This year has been something else. As we've slowly descended into chaos the music of the time has developed appropriately. However in such an outstandingly hectic year, this evolution of music has driven popular culture toward hip-hop and R&B more than ever before. We ranked our top 100 tracks according to popularity, quality and range of appeal, alongside its importance in developing its genre and the effect it has had on communities. Sometimes a song doesn't just need to be a banger, it also has deeply rooted significance to a substantial range of people. Of course, that doesn't mean we don't enjoy an absolute tune every now and again. The What's Good team gathered their faves to bring you the top 100.
50. "YOU'RE THE ONE" - KAYTRANADA
There is no disputing that 99.9% is one of the best albums to come out of this year, and to think that it's a debut album is beyond astounding. "You're The One" delivers a decadent vintage old-school vibe with SYD dripping candescent vocals over the smooth edge where KAYTRANADA balances a bouncing hip-hop beat with soulful melodies.
49. "Pink + White" - Frank Ocean
It's a serious struggle to pick a couple of stand-out tracks from an absolute gem of an album (which was definitely worth the wait). Pink + White leans on much of what made Channel Orange a huge hit. Frank Oceans vocals flowing over a tune reminiscent of his debut tracks take us back to why he became a breakout in the first place. Placed in an album which takes a huge step forward along Franks creative learning curve, this track is a stark reminder of why we fell infatuated with Mr. Ocean back in 2012.
48. "Have Some Love" - Childish Gambino
Donal Glover is a man of many talents. Stand up comedian, actor (check out his series Atlanta), and musician under the moniker Childish Gambino. As Gambino, he delivered such critically acclaimed tracks as "3005" & "Sober". After three years without a new tune, Glover sneaks his new album Awaken, My Love! in just before the year draws to a close. With an abundance of cultural meaning, "Have Some Love" is not only a great old-school piece chant, but an incredible art form in itself.
47. "Childs Play" - Drake
Drake is officially the most streamed artist on Spotify. Ever. And I am not sure what's better, the fact that he is a generational icon or that the music video for this song starts with Tyra Banks dumping Drake in a Cheesecake Factory (a really nice one at that). "Childs Play" takes an uptempo beat which turned into the a guaranteed pre-game hype track. There is no way you can't nod your head to Drake's completely faultless melodic rhyme. We also find out that Drake likes to go to Cheesecake. Nice.
46. "Daisy Mae" - Leon Bridges
2016 wasn't a big year for Leon Bridges in terms of releases as he spent the year riding the wave of his immense breakout success in 2015 by touring the globe. For those of you that had the privilege of seeing him live in Auckland earlier in the year, I congratulate you. This young man is one of the most talented young voices in the industry right now, and channels his inner Sam Cooke on almost every track. Daisy Mae is no different, released on his deluxe edition of Coming Home earlier in the year, this is a true romantic at work - an ode to a mystery uptown girl.
45. "Where Do We Go" - Solange
As Solange Knowles has matured as an artist, we feel she becomes more and more herself, and has grown comfortable in her creativity as she belts out arguably one of the greatest albums of the year. Where Do We Go is an pure demonstration of her newfound resolve. Such wavering melodies over a confident striding tune is exactly what everyone was hoping from her new album.
44. "Anywhere" - Dillon Francis (ft. Will Heard)
Dillon Francis is the guy that pumps out the songs that you recognise when you hear them, but you can never quote. Anywhere may not be the ultimate display of composition, but you cant help but tap your foot to yet another Dillon Francis summer anthem.
43. "FDT" - YG & Nipsey Hussle
In a year earmarked by change, only YG would have the cojones to make a track titled "Fuck Donald Trump". This may not be one of the better songs you've ever listened to, but this is a particularly momentous and poignant track being regularly played throughout every club in liberal America right now.
42. "Work" - Rihanna (ft. Drake)
I cant remember a song that has united white girls more than this track right here. Apart from maybe Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield. Rihanna and Drakes clearly obvious romantic interest erupts on stage, but the value of this song as a true party banger can never ben ignored.
41. "22 (OVER S∞∞N) - Bon Iver
The evolution of Bon Iver has been awesome to watch. His original repertoire consisted of tortured soul locked in a cabin in the woods to write an entire folk album (which will transcend time). Now, after a couple of years working with some of the greatest names in the industry (cough*Yeezy*cough) - Justin Vernon has taken his earlier influences of peaceful melody and attached a jarring yet eerily relaxing robotic vocaliser effect over the top of his already perfect intonation. 22 Over S∞∞N is a authentication of his new style.
