I know what you're thinking: Callie, you're no professional music critic! Who are you to tell me which songs to like! And it's true that these are my personal faves and my own opinions (plus some opinionated help from trusted Internet people). But hey, I'm always open for debate, so feel free to disagree by naming any number of inaccurate alternatives.
50. Schoolboy Q (feat. Miguel, Justine Skye) "Overtime"
This song makes me feel like I should be sitting next to a fire drinking scotch on the rocks and twisting a man's heartstrings around my finger. I really like it, in other words.
49. Fifth Harmony (feat. Ty Dolla $ign), "Work From Home"
If you know me at all, you know that I am HERE for bad bitch anthems—especially ones that take socially accepted gender roles and flip them in order to reclaim female sexuality. If u think I'm over exaggerating, you're not paying attention. Plus, this is irresistible and u know it. It has all the charm of "Worth It" (my literal jam) but pushes the boundaries a little bit farther. HERE FOR IT.
48. Post Malone (feat. Justin Bieber), "Deja Vu"
So how long were y'all planning to pretend that this doesn't fucking bump?
47. J. Cole, "Neighbors"
I haven't had much of a chance to truly devote my attention to 4 Your Eyez Only but upon first listen, I am heavily into it. It definitely seems like Cole's trying something new with a sort of concept album, and all those subtleties will take some time to fully absorb. Plus the airy, peachy sound infused into tracks like "Change" and "She's Mine, Pt. 1" is new and mature and very fresh. I'm excited to sit with & really digest this album over the next few weeks.
But for now, as with any rapper worth his/her/their salt, the first thing to look for is the bars. Okay, yeah, J. Cole makes music for dweebs who start sentences with "ugh, this generation..." but dude he is SERVING rn:
"Some things you can't escape / Death, taxes, NRA / It's this society that make / Every n**** feel like a candidate / For a Trayvon kinda fate / Even when your crib sit on a lake / Even when your plaques hang on a wall / Even when the President jam your tape."
46. D.R.A.M. (feat. Lil Yachty), "Broccoli"
This is literally a song named after a vegetable—performed by two goofy guys who have risen from relative obscurity—that knocked the reigning Ross & Rachel of the rap game off the number one seat. A VEGETABLE. A VEGETABLE DETHRONED DRAKE & RIH. I don't know where this shit came from, but that is a testament to its feel-good power, and it deserves some damn respect.
45. Sampha, "Blood On Me"
Wow wow wow, every time I listen to this it's like my first time hearing it. When Sampha's voice transitions to that higher octave and the drum beat picks up and the background vocals grow more pronounced and it all sounds kind of frayed and electric...wow wow wow. It's a star-making turn for this seasoned producer, imo.
44. KAYTRANADA (feat. Anderson .Paak), "GLOWED UP"
Bitch don't I look like a pharaoh!!!
43. Banks, "Fuck With Myself"
This song is cool, chilling, and really gutsy. While Banks specializes in darkly contoured songs, this signaled a distinct move towards an edgier sound. It's confessional and subversive; it hits at that tender, fine line between self-esteem and self-sabotage. A true gem. Watch out for this one; Banks is a formidable rising artist.
42. Bruno Mars, "24K Magic"
Just when you thought "Uptown Funk" couldn't possibly get an adequate follow-up.
bro.... bruno mars really icey as fuck— Demetrius Harmon (@meechonmars) November 23, 2016
41. Phantogram, "You Don't Get Me High Anymore"
The babes of Phantogram really stepped up their game here, taking a bit of anti-lovesickness and turning it into a radio-ready banger.
40. The Last Shadow Puppets, "Miracle Aligner"
The creative forces of Miles Kane and Alex Turner (a true rock god, don't @ me) rarely combine so well on their sophomore endeavor. This song is the perfect mix of Kane's lavish instrumentation and Turner's new Californian swag. As usual, his lyrics are sophisticated and intoxicating. (Ask me what I wouldn't do for Alex Turner. Answer: nothing).
39. Travis Scott (feat. Kendrick Lamar), "goosebumps"
I don't have any words that would better describe this song than Travis' own. Straight goosebumps. Every time.
38. Genesis (feat. Anderson .Paak), "Dapper"
If Anderson's babely rasp wasn't enough for you to adore this song immediately, consider this: the absolute contentedness that washes over you when it plays. Your head's just kinda bopping back and forth subconsciously, isn't it? Don't lie to me.
