The Second Annual WSH Highly Scientific Ranking of the Year’s Best Songs
Welcome back, everyone.
Last year’s Highly Scientific Ranking of the Year’s Best Songs featured me and me alone. This time, I’ve asked some writer friends to join the fun. Among these friends are academics and professional writers and folks tied into the industry, but most importantly, they are very good people with musical tastes I’ve always respected. I can’t thank them enough for their help with this article, and I’m grateful that folks – friends or not – want their writing on my little startup website.
Check out our lists below, and click the PLAYLISTS tab for access to our year-end playlist, available through Spotify. It’s lit.
Larry J. Sanders | Curator, W S H
Song of the Year: "pick up the phone" · Travi$ Scott & Young Thug featuring Quavo
Larry's Top Songs of 2016
1A. "pick up the phone" · Travi$ Scott & Young Thug featuring Quavo
1B. "Ultralight Beam" · Kanye West featuring The-Dream, Kelly Price, Chance The Rapper & Kirk Franklin
2. "Summer Friends" · Chance The Rapper featuring Jeremih & Francis & The Lights
3. "Stealing" · Ty Dolla $ign
4. "Change" · J. Cole featuring Ari Lennox
5. "Dang!" · Mac Miller featuring Anderson .Paak
So, was this year absolute trash or what?
(That's a rhetorical question. If you disagree with that sentiment, I honestly don't know how you wound up here. But feel free to keep reading. Welcome to W H A T S U I T S H I M. Enjoy your stay.)
Because the realities of life made, you know, living way more tedious this year than in years past, I tended to use music as a getaway more often than usual. And no song made me happier this year than the latest Travi$ Scott and Young Thug opus, "pick up the phone."
Travi$ and Thugger placed last year at #5 for "Drunk." This year, they get the #1 spot. (#1A, technically; "Ultralight Beam gets #1B, and I'll talk about that song in a second.) They don't miss. They can't lose. The instrumental is everything I've come to expect from them. Reverend Quavo is also involved, leading by example by refusing to discriminize. The song just makes me happy. And in a year where happiness just didn't seem sustainable, having this song on-demand for the past 6 months made things just a bit more bearable. Travi$ said he released "pick up the phone" specifically for the kids; he and I are both '92 babies, but I'm 14 all over again once that beat drops and I hear Thugger’s voice. And I'm so okay with that.
Album of the Year: Coloring Book · Chance The Rapper
Larry's Top Albums of 2016
1. Coloring Book · Chance The Rapper
2. ANTI · Rihanna
3. The Life of Pablo · Kanye West
4. Too High to Riot · Bas
5. Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight · Travi$ Scott
I'm finding it somewhat bizarre I'm even writing this, considering this time last year I still wasn't sold on Chance The Rapper. I'd spent summer 2015 enamored with the bulk of Surf, the project he'd dropped alongside his good friend and frequent collaborator, Donnie Trumpet, but none of my love for that mixtape was Chance-specific. I won't say I enjoyed it despite Chance, but I definitely didn't enjoy it because of him. Or so I thought.
Not-so-breaking-news alert: Chancelor Bennett is a very talented musician. And while his first Saturday Night Live performance last December got me intrigued, his second in February pushed me onto the bandwagon. You know, the time he performed "Ultralight Beam" on a stage with Kanye West and Kelly Price and Kirk Franklin and Fonzworth Bentley and outshone them all.
3 months later, Chance The Rapper released the album of the year. My personal affinity for Coloring Book is tied to my own religious background, sure, but way too much focus has been on what Chance represents and not the fact his most recent music has been sonically and lyrically unassailable. He's cheerful without being corny, religious without being preachy, positive while recognizing that this world desperately needs Jesus. He’s the rapper I would’ve been, just wittier and more musically inclined. If Coloring Book was made for nobody else, it was tailor-made for me.
And so, in something of a landslide, Chance The Rapper wins this spot. He’s made me a believer, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Larry is the curator of this here project and the Executive Director of TeamCedricGill, a fledgling non-profit committed to providing resources to Detroit-area student athletes. If you're in Detroit this weekend, support young black business and visit The Valley, TeamCedricGill's first community event in two years.
