Reviews for Normal People

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Top Twenty Best Hit Songs of 2016 — December 29, 2016

Top Twenty Best Hit Songs of 2016

Overall, I think this was sort of a mediocre year for pop. Maybe we were a bit spoiled by 2015, but I think the real key issue is that we’re entering an experimental era for the genre. You listen to the new albums by Rihanna and Beyonce and Drake and it feels like stuff that would have been considered avant-garde not too long ago. But once everyone’s experimenting, the problem arises of people not knowing what to do with their ideas. Plenty of songs this year, like “Pillowtalk” or “Work,” wound up sounding half-baked because they utilize unfamiliar elements and are tracks designed for an album-oriented approach that were kind of forced to be singles. Still, there was plenty of good music to go around. Here’s my top 20. Note that “hit” refers to anything that made it into the top 40 at any point this year, though I mostly avoided tracks that made it there for other reasons, like a person’s death (“Lazarus”) or being on a popular album (“Reminder”). Alright, let’s kick it.

20) ALL IN MY HEAD (FLEX) – Fifth Harmony feat. Fetty Wap

“All in My Head” is weird because there’s a lot of reasons it should be terrible. The writing isn’t great. It’s gratingly un-catchy. An already-washed-up Fetty Wap doesn’t offer much.  But at the end of the day, it’s just a fun song. I think my main problem with “Work from Home,” Fifth Harmony’s other hit this year, is that it just wasn’t enjoyable. This song is a good time, and that’s all it needs to be.

19) OUI – Jeremih

As much as I love Jeremih’s miscellaneous mouth noises, what really makes this song is its thesis: “There’s no oui without u and i.” The nuanced goofiness of that line is as clear a representation of what this song’s about as I could ever come up with.

18) CAROLINE – Aminé

“Caroline” is like if J. Cole made a D.R.A.M. song. The fact that this song became a hit is a testament to the benefits of the combined influence of and Billboard’s inclusion of streams in its charts. It’s goofy, it’s all kinds of weird, and unlike so many rappers today focused on image above all, Aminé isn’t afraid to portray himself as a cartoonish douchebag. It’s a little repetitive, but the beat is interesting enough to make up for it.

17) CONFIDENT – Demi Lovato

This song was more polarizing than I expected it to be. Personally, I think it’s awesome. It might even be my favorite Demi Lovato song, and that’s saying only a little bit. Yeah, it’s cheesy and over-the-top and parts of it sound like they were meant to be performed by a high school marching band, but it’s like a good action movie. It’s full of pulse-pounding in-your-face moments, but it knows when to calm down and leave a little levity. It’s like if a Mission: Impossible movie was a pop song. Mission: Impopsicle.

16) LET ME LOVE YOU – DJ Snake feat. Justin Bieber

Could you imagine being told in 2013 that DJ Snake and Justin Bieber would make a song together, and that it would be really good? “Let Me Love You” is DJ Snake’s latest foray into pop, although it may not be fair to call it a foray since he’s been producing Pitbull and Lady Gaga songs since 2009. This year, Snake and Major Lazer, who collaborated on “Lean On,” one of the best songs of 2015, split up to each make practically-identical songs with Justin Bieber. I gave the edge to this one, because I like the lyrics more and it’s substantially more memorable than “Cold Water,” although “Let Me Love You” has to contend with about a dozen other “let me love you” songs this year. Whatever, I’m rambling. It’s a good track.

15) NO LIMIT – Usher feat. Young Thug

Who’da thought Usher and Young Thug would jell so well together? I mean, there are brief moments on this song where you can’t tell one from the other. From what I gather, this is a song about having sex… with Master P? To Master P? While Master P watches? I don’t know. It’s full of really clever dual references to No Limit Records and sweet, sweet lovemaking, which I highly commend Usher for. Young Thug delivers one of his best verses of the year, his most stellar year to date. No one can tell me the line “MARTA outsmart the Rari-Rari / Fill the session with Bacardi Barbies” is anything other than brilliant.

14) GOLD – Kiiara

This song, admittedly, is probably more interesting than it is good. But goddamn, is it interesting. It combines the minimalist electropop sound of Marian Hill with that voice thing. You know the one. Incorporating segmented, indecipherable bits of the lyrics into the beat creates a really interesting, sort of creepy atmosphere. Above all else, this song is about atmosphere. I’ve never been able to pay attention to the lyrics, but I like the vibes.

