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The 100 Best Songs of 2016

The Noisey staff’s picks for this year’s greatest tracks.

Illustration by John Garrison

You don't need another reminder of how awful 2016 was. You already know. And you don't need to be patronized about good music being a much needed distraction from the crumbling world. Chances are, you've already got your own list of songs that have provided the soundtrack for escapism, activism, or a combination of both. These are the songs that the Noisey staff buried themselves in during 2016, a year we'd otherwise rather forget.

See Noisey's 100 Best Albums of 2016

Listen to Noisey's 100 Best Songs of 2016 on Apple Music or Spotify.


Oakland's Kamaiyah arguably made the best party rap in the game this year. Her debut, A Good Night in the Ghetto, effectively takes you back to adolescent summers of kicking it with friends with nothing to do and nowhere to go, wishfully thinking about the future, potential dates, and what ways to get intoxicated. "Out the Bottle" perfectly falls in line with that as funky synths soundtrack her drinking herself into temporary blindness, as young people tend to do when they haven't learned how to hold their liquor. Lawrence Burney | LISTEN


Nothing is more universal than needing more funds, and Baltimore's YBS Skola actualized that confession by making "Whole Lotta Money" his breakout single. A steady output of motivational hood anthems has catapulted Skola as the city's most adored rapper; on this song, he half-sings, half-raps about rolling with a team of winners and splurging on $500 hats. Is there ever really enough? Probably not. Lawrence Burney | LISTEN


By flipping Ciara's angelic vocals, Mssngno created a gem with "Fones." Taken from his four-track EP with XL Recordings, it is what the label calls a "crystalline hybrid of R&B and rave, overflowing with trademark anthemic, ultra-melodic hooks"—a fact we're willing to confirm and push further into the world. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN


In a year where Ty Dolla $ign was everywhere with everyone—from Fifth Harmony to Chance the Rapper—"Stealing" wasn't a track that was in heavy rotation. But that doesn't mean the song should be forgotten; in fact, it should be remembered as one of his best and most beautiful. "Stealing" sounds like it belongs in a musical; it's a winking, cinematic, heart-eyes-emoji of a request for forgiveness from "stealing all these bitches' hearts." As the guitar-and-violin-backed mea culpa implies, it's a crime he'll probably continue to commit, and if a song like "Stealing" is the result, let's hope he does. —Leslie Horn | LISTEN


A track can often come along and defy expectation of genre, as well as what's possible with music. This year, that song is Jelani Blackman's "Submarine," a moody, abrasive, almost jazz-tinged track that seems to have been sucked out of Jelani's smoked-out lungs and breathed into London's cold, winter streets. This is dark, nocturnal music at its most powerful. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN


London's Vodun marries a psychedelic stoner doom stomp with West African spirituality and feminist resolve, creating an outstandingly unique sound that's anchored by vocalist Oya's majestic, soulful pipes. The band's latest album, Possession, was a breakout moment for the trio, and "Mawu" caught especial attention for its inescapable, thunderous groove and Oya's mesmerizing vocal acrobatics. Doom has long been seen as one of metal's most spiritual genres, and Vodun brings some certified black magic to the proceedings. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN


Gal Costa was the most outsized performer in Brazil's psychedelic tropic á lia movement in the 60s and 70s, her singular voice careening over fuzzy rockers. In an inspired bit of sampling, Kaytranada took a winding Costa vocal loop, added a modern house groove, and ended up with one of the year's best dance tracks, along with an equally effortless video. As in the original "Pontos de Luz," ("Points of Light") Costa repeats " Me sinto muito feliz" throughout "Lite Spots." Translated from Portuguese, it means "I feel happy," and that unfettered joy of discovery is what drives this song and album. —Phil Witmer | LISTEN


"Your touch is so diseasey," coos Sälen's Ellie Kamio over plinkety, marimba-like synths. It's the playground diss you've never heard, lobbed at a person you don't really like but you just can't stop fucking anyway. Attraction is nebulous and often inexplicable—maybe they're an ex, an obnoxious dick, or they already belong to someone else—and while you intellectually acknowledge that they're repellant, the second you get a whiff of their skin it's game over. London trio Sälen put a cheeky spin on this fact of life with their flagship tune, an agile, minimalist pop number that doubles as the second song they've released to date with a video that features Kamio covered in glittery, blush-colored ectoplasm. We'll put money on "Diseasey" being the harbinger of more badass tunes to come. Kim Taylor Bennett | LISTEN


PWR BTTM actively create spaces for people whose identities present as anything other than the straight white cis norm, telling queer love stories with tenderness, revelry, and humor. But they also have songs for the days when the pressure of fitting in feels too exhausting. "Projection" is about "feeling unqualified to be the way you see yourself because of the way other people see you," and it's smothered in glitter and draped in the kind of gowns both Courtney and Kurt would've snatched for in the 90s. PWR BTTM advocate the right for someone to be themselves while acknowledging that's not always possibleand that's OK, too. Emma Garland | LISTEN


The Fall Creek Boys are back in town, baby! [Guitar riff] Let's get fucking... sad! [ Bleeps and bloops] What are we talkin' about today? [ Skittering sample saying something about "shadows" over and over] That's right, pals, the tyranny of the human condition and the savage reality of interpersonal relationships. Tear them up. Start again. Follow nature's example of cleansing and regeneration. "I request another dream / I need a forest fire," Justin Vernon sings. It's a mantra for the downcast. It's so beautiful, you'll almost forget what your broken heart feels like. —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN


"Night Swim" reminds us that the best pop songs are often the simplest. A humming synth line, some finger snaps, and the trudge of a drum machine are all Salvat needs to set up a tune as smooth as the surface of the pool into which he beckons his paramour. Wrought with tension, it's less a traditional seduction jam (his voice is too anachronistic for that) than a plea. In that bit of desperation—the quiver and clumsiness of the imperative, "I know that it's late, but wait / Wait, I'll drive you home"—he offers a familiar sting: the unadorned vulnerability of being brought to your knees by desire. —Andrea Domanick | LISTEN


Self-reflection is often thought to be the most beneficial method of patching up internal wounds. Kodak Black does that throughout Lil Big Pac, but nothing quite comes close to the way he does on "Can I." His life is full of uncertainties, including his ability to stay alive, maintain success, and let himself be loved. It's nice to hear the Florida rapper switch to a softer delivery here. Lawrence Burney | LISTEN


It's 2 AM, you're in the kitchen at a party, six drinks deep, and someone passes you the iPhone to choose the next track. Suddenly you forget everything you've ever been into. What do you do? Don't freak out. Just press play on "E.V.P." by Blood Orange. It has all the perfect dance floor elements; 80s sax, shining synth lines, the snap and swell of drums, a chorus that's euphoric and melancholy all at once, a beat that makes everyone in the room look inexplicably hotter than before. "E.V.P." is a testament to Dev Hynes's almost inhuman ability to craft a faultless pop song. It truly doesn't get better than this. Daisy Jones | LISTEN



Drake may have brought the Cheesecake Factory to wider attention in 2016, but leave it to Wiley to give some shine to Britain's best restaurant. "I know you don't want drama, you don't want aggro / I still can't work out why you would cause a big scene in Nando's," he raps, on what is a perfect sequel of sorts to Skepta's "Ladies Hit Squad." Real talk. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN


Arguably, house and techno are currently trapped in a bit of an aesthetic rut—way past the stage of refinement and locked in stasis, while the more intriguing sounds in dance and electronic music occupy the fringes. British longhair Leon Vynehall has proved an exception, though, as he continues to massage his deep-tissue house workouts with mossy grooves and blurry purples and blues. This year's Rojus EP was a fantastic dance document, and the epic "Blush" was its crown jewel; a glowy shapeshifter centered around an anthemic chorus and wordless screams, "Blush" was one of 2016's trippiest big-room jams, a song designed to literally blow your mind to the point where you just might stop dead in your tracks in the middle of the dancefloor. —Larry Fitzmaurice | LISTEN


On her latest album, the Queen of Country Music's roots in countrified gospel, simple mountain songs, and old time religion shine bright. Its standout track sees Miss Loretta tackle one of blues great Leadbelly's finest moments, and summon up a little magic of her own in between the spare acoustic chords and gentle plunk of a piano. Her clear, honey-sweet voice twangs earnestly, resolutely, and without a scrap of hesitation—because even at age 84, the coal miner's daughter is still a force of nature. Kim Kelly | LISTEN


NYC's House of First Light collective has been churning out consistently high quality (if not a bit deranged) black metal for the past few years, and its raw power has reached new hellish depths in Sanguine Eagle. The project—which features the mad talents of Lam, who also steers Vorde, Mongrel, Imperial Trumpet, and others—released its first demo, Individuation, this year, with "Blood Tempest" as a standout track. Depressive and uncompromising, its glorious, surging harmonies strangled by layers of distortion, "Blood Tempest" offers a threatening glimpse at the shape of USBM to come. Kim Kelly | LISTEN


Hans-Peter Lindstrøm works in modes more often than he does in moods, and "Closing Shot" finds him at his most comfortable in both constructs. The highlight from this year's solid Windings EP is giddy, infinite-loop space disco of the highest order, as the Norwegian producer lays synth after synth atop a rock-solid backbeat like a game of Jenga that goes on much longer than you'd expect it to. As always, restraint is as important as release, so after "Closing Shot" reaches its exuberant peak, Lindstrøm peels back every layer and reduces his creation to its bare essentials again, only a few spare synth stabs entering and exiting as occasional punctuation. No one does this better than him—no one even tries to. —Larry Fitzmaurice | LISTEN


Yes, we've all heard your jokes about Sia's wig. Truly groundbreaking stuff, really. But out from under that wig (which, again, is hilarious, as you've pointed out) emerged a powerful voice on This Is Acting. Sia's penned songs for A-listers like Beyoncé and Katy Perry, and reportedly threw Rihanna's "Diamonds" together in under 15 minutes, but she kept a gem for herself with "Reaper," a song about telling Death to go fuck himself. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN


Like a corpse flower in mid-bloom, the career peaks of French Montana seem to arrive without warning while resisting any narrative pegs. His last huge song, the bombastic lucre of 2012's "Pop That," was rinsed for a full year before his disastrous debut Excuse My French saw release; this year, the hollow melancholia of "Lockjaw" swept in like a thick fog as the chaotic release strategy of follow-up MC4 made The Life of Pablo look organized by comparison. "Lockjaw" is undoubtedly 2016's best song about doing so much coke that you can't talk, anchored by a slithery Kodak Black hook and a spooky Ben Billions production that sounds like wind whistling against a windowpane. French Montana's rap career sometimes seems like it's perpetually on life support, but the dead-eyed rattle of "Lockjaw" sounds deathless in the best possible way. —Larry Fitzmaurice | LISTEN



On her sophomore album Oh No, Hamilton, Ontario's Jessy Lanza gave us pulsing, at-times bright seduction, veering toward soft and quiet vocals. But her music is bold, always pushing her—and us—forward: On "Vivica," Lanza's production features cascading synths and mesmerizing drum beats. She gives us a divine R&B croon worthy of any beloved 90s artists in the genre: "Vivica, I'm gonna give you more / If she wants / Vivica, I'm gonna be here." It's a subtly sexy, slinky track that makes you want it, like Lanza sings, "one more time for you." —Sarah MacDonald | LISTEN



Frigs are one of Toronto's most exciting acts, layering and texturing their self-proclaimed swamp rock songs so precisely. Singer and guitarist Bria Salmena pushes her vocals into deep croaking groans on "God Hates A Coward;" taking us along with her on this tumultuous, alt-grunge hypnotic track off of the band's unmissable EP Slush. Toronto's rock scene is especially exciting now because bands push themselves to experiment on old musical formulas to bring us fresh, innovative takes, and Frigs are right there at the forefront of that. —Sarah MacDonald | LISTEN


"Vroom Vroom" is on this list because it's Charli XCX, one of our finest working pop stars, at her very best. Power brat vocals? Check. Sparse, angular production? Check. Lyrics straight off a Tumblr page? Check. A music video which features Charli wearing a catsuit that makes her look like goth "…Oops I Did It Again"-era Britney Spears? Indeed, check. —Lauren O'Neill | LISTEN


Rap's more alternative, indie wing has been working on perfecting a neo-funk bounce for a couple of years, but the song that finally nailed it appeared unexpectedly, backing its way right up onto the charts with a whimsical, banana-filled video to match. "Caroline" isn't romantic in the traditional sense—it's too vulgar for that—but neither are plenty of romances. What it is: the absurd, low-stakes kind of fun that makes old-school rap so great. "Great scenes might be great but I love your bloopers," Aminé croons, right after suggesting the only thing needed for safe sex is kneepads. An entire kindergarten music class worth of percussion instruments rattles around over synth stabs. "Perfect's for the urgent / baby, I want forever," he adds, semi-convincingly, as if this isn't a song that demands your attention right now. —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN


Like the Japanese Shinkansen, one of the fastest, cleanest, and most efficient transport systems in the world, CC Dust operate with a fluid and precise movement. Here, Maryjane Dunphe of Olympia punk band Vexx and David Jaques produce a dark electronica that feeds off Dunphe's urgent vocals, 80s Euro-inspired synths, and an ear for classic pop. Pack a bento box and enjoy the ride. — Tim Scott | LISTEN


"Adore," the six-minute centerpiece to Savages' excellent sophomore album Adore Life, was already a triumph when it was released in January. Almost a year later, the existential call-to-arms feels only more urgent and vital. "Is it human to ask for more? / Is it human to adore life?" singer Jehnny Beth wonders as the song climaxes amidst a rare shift from minor to major chord progressions. "Maybe I will die maybe tomorrow, so I need to say / I adore life," she declares atop nearly five seconds of silence, transforming the album's central questions about love and inspiration into a gauntlet thrown. —Andrea Domanick | LISTEN


Future and Chance the Rapper unite on "Smoke Break" to give us an unconventional, endearing little love song. With Chance doing his best Future impression, the sentiment they're singing is basically: "Girl, I know you're tired, and you've had a hard day, but let's pause for a second. Together. Let's enjoy this moment right here. And by the way, let me roll that weed for you." There is no sentiment sweeter. Life is hectic, but there's enough time to roll up a fat blunt for the person you care about and take a minute to just be. That might not be a Hallmark card expression of love, but it's love! —Leslie Horn | LISTEN