Rhyanna J. Morgan | Co-Founder, The Glam Korner
Song of the Year: "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" · Kanye West featuring Kid Cudi & Kelly Price
Rhyanna's Top Songs of 2016
1. "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" · Kanye West featuring Kid Cudi & Kelly Price
2. "Good Drank" · 2 Chainz featuring Gucci Mane & Quavo
3. "Cranes in the Sky" · Solange
4. "We" · Mac Miller featuring Cee-Lo Green
5. "The Beautiful Ones" · Prince & The Revolution
Full disclosure: this song is in my top-five despite Kanye’s very deliberately obnoxious and irreverent lyrics.
This is the best song of the year. Consider the sample. Also named "Father Stretch My Hands," Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir are the geniuses behind this track. Kanye’s version actually didn’t require much production at all considering the origins of the song's "sample." Kanye, Rick Rubin, Metro Boomin, and others simply chopped the track into two parts; sped it up; and added an otherworldly bass drop, a sub, and a nice catchy snare in the background. Precisely the reasons for this song being great. Alongside the choir, Cudi and Kelly Price's vocals add polish to the track. I’m not here to analyze Kanye’s lyrics, or try to examine his internal moral conflict between f***ing models or going to church on the same song. I no longer care. What I do care about, however, is Kid Cudi humming to me over a Metro Boomin bass line in conjunction with a soulful youth choir.
Album of the Year: The Sun's Tirade · Isaiah Rashad
Rhyanna's Top Albums of 2016
1. The Sun's Tirade · Isaiah Rashad
2. The Divine Feminine · Mac Miller
3. Blank Face LP · ScHoolboy Q
4. A Seat at the Table · Solange
5. Too High to Riot · Bas
Just listen to it. Then listen to it again...and again. This. Is. My. Favorite. Album. Period. I’m on stan levels with this album. It dropped Labor Day weekend, and it was highly anticipated by me and my boyfriend. I've listened to it literally everyday since it was released. The LP starts with a skit; TDE’s Dave Free practically begging (or demanding) Zay release the work, which immediately resonates if you’re an Isaiah fan. The album rings of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City if you will, in the sense that you’re hearing the story of a young black man growing up, coping, and learning his environment. Each song gives us glimpses into Zay’s conscious as he navigates his youth while discovering himself, and it has resonated deeply with me this year.
On a lighter note, the production is A1 with a mix of pianos, saxes and jazzy undertones over dope bass lines, which is how I prefer my rap and hip-hop. He pulled stellar verses out of Kendrick Lamar on "Wats Wrong" and - my personal favorite - Jay Rock on "Tity & Dolla." My favorite song, however, is "Bday." The most personal song on the album, he discusses his struggles with alcohol, self-medicating, and making it in his city as a young Black youth with his father’s tendencies. The album also features a hook from The Internet's Syd Tha Kyd on "Silkk da Shocka," and a Syd appearance always warms my heart. In all honesty, this album may not be the best album of the year, but it is without a doubt my album of the year.
Rhyanna is currently a B.S. candidate majoring in Education at Detroit's Wayne State University. Rhyanna is also a makeup artist for Bobbi Brown Comestics and one-half of The Glam Korner, her freelance makeup project with Ms. Jacqueline Elliott. She and Larry have been arguing about music since the beginning of their friendship 14 years ago. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram, and read her first WSH piece here.
Philip Lewis | Front Page Editor, The Huffington Post
Though technically not an “album,” the mixtape Coloring Book by Chance The Rapper was my favorite project of 2016. The mixtape was my introduction to the 23-year-old Chicago artist; I was not familiar with his discography prior to the mixtape’s release in May. However, a friend of mine thoroughly enjoyed the music, so I decided to give it a shot. The upbeat tempo, features, gospel choir samples had me listening to the mixtape nearly every morning on the A train heading into Manhattan. As I left New York City and moved back to Washington, D.C., I listened to Coloring Book for most of the drive. In a year that was very much like a whirlwind for me, Chance was a new voice I could appreciate. His music, for me, was therapeutic. Coloring Book was something different from the mainstream at that point in time. It was also the first project in quite some time that I could listen to each single track without skipping one, a phenomenon that has become increasingly rare these days. He definitely gained a fan.
