Following our 100 Best Albums of the Decade So Far, we run down its 100 best tracks.
As with the albums list, we’ve looked at the following criteria: records that have proved influential or important; withstood the test of time; embodied or popularised a particular sound; or become firm favourites with our staff.
Interestingly, for all the talk of music dissolving into a series of Soundcloud embeds, nearly all of the tracks on this list were released as Proper (though not necessarily physical) Singles, or at least as part of Proper Albums – though there is room for one track in our top 10 that has never been given a release beyond Soundcloud.
Intrigued? Read on.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 1/101)
100. RICK ROSS
‘Power Circle’ (feat. Gunplay, Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, Stalley & Wale)
(Maybach Music Group, 2012)
Described in FACT’s 100 Best Tracks of 2012 as the one point where Maybach Music felt like a real family gathering, this Christmas jumper of a posse cut only fits better with age – with even the frayed threads (Wale, Stalley) feeling like part of the furniture. One of several tracks from this period where Gunplay stole the show from bigger names – even the man of the house (Ross) and the guest of honour (Kendrick) take a back seat.
99. JULIO BASHMORE
(Ten Thousand Yen, 2010)
Yes, his quality control has been up and down over the years, and yes, the bassline on this record pretty much single-handedly set the stage for every Joey Essex house tune since. But like all Bashmore’s best, this is simply undeniable in its ability to boil down the best of deep house, garage, “bass” and a little hint of rave into something that sounds superficially quite innocuous but, unleashed in a dancefloor context, is anything but.
98. ZINJA HLUNGWANI
‘N’Wagezani My Love’
(Honest Jon’s, 2010)
The signature track from Honest Jon’s Shangaan Electro compilation introduced the world to Shangaan – hyper-dinky house music from Soweto, inherited from the Tsonga Disco tradition and played at face-melting speeds (often above the 180bpm threshold) with ebullient vocals over the top. Performed by scene lynchpin Nozinja (who, in a mark of what a difference a half decade makes, now rides for Warp), ’N’wagezani My Love’ crackles with energy and flair; listening is like mainlining cheerfulness. And anyone who doesn’t fall for that video is officially Borg.
97. KELLY ROWLAND
‘Motivation’ (ft. Lil Wayne)
(Universal Motown, 2011)
Beyonce might get most of the attention (deservedly of course) but Kelly Rowland chanced upon a winner with ‘Motivation’. While the momentum was lost on her lackluster full-length Here I Am, ‘Motivation’ gets everything right, from the pinging, staccato synth lead to a shockingly decent guest spot from a soon-to-be-avoidable Lil Wayne.
96. JAI PAUL
(XL Recordings, 2012)
The eternal enigma of the half-decade: where the fuck is Jai Paul, because we want more of this. With ch-chugging bass that flickers like a fucked pylon, distorted disco licks and barely-there soul whispers coming over like a ghost with unfinished business, ‘Jasmine’ marked out Jai Paul as one to watch – and watch, and watch.
95. RICH HOMIE QUAN
‘Type of Way’
Rich Homie Quan is one of the rappas-ternt-sangers who have followed in Future’s Auto-Tuned footsteps, and if Nayvadius ever gets upset about people biting his style, he should remember that old adage about imitation and flattery. Teamed with Young Thug, Quan has been unstoppable this year (see: ‘Lifestyle’) but ‘Type of Way’ is his best track yet: a low-key anthem for stunting on your haters.
‘Work, Live & Sleep In Collapsing Space’ (Laurel Halo Remix)
(Planet Mu, 2012)
In a sense this is just IDM 2.0, right? But good god, the high definition detail in the production makes it really feel like we’ve taken a big step into the future – it’s so hyperreal, so trippy, so full of scary digital luxury that for four and a half minutes it feels like William Gibson is scripting your life.
93. GUCCI MANE
One of Gucci’s most unashamedly romantic moments, ‘Hell Yes’ is only one of a series of bangers we could have plumped for in this position (he’s had one of the most prolific five-year runs of anyone in this list), but wins out with sheer heart. ‘Tender love song’ might not be the phrase that springs to mind when pondering big Guwop’s long, spidery rap career, but that’s exactly what he delivers here and it’s bloody fantastic.
‘Sweet Boy Pose’
Armed with some of the most scintillating synths in grime, Dark0 first caught our attention with ‘Sweet Boy Pose’. Never mind the title (or his bluster on Twitter and FACT TV), Dark0 has a gift for sweetly seductive melodies; this one has stayed with us, whether in original, VIP, weightless or peace dub flavors.
91. AZEALIA BANKS
Sometimes it comes down to the simplest things: you just want a record that’s naughty, funny, druggy, and hits like a ten ton truck on the dancefloor. However much Azealia might have bored us on Twitter since, and whatever she achieves or doesn’t from here on in, this is and will always remain a stone cold banger.
‘Spreo Superbus’ (Actress Uræus Remix)
By definition of how he makes them, Actress’s albums rarely have stand-out tracks. His remixes, however, often force his hand into making something resembling a fully structured song; albeit, here, one that’s been stripped for parts and left to wonder what could have been. Emotive in a way that Actress rarely aims for, here he lets the ’80s pop influence on his work run wild – speed it up and we’ll probably discover it’s been a chopped and slopped Cyndi Lauper song all along.
89. KATIE GOT BANDZ
‘I Need A Hitta’
While it might look like a boys’ club from the outside, Chicago’s drill scene has actually coughed out some surprising female talent. Katie Got Bandz is the best of the lot, and has enough raw attitude to rap most male rappers into the ground. On ‘I Need A Hitta’ she stakes her claim as a “lady hitta”, offering a despondent side-eye to the chattering aggression of Chief Keef’s ‘I Don’t Like’.
88. LUKE ABBOTT
Something of a cult classic for those who like their electronic music with a pastoral flavour, ‘Modern Driveway’ appeals to the after-party massive as much as the stay-at-home synth spods with its strangely romantic quality built from a single-note non-melody over layers of gelatinous chords and mushy-legged analogue heat.
