Initially I was going to do a songs list, but quickly I realized that it was simply a too convoluted and daunting task. First of all, there are just so many songs, and so many songs that I loved that it felt meaningless and inaccurate to compare them. Also, album songs are so dependent on the surrounding music that it became impossible to isolate them. For example, “Mortal Man,” the closing track on “To Pimp a Butterfly,” is a masterpiece of a song, both in the rap section and the interview section. But you can’t just throw “Mortal Man” on and enjoy it by itself; it needs to be heard in context with the rest of the album’s themes. Meanwhile, a song like “Hotline Bling” can be put on at any time and be enjoyed because it’s not reliant on anything else. But is “Hotline Bling” really a better song than “Mortal Man?” No, it’s just more instantly accessible. So with this in mind I present the top 25 singles of 2015.
#25. Big Sean- “I Don’t Fuck With You”
Lyrically, Big Sean is about as dumb and corny as it gets, and his voice never fails to be kind of annoying. However, some of the tracks on his surprisingly decent “Dark Sky Paradise” are just dumb fun, and that’s exactly what “I Don’t Fuck With You” is. Instantly quotable, catchy, and even majestic on the second half due to Kanye’s soulful production, “I Don’t Fuck With You” is probably the peak of Big Sean.
#24. Snoop Dogg & Pharrell feat. Stevie Wonder- “California Roll”
With heavenly production and a melodic, instantly memorable hook from Pharrell and some smooth harmonica flourishes compliments of Stevie Wonder, “California Roll” is the chillest song of 2015.
#23. Injury Reserve- “Yo”
The opening track on this Phoenix hip-hop outfit’s debut mixtape is a great representation of their style: fun, energetic, colorful, and a wonderful synthesis of old-school and new-school. With great verses from group members Ritchie With a T and Steppa J Groggs, and a fantastic horn-led beat from Parker Corey, “Yo” is some of the most fun your ears will have all year.
#22. Drake- “Back 2 Back”
One of the biggest moments of 2015. The Drake vs. Meek Mill beef was huge, and despite how one-sided it was, it was endlessly entertaining. After Meek’s accusations of Drake being ghostwritten for (which turned out to be true), Drake replied with “Charged Up,” the most inconspicuous and subliminal diss track probably ever recorded. Everybody, including myself, was thinking Meek would kill him if that’s all Drake had. And then Aubrey dropped legitimately one of the best diss tracks of all time.
“You love her then you gotta give the world to her
Is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?
I know that you gotta be a thug for her
This ain’t what she meant when she told you to open up more
Trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers
You gettin’ bodied by a singing nigga
I’m not the type o’ nigga that’ll type to niggas
And shout out to all my boss-bitches wifin’ niggas.”
This generation’s “No Vaseline.”
#21. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment feat. Jamila Woods- “Sunday Candy”
Jamila Woods provides one of the best hooks of the year for this extremely touching and soulful slice of hip-hop magic. Chance the Rapper, with this loving ode to his grandmother, continues his run of producing some of the most infectiously positive music hip-hop’s maybe ever seen.
#20. Clarence Clarity- “Those Who Can’t, Cheat”
At times, Clarence’s debut record “No Now” got a little too dense in its sound, in my opinion, but this song is where everything came together to form one of the catchiest pop songs of 2015. Good luck getting this thing out of your head.
#19. Alabama Shakes- “Gimme All Your Love”
An absolutely majestic and epic rock song without even really trying. It just has a huge sound, with those massive guitars and drums and those gorgeous organ flourishes. Also, that falsetto Brittany Howard hits after belting out the title is one of 2015’s greatest little musical moments.
#18. Meek Mill feat. Drake- “R.I.C.O.”
Yeah yeah, Drake didn’t write his verse for this song, which was the catalyst for the aforementioned beef between these two, but I’ll be damned if his verse isn’t one of the most effortlessly confident things I’ve heard this year. He just sounds perfect on this beat, and even though he didn’t write it, he sure makes this song his. The hype song of 2015.
#17. Joanna Newsom- “Sapokanikan”
It’s epic and wide-reaching in scope, both lyrically and musically, and it knows it. “Sapokanikan” opens with more conviction than just about any song this year, and ends on one of the best notes any singer has hit this year. The way Joanna holds out the word ‘gone’ at the end of this song is just one of those great year-defining moments.
#16. Death Grips- “Inanimate Sensation
Utterly ridiculous, perplexing, loud as fuck, intense, and memorable. In other words, Death Grips.
#15. Kendrick Lamar- “King Kunta”
For me, this is the second most danceable song of 2015. (A certain Drake song takes that title.) Funky as all hell, this thing never fails to get me moving, and the great thing about it is that it gets more funky as it goes on, as more layers get added on with every repetition of that great hook. I really like “Uptown Funk,” but “King Kunta” is where the funk really is.
#14. Dryjacket- “Jefferson’s Shadow”
If not for a certain Philadelphia based band, this would be the catchiest rock song of 2015. From the moment it begins, this thing is instantly memorable in all of its sections, from the intro to the beautiful finish.
#13. Animal Collective- “FloriDada”
The boys are back with one of the catchiest and most smile-inducing songs of their career, and that’s really saying something when you’re talking about a group like this. From the magical hook to the bridge that’s literally about a bridge, this thing is definition of a memorable pop song. If this is any indication, “Painting With…” is going to be amazing.