13) ALL TIME LOW – Jon Bellion

This is an average dance pop “missing you” ballad with all the “average” taken out. It’s all run-of-the-mill elements, but done spectacularly. The lyrics are unique, rap-like, candid, vivid. The beat is intricate, flavorful, integral. The drop can also be the emotional climax of the song. Admittedly, it’s actually one of the weaker spots on Bellion’s new album, but that album’s great, so whatever. It’s cheesy and made of mainly familiar elements, but the way they come together is spectacular.

12) PURPLE LAMBORGHINI – Skrillex and Rick Ross

“Purple Lamborghini” is one of the best beats Skrillex has ever made. It’s brassy, distorted, in your face, irresistible. It manifest itself in brassy yellows, bright reds, broad silvers. And Rick Ross 100% sells it. He’s more enthusiastic about Suicide Squad than anyone else involved in the movie’s production. Lyrically, Ross flounders at times, but Skrillex’s insane production always has his back.

11) CLOSE – Nick Jonas feat. Tove Lo

Mewling synths punctuate this high-concept dark-electropop number by the best in the best high-concept dark-electropop singers in the biz, Tove Lo and Nick Jonas. The two work off of each other perfectly, and really sell the song’s admittedly confusing message. This song is so fucking weird.

10) NEEDED ME – Rihanna

ANTI is the best Rihanna album. By a long shot. And “Needed Me” is honestly a highlight. It’s got a great, defiant swagger about it. I’m tempted to say it’s the best beat DJ Mustard has ever made. It’s simple, yet it conveys so much. Everything from the lyrics to the vocals to the atmosphere is just about pitch perfect. And that’s just #10.

9) LOVE YOURSELF – Justin Bieber

“Love Yourself” is the most charming “fuck you” song on the radio in years. It sounds grown, which is something I never thought I’d say about a Justin Bieber song, especially one where the chorus is literally saying “go fuck yourself.” The trumpets breakdown at the end is really sweet. It’s as sincere a Justin Bieber song as I’ve ever heard. I don’t know, man. It’s a very simplistic song, I feel like it’s best left in few words.


“Cake by the Ocean” was probably the most fun song on the radio this year. Joe Jonas’ funk-pop collective DNCE released this song just days after officially forming in September 2015. The jury’s still hung on whether or not their unabashedly ridiculous, funky style works in a longer form, but it definitely does wonders for this song. They’ve got the energy and craftsmanship of ’00s Maroon 5 with the irresistible catchiness and swaggery funk vibes of ’10s Maroon 5. You could even call them this generation’s Duran Duran. Whoever they are, this is their message: “Ah-ya-ya-ya-ya-ah, keep on hoping / We’ll eat cake by the ocean.” Just what we needed.

7) TIIMMY TURNER – Desiigner

And now for something completely different. “Tiimmy Turner” isn’t just a song; it’s a journey. From compelling XXL Freshman freestyle to Kanye West remix, it proved once and for all that Desiigner had more to offer than an above-average Future song. It’s a twisted tale of hood redemption, a fascinating new direction for an artist still finding his path, and an insanely catchy trap anthem. And it’s named after a goddamn cartoon character. This year, Kanye chronicled filth, devastation, retribution, and redemption over the course of a 20-song album. Desiigner did it in four minutes.

6) DANGEROUS WOMAN – Ariana Grande

Geopolitically speaking, this was a rough year, but if anyone had a great year, it was Ariana Grande. Her album Dangerous Woman received critical acclaim and spawned three huge hits. At the center of it all, we have the album’s title track: “Dangerous Woman.” It’s hard-hitting, empowering, and above all else, different. It stands out in Ariana’s discography, in the Billboard charts, and in the pop music world in general, with it’s slow-building electrosoul vibes.

5) ONE DANCE – Drake feat. Wizkid and Kyla

It’s sort of insane that the practically undisputed song of the summer 2016 doesn’t have a music video. But “One Dance” is almost a video in and of itself. Its atmosphere is palpable,  vividly painting its hazy dancehall setting with Kyla and Wizkid samples swimming in and out of the understated production. VIEWS isn’t a perfect album, or even really a good album, but this song sort of makes the whole thing worthwhile. Producer 40’s experimentation shines through and works in tandem with Drake’s subdued persona.