87. FKA TWIGS
(Young Turks, 2014)
A co-production between Twigs and Haynie, ‘Two Weeks’ is Twigs’ LP1 in a nutshell: immaculately detailed but ultimately driven by the most basic and animal instincts possible, layered vocals disguising the fact that most of the lyrics are about feeling horny and alone – a situation that most FACT readers understand as well as our writers, we’re sure. So good that, for the first few listens at least, the rest of the album suffers as a result.
(Underground Quality, 2010)
Between Jus-Ed, Anton Zap, Steffi and Dana Ruh, Underground Quality has quietly made a case for the half-decade’s most reliable house label. It’s rare that they stumble upon an anthem, but it’s even rarer that they release a turkey, and Tazz’s ‘Acid Love’ – a track that despite the name and tweaked 303 bassline is most memorable for that irresistible piano – feels like the UQ motto turned 12″. Works at any point in any DJ set, within reason, and is all but guaranteed to turn heads and prompt ID requests.
85. HOLY OTHER
(Tri Angle, 2011)
A highlight of Tri Angle’s early catalogue, Holy Other brought together Burial, 808-fueled hip-hop and pristinely-programmed electronics on one of the only records that has survived a “witch house” designation. A syrup-slow crescendo builds to a frazzled breakdown while he expertly pulls the strings from behind the curtain.
(Hessle Audio, 2010)
If you had to pick one record that sums up Hessle’s ‘less is more’ skill, it’d be this one every time. Just claps, gasps, bass, and hardly anything else. But for all its seeming simplicity, it opens up portals to grime, to ‘Diwali’, to sweatbox techno, to flamenco dammit! Don’t be fooled by its dancefloor obviousness; this one goes deep.
‘Nous Sommes MMM’
The no-holds-barred, fill-up-the-grid, big dumb fuck-off dance track of the half-decade. The hi-hats hit like pickaxes, the riff is targeted straight at your rave glands with military precision and there’s a riser that lasts for three minutes. Never has something so stupid been so utterly, utterly genius.
82. FLAVA D
This is what happens when a musician finds their true love. Flava D had done some very solid work in grime and hip hop, but it was obvious as soon as she turned her hand to bumping pirate garage that this was where her heart lay. Somehow the entire history of the sound, from early Todd Edwards through to the aftermath of grime, is all contained in here – and it still sounds fresh.
81. JULIA HOLTER
(RVNG Intl, 2012)
Nebbish chamber pop, gorgeous layered harmonies, dubbed-out minimalism in a Reich style, Hammer Horror discordance, madrigal music, surging post-punk stomp, curdled synths, modern classical – not an album, people, but a single six-minute pop track. Tragedy and Ekstasis brought Holter notice as an unusually venturesome singer-songwriter, but for all the long-form concept work going on in her full-lengths, this is her finest statement, telescoping an array of influences into an all-in-one bundle that lingers in the memory.
“Outsider” was one of the most annoying terms of the decade, more or less meaning nothing more or less than really druggy dance music. Like, duh – it’s meant to be druggy. This one, with all its percussion and indeterminate chanting, flashed back to some UV-drenched point in the mid-90s, but since when was that a bad thing?
79. DANNY L HARLE
(PC Music, 2013)
Like many of PC Music’s best moments, ‘Broken Flowers’ really hinges on how bad it would be if it was done wrong. In different hands, those chintzy arpeggios, sighing vocal pads, hollow organ bassline and by-the-numbers drum build are straight out of Ministry Presents Deep House for Shallow People, yet here we are: a pop-house anthem that’s little short of perfect, and the best traditional dance tune from the PCmus catalogue to date.
‘I’m Not Dancing’
The barely-reanimated corpse of UK funky lurching across the dancefloor, bits dropping off it, with a deadpan, knowing post-punk vocal and a few trippy twists and turns, all in the space of two and a quarter minutes. If ever a record had “FACT catnip” stamped on it, this is the one.
(Poly Kicks, 2013)
Of all the many jungle/breakbeat rave influenced tracks of this era, this track – both original and the Special Request VIP, which found its way onto Woolford’s own album – stands out a mile by virtue of being barking fucking mad. The kind of breakbeat edits you’d expect to hear confined to Bangface suddenly leapt out into areas bordering the mainstream, and somehow it worked. Tessela has done great work since, but this was the tune that marked him out as special.
76. SICKO MOBB
“We don’t juke no more, we bop.” So begins Sicko Mobb’s undeniably energetic ‘Fiesta’, the closest thing to a cross-over moment Chicago’s nascent bop scene has yet to produce. A reprieve from the gloom-and-doom of the city’s drill rap, bop — with its footworking tempo, trance synth melodies and playground sing-alongs — has a youthful exuberance missing from most pop music.
75. NINA KRAVIZ
If you’d never heard this but were asked to imagine what an attractive and very serious Siberian lady making booty-bass sounded like, this is what you’d imagine. With all the hype about image and DJ skills finally dying away, we can look back and say that yes, Nina Kraviz is a shit-hot producer.
(Rush Hour, 2010)
Aardvarck remains one of dance music’s most consistently underrated producers, with several singles from the last two years along that could have conceivably made this list. ‘Nosestep’ goes down as the closest thing that the Dutch oddity has had to an anthem though, with producers worldwide captivated by that endlessly spiralling riff that, despite frequent threats of unravelling, never quite loses control.
73. RIHANNA ft. FUTURE
‘Loveeeeeee Song’ (DJ Sliink Remix)
The type of Jersey Club pioneered by DJ Sliink has enjoyed a high profile for the last few years thanks to a frenetic approach that is anything but precious with its source material. Rihanna and Future’s duet is prime fodder for Sllink, each one of Future’s gargled syllables and Rihanna’s long vowels fashioned into a dancefloor weapon.
(Bad Boy, 2012)
Cassie has struggled to better 2006’s ‘Me & U’ but that her more recent output has still contained the odd gem. ‘Balcony’ is a quiet triumph; a sultry, feminine take on Drake’s melancholy 40-directed sound (think ‘Marvin’s Room’) but without the requisite whine. Indeed, with assistance from Jeezy it actually makes a melancholy evening looking out over New York sound quite appealing.
