I always choose to do a singles list at the end of the year for the simple reason that a songs list is too convoluted. So many songs from many different albums took my breath away this year, but many of them were dependent on their placement within the album. They lost their luster when just listened t by themselves, as they weren’t meant to be heard that way. However, singles, even if they come from an album, were released by themselves and can stand up on their own. So these are my 25 favorite individually released singles of the past year, with only one entry per artist allowed, for the sake of diversity.
#25. Anderson .Paak: “Come Down”
There are songs I like more from Malibu, but this song is still an absolute jam. Anderson’s signature swagger and charisma is in full effect here, and it’s got him his biggest hit yet. He more than deserves it.
#24. D.R.A.M.: “Broccoli” (feat. Lil Yachty)
It’s sunshine rap. This is song is ludicrously, infectiously happy and positive, but more than anything, it’s just a super catchy and super memorable pop rap song. One of the defining hits of 2016; it was a year of negativity, and we needed something this fun.
#23. Gucci Mane: “First Day Out the Feds”
Well that’s one way to announce your comeback. Gucci walked out of jail with one of the hardest songs of the year: 3 minutes of hard as nails bars over a hard as nails beat. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, it makes its point and sets the stage for a great career post-prison for Gucci.
#22. Death Grips- “Hot Head”
Bottomless Pit often gets called the least boundary pushing of Death Grips’ work, rather just them doubling down on what makes them great, and for the most part, I’d agree. Except when it comes to this song. Even for Death Grips, this shit is fucking bonkers. But while it still, to this day, is hard to make heads or tails of, it’s still typically blood pumping and strangely catchy, which is the story of this group. That “BLOWBLOWBLOWBLOWBLOW” intro in particular is one of my favorite musical moments of the year.
#21. Lil Uzi Vert- “You Was Right”
Uzi Vert tends to get on my nerves, and it’s not on principle. I want to like him, I just don’t find his shit to incredibly catchy nor does it bang that hard, so I don’t really like most of his music. But on this song, everything came together. You can sing along, the beat bounces, and his delivery exudes his “too cool” personality and it just works. It’s an addictive pop song, here’s hoping he makes more like it.
#20. Travi$ Scott: “beibs in the trap” (feat. Nav)
It’s alluringly ignorant. I mean, he couldn’t even spell “biebs” right! But like all of Travi$’s work, the end product is still magnificent. It’s catchy, the beat is detailed, the atmosphere is intoxicating and psychedelic, and you can’t stop returning to it. Travi$ and Co. take autotune pop trap to nth-degree, and it’s glorious to see, project after project.
#19. Drake: “Child’s Play”
The Drake detractors hate this song, the fans like myself see all of the reasons they hate it as reasons we love it. Yeah it’s wimpy. It’s not hard, he’s not really a rapper anymore, his lyrics provide strangely specific details on relationships, etc. But I love it all the same. Fuck with me.
#18. Weezer: “King of the World”
What a beautiful song. Not that it’s sappy and slow or anything. In fact, it’s the opposite. But just the lyrical sentiment, that Rivers would bare his significant others’ pain just so they wouldn’t have to feel it, is really sweet. And in typical Weezer fashion, they deliver these lyrical ideas with a massive sing along chorus and some loud, rockin production.
#17. Frank Ocean: “Nikes”
Blonde isn’t really an album built for big singles, it’s very dependent on hearing it as a whole, but still, this is a great track. After four years the first voice we hear on the album is him pitched up, singing “these bitches want Nikes…” over a super simple beat. It’s the perfect misdirection that gives way towards a stunning a second half with his normal voice, typically sensory and lush lyrics, and some light acoustic guitar. Couple that with a great music video, and you’ve got one of hell of a return.
#16. Chance the Rapper: “No Problem” (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz)
An absolute party. The amount of pure, jubilant energy shown on this track from all three (even if Wayne is more relaxed than his counterparts here) never fails to captivate me, and bring a huge smile to my face.
#15. ScHoolboy Q: “Groovy Tony”
If hard as nails describes the Gucci track earlier in this list, then hard as bricks applies here. While the single version lacks Jadakiss’ awesome guest verse from the album, the song remains unbelievably hard. ScHoolboy’s syncopated flow that rises in intensity with each word uttered is something to behold, as is the way it bounces off of the deft drum patterns and the backing vocals. It’s exhilarating.
#14. Rihanna: “Work” (feat. Drake)
When I first heard this song, I didn’t know what to make to make of it. It’s not like it’s super challenging and wild or anything, it’s just kind of confusing. What the fuck is that hook?! But the more I heard it (and once I saw this video) I got more and more hooked. And now I can’t get enough. It’s catchy, it’s cute, it’s fun, it’s definitely the best song I’ve heard come out of the dancehall wave that’s gone through mainstream pop recently. I can’t help but love it.
#13. Beyoncé: “Sorry”
Definitely a song where the term “anthem” should be applied. Thus thing is fucking massive, and not in sound, but in attitude. Beyoncé yelling out “suck on my balls, pause, I’ve had enough”? “Middle fingers up, throw them hands high…”? As she gets older it seems she’s only getting fiercer, and go along with it, her songs are getting catchier and her production is getting more varied and much riskier. God bless.