4) BLACK BEATLES – Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane

The genius of “Black Beatles” is in its defiance. It doesn’t matter if Rae Sremmurd are really the black Beatles. It’s about the brazen disregard for the Beatles. Looking at cultural icons like the Beatles and turning them into props for their fun little pop rap track is as rock and roll as it gets. Mike WiLL Made-It does an incredible job with the beat, and Gucci Mane fits the track well, even if he doesn’t add much to it. Its claim to being a genuine hit song is dubious, since it seems to have more to do with the Mannequin Challenge than people actually listening to it, but it’s been at #1 for weeks now, so at some point you’ve just got to stop worrying and accept the black Beatles.

3) FATHER STRETCH MY HANDS PT. 1 – Kanye West feat. Kid Cudi

Sure, you don’t really get the full “Father Stretch My Hands” experience just by listening to part 1. But truth be told, you don’t really get the full experience unless you also listen to “Ultralight Beam” before and “Famous” after. Still, even stripping away the full Pablo experience, even just taking this as two minutes of fleeting bliss, it still works. Kanye, Rick Rubin, and Metro Boomin do an incredible job with the production. I love the rattling drum line. I love the angelic choir segueing between the verse and the hook. AND THAT DROP! I don’t need to talk about the drop because it’s so perfect it’s become a meme unto itself, but holy shit. Say what you will about the verse (which I personally think is fine), but this song is an experience.

2) I FEEL IT COMING – The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk

This song is perfect. The lyrics are great. The production is incredible. The Weeknd and Daft Punk are both in rare form. The song’s placement as the last song on the Weeknd’s Starboy album is perfection: it encapsulates his artistic growth and illuminates the shift in sound throughout the album, while also shedding the artist’s brooding persona for a song that’s, above all else, truly fun. The title “I Feel It Coming” is also apt, as it finds itself at the end of the album and draws its elements from the sounds of the ’70s, while also portending and offering a bright future. George Michael is, tragically, dead, but if anyone can carry his torch, it’s the Weeknd and Daft Punk.

1) FREEDOM – Beyonce feat. Kendrick Lamar

LEMONADE starts out plain as day. Beyonce’s been cheated on. She’s upset. She’s emotional. She’s angry. She’s happy. But as the album goes on, she starts to clue you in on the idea that there’s more going on here than just relationship drama. This all comes to a head on “Freedom,” where we come to realize that this album isn’t necessarily about Beyonce, but meant to inspire black women the world over. True, the notion of “freedom” can be applied to relationship drama, but something about Bey portraying herself as an unstoppable force of nature and lines like “I break chains all by myself / Won’t let my freedom rot in hell / Hey! Imma keep running ’cause a winner don’t quit on themselves,” makes you think otherwise. By the time Kendrick’s showstopping verse comes around, there’s no question. “Seven misleading statements ’bout my persona / Six headlights waving in my direction / Five-O asking me what’s in my possession.” The production on this song is incredible. The drums, the southern rock organs, the background vocals, every last second of it. It’s inspiring, powerful, uplifting, extremely well-written, and one of the most important moments on one of the best albums of the decade.

Top Ten Worst Hit Songs of 2016 — December 28, 2016

Top Ten Worst Hit Songs of 2016

You may have noticed that there’s a lot less negativity on this blog than there used to be. That mostly has to do with me as a person, but believe it or not, there are still things I don’t like. Here are just ten of the hit songs from the past year that I thought were just all kinds of bad. In previous years, “hit” has referred to any song that made it onto the Billboard Year-End Hot 100, or any song that made it into the top 10 at any point in that year. This year, I’ve loosened it a bit to include any song that made it into the top 40 on the Hot 100 at any point in 2016. It didn’t change much. Let’s kick it.

10) ALL WE KNOW – The Chainsmokers feat. Phoebe Ryan

This was a big year for the Chainsmokers. They notched four top 20 hits, including their first #1 hit, “Closer” featuring Halsey. So, how did they follow up on their monumental, chart-topping song of the summer? Make it again! It’s foolproof! What better way to capitalize on a hit song than by making your next single jarringly similar? The fans love it! Truth be told, this song is pretty solid on its own, but in the context of having so much of the same structure, instrumentation, tune, lyrics, and fucking sentence structure as their insanely successful previous song, it feels like a lazy cash-in at best.