37. NAO, "Fool To Love"
I remember the exact moment I first heard NAO's voice warbling out of my headphones because I felt like I had been drugged (in the BEST possible way). I recommend the entire album—silky sweet vocals, laced together with intimate iPhone interludes—but "Fool to Love" is a standout. It's the musical embodiment of maroon velvet.
36. Majid Jordan (feat. Drake), "My Love"
I can't really put my finger on why I keep coming back to this song. I mean, it definitely has something to do with Champagne Papi. I think it's one of his best features, actually, because it doesn't feel like he's forcing it. I LOVE melancholic Drake. And I think my sentimentality gets the best of me when I imagine Majid Jordan being his brotherly lil prodigy. Anyway, my personal hangups aside, it's a good fucking song. The intro alone—with that shivering, sonic version of a flickering gas station light—is enough to make this list.
35. Major Lazer (feat. Justin Bieber, MØ), "Cold Water"
Think of everything you want a good pop song to be. Now try to tell me that this doesn't succeed on every one of those levels.
34. Young M.A., "OOOUUU"
Say what you want about her but rap music NEEDS this woman. YEAH THEY HATE BUT THEY BROKE THO
33. Drake, "Childs Play"
A highpoint on Views. "Childs Play" has clean production, Take Care-level flow, and it takes Drake's inherent Drake-ness to an entirely new level. "Why you always gotta fight with me at Cheesecake?" Iconic. TYRA BANKS. ICONIC.
32. James Blake (feat. Bon Iver), "I Need a Forest Fire"
Witchy; warm; sounds like a séance. It's everything I wanted and expected from the genius behind "Retrograde." I also had the good fortune of seeing James Blake live, and I don't think I had truly lived until I felt his voice physically inhabit my ribcage.
31. Saba (feat. Noname), "Church / Liquor Store"
This song brought to you by Chance The Rapper's explicit recommendation. If you don't trust me, surely you trust Lil Chano from 79th.
30. Beyoncé, "Hold Up"
This is one of the most magical songs Beyoncé has ever created. As soon as those first notes hit and she emerged wearing that unbearably chic yellow dress, you knew that LEMONADE was going to be different. The baseball bat! The clap-backs!! I feel like she did me—and every woman ever—a personal solid, reclaiming scorn with one perfect line: "What's worse, looking jealous or crazy?"
29. Zayn (feat. Kehlani), "wRoNg"
Nathan Zed, as usual, said it best (as approved by Zayn himself):
28. Kendrick Lamar, "untitled 05 | 09.21.2014."
Originally I thought "untitled 07" was my favorite in this collection (levitate levitate levitate levitate!!!) but upon conferring with a fellow music fanatic, the impossibly perceptive Tae'Shaona, I took a couple more listens to 05. I strongly advise that you do the same.
27. Mac Miller (feat. Bilal), "Congratulations"
Aided by Bilal's smooth vocals, Mac Miller's "Congratulations" is the ideal portal to his insular, nebulous world. Like Rihanna's "Consideration" with SZA or Frank Ocean's "Nikes," Miller sets a spectacularly high bar for himself with this opening and follows through—the difference being that Rihanna and Frank blend their tracks like watercolor, while "Congratulations" is a singular portrait.
26. The 1975, "If I Believe You"
Oh my god. This shit is HAUNTING. I feel like Matty & the boys are taking me to church and hell simultaneously. I'm fucked up just thinking about it.
25. Francis and the Lights (feat. Bon Iver, Kanye West), "Friends"
By himself, Francis could've easily achieved these signature trippy sound effects— catapulting him into public approval—but enlisting Kanye and Justin Vernon for this song took it further. There are few things more powerful for an artist than a cleverly placed feature, and his eye for production collab has cemented Francis in musical history.
24. The Chainsmokers (feat. Halsey), "Closer"
I am fully aware that the popularity of a song does not necessarily translate to its objective quality. This, however, is indeed one of those times. It's no fluke that "Closer" is now the cornerstone of every modern party, workout, or pump-up playlist worth its salt. Drew's shaky live vocals aside, just LOOK at my girl H, absolutely killing it.
23. The Weeknd (feat. Daft Punk), "Starboy"
Starboy has its high and low points, but "Starboy" does literally everything right. The ruinous, haunted poet I met and fell in love with on House of Balloons shines through the cracks of The Weeknd's imperfect new pop star persona. Nicely played, Abel.
