Chance The Rapper – All Night
If there was anyone having more fun than Chance the Rapper in 2016, we didn’t find them. All Night was a neon-soaked ray of pure positivity in a year that largely inspired anything but, skipping to the tune of Michael Jackson’s iconic “Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah” refrain and showcasing Chance the Rapper’s infectiously affable personality.
At its heart, All Night is an incredibly stupid song about chatty, farting drunks that take advantage of Chance’s car. That shouldn’t work, but the parties involved do too well a job for it to not. Kaytranada’s ever-eclectic production jags out even further than usual, blending Chicago house with a teaspoon of country and a dash of Nico Segal. Plucky upstart Knox Fortune feels right at home on his biggest stage yet and Chance takes charge like the superstar he was born to become. – Reece Hooker
Anderson .Paak – Am I Wrong
Few tracks have painted as vivid an image as Am I Wrong did in its opening few instrumental bars. The head-bobbing drums, the clink of ice cubes in a scotch glass and a shimmering, subtle synth line that invites us to cruise down Sunset Boulevard in an Oldsmobile Cutlass all combines to make for one hell of a first impression.
Then came Anderson .Paak, the star of the show and the reason this song has enduring as one of 2016’s most charming. As he questions his subject’s ability to dance and if she can ooh, it became crystal clear that the former Breezy Lovejoy had grown into a rare force of charisma, talent and perfectionism. As good as Anderson is, what makes Am I Wrong one of the standouts from the excellent Malibu album is the ensemble surrounding him: Vancouver wunderkind Pomo’s production is energetic and atmospheric, BrassTracks’ horns give the track an oomph, Omarion is a nice touch on the backing vocals and ScHoolboy Q drops by on a half-break to play the cool older brother, adding another dimension an already impressive song. Add in The Free Nationals, Anderson’s trusty band, and it equates to an ensemble effort that manages to stay lively, fresh and fun even after a few hundred plays during 2016. – Reece Hooker
Charli XCX – After The Afterparty
While it may not be as zany as the relentless Vroom Vroom earlier in the year, After the Afterparty managed to take the wonky and fuse it with the mainstream to make 2016’s most interesting radio track. It doesn’t necessarily break any new ground but it’s extremely refreshing to see an artist willing to drop a track that’s fun, catchy and unapologetically pop. 2016 really needed to take itself less seriously – here’s hoping XCX3 is gonna show us how to have fun again in 2017! – Matthew Fiacchi
Solange – Cranes In The Sky
As consumers of music, we tend to make our own assumptions about lyrics, reading into them and pulling out meaning that would even perplex the creator. We can’t do that with Solange’s Cranes In The Sky though. Sure, it resonates differently with everybody but the lyrical work on this song is so direct and brave that we’d only be watering it down if we tried to over-analyse it. Solange is devastatingly hurt and lost on Cranes In The Sky and yet instead of channeling that into anger she chooses minimalism. The beat is spacious and raw and Solange’s vocal work is careful and restrained. Sonically, everything she does shines on a spotlight on the lyrics which are so powerful. She tried to drink the hurt away, she tried to dance it away, she changed her appearance, let go of her lover and yet it still loomed. Cranes In The Sky doesn’t offer an explicit solution. Instead, in an almost meditative state she repeats, “away”. She re-centres herself, refocusses and blocks out the noise in order to recover. – Sam Murphy
Francis And The Lights – Friends
Wherever Friends ranks amongst our end of year best ofs, it won’t be high enough. Music was great in 2016 but it’s difficult to find a better discovery than Francis And The Lights. This guy has been making music under this alias since ‘13 but Friends was his moment, along with his incredible 2016 record Farewell, Starlite!. Setting the record straight, the track does indeed feature not just Bon Iver but also Kanye West but despite the giant guests, the tune is so contained and heartwarming that no body stands taller than the other. Friends is accompanied by one of the year’s best video clips, and it had people talking not just for its A+ dance moves by both Francis and Justin Vernon but because many people were puzzled by Kanye and exactly his contribution to the song was (listed as a feature). Head to 1 minute 25 seconds in and you will notice an extra set of vocals layered, all for about 2 seconds that is indeed the voice of Kanye West. Finally, we’ve solved that little 2016 wonder. – Harrison Kefford
Dawn – Not Above That
Electronic music holds so much anxiety and tension but so often that feeling is harboured to lead towards a huge drop and once it’s released its forgotten about. DAWN’s Not Above That lives for the tension. Sure the Machinedrum-produced drop is mighty and euphoric but that’s not what Not Above That is about. It’s a desperate song that captures that relentless feeling of loneliness that can haunt you in the early hours of the morning, in the club or in the bedroom. “I’m countin’ on this fuck, To hold me, love,” she sings in a totally dependent state before letting her mind wander to the possibilities, “If we’re birds, we’ll fly together.” That’s when the euphoria kicks in, but it’s only momentary. After all, the strobing lights of the dance floor can only mask reality for so long. – Sam Murphy
Kanye West – Ultralight Beam
As you do with most things Kanye says on Twitter, we all shrugged it off when he said that Pablo would be a gospel album. And yet, with the tweet a mere distant memory in the back of our minds, he pressed play for the first time on the record at Madison Square Gardens and we heard, “We don’t want know devils in the house,” followed by, “we on an ultralight beam, this is a God dream.” Ultralight Beam is a gospel song. It’s packed with notions of faith and religion but it’s more than that. It’s a song about hope and ambition driven by this imagery of an ultralight beam – something you can’t really describe but you know is illuminated and guiding.
