Let me tell you, the narrowing-down process for this list was a bloodbath. It probably took me a good four hours to get it down to these nineteen songs, but I’m pretty happy with what I have. It’s comprised almost entirely of black men, but I attribute that to pure coincidence, because trust me, I had a ton of music to work with. Anyway, here’s some honorable mentions.
Wow – Beck
You can always count on Beck to go in a new direction. After his slow, hypnotic Morning Phase record, he threw listeners for a loop with “Dreams,” the summery pop goldmine that was ultimately one of the better songs to come out in 2015. Now, he’s back with “Wow,” a unique mix of trap drums and siren-like flutes. It’s maybe not as good as “Dreams,” but it’s still a fun song.
Frankie Sinatra – Avalanches feat. Danny Brown and MF Doom
Turns out MF Doom is still alive, so that’s nice. This was the first single off the Avalanches’ just-released second album Wildflowers, and it’s pretty great. It’s really catchy, the verses are pretty good, and it has a really unique sound. The sound quality is kinda weird, though. It definitely complements the old-timey circus feel the song has, but the beat drowns out the vocals a lot and it doesn’t quite work.
Tic Tac Pack – Rich Iyala
I can only find two songs by Rich Iyala, and I have no idea who he is, but this is just a solid song. The production, the bars, the vocals, everything is just really unique. I don’t know if I’ll ever hear from him again, but I like it.
No Limit – Usher feat. Young Thug
Both of Usher’s singles this month were pretty good, but I ultimately leaned towards this one, on account of the surprisingly fruitful pairing of him and Young Thug. The song itself is bizarre conceptually: an R&B sex track about… Master P? Still, it’s a really catchy song, and Young Thug’s verse is great.
Satan Pulls the Strings – The Avett Brothers
Believe it or not, I like the Avett Brothers. They’re not exactly on-brand for me, but they’re bringing something unique to the country scene. They’re just a little more cutting-edge than your typical country act. This song, for example, features a surprising amount of synth and lyrics that many YouTube commenters consider satanic. Check it out some time.
Night Riders – Major Lazer feat. Travis Scott, Pusha T, 2 Chainz, and Mad Cobra
This song is just really epic. Over masterful Major Lazer production, Mad Cobra joins three members of the G.O.O.D. Music family as they discuss driving cars and setting fires. Travis’ work on the hook is catchy as fuck, and all three rappers deliver excellent verses.
Are We Ready? (Wreck) – Two Door Cinema Club
I was first introduced to Two Door Cinema Club through MTV a couple years ago. I used to watch their early-morning music video blocks from time to time, and I actually discovered quite a few groups that way. I’m stalling because I don’t have all that much to say about this song. It’s catchy. I like it. You should listen to it.
Back to the Sun – Wale
This tragically short new track is a return-to-form of sorts for Wale, who released a few middling pop tracks in the past couple months, but is now reassuring his fans that the dude can still rap his ass off. It also serves as an introduction to the style and tone of his latest mixtape Summer on Sunset, released later the same day. It’s a dope track, but once again, a little short.
Free Love – Vic Mensa feat. Le1f, Halsey, Lil B, and Malik Yusef
After pronouncing that he would like to end homophobia in hip hop, Vic released this impassioned call for equal rights, featuring queer artists Le1f and Halsey as well as noted activists Lil B and Malik Yusef. It’s pretty clumsy in its execution, but it definitely has some very powerful moments, and if they can get more artists involved, this could be the start of something great.
Okay, now here’s the actual list.
10. SUCKER FOR PAIN – Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, and Imagine Dragons feat. Logic, Ty Dolla $ign, and X Ambassadors
In anticipation of next month’s release of the highly-anticipated DC Comics film Suicide Squad, Atlantic Records treated us to this track off the official soundtrack: “Sucker for Pain,” a veritable rogues gallery of ubiquitous, hit-or-miss hip-hop and rock names. I love the creepy vibe, and I think all the artists do a really good job keeping in line with the themes and making the song equal parts fun and unsettling, which should complement the movie really well. But the real star of the show, for me at least, is Lil Wayne, who on top of an already impressive year delivers one of the best verses of his I’ve ever heard.