40. "Weight in Gold" Gallant
You may recognise the base of this track as the original verse in the new Red Bull global campaign. This Christopher Gallant guy is doing some great things. Theres such an exciting romanticism to the guitar on the original track which is almost an ode to the original guitar solos on soul tracks of days old. Known for his impressive vocal range and enigmatic stage presence that sends shivers down your spine, Gallant is going to be one of the next big things in R&B.
39. "No More Parties in LA" - Kanye West (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
Yet another track from the masterpiece that is The Life of Pablo, Kanye teams up with one of the most influential rap artists our generation. Originally released in a teaser as part of his G.O.O.D Fridays on Soundcloud, and one of the earlier releases of the year, this track is pure ecstasy of bouncing beat and subtle aggression reflecting Ye's feeling toward fame.
38. "Someone That Loves You" - Honne (ft. Izzy Bizu)
English electric soul duo HONNE formed early in 2014, and released their debut album no more than a year after. Since their slow rise to popularity, culminating in this absolute beauty of a track, HONNE have been flying very much under the radar. With floating vocals from Izzy Bizu and the very recognisable tone of HONNES vocal artist, Andy, this track is a summer love song for a generation which is as uplifting as it is romantic.
37. Tokyo Narita (Freestyle) - Lido (ft. Halsey)
It was only a matter of time before Lido; the mastermind behind the perfect remix of Alt-J's Left Hand Free, and Halsey one of the most enigmatic vocalists to emerge in recent years; paired up on their own project. This relaxing tune is a sensational graphic of romanticising popular music and a night out from inside the mind of a 20-something in a perplexingly odd 2016.
36. "Smile" - Vince Staples
Vince Staples has such a good time on stage. For someone that kind of stumbled into fame he has an elegantly fiery stage presence and we yearn for his typical bouncing rhythm and poignant composition harkening back to the aggression of early gangsta rap crossed with new age hip-hop.
35. Higher Rihanna
Without a doubt this is one of our favourite Rihanna albums of all time. She ditched the pop influence once found in tracks like Umbrella and S&M, and digs deep into roots and soul for her new album ANTI. This track stands as a melodic devotion to her creative inclinations. Her belting vocals pull on the soul-strings (new term, just made it up), and pique your interest in her new evolving brand.
34. "I Need a Forest Fire" - James Blake & Bon Iver
Long time friends and creative confidants, James Blake and Justin Vernon channel each others artistic drive in the standout track from James Blake's recent subtly melodramatic album.
33. Caroline - Aminé
Harkening from Portland, OR, Aminé is one of the most unique rap talents to emerge from this year and this is an tune you can hear echoing from the halls of every frat party and tailgate this year. With the pleasure of meeting him in Portland we can certify he is a genuine good dude too. Keep an eye on this guy as he evolves into what we hope is one of the most influential artists of next year. He also has a weird thing for bananas.
32. "No Problem" - Chance the Rapper (ft. 2 Chains & Lil Wayne)
This year was HUGE for Chance. We've been keeping an eye on him ever since 10 Day, and its fantastic to see him not only emerge as one of the biggest stars of this year, but also as the first streaming only artist to be nominated for a grammy. No Problem is one of the biggest tunes on his album Colouring Book, as he continues to channel his gospel roots and almost effortlessly soar over the top the bouncing rhythm with his uniquely rasping vocals.
31. "On Hold" - The xx
After what we call a sabbatical which took way too fucking long, The xx, represented by progressive label Young Turks, pumped out their single released ahead of their upcoming album I See You, set to release in early 2017. It is clear that in this track they have progressed slightly from their second album Coexist, but dont stray too far from the talents that brought them to prominence in 2009. Their drifting vocals are trademark and relaxing simplicity is not lost on this track.
30. "Innerbloom" - RUFUS
Almost paying homage to electro of years passed, Innerbloom is the hallmark track of RUFUS' new album. A serious winner for any playlist and by far one of the better electronic tracks to come out of 2016. Arcing rhythms and pulsating synths combine in a seriously dreamy tune.
29. "Put Me Thru" - Anderson.Paak
Anderson .Paak is a genius, hands down. Emerging due to many of the same reasons as KAYTRANADA, Anderson .Paak takes an organic instrumental approach to his style. With his head bopping vibe that is carried throughout his album Malibu, .Paak drifts between disco, hip-hop, soul, and R&B. "Put Me Thru" has a a theme so hard to define that you can only just sit there and admire .Paak's ability to create at the congruence point of so many genres.