The knock on Brian Fallon, the heavily tattooed frontman of the divisive, on-hiatus New Jersey band The Gaslight Anthem, is that he's too Americana. But on "Rosemary," a standout from his debut solo album Painkillers, he wants to know just what you've got against the good ol' US of A. The song, like much of the album, showcases his worship of American songwriters like Dylan, Petty, and Springsteen, and although Fallon eschewed some of his go-to lyrical elements on Gaslight's last album, Get Hurt, he's back to embracing them here. It's a song for a highway drive across the country. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN


Savage Master came roaring out of Louisville in 2013 with a mantra and a mission: that heavy metal fucking rules, and they were hellbent on spreading the good word. Luckily for us, they've done just that, holding true to their promise to march to battle 'neath the (sign of the) horns. The title track for their second album, With Whips and Chains, is a high octane shot of classic heavy metal, rife with bombastic riffs, slick solos, and howl-along choruses, courtesy of vocalist Stacey Peak's powerhouse yowl. —Kim Kelly | LISTEN


The 2016 presidential campaign may have been a giant trash fire, but at least Ty Dolla $ign's version of a campaign was nothing but fire emojis, the fire Future spit on this track, and fire coming out of your feet every time this song made you do the triple backflip pole vault over the nearest couch in the club. "I got a line on the DA," Future assures us, keeping it political. "I was just fucking the secretary," he adds. Look, this ballot initiative is over the top but does it deserve your vote? To quote Ty: "yeah, yeah, yeah." —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN


A comforting baritone has positioned D.R.A.M. as today's go-to for the ballad, and there are few stamps of approval that top Erykah Badu's. Here, they come together for a very contemporary duet that builds off of Badu's technology-themed But You Caint Use My Phone from 2015. The password for "WiFi" is a metaphor for trust in a situation that could potentially become a love triangle; nobody else made scandal sound so beautiful this year. —Lawrence Burney | LISTEN


With that use of "U" in this song's title, perhaps Chris Farren is gunning to be the predecessor to the late Prince, and, given the catchiness and brilliant pop simplicity of this jam, we're inclined to let him. This song from the Fake Problems frontman's debut solo album makes you want to dance out your woes, throw your arms up, and scream to the heavens, "Yes, baby!" —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN


Australian synth pop/future funk duo GL's debut album Touch was a cool, sexy, fun, and sweet ray of light in a year of absolute nonsense. Standout track and lead single "Hallucinate" effortlessly lured us in, thanks to Graeme Pogson's bouncing basslines and Ella Thomson's crisp vocal hooks—and thankfully, the rest of the record is just as juicy. Issy Beech | LISTEN


This is the greatest diss track of the year, without question. Whether you consider it to be about Perrie Edwards and Zayn Malik, or you and whichever garbage human dumped you over text, this is essentially the "Fuck You Right Back" of 2016. An objectively perfect pop song, it empowers while twisting the knife; it encourages you to move on but also make a point of looking back, knowing full well how buff you look in those jeans, and feeling smug. Emma Garland | LISTEN


There are rumors afoot that someone out there might be trying to bite Young Thug's style. Should we be concerned? Nah. "My hand is way different, got the Midas," Thugger explains. And lest you doubt him, he applies that gold-making skill liberally to this beat, finding a dozen different mini-songs within the one song and getting so geeked up he flies "off. the. Earth." There are few things, one gathers, as beautiful as Young Thug's $180,000 Patek Philippe watch; one of them, undoubtedly, is this four-minute piece of music. —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN


"Child's Play", like all great Drake songs, is powerful in how it recalls facets of the Toronto spirit. In this case, the cities love of basketball. After a decade-in-the-making entry into the 2016 NBA Eastern Conference Finals by defeating the Miami Heat, the song--thanks to a popular viral video--would play score to the long-awaited moment as fans would take to the streets to celebrate, dab, and berate a Lebron fan. Although "Child" finds its voice in the North, it's soul comes from the south: through a sample of Ha-Sizzle's infamous New Orleans bounce track, the song is gifted a frantic energy that allows it to resonate far beyond Drake's usual ruminations. It's also an inadvertent mini-anthem for a city that, not unlike Drake's relationship with the game of love, has always understood that patience is a necessary virtue for victory. —Jabbari Weekes | LISTEN


"No EQ" is an old soul's anthem. Frontman Evan Weiss laments being "born too late" and having interests that "remain intact, just behind the times." Or maybe he's not lamenting, but wondering: What if? What if his teenage musical endeavors had come at the right time? What if his genre's newfound popularity had found him earlier? There's some real The Road Not Taken-level pondering happening here, but ultimately, Weiss is just glad he stuck it out, grateful to still be playing, and impressed that in 20 years, he's barely changed. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN


After five years, Wisconsin songwriter Justin Vernon returned from the abyss for 22, A Million, labeling each song with a bunch of nonsensical numbers. The fantastical "22 (OVER S∞∞N)" is what ended up on this list, but with a quality project as cohesive as this, any number (heh) of these tracks deserves placement. Is their absurdity something we should make fun of, or the fact that you need to be a character in Good Will Hunting to understand the Singing Beard's message? Probably, but then again, Justin Vernon positioned himself in a Kanye West-style of being so fucking pretentious that it actually transcends criticism. It's wonderful. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN


Sleek and funky enough to tango with "The Bay," the 2011 song that took Joseph Mount from Euro-centric cult acclaim to international cool, "Night Owl" is also the pinnacle of Metronomy's fifth album, Summer 08. It's a break up song layered with an extra patina of despondency, thanks to the 34-year-old's softly downcast lines that are both poignant ("I spent my nights recalling / Those showers in the morning"), and wry (she can take back her rollerblades and her favorite band—"that shit was always bad"). Plus, the bass line is fire, the outro bar is totally Duran Duran, and the video stars a roaming, rogue brain. Win, win, win. —Kim Taylor Bennett | LISTEN


You're in a dimly lit club where everything you can see is tinged with purple. Dry ice is billowing about your ankles from a smoke machine somewhere, and you're kind of faded—but it feels good to be there, at that moment, in your body. You turn your head slightly, and all at once you lock eyes with the most beautiful strangers you've ever seen. Without willing it, you're drawn closer to them until you can feel their breath, hot, on that space between your neck and shoulder. "Crybaby", a moody, claustrophobic bedroom jam by ABRA, queen bee of Atlanta's Awful Records and probable space alien goddess, is the song that is playing the entire time.Lauren O'Neill | LISTEN


What matters to Lil Uzi Vert? Xanax, expertly cooked salmon, and his ever-expanding stacks. Also, Don Cannon's reliably imperial production. Does this matter to us? Well, "Money Longer" is Uzi's biggest hit so far, so apparently yes. What else matters? Maybe that Uzi is doing the greatest Billie Joe Armstrong impression in rap, despite the fact that—as far as his vaunted pop punk influences go—he's probably thinking of Paramore before Green Day. —Phil Witmer | LISTEN


Though the album ended up being a good but strangely half-assed attempt at being country—it was more like a tribute to the genre than an actual contribution to the conversation—the song "Joanne" shines like a beacon of what the album could have been. It's the most vulnerable we've ever heard Gaga be, and vulnerability is an important part of the country tradition, just ask Haggard, Cash, or any member of the Carter family. While the rest of the album teeters on the edge of country, "Joanne" is the swan dive into the genre many of us were hoping for. —Annalise Domenighini | LISTEN


Anderson .Paak was everywhere in 2016—with two magnificent releases himself and multiple guest features (like that one on a little project by a group known as A Tribe Called Quest)—but "Come Down" is the song with which he plants his flag. It's a funky, electric track that shows the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Anderson at his finest, and proves that we're going to be talking about him for a very long time. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN


Tenderness is a hard thing to capture in a non-tangible way, but it just so happens that Liss' Søren Holm has a voice that positively drips with the stuff. Gentle and honest, "Sorry" is a lovers' tiff writ against strings and a well-placed vocoder, and it's the sort of song that lingers with you, prompting you to think wistfully about all the things you could do better next time. —Lauren O'Neill | LISTEN


Much like Benny Bennassi's 2003 video for "Satisfaction," director Hannah Lux Davis marries high camp with high-cut Lycra for a pop promo that underscores Ariana's lyrics—sexual innuendo twisted like limbs in post-coital sheets. This reggae-pop smash is the 23-year-old's none too subtle announcement that Ariana's fully grown, and like Britney's "I'm a Slave 4 U" and Miley circa Bangerz, the main thrust of her third LP, Dangerous Woman, is sexual empowerment. As Minaj tweeted around the time of release: "I took out a diff line that Ariana liked. It went ~ the D so good, got me screaming OH SHIT. the D so good got me doin HOE SHIT." Ariana's clearly owning her horniness, and embracing that new swagger, even if it's not the speediest gait to get from A to B. —Kim Taylor Bennett | LISTEN


During a recent show, Mouth Tooth's guitarist Max Turner looked out into a crowd of applauding attendees to note the strangeness in having people clap in response to such sad fucking music: "That song was clearly a cry for help." Probably one of the more emotionally manipulative songs of 2016, "Memory Foam"—with lyrics from Rhys Mitchell like "And when you up and leave me on my own / Well girl I'll sleep on memory foam / It'll never forget you / I'll never forget that / You made me feel better"—could well leave you staring into the distance with a panging, insignificant feeling in your chest, like many a great song does. —Issy Beech | LISTEN


The Menzingers' "Lookers" is the musical equivalent of that 2006 vs. 2016 meme, a cultural reference that surely will age gracefully and definitely won't be forgotten by next week. It's a song about looking back at an old photo of yourself with your friends, wondering where the time went, and remembering when you were more adventurous, more free-spirited, and more free of wrinkles. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN


That Miranda Lambert chose this billowing storm cloud of a road song to introduce a double album is a directorial home run. It's not hard to imagine several alternate versions of "Runnin' Just in Case" having been considered, too. A scrappy honky-tonk romp or a stomping arena anthem, maybe. But nothing else could have best fit Lambert's grim determination. "There's trouble where I'm going," she begins. Her hands, she admits, "are shaky on the steering wheel." All of Lambert's previous roles dissolve over the song's steady rise and fall, and in their place is a steely-eyed, wry heroine who seeks to cure heartbreak with the sharpness of her words and the endless allure of the interstate. —Phil Witmer | LISTEN


Nintendo 64 samples have been around in Soundcloud indie rap, but it's truly "Run" that solidifies a reality where Navi the Fairy's "HEY!" is as central to the producer toolkit as "Think (About It)." It's a song that's as much a "your childhood was awesome" meme as it is a nearly avant-garde performance from Yachty, who stretches his voice into taffy before it's caramelized, Bon Iver-style, in the "Running" half. Like the rest of Lil Boat, "Run / Running" provokes either gleeful curiosity or a click of the Skip button, but it's the Sailing Team captain's strangest, most daring voyage yet. —Phil Witmer | LISTEN


In their near 15 year career, The Strokes have often been faced with a simple criticism: they're not "Strokes enough," whatever that means. But detractors should be happy with their latest, excellently sharp EP Future Past Present, which has them returning to traditional post-punk guitar rock. "Threat of Joy" is a glimpse back at their debut, and one that could easily fit on Is This It. Julian Casablancas croons a blasé sounding tone and lyrics overtop cool riffs care of Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. Surely, no one expected that if The Strokes truly went back to the beginning it would work out this well. But here we are. —Sarah MacDonald | LISTEN


Whitney's Light Upon the Lake is one of the easiest listens of 2016, and "Golden Days" is the perfect encapsulation of its sound. The long way of describing this track would be to come up with some bullshit argument about how the breeziness of singer-songwriters is a welcome return in a music world consumed by post-production effects and making music that sounds like a rocket ship. The other would be to say that the 70s were lit. We prefer the latter. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN


"Blackstar" is as large and kaleidoscopic as its creator, a ten-minute epic complete with an operatic story arc, jazzy beat, ominous flourishes, and saxophone. At the center of it all, David Bowie's iconic baritone, weary yet stoic under the weight of legacy, life, and death. Bowie knew his mortality would be the cipher of what became his last work, his loss being our gain in realizing that "Blackstar" is more than extraordinary, otherworldly music—it's above all a deeply personal reflection of David Robert Jones at death's door. Like a black star itself, his is a lasting gift borne through collapse. Jill Krajewski | LISTEN


With grating strings that could carve skin, falsetto cries of paranoia, and a merciless crescendo that leaves you with everything but relief, "Burn the Witch" is a disorienting story of a society led by fear. Despite being in genesis for over a decade, Radiohead's vision of a literal witch hunt couldn't be more relevant to the spread of xenophobia, white supremacy, and fascism in political ranks today. Thom Yorke was even compelled to tweet its lyrics once it became apparent Donald Trump won the election. Beyond a song of sixpence, "Burn the Witch" is a warning of horrors made possible. —Jill Krajewski | LISTEN


Everyone loves grime in 2016. The Chip vs. Yungen beef made the national news back in February, your dad's got a Stormzy CD in his Peugeot, and Ellen from accounting has started saying "fam." as in "your PO number is the subject title of this email, invoices are payable within 30 days and no sooner, fam." But what about grime... that isn't grime? UK grime don Skepta celebrated Valentine's Day earlier this year with "Ladies Hit Squad," a sensual and aquatic track that wasn't grime at all and just seemed like an intentional smize at his growing US audience, with its hip-hop pace and ASAP Nast hook. But then our eyes adjusted, our ears adapted, and everyone slowly realized that sexual bars over saucy rap production in a North London accent becomes richer and richer on repeat listens, and may in fact be the hallowed path to eternal chill. And you can't question a song that singlehandedly triggers a Reebok Ice renaissance. —Joe Zadeh | LISTEN


Kendrick is a master storyteller. "untitled 03 | 05.28.2013." exemplifies his gift, cycling through life advice from various characters—Asian, Native American, black, and white—with a flow that effortlessly pivots from smooth phrases to urgent rapid-fire delivery and back again, especially as Kendrick draws a sharp parallel between the music industry and slavery. Loose percussion, a throbbing beat, and call-and-response backing vocals compel you to listen closely all while ensuring Kendrick remains the star. Clocking in at less than three minutes, "untitled 03 | 05.28.2013." proves that less is more when you're the best of lyricists. —Jill Krajewski | LISTEN


Jeremih is a genius when it comes to making music and terrible at every aspect of marketing that music, so it should come as no surprise that one of the hottest hooks of the year came buried in a barely hyped experimental mixtape. Every line here could be its own hook, Sonyae's verse has some of the realest relationship bars of the year, and there are more bridges than the canal-filled city of Copenhagen itself, yet the song didn't even make Jeremih's set for the tour he was summarily kicked off of because, once again, our man does not know how to sell himself. Thank God the music does it for him. —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN



Human beings are awkward and irritating creations. Sometimes we get ourselves worked up about not wanting to try certain things that we'd probably fucking love if we just forced ourselveslike a rollercoaster ride, steak tartare, public speaking, or a thumb up the butt. "Cookie" by Dessertan LA-based trio who became the coolest band of 2016 when they brought out a scented candle range and tried to send their dead gecko to space—is all about those things you don't want to do, taste, or feel because you're a little bedwetter and you just need to grow some. Their tracks have a tendency to constantly shapeshift, and this one morphs into a glorious dreamscape of Auto-Tuned vocals, plucked harps, and gently tapped glockenspiels. Maybe that's the sound of you finally doing that thing you didn't want to do. Maybe that's the sound of the thumb up your butt. —Joe Zadeh | LISTEN


Is there a more iconic image from 2016 than Beyonce, eyes wilder than a forest fire, in a dress the color of ripe lemons, with a baseball bat that reads "HOT SAUCE" resting casually on both shoulders? We think not. But while "Hold Up" is one of this year's visual standouts (along with the whole of Lemonade), the track itself is pretty incredible too. Striking that perfect balance between upbeat and furious, "Hold Up" is an anthem for every person who isn't afraid to be mad as fuck when they need to. Daisy Jones | LISTEN


There's a dreaminess to Frank Ocean talking about loneliness and feeling out of sorts on "Solo." Part of that is due to the song's airy production, but it's also in the tangledness of his message throughout. Weed lifts his low spirits, but it also helps him escape from his isolated life. At one point he has a lover with no weed and at the next, he has weed with no lover but he still finds beauty in the absence of balance. —Lawrence Burney | LISTEN


"Drugs with Friends" is a welcome addition into the great genre of music that focuses on not only doing drugs, but the existential crises of doing drugs. Will Toledo's self-loathing lyrics are so devastating, going in circles around the highs and lows that come with self-medicating: "Drugs are better with friends are better, friends are better with drugs are better," and so forth. Hate yourself, kids. It'll be better in the long run. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN


"Don't Touch My Hair" is a graceful, necessary assertion by Solange that hair is part of identity, beauty, and pride—and not for anyone else to mess with. Her delivery is serene, proclaiming "You know this hair is my shit / Rode the ride, I gave it time" over soft chords that eventually give way into a flourish of brass. It's a fitting sound of victory for Solange's year. —Jill Krajewski | LISTEN


This past spring, LA band MUNA strutted onto the scene with a feel-good anthem that's equal parts Haim and The Bangles, and yet with their three-part harmonies, attitudinal guitars, and the idiosyncratic way Katie Gaskin's vocals curl around certain words ( "Loudspeak-uuuuur," "Lies-aaah"), MUNA carved out a space that's very much their own. It's perfect for blasting with the top down. It's ideal for shouting along on the dance floor (preferably while facing a friend who knows all the words too). This initial taster from their debut EP of the same name is both personal to them and utterly applicable to all, and the trio's intent is clear: each line, and indeed, their very existence, offers a vote of confidence for the outsider, the underdog, which makes their existence all the more essential. —Kim Taylor Bennett | LISTEN


As the world waited for The Life of Pablo, Kanye West said one thing: "BLAME CHANCE." So now we have Chance the Rapper to blame for arranging one of the best moments on the sprawling, psychotic project that is TLOP while MetroBoomin' provided one of the beats of the year. "Waves" is a song that's wrapped in everything beautiful about West: crippling yet overcompensating confidence about nonsensical relationships. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN


If we were to write a list of artists who sound too much like Prince, it would span the world six times and shame an entire generation of Young Men on Soundcloud. But then sometimes you get those special artists who know the difference between inspiration and impersonation, and take their purple mania into new and satisfying territory. AK Paul's "Landcruisin'"—with its crisp riffs and revs—is so infectious, so clean, so perfectly poised, that you forget its overt influences and just imagine yourself one hand steering a Toyota 4x4 through the night to meet your stranded lover, like you're some heroic heartthrob or some shit. —Joe Zadeh | LISTEN



Serpentwithfeet has two huge tattoos on his forehead that read "HEAVEN" and "SUICIDE." He has a fat silver hoop dangling from his septum. His beard is decorated in bright, colorful glitter. But it's the sheer gospel power of his voice that will really make you sit up and pay attention. In "Four Ethers," a track off his debut EP   Blisters, he sings "Baby, it's cool with me that you like to lie, 'cause I see the depression filling up your eyes," his silken voice rising over thunderous drums and sweeping, straight-to-the-heart strings. The track is vulnerable and intimate and painful, but it's also powerful and fierce as fuck. This shit will make you weep at the sky. It will make your insides tremble. —Daisy Jones | LISTEN


From rapping about pleasuring men's wives to illegally filming the video in Iran, smuggling the memory card around in her underwear, Nadia Tehran's "Refugee" is an anti-authoritarian call to arms in an increasingly oppressive climate. Growing up in a Muslim Iranian family in a conservative Swedish town, Tehran explores personal and political identity and occupies the spaces in between. She fuses the sounds and attitudes of punk and hip-hop, asserts her belonging to everywhere and nowhere, while teasing and chiding anything in her way. Nadia Tehran is the future. Emma Garland | LISTEN


With rolled sleeves and ciggies behind ears, these Melbourne punks blast a no-frills but full-tilt rock that nods to Aussie thugs Rose Tattoo, Cosmic Psychos, and the Powder Monkeys. Alongside the excellent A-side "Shit Love," this is a record that will seep out of your pores like toxins after a three-day bender. —Tim Scott | LISTEN


Yeah, yeah, yeah. You lot across the pond have heard Skepta's "Man" and Stormzy's "Shut Up." But while the collective world got to grips with the most prominent members of Britain's burgeoning urban scene, NSG were busy making moves in the streets. "We Dey" is their anthem, a song to smoke weed to until your eyes turn red. A yin and yang of happiness and sadness rolled into one fat looking blunt. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN


As the dominant artist of 2015, Future deserved a victory lap in 2016, but it wasn't going to come at any award shows—"that's not me," he groans. Instead, it's a song that captures all the magnetic appeal of that crazy run before he heads off down other creative wormholes. There are a "hundred hos" and "a hundred zans." There's mushrooms and cough syrup in the Mountain Dew. But the takeaway, in the end, is that Future is still working hard, crafting, figuring out the next stroke of genius. "I was gon' tell you I'm improving," he laments, looking back at his flaws and also at everything he's already accomplished. Even this, the platonic ideal of a Future song, will never be enough to say it all. —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN


Here at Trash People Monthly, the title of Song of the Year was a shoo-in. It's the perfect evocation of tfw u gotta send that late night text to meet up with bae and they're all 'hey, it's 2 AM ur corny' but then u like their pic on the gram and so u meet up anyway even though u definitely don't have feelings for each other blah blah blah xanax Drake dad hats—What's that? This is for Noisey? Oh, well, this is a great piano melody that you will never get out of your head, so the point stands. —Kylie Kramer | LISTEN


PC Music, 2016, end-of-year list? These three phrases should not have gone together, except Hannah Diamond somehow managed to build on the pop collective's humble beginnings and produce their definitive statement: a sad-pop banger that sits somewhere between Chicane's "Saltwater," Britney's most tearful anthems, and what one could imagine the Cocteau Twins to sound like if their best music was formed from a MacBook in an art studio in Hackney. "Fade Away" is PC Music's Mona Lisa, their emotional apex, the best thing they've ever released. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN


J Hus's "Friendly" is essentially prerequisite listening for any and every night out. Slotting in neatly next to his other releases, "Lean & Bop" and "Dem Boy Paigon," it's the sound of London turning up on any given Friday night, spilling drinks all over a pair of shoes, and grinding in the dark corner of the club. A special award also goes to the now iconic line "I like my Fanta with no ice," arguably the first time the orange-flavored beverage has been featured in a track this good. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN


Like him or loathe him, the teen king of bubblegum trap has done a lot to forge a new direction in hip-hop this year, and "Minnesota" has been his most defining moment so far. It's weird, melodic, and ice cold without the swaggering showiness of more traditional rap, and its sheer inventiveness alone is proof that Lil Boat will be sticking around to piss off your uncle who sighs a bunch about Real Hip-Hop™ for quite a while yet. Lauren O'Neill | LISTEN


Politics aside, few songs offer a better snapshot of the sound and feel of 2016 than "Glowed Up." The track pairs two of the year's biggest breakout talents to distill the R&B, bass, and electronic stew that's come to define pop in recent years into an infectious surrealism. .Paak's verses shadowbox with the production, chasing the off-beats and filling breaks rather than falling into place with the groove. The result is a song as unpredictable as it is addictive, a success worthy of its title and talents. —Andrea Domanick | LISTEN


This is post-"Hotline Bling" Drake at his finest, and "Feel No Ways" will make a great opener for the 6 God's eventual Las Vegas residency. With Views, the rapper attempted to show diversity in his sound, from rap to pop to dancehall to whatever other music trend he could shamelessly jump on and claim his own. This made the project a bit of a mess, but when Drizzy stopped obsessing with sounding like everything, he flourished. "Feel No Ways" is essentially a B-side from a random early 2010s chillwave project, and that's why it's so good: Drake is sad about a girl, so he made a sad song about the girl. Nice. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN


Open urbandictionary.com, find the word "wavy," and erase whatever description is there with a link to Later and Casisdead's track "Before This." No matter where you are in the worlda desolate, air-conditioned office, a budget holiday beach, the backseat of a cab—the pair's consummate track acts as a teleportation device to the moodboard for Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive by way of a fuck-ton of drugs. A desirable effect, then, and one on par with the loosening of limbs via the medium of colored, sugary-looking alcohol. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN


Moor Mother's Camae Aweya makes Afrofuturist protest songs for a generation left numb with rage, and inspires movement in a movement long leaden. Power electronics, spoken words, snapping beats, political screeds, sampled laments—her new album Fetish Bones is a wholly unique entity, and one whose message has never felt more important than right now. The entire album is crucial listening in 2016, but "Deadbeat Protest" in particular encapsulates Aweya's disgust, her pride, and her fierce commitment to political revolt, as above a crackling bed of white noise, she spits in a hypnotic, malevolent purr: "You can see my dead body at the protest / trying to save my black life by fetishizing my dead life / Fuck! Get away from me!" —Kim Kelly | LISTEN


If the Weeknd's first collaboration with Daft Punk—the title track to this year's super-sized Starboy—was a gridlock of industrial pop hiss, then "I Feel It Coming" is all flesh and blood. In the throes of his improbably successful second act as the pop sellout du jour, the Weeknd's Abel Tesfaye swaps his usual shot-glass lyricism for something more full-bodied and luscious, pouring a glass of loverboy vintage that, if not wholly convincing, makes for satisfying performative romance on the level of spreading rose petals on a bed. —Larry Fitzmaurice | LISTEN


Just because Drake heard Rihanna say something about "wining" and mistook it as a suggestion for some "and dining" as well doesn't mean that we should be so quick to discount the chemistry between these two. Among Rihanna's many superpowers—the way she makes your tongue dissolve into a post-language mess as you repeat the word "work," the way that she says "hope that it gets to you" and makes you reconsider your whole life, etc.—is making Drake the charming pop star he wants to be. As always, there's a lesson here: Shut up, and let Rihanna take control. —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN


"American girl" is a loaded term for melting pot conformity, an apt description of the insecurity we've all had in relationships at one point or another: that we have to bend who we are, our backgrounds or desires to fit some unattainable ideal for a lover. Mitski beautifully scores this hurt through guitar on "Your Best American Girl," an amplified cry in the throes of a love doomed by difference. Distortion painfully crashes against passion so real that "Your Best American Girl" feels like revisiting a breakup with every listen. The upside is the cure: playing Mitski over and over. —Jill Krajewski | LISTEN


With "OOOUUU," Brooklyn's Young M.A provided the world with a self-released track that would become the most objectively perfect rap song of 2016. Its glory is in how effortless it moves, with the young spitter's catchy slurs over a low-key, driving beat—one that would then get remixed by countless other rappers. As the world began to debate, once again, about whether or not a young talent could "bring New York back" with a viral video that reached over 100 million views, she seemed to not give a shit and said one thing: "OOOUUU." —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN


"Pick Up the Phone" is not a Travis Scott song. We mean that literally—it's widely known, at this point, that the bouncy, should've-been-the-hit-of-the-summer song was originally Young Thug's, with a peacemaking Lyor Cohen brokering a song-share deal between the two rappers that could only happen in 2016—but figuratively, the song also features Scott getting shown up not once, but twice by his counterparts. Young Thug sounds, as ever, like a joyous stream of emojis, detailing his verse with personal touches and contemplative asides—and then there's Quavo, who delivers the verse of the year in detailing relationship woes and rhyming "discriminize" with "ostrich seat with the frog eyes." It's almost enough to make you forget that no one actually picks up the phone anymore. Larry Fitzmaurice | LISTEN


Desiigner proved something that hip-hop truthers have long feared and detested in internet circles over the years: words don't matter in today's rap. To an extent, that may be true and that's not to devalue his contribution to the genre. Desiigner's lyrics are barely distinguishable here but his energy never wavers; the production sparked countless dance challenges, and Kanye West introduced the world to Desiigner. It was hard for "Panda" to lose. Lawrence Burney | LISTEN


With a music video that's (maybe) a tribute to Vanessa Carlton and a piano line that feels like floating on top of clouds, "Broccoli" is a song that's more fun than recess. Its massive success (number one on the rap charts, baby) cemented D.R.A.M. as a hit-maker (following last year's lack of credit on running the world with "Hotline Bling") and Lil Yachty as a rightful teen icon. Plus, let's be real: who doesn't love a good song about smoking weed? —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN


Kanye promised a gospel album then proceeded to kick off the project's presentation in Madison Square Garden with a song that featured Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin, and a choir. That alone could be the biggest flex of 2016. But "Ultralight Beam" is one to note because, looking back, all Ye was doing was professing his faith in a higher power and asking that source to grant him peace in his own life. Paired with Chance The Rapper breathing life into his own forthcoming album Coloring Book with his strongest verse of the year make this song one of 2016's best. Lawrence Burney | LISTEN


Ragana's is an iconoclastic blend of black metal, doom, screamo, and overwhelming gloom. The band's sole output this year, the song "You Take Nothing," is devastatingly sad, and angry, and defiant; its understated power, aggressive fragility, and overwhelming bleakness exemplify the state of 2016. The vocals signal yearning and desperation through cleanly sung passages that crack with emotion, and echoing howls that bleed; the lingering, blue-gray atmosphere and forceful percussion drive the point home further. While it's a pay-what-you-want download, bear in mind that any proceeds go to the water protectors at Standing Rock, and open your wallet accordingly. Kim Kelly | LISTEN


