As we did in 2015, we are keeping an ongoing playlist to keep track of the best songs of the year, so that by the time we reach December we can be sure that nothing slipped through the cracks. While that's where you can find all of the most notable releases from the biggest artists in hip-hop, R&B and more, the reality is that much of the best music often goes unnoticed by the greater public, which is why we'll also be running a parallel playlist of everything you need to hear in 2016. Major label or indie, it doesn't matter, if the song deserves more attention than it initially received, it's here.
We’ll regularly update this playlist with the best, lesser-known songs of the year, and even though we're just two full months into 2016, we already have some great music that would be a real shame to overlook.
Anderson .Paak - "The Waters" ft. BJ The Chicago Kid
No, "The Waters" doesn't stand on quite the same level as any of Malibu's preceding singles from last year ("The Season / Carry Me," "Am I Wrong" or "Room In Here"), but it speaks to the strength of Anderson .Paak's latest powerhouse album that multiple other cuts from his catalog are in the running for best of the year. The legendary Madlib sets the stage for “The Waters,” laying down a butter-smooth foundation for two of music’s most sought-after voices.
.Paak kicks things off by reminding us that he tried to give us fair warning of his inevitable takeover back in 2012. Those who didn’t heed that warning might currently be overwhelmed with the seamless transition from gospel crooning to “the visionary in the vintage Chevy” truly hitting his flow. It’s not often BJ The Chicago Kid - who has seemingly never attached himself to a sub-par record - is overshadowed vocally. Background cheers from the audience might seem overly boastful on a lesser record, but here it simply works, as with every “Yes Lawd!” the listener almost feels obligated to give a standing ovation.
eLZhi - "coSIGN" ft. Drey Skonie
It’s been far too long since last we heard from the veteran Detroit wordsmith, as evidenced by the recent lawsuit brought about by fans who are sick of waiting on the album they contributed towards back on 2013. That album is Lead Poison, and it's first single proves the old adage that good things come to those who wait. "coSIGN" showcases eLZhi’s masterful pen game, which continues to live in a galactic distance from most of his peers; few can balance the number of multi-syllabic rhymes that eL throws down while maintaining an easy-to-follow directive. At no point are the details bogged down by the complexity of his verbage, and if by chance you ever did need a moment to sit and reflect on those words, it comes during the beautifully soulful outro by fellow Motown native Drey Skokie.
Roy Wood$ - "Skrt (Remix)"
Kodak Black made it a hit song, Roy Wood$ made it an incredible song. The OVO Sound R&B wunderkind shows off his impeccable vocals with an impassioned re-imagining, his voice taking center stage over the sparse production of the original. Hitting your wodie (whoadie? wodey?) for the work never sounded so afflicted, and even with Wood$ doing his best MJ, it's great to have Kodak's grit making itself heard during the outro.
Jazz Cartier - "100 Roses"
Maybe the most commanding presence in New Toronto, Jacuzzi Lafleur has built a buzz through one of the strongest projects of 2015 in Maurading in Paradise and one the most energized live shows in hip-hop today. "100 Roses" is a sounding off of the alarm with a shot of adrenaline to the heart, a careening ride through the living shadows of Cartier's world that will have you ready to break speed limits if you're behind the wheel or fight someone if you're not.
Abir - "Wave" ft. Masego
Okay, there's been a LOT of talk about waves in music recently. With all due respect to Kanye, Chris Brown, Max B and all others, perhaps the finest wave-based record belongs to DMV-to-NYC R&B newcomer Abir. Her record moves like a wave itself, winding up to suck the listener into the tide before crashing down in full force. The production from EFF3X coupled with Abir's vocals present as a breath of fresh air, creating a truly addictive vibe that's made only better by contributions from Masego, whose saxophone solos are on their way to becoming as essential as a 2 Chainz guest verse circa 2012.
Ye Ali - "Ring" ft. Jazz Cartier
There I was, all ready to anoint "Ring 4x," a collaboration between Midwest-raised, LA-based singer/songwriter Ye Ali and NJ-based singer/producer Dutchboy, as one of the best songs of the year, and suddenly it was gone as quickly as it had arrived. In it's place, however, came "Ring," which finds Ye Ali instead enlisting the help of Jazz Cartier.
Ever since "Hotline Bling" (or was it "Kiss Me Thru the Phone?"), we've had an overabundance of phone-related music. As with Drake's mega-hit, the key seems to be exuding a simplicity that fits the commonplace cheesiness of the subject matter. "Ring" is subtle, borderline juvenile, yet decadently seductive as well. Vocals drenched in Auto-Tune glide across viscous synths and through added chirps, with Cartier's gruff voice providing the perfect balance to Ye's breezy nonchalance.
Noname Gypsy - "All I Need" ft. SPZRKT
If you've spent any time listening to Chance The Rapper's material over the years, you've no doubt heard the vocal work of Noname Gypsy. A unique voice, the Chicago wordsmith manages to sound effortless and technical at the same time, her raps more akin to spoken word poetry. While we continue to wait for a larger project from Noname, she gifted us earlier this year with "All I Need," a butter-smooth offering that pairs her honest and personal, yet profound and spiritual lyrics with the soulful vocals of SPZRKT. The production, a joint effort from Saba, THEMpeople and Phoelix, is a perfect balance of spacey and lowkey.
Jahkoy - "Odd Future"
Toronto has a sound, and whether you like it or not, that sound has permeated damn near every facet of hip-hop and R&B. "Odd Future" masters nearly every distinguishable component, starting with the ethereal backdrop, swirling and glimmering like light cutting through dense fog. The first half is an advanced course in melodic despondency from Jahkoy, a recent Def Jam signee, as he drowns in his own emotions while unable to really feel anything like he once had. As the production winds down to a lull, you think you've reached the end before Jahkoy punches back in to ice the cake and get shit off of his chest in rap form.
Nyck Caution - "Out of Reach" ft. theMIND & Alex Mali
Despite being a longstanding member of Pro Era, it wasn't until the release of his new project Disguise The Limit that Nyck Caution established himself as a force with which to be reckoned. "Out of Reach" is a poignant tribute to lost friend Capital STEEZ and a haunting reminder of the fear and uncertainty that strikes when tragedy occurs, told through the eye-opening storytelling from one of hip-hop's more promising up-and-coming lyricists. While "Out of Reach" is sure to hit you in the feels, the record refuses to abandon you in an existential funk, instead rising up to Heaven itself on the back of inspired crooning from theMIND and Alex Mali.
Keep checking back in as we add more overlooked music...
By Brendan Varan, Music Editor of DJBooth. Follow him on Twitter.