Egotistical, self-centred, psychotic – Kanye’s been treated to labels like this all year and yet he gives the best moments of the best song on his album to Kelly Price and Chance The Rapper. Kanye is omnipresent on the track though. His friendship is felt is Chance, his passion is felt in Price and when he does appear vocally he simply nudges the track in the right direction. Chance gives his best verse ever on Ultralight Beam. He’s ambitious, charismatic and comedic, even prematurely predicting a Grammy. He’s nominated for Grammys now and has a good chance at snatching the prize. That gives even more power to Ultralight Beam because it’s about everyone realising what they’re capable. “Father this prayers for everyone who feels they’re not good enough,” Kirk Franklin says in the song’s final moments and you can bet that this song made a lot of those people feel good enough. – Sam Murphy
Beyonce – Sorry
The start of Lemonade is devastating and then angry but even though Beyoncé wields a baseball bat in Hold Up, it’s Sorry where she really takes control of things. She’s cocky, mirroring the same egotistical nature that would lead a man to cheat in the first place. “Middle fingers up,” she sings giving us the first true fuck you moment of an album that’s full of them. She colours a beat that barely wavers from the monotonous bringing out the rapper inside of her and crafting a club anthem out of heartache. Sorry would be nothing though without its final minute – the moment where the cockiness turns to sadness over a desolate skype tone. “Me and my baby gonna be alright, we’re gonna live a good life,” she sings with vivid imagery before laying down the best lyric of 2016, “you better call Becky with the good hair.” In the eyes of many she may be a perfect human being but even she’s got to compete with someone simply with, “good hair”. – Sam Murphy
Frank Ocean – Nights
Frank Ocean stripped most of Blonde of beats. Ivy, Solo, Seigfried, many of the record’s highlights, are completely bereft of drums. Nights is one of the few moments where he chooses to use them and instead of the ethereal nature of songs like Solo, we plunge into darkness. The beats aren’t to give us something to dance to, they’re used to haunt. “I’m fuckin’, no I’m fucked up,” he sings depicting a nightime robbery but just after he sings, “no sleep in my body,” the ethereal creeps back in – “new beginnings”. Every moment on Nights is made more effective by what precedes it. His sequencing is masterful and while there’s barely any traceable structure to the song, he crafts these beautiful melodies to latch too. As much as you crave a beat on Blonde, when it drops out in the dying seconds of Nights, that’s when the beauty shines through. As the voices swell, we’re plunged into momentary bliss before it’s morning again. We’re back to the harsh reality that, “Every night fucks every day up.” – Sam Murphy
Rihanna – Work
People crave huge Rihanna singles like they do carbs. We expect a monstrous banger in November of every year and for a good five years that’s exactly what we got from Rihanna. In those five years we had EDM soarer Only Girl (In The World), the greatest hands-in-the-air moment of all time We Found Love and RiRi’s most anthemic ballad Diamonds. It was almost like our bodies had been set to expect a huge first single at the same time every year but 2013 came and went and she gave us nothing. Then 2014 and 2015 – nothing. In 2016, she was ready to drop that album. The album that had been affectionately been referred to by frustrated fans as R8.
Work came the day before the album. It was the first time we’d heard Drake and RiRi together since 2011’s Take Care. While their chemistry was undeniable, this wasn’t the first single of a Rihanna album that we’d become accustomed to. Instead it was laid-back and gradual with a nonsensical chorus that gave every doubter a superficial and frustrating argument for why pop lyrics mean nothing. Much like the first listen of ANTI, it was a disappointing first impression.
First impressions are often wrong. Work flourished more slowly than any hit this year and gradually made its way, unexpectedly, to the top of the charts as it revealed itself. A nonsensical RiRi single was suddenly the most lyrically heartbreaking. This isn’t a party track, it’s a song about loneliness and that’s delivered with one of the most beautifully vivid lines of the year, “nobody text me in a crisis.”
In public, Rihanna is one of the most comfortable popstars around. She wears coats falling halfway down her back and never attracts the same commotion that other popstars seem to with fans. And yet, previous singles have been shined within an inch of their life. On Work, she embraces her Caribbean roots and that laid-back attitude she promotes in public. She slides through the verses with ease and yet still makes an impact – “I believed all of ya dreams, adoration”.
When Drake comes knocking he declares, “I need you.” The chemistry flares once again and it feels like they’re ready to do it all over again. But, just as this song demands consecutive, repeat listens, the lyrics of the song are cyclical. “We just need a face to face, You can pick the time and the place,” Drake raps in the dying moments of the song and yet we can only assume the next chapter is Rihanna singing, “I believed all of ya dreams, adoration.” Maybe despite all the work, it’s never going to work.
Work was a layered, slow-revealing masterpiece that only grew in appeal as Drake and Rihanna’s relationship played out over the year. – Sam Murphy
The list doesn’t end here. We’ve put our top 100 songs into a Spotify playlist, ranked, in order. It’s actually 98 songs because a certain album named after a refreshing drink isn’t on the platform.