Complex's Best Songs of 2016

Artist

SongTitle

The 50 songs written about here all have at least one fierce champion on the Complex staff—most have more. In a year where music often felt like a lifeline, these are the songs that helped us get through, the ones that mattered most. These are the best songs of 2016.

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50

"Tiimmy Turner"

Desiigner

N/A

Produced by Mike Dean

The freestyle that launched a thousand hot takes. Desiigner’s had an intriguing year: the 19-year-old Brooklynite can’t even legally buy beer in his hometown, but he’s now the newest, brightest face on G.O.O.D. Music. For many, the sinister harmonies and the new English he employed on “Tiimmy Turner” might sound indecipherable, but the tale it tells, a tortured protagonist (likely) destined for violence and his soul destined for hell, speaks sanguinely to his pursuit of a life outside of what’s predestined for many young black men. —khal

 

"Tiimmy Turner"

The freestyle that launched a thousand hot takes. Desiigner’s had an intriguing year: the 19-year-old Brooklynite can’t even legally buy beer in his hometown, but he’s now the newest, brightest face on G.O.O.D. Music. For many, the sinister harmonies and the new English he employed on “Tiimmy Turner” might sound indecipherable, but the tale it tells, a tortured protagonist (likely) destined for violence and his soul destined for hell, speaks sanguinely to his pursuit of a life outside of what’s predestined for many young black men. —khal

 
49

"Champions"

Kanye West f/ 2 Chainz, Big Sean, Quavo, Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti, Travis Scott and Desiigner

N/A

Produced by Kanye West, A-Trak, Lex Luger, Mike Dean

A boisterous party from the G.O.O.D. Music crew, “Champions” exists to show that Kanye is, when so inclined, still more than capable of marshalling together the best posse cuts in the game. He's assembled a motley crew in this case, pairing up some time-tested favorites with (occasionally counterintuitive) newcomers. Gucci Mane, especially, shines bright. In one of his first verses since getting out of prison, he sounds calm, cool, and, above all, charismatic. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 

"Champions"

A boisterous party from the G.O.O.D. Music crew, “Champions” exists to show that Kanye is, when so inclined, still more than capable of marshalling together the best posse cuts in the game. He's assembled a motley crew in this case, pairing up some time-tested favorites with (occasionally counterintuitive) newcomers. Gucci Mane, especially, shines bright. In one of his first verses since getting out of prison, he sounds calm, cool, and, above all, charismatic. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 
48

"Diddy Bop"

Noname f/ Cam O'bi and Raury

Telefone

Produced by Phoelix, Cam O'bi

“I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready,” Noname assures, as one of the warmest beats of the year opens. She kept fans waiting after bursting onto the scene with a song-stealing verse on Chance The Rapper’s “Lost” back in 2013, but her return surpassed all expectations. “Diddy Bop” is the best distillation of her appeal; a nostalgic missive about summertime Chicago and stealing 20s from your mom’s purse with a novelistic eye for character and detail. It’s overflowing with soul, and marks the true debut of an up-and-coming star. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 

"Diddy Bop"

“I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready,” Noname assures, as one of the warmest beats of the year opens. She kept fans waiting after bursting onto the scene with a song-stealing verse on Chance The Rapper’s “Lost” back in 2013, but her return surpassed all expectations. “Diddy Bop” is the best distillation of her appeal; a nostalgic missive about summertime Chicago and stealing 20s from your mom’s purse with a novelistic eye for character and detail. It’s overflowing with soul, and marks the true debut of an up-and-coming star. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 
47

"Offended"

Meek Mill f/ Young Thug and 21 Savage

DC4

Produced by Murda, CuBeatz, OZ

This is mean-mug music at its finest. Sure, the overly cynical will be quick to point out that Meek Mill has the third-best verse on his own song. But I've always felt it was important to differentiate between the host of a song getting "murdered," per se, and simply getting out-rapped. Meek does just fine here, and at the end of the day it's his project, serving as another solid step toward a comeback. Can you really blame him for getting eclipsed in the 2016th year of our Lord, wherein Young Thug's powers grew to unpredictable proportions and 21 Savage grimaced his way to head of rap's freshman class? Thug does his thing, but it's the Savage who walks away with this song. If you were on the fence about his talents before, after you've heard him start his verse with "I been done shot a nigga" and only get more enthrallingly violent from there, you'll have fallen over to his side—hopefully unharmed for your doubts. —Frazier Tharpe

 

"Offended"

This is mean-mug music at its finest. Sure, the overly cynical will be quick to point out that Meek Mill has the third-best verse on his own song. But I've always felt it was important to differentiate between the host of a song getting "murdered," per se, and simply getting out-rapped. Meek does just fine here, and at the end of the day it's his project, serving as another solid step toward a comeback. Can you really blame him for getting eclipsed in the 2016th year of our Lord, wherein Young Thug's powers grew to unpredictable proportions and 21 Savage grimaced his way to head of rap's freshman class? Thug does his thing, but it's the Savage who walks away with this song. If you were on the fence about his talents before, after you've heard him start his verse with "I been done shot a nigga" and only get more enthrallingly violent from there, you'll have fallen over to his side—hopefully unharmed for your doubts. —Frazier Tharpe

 
46

"1Night"

Lil Yachty

Lil Boat

Produced by TheGoodPerry

Yachty’s goofy ode to casual sex was a major breakout moment for one of the most polarizing artists of the year. Although he’s delivered solid guest features throughout his career, “1night,” in all its quirky, laid-back charm, proved that he could stand on his own as an offbeat hitmaker. Its wild video—featuring Technicolor glitch art, kittens, and, of course, boats—certainly didn’t hurt either. Whether you love or hate Lil Boat, it’s hard to deny that he killed it in 2016 with a solid work ethic and fun, positive music. —Chris Mench

 

"1Night"

Yachty’s goofy ode to casual sex was a major breakout moment for one of the most polarizing artists of the year. Although he’s delivered solid guest features throughout his career, “1night,” in all its quirky, laid-back charm, proved that he could stand on his own as an offbeat hitmaker. Its wild video—featuring Technicolor glitch art, kittens, and, of course, boats—certainly didn’t hurt either. Whether you love or hate Lil Boat, it’s hard to deny that he killed it in 2016 with a solid work ethic and fun, positive music. —Chris Mench

 
45

"No Heart"

21 Savage and Metro Boomin

Savage Mode

Produced by Metro Boomin

If I were Tyga, I would take a long hard listen to this song before so much as gesturing in the direction of 21 Savage, the cat with the MAC. The Atlanta MC who, while you were playing Nintendo, was playing with pistols. Who was knocking individuals out like Holyfield in the 9th grade. Who knows you love sneak-dissing on Twitter, and sees you doing it. Who, fundamentally, grew up in the streets without a heart. Savage, he was just playin'! —Ross Scarano

 

"No Heart"

If I were Tyga, I would take a long hard listen to this song before so much as gesturing in the direction of 21 Savage, the cat with the MAC. The Atlanta MC who, while you were playing Nintendo, was playing with pistols. Who was knocking individuals out like Holyfield in the 9th grade. Who knows you love sneak-dissing on Twitter, and sees you doing it. Who, fundamentally, grew up in the streets without a heart. Savage, he was just playin'! —Ross Scarano

