Every December we look back and try to remember the year’s best music, but inevitably some of the best songs slip through the cracks. That's why in 2015 we tried our hand at an ongoing playlist for the entire year, and it worked so well we've brought it back for 2016.
And even though we're just two months into 2016, we already have some big hits...
Note: For those of you looking for the best songs that aren't also the biggest hits of the year, check out our ongoing feature of The Best Overlooked Hip-Hop and R&B Songs of 2016 (So Far).
The Weeknd & Future - "Low Life"
Future and The Weeknd, two of music's most unapologetic (fake) drug addicts and purveyors of meaningless, pained one-night-stands. Who better to rep for the low lifes of the world, and in the process kick off the year with a powerful collaboration about doing just that?
Together with Metro Boomin, who carries production duties here along with Ben Billions, two of the biggest names in music over the past year couldn't wait until 2016's impending commencement, choosing instead to bless fans with a Christmas gift in the form of "Low Life," an ode to irresponsibility and reckless abandon that covers such ground as "fucking anybody with they legs wide" and being "on the Molly and them Xans with your daughter."
The seedy dark side of being a celebrity is very much a reality, and no one glorifies in quite as celebrated a manner as Abel and Hendrix are at the moment.
Kanye West - "Real Friends" ft. Ty Dolla $ign
Due to forces beyond our control (i.e. the tendencies of major artists to ignore us unworthy listeners), there is currently no stream for "Real Friends" as Kanye removed it from his SoundCloud. Those of you with TIDAL can listen here.
Once you reach superstar status it’s understandable that your view of normalcy shifts. Personal relationships come burdened with greed and jealousy, then are further strained when you begin to alienate those around you. There was a time when it looked like old 'Ye was gone forever. The ultra-personal emcee/producer won over our hearts with the power of relatability, but it was ultimately his creative fearlessness and restless drive that propelled him to his current throne, as the personal connection with listeners began to fade. Now two offspring deep into his new family, it seems like Yeezy wants to open up again.
It's great to hear a more vulnerable Kanye bare his soul as he admits his various faults, even if instead of sounding apologetic the tone is more understanding that hey, sometimes he's not going to remember your birthday. Sure it's not ideal, but he has to deal with his cousin holding his sex laptop for ransom, so try walking in his shoes before berating him for his asshole-ish tendencies (pun intended).
“Real Friends” is a depressing song, slightly a result of Ty Dolla $ign’s soulful crooning, more so due to the somber production (those keys…), but ultimately because “real friends” don’t seem to exist in Kanye’s world.
DJ Mustard - "Whole Lotta Lovin" ft. Travis Scott
Much like comedy at the Oscars, the club banger often finds itself struggling to make an impact when it comes to best of the year coverage. “Whole Lotta Lovin” is more than just a club banger though. It’s fashioned by one artist so easily identified by his trademark Mustahdondabeatho! that we barely even recognize it anymore, and another that builds his sound as sort of a trap-punk Voltron, “borrowing” elements from his favorite artists to throw into his sonic melting pot and building a passionate fan base in the process.
It’s either a cookie-cutter radio single looking to capitalize on the EDM wave and festival earnings by two shit artists, or an impossible-to-deny, late night anthem aimed at those still dancing when they can barely stand. We’ll go with the latter, though both will surely find plenty in agreement. “…goddammit I’m fucked up.”
Isaiah Rashad - "Smile"
Everyone in TDE seems to exist as their own unique world, able to stand out on their own but working even better when seamlessly connected to the larger Top Dawg machine. Isaiah Rashad, however, seems to fit that description while also breaking that mold. Is it that he’s from Tennessee in an otherwise Westside-bred posse? At times he is any and all of his crewmates, both in terms of voice and content. Maybe we just haven’t heard enough from him, as he’s remained quiet since delivering 2014’s acclaimed Cilvia Demo.
The second single off his much-anticipated next album, “Smile,” burns like a wet blunt. The production is hazy and well-suited for a late night cruise, while Rashad finds himself back in his hometown after making a name for himself. There’s a sense that people are smiling, but whether the grins are the result of pride or hidden jealously seems unclear.
It doesn't matter though, as Rashad has plenty of weed, women, and close friends to keep by his side as he continues to pave his way as an artist. In the meantime, he might as well kick his feet up and relax.
