Tesher Top 20 2016
Another year in the books, and what a year it was. Much has been written about the numerous reasons why 2016 was an anomaly of a year, so let’s just focus on the music instead. Welcome to the Tesher Top 20 2016!
20. Travi$ Scott — Guidance (Feat. K. Forest)
Travi$ Scott has built his brand around hard yet melodious production mixed with a unique use of auto-tune, and Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight largely consisted of material fitting that description. Guidance fits the description too, yet it’s a drastic departure from anything he has ever released. 2016 saw tons of artists hopping on the dancehall wave and Travi$ Scott is one of them, but he’s one of the few who managed to successfully adapt the genre into his own style without seeming ingenuine. Complete with gunshot adlibs, Guidance is a new-age dancehall banger and a risk that paid off for Travi$ Scott.
19. Vishal & Shekhar — Nashe Si Chadh Gayi (Feat. Arijit Singh)
Nashe Si Chadh Gayi bears clear resemblances to Major Lazer’s Lean On, but it might just improve over its source material. Bollywood dance tracks usually feature aggressive and energetic voices, which is the exact opposite of how I would describe Arijit Singh’s voice. However, he effortlessly pivots from singing slow romantic numbers to delivering an infectious chorus with a smooth delivery. The reliable Vishal & Shekhar bring in production rivaling EDM giants, and the final product exemplifies what great Bollywood music should sound like in 2017.
18. M.I.A. — Ali R U OK?
Following a long and influential discography, M.I.A. delivered her final (…?) album in 2016. One of the standouts was Ali R U OK?, a three and a half minute embodiment of pure M.I.A. that grew on me over time. The beat is very minimalistic and is almost entirely based out of a middle-eastern sample, with M.I.A. pleading with her lover to take a day off and spend time with her for once. M.I.A.’s classic sing-songy raps laid over a chopped and looped middle-eastern voice makes for one of the most experimental and enigmatic musical moments of the year.
17. Desiigner — Tiimmy Turner Remix (Feat. Kanye West)
The dense and over-the-top production featured in the studio version of Tiimmy Turner ironically left much to be desired. Also, Tiimmy Turner’s alteration to the original rhythm of Desiigner’s XXL freestyle essentially made the studio track unlistenable for me. Let me explain: If you go back and listen to the XXL freestyle, you’ll notice Desiigner snaps after he says Turner, burner, and so on. However, the studio version has the snaps land on Turner, burner, etc. which ultimately changes the rhythm of the song. This error was adequately remedied in Kanye West’s remix of the song as it stripped away most of the production, bringing it closer to the XXL freestyle. Kanye’s verse itself is also a welcome improvement over Desiigner’s verses, and the end product is the catchy banger that Tiimmy Turner was supposed to be in the first place.
16. Kanye West — Saint Pablo (Feat. Sampha)
Any criticisms against Kanye West continuing to tweak The Life of Pablo after its initial release are essentially nullified by the excellence of the final change: the addition of Saint Pablo. “I can’t say no to nobody, and at this rate we gon’ both die broke” captivates you from the get-go, and the entire track is filled with Kanye turning recent events of life into concise and catchy lines. Even though he’s the umpteenth guy to rap over the Where I’m From beat, some light synths and a chorus + outro from Sampha help Kanye keep the track refreshing. As the finale to the album, Saint Pablo leaves listeners, who may have grown concerned after certain punchlines about bleached assholes, assured that the old Kanye West is still alive.
15. Ariana Grande — Let Me Love You (Feat. Lil Wayne)
Ariana Grande’s ear for beats doesn’t receive the praise it deserves. The rhode chords on Let Me Love You alongside the subtle vocal chops spruced throughout the instrumental make the track a production standout in the world of mainstream pop, and Ariana Grande’s breathy delivery suits it perfectly. To top things off is a Lil Wayne verse that’s actually good, a rarity in recent times. Let Me Love You proved that Ariana Grande can make darker, more mature music if she chooses; here’s hoping we hear more of it soon.