 
44

"That's What I Like"

Bruno Mars

24K Magic

Produced by Shampoo Press & Curl, The Stereotypes

Bruno Mars’ brand of pop R&B shines on his latest album 24K Magic, and nothing showcases the blend of retro vibes and playful lyricism he hits on the album better than “That’s What I Like.” Set to an infectious slow-roll backdrop from Shampoo Press & Curl and the Stereotypes, the record tunes into Mars’ pursuit of a woman, whom he offers his wallet up to, among other things. The result is a melodic throwback feat that you won’t be able to get out of your head. —Edwin Ortiz

 

"That's What I Like"

Bruno Mars’ brand of pop R&B shines on his latest album 24K Magic, and nothing showcases the blend of retro vibes and playful lyricism he hits on the album better than “That’s What I Like.” Set to an infectious slow-roll backdrop from Shampoo Press & Curl and the Stereotypes, the record tunes into Mars’ pursuit of a woman, whom he offers his wallet up to, among other things. The result is a melodic throwback feat that you won’t be able to get out of your head. —Edwin Ortiz

 
43

"Kanye West"

Young Thug f/ Wyclef Jean

Jeffery

Produced by Cassius Jay, Wheezy

Listening to Jeffery with a friend, standout track “Kanye West” made her admit that—despite the explicit lyrics—Young Thug makes songs that “sound like the kind of music children would make.” It was her first time hearing the song and, for the rest of the day, “wet, wet” became a persistent refrain, an inside joke between us despite the fact that it seemingly everyone was listening to the widely celebrated album. Jeffery is a bizarre, sometimes perplexingly beautiful romp through Young Thug’s brain; “Kanye West” is the sweet, surprising ode to messy sex that closes it out. Let me never forget the sound of the real Wyclef intoning Thugger’s birth name like a gentle schoolteacher taking attendance. —Ross Scarano

 

"Kanye West"

Listening to Jeffery with a friend, standout track “Kanye West” made her admit that—despite the explicit lyrics—Young Thug makes songs that “sound like the kind of music children would make.” It was her first time hearing the song and, for the rest of the day, “wet, wet” became a persistent refrain, an inside joke between us despite the fact that it seemingly everyone was listening to the widely celebrated album. Jeffery is a bizarre, sometimes perplexingly beautiful romp through Young Thug’s brain; “Kanye West” is the sweet, surprising ode to messy sex that closes it out. Let me never forget the sound of the real Wyclef intoning Thugger’s birth name like a gentle schoolteacher taking attendance. —Ross Scarano

 
42

"Let Me Love You"

DJ Snake f/ Justin Bieber

Encore

Produced by DJ Snake

A blend of trap and dance may be DJ Snake’s sweet spot, but he’s no stranger to pop. If you need proof, just throw on “Let Me Love You.” The beat's tweaked synth melody lays the groundwork for Justin Bieber’s tender vocals about a relationship that has him on the brink of heartbreak. It’s blue without getting too deep. “Let Me Love You” stands as a highlight in Snake’s catalog, one that will inevitably continue to grow into new sounds and spaces in the coming years. —Edwin Ortiz

 

"Let Me Love You"

A blend of trap and dance may be DJ Snake’s sweet spot, but he’s no stranger to pop. If you need proof, just throw on “Let Me Love You.” The beat's tweaked synth melody lays the groundwork for Justin Bieber’s tender vocals about a relationship that has him on the brink of heartbreak. It’s blue without getting too deep. “Let Me Love You” stands as a highlight in Snake’s catalog, one that will inevitably continue to grow into new sounds and spaces in the coming years. —Edwin Ortiz

 
41

"Good Drank"

2 Chainz f/ Gucci Mane and Quavo

Hibachi for Lunch

Produced by Mike Dean

You'd be hard pressed to find a bad verse from 2 Chainz in 2016. He shined with a number of projects, and his Hibachi for Lunch mixtape stood out alongside his full-length with Lil Wayne, Collegrove, to prove his consistency. Its highlight track, "Good Drank," brought together Chainz, Quavo and Gucci Mane over a hypnotic Mike Dean beat. The smooth trap extravaganza not only features stellar verses from Chainz and Gucci, but boasts a ridiculous—and ridiculously catchy—hook from Quavo: "She said the Molly gave her thizz face, put the dick in her rib cage, whips out, Kunta Kinte, diamonds clear like bombay, take ya babies no Harambe,” the Migos star croons. We'll be alright if you put Quavo on every hook. —Zach Frydenlund

 

"Good Drank"

You'd be hard pressed to find a bad verse from 2 Chainz in 2016. He shined with a number of projects, and his Hibachi for Lunch mixtape stood out alongside his full-length with Lil Wayne, Collegrove, to prove his consistency. Its highlight track, "Good Drank," brought together Chainz, Quavo and Gucci Mane over a hypnotic Mike Dean beat. The smooth trap extravaganza not only features stellar verses from Chainz and Gucci, but boasts a ridiculous—and ridiculously catchy—hook from Quavo: "She said the Molly gave her thizz face, put the dick in her rib cage, whips out, Kunta Kinte, diamonds clear like bombay, take ya babies no Harambe,” the Migos star croons. We'll be alright if you put Quavo on every hook. —Zach Frydenlund

 
40

"Surfin'"

Kid Cudi

Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin'

Produced by Pharrell Williams

Wave riding may be the norm in 2016, but Kid Cudi makes it clear on the triumphant “Surfin’” that he’s not with it—he’s too busy riding his own. Lest we forget, Cudi is the wave creator even stadium-status acts have replicated for their own gain. “Makin' what I want and that's a flex/Can't do what you want, now ain't that a bitch?” he sing-raps over Pharrell’s anthemic production. Get on Cudi’s wave, or get washed away. —Edwin Ortiz

 

"Surfin'"

Wave riding may be the norm in 2016, but Kid Cudi makes it clear on the triumphant “Surfin’” that he’s not with it—he’s too busy riding his own. Lest we forget, Cudi is the wave creator even stadium-status acts have replicated for their own gain. “Makin' what I want and that's a flex/Can't do what you want, now ain't that a bitch?” he sing-raps over Pharrell’s anthemic production. Get on Cudi’s wave, or get washed away. —Edwin Ortiz

 
39

"Drug Dealers Anonymous"

Pusha T f/ Jay Z

N/A

Produced by DJ Dahi

The long-awaited collaboration by two hip-hop greats delivered on just about everything fans hoped for. Jay Z and Pusha T have rapped extensively about their past lives on the streets, and hearing them tag-team hustling on their first song together felt absolutely right. Sampling perpetually angry The Blaze host Tomi Lahren’s attempt at a Jay takedown was the cherry on top. —Chris Mench

 

"Drug Dealers Anonymous"

The long-awaited collaboration by two hip-hop greats delivered on just about everything fans hoped for. Jay Z and Pusha T have rapped extensively about their past lives on the streets, and hearing them tag-team hustling on their first song together felt absolutely right. Sampling perpetually angry The Blaze host Tomi Lahren’s attempt at a Jay takedown was the cherry on top. —Chris Mench

 
38

"Million Reasons"