Philip's Top Songs of 2016
"Angels" · Chance The Rapper featuring Saba
"Controlla" · Drake
"24K Magic" · Bruno Mars
"Black Beatles" · Rae Sremmurd featuring Gucci Mane
"Formation" · Beyoncé
Philip's Top Albums of 2016
The Life of Pablo · Kanye West
Coloring Book · Chance The Rapper
Lemonade · Beyoncé
A Seat at the Table · Solange
Starboy · The Weeknd
Ayanna A. Sinclair | Music & Entertainment Digital Media Freelancer
Song of the Year: "Work" · Rihanna featuring Drake
Ayanna's Top Songs of 2016
1. "Work" · Rihanna featuring Drake
2. "Flex / Controlla (RMX)" · Tory Lanez
3. "Bad B*tch" · Dreezy
4. "100 Rounds" · Dom Kennedy + Hit-Boy
5. "Bad & Boujee" · Migos featuring Lil Uzi Vert
Honorable Mention: "Work for It" · DJ Khaled featuring Big Sean, 2 Chainz & Gucci Mane
Cues initial beat drop.
Putting her own spin on the reggae/dancehall-meets-mainstream music takeover, Rihanna put her Bajan and West Indian roots on display. In one song, she showed the world: "I do this." A hitmaker and true island girl, "Work" was the perfect track. It brought that old nostalgic bashment vibe back to 2016; a vibe that me and my Jamaican roots loved, appreciated and thrived with. I vividly remember saying that I couldn't wait to hear this out at a party. When I did, the feeling was even better than I expected.
It spawned a wave of backyard dancehall parties that lit up the summer. People, old and young, of different backgrounds, races, etc., knew "Work;" probably not all the words, but they were able to catch the feeling that the song evoked. Social media took the bad gyal's song and ran with it, creating endless memes, videos, and gifs. Of course with Drake featured, my summer anthem had the perfect mix of dancehall and hip-hop. Not to mention, all the remixes, Beniton's being my favorite.
Rihanna created a moment. A long lasting one that will continue to be mentioned when talking her discography and legacy.
Album of the Year: Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight · Travi$ Scott
Ayanna's Top Albums of 2016
1. Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight · Travi$ Scott
2. A Seat at the Table · Solange
3. The Life of Pablo · Kanye West
4. We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service · A Tribe Called Quest
5. Blank Face LP · ScHoolboy Q
Honorable Mention: The Return of East Atlanta Santa · Gucci Mane
Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. Hands down, easily one of my favorite albums of the year. Before diving into the music, the title alone piques curiosity and interest. From start to finish, the features, song transitions, the production, is perfection. Birds was released in September, and Travi$ started off the fourth quarter with straight heat. It's an easy listen straight through. A project full of fun, love, sh*t-talking, and turn-up. It's impossible to pick a favorite album cut, simply because every single track is amazing. Each has its own essence that allows it to stand alone as a banger yet functions just the same when together. It provided such a smooth soundtrack to Q4 of my 2016, and that alone is unforgettable.
Birds further solidified Travis's role as an industry heavyweight. He is not to be overlooked and he is way overdue for his credit. His sound continues to provide inspiration to many. You can hear his influence in a number of records. Travi$, aka La Flame, is a trendsetter, and his number-one Billboard charting album displays just that. I thoroughly look forward to any new features, tracks or visuals he blesses us with. I am patiently waiting to yell "beibs in the trap," "sweet sweet," "way back," "goosebumps," and literally every other track at the top of my lungs at the next rodeo.
Ayanna A. Sinclair is a Music & Entertainment Digital Media Freelancer living in Brooklyn, NYC. Her favorite MC is JAY Z, revealing her high expectations for anyone touching a mic. She has worked for Karen Civil, Live Civil, Civil TV, The FADER and more. Check her out on Instagram.
