The 50 best tracks of 2016

The 50 Best Albums of 2016 The 50 Best Tracks of 2016 Back to FACT This is the intro to article. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.  Excuse the positivity, but was something in the water this year? 2015 felt like the best twelve months for albums releases in a while. Even with several of electronic music’s heavy hitters falling flat on their face we had high-profile returns to form, spring sleeper hits and some remarkable debuts, not to mention some of the most rewarding examples of pop music embracing the underground yet. Over in rap world, New York has a new queen, Future tightened his rule on the South and Kendrick followed a classic with a classic. He wasn’t the only one from the West Coast who cemented his legacy this year though, and we’re not talking Compton. Then there’s the internet’s undergrowth. More great albums than ever were born on Bandcamp (Miles Bowes’ end-of-year column collects the best ones that didn’t make this list), and if that’s not enough for the oddballs, 2015 even featured an ambient record by The Dude. What a time to be alive indeed. Fierce grime bangers, future pop classics, adrenaline-fuelled rap anthems: 2016 had them all. But what were the biggest and best songs of the last 12 months? Here are our 50 favourites… Share: 50 Cousin Stizz ‘Every Season’ (Self-released) Cousin Stizz – ‘Every Season’ Boston’s brightest hope Cousin Stizz dropped one of the year’s most unassuming bangers with the help of producer-of-the-moment Cardo. While the beat for ‘Every Season’ isn’t as sunny as some of Cardo’s excellent 2016 work with Nef the Pharaoh or Payroll Giovanni, it slithers with a menace that’s far more suited to the New England climate. JT 49 Gage ‘Talon’s Reach’ (Crazylegs) Gage – ‘Talon’s Reach’ As club music got more cleverer in 2016, our thirst for good old-fashioned beats and bass seemed to increase accordingly. Gage stepped in early with ‘Talon’s Reach’ – an aggy, bass-heavy bruiser that’s stuck with us for most of the year. Built around a whomping percussive synth moan and the sort of bass that’s liable to remind you what you ate for dinner, the track is a ragged reminder of just how violent and urgent British dance music can be. JT 48 Machine Woman ‘I Can Mend Your Broken Heart’ (Where To Now? Records) Machine Woman – ‘I Can Mend Your Broken Heart’ (opens in new tab) At its core, the experimental techno of Berlin-based Anastasia Vtorova has the same bleak, mechanical pulse of much of the music coming out of her city. However, with its tale of failed Tinder dates, ‘I Can Mend Your Broken Heart’ pulls the curtain back on the loneliness of living in the world’s techno capital, a place that’s not really the hedonistic party town Conan O’Brien would have us believe. An anthem for anyone who’s ever danced alone in the club – or been turned away from Berghain. SW 47 Justice ‘Safe and Sound’ (Genesis/Ed Banger/Because Music) Justice – ‘Safe and Sound’ (opens in new tab) Justice reassessed what made their music work so well in the first place on their 2016 comeback, Woman. ‘Safe & Sound’ introduces us to a fresh version of the original blog house duo, reaching for luxurious melodies and disco extravagance to serve up the kind of single-minded pop hit they’ve always done so well. The simple lyrics (“Hold tight,” “foot down,” “keep on track”) capture their stated intention to make you feel like “you’re in the car with your best friend and your lover and your kids,” but also feel like a mantra for Justice in 2016. For all their early rock star posturing, they’ve never sounded happier or more focused on the road ahead, and on ‘Safe & Sound’ it’s damn infectious. MB 46 Denzel Curry ‘Knotty Head’ (Self-released) Denzel Curry – ‘Knotty Head’ Rick Ross gets the first word on ‘Knotty Head’, warning: “We got to give it to them raw”. Anyone expecting a radio hit will be as surprised as the suckers duped by Denzel on the street “sellin’ flock when they think it’s molly”. Curry’s motormouth flow rips through the Imperial track’s psychedelic synth drip, doubling up the energy until the pair of them ride out on an eerily pretty coda. Curry gives Ross the final word, and it couldn’t be more spot on: “It’s futuristic shit.” MB 45 UMFANG ‘Force’ (1080p) UMFANG – ‘Force’ Graduating from the cosy climes of the tape scene to her first outing on vinyl, Brooklyn DJ, producer and Discwoman co-founder Emma Olson showed off her spartan yet seriously inventive approach to techno on her Riffs 12”. The tense atmosphere of ‘Force’ is a reminder of how powerful minimalism can be on the dancefloor, with a nagging arpeggio and the barest of drums making a simple statement on less being more. OW 44 Reckonwrong  ‘The Passions of Pez’ (Whities) Reckonwrong – ‘The Passions of Pez’ Reckonwrong made a splash last year with his own weird take on club music, crafting tracks that had more in common with spiky ‘80s post-punk than any of his contemporaries making Chicago house knock-offs. But in 2016, he emerged from his chrysalis as one of the year’s most unlikely pop stars with ‘The Passions of Pez’, a song that channels both the goofy spirit of Devo and Morrissey’s confessional charm. Dance music has splintered off in many directions this year, but with this track Reckonwrong occupies a category all of his own. SW 43 Young Thug ‘Harambe’ (300 Entertainment) Young Thug – ‘Harambe’ ‘Harambe’ may tug at the heartstrings as a homage to everyone’s favourite martyred gorilla, but it’s actually one of the hardest tracks on Young Thug’s buoyant pop triumph JEFFERY. It doesn’t pay tribute to Harambe’s life and demise so much as let Thugger go “ape shit” on Percocet and unleash a tirade of hoarse-yet-elastic bars, backed by icy synths and heavy-duty percussion. With no actual mention of the late silverback, the song is instead rooted in a romantic sensibility that peaks when the ATL rapper declares: “I just want to have a baby by you, girl!” It’s a touching gesture, nonetheless. ACW 42 Elysia Crampton ‘Dummy Track’ feat. Why Be & Chino Amobi (Break World Records) Elysia Crampton feat. Why Be & Chino Amobi – ‘Dummy Track’ ‘Dummy Track’ unites a multitude of voices, from Chucky-esque bursts of maniacal laughter and the cyborg manifesto of philosopher Donna Haraway to the presence of NON’s Chino Amobi and Halycon Veil’s Why Be. Pieced together through Crampton’s gift for collage, it’s a standout from Demon City’s electronic noise stanzas and takes protest music straight into the club. ACW 41 Alicia Keys ‘In Common’ RCA Records Alicia Keys – ‘In Common’ (opens in new tab) You might not immediately consider Alicia Keys’ dancefloor-bait comeback single ‘In Common’ as this year’s answer to Kendrick’s Black Lives Matter rally cry ‘Alright’, but the skeleton of the song is the same. “We’re all messed up in our own separate ways with things we’re trying to get through. There’s something really liberating about being able to say, I got my mess, you got your mess – and that’s alright,” she said of the song’s message earlier this year. Having the audacity to love someone and be loved in return is an act of defiance in a time like ours, the song suggests over breathy keys and pitched-up vocal samples. Alicia was back with a vengeance in 2016 and ‘In Common’ was her impassioned peak. AH For me the best album this year was Smells like teen spirit by Nirvana [John Wayne] Byline? 40 Jubilee ‘Wine Up’ feat. HoodCelebrityy (Mixpak) Jubilee feat. HoodCelebrityy – ‘Wine Up’ Jubilee’s FACT mix from 2014 demonstrated the Mixpak mainstay’s party-primed ear for Miami bass, Jersey club and anything else that gets the club turnt. This dancehall-inspired, marimba-laced track from her long-awaited debut album After Hours hires Bronx vocalist HoodCelebrityy to really bring the heat. ACW 39 Skepta ‘Man’ (Boy Better Know) Skepta – ‘Man’ As the much-delayed Konnichiwa lingered in the wings, ‘Man’ turned up as a reminder of Skepta’s endurance. It’s no surprise he chose to perform it after winning the Mercury Prize, delivering takedowns of hangers-on and rallying cries to the Boy Better Know family over a Queens Of The Stone Age riff – there wasn’t a better anthem for the MC this year. The track’s placement on Konnichiwa is fitting, leading into 2015’s ‘Shutdown’ and 2014’s ‘That’s Not Me’. Three years, three classics. MB 38 Tinashe ‘Ride of Your Life’ (RCA Records) Tinashe – ‘Ride Of Your Life’ (opens in new tab) Tinashe does best when she’s toiling in her own world. Her mixtape muscle memory never diminished despite her blockbuster breakout ‘2 On’, and her 2015 modern G-funk freebie Amethyst featured some of her best work to date. Within the collection of singles slated for an absent sophomore effort called Joyride, she maintained a free spirit that isn’t afraid of trend-hopping but never strays from her own voice (‘SuperLove’ perhaps the only exception). ‘Ride of Your Life’ exemplifies this attitude at its peak: getting big producers (in this case, Metro Boomin) to go subdued, dark and sexy and putting a stamp on it that can only be hers. CL 37 AJ Tracey ‘Naila’ (Murlo Remix) (Self-released) AJ Tracey – ‘Naila’ (Murlo Remix) We could have picked his Rihanna remix, his Tinashe remix, or his D∆WN remix –really, the name Murlo is an automatic stamp of quality at this point. But, partly as a nod to the stellar year AJ Tracey has had, it’s the Mixpak affiliate’s version of ‘Naila’ that makes the grade. Murlo’s playful contrast between sugared vocals and whiplash snares turns Trace’s