Lady Gaga

Joanne

Produced by Lady Gaga, BLOOD, Mark Ronson

In 2011, I fell in love with my first Lady Gaga song, when she opened the VMAs with "You and I," a cinematic showstopper. It was the only song of hers I owned, and for a long time I figured it’d stay that way. Imagine my delight, then, when she billed her new album as a country-pop-rock hybrid. I couldn't wait for a spiritual sequel to “You and I,” and she delivered with “Million Reasons,” a sparse ballad tailor-made to score the emotional fallout in Act 2 of a Katherine Heigl movie (in a good way). But really, “Million Reasons” is an argument that Lady Joanne's talent is glimpsed best when the costumes are shelved and the stage is bare. My Gaga collection, though? A lot less bare now. —Frazier Tharpe

 

"Million Reasons"

In 2011, I fell in love with my first Lady Gaga song, when she opened the VMAs with "You and I," a cinematic showstopper. It was the only song of hers I owned, and for a long time I figured it’d stay that way. Imagine my delight, then, when she billed her new album as a country-pop-rock hybrid. I couldn't wait for a spiritual sequel to “You and I,” and she delivered with “Million Reasons,” a sparse ballad tailor-made to score the emotional fallout in Act 2 of a Katherine Heigl movie (in a good way). But really, “Million Reasons” is an argument that Lady Joanne's talent is glimpsed best when the costumes are shelved and the stage is bare. My Gaga collection, though? A lot less bare now. —Frazier Tharpe

 
37

"Zaddy"

Ty Dolla Sign

Campaign

Produced by Frank Dukes, Jahaan Sweet, Ty Dolla Sign

Ty Dolla Sign is the funniest lyricist in contemporary R&B (“You found that rubber in the trash can/I said, ‘When the fuck did you become the trash man?’”). “Zaddy” isn’t a joke song, but it does elicit goofy smiles, a self-aware but not self-conscious feeling of “this is dumb but I could not love it more.” I’m not advocating for saying “zamn, zaddy” in your everyday life, but maybe there’s room in your heart for a zaddy who will run up the budget, who will pull up to do your favorite unmentionable things. —Ross Scarano

 

"Zaddy"

Ty Dolla Sign is the funniest lyricist in contemporary R&B (“You found that rubber in the trash can/I said, ‘When the fuck did you become the trash man?’”). “Zaddy” isn’t a joke song, but it does elicit goofy smiles, a self-aware but not self-conscious feeling of “this is dumb but I could not love it more.” I’m not advocating for saying “zamn, zaddy” in your everyday life, but maybe there’s room in your heart for a zaddy who will run up the budget, who will pull up to do your favorite unmentionable things. —Ross Scarano

 
36

"Planet God Damn"

Mac Miller f/ Njomza

The Divine Feminine

Produced by Vinylz, Frank Dukes, Aja Grant

Mac Miller’s pivot toward love and relationships on The Divine Feminine unlocked a more honest, mature side of the rapper. “Planet God Damn” showcases this growth over an incredibly smooth jazz-trap blend that would have felt out of place five years ago. Mac makes it work now, and guest vocalist Njomza turns in a performance that will keep you coming back for more. “A little more pain, that's just better music,” Mac raps calmly. He proves that here, and we're better off for it. —Edwin Ortiz

 

"Planet God Damn"

Mac Miller’s pivot toward love and relationships on The Divine Feminine unlocked a more honest, mature side of the rapper. “Planet God Damn” showcases this growth over an incredibly smooth jazz-trap blend that would have felt out of place five years ago. Mac makes it work now, and guest vocalist Njomza turns in a performance that will keep you coming back for more. “A little more pain, that's just better music,” Mac raps calmly. He proves that here, and we're better off for it. —Edwin Ortiz

 
35

"That Part"

Schoolboy Q f/ Kanye West

Blank Face LP

Produced by Yung Exclusive, CuBeatz, Cardo

This song is goofy and catchy where the rest of Blank Face LP is gnarly and impenetrable. Q’s verse meanders casually around the refrain “that part” and Kanye raps about...Chipotle and the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman? And then there’s a breakdown where the beat—from Cardo, Yung Exclusive, Cubeatz, and Sounwave—uncouples from the foundation like a spaceship undocking and Kanye makes all manner of noises. Kanye doesn’t care about words anymore. He’s almost beyond sound. —Ross Scarano

 

"That Part"

This song is goofy and catchy where the rest of Blank Face LP is gnarly and impenetrable. Q’s verse meanders casually around the refrain “that part” and Kanye raps about...Chipotle and the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman? And then there’s a breakdown where the beat—from Cardo, Yung Exclusive, Cubeatz, and Sounwave—uncouples from the foundation like a spaceship undocking and Kanye makes all manner of noises. Kanye doesn’t care about words anymore. He’s almost beyond sound. —Ross Scarano

 
34

"This Is What You Came For"

Calvin Harris f/ Rihanna

N/A

Produced by Calvin Harris

Has there ever been a voice more suited to digital manipulation than Rihanna’s? Chopped, pitched, filtered—it withstands anything thrown at it to remain immediately recognizable, wholly her own. That indelible quality is deployed with devastating effectiveness by Calvin Harris here, with a subtle helping hand on writing duties from then-girlfriend and reigning pop savant Taylor Swift. The end result is a designer drug of a pop song—perfectly calibrated to not waste a single moment, note, or handclap, it releases as many endorphins as possible in its brief 3 minutes and 42 seconds. Until you hit play again, that is. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 

"This Is What You Came For"

Has there ever been a voice more suited to digital manipulation than Rihanna’s? Chopped, pitched, filtered—it withstands anything thrown at it to remain immediately recognizable, wholly her own. That indelible quality is deployed with devastating effectiveness by Calvin Harris here, with a subtle helping hand on writing duties from then-girlfriend and reigning pop savant Taylor Swift. The end result is a designer drug of a pop song—perfectly calibrated to not waste a single moment, note, or handclap, it releases as many endorphins as possible in its brief 3 minutes and 42 seconds. Until you hit play again, that is. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 
33

"Redbone"

Childish Gambino

"Awaken, My Love!"

Produced by Donald Glover, Ludwig Göransson

Many tracks on Gambino’s polarizing "Awaken, My Love!" are an overt homage to George Clinton and his many offshoots; indeed, "Redbone" immediately brings to mind Bootsy Collins' "I'd Rather Be With You," with glockenspiels and wah guitars clanging in unison over drunken slap bass. It's a pretty unmistakable combination, and Glover and his (uncredited) band nails it. There are some moments on Awaken that veer toward P-Funk pantomime, but "Redbone" is tribute done right. —Alex Gale

 

"Redbone"

Many tracks on Gambino’s polarizing "Awaken, My Love!" are an overt homage to George Clinton and his many offshoots; indeed, "Redbone" immediately brings to mind Bootsy Collins' "I'd Rather Be With You," with glockenspiels and wah guitars clanging in unison over drunken slap bass. It's a pretty unmistakable combination, and Glover and his (uncredited) band nails it. There are some moments on Awaken that veer toward P-Funk pantomime, but "Redbone" is tribute done right. —Alex Gale

 
32

"Controlla"

