Best of 15: The Hottest Jams of 2015

30. JME
“Man Don’t Care” (f/ Giggs)
Integrity (Boy Better Know)
While his BBK cohort and real-life cousin, Skepta, has commanded the headlines, the fellow Tottenham native (#COYS) dropped one of the strongest grime releases of the year. With a muscular assist from grime vet Giggs, Jamie Adenuga goes in over descending keys, letting us all know just how many shits he gives about being on lists like this (spoiler: very few).

29. D.R.A.M., “Cha Cha” from #1EpicEP / Drake, “Hotline Bling” (Digital Single)
Any time the two most fun songs to dance of the year are built around an electric piano, all Hispanic people are prospering. For that reason, I won’t castigate Bachata Papi for hijacking D.R.A.M.’s slightly superior original. Rather, I will celebrate both of them for making us dance like our Dads and getting electric piano back on the radio.

28. Miles From Kinshasa
Digital Single
When you think of ivory, you think of a smooth, sleek, sharp, and powerful material. All of those signifiers are also apt descriptions of this London newcomer’s breathtaking first single. Sporting a beguiling range of influences and Miles’ easy tenor, “IVRY” is an urbane, romantic single. Its elastic baseline and Pet Shop Boys guitars give it both a modern and classic sound. It peaks with one of the finest bridges of the year. While little is known about the man behind the music, his big future seems to be assured.

27. J Hus
“Warm it Up”
The 15th Day (self-released)
A little bit dancehall, a little bit grime, a lot of pure fire. The 19 year-old’s debut LP is one of the freshest of the year, and “Warm it Up” is an excellent example of the Londoner’s winning balance between street edge and pop hooks. Armed with a booming voice that’s deceptively melodic — a little like a British Fetty Wap — Hus breezes through a sashaying Jamaican breakbeat with nasty UK bass. It’s a sound that’s tailor-made for post-“Trap Queen” American radio, and with any luck, we’ll be hearing Hus’ voice blasting out of car windows stateside in 2016.

26. Lil Durk
“Like Me” (f/ Jeremih)
Remember My Name (Def Jam)
Admittedly, I was hoping that this would make more of a commercial dent — that it would be the big budget flick that would turn Durk from cult-hero to A-Lister. It’s got the hotshot co-star, the sky-scraping hook, and the glossy video. And while 21 million views ain’t nothing to sniff at, I still think it should have been a bigger hit. That’s likely because the foreboding timbre and depth of his voice (possibly his greatest asset) is probably always going to be a shade too dark for the mainstream. That said, as long as Durk continues to feed his growing fanbase with darkly seductive tracks like this (and the excellent, Dej Loaf collab, “My Beyonce”), he’ll enjoy a long, fruitful career.

25. Jeremih
Late Nights: The Album (Def Jam)
Originally scheduled for release in early 2014, Late Nights was starting to feel like the R&B Chinese Democracy. But just before Christmas, it finally dropped, and Jebus Christ, was it worth the wait. More than anything, the strong, 15-song LP highlights ‘Mih’s versatility as an artist, as the Chicago native effortlessly shifts from red light specials to electro vibes to mid-tempo radio fare. However, he saves his biggest surprise for the end, signing off Late Nights with this gorgeous, acoustic-guitar driven ballad. Kinda like his own “November Rain,” “Paradise” is a triumphant cap to a turbulent project and a look into a future that is brighter than the Malibu coastline that it was written on.

24. Grimes
“REALiTi” (Demo)
Digital Single
Pop Grimes is my favorite Grimes, and “REALiTi” is arguably the poppiest thing the Canadian megastar has ever put out. It is aspirational, jubilant, and bubbly; basically, it’s the kind of song that makes you want to roll out of bed and kick today in the face, and lord knows, we needed as many of those kind of tracks as possible in 2015.

23. Elysia Crampton
American Drift (Blueberry)
Though she was the architect of one of 2014’s best albums, in many ways, American Drift feels like the Bolivia resident’s first full statement. Its four magical tracks completely defy convention or genre and create a world that is all their own. Lead single, “Petrichrist” is a gorgeous example of Crampton’s audio alchemy. Somehow, she turns a Creepy Crawler keyboard riff, syncopated hand-drums, laser beams, an actual Lil John sample, and a whole bunch of other crazy shit into one coherent, breathtaking track. Searching for directions is futile, with Elysia all you can do is strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

22. Kanye West
“Only One” (f/ Paul McCartney)
Digital Single
At this point, there’s really nothing else that Kanye can do to surprise us. The last thing on the list was craft an emotional piano ballad with one of the Beatles, and now he’s done that too. “Only One” is a testament to Ye’s fearlessness as an artist and his enduring creative spirit that constantly leads him down new, challenging roads. Of course, Kanye hasn’t come close running out of new rabbits to pull out of his designer hats, which is the reason he’s still one of the most vital artists in music, nearly 20 years into his career.

21. Tink
Winter’s Diary 3 (self-released)

Not gonna lie, I was getting a little worried about my girl this year. After cementing herself as one of the two or three best prospects in music thanks to a string of unassailable mixtapes and singles in the last three years, the 20 year-old was adopted by Timbaland as his newest protegé. He immediately dubbed her the vomit-worthy title “the Next Aaliyah.” That relationship has always seemed suspect to me (perfectly summed up by Fact), and other than getting Timbo back on the blogroll, it has really only yielded the clunkiest material of her career.

However, the surprise release of Winter’s Diary 3 gives me hope. Featuring a solitary Timbaland beat — which surprise, surprise is the album’s lone snoozer — the disc gets Tink back in her comfort zone, weaving confessional, heartfelt tunes that straddle the line between hip-hop and R&B. Closer, “Afterparty” is the biggest eyebrow raiser of the bunch, as the versatile singer adds yet another arrow to her quiver — a streamlined, radio-friendly banger. We’ve fallen in love with Tink the rapper and Tink the singer. Is 2016 the year we fall in love with Tink the pop star? I’m sooooo down.

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