Kyr Rashad Mack | Master's Degree Candidate · African-American Literature, Howard University
Song of the Year: "Might Not Be OK" · Kenneth Whalum featuring Big K.R.I.T.
Kyr's Top Songs of 2016
1. "Might Not Be OK" · Kenneth Whalum featuring Big K.R.I.T.
2. "Drug Dealers Anonymous" · Pusha T featuring JAY Z
3. "Needed Me" · Rihanna
4. "No Problem" · Chance The Rapper featuring 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne
5. "Sorry" · Beyoncé
As an underrated, predominantly underground, and newly independent rapper, Big K.R.I.T. has carved himself quite a place in hip hop since 2010. Fresh off of his exodus from Def Jam, K.R.I.T. has continuously proved to hip hop aficionados that he deserves to be in the conversation of top 5 hip hop artists. While I am in possession of an argument that privileges K.R.I.T. as third of those top hip hop artists right now after Kendrick and Cole, I’ll entertain that conversation at a later date for the sake of discussing this song.
Whalum and K.R.I.T.’s “Might Not Be OK” serves as an antithesis to Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 To Pimp a Butterfly anthem “Alright.” While Lamar’s “Alright” provides hope to the listener for the struggle, strife, trials and tribulations of the life and times of an individual navigating through American culture, K.R.I.T offers a realist’s take on staying balanced and grounded during rough times within our communities. Hard hitting lyrics laced with the major seven chords on a piano (reminiscent of faster paced Nina Simone-inspired “Blood on the Leaves”), K.R.I.T. delivers a powerful and gripping soliloquy of the persistent police brutality on black men, women, and children that is perpetuated through our society.
This song was showcased and ultimately one of the lone highlights of the 2016 BET Hip Hop Awards as Big K.R.I.T. performed the acapella version of this song. “Might Not Be OK” is my number one song because it represents an attitude held by a collection of black folks who continue to watch with great horror as our people are subjected to racial injustices and prejudices in America.
Album of the Year: 1992 · The Game
Kyr's Top Albums of 2016
1. 1992 · The Game
2. Coloring Book · Chance The Rapper
3. Blank Face LP · ScHoolboy Q
4. Malibu · Anderson .Paak
5. SEPT. 5TH · dvsn
1992 is an album amongst the litany of West-Coast hip-hop projects released in 2016, especially from the Game. Fresh off of 2015’s The Documentary 2 and The Documentary 2.5, Jayceon Taylor decided to place his name in the pantheon of great hip-hop artists to release double albums (2Pac’s All Eyez on Me, The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death, and JAY Z’s The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse). He followed that output with an A&E television documentary and mobile gaming application titled, Streets of Compton and Block Wars, respectively. Both feature an accompanying soundtrack of the same title.
1992 is a full length concept LP that encompasses an era of American culture. Thematically, 1992 is a tightly woven narrative of a young, observant black man growing up as a participant in a dynamic and mostly volatile culture of race relations, gang warfare, and culture shocking stories. Although I thought 1992 was lost amongst the fray of projects released and the brief conflicts with Meek Mill and Beanie Sigel (some thought it was a marketing ploy), it stands up amongst the top projects of 2016. I place it at one specifically for its strong narratives that operate within a tradition of cultural memory and nostalgia as well as its street-anthemic production weaving late 1980’s and early-1990’s hip hop and R&B charting singles. This serves as a great addition to The Game’s potent discography and should be held high as a concept album.
Kyr Rashad Mack (@KyRisMatic) is a DC transplant from Chicago with an affinity for books, music, comics, and sports. When he's not teaching collegiate minds about contemporary African-American literature while pursuing his own academic endeavors, he's capturing great behind-the-scenes pictures and "studio" interviews for his friend's "For The Culture Radio" (@FTCRadio) podcast.