Drake

Views

Produced by Supa Dups, Di Genius, Allen Ritter, Boi-1da

On “Controlla,” a powerful man finds himself uncharacteristically sprung. The object of Drake’s affection is seductively selfish, dominant even, and he’s left squirming. “I do it how you say you want it,” Drake coos. “Do things when you want me to.” He may be calling the shots in the sheets (“go fast, go slow”), but, no doubt, she is the controlla in question. That might be why both the two biggest baddies you know (your girl and your mom) consider Drake’s dancehall foray (bolstered by a sample from Beenie Man’s “Tear Off Mi Garment") their favorite song to salsa to. —Shanté Cosme

 

"Controlla"

On “Controlla,” a powerful man finds himself uncharacteristically sprung. The object of Drake’s affection is seductively selfish, dominant even, and he’s left squirming. “I do it how you say you want it,” Drake coos. “Do things when you want me to.” He may be calling the shots in the sheets (“go fast, go slow”), but, no doubt, she is the controlla in question. That might be why both the two biggest baddies you know (your girl and your mom) consider Drake’s dancehall foray (bolstered by a sample from Beenie Man’s “Tear Off Mi Garment") their favorite song to salsa to. —Shanté Cosme

 
31

"Ultralight Beam"

Kanye West f/ Chance The Rapper

The Life of Pablo

Produced by Swizz Beatz, Chance The Rapper, Kanye West, Mike Dean

This is gospel music over boom-bap drums. "Ultralight Beam" works as a spiritual cleanse—each angelic voice drips sounds of soul onto your brain, and then Chance pops up and sets everything on fire. The little girl testifying in the beginning and Kirk Franklin testifying at the end make Kanye’s point clear for him: youthful positivity can keep a grown-up from going insane living in a world of depression and insecurity. “Ultralight Beam” is audio weed, Xanax on wax, and a bible verse, all rolled into one. Play it and get high to the Most High. —Angel Diaz

 

"Ultralight Beam"

This is gospel music over boom-bap drums. "Ultralight Beam" works as a spiritual cleanse—each angelic voice drips sounds of soul onto your brain, and then Chance pops up and sets everything on fire. The little girl testifying in the beginning and Kirk Franklin testifying at the end make Kanye’s point clear for him: youthful positivity can keep a grown-up from going insane living in a world of depression and insecurity. “Ultralight Beam” is audio weed, Xanax on wax, and a bible verse, all rolled into one. Play it and get high to the Most High. —Angel Diaz

 
30

"Untitled 07 | Levitate"

Kendrick Lamar

untitled unmastered

Produced by Frank Dukes, Cardo, Yung Exclusive, Egypt Dean

In a year where Kendrick drew more attention for his guest verses than his solo success, "Untitled 07 | Levitate" stood out as a moment of true, standalone virtuosity for the perennial best-rapper-alive candidate. A leftover from To Pimp a Butterfly, the song is a celebration of all that album achieved for Kendrick. It’s quick, furious, weird, and artful; in short, a summation of what Kendrick is capable of at his very best. And, when you think about how good Kendrick is, remember: He left this on the cutting room floor. —Chris Mench

 

"Untitled 07 | Levitate"

In a year where Kendrick drew more attention for his guest verses than his solo success, "Untitled 07 | Levitate" stood out as a moment of true, standalone virtuosity for the perennial best-rapper-alive candidate. A leftover from To Pimp a Butterfly, the song is a celebration of all that album achieved for Kendrick. It’s quick, furious, weird, and artful; in short, a summation of what Kendrick is capable of at his very best. And, when you think about how good Kendrick is, remember: He left this on the cutting room floor. —Chris Mench

 
29

"Really Doe"

Danny Brown f/ Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt

Atrocity Exhibition

Produced by Black Milk

A musical scholar, Danny Brown knows the art of rap well enough to recruit the best tacticians in the game in Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, and Ab-Soul—and the confidence to be sure that none of them pull a “Renegade.” Each takes a turn picking apart the unworthy over a menacing bell loop from Brown’s fellow Detroit veteran Black Milk. The worst thing about the track is trying to decide whose verse comes out on top. —Ian Servantes

 

"Really Doe"

A musical scholar, Danny Brown knows the art of rap well enough to recruit the best tacticians in the game in Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, and Ab-Soul—and the confidence to be sure that none of them pull a “Renegade.” Each takes a turn picking apart the unworthy over a menacing bell loop from Brown’s fellow Detroit veteran Black Milk. The worst thing about the track is trying to decide whose verse comes out on top. —Ian Servantes

 
28

"Lite Spots"

Kaytranada

99.9%

Produced by Kaytranada

Gal Costa: Look her up if you don’t already know. Kaytranada, the virtuosic Montreal producer who released the genre-defying 99.9% this year, samples the voice of the influential member of Brazil’s Tropicalismo movement with love, manipulating her song “Pontos de Luz” (“points of light” in Portuguese) into an overwhelming party starter that, while you’re living it, sounds like the best music ever recorded. —Ross Scarano

 

"Lite Spots"

Gal Costa: Look her up if you don’t already know. Kaytranada, the virtuosic Montreal producer who released the genre-defying 99.9% this year, samples the voice of the influential member of Brazil’s Tropicalismo movement with love, manipulating her song “Pontos de Luz” (“points of light” in Portuguese) into an overwhelming party starter that, while you’re living it, sounds like the best music ever recorded. —Ross Scarano

 
27

"Digits"

Young Thug

Slime Season 3

Produced by London On Da Track

Young Thug’s thinking about his legacy. Underneath London on da Track’s surreal beat and bars about fart noises, “Digits” is a surprisingly poignant song about death and how it defines life. Thugger knows he’s going to die, but that’s simply motivation. It’s heavy stuff, made more impressive because it’s delivered by a guy who just a year ago rapped about riding in some "pussy like a stroller." Young Thug’s 2016 was defined by maturation as an artist and a person, and no song exemplifies that more than this one. —Andrew Gruttadaro

 

"Digits"

Young Thug’s thinking about his legacy. Underneath London on da Track’s surreal beat and bars about fart noises, “Digits” is a surprisingly poignant song about death and how it defines life. Thugger knows he’s going to die, but that’s simply motivation. It’s heavy stuff, made more impressive because it’s delivered by a guy who just a year ago rapped about riding in some "pussy like a stroller." Young Thug’s 2016 was defined by maturation as an artist and a person, and no song exemplifies that more than this one. —Andrew Gruttadaro

 
26

"Timmy's Prayer"

Sampha

Process

Produced by Sampha and Rodaidh McDonald

When Sampha cries, "I messed up!" I relate to it on a personal level. It's triggering because I know I ain't shit and may never be shit. Ruining a meaningful relationship due to ain't-shitness is one of the worst feelings in the world—especially when your ain’t-shitness has resulted in uncorrectable mistakes. True, when you listen to the song you feel like Sampha’s turning your emotions into art, and that’s a relief. But only for a few minutes. —Angel Diaz

 

"Timmy's Prayer"

When Sampha cries, "I messed up!" I relate to it on a personal level. It's triggering because I know I ain't shit and may never be shit. Ruining a meaningful relationship due to ain't-shitness is one of the worst feelings in the world—especially when your ain’t-shitness has resulted in uncorrectable mistakes. True, when you listen to the song you feel like Sampha’s turning your emotions into art, and that’s a relief. But only for a few minutes. —Angel Diaz