14. DJ Infamous — Run The Check Up (Feat. Young Jeezy, Ludacris & Yo Gotti)
Although this song’s lineup could be taken straight out of 2005, it was one of the hardest hip-hop songs of 2016. The beat literally sounds like the soundtrack to the apocalypse, and the brash and aggressive chorus is enough to motivate anyone to go out and get money. The chorus and the first verse are vintage Young Jeezy (ha-ha’s and yeeaaaahhh’s included) and both Luda and Gotti also come correct.
13. Travi$ Scott — Raw Raw
This track was a classic case of the snippets sounding better than the official version.
Nevertheless, this song is Travi$ Scott’s catchiest yet, and 808 Mafia balances hard 808s with piano melodies perfectly. The only good reason I can think of as to why this was left off Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight is Lil Uzi Vert. I’m usually indifferent to Lil Uzi Vert, but his feature verse on the final version was so bad I actually had to manually cut it out for myself.
12. Drake — Summers Over Interlude (Feat. Majid Jordan)
Some songs have a way of painting a scene in your mind.
The Summers Over Interlude painted a picture in my mind on my very first listen; the song vividly embodies nights in Toronto. The rich and diverse production is encompassing, and the mixing of each instrument is as crisp as possible without sounding out of place. The intentionally short length of this song is fitting and actually makes it better. Summers Over is amongst Majid Jordan’s best works, and Drake evidently recognized this by putting it on his own album.
11. Kanye West — Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1 (Feat. Kid Cudi)
Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1 was one of the most entertaining songs of 2016, complete with accompanying memes! With Ultralight Beam opening Life of Pablo with an introductory prayer of sorts, Father Stretch My Hands truly kicks things into gear and sets the tone for the rest of the album. This track had signature Kanye jazz samples, crude punchlines that were fun to sing along to with your friends, and feel-good cries to God asking for liberation. If anything, this track showcased Kanye’s ability to bring out the best in his collaborators. Metro Boomin and Hudson Mohawke and others created an incredible beat, and Kid Cudi returned to form after the panned Speedin Bullet 2 Heaven had everyone ready to give up on him.
10. J Balvin — Safari (Feat. Pharrell, BIA, & Sky)
I heard this song in a hotel lobby in Barcelona and thought, “Wow, this sounds like if Pharrell did Latin music.” You can guess my reaction when I saw the result of my Shazam search. Pharrell’s production translates to Spanish magnificently, and you can’t not dance a bit when you hear this.
9. DJ Khaled — Nas Album Done (Feat. Nas)
I’m one of the many people that believe Nas could make much better music if he picked better beats, and this song is Exhibit A. Nas going off is a given, but the fact that it’s over a hard hitting instrumental featuring a sample of Lauryn Hill on Fu-Gee-La is what pushes Nas Album Done to be one of the best rap performances of the year. If his album really is done, and it features beats like this one, 2017 could be a huge year for Esco.
8. Gucci Mane — Pussy Print (Feat. Kanye West)
The return of Gucci Mane this year has played out like a fairytale and will probably be made into a biopic one day. After finally being released from jail, Gucci quit drugs, started taking better care of his health, got engaged, and of course, continued releasing unholy quantities of material. However, his music has steadily improved alongside his well-being, with all of his efforts thus far being critically lauded and commercially successful. Capitalizing on his reputation as an Atlanta legend, he’s been able to collaborate with dozens of artists, one of them being Kanye West.
Pussy Print captures the best of the old Gucci and the new Gucci. It’s dark and absolutely vulgar like his older music, while his renewed sense of focus is reflected in both the wittiness of the bars and his smooth delivery. Kanye’s verse is particularly enjoyable as he seemingly imitates Gucci. The highlight of the track, however, is Mike Will Made-It’s simplistic yet dark and atmospheric instrumental. Shit feels sinful dawg.
7. Solange — Don’t Touch My Hair (Feat. Sampha)
I’ve always seen Solange as more of a visual artist, so I was pretty surprised when she released a critically acclaimed R&B album this year. Don’t Touch My Hair lets Solange’s vocals shine more vividly than any track on the album, and the production carries a lot of great little moments as the beat effortlessly builds up and winds down throughout the song. The subtle use of wind instruments gives this track a slightly funky vibe, and Sampha’s small but significant feature ties everything together. Although the record is great in itself, its music video vastly improves upon it and actually made me enjoy the song even more.
