvement.”
How bout that.
26) Jay IDK – ‘SOMEBODY’
A ‘Players‘ sample + jazzy production + a slick flow + Will Smith = success. You got that? Jay IDK was one of the breakout stars from the DMV in 2016 for sure, and possibly even in the entire game. Bright future ahead. Peep Empty Bank if you haven’t.
25) Cousin Stizz – ‘500 Horses’
Boston in the house! Last year, Stizz made waves with his debut project Suffolk County. He capitalized off this success by dropping another tape titled MONDA in early summer 2016, with ‘500 Horses’ serving as one of the lead singles. Perfect whip song – chorus is insanely catchy.
24) Earl Sweatshirt – ‘Wind in My Sails’
Earl was rather quiet in 2016, only dropping a few tracks here and there. This cut appeared randomly on SoundCloud one day, sparking excitement throughout the young artist’s fan base. It’s more upbeat sounding than what we usually have heard from Earl, but his lyrics are top-notch as always. Vivid imagery and a fuego beat help to make this loosie shine. Excited to see what he’ll do next year.
23) K.A.A.N. – ‘Music’
How this guy hasn’t blown up yet I still don’t know. Just peep the flow. INSANE! The Maryland spitter bodies the soulful production on ‘Music’ – what a talent. Had the pleasure of interviewing him last year, and I dig where his head is at. Vision is there, now we just have to wait for everyone to catch up. If he’s not on your radar already, I bet he is now.
22) Czarface – ‘Two in the Chest’
7L did us dirty on this beat. Might be the best one Czarface has spit over yet. Eso and Inspectah are one of the hardest hitting 1-2 punches in the rap game currently, tracks like this only solidify it. Shouts to God Complex.
21) Run the Jewels – ‘Legend Has It’
There’s almost too many killer songs from RTJ 3. It’s just not fair. Mikey and El are in prime form on here, swapping sidesplitting verses like kids trading Pokemon cards at recess. If they keep getting better, I fear for the rest of the game. Too ill.
20) A Tribe Called Quest – ‘The Space Program’
Best intro track all year. Hearing Phife, Robi and Tip weave in and out like that almost brings a tear to my eye every time. Classic Tribe sound, but with a modernized/organic twist. Really dig that Gene Wilder sample at the end too. Take notes kids.
19) Maxo Kream – ‘Smoke Break’
Maxo Kream has been slowly building a promsing career for himself these past few years. The Houston rapper dropped his best project yet in 2016 with The Persona Tape; this Chunk Inglish produced collab is my favorite from the release. Fans can expect his debut album next year (if he can hopefully stay outta jail). One of the South’s finest right now.
18) ScHoolboy Q – ‘JoHn Muir’
BELLIN’ THROUGH THE MUTHAF*CKIN’ STREETS Y’ALL! Once that line kicks in the volume has to go all the way up. Even though Blank Face is filled with a stack of stellar tracks, this one stands a bit higher than the rest. Has a timeless sound to it, must be the saxophone on the hook that does it. Props to Sounwave.
17) Kid Cudi – ‘Surfin’ (feat. Pharrell)’
Out of all the feel-good music released this year, ‘Surfin’ takes the cake. The combination of Cudi’s vocals with the mean baseline/horns section and overall feeling of unbridled happiness is just joyous. Hell of a video too. Sending love your way, Cudi!
16) Travis Scott – ‘Pick Up the Phone (feat. Young Thug & Quavo)’
Song of the summer? Quite possibly. Three of the genre’s biggest names (as well as Frank Dukes and Vinlz) combine forces to create the tropical trap anthem of a generation. Quotable after quotable on here; ‘Pick Up the Phone’ encapsulates the dominance of Southern hip hop in 2016. Always have trouble choosing between Quavo and Thugga’s verses. Who killed it more? The world may never know.
15) Danny Brown – ‘Really Doe (feat. Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar & Earl Sweatshirt)’
Do I even have to say anything for this one? Just look at that lineup! And it’s over a Black Milk beat! Songs like this get me excited for future rap fans. Fifteen years from now, some young emerging fan of hip hop will find this for the first time and be amazed that four top MCs of the 2010s came together for a posse cut. You gotta dig that.
14) Baauer – ‘Kung Fu (feat. Pusha T & Future)’
Insane production, one of Future’s best hooks ever and two clean Pusha verses. What else do you need? Good headphones/speakers are mandatory – my top party track of 2016.
13) Trapo – ‘She Moved On’
Sleeper pick of 2016. Trapo’s music is a good example of how to balance the popular rapping/singing style that’s so big right now, and he dropped two projects this year to prove it. ‘She Moved On’ is off his She EP that came out back in March, and I was hooked right from the fist second I heard it. Flow, cadence, voice, delivery, bars – all bases are covered.