 
25

"Come and See Me"

Partynextdoor f/ Drake

P3

Produced by Noah "40" Shebib

Partynextdoor isn’t new to getting listeners in their feelings. On "Come and See Me," the first single from P3, every element of the 40-produced track, from the gloomy piano notes to the spare percussion, is infused with potent longing. “You don’t ever come to me,” he sings. Party’s voice is lush with emotion; you’ve never heard a more wistful booty call. This is peak thirst tinged with salty tears, like a “come thru” or “u up” text punctuated with sad face emojis. “It’s after 2 a.m. and that’s asking a lot of you right now,” he offers, but it’s probably just lust parading as empathy. Drake’s feature adds more melancholy, injecting this requiem for a relationship that could have been with another layer of lonely boy. —Shanté Cosme

 

"Come and See Me"

Partynextdoor isn’t new to getting listeners in their feelings. On "Come and See Me," the first single from P3, every element of the 40-produced track, from the gloomy piano notes to the spare percussion, is infused with potent longing. “You don’t ever come to me,” he sings. Party’s voice is lush with emotion; you’ve never heard a more wistful booty call. This is peak thirst tinged with salty tears, like a “come thru” or “u up” text punctuated with sad face emojis. “It’s after 2 a.m. and that’s asking a lot of you right now,” he offers, but it’s probably just lust parading as empathy. Drake’s feature adds more melancholy, injecting this requiem for a relationship that could have been with another layer of lonely boy. —Shanté Cosme

 
24

"Bad and Boujee"

Migos f/ Lil Uzi Vert

N/A

Produced by Metro Boomin

Migos bounced back from a lackluster 2015 thanks in large part to this track with Lil Uzi Vert. Prior to the slow-burning Metro Boomin-produced track blowing up, there were serious questions about the status of the trio going forward. Then the world heard the words “Rain drops/Drop tops” and everything changed. The track is lurching and confident, the kind of song that’s sure of its own appeal but knows not to step outside of the pocket. It seems like an unlikely hit, but try listening just once. —Zach Frydenlund

 

"Bad and Boujee"

Migos bounced back from a lackluster 2015 thanks in large part to this track with Lil Uzi Vert. Prior to the slow-burning Metro Boomin-produced track blowing up, there were serious questions about the status of the trio going forward. Then the world heard the words “Rain drops/Drop tops” and everything changed. The track is lurching and confident, the kind of song that’s sure of its own appeal but knows not to step outside of the pocket. It seems like an unlikely hit, but try listening just once. —Zach Frydenlund

 
23

"Reminder"

The Weeknd

Starboy

Produced by Mano, Doc McKinney, Cirkut

In 2016, the Weeknd became a straight-up pop star, and there's nothing wrong with that. His pop-leaning slappers make you appreciate it even more when he goes back to his darker, House of Balloons roots. We don't see it as often now, but Abel taps into that old, familiar energy on the Starboy standout "Reminder," on which he serves up a fresh message to his peers. As he points out on the hook, R&B in 2016 still runs through him, whether they like it or not. —Zach Frydenlund

 

"Reminder"

In 2016, the Weeknd became a straight-up pop star, and there's nothing wrong with that. His pop-leaning slappers make you appreciate it even more when he goes back to his darker, House of Balloons roots. We don't see it as often now, but Abel taps into that old, familiar energy on the Starboy standout "Reminder," on which he serves up a fresh message to his peers. As he points out on the hook, R&B in 2016 still runs through him, whether they like it or not. —Zach Frydenlund

 
22

"Lockjaw"

French Montana f/ Kodak Black

Wave Gods

Produced by Ben Billions

A banger that plays as both a celebration of drugs that literally make your jaws lock up and an anti-snitching proclamation—this is where we’re at in 2016. French is known for cultivating monumental hooks, and this collab with Kodak Black features a massive one. As far as coded language goes, “Lockjaw” breaks down federal surveillance, the pursuit of the almighty dollar, and how many guns cats roll around with. The same story as countless other tracks, but over that infectious beat? Your party was paltry if it wasn’t rocking to this at some point. —khal

 

"Lockjaw"

A banger that plays as both a celebration of drugs that literally make your jaws lock up and an anti-snitching proclamation—this is where we’re at in 2016. French is known for cultivating monumental hooks, and this collab with Kodak Black features a massive one. As far as coded language goes, “Lockjaw” breaks down federal surveillance, the pursuit of the almighty dollar, and how many guns cats roll around with. The same story as countless other tracks, but over that infectious beat? Your party was paltry if it wasn’t rocking to this at some point. —khal

 
21

"OOOUUU"

Young M.A

N/A

Produced by NY Bangers

While Brooklyn’s own Young M.A first made a splash back in 2014 (word to her “Chiraq” freestyle), her 2016 smash “OOOUUU” had her hometown, Beyoncé, and pretty much the entire globe on tilt. Instead of her usual furious bars, she slowed things down to let just about everyone get their two-step on. “OOOUUU” was the surprise party anthem that 2016 needed, and while you should be tired of people saying various new rappers are “bringing New York back,” it’s dope to see M.A put on for the city while breaking the mold for what a woman on the mic should look or sound like. —khal

 

"OOOUUU"

While Brooklyn’s own Young M.A first made a splash back in 2014 (word to her “Chiraq” freestyle), her 2016 smash “OOOUUU” had her hometown, Beyoncé, and pretty much the entire globe on tilt. Instead of her usual furious bars, she slowed things down to let just about everyone get their two-step on. “OOOUUU” was the surprise party anthem that 2016 needed, and while you should be tired of people saying various new rappers are “bringing New York back,” it’s dope to see M.A put on for the city while breaking the mold for what a woman on the mic should look or sound like. —khal

 
20

"How Does It Feel?"

Kamaiyah

A Good Night in the Ghetto

Produced by C.T. Beatz

I was a little late to Kamaiyah, but once I heard A Good Night in the Ghetto, that was it for me: it was on loop for weeks. Her debut mixtape proved that she’s the hottest thing out of the Bay Area, and “How Does It Feel?” is its clear high point. An inspirational song that’ll make you want to fuck shit up at your day job, it’s the rare anthem that immediately proves a mostly unknown artist is a star. —Karizza Sanchez

 

"How Does It Feel?"