9) BACK TO SLEEP – Chris Brown

The first version of this song I heard was the remix, with Zayn and Usher. I like Zayn, I like Usher, and I thought that song was catchy and captured a good balance of goofy and smooth. It turns out, when you take out the two likable, talented artists, what you’re left with kinda sucks. It’s far from Chris Brown’s worst, but it doesn’t set itself apart from his other pop slow jams except for its unsettling mantra of “Let me fuck you back to sleep.” I feel like Chris Brown is too slimy to carry any type of sex song on his own.

8) HANDS TO MYSELF – Selena Gomez

On “Hands to Myself,” Selena Gomez combines her “Good for You” wispy sex kitten vocals with her “Same Old Love” simple-yet-bombastic pop production to create a song that just truly, fundamentally, does not work. It’s not sexy, it’s not fun, it’s not catchy, it’s not interesting. There are points where it seems like both Selena and producers Mattman & Robin are really trying, but it’s just a lot of potential energy that never builds to anything.

7) ME, MYSELF & I – G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha / BAD THINGS – Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello (TIE)

Initially, I was ready to include both of these songs on the list, but at the last minute I realized that they’re the same. Two flaccid hip-hop slow jams that feature up-and-coming pop songstresses just not really selling it at all on the chorus. Of course, both songs have their strengths and weaknesses. Bebe Rexha is a better singer than Camila Cabello, but MGK is a marginally better rapper than G-Eazy. “Me, Myself & I” is a bit catchier, “Bad Things” is a bit better-written. Either way, they’re both super derivative and don’t bring anything new to the table, although Camila’s Britney Spears impression is admirable.

6) TREAT YOU BETTER – Shawn Mendes

In another case of pop deja vu, Shawn Mendes followed up his first big hit, “Stitches,” with a song that you would swear was “Stitches” on the first listen. But no, it’s “Treat You Better,” a song about how Shawn’s ex-girl is seeing a new man but Shawn knows, deep down, she’s still into him. Yeah, not so romantic when you put it that way. It’s creepy, and the fact that it’s played so sympathetically, like he’s somehow being burdened, is super weird. Still, the way he shrieks “BETTADENEEKYEN” at the end of the chorus is hilarious.

5) JUJU ON THAT BEAT (TZ ANTHEM) – Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall

This song’s harmless and all in good fun, but oh god is it bad. From the hook alone, you get frantically commanded to do dances you’re never told how to do, then told to “do your dance” as if you’re supposed to have one prepared, and Zay tops it all off by calling your dad ugly. I wasn’t expecting much from the verses, but Zayion’s stubborn refusal to rhyme really got to me. To give you an idea of it, he finishes off the verse with this couplet:

I mean, I like your style

I’m on a whole ‘nother level

If you compared me and you

There wouldn’t be no comparison

And it’s not like he’s doing any vocal contortions to try and make it rhyme. He’s just saying shit. And according to Genius, he wrote this verse down. It’s inexcusable. This song is three minutes and Zayion couldn’t bother to offer the bare minimum.

4) 7 YEARS – Lukas Graham

I’ll bet Lukas Graham thinks he’s really interesting. Interesting enough to have a band with two other people in it and have it just be called “Lukas Graham.” Interesting enough to name two consecutive albums by that band “Lukas Graham.” Interesting enough to make a goddamn terrible stuff chronicling his entire life in the form of people telling him to get a life. To be fair, he had a pretty interesting life. He didn’t have any friends until he was 7, then by the time he was eleven he was drinking bourbon and smoking Herb. Not herb, Herb, with a pronounced H. Poor Herb. Unfortunately, he wasn’t rich when he was eleven, so he had to resort to extreme measures. This is when his father told his eleven-year-old son to find a wife ASAP. He started writing songs, but not for the fame, because being adored by the masses is boooooring. No, he knows that you don’t know his story just by him telling you his story in excruciating detail. However, he doesn’t believe in failure, and he likes putting samples of fans screaming his name into his songs about how he doesn’t like being famous. Now, he’s almost 30 and almost 60, at the same time! What an interesting guy. Band. Album.

