Few things are as satisfying as a truly booming, menacing beat, the type of beat that will punch you in the face, snatch your wallet and leave you without shoes. These are beats that deserve to be listened to in car, preferably an automobile being driven recklessly fast while the speakers are blaring. The type of beats that grandma hates. These are the hardest beats of the year (so far).
You'll find nothing short of half a million plays here, although we did includ songs from artists big and small alike, and the selections are in no particular order.
Desiigner - "Panda"
This was technically released last December, but come on, this is clearly a 2016 banger. Sure, Desiigner bought the beat from English producer Menace for $200 two years ago, but a banger is a banger and right now the entire country is rocking with “Panda” all the way to the tune of the number one song in the country. You might not understand some, or most, of what Desiigner is saying, but alongside Menace's undeniable heat does it really matter? For the sake of this article, let’s also count the Brooklyn rapper’s spazzing ad-libs constantly “brrrrrrraaagghhhh”-ing in every direction around the hard-hitting monster of a beat.
Jazz Cartier - "100 Roses"
Not only is this one of the best overlooked songs of the year, Jazz Cartier’s “100 Roses” is also one of the hardest beats of the year thanks to Jacuzzi’s behind-the-boards cohort, Lantz. Sure, the primal screams of Jazz help boost the energy here, but mostly they act as the knockout punch over a barrage of uppercuts from Lantz. Like a lightning-pace race through the shadowy backstreets of Cartier’s Toronto, the production has the effect of pure speed, no doubt thanks to the frantic build-up that occurs in advance of the gut punch of bass. These are the sounds of the underground rising up to block out any coveted high rise views of the 6.
ScHoolboy Q - "Groovy Tony"
Groovy Q is as versatile as anyone in hip-hop, able to go from remorseless killer who will rob your children to laid-back, lovable stoner at the drop of a dime. ScHoolboy’s latest single is certainly the former, powered by an eerie, grimy backdrop powered by TDE-producer Tae Beast that forces you to descend to the depths of Q’s dark world. Permeated by a hellish bassline and punctuated with emotionless cries of “blank face” throughout, this shit is raw, gritty and unfiltered. In other words, it’s Q at his best.
Lil Uzi Vert - "Money Longer"
Note: Believe it or not, this is actually one of Lil Uzi’s songs where he says “yeah” the least.
The Philly native is buzzing heavily now, at times scaring off hip-hop traditionalists with his unorthodox style of "rapping" and a tendency to disregard rap elders in favor of his more contemporary peers and inspirations. “Money Longer” is his biggest hit to date, having racked up nearly 10 million views and almost assuredly blowing a few speakers in the process. Don Cannon and frequent Uzi collaborator Maaly Raw serve up the production here, a trunk-rattling instrumental permeated by pulsing, constantly elevating synths that hit the brain like electrified laser beams.
Denzel Curry - "Knotty Head (Remix)" ft. Rick Ross
To be honest, no less than four Denzel Curry songs could have been bestowed this hardest beat honor, a testament to the incredible energy the Miami indie wunderkind consistently brings and the production talent he's surrounded himself with. "Knotty Head" takes the cake though. Produced by FNZ and Ronny J, the synths gleam like the rising sun on a rock face, the bass is an unrelenting punch to the gut, and altogether you almost get the sense of being inside an echo chamber. For what it’s worth, the beat switch-up near the end is as good an instrumental you’ll find this year, unfortunately it lasts just 25 seconds. 25 SECONDS?!?!?!? The world needs an entire song reworked from this outro.
Meek Mill - "Pray For Em"
Even after the collective hip-hop world was calling for Meek's retirement in the wake of his ill-fated beef with Drake, the bellowing Philly rapper has been steadfast in his struggle to put the incident behind him and focus on putting out new music. The feds have done their part to silence him as of late, but not before he could drop off two short, but very solid, releases at the top of the year. “Pray For Em” was not only a standout from the first 4/4 EP, but also a rousing example that few others in rap are as adept at getting a room hyped like Meek in attack mode. Chicago producer C-Sick powers the adrenaline rush with chants from a gospel choir that would put the fear of God in God himself, with a beat that not only manages to equal Meek’s aggression but feed it as the record progresses.
Kanye West - "Freestyle 4" ft. Desiigner
Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo and its accompanying rollout were a lot of things, but the album has never lacked for production value, especially after its eventual fixes and mastering tweaks. Ye’s lyrics aside, “Freestyle 4” is a horror movie condensed into two minutes of audio, with shrieks and squeals and groans ringing out from all sides of the general atmosphere of fear and unease. It’s disorienting but oddly engaging, and works to draw you in so that by the time Desiigner shows up there’s not much else to do other than go fucking insane (see: Tyler and Rocky going fucking insane).
Aaron Cartier & Pollàri - "Rita Ora"
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to listen to 808 Mafia production underwater? That's the effect of the "Rita Ora" beat, courtesy of a couple incredibly named producers, 16-year-old and Yung Skrrt. The song meanwhile belongs to a couple of up-and-coming rappers: enigmatic, self-proclaimed "best rapper" Aaron Cartier and Atlanta-based Pollàri, and has racked up over a half million plays on SoundCloud (Yes, it was released just days before 2016 technically started but it's very much a 2016 song). The vocals and flows are unique, but it's the production that elevates the record to another echelon, a hypnotic, bass-heavy onslaught that sounds like bubbles rising through radioactive sludge.
2 Chainz - "Back On The Bullshyt" ft. Lil Wayne
How this Cardo-produced gem didn’t make the Collegrove track list we'll never know, especially considering it already featured Wayne and was one of the stronger efforts off 2 Chainz’s Felt Like Cappin’ EP. "Back On My Bullshyt" moves like molten lava, seeping into and over everything in sight in deceptively quick fashion. Throw in a solid verse from Tity Boi and one of Weezy's stronger efforts in recent memory, and you realize just how potent a combo the Collegrove duo can be when everything hits right.
Future - "Salute"
With all of his most frequent production collaborators being some of the most esteemed names in trap music, what’s a list of hardest beats without one of the many songs Future’s released this year? That said, it’s not Metro Boomin or Southside behind the boards for Hendrix’s most menacing effort beat-wise, as that honor belongs to DJ Spinz and K-Major. The two Atlanta beatsmiths serve up a hefty dose of food for your subwoofer on this Purple Reign standout, a disorienting flurry of squealing and clanking that leaves you dizzy, a perfect backdrop for busting juggs in the Westin parking lot.
While we certainly wouldn't condone any overly aggressive, illegal behavior, if you did find yourself in such a situation, this would be your go-to playlist. Salute these producers, and good luck on keeping your speakers intact.
By Brendan Varan, Music Editor of DJBooth. Follow him on Twitter.