breakout track into a Janus-faced creature, all sweetness and light on the hook and screwface silliness the next. A perfect balance. CR 36 Peder Mannerfelt ‘Public Images’ (Peder Mannerfelt Produktion) Peder Mannerfelt – ‘Public Images’ There was a lot of Peder Mannerfelt material to get excited about this year. His self-released album Controlling Body (one of our 50 best albums of the year) was the tip of the iceberg, with 12”s for Numbers and Hinge Finger serving the more challenging end of the house and techno spectrum. ‘Public Images’, however, was his most effective dancefloor transmission, channeling abrasive hardcore and analog techno into a virulent potion for the rave. OW 35 Soda Plains ‘Rodeo’ (Self-released) Soda Plains – ‘Rodeo’ Berlin-based DJ and producer Soda Plains routinely fuses the requisite contemporary club tropes (distorted digital beats; elements of grime, dancehall and rap; cloudy pads and melodies), but on ‘Rodeo’ he emerges with a sound that’s startlingly unique. A basic dancehall template – steel drums, booming kicks and rattling snares – exists as a skeleton behind a fuzzy mist of haunted YouTube drones and collapsing static. It’s narcotic and escapist, the perfect remedy for the year’s ills. JT 34 Fifth Harmony ‘Work From Home’ (Simco/Epic) Fifth Harmony – ‘Work From Home’ (opens in new tab) ‘Work From Home’ is 2016’s proof that lyrics do not have to make any sense for a song to be an indelible pop hit. Seriously, is this guy working the night shift? Or does he not have to go to work? Is the “work, work, work” just that good that his paramour cannot keep the everyday details of her life straight? Who knows! But Fifth Harmony’s song is one of the most fun of the year, the lead-off to an incredible collection of 2016 guest efforts from Ty Dolla $ign and a perfect example of why the tradition of the girl group should last long into the future. So who cares if it doesn’t make any sense? CL 33 Quavius ‘Love The Way’ (Lustwerk Music) Quavius – ‘Love The Way’ From Galcher Lustwerk’s label came one of our favourite new finds of 2016, the curiously perfumed rap-house haze of Florida’s Quavius. On ‘Love The Way’, the time-stranded introduction to his self-titled first EP, he acknowledges his girl’s dancefloor talents over a spare boom-chkk beat and trembling guitar lick; simple pleasures, but it’s the way it congeals into something soft and spectral, like a postcard from a long-forgotten holiday romance, that makes it so special. CR 32 Alexandria ‘Problem’ (Awful Records) Alexandria – ‘Problem’ Prior to ‘Problem’, Alexandria had been ethereal, sensual, but never playful. This witty flip of ‘99 Problems’ changes that: she half-sings, half-speaks the first verse as though talking to herself in her bedroom, but her switch into a smirking rap on the second verse is one of the most unexpected and delightful things the Awful Records player has done to date. AM 31 Kendrick Lamar ‘Untitled 07’ (Top Dawg Entertainment) Kendrick Lamar – ‘untitled 07’ (opens in new tab) A medley of three songs cut over three years, ‘Untitled 07’ begins as one of the most urgent cuts on Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered. collection of To Pimp A Butterfly offcuts. The message – that the pleasures of these worldly things aren’t all they’re cut out to be – isn’t a new one, but Lamar raps breathlessly as though racing the clock, and the way his “Levitate, levitate, levitate, levitate” command repeatedly interrupts him and disrupts the song’s flow is a master stroke. The plateau comes with the second section, one of those captivating stretches where Lamar revels in the richness of his language, casually evoking fire-and-brimstone preachers and apocalyptic zombie scenes within a few lines of each other. Four minutes of aimlessly ad-libbing over rudimentary acoustic guitar is perhaps an underwhelming outro, but the relaxed demos are still an interesting contrast to the detail and layers of To Pimp A Butterfly. AM For me the best album this year was Smells like teen spirit by Nirvana [John Wayne] Byline? 30 Willow ‘A2’ (Workshop) Willow – ‘A2’ On her debut EP for Workshop, Willow more than delivered on the promise of last year’s head-turning label compilation track ‘Feel Me’. Maintaining the sultry mood while widening the scope of her sound, the Manchester-based artist interrupted her beguiling house concoctions with ‘A2’, a haunting variation on dubstep populated by soft, soul-stirring vocals and bone-rattling sub bass. OW 29 Young M.A ‘OOOUUU’ (Self-released) Young M.A – ‘OOOUUU’ ‘Panda’ may have been the first Future song to ever hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but Desiigner still doesn’t quite rank as Brooklyn’s young gun of the year. That honor belongs to Young M.A for her summer anthem ‘OOOUUU’. It’s just so damn regular. While other songs of the summer are aspirational, even down to what you can afford from the liquor store, Young M.A is keeping it real in the most honest way.  