"Blue Lights" is one of the most pertinent songs to come out of the UK this year. Sampling Dizzee Rascal's "Sirens," it's an aching portrait of the forms racial profiling can take, whether it's being "kept after class for answering back" or the increased likelihood of being stopped by police for no reason. "There's no need to run if you've done nothing wrong," Smith sings over a silky soundscape that lands somewhere somewhere between Hot Sugar and Lauryn Hill. It's a mammoth achievement for a 19-year-old who started out fitting her songwriting in between shifts at Starbucks. Emma Garland | LISTEN


Beach Slang's songs can be respectively judged by how Beach Slangy they are. (Definition: Beach Slangy - adjective - possessing mawkish and nostalgic lyrical qualities that border on being overly saccharine) And on "Hot Tramps," off the band's rapidly churned out sophomore LP, A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, frontman James Alex is at his Beach Slangiest as he compares his subject's eyelashes to plastic diamonds and mouth to a pile of sirens. The fuzzy vocals and thick guitar tone on this song mask the sentiment underneath as he goes full heart-on-sleeve with the chorus: "I can't love you raw enough." It's so wonderfully and unabashedly Beach Slangy. —Dan Ozzi | LISTEN


One thing that sets rap apart from other music genres is the art of the collaboration, which is exemplified to perfection on Chance the Rapper's "No Problem." In a year where we've had no Carter V, Wayne still managed to pull out a verse of fire. 2 Chainz commands the listener to take their shirt off and wave it around like a helicopter. "No Problem" is the sound of unadulterated joy in a stress-free world, making it a crucial and necessary respite from the fuckery that has been 2016. —Ryan Bassil | LISTEN


With "Devil Is Fine," Zeal & Ardor—the spiritual black metal project from Switzerland's Manuel Gagneux—is a fucking force. On the track, Gagneux's arresting voice is gravelly, powerful, and fearless—a sonic statement that embraces soul traditions layered into raw and harsh electronics. Don't really understand that description? Yeah, same. That's what makes it so goddamn good. —Eric Sundermann | LISTEN


One of the reasons grime has become so prominent in 2016 is because it isn't just about the tentpole artists like Skepta, JME, or Wiley anymore; it's about artists at every single tier of the scene, young and old, grinding and creating harder than ever before. Named after a fancy Brazilian footballer of the same name, "Thiago Silva" was one of this year's fiercest underground heaters, birthed from the brains of AJ Tracey, one of the most exciting new grime talents around, and Dave, UK rap's best young prospect.

Written over a re-work of the classic "Pied Piper" instrumental, and with an incredible music video that sees the pair juxtapose London street scenes with those of Paris, the message of "Thiago Silva" is simple: no matter what 2016 made everyone think, the sound of Britain is not reverting back to church bells, spoons stirring tea, Jeremy Clarkson revving a Bentley, a flaccid Union Jack flopping in the breeze, or cricket players having cheery banter on the village green. The sound of Britain is an 18-year-old rapper from Streatham and a grime MC from Ladbroke Grove swapping bars about football, Nandos, and knocking your teeth out. —Joe Zadeh | LISTEN


Frank Ocean's Blonde dabbled in many shades, but the two-toned "Nights" was the inarguable anchor of the singer/songwriter's sparse, lovely, and altogether beguiling masterpiece. The first half marks "Nights" as one of the few songs on the album to feature percussion of any kind, a distant drum hit in congress with soft bass patter, as Ocean offers lyrical points of advice and well-wishing to someone just out-of-scene. Before you know it, a few synths zoom in, a thicket of guitar noise encroaches, and the bottom drops out, revealing pitch-shifted autobiographical bon mots and astral-projection tones on top of a gently skittering beat. It's one of the most mesmerizing musical moments of 2016 (in years, maybe), like running full-speed on gravel only to find yourself weightless in motion, stars surrounding you and the sky below.

Since its release, the moody, mercurial textures of Blonde have given me a similar unquantifiable feeling as listening to the late Arthur Russell. There is so much beauty that, for all the sonic abstractions attached to it, is almost plaintive in its presentation, with Ocean's lyrics touching on a variety of big themes—sex, death, youth, drugs, aging, trust, safety, alienation—without giving too much away. On the surface (how else to approach art made by someone who refuses, brilliantly, to give much else away?), "Nights" is about nostalgia as much as it is about the daily basics of survival, undeniably generational topics for anyone who's been worried about the uncertainties tomorrow brings and has reflected on the past with a purity of intent—no negatives, no positives, facts only. Right before that gravity-defying moment, Ocean sums up eight years of millennial angst in one devastating couplet, highlighting the eternal conflict between wanting to remove yourself from the world and realizing that sometimes there's no place else to go: "Wanna see nirvana, but don't wanna die." Who doesn't? —Larry Fitzmaurice | LISTEN


Angel Olsen has made her career out of exposing emotional wounds to her audience. Whether they are characters she's created or her own experiences she's re-telling, Olsen lets us see the sometimes unpretty and contradictory aspects of humanity, especially when it involves love. The single "Shut Up Kiss Me" from her third album, My Woman, picks up on similar beats that Olsen gave us on her the aching sophomore Burn Your Fire For No Witness. It's an oddly comforting anthemic track; something good to sing along to on full blast. On "Shut Up Kiss Me," we're presented with the quietly defiant, but soon-to-be obstinate, tone of a person fighting, grasping even, at the last straws of a relationship on the brink of falling over the edge. The lyrics "shutupkissmeholdmetight" run together and suggest a fluid, frantic urgency—emphasizing how vital it is for whomever the other character is to stop fighting and fucking kiss her already. Olsen is bold in the face of her faceless antagonist: she gives us a real-time spectrum of emotional reactions moving between the soft tone of "we could still be making some sweet memories" to an almost exasperated "it's all over, baby, but I'm still young." The final "shutupkissmeholdmetight" sounds like a realization, a goodbye even, her groaning "ahhhsss" all over the song have been waiting for. —Sarah MacDonald | LISTEN


You can deconstruct, analyze, genre-categorize, and objectively critique all you want, but in essence: songs are just like people, you either like them or you don't. If "3 Wheel-Ups" by British MC Kano was a person, it would be the direct rudeboy; the one who thunders into a dying house party at 2 AM with a liberal crate of ice cold beers, an inviting but not disturbing amount of illegal substances, a magnetism for the aux cord, and a facial expression that suggests everything that had gone before was inadequate and the real party starts now—then exits early, leaving you all crawling around on the floor and yearning for more. From the thumping trumpet-led instrumental to the searing bars of three UK legends (Kano, Wiley, Giggs)—this song made many an MC look at themselves hard in the mirror and wonder if this life was truly for them. You are "Drill Time" by Slim Jesus, and "3 Wheel-Ups" is the guy she told you not to worry about. —Joe Zadeh | LISTEN