28. "I'm Coming Home" - Lee Fields & The Expressions
Lee Fields is kicking it in an age dominated by hip-hop beat fetishism and eclectic pop, in his own style. He joins Leon Bridges as one of the two best gentlemen out there making sure soul and funk are not lost on the millennial generation. This track is pure heroine for those that appreciate the classic days where there was no vocal tampering and only a quartet of real instruments at your disposal. There is a special energy to this song that lifts you up on its affectionate groove. Lee Fields is in his element.
27. "Daydreaming" - Radiohead
Radiohead is one of the most influential alternative bands of all time. Their latest album A Moon Shaped Poolis one of the strangest, yet beautifully melodic albums they have ever released. Moving beyond their characteristic angst, Daydreaming marks a new stage of musical progression that one can only hope out of a group so entrenched in our culture. Vocals sift through soft piano with such ease that you get lost in its tranquility, which is reaching toward a new existential enlightenment.
26. "7" - Catfish and the Bottlemen
These guys have so much aspiration, and are not shy to draw attention to themselves as similar to British greats, Oasis. Their latest album is lathered in British Pop-Rock stereotypes, but this is just as much a reason to be drawn into its brilliance as it is to reject it entirely. The upbeat double guitar rhythm of 7 is irresistibly contagious, and the archetypical vocals of Van McKann (likened to that of the Kooks frontman Luke Pritchard), floats over the top of swooping solos and rhythm guitar.
25 Alaska Maggie Rogers
Alright if you haven't heard of this girl already then you should definitely check her out. A student at the Clive Davis Institute at NYU, Rogers was the girl from Maryland who brought Pharrell Williams close to tears when he was invited to the school to judge and give notes on the students work. Rogers has such a uniquely stunning voice and experimental style, which is something not often heard. Searching for the crossroads between folk music and the romantic ecstasy of dance music, Rogers has only just begun in her career, and what a debut track to launch it with. If some of us had our way, this would be up in the top 10, however this has been a very good year for music.
24. "Black Beatles" - Rae Sremmurd (ft. Gucci Mane)
Any song that is involved in a mass social media movement deserves to be on this list. Not only has this song been hugely popular all over the world, it now has mass recognition. Definitely a good addition for any binge drinking playlist.
23. "29# Strafford Apts" - Bon Iver
Justin Vernon is at it again with this one that throws back to why we fell in love with him in the first place. Strafford apts takes us to the little cabin in which he wrote For Emma, Forever Ago. He hits new vocal highs on this track that stands out among experimental uncertainty and soul-searching.
22 Untitled 08 09.06.2014 Kendrick Lamar
To think that Kendrick can dig out tracks from over two years ago, that didn't make the cut for his critically acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly, and they are still streets ahead of what the rest of the hip-hop world is doing. With traditional hip-hop progressions and 90's synths and crisp verses, the last track on his untitled album is our favourite. Although a quiet year for Kendrick, sometimes you need a little white noise in order appreciate a genius at work.
21. "Hold Up" - Beyonce
The queen is at it again. In this weightless dream of a track she pinpoints the moment between fight and flight, in what Pitchfork describes as, "the liminal moment right after a betrayal but before the consequences. When the freedom of the fall causes a rush. When a head gets light and loopy. When life suddenly seems limitless. When the rules—of gravity, of morality, of empathy—no longer apply." Just look at the music video. She means business, and we feel bad for Jay-Z, but then we remember he's married to Beyonce, and don't feel so bad anymore.
20. "Nights" - Frank Ocean
In an album pushing the boundaries of creative progressiveness, Nights takes a step back into an evening slumber oozing with cruising imagery and philosophical adventure. Theres a dizziness that takes over as you roll through meditation and computerised ambience.
19. "Nobody" - Leisure (ft. Goldlink)
Little known to the rest of the world, Leisure is an absolute piece of a band tucked away in our back yard. Releasing their debut album made from scratch with their very own hands, the boys from Auckland are starting to test the waters on a global stage, even Apple Music is listing them as one of the bands to watch out for over the next year. Pulling on one of the worlds up and coming hip-hop stars, Nobody carries itself with a peaceful elegance as it drifts through harmonising vocals and delicate verse. There is a floating quality to the class in which these lads spin through to Goldlink's verse which hits with his unique style. This is a track in which it is easy to get lost.
