16 IN ‘16: Jake’s Picks
Reflecting on the year with the 16 songs - new or old - that soundtracked our respective 2016s.
1. “Pt. 2″ - Kanye West - The Life of Pablo
This song opens up the playlist because it is quintessentially 2016. And by that I mean that it’s confusing, a banger, full of memes, and really sad.
2. “Ivy” - Frank Ocean - Blonde
I love Blonde, but it took me a little white to get there. The amorphous, hypnotic album doesn’t have any particular hits, but the raw emotion of the piece as a concept made the 4-year wait worth it. “Ivy,” the second track, is one of my favorites, because you practically feel yourself falling in love right alongside Frank. We see that theme across this list and across 2016 - a departing of more traditional pop sounds for dreamy, wavy hooks combined with jarring, inventive noise.
3. “RedBone” - Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!
Awaken, My Love! was ultimately a little disappointing, IMO. But oh my god, this song is so good. Make no mistake - this is baby-making music. If you are not making babies to this song, you are listening to this incorrectly. I went to a listening party for the album and I’m 80% sure this song turned the tide of the 30+ dates I was watching unfold around me. It’s that potent. Handle with care.
4. “All Night” - Beyonce - Lemonade
YO, 9:30! I’M REALLY HAPPY FOR Y’ALL, IMMA LET YOU FINISH, BUT LEMONADE IS ONE OF THE BEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME. Okay, maybe not of all time, but you don’t have to be a resident member of the Beyhive to tell that this album is straight fire. It’s got everything - the black power anthem, a rock song with Jack White that sounds freshly cut from Yeezus, and even a country song with the Dixie Chicks. Lemonade is a cross section of what 2016 was - a year of cacophonic harmony. But I chose the penultimate number, “All Night,” to be on this list on slightly different grounds - it is a beautiful, emotional story of admiration, real, unselfish love for another human being. Yeah, it reminds me of my girlfriend. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
5. “With That” - Young Thug - Barter 6
Okay, back to that dirty s**t. “With That” is nasty. It makes you scrunch up your face and vibe. Young Thug really broke through in 2016, and as did his genre, the disdainfully-named mumblerap, spawning proteges such as Desiigner and Lil Yachy. Can you make out the words he’s saying? Maybe not. Do you know that it’s some real s**t? Absolutely. Though Barter 6 came out in 2015, Young Thug makes music so fast the album is already 5 albums back (I’d start with Barter, it gets a little sketchy from there). Young Thug is pushing the envelope for rap by breaking every rule in the book.
6. “Wolves” - Kanye West - The Life of Pablo
When I heard “Wolves” on my first listen through of TLoP, it was all but confirmed: Kanye West has lost his damn mind. “Wolves” is a great song buried in the back end of Pablo, and explores Kanye’s love for his wife, Kim K. It spends 5 minutes comparing Kim’s relationship history: her sex tape, followed by her televised wedding, and subsequent divorce after 72 days to the biblical story of the Virgin Mary. “Wolves” is an awesome song, though, regardless of the fact that it is probably played repeat during Donald Trump’s appointments with his team of expert cheeto dust appliers.
7. “715 - CR∑∑KS” - Bon Iver - 22, A Million
22, A Million came out on the 30th of September this year, and felt like that second that your ears pop. 2016 demanded toughness from all of us. “715 - CR∑∑KS” was sweet, sweet emotional release. It’s the best album of 3016. It will make you smile, take a deep breath, then go look out a window. Please go listen to it.
8. “Rome” - Ratatat - Magnifique
Ratatat is a pretty unknown band whose biggest claim to fame is producing the beat of the 2009 Kid Cudi hit, “Pursuit of Happiness.” They are also my favorite band. Though Magnifique came out in 2015, I saw Ratatat at Echostage in January, and I have no words. Psychedelic rock is awesome. “Rome” crescendos to a powerful, hypnotic riff before dropping to almost silence, and building back up to an insane musical orgasm. It’s a flawless song. Plus, Ratatat is awesome, and more people need to know about them. They make life music.
9. “Some Minds” - Flume - Single
Listen to me right now: If Mozart was alive today, he would be standing at the front bar of a Flume show. I saw Flume at 9:30 this fall and legitimately melted. This man builds music from sounds that don’t exist in the natural world; he literally pulls music OUT OF THIN AIR. I’ve seen this song’s drop put people in an actual trance. Like Young Thug, Flume has led the charge of a new sound in EDM, and this song in no exception. His newest album, Skin, came out in 2016, and it amazing. This song is amazing. Flume is amazing. You’re welcome.
10. “Dirty Work” - Herobust - I’m Aloud
Dirty Work is not for everyone. I got into EDM especially hard this year, though I was very hesitant at first. It’s hard to keep up with EDM from the outside: so many DJs, how it all sounds kinda the same, and of course, the drugs. But if you don’t like EDM, especially if you don’t like EDM, listening to this will give you a taste of how inventive the genre has gotten. What is this??? It sounds like industrial machinery. It sounds like a transformer falling down the stairs. It sounds like a dial-up modem. But why…can’t I stop… dancing????
11. “Safe” - Dumbfounded - We Might Die
“Safe.” This is a guilty pleasure song for me, one of the 17 people in the DMV who has a passion for the LA rap scene and knocksteady radio. This woke af song is off Dumbfounded’s new mixtape, We Might Die, and discusses the lack of Asian representation in Hollywood. By the numbers, I probably listened to this song more than any other song in 2016, and I’m not close to ashamed. Dumbfounded is known as a lyrical god out west, and he is gonna be in DC on February 4! Go see him! Do it!
12. “One Dance” - Drake - Views
Yeah, I couldn’t not. This was the uncontested jam of the summer, never failing to get me and every 20 something woman around me doing our best Drake, or our most cultivated Rihanna. The song also brought dancehall and Afrobeat music to the mainstream, making summer sixteen especially awesome.
13. “Untitled 7″ - Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered.
Okey doke. It’s hard for me to not overreact and call this the best song of the year, but I don’t think I could name a better one. Kendrick Lamar developed untitled unmastered. from the floor cuttings of To Pimp A Butterfly and accidentally created a series of songs that rival the full-length albums of his contemporaries. A jazz, trap, hip-hop fusion, “Untitled 7″ is the cherry on top of an already insane series of songs. It is close to being a perfect song. Production-wise, the beat of “Untitled 7″ is hallowed ground: other rappers won’t touch it. I think about Kendrick when I’m asked about how music can change the world. Lamar’s voice echoes around the song, half taunting, half challenging the rap game as a whole to get on his level: “Levitate, Levitate, Levitate, Levitate.”
14. “Alright” - Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
2017 is the beginning of a new chapter for the world. Will we find the strength to love and trust each other, rising to the challenge of our planet’s greatest tests? Or will we succumb to the darkest impulses of humanity? “If God got us, we’re gon’ be alright.”
15. “Come Down” - Anderson .Paak - Malibu
Anderson .Paak killed it this year with his release of Malibu. I had followed Anderson for a long time, first as Breezy Lovejoy, then through many short-lived projects, until this final form. “Come Down” is a great song, an energetic, groovin’ tune like only a west coaster can make. I’m excited to hear more from this guy in 2017, and I don’t see him going anywhere but up.
16. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” - Kanye West - Graduation
This song is always important to me, this year included. Kanye may be a bit of a kook sometimes, but here’s a good point: keep your head down, get tough, do what you say you’re gonna do. Those haters are going to keep coming, no matter what. But when you get your money? Then, they cant tell you nothing. It’s not the worst resolution, wouldn’t you agree? Happy holidays and good luck in the New Year!