Best of 15: The Hottest Jams of 2015

50. AJ Tracey
“Wifey Riddim”
The Front (self-released)
In an increasingly crowded and impressive new batch of grime MCs, North London’s AJ Tracey is the slickest of the lot. Blessed with an easy, melodic flow that’s sharp when it needs to be, Tracey’s debut EP is bursting with hooks and tasty wordplay. The pick of the bunch is “Wifey Riddim,” which sounds a bit like a grime Craig David track. In classic Craig D-style, Tottenham native details the (many) women of his life with engaging micro-stories that capture the youthful spirit of playing the field.

49. One Direction
Made in the A.M. (Columbia)
Every One Direction album has at least three or four airtight pop singles. They are usually guitar-driven, efficient, and impossible to get out of your head. The latest off the conveyor belt is the massive, “Perfect,” a song genetically designed to make teenagers (and, ahem, 30 year-olds) lose their goddamn minds. It’s basically a 2015 Bon Jovi song, and lord knows the world needs as many of those as it can get.

48. The-Dream
Crown (Contra Paris)
Even in a down year, the great ones tend to deliver at least one piece of magic, and 2015 was one of those years for the Patron Saint of ThunderPenguin. Only the first half of his much ballyhooed double EP, Crown Jewel, saw the light of day. And while it was far from a vintage release, it features this hidden jewel. Few do MJ-worship as convincingly as Mr. Nash, and the swooning “Fruition” sounds like a lost relic from the back-side of Thriller (think: “The Lady in My Life,” “Human Nature”) with a taut electric guitar-line and beautiful descending keyboards. It’s not easy to get into the classic Dream canon, but this one does.

47. Kelela
Hallucinogen (Warp/Cherry Coffee)
For much of her burgeoning career, the D.C. native has preferred to drive slow, lending her lithe vocals to gloopy, sonic demerol. And while it is tasty, at some point uppers are required. “Rewind” — like her 2013 breakthrough, “Bank Head” — packs that double shot of 808s she needs. The creeping baseline and rolling percussion is a perfect foil for Kelela’s cooly seductive vocals, forming a perfectly balanced high.

46. The Weeknd
“In the Night”
Beauty Behind the Madness (Republic)
At first, I was as excited about the new Weeknd record as a trip the the dentist, but after a couple of spins, I found myself feeling better about #popabel. I mean, there’s still plenty of his trademark nauseating self-loathing and misogyny on this disc, but Max Martin and his monstrous hooks helped bring balance to proceedings. The biggest hook of them all comes near the end of the record on this neon slab of MJ obsession. It’s not “Billie Jean” or “Dirty Diana,” but it’s not a million miles away. And when the source material is that good, a million miles away is still bloody brilliant.

45. Miguel
Wildheart (out now on RCA)
Male sexuality is in short supply in pop music. While plenty of dudes are singing about sex, it’s almost always through the prism of the women they’re singing about sleeping with — thus making it OK for straight men to entertain lusty feelings delivered by a male voice. Miguel is different. Trey Songz, Bieber, and Drake are singing to you about fucking imaginary women. Miguel is singing to you about fucking you. That difference is apparent on the powerful, raw “Coffee” — notice the pronoun “you” instead of “she” — a legitimately sexy, playful song that should have been an even bigger hit. The raw power of Miguel’s sexuality may make some uncomfortable, but it really shouldn’t.

44. Oscar Key Sung
Altruism (Warner)
We’ve all been there. A couple drinks in. Feeling yourself a little. Someone catches your eye across the bar. Did they see you? Was that a smile? I should go talk to them. But am I gonna be that guy/girl? Melbourne vocalist Oscar Key Sung feels your pain and distills it into a graceful, easy R&B ballad that brilliantly captures pre-holler anxiety.

43. Payroll Giovanni
“Talk Dat Shit”
Stack Season (self-released)
Along with fellow Michigander and all-around hero, Draymond Green, Doughboyz Cashout are the winners of prestigious Thunder Penguin “Shit Talkers of the Year” award. The Detroit bullies are the Da Vincis of shit-talk, and nobody does it better than Payroll Giovanni. Giovanni’s flow is funny and engaging, but he’s far from a punchline rapper. It’s ravenous and relentless, but it’s also agile and graceful, like a one-man Draymond fastbreak. I could have pulled out a handful of DBCO singles, but this one just seems the most fitting for this list.

42. Young Thug
Digital Single
To my ears, Young Thug’s elastic voice never sounds better than when it’s paired with a MetroBoomin beat. And for three very dark days in November, it looked like we’d never hear the two sonic soulmates together again. In classic Thugger style, their feud went from 0 to 100 back to 0 in about 72 hours, and we were treated to a potent slice of MetroThuggin magic, which doubles as the strongest track from Thugger’s triumphant 2015. The beat slaps, and the Atlanta MC is on fire, from his ecstatic opening cry of “Metroooooo” to his closing mumbles. The people demand a MetroThuggin LP in 2016.

41. T-Pain
“Let Your Hair Down” (f/ The-Dream & Vantrease)
The Iron Way (self-released)
Let’s be real, they had me at “T-Pain featuring The-Dream.” Two of my faves team up for a delirious slow jam. Highlights include: T-Pain comparing his junk to a gummy worm, the reverb-soaked finger snaps, and the words “go and get rid of that scrunchie” used as a come-on. A+.

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