(No Hats No Hoods, 2010)
You could argue that there are better Spooky beats in this time period – but none have been anything like as career- or era-defining as the ludicrously rowdy, ‘300’-sampling ‘Spartan’. At a time when new-generation grime risked being gentrified, this flew the flag for the genre as distilled aggression, and still does damage on a dancefloor.
70. FUTURE BROWN
‘Wanna Party’ (feat Tink)
Since announcing their existence, underground supergroup Future Brown has gotten by on the pedigree of their membership (Nguzunguzu, Fatima Al Qadiri, J-Cush) rather than on their limited output. Still, if they’re ever able to match the intensity of the ominous, church bell-fueled dance-rap of ‘Wanna Party’, they’ll be fine — having Tink along for the ride always helps.
69. ADDISON GROOVE
Footcrab. Fo-fo-footcrab footcrab. Fo-fo-footcrab footcrab. Fo-fo-footcrab footcrab. Fo-fo-footcrab footcrab. Fo-fo-footcrab footcrab. Fo-fo-footcrab footcrab. Fo-fo-footcrab footcrab. All you need to know is here.
68. KAHN & NEEK
Reckon the Young Echo crew have put out a better single? Shut up!!! Yes, ‘Percy’ might just be reggaefied retooling of Big$hot’s ‘Stomp’, but it hit like a palm strike upon release – hard throwback grime, with added soundbwoy bellowing and dub chamber tinkering. Considering we’d first got to know Kahn as a syrupy 2-step producer, this sort of back-of-an-envelope ruffage was a welcome shock to the system, and, as much as we rate ‘Dread’, this remains his keynote effort.
TNGHT’s ‘R U Ready’ set the template for an entire genre of 808s-and-bombast club tracks (was any riff from the last five years more ripped-off than those horns?), but put it in a ring with ‘Billboard’ and it looks weedy by comparison. LuckyMe have had one hell of a last five years when it comes to bridging the gap between the UK underground and the US mainstream, but their greatest track of the period came from their homegrown secret weapon.
66. DARQ E FREAKER
(Oil Gang, 2011)
So few dance producers have the ability to make their sounds shed any sense of being ‘computerised’ as they leave the speakers – but son of Nunhead Darq E Freaker is one. Something about his ragged distortion of grime, trap, classic electro and god knows what else just makes it sound elemental, and about as removed from zeros and ones as you can get.
The Queen of Crunk&B slows it down while The-Dream and Tricky Stewart sculpt a bassline from a glacier and synth arpeggios from icicles. Plus: pitched-down vocals from before every kid in Been Trill gear pledged allegiance to DJ Screw, a Ludacris verse that doesn’t make us turn the song off and a Too Hot For TV Video. ‘Body Party’ has lost some luster after her break-up with Future; this one remains flawless.
64. JAY Z & KANYE WEST
‘Niggas in Paris’
(Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam, 2011)
No one in this period rapped with an innate ability to turn their one-liners into trending topics like Drake did, but Kanye and his damn croissants came close, and ‘Paris’ is surely his greatest hashtag rap moment. At least three lines from it (fish fillet, don’t let me get in my zone and Marykateandashleeey) flocked the nest to became cultural reference points in their own right, and when you’ve got the biggest knucklehead rap beat of the year backing them up, you’re left with something that you can’t help but shout along with – in any situation.
Has there been a better superhero metamorphosis lately than that of Ben Westbeech from disco-Jamiroquai lounge singer to producer of straight bangers? This one is all breathless tension and even a potentially silly orientalist flute lick can’t take from its menace. Alright, he transformed again, into chart-bound cheeselord, but just at this magic cusp point he was unstoppable.
After big dumb dance tunes like ‘OMG’ and ‘DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love’, it was refreshing to see that Usher was able to mine the fertile grounds of electronic music without going full Guetta. And it remains Diplo’s finest moment: a dubstep tune that refuses the easy release of its title.
61. DAT OVEN
‘Icy Lake’ (Total Freedom Remix)
(Night Slugs / Fade To Mind, 2014)
Who better to remix the horror-score tribal house of Dat Oven’s ‘Icy Lake’ than the man who rescued it from obscurity and ensured it would have a place in the Fade to Mind/Night Slugs catalog? Total Freedom’s bootlegs always walk a line between sex and violence; his version of ‘Icy Lake’ is delightfully unnerving and more likely to soundtrack a crime scene than a circuit party.
‘I Miss You’
(Parkwood / Columbia, 2011)
Beyoncé’s uneven 4 doesn’t have the shocking audacity of Beyoncé, but its best songs are still highlights in her catalog. Frank Ocean gets the assist on the shortest song on the record, an ‘80s-nodding ballad that demonstrates how powerful Beyoncé can be with even the simplest concepts and even when she’s this restrained.
59. PAUL WOOLFORD
Basically it’s all about that that bordering-on-Kevin Saunderson metallic piano isn’t it? It treads the fine line between techno mechanismo and piano-diva-house scream-up voluptuousness, and in so doing sets spines tingling wherever it is dropped. Certified banger, and easily the equal of any of Woolford’s Special Request tunes.
58. KEVIN GATES
While ‘Satellites’ might be the pop pick, ‘Neon Lights’ is the only real choice when you have to prune just one exemplary track from Baton Rouge rapper Kevin Gates’ incredibly solid run of mixtapes over the last few years. Gates’ rubbery wails are imbued with a surprising amount of emotion, and sidestep simple comparison to Future or Young Thug simply by saying far much more than either. Gates is, in many ways, a rapper’s rapper, twisting words in a way that has more in common with the golden age than we might like to admit and rolling his street tales in vivid imagery that demands repeat listening.