I was a little late to Kamaiyah, but once I heard A Good Night in the Ghetto, that was it for me: it was on loop for weeks. Her debut mixtape proved that she’s the hottest thing out of the Bay Area, and “How Does It Feel?” is its clear high point. An inspirational song that’ll make you want to fuck shit up at your day job, it’s the rare anthem that immediately proves a mostly unknown artist is a star. —Karizza Sanchez

 
19

"Money Longer"

Lil Uzi Vert

Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World

Produced by Maaly Raw, DJ Don Cannon

No song was more instrumental to the breakout success of Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World than “Money Longer.” The song lays out Uzi’s unlikely road to stardom, and the Atlanta-by-way-of-Philly MC approaches the subject with the same carefree attitude he’s preached since day one. “Money Longer” proved his punchy, sing-song style could cross over, and made him one of rap's most promising prospects for 2017. —Chris Mench

 

"Money Longer"

No song was more instrumental to the breakout success of Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World than “Money Longer.” The song lays out Uzi’s unlikely road to stardom, and the Atlanta-by-way-of-Philly MC approaches the subject with the same carefree attitude he’s preached since day one. “Money Longer” proved his punchy, sing-song style could cross over, and made him one of rap's most promising prospects for 2017. —Chris Mench

 
18

"4PM in Calabasas"

Drake

N/A

Produced by Allen Ritter, Frank Dukes, Vinylz

2016 was complicated for Drake. Views was a massive commercial success, breaking streaming and chart records left and right, but it wasn't as beloved by core fans as much as his past work. And after the ghostwriter allegations last year, people paid particular attention to his rapping, and many deemed his bars on his latest album subpar. Then, as he often does when pressed, Drake responded in a major way. "4PM in Calabasas" was a frustrated, pent-up Drake finally deciding to randomly unload the clip on anyone in his way. Featuring some of the very best rapping of the year, it was a fresh reminder that anyone can get it when Aubrey is provoked. —Zach Frydenlund

 

"4PM in Calabasas"

2016 was complicated for Drake. Views was a massive commercial success, breaking streaming and chart records left and right, but it wasn't as beloved by core fans as much as his past work. And after the ghostwriter allegations last year, people paid particular attention to his rapping, and many deemed his bars on his latest album subpar. Then, as he often does when pressed, Drake responded in a major way. "4PM in Calabasas" was a frustrated, pent-up Drake finally deciding to randomly unload the clip on anyone in his way. Featuring some of the very best rapping of the year, it was a fresh reminder that anyone can get it when Aubrey is provoked. —Zach Frydenlund

 
17

"Dis Generation"

A Tribe Called Quest f/ Busta Rhymes

We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service

Produced by Q-Tip, Blair Wells

This is the track on We got It from Here that perfectly captures everything that made Tribe one of the most influential groups of all time. The production is vintage Tribe, with beautiful guitars riding over a funky, propulsive rhythm, while Q-Tip, Jarobi, Phife Dawg, and Busta Rhymes give-and-go like seasoned pros. As beautiful as it is, it’s also sad, because this is the last time this conglomerate will come together. The track speaks to the artists who are carrying on Tribe’s spirit today; we can only hope the torch stays lit far into the future. —khal

 

"Dis Generation"

This is the track on We got It from Here that perfectly captures everything that made Tribe one of the most influential groups of all time. The production is vintage Tribe, with beautiful guitars riding over a funky, propulsive rhythm, while Q-Tip, Jarobi, Phife Dawg, and Busta Rhymes give-and-go like seasoned pros. As beautiful as it is, it’s also sad, because this is the last time this conglomerate will come together. The track speaks to the artists who are carrying on Tribe’s spirit today; we can only hope the torch stays lit far into the future. —khal

 
16

"Through the Late Night"

Travis Scott f/ Kid Cudi

Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight

Produced by CuBeatz, Cardo

Fans have long been waiting for a collaboration between Travis Scott and his long-cited inspiration Kid Cudi, and “Through the Late Night” didn’t disappoint. A welcome return to form for Kid Cudi after his polarizing Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, “Through the Late Night” isn’t just a vehicle for Cudder—it’s a banger because of Travis. And while “stroke my cactus” probably won’t be working its way into everyday vernacular, the spaced-out track is exactly what we needed from both artists. —Chris Mench

 

"Through the Late Night"

Fans have long been waiting for a collaboration between Travis Scott and his long-cited inspiration Kid Cudi, and “Through the Late Night” didn’t disappoint. A welcome return to form for Kid Cudi after his polarizing Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, “Through the Late Night” isn’t just a vehicle for Cudder—it’s a banger because of Travis. And while “stroke my cactus” probably won’t be working its way into everyday vernacular, the spaced-out track is exactly what we needed from both artists. —Chris Mench

 
15

"All the Way Up (Remix)"

Fat Joe, Remy Ma, and Jay Z f/ French Montana and Infared

N/A

Produced by Cool & Dre, Edsclusive

"The remix for the city, let's just start snapping," the GOAT murmurs as he prepared to launch his first verse in almost three full years. The gravity of the moment jumps into focus. Here's Jay Z, spitting his first bars since his wife made a hellified album from the perspective of a woman scorned, on a track with a New York peer, and the only other thing they have in common is mutual disdain. Was this as momentous as it was for everyone outside the niche New York rap historian bubble? Considering both Joe and Remy Ma turned in new, harder verses, I'd fucking say so. And as for the Old Man, is this his best verse? Far from it. But at 46 and a little rusty, who else but the gotdamn Greatest ever can address every issue at their feet in one deftly executed quadruple-entendre of a kicker? Keep your biased slander to a whisper, New York City is busy turning up. —Frazier Tharpe

 

"All the Way Up (Remix)"

"The remix for the city, let's just start snapping," the GOAT murmurs as he prepared to launch his first verse in almost three full years. The gravity of the moment jumps into focus. Here's Jay Z, spitting his first bars since his wife made a hellified album from the perspective of a woman scorned, on a track with a New York peer, and the only other thing they have in common is mutual disdain. Was this as momentous as it was for everyone outside the niche New York rap historian bubble? Considering both Joe and Remy Ma turned in new, harder verses, I'd fucking say so. And as for the Old Man, is this his best verse? Far from it. But at 46 and a little rusty, who else but the gotdamn Greatest ever can address every issue at their feet in one deftly executed quadruple-entendre of a kicker? Keep your biased slander to a whisper, New York City is busy turning up. —Frazier Tharpe

 
14

"Needed Me"

Rihanna

Anti

Produced by DJ Mustard, Twice as Nice, Frank Dukes, Kuk Harrell

Rihanna made the Savage's National Anthem with "Needed Me." Who is she subbing when she sings "You was just another nigga on the hit list"? I have some ideas, but the damage has been done, so I'ma chill. No need to add insult to injury. "I never told you, you can have it." Ouch. Hard to go through life knowing you were just an itch Bad Gal RiRi needed to scratch. —Angel Diaz

 

"Needed Me"

Rihanna made the Savage's National Anthem with "Needed Me." Who is she subbing when she sings "You was just another nigga on the hit list"? I have some ideas, but the damage has been done, so I'ma chill. No need to add insult to injury. "I never told you, you can have it." Ouch. Hard to go through life knowing you were just an itch Bad Gal RiRi needed to scratch. —Angel Diaz

 
13

"Panda" / "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2"

Desiigner / Kanye West

The Life of Pablo

Produced by Menace, Kanye West, Rick Rubin, Plain Pat, Caroline Shaw

“Panda” defies explanation. It’s a song of Atlanta by a kid from Brooklyn who sounds like he’s from London. It’s dark, insular, barely comprehensible on first listen, yet improbably one of the year’s catchiest songs. The chorus is just one word—"Panda”—repeated forever. Kanye got his hands on it and remade it into another one of the year’s best songs—again. Somehow, it went to No. 1. We’re not sure how this happened, or why, or what it all means. Instead, we’re not going to question it too much and just be glad “Panda” exists at all. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 

"Panda" / "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2"