3) ME TOO – Meghan Trainor

This song is a little weird, actually. It’s not poorly-constructed. It flows nicely and has moments where things come together really well. It’s just that all the base elements of it suck. The beat is trash. It’s not nearly as catchy or funny as it makes itself out to be. The vocals are half-overzealous and half-phoned-in. It’s about four different songs at once, and they’re all trash. At least Meghan Trainor knows how to handle her bad songs.

2) DON’T WANNA KNOW – Maroon 5 feat. Kendrick Lamar

A lot of elements come together to create this piece of work. We’ve got a shitty Diplo wannabe milquetoast dancehall-lite beat. We’ve got the most asinine, repetitive nonsense lyrics we’ve ever seen from Maroon 5. They’re not even fun nonsense, they’re just tasteless pop buzzwords with no connectivity. We’ve got Adam Levine sounding like he’s asleep in the studio, and the rest of the band presumed dead. We’ve got the worst Kendrick Lamar verse of all time. Truly, it’s a masterpiece of garbage. What could be worse than this? I’ll tell you what.

1) HEATHENS – twenty one pilots

Look, I like twenty one pilots. You guys know I like twenty one pilots. You can find me talking about how I like twenty one pilots on this very blog. But try and remove “Heathens” from context, if you can. Take away the movie. Take away the band. Take away the preconceived notions. Can you find one thing about this song that’s the slightest bit redeemable? Any particularly interesting, clever, or worthwhile lyric? Any moment that leads into the next moment well? Any moment where you can really get lost in the music?

Here’s the thing. I’m kind of in the same boat as you. When I first heard this song, I thought it was okay. When I started to realize it wasn’t all that good, I didn’t think it’d be making my worst list. When I decided to add it to the worst list, I had no idea it would be #1. But what I’ve come to realize is that this song is an unimaginable wasteland of cold, wet garbage. The beat is boring. That high-pitched voice that follows Tyler Joseph around like a scab on his back is irritating. It doesn’t make any sense. The writing is atrocious. “You’ll never know the freak show sitting next to you / You’ll have some weird people sitting next to you?” How the fuck did we fall for this? How did this song get to #2 on the Hot 100? How did this song get nominated for three Grammys? I honestly think it wasn’t finished. The song leaked in early June and I think it wasn’t done yet, but the fans responded well to it so Atlantic just released it as is. There’s no way this is what they had in mind. There’s no way this was their grand vision for this song. There’s no way twenty one pilots thought this song was good enough to be released to the public, to be featured prominently in a blockbuster film, to be submitted for consideration by the Recording Academy.

Anyway, that’s enough negativity for a while. I’ll have the best hit songs of the year list up real quick, and everything else will come in the next couple weeks.

Review: Darth Vader Made Money Off the Star War — December 25, 2016

Review: Darth Vader Made Money Off the Star War

Not long ago, MatPat from Game Theory did a video on how the main characters in Rogue One would become the Knights of Ren. It’s an interesting theory, and I’m inclined to believe that at some point in the conceptualization of Rogue One, that’s what they were going for. But at one point in the video, MatPat says something along the lines of “Either that, or they all die. But Disney wouldn’t do that.” Well, spoilers ahead.

Disney did that. I’m sorry to get into spoiler territory so early on in the review,  but it really made the movie for me. That last hour of the movie, holy shit. It’s intense and emotional and action-packed and it all makes so much sense. The idea that Leia had a trail of dozens of dead bodies behind her when he gave the blueprints to R2D2 at the start of Episode IV is so interesting. As wacky as it sounds, this is the first Star Wars movie that really feels like a war movie.

But even though it’s gut-wrenching, it’s not without its levity. After all, it wouldn’t be a good Star Wars movie without any fun. The banter among the Rogue One crew when they’re staking out the Imperial research center on Eadu is pretty lame, but K2SO has some really funny lines, and the best humor in the film comes at the oddest times. When the team is being kidnapped and taken to Forest Whitaker, a bag is put over everyone’s heads, including Donnie Yen, who responds “Are you kidding me? I’m blind!” Also, this might be just me, but there’s a scene with Darth Vader and Krennic on a bridge that I thought was absolutely hilarious. There’s also a really good moment of levity between Forest Whitaker and Jyn. The two have known each other since Jyn was a little kid, and that past really comes through in how they talk to each other.