22. Ariana Grande, "Into You"
I'm gonna let Ella take the reigns on this one.
21. Mura Masa (feat. A$AP Rocky), "Love$ick"
I dare you to be in a bad mood while you listen to this song. I bloody dare you.
20. Rihanna, "Love on the Brain"
One of the great triumphs of Anti is that it did not fuck around with Rihanna's vocals. If you ever doubted this woman's talent, her musical gift, god knows you don't anymore. And god knows we needed some shreds of vulnerability from this woman. She delivered on all counts.
19. Childish Gambino, "Me and Your Mama"
It was certifiably insane for Childish Gambino to release this kind of album. Near psychotic. One of the best rappers in the game curated a track list nearly devoid of rap. Where does Donald Glover get off?
And yet! The very moment this track hits your ears (LET MEEE INNNN TO UR HEAAAAARRRTTTT) you are reminded that Gambino knows about what you need better than you do. And that it would be perfectly justifiable to trust this man with ur damn life.
18. Kanye West, "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. I"
Did you know that music was invented 34 seconds into "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. I"? The drop in this song is so fucking transcendent that not even Kanye's talk of models' bleached assholes could undermine it.
17. David Bowie, "Lazarus"
The perfect goodbye from an absolute legend. Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, taking his final form as a man who could not die. How poetic. How fitting.
16. Chance The Rapper (feat. Kanye West), "All We Got"
There are few joys like the joy of listening to Chance perform this live. If he wasn't one of the world's most talented musicians, I'd say he should look into a career in inspirational speaking because this man can make even my worst days seem angelic.
15. Frank Ocean, "Ivy"
"I THOUGHT THAT I WAS DREAMING WHEN YOU SAID YOU LOVED ME"
14. Vince Staples, "War Ready"
I've made my feelings on this EP clear (hint: it's life-changing), and "War Ready" exemplifies everything that's excellent about Vince Staples: the Andre sample, the James Blake production, the lyrical prowess ("Learned the power of words when we was younger / Saying fuck the sign on his curb can make him hunt you / Turned the African into a n***** then they hung him / Said it earlier in the verse, sometimes I wonder"). He pulls it all off like a rapper with twice the experience, twice the number of accolades. He both deserves them and doesn't need them.
(The vid above is a short film for the whole album; if I could put it all on this list, I would. The clip that plays "War Ready" starts at 6:15.)
13. Aminé, "Caroline"
There are breakout hits that are just that: over-produced outliers built for radio play. And then there are breakout hits that signal criminally overlooked talent.
Aminé pulled off one of the best songs of the year from almost complete obscurity by tapping into an under-circulated vein in hip-hop: happy music. Chance gets it, D.R.A.M. gets it, and now Aminé.
"Caroline" gives me joy just by THINKING about it. It's one of those songs that makes me actually look forward to my hour-long commute, just because I know I'll be sitting on the subway and listening to it on repeat. Every time it ends, I physically don't feel like I've had enough of it. The banana-colored vibes are addicting.
12. The 1975, "The Sound"
The day that The 1975 decided, "hey, if they're going to call us a pop band then let's be the best fucking pop band in the game" was arguably the best day of my life. It directly translated to this absolute banger. This black and white world turning bubblegum pink.
11. Solange, "Cranes In The Sky"
I don't think I have to convince you of the power, the sheer importance, of this song. And I'm not even gonna try; I'm not qualified to articulate it. Judnick Mayard wrote of A Seat At The Table, "It is an album for Black women made by one Black woman. In speaking her personal truth, Solange has created a meditation not just for herself but for so many seeking safe space, asylum, and peace, for those who seek to maintain their dignity and regality in the face of condescension, lies, aggression, violence and murder." No song illustrates this better than "Cranes In The Sky." If that's not important, I don't know what is.
10. Rihanna, "Needed Me"
Oh man, I was never really a Rihanna fan before this year. "Diamonds," "Rude Boy," she's never done it for me. And then I heard this song. I heard her sing "Didn't they tell you that I was a savage? / Fuck your white horse and a carriage" and I lost my damn mind.