Kwamena Amissah | twentyfourgifts
Kwam's Top Songs of 2016
"Father Stretch My Hands Pt. I" · Kanye West featuring Kid Cudi & Kelly Price
The production for this song is amazing between the minds of Kanye and Metro Boomin. The lyrics are different then traditional Kanye, but we must accept that the College Dropout Kanye is no longer with us. Kid Cudi delivers a great compliment hook to the beat and let's not forget that this song propelled another song, "Panda" to #1 hit. This song can be argued to be song of the year but then again this was a terrific year for music.
"Work" · Rihanna featuring Drake
If you are in the mood to dance, "Work" will definitely put some rhythm in your body. With the chemistry that Drake and Rihanna share plus the Caribbean vibe, this is a great song to get your dutty wine or two step. The song is no only catchy and sexy but has the timely Drake hooks that takes it from good to great. Was a great song to start 2016 off.
"24K Magic" · Bruno Mars
That feel-good song that just can change any negative mood to a positive one. It gets you out of bed and just makes you want to dance. With an uptempo beat and fun lyrics, Bruno comes back on the scene with another classic. It’s one of my favorite songs to not only start my day but to get me in that I can do anything mood.
"Controlla" / "One Dance" · Drake featuring Wizkid & Kyla
This can be a toss-up to say which song stood out more in 2016. “One Dance” might have charted higher, but “Controlla” was just as impactful. Drake took a different approach, infusing Caribbean vibes and dancehall with his timely phrases and mellow sound. Something to make you feel the rhythm in your body yet catchy enough to recite the lyrics. Views had a good year and these two songs had a lot to do with it.
"Black Beatles" · Rae Sremmurd featuring Gucci Mane
Even before the Mannequin Challenge, this song felt like a hit. From Swae Lee’s singing to Slim Jxmmi’s rapping, the song is flat-out catchy and one that can set any mood, especially if you are looking for a party starter. You throw Gucci Mane in the mix and you just have a classic number-one track. By far one of my favorite tracks of 2016.
Kwam's Top Albums of 2016
A Seat at the Table · Solange
During a year of hardship in the African-American community, Solange delivers an album that is unapologetically black. After not releasing an album since 2012, Solange returns to the scene offering soulful melodies and lyrics that empower the mind while instilling an essence of black pride. With such a feminine touch, this album has a powerful reach that even as a man you can't help but to indulge. The sound feels classic and will continue to get replays years to come.
Yes Lawd! · NxWorries
A soulful noise, simply put. A mix of R&B and hip-hop that combines the voice of Anderson .Paak and the cool lyrics of Knowledge to create a smooth melody. Every song feels like it builds upon the next with solid production and a feeling better than the last. This album might have been one that flew under the radar due to its lack of radio singles, but is an album that should not be missed. Great vibes, this album will leave you in wonderful spirits.
Awaken, My Love! · Childish Gambino
There has been a lot of music released in 2016, but Childish Gambino released art in a sonic form. This album comes straight from the 70s funkadelic era, delivering sounds similar to Kool and the Gang’s classic, Summer Madness. It really shows the artistry and creativity of Childish to curate music with the right combination of instruments, beats and timely vocals. The album’s sound is unique and brings something different to this generation of music. A sound that everybody can appreciate, even will have your parents feeling young again.
Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight · Travi$ Scott
Travi$ is a master of production and his sophomore album can be argued to be better than his rookie instant classic, Rodeo. La Flare is the wiz of mixing stellar beats, sounds and the perfect guest features to match. When the first song of an album features the legendary André 3000, then you know you are in for a treat. The most impressive aspect of the album is how Scott employs the talents of Kendrick Lamar, Young Thug, and Kid Cudi to curate tracks that mimic their natural sound while adding his own unique flow. A masterpiece that is great for any vibe.
Big Baby D.R.A.M. · D.R.A.M.
Big Baby D.R.A.M. might just be the best album that no one is talking about. From the first listen, you can tell this album will have a sound of its own. D.R.A.M. does a good job of blending singing and rapping into a joyous sound. The album gives you soul in the way it spins love, lust and fun. The album even includes a guest appearance from the legendary Erykah Badu. A hidden gem for anybody who likes solid instruments, vocals and a bevy of witty verses. A vibe for any occasion, mark this as a hidden gem of 2016.