Meek Mill - "Pray For Em"
Meek Mill is dead. Check the Wikipedia edits, cue the memes and dig the grave, because the joke’s been told a million times.
The Philly spitter has proven time and again he’s either too blind to realize what’s happened or simply does not care what the headlines say. He’s going to keep making music the way he always has, and what many may have forgotten prior to Drake’s runaway victory in the most entertaining rap beef of 2015 is that Meek Mill found massive success as an artist before his missteps as a meme. Cite the Nicki factor when discussing his record sales, sure, but the bona fide street raps and ADHD-esque energy levels have been there from the start.
“Pray For Em” is peak Meek, rapid-fire boasting (admittedly a little heavy on Rolly references) over bombastic production that might intimidate a lesser voice. Rather than backing down, Meek and his volume-heavy flow rise to the challenge and end up with one of the most hype-inducing bangers of the year.
Kanye West - "No More Parties in LA" ft. Kendrick Lamar
"La di da daaaa, daaaa..." We first caught a glimpse of "No More Parties" via a short snippet tacked onto 'Ye's aforementioned earlier release. Even at 45 or so seconds, with Madlib on production and a guest feature from Kendrick, was there any question this record would not be one of the premiere offerings of the year?
While K-Dot turns in a very solid effort, Ye - who calls out the very vocal critics who thought he'd never be rapping like this again - goes on to match the game's premiere lyricist with an all-out sprint, running through his come-up story, referencing Lauryn Hill and Andre 3000, and of course the cousin who stole his sex laptop.
"Please baby no more parties in LA" is as ubiquitous a chant we have to kick off the new year, and Kanye does what Kanye does best: makes us both hate and love him with plenty of almost corny punchlines and self-absorbed gems like "Any rumor you ever heard about me was true and legendary" thrown in the mix.
A$AP Ferg - "New Level" ft. Future
It may be difficult to believe considering the frequency with which they’re still breaking noise ordinances, but Ferg’s “Work” and “Shabba” records date back to the spring and summer of 2013. The Trap Lord is readying a new album, however, and by decree of the Hood Pope it must be accompanied by another mosh pit-inducing single.
Underneath the raucous mobbing and outright threats to bury the competition is a rags to riches tale, with Ferg reminiscing on days filled with itchy beds and Ramen noodles, and worse, his family history riddled with untimely deaths and prison sentences. Iced-out chains aren’t just cause for boasting, they’re the symbol of leaving the bullshit behind and achieving that new level of success against the odds.
Honorable C.N.O.T.E. harnesses the energy of Ferg’s past hits while pushing the sound forward, and Future dib and dabs on an effort stronger than anything from his Purple Reign tape.
(Editor's Note: Yes, technically, this song was released in December, but for all intents and purposes this is a "2016" song, so we'll just pretend it came out when the music video was released.)
Drake - "Summer Sixteen"
With all the attention shifted over to Yeezy season for the time being, many have openly wondered when Drake, the man who couldn't go more than a couple weeks in 2015 without reminding us of his elevated status in popular music, would deliver our first glimpse into his coveted Views. Big surprise, he took to his own OVO Sound Radio to play Funk Flex without the bombs, premiering his new single and running it back no less than four times.
Shots rang out on “Summer Sixteen,” mostly in the direction of Meek and Tory Lanez, though many like to include Kanye, Jay Z and even President Obama as additional fade recipients when any namedropping was more likely a simple paying of homage (and a mastermind understanding how to perfectly play into the social conversation).
After years of scoring massive hits while for the most part remaining the softest guy in hip-hop, Drizzy’s got a chip on his shoulder, and now that he’s reached the point where he can comfortably and mercilessly go after the peers that counted him out he’s taking full advantage.
“Summer Sixteen” isn’t breaking new ground, if anything it’s a deeper step into the same territory he broke into with IYRTITL, complete with a catchy phrase (“looking for reveeeeenge!”) and a massive beat switch up, courtesy of Boi-1da, which harkens back to “Know Yourself.” If the record’s first half is simply a warm-up for when Drake truly hits his stride later on, let this be a warning.
By Brendan Varan, Music Editor of DJBooth. Follow him on Twitter.