Despite all those “2016 was the worst” memes you see floating around these days, there’s at least one good thing we can be thankful for this year: music. Even if 2016 was highlighted by anger, grief, frustration and a cavalcade of other complex emotions, I can easily say this was one of the strongest years for music that I can remember. I tried to do my best here in summing up the songs that soundtracked my year, but this list doesn’t even begin to represent all the amazing artists and projects I discovered throughout 2016. So, just like last year, I’m going to shamelessly plug my “Best of 2016” Spotify playlist in case anyone is curious to hear what other songs could have potentially made the cut.

Kanye West
Ultralight Beam

There’s nothing quite like the experience of hearing the first few notes of this song live for the very first time during Kanye’s album premiere party at Madison Square Garden–not that I was there in person, but the moment still felt very surreal nonetheless.

A Tribe Called Quest
We The People….

The Tribe could not have chosen a more appropriate time to make their comeback. “We The People” fits right in with their established catalog without sounding dated at all. The themes present in the track are unfortunately pervasive throughout society, but Tip and crew have helped us begin the healing the process. Rest in peace Phife Dawg, we’ll certainly miss you.

Childish Gambino

I’ll admit, I was skeptical of Donnie’s vocal transformation at first too, but his recent appearance on The Tonight Show certainly made me a believer. Even if you hated the album, you have to respect the man’s hustle.

Mac Miller
Dang! (feat. Anderson .Paak)

Anderson .Paak was unavoidable in 2016, making it nearly impossible to decide which of his amazing songs to include. Here he teams up with Pomo to help Mac Miller reinvent himself on undeniably one of the catchiest tracks of the year.

Chance The Rapper
No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz)

It would be hard to argue that anyone had a bigger 2016 than Chance The Rapper. “No Problem” is probably the greatest feel good anthem of the year, with Lil Wayne contributing one of his most memorable verses in what feels like years.

Feels So Right

It would have just felt so wrong to exclude MAALA from this list.

Let’s Go

“Location” may have been the song that first introduced us to the talented 18 year old from Texas, but “Let’s Go” is the perfect soundtrack for the beginning of any adventure.

Atlas Bound
Softer Still

Easily one of the most comforting tracks of the year; I was saddened to hear about the disbandment of the group 2 weeks ago, but at least we’ll always have breathtaking music like this to remember them by.

Joe Hertz
Stay Lost Ft. Amber Simone

It’s unhinkable that someone could drop two amazing, well received EPs and still be overlooked, but the fact that Joe Hertz hasn’t appeared on more end-of-the-year lists leads me to believe that’s certainly the case. One of many talented young producers based out of London, Joe certainly cemented himself at the top of the class when he released this groovy number early in 2016.

Lite Spots

Kaytranada basically dares you to resist the urge to dance with this one. He’s even got the robots doing it.

Denzel Curry
This Life

Denzel Curry can flat out rap. On “This Life” he crafts one of those hooks that forces you to throw your hands up in the air and sing right along with it, even if this is your first listen.

Danny Brown
When It Rain

Don’t let the squeaky voice fool you. “When It Rain” is Danny Brown at his most vicious, backed by an ominous instrumental that signals a storm is brewing.

Frank Ocean

This easily could’ve been just about any other track from Blonde, which should tell you how amazing that album was from top to bottom. It would have been unfair though to simply choose Frank Ocean for all 16 tracks. Seriously though, if you haven’t listened to it yet, what are you waiting for?

Jorja Smith
Blue Lights

Incredible vocals combined with indelible lyrics are what make this one so special. Even if you were to ignore the social commentary behind it, this is one song that’ll have you captivated from start to finish.

River Tiber
Acid Test

Nothing describes this song quite as well as its listed genre on SoundCloud, “psychedelic soul rock and roll.” “Acid Test” is so incredibly intricate that you’ll find yourself needing to lay back and listen to it with your eyes closed in order to absorb every single modicum of it properly.

Being No One, Going Nowhere

One of the more pleasant surprises of the year, STRFKR’s “Being No One, Going Nowhere” is the perfect soundtrack for all those times you drift aimlessly through space.

Clams Casino

Signifying the triumphant return of Clams Casino in 2016, “Blast” exemplifies the distinctive sound the brilliant producer first began cultivating back during his introduction to the music scene.

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