And sure, it may be packed with the overdone “where the hoes, though?” lyrics and vows of “the bro code”, but here it is enacted by one of the first queer voices to dominate legitimate top 40 radio. This is how you do Brooklyn in 2016 — keeping it current, both on trend and on your block. CL 28 Mr. Fingers ‘Qwazars’ Alleviated Records Mr. Fingers – ‘Qwazars’ (opens in new tab) At its transcendent best, house music is a simply a portal between two ends of the infinitesimal, from the pin-prickle hairs on your forearms to the cosmic depths of space and time. They don’t call it deep for nothing. And when you’re the guy who invented it, a return to your most revered alias for the first time in a decade is cause for notice. ‘Qwazars’ is as supermassive as it sounds; deceptive in its simplicity, as Larry Heard is apt to be, but humming with invisible energy, from the spasming lead line to the pent-up, sucked-in, trebly percussion. And when that soft piano floats in, more earthly than anything before it, you’re transported to somewhere way, way up. Our invisible narrator is equally mystified: “What’s going on?” Ah, yes: “Qwazars.” CR 27 Radiohead ‘Burn The Witch’ (XL Recordings) Radiohead – ‘Burn The Witch’ (opens in new tab) When Radiohead returned in a hail of throbbing bass and gnarled orchestral tension this summer, we called ‘Burn The Witch’ “as concussive and disturbing a return as could be imagined, delving into new territory just as, nine albums in, you might have wondered what new territory they have left to explore.” The world events that followed the song’s release have only made the track more horrifying – the wailed chorus line about shadowy figures who “know where you live” feels even more grim and upsetting now the most powerful man in western politics is a demagogue pledging to put Muslims on a registry. The world gets worse and worse, but Radiohead remain steadily capable of pulling incredible songs out of the bag. AH 26 Abra ‘Crybaby’ True Panther Abra – ‘Crybaby’’ One of Abra’s most distinctive features is her knack for delivering richly poetic songs so casually that it feels as though she’s inventing them as she goes along. ‘Crybaby’ takes that skill to a new level. Its endoskeleton is a sharply convulsing beat worthy of prime Jam & Lewis, but it’s the way Abra gradually fleshes it out that makes it so engrossing: the addition of background chorales, then a tingling synth harp, then bringing all the elements together in glorious, unashamedly big fashion. Her delivery, too, is as supple as ever: the sudden elongation of the phrase “ocean of emotion” is particularly delicious, and almost overshadows the casual evocation of an ancient deity in the next line: “I am not Poseidon, but I ride him in the riptide.” AM 25 Lindstrøm ‘Closing Shot’ (Feedelity) Lindstrøm – ‘Closing Shot’ Norway’s brand of nu-disco has weathered every storm and outlasted all of dance music’s flash-in-the-pan trends over the past decade, despite only really being made by a handful of producers. On ‘Closing Shot’, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm demonstrates why. A soaring epic that combines the synth-prog of his 2005 classic ‘I Feel Space’ with the hum-along feel of Todd Terje’s ‘Inspector Norse’, it shows that you don’t need a vocal hook to make one of the year’s biggest dance anthems. SW 24 Demdike Stare ‘Hardnoise’ (DDS) Demdike Stare – ‘Hardnoise’ Wonderland’s sprawling centerpiece, ‘Hardnoise’ is the perfect representation of Demdike Stare in 2016. Gone is the occult ambience and ethno-sampling that characterized their early work, replaced by bare, ragged beats, rumbling jungle basslines and very little else. If you’re left wanting a pretty melody, don’t despair – there’s one about eight minutes in. Bish bash bosh. JT 23 Dave ‘Wanna Know’ (Tropics Records) Dave – ‘Wanna Know’ (opens in new tab) Drake’s been after a grime-adjacent British break-out since he first copped Top Boy, and with ‘Wanna Know’ he finally struck gold. Santan Dave’s original does everything right: it’s unshakably British (right down to the #ladsontour video) but wears its open-hearted Drake influences on its sleeve. Those lilting, half-sung bars and molasses-slow, Houston-influenced beats are nothing if not reminiscent of the Toronto superstar’s biggest moments, but what we didn’t really need was an extra verse from Drake himself on the remix. We get it, mate – you’re just adding salt to the ocean. JT 22 Floorplan ‘Mmm Hmm Hmm’ (M-Plant Music) Floorplan – ‘Mmm Hmm Hmm’ (opens in new