12) Elzhi – ‘The Healing Process’
Elzhi has had quite the career. He first got big as a member of Slum Village, then went solo and released some dope albums on his own (including an incredible tribute to Nas’ Illmatic), and since has stapled himself as one of the most acclaimed Detroit MCs to ever touch the mic. His technical skill is shown off on ‘The Healing Process,’ as he packs wild flows, deep lyrics and a peaceful hook all into a four minute span. Bump this during tough times, it helped me out a lot this year.
11) Isaiah Rashad – ‘Park’
A facemelter of a drop. Zaywop tears up the piano-laced beat, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played this since it was released in early September. His voice is so raw on the track too, bass this good should be a crime. Glad to hear he is doing better with his health/sobriety – what an artist.
10) Jorja Smith – ‘Blue Lights’
Real shit. Jorja Smith made me a fan with this track, and she’s got a stunning voice. ‘Blue Lights’ is a heartbreaking dedication to all the victims of murderous and corrupt police. Rest in peace to all victims of 2016 – may the future shine brighter than it did this year.
9) Pusha T – ‘Drug Dealers Anonymous (feat. Jay Z)’
This should come as no surprise. Pusha and Hov brought the fury on this DJ Dahi produced cut – Jay easily has top 5 verses of the year here. Sounds like the type of life Stringer Bell dreamed about.
8) James Blake & Vince Staples – ‘Timeless Remix’
When I first heard the original ‘Timeless’ by James Blake, my mind kinda exploded a little bit. The production sounded interstellar, especially when that hypnotic siren kicked in. I immediately hoped that someone would spit over it – but I never expected someone as talented as Vince to take a stab. The end result was even better than I could have conceived, and Staples crafted cinematic scenes with every line. Cool to see that Blake also produced on Prima Donna, looking forward to more collabs in the future.
7) Royce da 5’9″ – ‘Tabernacle’
In my humble opinion, Royce has never gotten the full praise he deserves as an artist. He’s an insane lyricist, always working closely with other hip hop greats. Not only that, but his discography is also both lengthy and consistent, including his work with ‘Slaughterhouse,’ ‘PRhyme’ and ‘Bad Meets Evil.’ ‘Tabernacle’ tells the story of the “most significant day” of his life, in which his grandmother passed, his son was born and he also met Eminem for the first time – all in the span of 24 hours. Crazy that this a true recollection, and Royce did a fantastic job telling it. Almost is career defining.
6) Anderson .Paak – ‘The Season/Carry Me’
10/10 vocals (on both tracks). 9th Wonder’s heavenly production on ‘The Season.’ One of 2016’s greatest beat switches. .Paak’s bars on ‘Carry Me.’ Those are just four of the many reasons why I love this track so much. Some of the best 5 and half minutes of music you’ll hear all year. Audible perfection.
5) Domo Genesis – ‘Dapper (feat. Anderson .Paak)’
It has been a long come up for Domo, but it’s been more than worth the wait. I can remember bumping Under the Influence back in high school, hoping that he’d put out a studio album. Five years later it finally dropped, shattering my expectations. GENESIS featured Tyler, the Creator, Mac Miller, Da$h, Cam O’bi, Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa, JMSN, King Chip and, of course, Mr. Anderson .Paak himself. This is contender for collab of the year – congrats to Dom!
4) Frank Ocean – ‘Nights’
‘Nights’ reminds me more of a movie than a song. It’s broken up into four completely different parts, each segwaying masterfully into the next. It starts off cheerful and bright, melts into a hazy synth party, crashes into flurry of guitars and static, only to end in a beat that Drake would have killed (like, straight up murder. commit a homicide) to have on If You’re Reading This it’s Too Late. And I mean that in the sincerest of compliments. The more impressive feat is that all throughout the epic, Frank is performing at the sheer peak of his potential. Singing, rapping, pacing – I cannot commend him enough. 2001: A Space Odyssey for your ears.
3) Chance the Rapper – ‘Same Drugs’
Funny that my favorite track from Coloring Book is the one with the least hip hop in it. Regardless, this is a moving ballad on friendships long lost and finding inner peace, and it kept a smile on my face for most of the year. Chance’s singing hits me directly in my heart – it’s just too damn relatable. Growing apart from each other is one of the toughest challenges we deal with as a people, but Chance brings a lot of earnest clarity to the topic. The symbolism is on point as well. Lil Chano has matured with finesse, and I wish him continuous luck in his future endeavors. Simply one of the best.