Is it perfect? No, not really. It fails to give an adequate reason for why Darth Vader has to be there. I guess he speaks on behalf of the Emperor, but he doesn’t really do much in the way of carrying things out. When he meets with Krennic, the two only discuss things that have already been laid out, and his only seemingly independent action is ordering the killing of all the Death Star engineers, which could just as easily have been done by Tarkin. Of course, they had to put him in the movie, because he has to be on the Death Star, right in the middle of the action, at the very end of the movie, and they had to sort of introduce him. But it also could have been cool if he was only talked about and didn’t actually show up until that final action scene where he mows down a corridor full of rebels.

Also, Diego Luna’s character is just… really boring. He’s morally ambiguous but you always know what he’s gonna do because he’s emphatically a rebel, and the only time it’s the slightest bit interesting is at the very beginning where he kills three people with little reason and never deals with any repercussions for it. Jyn Erso doesn’t have any political leanings, which is a kind of character we haven’t seen in the Star Wars universe before, so her ambiguity is a lot more fun to watch than Luna’s. We still know what she’s gonna do, but we’re deeply familiar with her reasoning behind it as well. Donnie Yen’s character is also really interesting because he’s Force-sensitive, but neither Jedi nor Sith. This opens up a lot of new possibilities in the Star Wars universe, especially with regards to Rey’s origins. The rest of the Rogue One team just doesn’t have enough character, but it’s especially jarring with regards to Luna, who is supposed to be one of the leads, I think?

Regardless, I’ll gladly give Rogue One: A Star Wars Story an A-. It’s fun and interesting and kind of beautiful, with great performances, cinematography, action, and pacing (most of the time). It’s about as cohesive a Star Wars movie as we’ve ever seen. Does that mean it’ll make my Best Movies of 2016 list? You’ll find out soon enough.

20 Best Songs of the Month (November 2016) — December 7, 2016

20 Best Songs of the Month (November 2016)

Well, this was an interesting month. It was one of those months that seemed to go by super fast, but it feels odd to say that Donald Trump was elected president just a month ago. Then again, it may just still feel odd to say Donald Trump was elected president. Regardless, there was a fair amount of good music, although it definitely slowed down from the immense outpouring of the previous couple months. I still found myself with a list of 20, so let’s get down to business. Recall that the parameters for these lists is that the songs need to have been released outside of an album in the month. It’s arbitrary and sort of ridiculous, and it makes work harder for me on my year-end lists, but whatever.

20) THE PUNISHER – Lucius

We kick off the list with a solid song that I don’t have all that much to say about. It’s a neat little pop/punk track by the fairly well-regarded and somewhat underground indie pop band Lucius, whose gimmick involves two lead vocalists who dress the same and stare intensely into each other’s eyes. Anyway, this song’s pretty cool. It’s memorable, and I like the production, with the repetitive choir and the crunchy guitars.

19) CITY OF STARS – Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

“City of Stars” is a single off the soundtrack for the musical film La La Land, which hits theaters this Friday. I haven’t seen it yet, but based on the trailers and reviews, the song seems like an accurate representation of the film. It revels in simplicity, relying on the intense chemistry of its two stars over the grandiosity that most movie musicals display. I was already excited to see the movie, and this doesn’t do much to build on that, but it’s a palpably personal song and it couldn’t go ignored.

18) 2AM – Rapsody feat. Ab-Soul

Ab-Soul is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, and Rapsody is a whole lot better, so when they come together for a track, you know there’s magic in the air. Perhaps the best female rapper in a game full of phenomenal women, Rapsody’s straightforward delivery serves the song’s 2:00 AM setting really well. Lyrically, both artists bring their A game as per usual, but after trading off with Soulo, Rap takes the song back and spends the entire back half of it playing around with whatever beats her mentor 9th Wonder can throw at her. It’s a display of versatility that proves she’s one of the best in the game.