6. Young Thug — With Them
It’s been about 3 years since Young Thug came onto the scene, and we’re still no closer to figuring him out. He has, however, grown exceptionally as an artist and put out solid music all 2016. With Them is the quintessential Young Thug song — outlandish lyrics, melodies that get stuck in your head for days, and a bouncy beat courtesy of Mike Will Made-It. The very first bar on the song, “she suck on my dick on the plane so I just call her airhead,” is enough to captivate listeners straightaway. Honestly, I can’t tell you how much I danced to this song over the summer. In a world where new rap weirdos show up every month, Thug has consistently proved himself to be the weirdest, thus solidifying his staying power.
5. Fat Joe & Remy Ma — All The Way Up (Feat. French Montana)
If you would have told me Fat Joe and Remy Ma would have one of the best songs of 2016 — over ten years after Lean Back — I would’ve told you to get out of town. Unfortunately, All The Way Up wasn’t the most unbelievable thing to happen this year, but I’m glad it happened. Joe delivers the most quotable rap chorus of 2016, Remy Ma returns from a six year stint in prison with a fiery verse, and French Montana is French Montana. Also, whoever decided to put krumping geishas in the music video is a genius. Everything clicked perfectly on this song, giving New York yet another banger to be proud of.
4. DJ Khaled — For Free (Feat. Drake)
By June 2016, Drake had dropped a full-length album and a plethora of music before it but thanks to DJ Khaled, we somehow got yet another solo Drake track in the form of For Free. This simple and catchy track defined summer 2016 and had one of the best beats of the year, courtesy of Nineteen85 and Majid Jordan. Playing this at parties was a sure-fire way to get people dancing, and I really hope Drake drops more upbeat music like For Free in 2017.
3. Drake — Controlla
I remember this song leaking like a month before Views dropped and getting extremely excited for the rest of the album. Views turned out to be a little underwhelming, but Controlla remained an album highlight and one of Drake’s greatest outputs yet. The simple melody layered over 808s and a dancehall-influenced use of percussion were enough to create the best instrumental of 2016, and Drake brings a stellar performance as usual. Girls love this song, guys love this song, parents love this song — everybody can vibe to it and that’s what made Controlla a hit this summer. Other artists took notice of Drake’s successful rap-pop-dancehall crossover hit, and the list of Controlla-influenced songs continues to grow.
2. Desiigner — Panda
I love this song, but I still can’t believe it went #1.
Desiigner’s decision to refrain from doing actual verses and just repeat the chorus a number of times worked out well, as it made Panda the catchiest song of 2016. The raw energy on this song is palpable and capable of making anyone feel like they actually have broads in Atlanta, including Desiigner himself, apparently. His live performances of Panda reflect how easy it is to give yourself up to this song, as his concerts have been full of life and violent dabbing. Desiigner flows over the beat exceptionally well for someone so new and inexperienced, and he’s definitely a major artist to watch in 2017.
1. A$AP Rocky — Hear Me (Feat. Pharrell)
Yup. My #1 song of 2016 is an A$AP Rocky throwaway.
After Hear Me was previewed during an OVO Sound Radio episode last January, I downloaded and replayed the snippet countless times before the official version was even released. This song’s instrumental is an absolute dinger in every sense; the kicks are hard, the claps and snares are loud, and the sample sounds fantastic. After a downtempo album, Rocky returned with BARS, including an awesome interpolation of A Milli, and the kind of flows that made him famous to begin with. I can’t not wild out whenever I hear this song; it’s a textbook example of stunting in hip-hop. Pharrell’s background vocal assist on the chorus ties everything together before the song settles down into a relaxed instrumental for the third verse. This track didn’t get the recognition it deserved and should’ve been released as a formal single, but honestly, I’m just glad it was released at all.
These tracks didn’t quite make the list, but were still notable efforts from this year. Click on the track titles to listen.