#12. A Tribe Called Quest: “We the People”
Now this is how you take East Coast boom bap into the 2010s! The drums are dusty and groove hard as fuck, while Q-Tip and Phife (rest in peace) sound incredibly confident and speak on modern issues. In this case, the division currently seen in America. The legends are the legends for a reason.
#11. Young Thug & Travi$ Scott: “pick up the phone” (feat. Quavo)
It’s funny that many of the best, most memorable pop songs these days don’t come from the Katy Perrys of the world. Instead, they’re coming from the so called rap guys. (Though this, and most of Travi$ and Thugger’s work can’t really be called rap, can it?) This is melodic genius right here. It’s incredibly catchy, you can dance to it, you can sing along, you can listen alone, you can listen with your friends. The squeaky clean pop stars with companies with millions and millions of dollars behind them are, in my opinion, being beaten at their own game.
#10. Ka: “The Superfly Single”
In a short one-two punch, Ka delivered his two best songs, “30 Keys” and “Grapes of Wrath,” known collectively as “The Superfly Single.” The beats are the prettiest that he’s rapped over, and he’s seen at his emotional here. Sure, his flow is typically hushed and monotone, but that’s the point. He’s a hardened man who deals with facts, and spits every rap like it is one. So when he says on “30 Keys” that he doesn’t want to deal drugs, but has to, and he wishes he had another skill, it hits like a fucking knife in the heart. He’s not bullshitting you.
#9. Danny Brown: “Pneumonia”
Atrocity Exhibition had one “what the fuck!” moment waiting around every corner, but one of my favorites was the verses to this song. It starts out with its hook, which is one of the most normal things you’ve heard so far into the album. The rhythm and cadence isn’t unlike something you’d hear on a gritty trap rap release. But then the verses arrive like a cinderblock to the head. The beat turns into what sounds like someone kicking a filing cabinet, banging out this quarter note triplet rhythm that Danny reciprocates, shouting along with it, managing to out-noise a beat most rappers wouldn’t even be heard over.
#8. Domo Genesis: “Dapper” (feat. Anderson. Paak)
One of the most feel good tunes of the year. There’s not really much to say other than this song will raise your dopamine levels exponentially.
#7. The Avalanches: “Because I’m Me” (feat. Camp Lo)
This song gives me chills every time. The way the beat fades in, and then Camp Lo hop on it with incredible confidence, it’s all perfect. One of the best album openers I’ve ever heard.
#6. Blood Orange: “Best To You” (feat. Empress Of)
It’s incredibly evocative. Songs like these are impossible to describe. Songs like “Heaven or Las Vegas” or “Run Away With Me.” Those neon-tinged, infinite pop songs that put images in your head that you’ll never be able to describe. You just have to hear the song. Just know this, “Best To You” is a magnificent pop song.
#5. Car Seat Headrest: “Destroyed By Hippie Powers”
One of the most cathartic musical moments of 2016 is the build up to the second chorus in this song where Will Toledo shouts: “What happened to that chubby little kid, who smiled so much and loved the Beach Boys? / What happened is I killed that fucker and I took his name, and I got new glasses.” Typed words don’t do that shit justice. And of course, like the best material on Teens of Denial, this song will be stuck in your head for days.
#4. Kanye West: “Ultralight Beam” (feat. Kelly Price, The-Dream, Chance the Rapper, and Kirk Franklin)
When I frantically tuned into TIDAL’s livestream of Kanye’s unveiling of this album, his new clothing line, and in-the-works videogame at Madison Square Garden, I distinctly remember this song opening everything up. I was blown away at how quiet it was. How gentle. How Kanye held his hands up and vibed to the music like he was leading everyone in a small prayer. In a way, he was. And then, when Chance’s career verse came on I knew. He had done it again.
#3. Childish Gambino: “Me and Your Mama”
Where were you when Donald Glover turned into a sex oozing, howling soul singer? This song is one for the ages, where Bino turns in an absolutely stunning vocal performance. For real, I get goosebumps every tie I hear him hit these notes, with such passion and intensity. A masterful song.
#2. Rae Sremmurd: “Black Beatles” (feat. Gucci Mane)
I’ve never heard this song played loud enough. A generation defining anthem. Some will hate that and say we’re doomed, but they’re real weirdoooooooos.
#1. The Weeknd: “I Feel It Coming” (feat. Daft Punk)
The stars aligned to make this song. It sounds like a god send. To call this song catchy does it a disservice. It’s more than a really catchy pop song. It sounds fucking divine. Every sound is in the perfect place. The beat has this confident swing to it that keeps it from being rigid, and Abel glides over these simple, lopped chords like a bird sliding its talons across the water. And then, when Daft Punk’s signature vocoder begins trading with Abel on the hook, I die and go to heaven. It’s been a strange journey Abel, but you’ve arrived. You are the King of Pop.