2) Kanye West – ‘No More Parties in L.A. (feat. Kendrick Lamar)’
Kanye West. Kendrick Lamar. Two of the most important artists post-2000, in ALL of music. It was only right that they eventually worked together. Each MC delivers a blistering verse, with Kanye actually beating out Dot for top verse on the track! AND Madlib is on the beat! Are you f*cking kidding me!? One of the most iconic trios to ever work together. ‘NMPILA’ lived up to all the hype and then some. It’s so good it’s almost like I’m dreaming whenever I listen to it, and it’s exactly the type of track I needed Kanye to drop this year. Wishing him the best as well. Godlike hip hop. Making the pillars proud.
1) Mick Jenkins – ‘Spread Love’
I guarantee no one saw this coming! Hell, I didn’t at first. But, when I went through the criteria that makes up the title of “song of the year,” ‘Spread Love’ hit the highest in all categories. Starting off, the rapping has to be on point. Mick is terrific, bringing a water-like (haha pun) flow and snappy worldplay to the table. He truly is a master of ceremony, and his fluidity within the track is nuts.
Second, let’s analyze the beat. The production itself is meditative and tranquil as it gets; Sango really did his thing on here. The smoothed-out, rumbling bass scattered throughout the song also adds a nice warmth to it – drums are on point too. Finally, the church-organ breakdown creates a familiar vibe to it all, tightening everything together. In typical Sango fashion, this is only of the highest quality.
Moving on, the most important part of the song (the writing) is also deserving of high-prase, with Jenkins being admirably open and honest with the listener. He details some of his early career memories, addresses naysayers and their negative energy, and then keys in the whole point of the song: SPREADING LOVE. This is one planet. We are one people. Why do we have to hate those who are different, those who are like us, or even ourselves? Why can’t we teach one another to release love into the world, rather than project hate? These are some of the biggest questions that plague our human race. Jenkins then provides us with the simple solution to these problems in the hook of the track, which also happens to be my favorite chorus of the year. It has this nostalgic 90s vibe, mixed in with some Soulquarian bounce, but also with that genuine Mick Jenkins feeling of wisdom and peace.
Chicago saw far too many murders this year. That much violence in one’s home city must be devastating, but here is Mick (and his friends), combating it with positivity, unity and hope. A beautiful message, one that can be applied to not only this year, but all years ahead. Peace to all and have a safe New Year.
Thank you for reading. And, as always, please try to spread some love.
Honorable Mention ( a little long, I know 🙂 )
GOOD Music – ‘Champions’
Anderson .Paak – ‘The Waters,’ ‘Am I Wrong,’ ‘Light Weight’ & ‘Come Down’
French Montana – ‘Lockjaw Remix (feat. Gucci Mane)’
Solange – ‘Mad,’ ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ & ‘Cranes in the Sky’
Westside Gunn – ‘Summerslam 88’
Joey Fatt$ – ‘Khaled Freestyle (Don’t Want)’
DJ Khaled – ‘Nas Album Done’ & ‘Jermaine’s Interlude’
Zack de la Rocha – ‘digging for windows’
Bas – ‘Methylone’ & ‘Housewives Remix’
Atmosphere – ‘Like a Fire’
Tunji Ige – ‘Bring Yo Friends’
Frank Ocean – ‘White Ferrari,’ ‘Solo’ & ‘Seigfried’
21 Savage & Metro Boomin – ‘No Heart’
Kweku Collins – ‘Stupid Rose’
De la Soul – ‘Pain’
The Weeknd – ‘Reminder’
Kanye West – ‘Real Friends’ & ‘Saint Pablo’
Beyoncé – ‘Formation’
D.R.A.M. – ‘Broccoli,’ ‘Cute’ & ‘Outta Sight/Dark Lavender Interlude’
Elzhi – ‘Two 16s’ & ‘Keep Dreaming’
J. Cole – ‘4 Your Eyez Only’
A$AP Mob – ‘Telephone Calls,’ ‘Crazy Brazy’ & ‘Young N*gga Living’
GoldLink – ‘Fall in Love’
Kendrick Lamar – ‘untitled 02,’ ‘untitled 05’ & ‘untitled 01’
Joey Bada$$ – ‘Brooklyn’s Own’
Funkadelic – ‘Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? Remix’
Boogie – ‘Still Thirsty’
Joey Purp – ‘Morning Sex’
Isaiah Rashad – ‘Free Lunch’ & ‘Stuck in the Mud’
Gucci Mane – ‘Last Time,’ ‘I Told You,’ ‘1st Day Out tha Feds,’ & ‘P*ssy Print’
Clams Casino – ‘Be Somebody’
Noname – ‘Casket Pretty’ & ‘Diddy Bop’
Saba – ‘Church/Liquor Store’
A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Dis Genration’ & ‘Whateve Will Be’
Old Man Saxon – ‘The Perils’
Danny Brown – ‘Tell Me What I Don’t Know’ & ‘Lost’
Kaytranada – ‘Glowed Up’
Flume – ‘Lose It’ & ‘Smoke & Retribution’
NxWorries – ‘Lyk Dis’ & ‘Best One’
T.I. – ‘Warzone’
Kenneth Whalum – ‘Might Not Be OK’
Yo Gotti – ‘Castro’
Femdot – ‘341’
Havoc & The Alchemist – ‘Buck 50s & Bullet Wounds’
ScHoolboy Q – ‘Tookie Knows II’ & ‘Neva Change’
Common – ‘A Bigger Picture Called Free’
Lil Yachty – ‘Minnesota Remix’ & ‘Shoot out the Roof’
Mick Jenkins – ‘Communicate’ & ‘Drowning’
Azizi Gibson – ‘Anything’
Flatbush Zombies – ‘Bounce’
Travis Scott – ‘The Ends,’ ‘Sweet Sweet’ & ‘Goosebumps’
Mac Miller – ‘My Favorite Part’ & ‘Dang!’