S-X, from Wolverhampton’s Stay Fresh crew, struck oil with ‘Wooo Riddim’: the defining grime instrumental of 2010 and a masterclass in portable drama, all War Games graphics, silencers being swivelled onto pistols and LEDs blinking on maps in the war room. ‘Wooo Riddim’ started doing the F64 rounds, and quickly crossed over – not just into grime and road rap scenes, but to the Hessle Audio sect and the genre-synthesists clustering around LuckyMe. Ridden by everybody, it threw up a few great verses (D Double E, Riko) and plenty more terrible ones, but that was ‘Wooo Riddim’’s magic – it’s ability to make even the klutziest weed-carrier sound important.
56. YOUNG THUG
Young Thug is an iceberg on the horizon of hip-hop: he’s already rewritten the rules of how rappers can sound and look, and yet there’s a sense the real game-changing is yet to come, the real menace still submerged under the water. For all his wonderfully weird tracks, ‘Stoner’ was his breakout for a reason, distilling his sound (and that of “weird Atlanta”) into one Fabo-worshipping banger.
(Fade To Mind, 2013)
Ever since it started cropping up in Fade to Mind mixes and DJ sets, it was clear that the version of Kingdom’s ‘Bank Head’ featuring Kelela was something special: could this finally be the voice that would end the chopped-R&B-vox fascination of a generation of dance producers? ‘Bank Head’ was an early hint of what to expect from her groundbreaking CUT 4 ME, and the first cut is still the deepest.
‘Confidence Boost (Harmonimix)’
James Blake’s finest production moment this decade. With Trim showing the hopeful, inclusive side of his yin-yang persona, Blake’s drones, disortions and bittersweet piano sweep over the words with waves of alternating chaos and control – it’s just lovely.
53. MILEY CYRUS
FACT’s office was practically at war over Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz last year, but everyone at least agreed on one thing: the quality of its momentous centrepiece ‘Drive’. Miley’s Christina-esque vocal acrobatics are in full force, while producer Mike Will finally does what he’s been threatening to for years by applying his filter-happy production approach to a dubstep tune and beating a small army’s worth of crossover-thirsty dubstep producers in the process. Haters, just listen to it.
52. JOEY ANDERSON
‘Above the Cherry Moon’
(Avenue 66, 2013)
Much ink was spilt over “outsider house” this half-decade – a catch-all term to describe a wave of artists twisting house and techno templates with an approach more familiar to experimental and noise music. While some undoubtedly great music emerged as part of this movement, if often felt like smoke and mirrors – oddball production techniques compensating for a lack of good tunes and ideas. Not so on New Yorker Joey Anderson’s ‘Under the Cherry Moon’, however, which manages to be both one of this period’s weirdest house tunes and one of its weirdest pop tunes. Cut the 4×4 kick and ‘Cherry Moon’ is a dark vocal that sits somewhere between Tricky, LFO and krautrock – leave it in and you’re left with one of the half-decade’s most uniquely funky tracks.
51. TYLER, THE CREATOR
Tyler’s been one of music’s great entrepreneurs over the last five years, a brand-builder who, starting with a humble Tumblr – the millennial equivalent of a white van and 50 nicker – has built the many-faceted OFWGKTA ’empire’. Like any growing business, there’ve been all sorts of dodgy expansion strategies: ill-advised videos; circle-berk goof-fest Loiter Patrol; no shortage of pallid, sluggish LPs. But it’s worth remembering just how much the world let out a collective gasp when ‘Yonkers’ dropped – a ticking timebomb of a beat, with a video that encapsulated everything exciting and repulsive about Odd Future’s version of Misanthropy 101. Amstrad will always have the PCW; OFWGKTA Corp will always have ‘Yonkers’.
50. DOCTOR P
(Circus Records, 2010)
BLUUUUUURRRRRT. A few people have made a lot of the ejaculatory tendencies of brostep, and let’s not front: it does like to spurt all over you. But when it’s done right it’s not just a willy-waving spunk-up, it’s a polymorphously perverse, rave-mental, collective post-human eruption of everything all at once – and one track does that better than any other. If you’re anti-this, you are anti-life.
49. JESSIE WARE
‘Running’ (Disclosure Remix)
This track has the dual honour of being both Ware and Disclosure’s best work – not to disparage either of their oeuvres, but this is a superlative remix, with Ware recast as the bossy Moschino diva while Disclosure pull off the subtle-but-ingenious trick of flipping the meter of the hook, slapping it with a sprightly garage bounce to send you spinning off into dancefloor delirium.
48. TODD TERJE
(Smalltown Supersound, 2012)
“It sounds like a normal, boring nu-disco track, sound wise.” Not a FACT Singles Club par, but Todd Terje talking about his late-career signature tune – and spectacularly missing the point. ‘Inspector Norse’ might not rip up the rulebook, but it certainly bends its spine, replacing nu-disco’s insouciance and stylised shimmer with a joyful pop sensibility and delivering its Good News with remarkable precision (that 16-bar brainshower in the middle is surely one of the decade’s best ticker-tape moments.) There’s a reason why (with the possible exception of ‘I Feel Space’) ‘Inspector Norse’ has become the prime example of the Scandinavian cosmic disco – precious little else has touched it.
47. YOUNG SCOOTER
With a beat so skeletal it doesn’t even have a kick drum, and lyrics so casually confessional that there’s no doubt that Young Scooter knows a thing or two about whipping a brick, ‘Colombia’ sounds like nothing else that’s come out of Atlanta in the last few years. While plenty of hip-hop producers have been content to play Mr. Me Too with Mike Will, Lil Lody opted for a beat that matches the bleakness of the lyrics, rather than obscuring it.
46. REARK ft. ZOMBY
Zomby’s spent the decade finding all sorts of creative ways to be as objectionable as possible, but the great production swindle of 2011 took the biscuit. Having dropped his most elegant, keening production to date, it turned out the track was essentially a straight bite of a track by an unknown producer, Reark, sent to Zomby in 2007 and then released without credit in 2011. But, putting aside the kerfuffle – and remaining mindful of the fact that production ghostwriting is a lot more endemic than anyone would like to admit – the finished article is still stunning: a 2-step heartstopper with the depth and drama of a John Martin landscape.