“Panda” defies explanation. It’s a song of Atlanta by a kid from Brooklyn who sounds like he’s from London. It’s dark, insular, barely comprehensible on first listen, yet improbably one of the year’s catchiest songs. The chorus is just one word—"Panda”—repeated forever. Kanye got his hands on it and remade it into another one of the year’s best songs—again. Somehow, it went to No. 1. We’re not sure how this happened, or why, or what it all means. Instead, we’re not going to question it too much and just be glad “Panda” exists at all. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 
12

"Sorry"

Beyoncé

Lemonade

Produced by Melo-X, Beyoncé, Wynter Gordon, Hit-Boy, Stuart White

“Sorry” opens with Beyoncé disavowing all apologies over what sounds like a music box. You can picture her as the miniature dancer spinning, alone, on a pedestal. This is not the full-bodied resentment of “Hold Up.” It’s that strangely peaceful moment when rage has fermented and turned into something new, something cold. She is not the woman in the tiny box anymore. She wields her emotions like a concealed weapon. —Shanté Cosme

 

"Sorry"

“Sorry” opens with Beyoncé disavowing all apologies over what sounds like a music box. You can picture her as the miniature dancer spinning, alone, on a pedestal. This is not the full-bodied resentment of “Hold Up.” It’s that strangely peaceful moment when rage has fermented and turned into something new, something cold. She is not the woman in the tiny box anymore. She wields her emotions like a concealed weapon. —Shanté Cosme

 
11

"Nights"

Frank Ocean

Blonde

Produced by Michael Uzowuru, Vegyn, Buddy Ross

Picking a favorite song from Blonde is a near-impossible exercise. How do you choose a single track from an album this consistently excellent? If there’s one that encapsulates the record, though, it’s “Nights.” The night shift, when the world slows down and makes the monotony of life seem even greater, is ripe for rumination. Frank uses the time to dress down a former lover before the track slows, his voices pitches up, and he indulges in a sweeter brand of nostalgia. It’s destructive and soothing. —Ian Servantes

 

"Nights"

Picking a favorite song from Blonde is a near-impossible exercise. How do you choose a single track from an album this consistently excellent? If there’s one that encapsulates the record, though, it’s “Nights.” The night shift, when the world slows down and makes the monotony of life seem even greater, is ripe for rumination. Frank uses the time to dress down a former lover before the track slows, his voices pitches up, and he indulges in a sweeter brand of nostalgia. It’s destructive and soothing. —Ian Servantes

 
10

"One Dance"

Drake f/ Wizkid and Kyla

Views

Produced by Nineteen85, DJ Maphorisa, Noah "40" Shebib, Wizkid, Sarz

Drake finally got his own No. 1 song. It took years, and more than a few close calls (sorry, “Hotline Bling"), but from the first listen, the success of “One Dance" felt inevitable. The song embodied the platonic ideal of a hit in 2016, pulling elements from across the black diaspora—it's Drake singing in a patois, featuring a Nigerian hitmaker and the singer of a British house anthem—to bear at precisely the right moment. Topping the charts was a mere formality. Drake has always had an unnerving ability to create songs that stick with you, but this is where his full arsenal of skills comes to bear. Booming yet delicate, catchy yet adventurous; we’re going to be hearing this song for a very, very long time. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 

"One Dance"

Drake finally got his own No. 1 song. It took years, and more than a few close calls (sorry, “Hotline Bling"), but from the first listen, the success of “One Dance" felt inevitable. The song embodied the platonic ideal of a hit in 2016, pulling elements from across the black diaspora—it's Drake singing in a patois, featuring a Nigerian hitmaker and the singer of a British house anthem—to bear at precisely the right moment. Topping the charts was a mere formality. Drake has always had an unnerving ability to create songs that stick with you, but this is where his full arsenal of skills comes to bear. Booming yet delicate, catchy yet adventurous; we’re going to be hearing this song for a very, very long time. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 
9

"With Them"

Young Thug

Slime Season 3

Produced by Mike Will Made-It

The beat for “With Them” is one of the best of the year, a catchy, impossibly simple banger from Mike Will Made-It that catches hold of you in its very first bars despite a lack of any kind of pop instinct. It’s a dare: the kind of beat any rapper could sound good over, the kind of beat to bring your A-game to. Which is why what Thug does with it is so thrilling—structureless, dazzling, bizarre—the hook sounds like a verse and each verse sounds like a combination of hooks. Thug isn’t just leading the pack anymore, he’s creating something entirely new. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 

"With Them"

The beat for “With Them” is one of the best of the year, a catchy, impossibly simple banger from Mike Will Made-It that catches hold of you in its very first bars despite a lack of any kind of pop instinct. It’s a dare: the kind of beat any rapper could sound good over, the kind of beat to bring your A-game to. Which is why what Thug does with it is so thrilling—structureless, dazzling, bizarre—the hook sounds like a verse and each verse sounds like a combination of hooks. Thug isn’t just leading the pack anymore, he’s creating something entirely new. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 
8

“Broccoli”

D.R.A.M. f/ Lil Yachty

Big Baby D.R.A.M.

Produced by J-Gramm, Rogét Chahayed, Karl Rubin

This song is, simply, a delight. From the plinky piano chords to the unforgettable flute line, “Broccoli” is aggressively winsome—it’s hard to believe hip-hop can be this twee. The whimsy extends to the rapping; Yachty and D.R.A.M. both deliver star turns here, and D.R.A.M.’s detour into the praises of “salmon on a bagel with the capers on a square plate” remains the most charming moment committed to song this year. It was a surprise when this began climbing the charts, but it shouldn’t have been—who doesn’t want pre-packaged joy?Brendan Klinkenberg

 

“Broccoli”

This song is, simply, a delight. From the plinky piano chords to the unforgettable flute line, “Broccoli” is aggressively winsome—it’s hard to believe hip-hop can be this twee. The whimsy extends to the rapping; Yachty and D.R.A.M. both deliver star turns here, and D.R.A.M.’s detour into the praises of “salmon on a bagel with the capers on a square plate” remains the most charming moment committed to song this year. It was a surprise when this began climbing the charts, but it shouldn’t have been—who doesn’t want pre-packaged joy?Brendan Klinkenberg

 
7

"Pick Up the Phone"

Young Thug and Travis Scott f/ Quavo

Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight and Jeffery

Produced by Vinylz and Frank Dukes

Young Thug and Travis Scott are like Shaq and Kobe in their prime—stars in their own right, but when they hit together, the chemistry is off the charts. On "Pick Up the Phone," the partnership reaches another level. The sunny trap love ballad is near perfect, and just when you think it couldn't get any better, Quavo delivers a godly verse in which he ends up naming Travis' next album, Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight. We need a full album of Travis and Thug to happen before the earth explodes. Let us have this one. —Zach Frydenlund

 

"Pick Up the Phone"

Young Thug and Travis Scott are like Shaq and Kobe in their prime—stars in their own right, but when they hit together, the chemistry is off the charts. On "Pick Up the Phone," the partnership reaches another level. The sunny trap love ballad is near perfect, and just when you think it couldn't get any better, Quavo delivers a godly verse in which he ends up naming Travis' next album, Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight. We need a full album of Travis and Thug to happen before the earth explodes. Let us have this one. —Zach Frydenlund