tab) Robert Hood and his daughter Lyric built a bulletproof chassis for their fifth-gear ascension on Victorious, an album of devotional house-techno hybrids that saw the minimal godfather’s austere constructions embellished and enlivened by faint touches of disco, ghetto-house and even hip-hop. Alongside the sensational ‘Music’ and ‘Tell You No Lie’, released on a 12” before the album dropped, nearly every track offers major dancefloor firepower – but for our money it’s the relentless metallic rush of ‘Mmm Hmm Hmm’ and its genius Missy Elliott vocal sample that lifts our feet off the ground. CR 21 Kevin Gates ‘2 Phones’ (Atlantic Records) Kevin Gates – ‘2 Phones’ Islah is no Luca Brasi tape, but it is one of the most pitch-perfect major label debuts we’ve seen from a rapper in a long time. Part of that has to do with the vitality of Kevin Gates’ radio efforts, particularly the indelible ‘2 Phones’. It’s catchy and easily memeable, but missing none of the grit we’ve come to expect from the Baton Rouge rapper — it’s no wonder he went platinum with no features. CL For me the best album this year was Smells like teen spirit by Nirvana [John Wayne] Byline? 20 Sir Spyro ‘Topper Top’ feat. Killa P, Lady Chann & Teddy Bruckshot (Deep Medi Musik) Sir Spyro feat. Killa P, Lady Chann and Teddy Bruckshot – ‘Topper Top’ ’Topper Top’ was the most highly prized dancefloor weapon in the land this year, starting life as a fabled dubplate from grime veteran Sir Spyro before getting a full release on Mala’s label. Ripping the roof off the rave like King Kong on the warpath, Spyro throws foundation-damaging bass under a cluster of stink-eye brass, automatic weapons and not a lot else. It’s the perfect platform for three of the rudest MCs in the game to go apeshit over. “Top ah top” for sure. CR 19 Mitski ‘Your Best American Girl’ (Dead Oceans) Mitski – ‘Your Best American Girl’ Pop-punk has predominantly been the preserve of white American man-childs since its mid ‘90s heyday. ‘Your Best American Girl’ saw New York songwriter Mitski “ham up the tropes” of the genre in a raw, affecting song that touches on visibility and western ideals of beauty. “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me, but I do, I think I do,” she sings over big crunchy power chords, looking on forlornly in the video as the object of her affections makes out with a blonde white woman. The entirety of her Puberty 2 album was powerful – a collection of defiant guitar-driven torch songs about loving yourself to love others. ‘Your Best American Girl’ was that album’s standout – and one of 2016’s standout tracks too. AH 18 Kanye West ‘Ultralight Beam’ (GOOD Music) Kanye West – ‘Ultralight Beam’ (opens in new tab) The saying goes, if you’re a Kanye West fan, you’re really a fan of yourself. Never has the underlying meaning of that Kanyeism — that if you love Kanye’s will to greatness, you too can foster that will — been clearer than in Chance the Rapper’s verse on ‘Ultralight Beam’. He puts Nicki Minaj’s ‘Monster’ elbow grease into writing these bars — his are the most potent and the most uniquely prayerful; adoring without a sacrifice of self. After a year in which the outlook of ‘Ultralight Beam’ felt more necessary than ever, it’s easy to look back at it as Chance’s cotillion. “I’m just having fun with it,” he raps as his verse reaches its zenith. We know, Chance. And we were, too, even though it seems like one of the hardest things to do. CL 17 DJ Q ‘Sonic’ (Local Action) DJ Q – ‘Sonic’ Has there been a more immediately enjoyable track this year? We don’t think so, but we’re happy to admit this one plays into FACT’s core interests shamelessly. It’s bassline deity DJ Q’s ode to Sega mascot Sonic The Hedgehog, and it’s constructed exclusively from familiar samples chopped from the game itself. If that doesn’t scream “club destroyer” to you, we don’t know what will. When you’ve heard this at peak time on a system big enough to blow your eardrums out, you won’t be able to hold back your emotions. To pilfer the rallying cry of another popular, brightly colored cartoon animal: “Huge!” JT 16 Avalon Emerson ‘The Frontier’ (Whities) Avalon Emerson – ‘The Frontier’ (opens in new tab) Avalon Emerson’s paean to Arizona captures her homeland’s sublime desert geography. Stark, arid percussion rolls along like a rocky boulder careering down a mountain, while the sweet melody recalls the beauty of what the producer has called the “extraterrestrial landscapes” of the state. ‘The Frontier’ is one of the best examples of Whities’ reliable output this year, including another from this list, Reckonwrong’s ‘The Passions of Pez’. ACW 15 Lil Uzi Vert ‘Money Longer’ (Generation Now/Atlantic) Lil Uzi Vert – ‘Money Longer’ Fame is presented as a