(Critical Recordings, 2011)
Who makes drum’n’bass with as much detail as Rockwell? At times, his tracks feel micro-edited beyond belief – millisecond flickers of drums that scuttle with both the precision of machinery and the chaos of a nest of spiders – but he never loses sight of the extended melodies and atmospherics that make his tracks stick in the memory, and on ‘Aria’ the dynamics of fast and slow have never felt more natural.
44. ZEBRA KATZ & NJENA REDDD FOXXX
(Mad Decent, 2012)
Stark, dripping with attitude and cropping up seemingly from nowhere ‘Ima Read’ might not do very much, but what it spits out is absolutely pitch-perfect. Offering up a dimly-lit, fathoms-deep take on ballroom (the “reading” in question is not the 50 Shades of Gray kind), Katz wins out with pure attitude, and the track doesn’t need more than a chugging bass line and cavernous kick in accompaniment.
‘2 On’ (ft. ScHoolboy Q)
DJ Mustard is best known for ratchet rap anthems, but his R&B tunes might be even better. And while we love his ‘90s-referencing hits for Jeremih and Kid Ink and his work with TeeFlii and Ty Dolla $ign, Tinashe’s ‘2 On’ is the best of the bunch: a smooth-as-hell two-stepper that has given Tinashe some of the shine she so deserves. Now, if only it didn’t have that gross Schoolboy Q verse…
‘Arc of Fire’
(No Relation, 2013)
Special Request, ‘Hackney Parrot’, Demdike Stare’s Testpressing series, Lee Bannon’s attempts at ‘ardkore…disassembled (or, more often than not, simply reheated) jungle was everywhere in 2013. One of the best examples came from Montreal man-about-town and Grimes associate d’Eon, who’d previously impressed with his superb Music For Keyboards giveaways. Blissed-out hardcore is the name of the day – certainly not succour for those who spent the decade subscribing to the Retromania thesis, but as throwbacks go, impeccable.
41. FRANK OCEAN
‘Thinkin Bout You’
(Def Jam, 2012)
Originally a demo for R&B also-ran Bridget Kelly, Frank Ocean leaked his version on Tumblr and beat Kelly to the punch. Shady business practice, perhaps, but we can’t imagine anyone else but Ocean (with that vulnerable, faltering falsetto) telling this tall tale: a love story with all the bullshit and brush-offs that entails.
The elegant balance here between respectfully referencing vintage grime – in this case Wiley’s Devil Mixes – and moving it forwards with extreme production finesse is really something to behold. It’s completely made by the shortwave radio-like swishes and swooshes that become trippily tangible in the air around the more standard grime sounds.
39. KW GRIFF
‘Bring in the Katz’
(Night Slugs, 2012)
Baltimore club music had a moment near the end of the last decade, but when Mad Decent et al left town, the scene didn’t go away — it got stronger, rougher and angrier. Bmore OG KW Griff is a master of the genre and ‘Bring in the Katz’ is both his. Like the best club tracks, simple is better: all this one needs is the trademark breaks, gunshot percussion, Pork Chop’s ‘Teachers’-esque roll call and a rallying cry heard round the world.
38. MISS MODULAR
(Her Records, 2014)
Her Records’ Miss Modular isn’t the only producer combining metallic clangs with Jersey kicks, but few make industrial dance music that’s this much giddy, pupil-expanding fun. The best moment yet from one of 2014’s crucial breakthrough labels.
37. SKY FERREIRA
Ferreira’s unfeasibly good debut album didn’t skimp on the belters, skipping from catchy Lauper-a-likes to beefy grunge pastiches, and it felt like the perfect end to a long chapter of label chicanery and false starts for the singer. First amongst equals was ’24 Hours’, a glitter-dusted ‘80s pop throwback designed to soundtrack the closing credits of the John Hughes movie you never got to star in – shoe-pie the jock, get the girl, hit the freeway. Trumps that M83 tune, too.
36. BODDIKA & JOY O
Controversial for its lifting of Tronco Traxx’s “walk for me” ballroom commandment, Boddika and Joy O’s long-gestating floor-destroyer (which seemed to hang about as a dubplate for eons before arriving on vinyl) was one of those vital early 2010s records that helped blow apart genre divisions in the wake of dubstep’s boom and bust – whatever you were listening to before, you couldn’t help but go bananas to its raw 303 squiggles and goofy cowbell swagger.
35. LEVON VINCENT
‘Man or Mistress’
(Novel Sound, 2011)
There’s just a few club producers who make ‘retro’ utterly meaningless, by virtue of their tracks going straight to the nervous system before you have time to make a judgement on the vintage of their musical equipment. Omar S does it, and Levon Vincent does it with bells on, with this one of his greatest examples. Pure acid crescendo thrills with its proper bendiness a reminder that acid house is about portamento as much as modulation.
34. DJ NATE
A teenaged DJ Nate was one of the first footwork producers to break out of Chicago and find worldwide acclaim, but after a few releases for Planet Mu, he seemingly disappeared down the Myspace wormhole from which he came. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case: adding a few AKAs to his moniker, he refocused on his first love: R&B and rap. Armed with AutoTune and DayGlo synths, Nate dropped ‘Gucci Gogglez’ when the rest of Chicago was obsessed with drill, planting the seeds for what would become bop.
Grime might have been birthed on the estates of South London, but its influence stretched out far and wide, notably in Preditah’s case into the under-appreciated second city of Birmingham. ‘Circles’ is his finest moment and the closest the young producer has had to a proper anthem with nods to Midlands staple bassline underpinning the cheeky videogame grime riddim.
32. WAKA FLOCKA FLAME
‘Hard in da Paint’
(1017 Brick Squad / Warner Bros. / Asylum, 2010)
It’s tough to pick just one banger from Atlanta rapper (and later EDM superstar) Waka Flocka Flame’s run of hits. ‘Hard in the Paint’ is possibly the most expressive example of Waka and Lex Luger’s patented trap sound, a synth-laced concoction of rumbling subs, eerie arpeggios and Waka’s memorable chants. Trap may have quickly become a dirty word as European producers took Luger’s blueprints to the carnival, but ‘Hard in the Paint’ still does serious damage.