18. "Sister" - Angel Olsen
MY WOMAN, as an album is a standout for the year, critically acclaimed as one of the best of the annal. On an album characterised by soul-searching, with Olsen reflecting on so many different sides of her current self, Sister makes it very clear she is still searching, but is totally comfortable with that. Sister is a bit of a mouthful, and takes a while to build, but is the perfect track to listen to while gazing out the window of your flight to wherever it is you feel you need to be. It has the feel of soul searching, and the heart to take you there without complication. It's peaceful and delicate in its simplicity, but let Olsen's vocals wash over you in a tide of actualisation and spritual ascent.
17. "Waves" - Kanye West (ft. Chris Brown)
What a f***ing BANGER. There is no doubt that this is the track to get you moving. The Life of Pablo is unlike anything else Kanye has produced, which is carried by enigmatic and infectious passion. Waves is unlike much of what we've heard before from Kanye, he has always had such huge influence from vocal and gospel sources, but this is something different and its tough to put a finger on it. To think it almost didn't make the album. Chris Brown turns out one of his better performances of his career (I think at this point he's just glad to get the shoulder-tap for anything), and turns Waves into an existential thriller which holds you on your toes with immense force. It is both energetic and reflective, cheers Chance for fighting to get it on the album.
It’s Chance's fault the album not out yet… he really wanted Waves on that Bitch… we in the lab now...
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 13, 2016
16. "Jungle" - Tash Sultana
This girl is going to be big. The Australian born heroine spent most of her youth embroiled in the drug scene, but always leaned on music to keep her grounded. Now, her talent is used as a method sanity, and started recording songs out of her bedroom with a GoPro, to throw them up on YouTube. She started getting recognition after her views rose over a couple of hundred thousand. Out of a handful of tracks available off her debut EP Notion, Jungle stands out as both energetic and soulful. Leaning on her Australian upbringing and beach vibes which are present through much of Australia's current music scene, Sultana delivers a new level of passion and creativity.
15. "Suede" - NxWorries
One half Knwwledge, one half Anderson .Paak, NxWorries is a collaborative effort in clinical lyricism. Suede is just one of many tracks on an album filled with hard-hitting beats and prose which reflects their upbringing. Knxwledge from Philadelphia and .Paak from California, had very different experiences growing up but meet to deliver a pure organic hip-hop performance on Suede, exploring relationships and stardom. This is true Stones Throw Records style, executed to perfection. And we love the line "You gon' listen to this Marvin // you gon' listen to this Bloodstone"; .Paak's influences could never be more clear.
14. "You Want It Darker" - Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen was one of the greatest writers of the modern time. Whether or not "You Want It Darker" tickles your fancy, there is something devout about the craftsmanship behind Cohens final album. The darkness is eerie, but Cohen speaks directly to his mortality in his bid adieu to the music world that served him so well.
13. "Fake Love" - Drake
Drake has never shied away from being vocal about the people around him. This is the icing on the cake. Fake Love is a visceral communication with loyalty. Also, it is an absolute tune, ringing in the ears of hangovers around the world. This is Drakes grand return to being the victim, the chump, where he is most content. He sounds at ease with his disposition at this very moment and the high-notes which reflect much of his already built repertoire represent just that: a creative genius in his comfort zone.
12. "Here In My Arms" - Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges is at his most powerful when he is belting out love songs in his basement. Which is exactly where he seems to be right here, except backed up by a full band. Although these were tracks that did not make the cut for the original album back in 2015, they are still among some the most beautiful to be written and released this year.
11. "Friends" - Francis & The Lights (ft. Bon Iver & Kanye West)
Francis Starlite has been creeping around in production rooms for a while now. With roots in scenes riding with Bon Iver, Kanye, and Chance the Rapper, he decided it was time to bring out another album. Dripping in technology and vocoder influence, it is easy to hear that he has had significant influence on the three aforementioned over the past few years. This song is the culmination of that influence, with an electric gospel vibe meets simplicity and layered synthetic sound. Touring with Chance gave us the pleasure of seeing him on stage, and this man can perform.
10. "Blessings" - Chance the Rapper (ft. Jamila Woods & Byron Cage)
Chance has never shied away from professing his gospel influence, and is one of the most animated rap artists to grace the stage this year. This is a breath of fresh air among heavy releases stacked against it by other artists, Chance is deliberate in his message and confident in his improvisation as he dips in and out of trumpet and vocal, which serves as a soft backdrop to the serendipitous fashion in which all the layers come together in this song. The Chicago prodigy is just scratching the surface with his influence right now, and Blessings is almost an homage to his past as well as his future.