burden by many in the rap game, but not Lil Uzi Vert. ‘Money Longer’, from the Philly rapper’s Scott Pilgrim-inspired Vs The World tape, sees him list off the ways life has changed for the better since rising to the brink of the hip-hop elite. “Haters got sadder, money got longer, speaker got louder, car got faster,” he brags over a bright Maaly Raw beat, full of rattling trap hi-hats and rising synth melodies. If you needed evidence of the charisma that’s carrying Uzi to even greater excesses of stardom, ‘Money Longer’ is it. AH 14 D∆WN ‘Honest’ (Fade To Mind) D∆WN – ‘Honest’ Appropriately for an artist preoccupied with mythology and world-building, Dawn Richard’s colour-themed trilogy is its own interconnected universe. This year’s Red Era found her Kingdom-produced Infrared EP function as the Redemption album’s prologue and flipside, much as 2012’s Whiteout EP preceded Goldenheart the following year. Lead single ‘Honest’ is fragile, ambiguous and tactile, Richard thinking herself in circles as Kingdom divebombs her with bass. His production has tended towards the airless in recent years, and it’s a testament to Richard’s songwriting and grasp of melody that she brings ‘Honest’ alive in such an environment. AM 13 DJ Marfox ‘2685’ (Príncipe) DJ Marfox – ‘2685’ On the lead single from his Chapa Quente EP, Lisbon producer and batida pioneer DJ Marfox shows off the deft hybridity of his work by slapping an undulating flute melody over a hard-hitting slab of ‘90s techno. A dizzying polyrhythmic assault, it’s one of the highest points on an already vertigo-inducing record, securing Marfox’s status as the overlord of Príncipe. ACW 12 Fat Joe and Remy Ma ‘All The Way Up’ (EMPIRE) Fat Joe and Remy Ma – ‘All The Way Up’ (opens in new tab) New York often gets treated as rap’s old folks’ home, but ‘All The Way Up’ is proof that not all vets lose their juice. Fat Joe has always been good for an ascending club anthem — ‘Lean Back’, ‘Make it Rain’ — but it’s his Terror Squad pal Remy Ma who does most of the heavy lifting. “Just left the big house to a bigger house / Ain’t have a girlfriend, but the bitch is out” is a contender for both best bars of the year and best lyrics about being released from jail of all time. ‘All the Way Up’ isn’t just a killer comeback, it’s a reminder that as much as people want to keep the home of hip-hop six feet under, NYC has always got another trick up its sleeve. CL 11 Don’t DJ ‘Gammelan’ (Berceuse Heroique) Don’t DJ – ‘Gammelan’ Don’t DJ broke through to a wider audience this year with his cyclical, polyrhythmic meditations on the connections between electronic music and otherworldly folk and classical. There may be a 4/4 pulse beating away inside ‘Gammelan’, but it’s the non-linear motion of the bells and chimes that shifts the Indonesian tradition into a contemporary club context, feeling earthy and exotic in equal measure. OW For me the best album this year was Smells like teen spirit by Nirvana [John Wayne] Byline? 10 Drake ‘One Dance’ (Young Money Entertainment/Cash Money Records) Drake – ‘One Dance’ (opens in new tab) Views mega hit ‘One Dance’ saw Drake pleading over a Crazy Cousinz sample for one fleeting moment on a dancefloor with the same female archetype he’s been doing emotional battle with for years: a smoky, beautiful but unruly temptress whose affection exists just out of reach for the lovelorn Canadian. The song’s success, however, was anything but fleeting – since its April release, it’s rampaged to one billion streams on Spotify alone and this summer was the only thing more all-conquering than Pokémon Go. From a narrative point of view, ‘One Dance’ is same old Drake: a late night tangle with a girl in possession of “powers taking ahold of me.” In terms of the rapper’s musical evolution, though, it’s another clever plundering of an underground sound – in this case UK funky – for a template to a pop behemoth. Whether Drizzy is appropriating or merely appreciating the UK scenes he’s increasingly borrowed from since dipping into a Wiley show in 2012 is up for debate. His ability to fashion those borrowed sounds into impossibly infectious club hits, however, is unquestionable – on ‘One Dance’ more than ever. AH 9 Rae Sremmurd ‘Black Beatles’ (Eardruma/Interscope) Rae Sremmurd – ‘Black Beatles’ (opens in new tab) Little known fact: ‘Black Beatles’ was being hailed as one of the year’s best rap tracks long before the #MannequinChallenge took over social media – and we’re not going to begrudge it for turning into this year’s ‘Harlem Shake’ by accident. ‘Black Beatles’ is the year’s most unashamedly fun pop-rap collision, and even OG White Beatle Paul McCartney is a fan. What more do you want? JT 8 Fox ‘Vacio’ Swing Ting Fox – ‘Vacio’ While Drake brought