“I can make you feel better, if you let me.” SOPHIE promised, and it was so. Presaging the unlikely rise of PC Music, ‘Bipp’ crashed into frame like a meteor made of bubblegum with its Now! That’s What I Call Music vocal and elastic Glass Swords synths. But just as with PC Music, something is not quite right, like Jennifer Lawrence’s nail polish in American Hustle: “sweet and sour, rotten and delicious — like flowers, but with garbage.”
30. KANYE WEST
‘Monster’ (ft. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver & Nicki Minaj)
Nicki Minaj has been one of the most frustrating artists of the decade, sounding like the best rapper in the game on ‘Bottoms Up’, ‘Tap Out’ and countless tracks… and then pushing out ‘Starships’. She’s saved her hottest verses for guest spots, and the best one she’s ever done was on the aptly-titled, six-minute posse cut that anchors My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Her verse is so loaded that you could make an entire song out of it; thankfully, Kingdom did.
29. GUNNAR WENDEL
‘578’ (Omar S. Berlin Mix)
“Here’s your trance, now dance!” may have been Omar S’s most prominent declaration of the half-decade, but when he combined his trancey-not-trancey tendencies with the smeared techno of Kassem Mosse – here appearing in his lesser-spotted Gunnar Wendel guise – the results were majestic.
‘Take Time’ (feat Novelist)
This and ‘That’s Not Me’ really formed the one-two punch that confirmed grime was consolidating all its multivariant threads in 2014, and was still the same genre it always was, albeit matured. Here a ludicrously youthful MC and an outsider-to-the-scene producer showed that they could cut it with the East London vets, and bring something fresh to the table to boot.
27. CHIEF KEEF
‘I Don’t Like’
As the soft-edged sing-songy rap of Drake took hold worldwide, it made perfect sense that something equally and oppositely aggressive would emerge at some point. In the last few years, that equal and opposite has been Chicago’s rattling mosh-pit friendly drill sound, and if drill has one, single, defining break-out moment it’s undoubtedly got to be Chief Keef’s ‘I Don’t Like’. Twinned with a massively influential, urgent beat from regular collaborator (and school friend) Young Chop, it’s a track so damn crucial that only a few months after its release Kanye West had already (controversially) put together his own version. More importantly though, it’s a track that never fails to inspire a hoods up/hands up response in the club.
Sometimes it’s just about doing it really, really well. A good bit of Objekt’s output has spilled over into technique for the sake of it, and too many references to late ’90s techno/electro/IDM things that were pretty geeky in the first place. But when he gets it right, as on this unashamedly retro techno banger, the production finesse makes it so exquisitely detailed that you haven’t heard this before – it is actually the ideal version that you thought you heard because you were off your tits.
25. KENDRICK LAMAR
‘Cartoon & Cereal’ (ft. Gunplay)
(Top Dawg Entertainment, 2012)
If, like us, you’ve bristled at his more recent efforts, this is an instant reminder of what originally made K-Dot so furiously exciting – that knack for formal innovation, identity play and flagrant rule-bending. ‘Cartoon & Cereal’ is a psychological fishing expedition – an impressionistic collage of childhood trauma, racing thoughts, half-heard gangsta chatter and Seventh Seal contemplation. Over a beat that Hexstatic might have put out back in the ‘90s (note: a good thing, promise), Kendrick plays the voices in his head off against one another; Gunplay, filing his most emotionally raw guest verse, is cast as the daemon on the hero’s shoulder. If there’s a more dense, ambiguous – and, frankly, conceptually ambitious – rap song released in the last five years, we haven’t heard it.
24. THE MOLE
‘Lockdown Party’ (DJ Sprinkles Crossfaderama Remix)
Terre Thaemlitz’s standout quality is her ability to flit between contexts: one moment, she’s an electroacoustic composer, soundtracking radio dramas or making the longest album of all time; the next, she’s putting out floor-destroying trax about transgender discrimination. One of those records that spreads like wildfire, Thaemlitz’s 2013 rework of The Mole’s block party jam is an example of her peerless ear for an edit – an endlessly rewindable house jam, with twitchy crossfader work that feels like someone scratching your pineal gland. If you’re not dancing, you’re dead.
23. TEENGIRL FANTASY
(Hivern Discs, 2012)
Obviously it’s the sample that makes it – a lungful of righteous, ankle-digging soul straight from ’70s Philadelphia – but the NYC duo work magic here too, expertly cutting the vocals loose from the Love Committee’s uptight orchestral framework in order to stretch them out over their lysergic, Chicago-indebted lo-fi house. Works like a charm.
22. JAM CITY
(Night Slugs, 2012)
Great served alone, even more effective when it thunders into view as the third track of Classical Curves, ‘The Courts’ inspired a wave of dance producers and still hasn’t been bettered. It feels like it was made in a flash of inspiration – a clap every bar and basic kick and bassline patterns, punctuated with squeaks, crashes and breakdowns – but its combination of palette and rhythm have already been integrated so deep into dance music DNA that it’s not leaving any time soon.
(Young Money / Universal, 2011)
Drake had the best half-decade of anyone on this list, walking through the door opened on 808s and Heartbreak all the way to fame and fortune. ‘Marvin’s Room’ is the quintessential Drake track, not the club anthems (‘The Motto’, ‘I’m On’), the dance crossovers (‘Take Care’, ‘Hold On…’) or the countless crew ballads (‘Crew Love’, ‘Started from the Bottom’). Over 40’s smokiest beat, a drunk-and-heartbroken Drake calls his ex and pours his heart out. Dude suffers from success with the best of ‘em.
‘It’s 2 Late 4 U And Me’
The return to dominance of house rhythms in the 2010s – from the top of the charts to the grubbiest basements – reminded us of one important thing: the framework of that four-to-the-floor kick might seem like a constraint, but actually there are few limits to what you can do on top of it. Not that Kenny Dixon Junior needed reminding. He’d always been taking house as a launchpad into whole galaxies of soul, jazz and more, and on the most Gilles Peterson-ish record of this rundown he showed that he was on the form of his life, creating a proper dancefloor spaceflight that reached back, gathered together Rotary Connection, Phuture and 4 Hero and showed they were as current as they’d ever been.