9. SUMMER – Innanet James
Innanet James is another artist that I know next to nothing about, but he seems like a really fun guy. “Summer” is a perfect summer jam: catchy, fun, and a little nonsensical. It gets stuck in your head lightning fast, and the lyrics aren’t bad, either. The kid could be going places.
8. I GOT YOU – Shaggy feat. Jovi Rockwell
That’s right, reggae legend Shaggy is back with a new James Brown-inspired track featuring relative newcomer Jovi Rockwell. The two have excellent chemistry, trading sly romantic verses back and forth eight times on the three-minute song. It’s simply a ridiculously fun song.
7. CHIEF DON’T RUN – Jidenna
Jidenna hits the Ye button on this experimental new song, incorporating elements of gospel, techno, tribal chants, and hip hop to create an all-around great experience that, while totally different from anything we’ve heard from Jidenna before, still fits comfortably into his signature swagger. When’s this guy gonna release an album already?
6. THERE’S ALOT GOING ON – Vic Mensa
True to its title, Vic Mensa enumerates the many things “going on” on this gut-wrenching highlight from his recent mixtape of the same name. This is probably the most inspirational song I’ve heard all year. Vic talks about his grapples with addiction, labels fighting over him, and all the other ups and downs his career has taken over the past two years. Finally, he finds himself having overcome everything, with a brand new lease on life, ready to drop his forthcoming debut album Traffic.
5. MISTAKEN – Marian Hill feat. Steve Davit
Here’s yet another artist I just discovered this month: Marian Hill, a songwriting duo who’s already making waves with their unique, minimalist pop sound. “Mistaken” is off their recent debut album ACT ONE, and it’s pretty phenomenal. The lyrics are great, it’s pretty catchy, and the horns are exquisite. I’m lucky I found this one.
4. GAIMS – Kamau
It’s Kamau again! From last month! Honestly though, this song and “Jambo” couldn’t be more different. This is pretty much just a playfully bitter feel-good pop jam. And sometimes, that’s enough. It’s an insanely catchy song, and I love how the beat is built on human voices and claps. If you got enough people, you could recreate this song pretty much perfectly without any instruments or machines. That’s pretty cool.
3. WRIGGLE – clipping.
It looks like clipping.’s back all of a sudden. Tony-winning actor Daveed Diggs’ experimental hip hop collective clipping. has been a favorite of mine for some time. The guy’s a phenomenal rapper, and even though this song isn’t really “about” much, per se, it’s still an excellent example of his writing prowess and stamina on the mic. Clipping.’s beats can be very hit-or-miss, but this one works really well.
2. CHAMPIONS – Kanye West, Travis Scott, Quavo, Desiigner, Gucci Mane, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, and Yo Gotti
This was the track Kanye used to announce the upcoming G.O.O.D. Music collaborative album Cruel Winter. The beat is phenomenal, and everyone (except maybe Yo Gotti) delivers in their own way. 2 Chainz gives one of his best verses ever, Gucci’s throws down two verses, the second of which is the best we’ve heard from him since he got out of prison earlier this month, and Travis Scott and Desiigner go together like peanut butter and slightly creamier peanut butter on the chorus (sorry, Desiigner).
1. SOMEBODY (B) – Jay IDK
Honestly? I really wasn’t expecting this to wind up so high on the list. It just sort of sneaks up on you; with every listen you start to appreciate it more. It’s catchy, poignant, immaculately produced, pretty well-written, meaningful without being preachy, and while it does feel a little reminiscent of Chance and Kendrick, Jay’s unique voice and lyrical style lets it stand on its own. I honestly have no complaints about this song. It’s flawless.