Best of 15: The Hottest Jams of 2015

40. Nef the Pharaoh
“Big Tymin”
Nef the Pharaoh (Sick Wid It)
I’m a rap fan from the Bay Area who went to college in New Orleans, so I’m basically a walking target demo for an Vallejo rapper extolling the virtues of the Big Tymers. That said, Nef’s melodic, playful flow should appeal to just about everyone. And when you toss it over an adhesive, stepwise keyboard melody and rolling hi-hats, you’ve got all the ingredients for a post-hyphy anthem.

39. Tory Lanez
“Say It”
Digital Single
Just so we have it in writing: 2016 is gonna be Tory’s year. And, I’m not talking about “big on the Interwebz”; I mean Tory’s gonna have a hard time going to the mall pretty soon. The total package of what an R&B singer needs to be in 2015, the 22 year-old Canadian is at home on turn-up anthems (the monstrous, “Diego”), reflective mid-tempo numbers (the Shlohmo-helmed “Acting Like”), and with, “Say It,” bonafide radio ballads. Blessed with a gorgeous, easy tenor, the Canadian glides over Pop & Oak’s graceful keys, flowing hi-hats, and a tasty Brownstone flip. I’ve already bought up all the Tory Lanez stock now; get in while you still can.

38. Vince Staples
Summertime ‘06 (Def Jam)
When the 22 year-old tells us “I’m tryin’ to paint you a picture” over an ominous, single-note piano melody, he’s laying out the mission statement of his music. And, my god, he succeeds on his debut LP. Summertime ’06 paints a portrait of his native Long Beach with Conde de Orgaz-level detail, and its most explosive moment mirrors both the city’s dichotomy between light (the electric chorus, Staples’ sing-song flow) and darkness (the foreboding keys).

37. Cornbread & Mudd Gang
Digital Single
21 year-old, Chicago producer Mudd Gang’s Soundcloud is a treasure trove of Bop goodness. He’s cranked out an incredible stream of hyper-melodic, warp speed hip-hop, replete with undeniable hooks and percussion that implores your feet to get moving. My favorite of the lot was this collaboration with rising star, Cornbread, that captures the joyful abandon of being young and having fun in the city.

36. Club Cheval
Digital Single
Though their name sounds more like an NYC boutique than a band, the French supergroup (Myd, Sam Tiba, Panteros666, Canblaster) dropped one of the inch-perfect electro tracks of the year. In a world where a Duke Dumont video copped 150 million views, I cannot understand why “Discipline” wasn’t a much bigger hit. It’s got all the same elements: the adhesive vocal, the big drop, the debauched video, the memorable melody played by a sunny instrument (Duke: steel drums, Cheval: horn). The kids don’t know what they’re missing.

35. Jam City
A Dream, A Garden (Night Slugs)
Protest music doesn’t have to be angry or abrasive. While Londoner Jack Latham’s excellent second full-length LP is a sharp critique of the capitalist grind of his home city, it doesn’t stop there. A Dream, A Garden is a stunning rumination on what happiness means in the digital age and the lengths we go to try to find it. Its most affecting moment is “Unhappy.” Over misty synths and staccato percussion, Latham calls out wearily: “Are we unhappy? We could be happy. We could be happy. I was unhappy, before I met you.” It may seem straightforward on paper, but it’s one of the most unshakable musical moments of my year.

34. Father John Misty
“Chateau Lobby #4” (In C For Two Virgins)
I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop)
What do you when you’ve become the thing you used to make fun of? If you’re Josh Tillman, you write a really good album about it. Across his second LP, Tillman splendidly chronicles falling love in Los Angeles, getting married, and becoming the average Joe that he’s always scorned. “Chateau Lobby” chronicles the early stages of his relationship with now wife, Emma Garr. It runs the gamut from adoration (“Emma eats bread and butter, like a queen would have ostrich and cobra wine”) to fear (“Baby, be gentle. It’s my first time”) to, finally, commitment (“How ‘bout forever?”) all in under three minutes. No mean feat.

33. Skales
“Always” (f/ Davido)
Man of the Year (Baseline)
So much of the pop and R&B currently coming out of Nigeria captures the ecstasy of the early days of falling in love. With an assist from scene megastar Davido, the 24 year-old goes full Tom Cruise, praising the apple of his eye and thanking his lucky stars she came into his life. The soca hand-drum beat and electric keys mirror his joy, creating a buoyant, colorful talkshow couch for Skales to jump up and down on.

32. Boogie
“Oh My”
The Reach (self-released)
“Post-Lex Luger” is one of the most overused cliches in hip-hop, basically thrown at just about any keyboard-driven maximalist beat since ’09. However, it’s hard not to hear a little “BMF” in the undulating chords and choppy melody of the rising LA spitta’s breakthrough single. And while Jahlil Beats’ beat goes harder than the Torture Rack, the 25 year-old MC is more than up to it, tiptoeing through the booming synths with melodic ease and a dynamic, ever-changing flow pattern.

31. D∆WN
Blackheart (Our Dawn)
While the ill-fated Dannity Kane reboot may have damaged lesser artists, the New Orleans native went from strength to strength with her daring second solo LP — one of the finest of 2015. Stronger than the sum of its singles, Blackheart has a handful of standouts, but “Calypso” is an effective window into the depth of the artist FKA as Dawn Richard’s sonic palette and emotional heft.

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