9. Drake (feat. Wizkid, Kyla Reid), "One Dance"
Two of the world's great mysteries: why this man hasn't put out a separate video yet for "One Dance," and why people are out here saying Views doesn't bang like they weren't in the club every weekend catching dabs to this song. A hip-hop/afrobeat single doesn't chart at number one for over two months by accident.
8. Young Thug, Travis Scott (feat. Quavo), "Pick Up The Phone"
All I have to say is find someone who loves you as much as Nathan Zed loves this song.
"Pick Up The Phone" by Travis Scott, Young Thug, and Quavo is quite possibly in the top 10 greatest songs of the last 20 years— Nathan Zed (@NathanZed) July 5, 2016
Bro you can get lit to Pick Up the Phone. You can chill out to Pick Up the Phone. You can sing it to your girl. Greatest song of the year.— Nathan Zed (@NathanZed) October 26, 2016
7. Mac Miller (feat. Anderson .Paak), "Dang!
Anderson .Paak breathed a kind of energy into this song that I have rarely heard before. In Mac Miller's words, "Anderson wrote this song for people that passed away in his life. I kinda wanna say that because I think that's actually, like, a very vital reason for the song being what it is. Because I think that I'm a big believer in the universe and all that stuff so I think that that energy adds a lot of emotion to the song." You can feel Anderson's influence injected throughout the tune, in the beats and the rhythm and the casual trumpeting. It elevated Miller to a previously unmet level, and it resulted in one of my most-played songs this year by far.
6. Beyoncé, "Formation"
Again: the power! The importance! The relevance! The clap-backs!! Beyoncé haters ARE corny and we all know it. They have literally nothing.
Again, Judnick Mayard: "To believe that Beyoncé is so rich and loved that she doesn't experience racism, that she doesn't feel traumatized by the images of murdered black bodies is to erase her...She came to speak to us because, like every other black person living in this time, she knows we need unconditional and honest love."
5. Rae Sremmurd, "Black Beatles"
"THAT GIRL IS A REAL CROWD PLEASER"
4. Chance The Rapper (feat. Francis and the Lights), "Summer Friends"
Chance's whole album is straight fire, as we've established, but "Summer Friends" is something absolutely heavenly. It's honest and raw and clever in its wording, suited perfectly for Chance's voice, aided by Francis' subtle crooning in the background. It's just a gorgeous track, interlacing its innovative sound with irresistible nostalgia. Close to flawless.
3. Frank Ocean, "Nights"
The transition in "Nights" is the stuff of musical myth. If Frank came out one day and said that the album would've been finished three years ago but he spent 900 days perfecting that one transition, I wouldn't be surprised or angry in the slightest. Worth it.
2. Beyoncé, "Don't Hurt Yourself"
If, by some weird glitch in the space-time continuum, Beyoncé wasn't already nestled into the hearts of all human beings, this song must have converted even the most stubborn music purists. This is a better rock song than most actual rock songs. Using Jack White's vocals was a stroke of pure artistic genius; it adds an extra layer of depth and resonance, and tell me you don't fucking LOSE it every time you hear those opening notes. If you didn't sign up for a free Tidal trial just to hear this one song—and to watch Bey unleash raw unadulterated fury, such that we've never seen before, adorned by this iconic fur coat—honestly, who do you think you are?
Also, I think about this video at least twice a day:
1. Kanye West (feat. Chance The Rapper, The-Dream, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin), "Ultralight Beam"
Name your favorite Kanye song. "Heartless"? "Power"? "Jesus Walks"? "Gold Digger"? It doesn't matter, it pales in comparison. Every headline that Kanye has ever made, every controversy, every tweet, every chart-topper, every album drop—it all underperforms next to "Ultralight Beam." This song is peak Kanye in prime fucking form. The way Kanye worships himself, the way Chance worships God, I worship this song. It's not just the best song of 2016, it's one of the best songs ever created.
For such an egomaniac, Kanye's collaborative skills remain unparalleled. It says a lot, I think, that in the midst of Kanye's best production ever, he decided to hand the mic to Chance. And Chance, already a formidable rapper in his own right, handed back a career-making verse that paid direct homage to Kanye's influence. This move illustrates why I never give up on Kanye's potential for redemption. For each moment of absolute mind-boggling selfishness, Kanye has a Chance moment. The Life of Pablo is Kanye's Tale of Two Personas: the father and the philanderer, the artist and the maniac, the devoted disciple and the fallen angel. For better or worse, "Ultralight Beam" is his halo.