dancehall rhythms to the masses with ‘One Dance’, Manchester’s Swing Ting collective ensured it was also the most exciting sound bubbling in the UK underground. One of the label’s standout tracks of the year, ‘Vacio’ wasn’t heard much on the radio but it was one of the genre’s best, pitching Florentino’s minimalist, reggaeton-leaning groove against the infectious flow of Swing Ting’s resident MC Fox. Dancehall was inescapable in 2016, but Fox’s delivery on ‘Vacio’ is enough to refresh even the most jaded of ears. SW 7 D.R.A.M. ‘Broccoli’ feat. Lil Yachty (W.A.V.E./EMPIRE/Atlantic) D.R.A.M. feat. Lil Yachty – ‘Broccoli’ Once Lil Yachty and D.R.A.M.’s infectious little earworm had escaped into the atmosphere, it wasn’t a song you needed to seek out. Those cheery piano chords pulsed out of radios and car speakers with the repetitive enthusiasm of the music video’s ridiculous and plentiful gifs. That beat, with its playfully dumb flute chirp, was the perfect stage for the year’s most appealing goofballs to let loose their charisma in a tsunami of good vibes. In 2016, it didn’t matter what was happening – if you heard ‘Broccoli’ booming from a passing car, your day got a fraction better. MB 6 Equiknoxx ‘Bubble’ (Swing Ting) Equiknoxx – ‘Bubble’ ‘Bubble’ isn’t just proof of Manchester label Swing Ting’s devotion to staying at the forefront of all things dancehall, it’s a testament to Equiknoxx’s ability to inhabit every corner of the genre. The track carries the same dark weight as the Jamaican duo’s DDS-released album Bird Sound Power, but with their own pop flair carried in kind by Devin Di Dakta, who goes from calm “ra-ta-ta”-ing in the hook to spewing completely unhinged vocals in the verse. CL For me the best album this year was Smells like teen spirit by Nirvana [John Wayne] Byline? 5 Beyonce ‘Formation’ (Parkwood Entertainment) Beyonce – ‘Formation’ (opens in new tab) To appreciate ‘Formation’ anew on a purely sonic level, listen to the instrumental that plays over the end credits of Beyoncé’s Lemonade film and marvel at how she even heard a catchy pop song in that beat. Bar the occasional flash of brass, it’s a harsh and prickly canvas: rubbery synths bark into a void, punctuated by sinister chirrups and held together by weighty low-end. But Beyoncé uses its disjointed strangeness as a playground to essay a plethora of playful vocals: “I got hot sauce in my bag, swag” as a nasal aside, as if she’s trying to stifle a giggling fit; the smack of the lips as she pronounces “Cuervo with no chas-ahhh,” truly savouring her pleasure; the triumph of “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making,” declaimed from the mountaintop with a dictator’s certitude. (With these qualities, it’s little surprise that Rae Sremmurd’s impish Swae Lee was one of the song’s writers.) There’s a meta playfulness, too, with its hidden Easter eggs about Lemonade: the plot twist that “hot sauce” was the baseball bat of ‘Hold Up’, the declaration that “they’ll never take the country out me” pointing straight to ‘Daddy Lessons’. ‘Formation’ functioned as both prologue and epilogue to Lemonade, preceding the album and introducing us to Beyoncé as political radical (together with its video, ‘Formation’ stands as one of 2016’s key protest songs) – but ultimately ending it, pointing to a way forward from heartbreak and anger. When Beyoncé sings “Slay, trick, or you get eliminated,” it’s an important shout-out to black queer culture – but in 2016, it felt less like a challenge and more a necessity to survive. AM 4 Pangaea ‘Skips Desk’ (Hessle Audio) Pangaea – ‘Skips Desk’ With a decade-long run of strong singles behind him, Pangaea was always going to be under pressure to deliver the goods on his debut album. Happily, the Hessle Audio co-pilot stepped up to the challenge, fusing his more recent taste for militant techno structures with his instinct for playful sampling, and while there are plenty of standout moments on In Drum Play, ‘Skips Desk’ comes bowling in at the last minute to snatch the lead. That drunken kick stutter could easily tunnel into a techno loop, but instead Kevin McAuley throws one of his perfect curveballs with a lead line that cuts through the darkness like a strobe. When so much modern dance music is concerned with being moody, ‘Skips Desk’ cuts through the murk in a boisterous, irresistibly weird rush of positivity. OW 3 Danny L Harle ‘Super Natural’ feat. Carly Rae Jepsen (Sony Music) Danny L Harle feat. Carly Rae Jepsen – ‘Super Natural’ (opens in new tab) PC Music has been threatening to break into the real world since ‘Hey QT’ caught the attention of the mainstream media a couple of years ago – and in 2016 it properly happened. Many would have expected label founder A.G. Cook to be