PUP fans were waiting on The Dream Is Over, the Toronto band's sophomore album. Like, reeeeally waiting on it. So much so that when the band tossed them "DVP," a teaser song off the album which had technically already been floating around (if you knew where to look on the interwebs), they went apeshit, and the track racked up a few hundred thousand plays in just a couple of days. There's just something about "DVP" that's like pure audio crack—maybe it's guitarist Steve Sladkowski's underlying hypnotic riffs, maybe it's the relatable nature of its subject matter of acting like an immature asshole after three beers, or maybe it's those catchy woooooohs that need to be pried out of your head with a crowbar. Most likely, it's a combination of it all, a perfect pop punk storm captured in under two and a half minutes. Not to mention, "DVP" holds the title for the only non-terrible lyric video ever made. Once The Dream Is Over was finally released, it was revealed that the song was part of a helluva one-two punch to kick off a solid record that fans were happy with. But then again, the album could've been "DVP" ten times in a row and that would've been fine too. Dan Ozzi | LISTEN


"Mad" doesn't sound like a song about anger, and that's partially the point. Solange floats in over airy piano chords to reclaim anger as resilience—she takes back her right to express indignation over oppression and injustice from those who don't believe that expression is worth fighting for. "You got the right to be mad / But when you carry it alone, you find it only getting in the way / They say you gotta let it go," she sings. The song negotiates the weight and catharsis of that sentiment. You hear it embedded in the sigh and shuffle of the brushed snare, in the major key progression, and in the quivering backing harmonies of Moses Sumney, The-Dream, and Tweet. It's tough to recall a more nuanced and graceful twist to the gut as their repeated exhale of "Where'd your love go? / Where'd your love go, baby?" The song's epiphany is as much about embracing anger as it is a takedown of the loneliness and estrangement of holding it in. That's where Wayne comes in with one of his best verses in recent memory, recounting his travails with disarming frankness: "And when I attempted suicide, I didn't die / I remember how mad I was on that day." It's a line you don't forget, but he already "let it go, let it go, let it go." As with the rest of A Seat at the Table, "Mad" is a work of subtlety, offering release in laying its most difficult truths to bare. —Andrea Domanick | LISTEN


It's impossible to talk about "Formation" without talking about the video. That's true of Lemonade as a whole, but as its lead single, "Formation," both verbally and visually set the direction Beyoncé would be taking and asserted, very clearly, who this album would be for. It's accessible to anyone with a passing interest in her as an artist, but "Formation" is principally a celebration of black people, black culture, and black power. That extends from the black and queer bodies depicted in the video who bear the brunt of societal violence—replete with Big Freedia's presence and implicitly the New Orleans bounce scene she helped popularize—to the team who worked on it. It references everything from police brutality to Hurricane Katrina, natural hair to hot sauce, Givenchy to Red Lobster—folding the personal and the political into an empowerment anthem that spawned a thousand "slay" shirts. Sonically, it's one of the weirdest things Beyoncé has ever released. It's off-kilter, full of several layers of unusual noises, and stops and starts in a way chart music doesn't often tolerate. It's rare in pop that resistance is so overtly political, so celebratory and goes hard as hell. But that's what Beyoncé delivered; boosting the voices, lives, and concerns of the marginalized at a time when systematic oppression is doing its best to brush them aside. Emma Garland | LISTEN


Running jokes on Twitter about how The Beatles never did anything that could rival Migos or any other black music stars were fun enough when Desus had Good Morning America believing that he really didn't know who Paul McCartney was. But now, rappers are increasingly interested in being rock stars, and what better way to do so than to claim the title of the most successful band to date? Rae Sremmurd's "Black Beatles" song and video successfully makes the case for the the duo's rockstar aspirations, but it mainly wins because it makes you feel like a rockstar too. From Swae Lee's falsetto ad libs, to Jxmmi's claim of being kin to McCartney, to enlisting Gucci Mane for a feature in a year where he's defied all the odds, "Black Beatles" is equally effective when getting dressed or out at a club. It also doesn't hurt to have one of the last remaining Beatles do the #mannequinchallenge to your track. Lawrence Burney | LISTEN


According to Roman myth, there once existed a being named Bacchus, god of wine and ecstasy. Relentless in his hedonistic pursuits, Bacchus held gatherings allowing those present to gorge themselves in carnal and drunken displays of pleasure called "bacchanals." Eons later, the term "bacchanal" in present day still means much the same thing—that is, "an occasion of wild and drunken revelry." Its spirit has been distilled into a realm without wine but instead "vodka and water, and a lemon," and reincarnated into a majestic hymn called "Sex With Me."

One of three bonus cuts that close out ANTI, "Sex" is an explicit decree of Rihanna's fleshly beauty and sensual greatness, as she proclaims in its opening line from on high, "Sex with me, so amazing!" While Rihanna-as-sexual-goddess is far from a novel motif (see that classic, "Cockiness (Love It)"), what "Sex" does differently is gear down her usual aggressive tenor, instead relishing in pure elation and delight. You can hear Rihanna smiling as she teases, "I know, I know, I make it hard to let go." Her natural conviction, through in what is really a three-and-a-half minute brag, evokes that most elusive of all feelings: knowing you are the shit.

This year, especially in music, the phrase "self love" has been often used in juxtaposition to the crushing sense of oppression from the outside world. "Sex With Me"'s greatest ability, then, is the sphere of internal optimism it sits in. Even in the inconceivable scenario her lover is absent, Rihanna will happily carry on, more than content in pursuing satisfaction by her lonesome ("Tonight, all night, I'm Monroe / Even if I'm alone"). Truly, self-love in its purest, literal sense. —Jabbari Weekes | LISTEN


In a just world, YG's song about the foremost racist clown of American politics should have gone down in history as an entertaining piece of trivia, and Donald Trump should have been buried with his mail-order steaks in the garbage bin of irrelevance. But that's not what happened. Donald Trump was elected president, and "FDT" took on new urgency, blossoming from a novelty into an anthem. The rapper who once made "Toot It and Boot It" has found himself recast as the unlikely voice of resistance. Reality made "fuck Donald Trump" a hot line, and, to his credit, YG made it a hot song.

Times of political urgency do not necessarily demand political music, nor should that be the standard to which we hold our art, especially when the catalyst for that political urgency is a man who looks like a honeybaked ham. But at the same time, a line like "Fuck Donald Trump" can and should serve as a moral guidepost for the music ahead. We can respond to our fear and anger not just with statements of what we see—i.e. YG saying, "He's too rich, he ain't got the answers / he can't make decisions for this country, he gon' crash us"; Nipsey pointing out he's "from a place where [Trump] prolly can't go / Speaking for some people that you prolly ain't know"—but with the catharsis of a beat that bangs and a hook so memorable that it becomes an instantaneous rallying cry. We can take solace in the idea of collaboration—not just that a Blood and Crip might link up, as YG quips, but that we can create something better working together, as YG and Nip do when they trade bars on a new LA anthem, when they unite for a hard-knocking slice of modern G-funk, when they transform a heavy idea into a dirty-as-hell bassline you can rock to at a barbecue. This is what rap should be: Party music that makes the craven political establishment piss their pants and yell about propriety.

Standing up to Trump—an imperative as he and his cronies come for us and the literal planet we live on—will necessarily take many forms. Having faith in each other will be key. As Nipsey observes, on reaching across racial lines, "If it's time to team up, shit, let's begin." But it will also be important to just say "no," over and over. For the next four years, it will be our duty as Americans to blast the ever-living fuck out of this song, to remind everyone that the message isn't going away, that a man who has publicly feuded with both Cher and American democracy can never be on the right side of history.

"We the youth," YG says. "We the people of this country. We got a voice too. We will be seen, and we will be heard." Don't forget it. —Kyle Kramer | LISTEN

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