 
6

"Black Beatles"

Rae Sremmurd f/ Gucci Mane

SremmLife 2

Produced by Mike Will Made-It

In a year in which Pepe the Frog was turned into a hate symbol, it’s encouraging to see that memes can still be a force for good. The #MannequinChallenge propelled “Black Beatles,” the dreamy standout single from SremmLife 2, to its rightful place atop the charts. Mike Will Made-It’s floating synths and Swae Lee’s hook are a powerful intoxicant—a high so good even Paul McCartney himself couldn’t resist. —Ian Servantes

 

"Black Beatles"

In a year in which Pepe the Frog was turned into a hate symbol, it’s encouraging to see that memes can still be a force for good. The #MannequinChallenge propelled “Black Beatles,” the dreamy standout single from SremmLife 2, to its rightful place atop the charts. Mike Will Made-It’s floating synths and Swae Lee’s hook are a powerful intoxicant—a high so good even Paul McCartney himself couldn’t resist. —Ian Servantes

 
5

"No Problem"

Chance the Rapper f/ 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne

Coloring Book

Produced by Brasstracks

Chance the Rapper’s indie stance has never been more evident or effective than on “No Problem.” His lyrics denouncing record execs bounce over Brasstracks’ bright mid-tempo production, a combo that sounds like Chance is celebrating a victory lap for glowing up dolo. He even got Wayne to go in with a gospel choir behind him. Two Grammy nods for “No Problem” (Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance) should cement the legacy of this record. We have zero problems with that, big fella. —Edwin Ortiz

 

"No Problem"

Chance the Rapper’s indie stance has never been more evident or effective than on “No Problem.” His lyrics denouncing record execs bounce over Brasstracks’ bright mid-tempo production, a combo that sounds like Chance is celebrating a victory lap for glowing up dolo. He even got Wayne to go in with a gospel choir behind him. Two Grammy nods for “No Problem” (Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance) should cement the legacy of this record. We have zero problems with that, big fella. —Edwin Ortiz

 
4

"Cranes in the Sky"

Solange

A Seat at the Table

Produced by Raphael Saadiq, Solange Knowles

How many tons of tears have been shed to this track since it dropped? A Titanic's worth, maybe. Her voice rains down steady over the bass, drums, and keys like the most soothing sound, despite the pain the lyrics hauntingly describe. Almost like the voice of your grandmother when you're sick. It provided powerful mental health counseling when we needed it most. —Angel Diaz

 

"Cranes in the Sky"

How many tons of tears have been shed to this track since it dropped? A Titanic's worth, maybe. Her voice rains down steady over the bass, drums, and keys like the most soothing sound, despite the pain the lyrics hauntingly describe. Almost like the voice of your grandmother when you're sick. It provided powerful mental health counseling when we needed it most. —Angel Diaz

 
3

“Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”

Kanye West f/ Kid Cudi

The Life of Pablo

Produced by Kanye West, Mike Dean, Rick Rubin, Metro Boomin, DJ Dodger Stadium, Allen Ritter, Noah Goldstein

Pure, unadulterated glory in the midst of 2016's misery was rare and brief. Case in point: the long awaited reunion of Kanye and his most prodigal protege, Kid Cudi, lasts a paltry two minutes and 15 seconds. Would it have been nice if Ye had better things to rap about than bleached butts? Yes. Could more G.O.O.D. Music compatriots have added verses to lengthen the song into something more substantial before it pivots to "Panda"? Totally. But what we have is still a joyous, party-exploding reminder of what Kanye West is capable of when he's at his best. —Frazier Tharpe

 

“Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”

Pure, unadulterated glory in the midst of 2016's misery was rare and brief. Case in point: the long awaited reunion of Kanye and his most prodigal protege, Kid Cudi, lasts a paltry two minutes and 15 seconds. Would it have been nice if Ye had better things to rap about than bleached butts? Yes. Could more G.O.O.D. Music compatriots have added verses to lengthen the song into something more substantial before it pivots to "Panda"? Totally. But what we have is still a joyous, party-exploding reminder of what Kanye West is capable of when he's at his best. —Frazier Tharpe

 
2

"Work"

Rihanna f/ Drake

Anti

Produced by Boi-1da, Noah "40" Shebib, Kuk Harrell, Sevn Thomas

“Work” demands to be listened to, on repeat, all the time. Once is never enough. And while it’s true that Partynextdoor’s demo is wonderful in its own right, Rihanna’s edits and performance turned it out most completely. That is to say, accept no substitutes. (What was he thinking, singing about hepatitis?) At the risk of playing myself, I’ll add that there’s something wonderful about the looseness of Rihanna’s delivery, the near-slur in her voice. This year, no song started a party faster, or moved you closer to the person who made you forget about the party. —Ross Scarano

 

"Work"

“Work” demands to be listened to, on repeat, all the time. Once is never enough. And while it’s true that Partynextdoor’s demo is wonderful in its own right, Rihanna’s edits and performance turned it out most completely. That is to say, accept no substitutes. (What was he thinking, singing about hepatitis?) At the risk of playing myself, I’ll add that there’s something wonderful about the looseness of Rihanna’s delivery, the near-slur in her voice. This year, no song started a party faster, or moved you closer to the person who made you forget about the party. —Ross Scarano

 
1

"Formation"

Beyoncé

Lemonade

Produced by Mike Will Made-It, Beyoncé, A+

When Beyonce dropped this off, it was an instant celebration; a rambunctious, mean-mugging statement of intent, an anthem for people paying attention and proud of it. The lead-off hitter in an album vocalizing what it means to be black in America, “Formation” took Mike Will’s echoing synths and punishing percussion and made it a march for everything Beyonce intends to fight for. Since its arrival, the song has only become more vital. As 2016 continued on its inexorable descent into madness, “Formation” evolved along with it. The fun—and this song is still, somehow, fun—began to take on something darker, more urgent. The party starter became a rallying cry. This was the best song of the year, and it's destined to only grow in stature from there. —Brendan Klinkenberg

 

"Formation"

When Beyonce dropped this off, it was an instant celebration; a rambunctious, mean-mugging statement of intent, an anthem for people paying attention and proud of it. The lead-off hitter in an album vocalizing what it means to be black in America, “Formation” took Mike Will’s echoing synths and punishing percussion and made it a march for everything Beyonce intends to fight for. Since its arrival, the song has only become more vital. As 2016 continued on its inexorable descent into madness, “Formation” evolved along with it. The fun—and this song is still, somehow, fun—began to take on something darker, more urgent. The party starter became a rallying cry. This was the best song of the year, and it's destined to only grow in stature from there. —Brendan Klinkenberg

Credits

Don't agree with our list? Re-rank the top songs in our Facebook Messenger bot. Design: Amy Chen

Edit: Frazier Tharpe, Zach Frydenlund, Brendan Klinkenberg, Ross Scarano,
Karizza Sanchez, Andrew Gruttadaro, Ian Servantes, Shanté Cosme, Alex Gale,
Angel Diaz, Edwin Ortiz, Khal, Chris Mench

Product: Stephanie Musat

Developers: Geoffrey Chin, Jonathan Crockett