17) HOLD BACK YOUR LOVE – White Lies

English post-punk group White Lies step out of their comfort zone a bit with their latest track, “Hold Back Your Love,” which seems to draw a lot of influence from new wave. I’m aware that new wave and post-punk are considered to be literally the same by many knowledgeable people, but my point is that this feels more Duran Duran than Joy Division. Above all else, it reminds me of “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” which isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s also got great production, and lead singer Harry McVeigh really puts a lot of power into his performance.

16) RIOT – Trapo feat. Saba

Wisconsin rapper Trapo, at the young age of 18, has been stirring up buzz for a little over a year now, and with good reason. He has a very passionate voice, and even when he doesn’t have a lot to say, he uses that voice and his bouncing-off-the-walls lyricism to leave an impression. On this song in particular, he and Saba bring the idea of metaphorically killing your enemies to an entirely new level.

15) KISSES BACK – Matthew Koma

Look, if you think this song is terrible, I don’t blame you. It’s repetitive, its lyrics could easily be seen as whiny, and it’s not particularly fresh in the world of EDM. But I don’t know, man. Something about the power and the sheer catchiness of the hook gets to me. I also think it’s a fun concept, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I don’t know. I like it.

14) ST. BRICK INTRO – Gucci Mane

This song’s just hilarious. The intro to his forthcoming tape The Return of East Atlanta Santa (his sixth record this year), Gucci Mane continues to win me over with his cute Christmas-themed trap lyrics, his unbridled enthusiasm, and his sometimes-surprising lyrical dexterity. His rendition of “Jingle Bells” is an instant classic.

13) PENTHOUSE FLOOR – John Legend feat. Chance the Rapper

There are sex songs that are meant to be slow and constantly building and intense, and then there are sex songs that are just meant to be fun. John Legend’s sensual vocals aside, this is the latter. The beat work is really neat, the concept is well-executed, the choir’s a nice touch, but it’s really Chance’s verse that puts it over the top. Chance is back in guest verse mode, and this somehow finds a medium between his most bombastic verses and his  goofy-ass addition to Justin Bieber’s “Confident” (“Tattoos, piercings, and she just learned to twerk”). It’s as fun as a sexy song can be.

12) GUNSMOKE – Promnite feat. Denzel Curry, Nell, J.K. the Reaper, and Twelve’len

From what I can tell, this is the first single off a forthcoming album by hip-hop producer Promnite. It starts off with some understated electronic vocals, building into the simple, in-depth chorus by experimental soul artist Twelve’Len. All of a sudden, Denzel Curry and Nell start firing off explosive bars back and forth. They work off of each other really well, but after that first verse they go their separate ways and the song sort of meanders away. Still, what an opening.


“Versace on the Floor” is the other kind of sex song. The second single off his surprisingly-deft third album 24K Magic, it succeeds where Unorthodox Jukebox’s “Gorilla” failed: it’s actually sexy. Needless to say, Bruno does a killer vocal performance. This album does a great job of covering all the nooks and crannies of ’80s R&B, and this song is as Boyz II Men as they come. The slow build-up leads to an immensely gratifying finale. It’s dope.

10) MY SHOT [RISE UP REMIX] – The Roots feat. Joell Ortiz, Busta Rhymes, and Nate Reuss

It’s rare for a remix to improve upon the original, especially when the original’s as strong as “My Shot.” But by god, the Roots found a way. It starts with an almost demonic “Hamilton Mixtape” watermark, and Nate Reuss’ only contribution is some halfhearted woahs at the beginning and end, but everything feels like it has to be there. Black Thought, Ortiz, and Busta each drop an insane verse. I was especially impressed with Busta, though I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t get to say “Don’t this shit make my people wanna rise up?” It gives the original “My Shot” a whole new meaning and rebuilds it from the ground up. Or should I say, from the rise up. No, that doesn’t really work.


Belgian electronic band Soulwax (the music is electronic, the people are real) gifted us with this eight-minute techno opus. I think it somehow ties in with their live show of the same name, but I couldn’t find much on what this song is from or for. Still, maybe it’s best on its own, flexing Soulwax’s ability to make some damn good techno. What’s it about? Is it from something? Does it really matter?