19. KATY B
‘On A Mission’
Talk about peak experiences – this has it all. Lyrics that encapsulate the ephemeral thrills of the club experience as well as just about any record in history; killer hook after killer hook; a rolling Benga beat that reminded us just how good he was with a tiny bit of restraint – all of which perfectly captured the moment in 2010 when the suburban herberts of dubstep looked like they were going to take over the world. The one-two punch of this track and Magnetic Man’s ‘I Need Air’ could be heard everywhere on pop radio, and the video, filmed at Rinse’s massive takeover of Matter and featuring a Where’s Wally sequence of cameos from dubstep and grime scene stalwarts perfectly captured a genuine moment of triumph. Like all triumphs, it would pass (“This one here I swear will end too soo-oo-oon,” indeed) but the unparalleled pop perfection of this song remains.
(Lovers Rock, 2011)
A dog walker from the experimental world – prior to ‘Culture Clubs’, Ital was best known for his work in bands Mi Ami and Black Eyes – deciding to have a go at this whole house malarky, and discovering that he does it better than most of the disciples. Inspired by the anything goes approach of acts like Jamal Moss and at times clinging into the grid by a fingernail, ‘Culture Clubs’ predicts the outsider house movement, is the best 100% Silk record without actually being on 100% Silk, and still sounds divine.
(Young Money / Universal, 2011)
“Mustard on the beat, ho.” The fact that a rap also-ran like Tyga has secured a spot so high in this list is a testament to the continued power of DJ Mustard’s production, both here and on the hits that followed. A recipe so head-slappingly simple — three-note bass synth melody, a snap track, a “hey” chant — that we still don’t know how it took this long for someone to crossbreed Atlanta snap and LA jerkin’. Mustard might not have 10 summers of hits in him, but five is still impressive.
(Well Rounded Records, 2010)
Sampling R&B vocals in house and garage tunes is passé now, but before every bedroom producer got their hands on Brandy and Cassie acapellas, the trend resulted in some of the best songs of the decade (we reckon there are a few more to go before this list’s done). Deadboy was one of the first producers to get in the game, and his early material is the high watermark for it. The simplest and most effective is his house reworking on Drake’s ‘Fireworks’, which pitches up Alicia Keys’ hook and just lets the beat build.
‘Don’t Change for Me’
(Hessle Audio, 2010)
David Kennedy makes it sound so easy. The hardcore/B’more breaks, the heartstopping Detroit/jazz fusion chords, the infinite dub space, the sudden stabbing grime tones, the spine-tingling rave diva sampling: in his hands, of course they all go together. But just look at how many other people have tried the trick and made something that’s either awkwardly crunched together or bland lowest common denominator. Amazingly, the quality of Ramadanman/Pearson Sound has rarely dipped in these five years – this, though, captures the moment when he really came into his own, the climate was right and the tunes just rolled out with spellbinding effortlessness.
There are people in the world who’ve had this song stuck in their head for two years solid, and with damn good reason. It’s the proud highlight from Jeremih’s shock-comeback mixtape, and finds producer-of-the-decade-so-far Mike Will getting completely in-the-zone with gloopily warped organs, headboard-bumping kicks and Jeremih’s panting puppy dog vox. You have to feel the pain of whoever that cellphone number belonged to.
Belfast’s pre-eminent grime producer – not exactly a hotly contested title – straight dazzled us with ‘Quartz’, and it’s still got plenty of lustre. There are familiar tricks here: Burial’s Metal Gear Solid atmospherics, Rustie’s ‘Death Mountain’, Musical Mob, duh. But ‘Quartz’ has enough whipcrack force to command attention – a heavyweight grime tune with an IDM exoskeleton, more Amber than eski. As well as spooking the bejeezus out of us, it helped set the tone for the rash of instrumental grime producers making magic out of mardy synths and cocked glocks.
12. ANTHONY NAPLES
(Mister Saturday Night, 2012)
We could bullshit you and say that this was a good record because it re-invents this or that period of New York or Chicago or London or Rimini history, or because it applies hypermodern production finesse to an age-old groove and carries it off – and we could make a good case for it too. But none of that is really why. It is a good record because of the syndrums: it goes “peeooowww peeooowww peeooowww!“, and sometimes that is all you need.
‘Come Down to Us’
This is great for so many reasons. Because it is Burial bursting out of his Burial-shaped box. Because it’s as startling – even on repeat listens – as ‘South London Boroughs’ was. Because it’s a polysexual, ’80s power ballad-loving, prog-rock structured, multicoloured two-fingers up to the bass music bros who think they know what “dark” means. Because it’s 13 minutes of multi-layered, fractured bliss. Because it means we have literally no clue what Burial will do next. Because it’s barking mad. But most of all just because, in all its utter preposterousness, it actually exists.
‘That’s Not Me’ (ft. JME)
(Boy Better Know, 2014)
Ten years ago, Skepta changed grime music, bullying his way around pirate radio and forcing the genre’s MCs to raise their game when loaned to Roll Deep by his local Meridian Crew. This year, he changed it again, by bringing back the aesthetics of classic grime (an £80 video partially shot in Jammer’s basement, a classic Triton beat made on Jammer’s equipment) and reminding his peers – them and their Gucci belts – just how badly they’d lost their way. Sure, Butterz, Boxed and co were holding down grime in the underground, but something truly momentous was needed to revitalise the genre’s stars, and Skepta delivered. Want shivers? Wait for the first note at three minutes into Boy Better Know’s recent Culture Clash performance.