#12. The Weeknd- “The Hills”
Like many The Weeknd fanatics, “Can’t Feel My Face” just wasn’t my thing. But “The Hills?” That’s more like it. It’s the perfect bridge between his older style and his newer more mainstream sound. It’s not as depressing as his mixtape stuff, but it’s still dark, while being catchy as all hell and banging pretty damn hard, too.
#11. Vince Staples- “Norf Norf”
Clams Casino comes through with one of the best beats of 2015 here, featuring an eerie siren and some spare, but hard drums, and Vince, like always, kills it on the mic. He’s threatening, dark, confrontational, badass, and energetic, like he is one every other song on “Summertime ’06.” Also, there’s no denying that hook:
“I ain’t never ran from nothin’ but the police.”
One of the best marriages of beat and rapper this year.
#10. Father John Misty- “Bored in the U.S.A.”
On this song, Father John Misty takes a break from the love theme of “I Love You, Honeybear” and instead decides to perfectly sum up the shallow and materialistic nature of the millennials perfectly. He also identifies the problems they face, like student debt and pill taking. This song is the moment that you realize it’s all bullshit, but that you can’t do anything about it. Certainly doesn’t make for the most uplifting song of 2015, but it definitely makes for the one of the best.
#9. Courtney Barnett- “Depreston”
One of the more downtrodden songs on Barnett’s debut album, but arguably the best. Jangly, melodic guitar, a great melody, interesting lyrics, and tons of emotion. A perfect little number.
#8. Death Grips- “On GP”
Who would have thought that Death Grips would come out with a mesmerizing psych-rock odyssey this year? Nobody, that’s who, but goddamn it they did. The blown out production, intense playing, insane drumming from Zach Hill, some really cool guitars rumored to be played by Robert Pattinson, and some incredibly emotional lyrics all add to become one of 2015’s most moving songs.
#7. Jamie xx- “Gosh”
What begins as a cool but not overly special electronic song slowly morphs into something endlessly special. The song grooves along inconspicuously, and then a bass progression is introduced. OK, cool. And then you hear it: this little synth, that almost sounds like a siren, slowly creeping in, and then it takes the song over, playing this gorgeous solo over the rest of the unchanged instrumentation. A moment for the ages.
#6. Earl Sweatshirt- “Grief”
Earl’s phenomenal effort this year, “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside,” is dark, isolated, misanthropic, and claustrophobic, and this track (along with its great music video), is no different. The beat, for one, is really unsettling, made out of these clipped, offbeat drums playing over this deep drone. It’s one of the strangest hip-hop beats I’ve laid my ears on all year, but somehow, Earl destroys it, like he does every beat. However, as dark as this song is, it’s still endlessly enjoyable.
#5. Drake- “Hotline Bling”
The best music music of the year definitely helps this song, but the music is still the star here. The beat is bouncy, cool, and chilled out, and Drake provides some of the catchiest vocal lines since ever. (“Ever since I left the city YOU”) You can’t blame Drake for dancing like so strangely in the video. One listen and you’ll be dancing like that. If you have a soul, that is.
#4. Hop Along- “The Knock”
“8:45 A.M…” And so begins the best rock album of 2015 and the best rock song of 2015. Endlessly catchy and melodic while not sounding poppy at all, this song is just perfection. Frances Quinlan’s vocals are the star here, with her indescribable raspy way of singing that totally shouldn’t sound so freaking good, but it does, but that doesn’t take anything away from the rest of the band or the songwriting. The band sounds tight, and the writing gives way to one of the most undeniable hook this year:
“The witness just wants to talk to you.”
A song that’s impossible to stop listening to.
#3. Young Fathers- “Shame”
Full of energy, catchy, and in a constant intense build, “Shame” is extremely simple, but it’s one of the most brilliant pop songs of the last five years. Not much more can be said about it. It has to be heard to be believed.
#2. Kendrick Lamar- “Alright”
Coming after the harrowing “u” in the tracklisting, “Alright” is the small beacon of hope in the midst of despair and oppression. It’s a simple four word statement: “We gon’ be alright,” but it’s the perfect statement. When things are going bad, you don’t need to hear that everything is perfect and that nothing is wrong, you need:
“I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow
but we gon’ be alright.”
It’s certainly caught on, as Black Lives Matter activists have adopted it as a mantra of sorts, which adds a certain weight to the song that makes it ever more important. But still, musically, this thing is brilliant. The beat bounces more than just about anything else released this year, Kendrick flows hard as hell, and the production bursts with color, as Kamasi Washington’s saxophone explodes onto the track with majestic beauty. Maybe Kendrick’s most important song, but also one of his best.
#1. Kendrick Lamar- “The Blacker the Berry”
An explosion of years of racial frustration and anger. Kendrick sounds more angry on this song than he’s ever sounded, but obviously for good reason. He’s seen fellow African Americans murdered by police at an alarming rate, so after the much maligned pop-centric “i,” he released this uncompromising, chilling, and raw take on race on America. The killer boom bap flavored beat perfectly compliments Kendrick’s words, and what words they are. He confronts all of his stereotypes, (“My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide”), fires at people oppressing the black community, (“You hate me don’t you? You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture”), and then flips everything around in the last bar for one of hip-hop’s most instantly legendary lines:
“So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street
when gang-banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me
Plenty has been written about this song already, but I’ll say this: “The Blacker the Berry” is one of hip-hop’s definitive statements.