the one to make the transition overground first, but it was Danny L Harle’s team-up with Carly Rae Jepsen that delivered PC Music’s first bonafide pop song, equalling much of last year’s brilliant Emotion album by attaching Jepsen’s heartfelt tale of true love to a soaring blast of bubblegum trance. So much of PC Music is filtered through a layer of irony that it can be hard to connect with it in anything other than the most fleeting of ways; ‘Super Natural’ proves their larger-than-life aesthetic has the power to resonate emotionally too. SW 2 Rihanna ‘Work’ (Westbury Road/Roc Nation) Rihanna – ‘Work’ (opens in new tab) Rihanna knows a thing or two about work – in the eight years between 2005 and 2012, she famously dropped eight albums, none of which had a single quite like the imperious ‘Work’. It’s hard to know where to begin with what’s so utterly fucking brilliant about the dancehall slinker, dropped in January after a relative eternity of waiting. The fact it takes the undeniable melodies of the Barbadian’s biggest singles but strips out all the bombast, leaving a sophisticated smoulder? Or maybe the fact that, in tandem with Beyonce’s ‘Formation’, released a few weeks later, it features one of the biggest stars on the planet embracing her culture by dipping in and out of Creole and Patois, and thundering to hundreds of millions of streams anyway? Perhaps it’s the message of ‘Work’ that makes it so work so well – unlike the wild romantic fantasy of ‘We Found Love’, it presents relationships not as passionate, sweep-you-off-your-feet whirlwinds, but as a grind, a hustle, constantly in danger of falling into neglect. Rihanna has never sounded as real, nor as vital. AH For me the best album this year was Smells like teen spirit by Nirvana [John Wayne] Byline? 1 Popcaan ‘Ova Dweet’ (Notnice Records) Popcaan – ‘Ova Dweet’ In hindsight, you could argue that Popcaan was the architect of the whole musical year. His Mixpak album Where We Come From, released late in 2014, barely came off our system during 2015, and this year it felt like his style percolated into the mainstream almost by necessity: incessantly catchy hooks, bubbling synth splashes, and the sudden, obvious brilliance of shoving a dembow rhythm under any given pop tune meant that nearly all of the biggest hits of the year owed a debt to dancehall, and Popcaan’s laid-back polish set the tone. Drake borrowed him for a verse on ‘Controlla’ but booted him off the Views version, then stole his steez for ‘One Dance’ and ended up with the biggest-selling song of the year. No one said life was fair. But Popcaan himself treated 2016 as a vigorous victory lap – aside from that missing guest verse, he had a handful of hits on the island (including one dedicated to the West Indies’ World Cup cricket victory) and popped up on dancehall-style singles by Alunageorge and Naughty Boy (alongside Kyla, whose voice was sampled for the hook of ‘One Dance’ – the pop universe is small right now). He led the Mixpak team to surprise victory at the Red Bull Culture Clash and, most importantly, released the irresistible ‘Ova Dweet’. Picked up from Kingston to Brooklyn to Manchester, as played over here in sets by Murlo, Swing Ting and Hipster’s Don’t Dance, not to mention Mixpak boss Dre Skull’s essential FACT mix, ‘Ova Dweet’ bubbled its way into our faves with ease. Anyone with a passing ear for dancehall got ensnared in the riddim and Popcaan’s endless stream of melodic nuggets, hook after hook after hook. ‘Ova Dweet’ might not be on mainstream pop radio, but its weightless synth bursts and hefty dembow adaptation are the bones of every Xeroxed “tropical pop” jam of the year (and fuck, there were a lot of those). The riddim is a futuristic fantasy – trance synths bubble into the stratosphere over a dinky spaceship’s worth of bleeps and chirps while moody pads swirl below. Even the filter twists applied to Popcaan’s vocal as he preens and poses (“Them smell mi cologne from a mile”) add to the forward-thrust, making every second slippery, dynamic and pleasingly weird. We could listen to the riddim alone forever. It’s not the most profound song of the year, it’s not a protest song for this wretched age. It’s not a statement – unless you count Popcaan’s definitive claim to looking so goddamn fresh all the time. But we love it, and it never gets old. In 2016, the dancefloor was a great place to be. CR Written by Miles Bowe, Al Horner, Claire Lobenfeld, Alex Macpherson, Chal Ravens, John Twells, April Clare Welsh, Oli Warwick and Scott Wilson. Share this: Facebook Twitter Pinterest The 50 best albums of 2016 The 20 best rap and R&B tracks of 2016 The 10 best video game soundtracks of 2016 WTF, 2016? The year’s 25 most outrageous music stories Back to FACT