Divine Council – ‘Decemba Remix’
Chance the Rapper – ‘Summer Friends,’ ‘Finish Line/Drown’ & ‘How Great’
Sampha – ‘Timmy’s Prayer’
Action Bronson – ‘Durag vs. Headband’
Freddie Gibbs – ‘All Day’ & ‘Hot Boys’
Khalid – ‘Location’
The Underachievers – ‘Play That Way’
Samiyam – ‘Mirror (feat. Earl Sweatshirt)’
Young Thug – ‘With Them’ & ‘Kanye West’
Abra – ‘Pull Up’
Secret Circle – ‘Satellite’
DJ Carnage – ‘Mase in ’97’ & ‘Don’t Call Me’
Meek Mill – ‘Outro’ & ‘Offended’
Jerreau – ‘All Day’
A$AP Twelvyy – ‘L.Y.B.B.’
K.A.A.N. – ‘Soulting’
Ab-Soul – ‘Lonely Soul,’ ‘D.R.U.G.S.’ & ‘YMF’
Kali Uchis – ‘Only Girl’
The Game – ‘Savage Lifestyle’
Rob $tone – ‘Chill Bill Remix’
Denzel Curry – ‘ULT’
A$AP Ferg – ‘Psycho’ & ‘Let it Bang’
Swet Shop Boys – ‘Phone Tap’
Migos – ‘Bad and Boujee’
Rejjie Snow – ‘Pink Beetle’
DJ Shadow – ‘Nobody Speak’
Lance Skiiiwalker – ‘Lover’s Lane’
YG – ‘Who Shot Me’ & ‘I Got a Question’
Future – ‘Perkys Calling’ & ‘Married to the Game’
Ugly Heroes – ‘Today Right Now’
Yung Simmie – ‘Shoot the 3’ & ‘Bucks’
Lil Uzi Vert – ‘Ronda (Winners)’ & ‘Ps & Qs’
Stann Smith – ‘Hakeem’
Smoke DZA – ‘Nine,’ ‘Dusk 2 Dusk’ & ‘Stage Five Steamer’
Kemba – ‘Caesar’s Rise’
The Avalanches – ‘Because I’m Me’
Hodgy – ‘Barbell’
Chris Crack & Vic Spencer – ‘Wanna See a Dead Body??’
Smino – ‘blkswn’
Planet Asia – ‘Fresh’
Father – ‘Lanes’
Drake – ‘Controlla’ & ‘Views’
Vic Mensa – ’16 Shots’ & ‘773 Freestyle’
Little Simz – ‘Picture Perfect’
Promnite – ‘Gunsmoke’
Cousin Stizz – ‘Where I Came From’ & ‘Gain Green’
Snoop Dogg – ‘Coolaid Man’
Your Old Droog – ‘Just Rhymin’
Retch – ‘Nickel Bags’
TUT – ‘G35’
A$AP Rocky – ‘Hear Me’
Logic – ‘Tree of Life’ & ’44 Bars’
Sadat X – ‘Industry’s Outcast (feat. R.A. the Rugged Man & Thirstin Howl III)’
Rae Sremmurd – ‘Black Beatles’
*Missing — ‘Sunshine’ & ‘Wind in My Sails’
images via Vic Mensa, David Cabrera, Kodak Black, Cousin Stizz, Kid Cudi, Michael Hickey, Getty Images, Vince Staples, Jorja Smith, Aliyah Otchere, Pusha T, Maxwell Schiano, Royce da 5’9″, Anderson .Paak, Jesse Grant, BET, Domo Geneis, Truth Studios, Chance the Rapper, Jonathan Leibson, Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Mick Jenkins & Max Reyes