9. "Cranes In The Sky" - Solange
Cranes in the Sky communicates directly to the inner loneliness you can experience in a world full of busy-ness. Despite being surrounded by human bodies it is easy get lost in the mess, swamped under desire to find meaning and a sense of self. The violin undertone on this track serves as a platform to allow Solange to reach this point of being ok in the comfort of loneliness, breaking through the desire to "drink it away". The further through the track the more empowered and confident she sounds, breaking free of the shackles of forsakenness.
8. "TOGETHER" - Kaytranada (ft. AlunaGeorge & GoldLink)
This is probably the biggest head nodder on the album, 99.9%. Chopping samples and drum beats rest below a ranging AlunaGeorge leading into a GoldLink verse typical of his style. The bounce and vibe of this tune is both vintage (in true KAYTRANADA fashion) and progressive, forming part a movement that pushes for a more natural sound (driven by the likes of Anderson .Paak and KAYTRANADA). Despite the electronic nature the tune, you can't help but respect the craftsmanship.
7. "Blackstar" - David Bowie
We all knew 2016 was going to go downhill as soon as we lost David Bowie. In another climax of a career, a creative genius bows out with a dark tip of the hat as he acknowledges his mortality with this release. It made us all look back on the history of his great career and recognise his immense creative genius which moved so many, with Blackstar being the intersection between the past and his impending passing. Although dark to discuss, there is something comforting in the fact that Bowie can go for dinner with mortality, stare it right in the face, and still be the coolest guy in the room.
6. "One Dance" - Drake (ft. Kyla &WizKid)
I was wrong when I said "Work" united white girls like never before, because One Dance takes the cake as easily the most party-able tune in Drakes repertoire, only tipped by Hotline Bling... One Dance has to be where Drake is at his most intoxicating.
5. "Dis Generation" - A Tribe Called Quest (ft. Busta Rhymes)
After years of silence, the Tribe comes back with an absolute killer of an album, a war cry for the human race as they try to jerk America into unity and action behind a common movement. A Tribe Called Quest has never been shy to their motive behind the music, and Dis Generation is as poignant as anything in their canon.
4. "Solo" - Frank Ocean
Solo is Ocean's most toxic reflection upon the state of the world, "It's hell on Earth and the city's on fire, inhale, in hell there's heaven." However despite this dark quality the way he weaves his opening lyrics around the synths is almost effortless. We take this as the top track on the album as Solo is both an homage to why Ocean had given us four years of silence, and a enlightenment of his current self.
3. "Come Down"- Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals
Anderson. Paak's drumming prowess shines through in this track as a love song to Malibu. Come Down marks .Paak's position as both the coolest lad in music right now but also one of the most progressively influential. The catchiest of verses sinks into your soul in front of vibing beats and a cheeky little rhythm guitar that you can't help but groove to.
2. "Ultralight Beam" - Kanye West (ft. Chance the Rapper)
Kanye is actually hardly on Ultralight Beam, he pops up asking for a few blessings but then dips back out leaving the floor for guest artists, in particular, Chance's memorable verse. But don't discount that because of Kanye's absence, he was not 120% responsible for its vibe. This is the gospel equivalent of Watch the Throne, his assertion to the world that he is still the greatest creative mind on the planet right now. Opening with North's monologue is only the beginning of Kanye's tell that he has evolved as both an artist and as a parent. Following Kanye taking over from North, is the moment where Yeezy allows Chance to shine as if a passing of the torch occurred, in a sweeping verse that resonates through the very pores of the track. This is the outcome of not only Kanye affecting Chance, but Chance also having some sort of creative influence over Kanye as the gospel/hip-hop tide washes over them, such a crucial movement for the genre in 2016. And the effect of Kanye's mentorship for chance is very real, when performing on Saturday Night Live you can see Kanye watching on with a grin as Chance sinks into his verse as "UGH, I'M JUST HAVING FUN WITH IT" immortalizes the track.
1. "Formation" - Beyonce
Formation is widely regarded by many a music journalist as the best song of the year. Why? Beyonce isn't just making great albums, pumping out tune after tune. Beyonce is making music for the people, she is a Black American woman making music for Black American women. She isn't appropriating amongst a tide of consumerist America, she is producing strength in melody. She speaks directly to the media, the people, her peers, her admirers, and her haters. And as this track evolves in a world that is forcing it to do so, it turns from party banger to war chant and peoples anthem of the highest degree. The production value, the rhythm, the style, is classic Beyonce at her most irresistible, elevating herself to a new level of awesome. They don't call her Queen B for nothing.
All in one place (except for Beyonce, thanks to TIDAL), here.
Title image cred: Slate