‘New 4 U’
(La Vida, 2012)
We, like almost every dance magazine in the civilised world, plumped for ‘New 4 U’ as our track of 2012, and no wonder – it’s basically the sonic equivalent of a victory lap, an exercise in unchecked good cheer that could have come out during any period in the last 20 years but was generous enough to arrive during this one. Prior to this, the one-time Slum Village DJ was one of the most underrated house producers around, releasing rock-solid soulful house on Moodymann’s KDJ and Mahogani Music labels. But ‘New 4 U’, which gained traction everywhere from Panorama Bar to the Brownswood sect, proved his coronation – a 130bpm house shuffle, with the feel of vintage disco and the warmth of classic Stevie.
(Goon Club Allstars, 2013)
If you’d told us that one of our top 10 tracks of the last five years would be an R. Kelly refix made by a producer named after a Pokemon we’d have laughed you straight out the mall, but here we are, and ‘XE2”s lustre hasn’t faded one bit since it started to emerge on radio sets midway through last year. Every aspect of it – the bells, the sawtooth bassline, that sample – is utterly, utterly beautiful, and although there’s technically a ‘drop’ three minutes into the track, we’d be content to hear it build up that tension forever.
(Def Jam / Radio Killa, 2010)
Possibly the best Prince song never written, ‘Yamaha’ represents all of Terius Nash’s delirious excesses without ever drifting into the iffy self-parody that dominated some of his lesser, later recordings. Everything’s up to snuff, from the sizzling Linn drum sounds to Nash’s own triumphant, unmistakable vocal tics, and as the neon-lit first act of the truly amazing Love King trilogy (along with ‘Nikki Part 2’ and ‘Abyss’) it opens possibly the best run of songs of his career.
Several young producers have had remarkable runs of dance 12″s in this time period – see also Blawan and Pearson Sound – but surely none felt as simultaneously diverse and authoritative as Mosca’s opening salvo of singles. Outrageously swung techno? Sorted (‘Wavey’). Headsnapping hip-hop? Sure (‘Tilt Shift’). Sub-heavy UK house? No bother (‘Square One’). The most joyful, grin-inducing, rough-but-fine-tuned, throwback-but-also-perfectly-capturing-the-summer-of-2011, halfway-between-UK-garage-and-bassline-house, so-ubiqitous-it-basically-never-even-got-promo’d dancefloor anthem of the year? Sure, let’s make it a B-side.
05. HANNAH DIAMOND
‘Pink and Blue’
(PC Music, 2013)
Mainstream politics is deliquescing into an undifferentiated gruel, globalisation is rubbing away at our local identities… so it’s nice to know there are still some things out there which can still properly split opinion. Depending on who you ask, the PC Music project is either the height of smugness, a parade of reheated LuckyMe-isms passed off as art music, or it’s a wildly inventive cosmos of postmodern pop presented with vision and flair. Simply put, they’ve divided 2014, and any FACT reader will know by now where we – well, where most of us – have pinned out loyalties. And if you’re looking for the PC Music manifesto, it’s undoubtedly ‘Pink and Blue’. Hannah Diamond’s first single captures what’s great about the label – a thumping pop heart wrapped in a tacky Internet Age aesthetic that means you’re never quite sure whether this is music to get inside or to admire from a distance. Folding in J-Pop twinkle, the unease of vaporwave and the sonic palette of ‘90s pop, it’s an addictive, ambivalent confection – arch but affecting, nostalgic but vacuum-packed. We’ve fallen hard for Danny L Harle’s lacquered 2-step, Girlfriend Of The Year’s hammering psychodramas and Kane West’s shonky house productions, but this one’s the keeper.
‘Turn on the Lights’
(A1, Freebandz, Epic, 2012)
The stand-out track from Future’s incredible Pluto full-length, ‘Turn on the Lights’ is a bona fide weepy anthem, and is one of the finest productions Atlanta superproducer Mike Will Made It has ever churned out. You haven’t been able to move for Mike Will beats over the last few years, with his filtered, futuristic bleeps and bumps spotted accompanying everyone from Gucci Mane to Miley Cyrus, and this track is probably his most showy and most rewarding. Future’s on fine form, crooning robotically like his (love) life depends on it and the track is a fine, lasting example of Atlanta’s dominant but deeply unusual stance in rap and r’n’b post-2010.
03. DJ RASHAD
‘Let it Go’
Of all the junglist revival tracks and jungle-footwork fusions of the 2010s – and good god there were a lot of them, many of them even excellent – trust it to be a man that didn’t grow up with jungle to deliver the best. But this isn’t even a fusion, it’s true highest-common-factor approach, recognising the common Chicago roots of the styles at work here, and making this a totally natural and modern development. The jittery hesitancy of the breaks make the urgent vocal hook a thousand times more potent: it’s a constant plea for release that in some senses never comes, but which is perversely achievable if you give yourself up to the occult mathematics and primal bass. There is absolutely no need to invoke the tragedy of Rashad’s passing or what might have been to appreciate this track as a monumental achievement.
‘Getting Me Down’
Blawan, alone and as half of Karenn, has been tonking out the techno beats that sound, in the words of blogger Ben Bashford “like eating metal crisps” with brutal and brilliant effectiveness through this half decade. But there’s something about this perfect hybrid of techno-punk basement grot, UK garage swank – and, of course, Brandy – that stands completely alone, and in the right context blows minds as much now as then. At a time when so many people were ripping R&B left, right and centre for quirkily tasteful re-rubs and outright appropriations, Blawan managed to make something entirely new, thoroughly debasing his source material yet in a way that against all the odds managed to not be disrespectful, arbitrary or arch in its approach to the pop-ness and soul-ness of the song at its core.
01. GIRL UNIT
(Night Slugs, 2010)
Southern hip-hop reconfigured for London clubs: if not the first to do it this decade, than surely the most impactful. A euphoric, trance-washed banger in the truest sense, it blew up dancefloors on both sides of the Atlantic and ended Night Slugs’ breakthrough year (an all-time run that included Mosca, Egyptrixx, Lil Silva, L-Vis 1990, Kingdom, Velour and Jam City) with an exclamation point. It’s difficult to lay the cross-pollination of UK dance and US rap at the feet of one track, but from Severant to Glass Swords, from TNGHT to their legion of followers, ‘Wut’ loomed (and continues to loom) large.