8) TELEVISED – Sylvan LaCue feat. Rayana Jay

Sylvan LaCue’s sort of been bubbling under the surface of hip hop for a bit. He won Jermaine Dupri’s “Survival of the MC’s” competition in 2009, but not much came out of that. His 2014 mixtape Searching Sylvan was critically acclaimed, and now he’s working on a follow-up to his recent album Far From Familiar. On this new track, we see him flex his singing chops, his penchant for storytelling, and his quality lyrics. There’s a great beat change, and I really like how Rayana Jay comes in just as the song’s fading out. Sylvan’s sort of on his J. Cole grind here, and it really works.

7) RESURRECTION – Angel Haze

Agender rapper Angel Haze returns with a fiery in-your-faceness on their new song “Resurrection.” I’ve always been sort of lukewarm on them because of their lack of breathing control and a handful of songs I really didn’t care for, but this is good. The sheer power they put into that “YEEEEEEEEEAH” in the chorus. The bars. The singing. Those Godfather violins. If this is what we’re getting from them on their new album, count me in.

6) WE THE PEOPLE… – A Tribe Called Quest

“We the People…” is one of the standout tracks on A Tribe Called Quest’s phenomenal final album We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg lash out against xenophobic politics, making a few thinly-veiled Trump references while also calling out various other forms of systematic exclusion and oppression. Q-Tip is as angry as he’s ever been, and it’s clear that Phife was bringing his A game despite his increasingly-severe battle with diabetes. Considering the way things have essentially returned to business as usual after the aftermath of Trump’s victory, maybe all we needed was a little Tribe.

5) YOU’RE WELCOME – Dwayne Johnson

Who knew Dwayne Johnson could sing? Who knew Dwayne Johnson could rap? Well, he definitely did prove himself in this cut from Disney’s latest classic Moana. We have the film’s co-composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, to thank for much of this song’s strength, having written the music and lyrics. It is a really well-produced, well-written, and irresistible song, more so than any other Disney song in recent memory. “Let It Go” turned out to have some staying power, but it’s not nearly as strong a track as this is. It’s fun, energetic, and ridiculously petty. I can definitely smell what the Rock is cooking here.

4) I FEEL IT COMING – The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk

Daft Punk accomplish what could be another career milestone with the production on “I Feel It Coming.” The legendary electronic duo produce the first and last songs on the album, and while the title track is really solid, this one sort of blows it out of the water. This is Michael Jackson in his prime. It cements the Weeknd as one of the quintessential pop artists of our time. He uses his voice more effectively on this song than anything else I’ve ever heard from him. This isn’t even the peak. It’s still uphill from here. I feel it coming.


B.Y.R.O.O.C. (brilliant young rapper out of Chicago) Kami de Chukwu makes my list for the second month in a row with this blistering, intensely passionate, immaculately produced new single. Where his last amazing song was an ’80s pop throwback, this new amazing song is straight hip-hop. His lyrics are pristine and full of complex imagery: “Their faces filling up with punctuations.” “Funerals are like interludes to remind us life is just like a musical.” If KAMI keeps this up, he could become a new favorite of mine.

2) MISERABLE AMERICA – Kevin Abstract

“Miserable America” is the cornerstone of Kevin Abstract’s insanely-good new album American Boyfriend, offering a piercing and poignant look into growing up black and queer in America. Kevin conjures images of Kanye West and Young Thug, pointing out how we love artists who break away from gender norms, but only those who are rich and powerful enough to get away with anything. Sad boy rap gloom transitions seamlessly into orchestral bliss and back. His only place of refuge is unbridled apathy, but even that devolves into a crunchy, bass-boosted mess. If you listen to one song on this list, I’d recommend this one.

1) ME AND YOUR MAMA – Childish Gambino

When Donald Glover brought his fans on a psychedelic musical camping trip back in September, we figured some interesting new music was imminent. I don’t think anyone expected this. It starts with the bubbly keys we’ve come to expect from Gambino, with some synths and a really neat choir intro. Suddenly, after two minutes of build-up, that song drops dead, making way for a Yeezus-meets-Black-Keys fit of spectacular passion. Donald has never sounded better. The vocals are incredible. The production is incredible. It immediately sticks out as the best Childish Gambino song, but comparing it to his previous work is like comparing apples to demigods. It’s not only new ground for him, it’s not really like anything I’ve ever heard. This is a brand new ‘Bino, our introduction to the most ambitious album of 2016. And I don’t mean to spoil my year-end list, but I like it a lot.